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Authors: Lisa Wingate

Tags: #FIC042000, #FIC042040, #FIC027020, #Missing persons—Fiction

Wildwood Creek (7 page)

BOOK: Wildwood Creek
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Chapter 8

A
LLIE
K
IRKLAND
A
PRIL
, P
RESENT
D
AY

B
y the evening of the big cast and crew meeting, I’d almost put the phone conversation with my mother out of my head . . . almost. It’s amazing how much power your family has to either build you up or tear you down, to make you question everything about yourself.

“Don’t let them do this to you,” Kim said as I waited for her to unlock her pickup truck so we could drive to the Berman together. The meeting had been set for late Saturday evening, so as to accommodate people who were working day jobs until it was time to move to the set and begin the three weeks of pre-production training in cooking, livestock care, safety, and all things nineteenth century. “Don’t let your mother rope you in with the guilt card.”

“I’m not.” But I was. And I knew it. And I couldn’t stop it. My mother had managed to make me feel like I was ruining everyone’s summer, as well as my own future.

“You’re an adult, Allie. You have a right to your life, and just because you’re not
like
them doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you.” My best friend rolled a pointed look
my way. “A black sheep is a black sheep, but he’s a sheep too. And the Lord loves sheep, and the Lord loves you.”

A puff of laughter pressed out. “Where did you come up with that one?”

“Vacation Bible School. Fifth grade. My teacher taught it to us. Guess who she was talking about?”

“I can’t imagine.”

Kim’s expression turned serious as she settled her hands on the gearshift. “Don’t back out on me this summer, Allie, and don’t you quit on yourself, either. We need each other for this adventure. It all just hit me when I was signing the mega-pile of final documents. This isn’t a joke. It’s really gonna happen. They sat me in a room and made me read and initial every single paragraph, and believe me, it was down to the gory details. I could fall off a cliff, be run over by the livestock, set myself ablaze while I’m cooking over an open flame, have a heatstroke living with no air conditioning. . . . The list goes on and on and on. What if I get out there in the boonies and I’m not tough enough?”

A feather pillow popped in my chest, itchy and tickly all at once. I was a slim half inch from saying,
You know what, let’s go for frozen yogurt and forget this whole thing.
“Come on, you’re a country girl. Remember all the summers at Grandma Rita’s, when you dragged me down to the creek to catch tadpoles and fish for those nasty old whiskery catfish, and we played
Little House on the Prairie
and stuff?” I tossed my purse onto the floor, and Kim caught a breath when it landed on something.

“Eeek. Don’t mess up the periodicals. They’re from the library, and they’re
not
supposed to be checked out. Stewart brought them to me.” Wide-eyed, she delicately covered her mouth with her fingertips. “He
broke
the rules. But don’t
tell anyone. I promised I would scan the articles overnight and have the stuff back to him first thing in the morning.”

She rescued a couple books from the floor, holding them up so I could read the titles.
Frontier Texas at Work
and
Women of the West: Homesteaders, Harlots, Mothers, and Missionaries
.

Under my toe was an old magazine with a cover article entitled, “The Texas Cowboy: Mystery and Mystique.” I squinted. “You got Stewart to take things from the library that weren’t supposed to leave the building?” Stewart was a stickler for rules of any kind. Obsessive-compulsive about it, actually. Around the apartment complex, he was always reporting infractions—from parking violations to trash bags left outside front doors overnight. He drove the apartment manager crazy.

“I begged,” Kim admitted. “Nobody’s gonna miss it tonight. Besides, it’s good for Stewart to live on the wild side a little bit. He actually hid the contraband in a recycling cart and carried it down the back stairs while the other library clerk was taking her break.”

Poor Stewart. He was probably holed up in his apartment nursing an ulcer and waiting for the library police to come after him by now. “You really think it’s a good idea to be asking Stewart for special favors? He’ll probably be awake all night, worrying about it.”

“Don’t be so dramatic.” Kim snatched the magazine and moved everything to the back seat, where a pile of similar materials sat in a jumble.

“What’s all that?” With Kim, you could never tell, and between finishing classes, my work at the Berman, and Kim’s preproduction appointments, I’d barely seen her these last couple of weeks.

