Mattie grew up in Hannibal, Missouri, on the banks of the Mississippi river. As a little girl, she read everything she could find written by or about Mark Twain, Hannibal's claim to literary fame. She played at being Tom Sawyer, and Huck Finn, and decided she liked being the latter better. Her mother died when she was three, leaving her father to raise his only daughter and her four older brothers the best he could. By the time Mattie was ten, she was a confirmed tomboy, and she and the four older Groves children were the terror of Marion County.

Her father was a "shade tree mechanic" who made extra money by fixing his neighbor's cars when they broke down. Mattie started helping out with this and soon learned everything there was to know about combustion engines, timing, and how to rebuild carburetors and transmissions. She and her brothers would go to junkyards for parts, and they built her first car from salvage from the wheels up. She still drives it, and it runs like a dream.

Mattie never went to college, but graduated top of her class in Marion Technical, with a specialization in Mechanics. With money she borrowed from her father, she opened a garage in Hannibal, with her youngest brother, Hank. Lord Daniel, her ferret, was a constant presence in the garage, and had even gotten a write up in the paper, once.

Then came the plague, and the world went to hell, and the dreams started. And old woman. A dark man. A choice.