HOW IT ALL BEGAN
From the author:
On a road trip from St. Paul, Minnesota, to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I stopped for breakfast in a Black River Falls cafe and happened upon a conversation between two men about the Wisconsin town of Tuonela, where they claimed a vampire once roamed the streets.
I introduced myself and asked if they'd mind telling me more. They fell silent, looked at each other, then grudgingly continued. The story they told was so outrageous I decided they must be having fun at my expense. They'd probably meant for me to overhear their conversation; I was their entertainment for the day. Tuonela didn't exist, and we all know vampires don't exist.
In the car I pulled out an atlas and was surprised to find a town called Tuonela on the map. If you were to draw a triangle by connecting Wausau to La Crosse to Portage, Tuonela would be somewhere in the center on the Wisconsin River. That area of Wisconsin was settled by Finns, and if you're up on your Finnish mythology and the Kalevala, you'll know that Tuonela means land of the dead in Finnish.
That left me to ponder about the men and our conversation, and about the vampire they'd referred to as the Pale Immortal. Had they been telling the truth after all? Was I now included in a secret only a handful of people knew? I have no answers to these questions. All I know is that day in the Black River Falls cafe the men told me the town often vanishes, and many don't believe it even exists. In case you think I'm making this up, dig out a map of Wisconsin and try to find Tuonela. Ninety percent of the time it won't be there.