”It’s research. And clues. I think I’ve figured it out. I know
where the reenactment is going to take place, and what bit of
Mysterious History
we’re reenacting. Wait until I tell you. You’re going to totally flip out.”

I had that queasy feeling that sometimes came from being privy to one of Kim’s ideas. “Okay, you might as well spill, but I really think you should leave it alone. Remember that giant confidentiality agreement in that pile of paperwork you signed? They don’t want anyone to know ahead of time where we’re going. Cast members aren’t even supposed to tell each other what frontier counterpart they’ve been given.”

Kim rolled her eyes and huffed. “Don’t be such a drone, Allie. So . . . I did get a few things out of the security guard the other day, and between that and what I
might
have overheard while I was in for my psych interviews, I’ve got it narrowed down. Based on my brilliantly gathered clues and my astounding powers of deduction—and the fact that the security guard let it slip that his uncle
in Cleburne
had been hired to bring horses for the docudrama, and they would be trailering
said horses
about
thirty minutes
from home—I know that we’re going to be somewhere in this vicinity.”

She snagged a photocopy from the pile in the back seat, laid it on the cup holder, and pointed to a portion of central Texas along a thin, winding river. “I also
might
have overheard mention of
a river
and
Moses Lake
here and there around the Berman during the health screenings and such. We know that this project centers on a boomtown that existed
before
the War Between the States. That narrows it down a bunch. There wasn’t a whole lot in that part of Texas before the war. So then you have to think about what makes a boomtown. Back in those days, it was either shipping locations on a river or trailheads for settlers moving to the frontier . . . or the discovery of natural resources, like gold and silver.”

Her fingernail scratched a slow circle on the map’s sur
face, then stopped where the river emptied into Moses Lake. “Of course, this lake is man-made, so it wasn’t there in the eighteen hundreds, but Stewart helped me identify a small boomtown that was here before the Civil War. There never was much gold fever in Texas, but it did happen a time or two around the Llano uplift region and farther north. One place was right here, where the river meets a little creek. It’s gone now, but there was a town here called Wildwood.”

I looked at the map and a cold sensation inched over me, raising goose bumps—the same feeling I’d had that first day in the Berman. Why did that name seem familiar? “Kim, we’d better go before we make ourselves late.” Given Tova’s mood when I’d left work a couple hours ago, I didn’t want to do anything to make trouble for myself. “Besides, you were planning to get there ahead of time and scope out the guys, remember?”

Kim pitched the map into the back and proceeded to pilot us to the Berman via the shortest possible route, her attention suddenly focused on getting there in time to watch the rest of the talent walk in. When we arrived, though, the Berman was already half full. The crewmembers had taken seats in front on the left, while the cast members were still milling around in the aisles, scoping each other out and pretending not to be comparing notes on the details they’d gathered so far. The level of secrecy and security maintained around the building had clearly led to some wild theories and no small amount of nervousness, especially for parents who were not only signing up themselves, but their children.

On the way in, Kim fluttered here and there like a honeybee, greeting people she’d met during her comings and goings from the Berman—in particular, the single men.

“Well, do you see him here?” She leaned close after sharing a quick greeting with the Wall family, who, I gathered,
would be stepping into the docudrama as the owners of the dry goods store. Sometimes, it amazed me that Kim hadn’t already gotten herself fired, with all her snooping.

“See
who
yet?” I scanned the crowd. The atmosphere was electric today, the air a storm of whispers.

“The mystery cowboy. The Blake Fulton guy you told me about. I’m
dying
to get a look at him.” Kim wheeled her hand as in,
Keep up with me here.
“If he doesn’t show today, that tells the tale, I think. They said in no uncertain terms that anyone who didn’t come to today’s meeting would be replaced. They have a standby list a bazillion people long; I got that information from the lawyer when I signed my papers, by the way.” She stood on her toes and glanced around. “So, do you see the scrap-of-paper guy anywhere?”

“Shhh!” I looked for my boss, who did not, repeat
not
need to be reminded that I’d delivered yet another mysterious message. “Tova hit the roof when I brought her that phone number yesterday. If she wasn’t having so much trouble keeping help downstairs, she probably would’ve fired me on the spot. And if I never hear that name again, it’ll be too soon.”

