Winter's Reckoning: A Novel
by Adele M.D. Holmes

Published: 2022-08-09T00:0
Paperback : 336 pages
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In 1917, Madeline Fairbanks is an herbalist to the people of a dying town in the Southern Appalachians. Renetta Morgan—with whom it is taboo to fraternize because of race—is her apprentice. Maddie is also teaching her granddaughter from an ancestral box containing hints of a mystical heritage. ...
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In 1917, Madeline Fairbanks is an herbalist to the people of a dying town in the Southern Appalachians. Renetta Morgan—with whom it is taboo to fraternize because of race—is her apprentice. Maddie is also teaching her granddaughter from an ancestral box containing hints of a mystical heritage. Carl Howard—power-hungry, misogynistic, and charismatic—appears, claiming himself to be the pastor. He fans fear into hatred, leading to racial conflict. Maddie does not bend the knee to Carl, but continues in her progressive ways—and in doing so, finds herself accused of witchcraft and targeted by the KKK.

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Chapter One


Her ancestors were healers. Mysterious, wise, noble. They championed their ideals and frequently stood accused for them. Some were legends.

She doubted such people still existed in 1917.

Madeline Fairbanks wished for a smidgen of her forbearers’ grit as she filled her medical bag. A man had been dispatched to retrieve her. His report was harrowing, an incident unheard of in their sleepy rural community.

“They need you right now, Maddie.” The bald man pranced in place as though he stood on hot coals. “Gunshot injuries in town. I don’t know who done it.”

“Gunshot? How many are injured? Anyone dead?”

“Bloody mess for sure. Can’t say if anybody’s dead.” He rubbed the peach fuzz on his shiny scalp. “Minute I pulled up, everybody yelled to go get you.”

Her mind spun as she prepared herself for the task ahead. The bumpy wagon ride seemed interminable. But when she was delivered to the scene, the butterflies in her stomach flew away, and she fought to suppress her giggles.

The deputy sheriff had shot himself in the foot in the general store of Jamesville, a town with one foot in the grave itself. Maddie lamented the state of the latter much more than the event of the former.

Deputy Henry perched on a bench in a back room, waving his bloody-footed appendage in the air like a flag on the Fourth of July.

“Looks like the bullet went straight through,” Maddie said. To hide her grin, she held her face close to the wound she inspected. “Now how in the world did this happen? Bank robber shoot you?”

She enjoyed antagonizing the young officer—there was no bank left in Jamesville.

Maddie doused the lesion with moonshine, and he cursed under his breath. She straightened, tugged at her wire-rimmed spectacles, and leaned back against the rough wooden wall of the dusty Southern Appalachian mercantile.

The tip of his holster was blown open, and gunpowder streaked down the right side of his jeans.

“Did you shoot yourself in the foot with your own gun?” She spoke loud enough to ensure the crowd gathering in the store heard.

He flared his nostrils and bunched up his mouth as though he might spit at her. A tan campaign hat propped on his belly rose, trembled, and fell with each ragged breath. She chal- lenged him in silence with a gaze over her glasses as she shoved cotton batting into both sides of the wound and squeezed his forefoot tight between her hands.

In response, he placed his hat onto his head and pulled the strap taut. His eyes bulged when Maddie released the pressure to reveal the damage. Hemostasis was achieved, but the top of his foot gaped a thumb’s width. She could have stuck her pinky finger straight through—back to front—but didn’t want the large man to pass out onto the floor.

“You’re lucky the bullet went in and out without breaking any bones or tearing any major vessels. Bullet’s gotta be lodged in the floor out there.” She pointed toward the doorway, along a path of bloody footsteps.

He nodded and glanced sideways at his foot. His gaze ricocheted to the ceiling, and his face became as pale as the pile of faded newspapers stacked on the floor beside him.

“Deputy, when I came through the store, I saw Renetta Morgan out there. She’s been my apprentice for a while now and is pretty good at tending wounds.” Maddie clipped a string and re-threaded her needle. “You lost a lot of blood waiting for me, when Miss Morgan was right here and could’ve done the job.”

“Ain’t no colored woman gonna tend my injury.” He spoke through clenched teeth. Sweat beaded on his forehead.

Maddie’s toes curled in her boots, and she bit her tongue to keep a nasty retort from sliding off the tip of it.

She tied the last knot and opened a jar she pulled from her black leather bag. A spicy, warm aroma filled the room, covering the metallic odor of the blood. But not, Maddie noted, the rancid smell of his foot. She leaned to rifle through the stack of newspapers, flicking hair—prematurely gray at only forty-six—out of her eyes with a free hand.

“Here it is.” She extracted a page from the bottom of the pile and poured a whitish powder out of the jar into the paper. She twisted and wrapped it just so.

Deputy Henry leaned in.

“A mixture of willow bark and ginger root for the pain.” She ran her index finger along the words she had arranged to be seen on top of the packet. “And this article is about the importance of education. After you take all the medication, you might read about the benefits a secondary school could provide the youngsters in our town.”

He shut his eyes and wagged his head once.

“You can read, can’t you, Deputy Henry?” A bit of Boston Brahmin accent clung to her southern drawl.

“’Course I can.”? “Of course you can.” She smiled at him, batting wide eyes. On her way out, she nodded a closed-lipped “good day” toward the general direction of the gawkers, most of whom jockeyed for position to get a peek at their sole law officer, disabled in the storeroom.

Of more interest to Maddie was the snaggletoothed old woman creaking back and forth on the rocker outside, muttering to herself.

“No forks . . . all spoons and knives. All spoons and knives in the persimmons this year.”

Maddie wrapped her woolen cardigan tightly across her chest. “Gonna be a cold winter, you say?”

“It’ll cut like a knife.” The old woman squinted toward the sky. “Like that bone-chilling wind that ushered in the darkness last night.” view abbreviated excerpt only...

Discussion Questions

1)Do you think Maddie's age affects how she is perceived--elder, crone, or both--and would the reception to her have been different if her deceased husband had not been so powerful in town?

2)Hannah sees Maddie at her weakest moment. What effect does this have on Hannah?

3)Maddie and Ren see each other as equals, save for one moment, when Maddie is worried for Ren. Why does this upset Ren, and what allows them to heal?

4)Why is the snowstorm important to the story? 5)Who would play these characters in a movie?

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