Chapter 1 - Red
It's hot as hell in Gale's Chevy's Suburban as he speeds down I-84. The air-conditioner is broken and all the windows are open.
"I'm so glad you agreed to come with us Katniss," Madge shouts over the noise of the highway. "We're going to have so much fun."
Spending the weekend living the life of an Oregon pioneer isn't my idea of fun. Especially in this heat wearing a long dress and a bonnet.
"You look so cute," Madge had said when I tried on her red dress, one of the five costumes she owns. All of them are hand-made in authentically reproduced fabrics.
My cousin and his wife are into this sort of thing. They like to dress up with other history buffs and spend their weekends reenacting the American journey west.
I, however, am not a fan of dressing up or playing pretend. But I agreed because the weekend provides me an opportunity to go hunting with Gale. The organizers of this event had gotten permission from the state of Oregon to allow participants in the reenactment to go hunting on federal lands for the first of the two days we would be there.
Of course all of the reenactors have to use guns that are replicas of those used no later than 1860. I'm an archer, though, and no one cares about the authenticity of my bow and arrows, which were likely manufactured at least one hundred years later as they belonged to my father when he was young.
Anyway it isn't as if I have anything better to do. Since my sister's death two years ago, I've tried to keep myself as busy as possible.
"I have to pee," Madge whines. She's three months pregnant and spends a lot of time in the bathroom these days. Peeing or barfing.
Gale snarls but he begins weaving across the highway to get off at the next exit. Mellark, Oregon, consists of a gas station, a diner, and a couple of small stores.
"Might as well get something to eat," Madge says after departing the toilet at the gas station.
Gale groans. "You know Madge, there's a big dinner planned tonight."
"Yes, but I'm craving some fries right now," Madge chides him.
We go inside the diner and sit at a booth next to the front window, and order. A glint appears in Madge's eyes when she spies a couple of antique shops. "Katniss and I will be right back," she tells Gale.
She slides across the seat and pushes against me. "Let's take a peek in those shops across the street."
"Better be quick or I'm eating your fries if they beat you back," Gale says.
I exchange a grimace with Gale and follow Madge out of the diner and across the two-lane road. I hate shopping, but Madge loves it. Especially in these little out-of-way places. She's always on the lookout for something to make her reenacting more real.
Madge rushes to the first shop, but the door is locked.
"See it's closed." I point to the sign in the window.
She swears under her breath. "Let's try the place next door."
We walk to the next building and the door easily opens. We enter a small room littered with dusty tables. The faint smell of mold hangs in the air. Madge is quickly pawing over the contents of one of the tables. Touching all kinds of odds and ends.
"Look at these," she squeals. She holds up two red hair combs with mother of pearl inlaid along the scalloped edge. "This would go perfect with your dress."
My mind is blank for a moment as I try to figure out what dress Madge is talking about because I rarely wear them, but then I realize she means the dress she loaned me for the weekend.
"I don't need the combs," I tell Madge.
But she's already turned to the older gentleman who has come out from behind a curtain in the backroom to watch us like a hawk, and asked the price.
He names an amount and she begins to haggle. I think this is Madge's favorite reason for shopping in these stores. She enjoys getting a bargain.
They soon settle on a price and Madge opens her purse.
"Just a minute," the man says after he takes her cash. "There's something else that goes with those combs. He walks into the back of the shop and returns carrying a small picture frame containing a faded photo of an older couple. "This lady is the original owner of the combs."
Madge glances at the picture. "They're smiling. That's so unusual for these old photos." She holds the picture out for me to see.
I give it a polite glance.
"They were an unusual couple," the man says. He smiles at me and winks. His bright blue eyes startle me.
Madge shoves the combs and the photo into her purse.
"I don't need the combs," I tell her as we walk back to the diner.
"It will match the outfit Katniss," she says. "And I'm not giving them to you. I'm loaning them to you for the weekend."
Our food is sitting on the table when we get back.
"Enjoy it," Madge says as she shoves a french fry into her mouth. "It'll be simple food for the next two days."
We're soon on the road again. We drive for another hour before we reach our destination. We park in a large lot filled with campers, recreational vehicles, and other gas-guzzlers. People are milling about, some already wearing their pioneer garb, others in modern street attire, jeans and tee shirts.
Madge and I change in a large public restroom. There are many other women changing as well and even some young children.
Everyone is excited about the weekend. Most have already fallen into their reenactor mode and are having deep discussions about such fascinating topics as the Donation Land Act of 1850 or Oregon Statehood in 1862. It makes me wish I'd brushed up on my nineteenth century American history because I have little to contribute to the conversation.
Once we are dressed, Madge helps me pin up my braid holding it in place with the red combs. "They add the perfect touch," she says.
After we are dressed we return to the Suburban to carry our gear to the campsite. It's not a far walk. Everything is set up right past the trees that border the restrooms.
I wish for my cell phone so I could take a photo. It's an amazing scene with dozens of covered wagons scattered about and tents pitched everywhere. But modern gadgets are off limits this weekend. My phone is in the car.
"How many people are here?" I gasp.
"Hundreds," Gale answers.
I'm astounded that this many people spend their time play-acting in the past. Was life so much better then?
Madge isn't much help while Gale and I set up the two canvas tents. We dump our bedrolls inside them and head over to the eating area, carrying tin plates and silverware in our hands. Even though we had eaten a short time ago, we stand in line to get more. Madge and I settle for the strawberry cobbler but Gale takes the entire meal, roasted meat, potatoes, a green salad and dinner biscuits dripping with butter.
We sit down at picnic tables and Gale begins a conversation with the man at his left. His name is Finnick Odair and he introduces us to his wife Annie, and his year-old son Sam.
While the men talk, Annie and Madge talk about the struggles that faced women in Oregon Territory. "Without electricity and running water, it was tough," Annie says.
She turns to me. "So are you looking for a husband here?"
I choke on my cobbler.
"Nooo," I say, throwing Madge a nervous glance.
Instead of saving me though, Madge continues along the same line of thinking. "There are a lot of single guys here Katniss."
I shake my head. I'm not interested in attracting a history geek. Having one for a cousin is bad enough.
After we eat, we return to our campsite to set everything up. The Odair's tent is nearby and they join us at the campfire Gale makes. Annie holds their sleeping son. Gale and Finnick sip at mugs of whiskey.
"Not microbrew?" I ask Madge.
She shakes her head. "No. Whiskey was the popular drink on the trail. They took it along for medicinal purposes."
After a while, I excuse myself to go inside my tent. I take off the dress. I'm not wearing the official pioneer underwear, a chemise, which is a kind of long camisole, and split drawers that reach past the knees but allows women to squat in their dresses and pee. Instead I'm in a simple bra and panties. But it likely doesn't matter because I have no plans of stripping for any history nerds this weekend. I wrap myself up in my blanket and fall asleep.
Maybe it's the setting, perhaps it's Annie's silly question, or more likely it's because I haven't been with anyone in such a long time that causes me to have one of the most intense dreams ever.
I'm wearing my pioneer garb and I'm kissing a handsome reenactor, running my fingers through his blond hair and staring into his blue eyes.
Just when things are heating up though, Madge shakes me awake.
"Katniss, you need to keep it down," she whispers. "You were getting really loud. We could hear you in our tent."
"What?" I am ready to kill her for ruining my dream.
"You were having some kind of nightmare," she continues. "And who the hell is Peeta? You were moaning that name over and over."
I cringe in embarrassment. I had no idea I was talking in my sleep. But before I can explain anything, Madge stares at my head and snatches the red combs from my hair. "Katniss, you can't sleep in these, they're antiques."