“Oh, come on, where’s your sense of mystery?” Kim’s eyes sparkled with fascination. “I want to
see
this guy. I’m dying to know who he is and whether he’s legit. What if he’s a spy, like, from the tabloids or a competing network or something? All these big secrets have my mind going crazy. I couldn’t even sleep last night.”

“Me neither, hon!” A brightly dressed red-haired woman in jeans and cowboy boots stopped beside us. “I was on pins and needles, just as hoppy as a cricket on the woodstove, and Genie was up calling my house before the rooster.” The woman smiled at her companion, a sweet, gray-haired lady who at first glance reminded me of Grandma Rita.

“I couldn’t even close my eyes last night. Could ye-ew?”
Genie’s southern drawl stretched the last word, plucking a familiar twang.

“No, I couldn’t,” Kim answered, then leaned close to divulge the forbidden details she’d ferreted out. “Genie and Netta are the matronly sisters in the big house—the relatives of our town founder in the big mystery town.”

Netta made the motion of bolting her lips and throwing away the key, then winked at her friend, who snorted and adjusted her glasses. “I hope that lock’s triple-titanium, elsewise it don’t have a prayer of lastin’ long.”

The two of them giggled as we made formal introductions. Watching them, I wondered if that would be Kim and me someday far in the future, laughing about this experience. I also wondered how two women in their senior years were going to survive all summer without air conditioning. In general, the cast members were younger, more in the twenty-to-forty range.

“Listen, I’d better get over there to my side.” I shrugged toward the crew area, scoping out an empty seat. “It looks like they’re about to start.” On stage, a folding table had been set up with microphones and five chairs, as if this were a formal press op, but other than a guy standing by the side stairs with a flip cam, there were no cameras present.

The crowd hushed as five people emerged from the stage wings to take the seats—Rick Meyer, the associate producer Tova reported to, Cheryl Pierce, the location manager, Regan Willis, the electronics engineer whose job was to work with sound, lighting, and cinematography to make those things as nonintrusive as possible, Chevis Arteuro, the casting director, and Carson Clay, the lead historical expert.

The casting director took the microphone and welcomed attendees to the meeting. Chevis was a good-natured guy who spoke with an East Indian accent and a slight lisp that made
him seem younger than he was. Even so, he was young to be in a key position, but unmistakably brilliant. “We stand at the brink of a most excellent adventure,” he offered, a wide white smile reflecting in the theater lights. “Chances are, after traveling through the paperwork and the screenings, you feel as though you have surmounted the greatest test of will already. Some of you may have wondered, during the psychological interviews and the panel interviews, why you, in particular, were chosen? Why not another?”

A murmur of agreement from the cast seats answered Chevis’s question.

“Or perhaps that thought was crossing your mind when you received the final call. It would have been much easier, no doubt, for our crew to have shopped for the cast of this docudrama series among experienced reenactors, survival specialists, or even farmers and ranchers accustomed to living very close to the land. While we have included some of these persons in the most excellent demographic of our cast, our directive was to create a sampling that does realistically represent the population of a frontier settlement of the American West, and in particular the town in question. Smaller docudrama miniseries projects have, in the past, reenacted the lives of individual pioneer families, and indeed we ourselves at
Mysterious History
have re-created the life of an entire English manor house, a Scottish castle, and the crew of a Viking ship. But nothing of this magnitude has ever been attempted, even by us.”

Chevis paused to let that sink in. This time, there was no murmured response from the audience. Only silence and a sense of awe, or fear, or both. More than seventy people, traveling back into the shoes of our ancestors, for three months.

“We are, much like those we seek to re-create, pioneers.” Chevis went on. “And much like those whose lives you will
step into, you’ll find yourself in foreign circumstances, forced to cultivate new skills, pressed to adapt in order to survive. This is our reason for choosing many of you who have no prior survival experience. We must typify those who, over a century and a half ago, sought their fortunes on the rugged frontier. Indeed, in casting this production, we have matched our participants as closely as possible to the backgrounds, physical statures, and known details of the inhabitants of the original town. You, my esteemed friends, will not only become that place. You already
are
.”

BOOK: Wildwood Creek
2.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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