Last Updated on May 29, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 516
Chapter 1 details an investigation carried out by a group of nine armed individuals in Oklahoma during a chilly July dawn. Having already wounded one woman, they continue their pursuit for the remaining individuals. The men cautiously progress through the sole structure referred to as "the Convent," as though engaged in a tactical operation or a hunt. They employ a specific plan, dividing into teams of two to methodically scour the building. It is important to note that the women residing in the Convent are not actually nuns.
The history of the Convent is detailed, initially serving as the luxurious residence of a swindler. Upon acquisition by nuns, many of its ostentatious features were either dismantled or damaged. However, larger items, such as bathtubs, remain.
As the groups of men explore the various rooms, they anticipate discovering signs of criminal activity and deviant behavior. Their suspicions are hinted at throughout this section. However, the discoveries they make, including candles on the floor, bizarre figurines, dirty dishes, disorganization, and traces of blood and grime, are sufficient to unsettle and repulse them.
The narrative alternates between the present-day actions of the men and tales from their past, rooted in the histories of two towns: Haven and Ruby. The men hail from Ruby, yet in this section, we gain deeper insight into Haven's past. Haven flourished, but as it started to decline, its inhabitants resolved to begin anew, leading them to establish and construct the town of Ruby.
In 1890, Haven was established by a group of 15 founding families known as the Old Fathers. They faced numerous challenges and humiliations when they migrated from Mississippi and Louisiana to Oklahoma in search of a new home. As a result, they became resilient, proud, and wary of outsiders. These feelings were carried on by the New Fathers when they later founded Ruby. At the heart of Haven was a massive Oven, which served as the town's focal point and symbol. Each brick of the Oven was impeccably crafted, and its door was a heavy iron slab with a unique message created from welded nails. Within the Oven, meat, particularly game meat, was cooked to perfection over gentle flames.
In 1905, Haven was home to a thousand residents, but by 1934, the population had dwindled to 500. Over time, it further declined to just 80 people, with 18 steadfast individuals remaining in the end. By 1950, nine families decided to leave Haven and relocate 240 miles westward to Ruby. First, they painstakingly dismantled and reassembled Haven's Oven in their new community. Then, using the funds from their military discharge pay, the families jointly purchased land and started anew. Life improved for them, but now, over a quarter of a century later, they sense an emerging danger.
The chapter concludes by coming full circle. The men who advanced towards the Convent amidst the dense fog at dawn are now ready to carry out their perceived duty. After scouring the premises, they encounter three women sprinting towards the sunrise. The men point their weapons and shoot; while the outcome is not explicitly described, it appears improbable that the women manage to evade capture.