No Use for 1917 Racial Inequality
Forty-six-year-old Madeline Fairbanks has no use for ideas like “separation of the races” or “men as the superior sex.” There are many in her dying Southern Appalachian town who are upset by her socially progressive views, but for years—partly due to her late husband’s still-powerful influence, and partly due to her skill as a healer in a remote town with no doctor of its own—folks have been willing to turn a blind eye to her “transgressions.” Even Maddie’s decision to take on a Black apprentice, Ren Morgan, goes largely unchallenged by her white neighbors, though it’s certainly grumbled about. But when a charismatic and power-hungry new reverend blows into town in 1917 and begins to preach about the importance of racial segregation, the long-idle local KKK chapter fires back into action—and places Maddie and her friends in Jamesville’s Black community squarely in their sights. Maddie had better stop intermingling with Black folks, discontinue her herbalistic “witchcraft,” and leave town immediately, they threaten, or they’ll lynch Ren’s father, Daniel. Faced with this decision, Maddie is terrified . . . and torn. Will she bow to their demands and walk away—or will she fight to keep the home she’s built in Jamestown and protect the future of the people she loves, both Black and white?
Maddie uncorked the moonshine and poured a teacup full for herself, then raised her eyebrows at Ren, jug suspended midair.
"No, thanks," Ren said. "I need my nerves about me."
"Nerves are exactly why I thought you might want it," Maddie said. "But you're right. Those three herbs will wreak havoc enough on your poor body."
Ren kept her eyes downturned as she busied her shaking hands with the recipe of death.
Only when the preparations were complete did she meet Maddie’s gaze, raising the potion she had mixed as though toasting Maddie and her teacup full of moonshine.
“Death to this unborn child, perhaps even death to me. I don’t really care if it is one or both, but the sacrifice must be offered to the god of injustice,” Ren said.
The midmorning sky looked black as sin. The house pitched in the wind as a boat in a hurricane. Precipitous white whirled deception over the landscape, disguising ugliness as beauty, taintedness as purity, and treachery as truth.
Death came quicker than Maddie could have imagined. It wasn’t for Ren’s lack of resolution that it came neither for herself nor her child. As Ren’s lips touched the cupful of pregnancy antidote, diabolical noises penetrated the back door.
Clawing, scratching, pounding.
It seemed Satan’s hellhounds would soon gain entry. The howl of the ghoul became a pitiful gurgle and then quieted but for breathing as heavy as a handsaw at work.
In and out, back and forth, sliding down the door. It silenced when it reached the floor. Ren froze in horror, deed undone.
Maddie knew it was the rabid Harris man. Whether steeled by the moonshine or quickened by her healer’s instincts, she sprang to action. She cocked the Winchester as she pushed open the door, anticipating the slumped body that fell at her feet, the fist of cold from the open screen door. She took aim and didn’t waver, even as she nudged the body with her foot.
He rallied and pulled himself to his knees. Drool flowed like lava onto a frozen chunk of beard, bloodshot eyes darting like the crazy man he was. Blackened, bloodied, frostbitten hands reached for her. Or for the warmth within the house. Though emaciated—his nasty, torn clothing hung on his thin body—he was strong. Strength born of desperation, adrenaline. Out of insanity.
They danced the dance of prey and predator, the hunter and the hunted, alternating roles. Maddie knew what she needed to do—the man was beyond cure and dangerous, yet, she hesitated to pull the trigger.
Then the thought of his seed in Ren’s womb flashed into her mind. The explosion blasted his body against the far wall of the screened porch.
Adele Holmes practiced pediatrics for over twenty years before retiring to write. Though a lifelong Southerner, she and her husband Chris travel extensively, having explored all seven continents. It is travel to which she credits her desire to make a difference in the world through the written word as well as through philanthropy—especially causes involving children and social justice.
Winter’s Reckoning is her debut novel. Even before publication it was given an Honorable Mention in the William Faulkner Literary Competition and was long-listed for the CIBA Goethe Award.
She is working on a second novel. Visit adeleholmes.com to find out more or for links to follow her on social media and reading sites.