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Cover of Winter Harvest

 

WINTER HARVEST

 

Romantic Suspense

 

 

When Sarah Bishop arrives at the Shaker Community in Hancock after her father's death in mid 1840s, Lucy Hammond is overjoyed. She admires Sarah's golden hair and confidence. But Sarah is not so sure she wants to stay in the commune and is determined to steal back the bequest given to the Shakers in return for her upbringing. Drawing Lucy out with her, Sarah starts sneaking out of the dormitory at night to make sure the retrieved items now buried at the Community shrine are secure. Better known as the Shakers, a utopian commune founded by Ann Lee in New England in the late 1700s, members of the United Society of Believers assumed that through sexual abstinence, hard work, and charity, they could create the kingdom of heaven on earth.

 

Sarah's contempt for the strict rules becomes apparent to all but Lucy. A bit of New England history, a suspenseful mystery, and a poignant romance unsettle the otherwise tranquil world of the Shakers.

HancockPhoto: Dawn Zarimba

 

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“It was a moonless night. The darkness was so heavy it tumbled down over the grassy field. The pond, black syrupy molasses, swallowed the speckled

starlight. Mary usually liked her walks, the clatter of late autumn keeping her company—the persistent whirr of crickets, the crackle of dried leaves underfoot, and the swoosh of wind through the straggly branches. But this night was hushed, the cloak of shadows muffling all sounds. Mary didn’t even hear the approach. She felt it, the ground shuddering restlessly, like a spasm that sends concentric ripples through water—a signal that launched dread in the pit of Mary’s stomach,” Elizabeth whispered, her face contorted by the flicker of flames from the hearth.


We young girls sat cross-legged in front of her. Our mouths agape, we wrenched our skirts and twisted our fingers. Charity closed her eyes in an effort to stop the flow of words from reaching her brain. Molly’s gaped so wide, you would have thought her mouth would be stuck open forever. But I did not move. I could not move. My ankles and wrists were frozen in place. A scream hovered just below my vocal chords, thrusting upward, but my throat was constricted and unable to release any sound at all. My chest throbbed in anticipation as I waited for the climax.


“Mary could feel the hot breath on her neck before she heard him,” Elizabeth continued. “She smelled it too—burnt flesh and dung. Her skin prickled, but not enough to make her move, to step away, or, God forbid, to run. And when he touched her, she closed her eyes, trying not to look at his tortured visage, knowing who he was by the stories that preceded him. He caressed her arm, ripping her sleeve and leaving a track of blood to her elbow, his long nails having become claws so he could survive in the forest. Then he grabbed her waist and pulled her to face him.”

Cover of Winter HarvestPhoto: Tom Allen


The screams began to escape from the mouths of Elizabeth’s young audience who had already scattered like leaves in the wind, hiding behind chairs or tables but unable to escape because Elizabeth had locked the doors. I still sat cross-legged before her, trying to act stoic but unable to move or even close my eyes to the ugly scene I knew Elizabeth was about to reveal.


“Mary pushed him away. She poked at his eyes, but the skin of his eyelids came loose in her hands. He clung to her, trying to get her to kiss him, but when she twisted to pull back, his grip slipped, his talon-like nails running along the front of her torso. Blood and insides oozed from her wound. He grasped at her neck to turn her toward him once again, but she wrenched away—too hard, slitting her throat on his claws. As her knees buckled from loss of blood, she slid from his arms, feeling the repulsive hirsute skin against hers. Suddenly, he howled, piercing her eardrums. He thrust the swooning body above his head in triumph before flinging Mary into the pond, the thud producing numerous wavelets along the shore.”


“Did they find her?” Molly asked.


“Not at first. She’d lost too much blood and couldn’t swim. Finally the pond must have released her, I guess, because her grave’s in the forest.”


“Where?” asked Charity.

Cover of Winter HarvestPhoto: Dawn Zarimba


“In that small cemetery at the end of the path. Haven’t you seen the assemblage of headstones there?”


“No,” we all said in unison.


“I’ll have to show you. We can take a walk there while the weather’s still good. The Community’s built on what were once three different farms. The one out in back of the pond here belonged to the Fieldings. Mary Fielding was the daughter. The headstones are for that family.”

 

Copyright Coralie Hughes Jensen