Sunday, 12 February 2012

Guest blog: Eleanor Sullivan - 'Cover Her Body'

In a strict, religious society in 1830s rural Ohio, a 16-year-old girl is murdered because she’s pregnant, but the only person who suspects it wasn’t an accident is Adelaide, a young midwife, who worries that the remedy she gave the girl for a “woman’s ailment” caused her death. Adelaide’s husband, Benjamin, fearful that they’ll be banned from the prosperous community, forbids her from questioning the girl’s death. But a mistake she made years ago cost the life of a mother and her unborn babe, and Adelaide vowed to never let another mother die.

Pressure mounts when Adelaide is accused of harming the girl, but the allegation only fuels her determination to find the killer, even though she begins to suspect that her husband might be involved in the girl’s death. And the more she investigates, not only does she start to question her own faith and beliefs, but she finds herself attracted to an unlikely man in the community, a man who has vowed to remain celibate. Then her questions alert the outside authorities, and now this isolated community is invaded by the very society they had shunned.


03 May 1833

Zoar, Ohio

Ropes creaked as Adelaide slid off the bed and waited, clutching herself in the cold. In the cradle next to the bed, her infant puckered her lips and let out a sigh before sinking back into sleep. Benjamin’s side of the bed remained empty. Had he even returned during the night?

Adelaide grabbed her dress from the hook on the wall, pulled it over her head, and moved on stocking feet through the cabin, her hem whispering across the wood plank floor. With a glance up the stairs where her sister slept, she bent to button her shoes, then snatched her shawl off a peg and slipped outside.

The air hung heavy with moisture from last night’s storm. Apple blossoms littered the ground by the door, their scent cloying. Nothing stirred. Good. If she hurried she might have just enough time to herself before the workday began.

A fleeting sensation of guilt washed over her. No good Separatist would sneak out for an unsanctioned outing.

With a shrug, she looped her shawl across her chest, grasped her skirts, and plunged down the hill, her feet moving silently over the rough cinders. She hurried past Benjamin’s cabinet shop and the blacksmith shop next to it, around the store and dairy, continuing on the path into the woods. She didn’t need the moonlight nor a lantern to guide her way. The sound of rushing water hidden below the hill drew her to a favored spot.

She skidded to a stop.

The willow tree—her tree—lay sprawled in the water, its branches flailing about in the raging water. She sank onto a boulder to the side, and shut her eyes against the image. No longer would the tree shield her from the prying eyes of her community. Only naked spikes of its stump remained.

A cock crowed in the distance.

The river roared downstream and splattered foam on the boulder. Adelaide tucked her skirt around her ankles, hugged her knees to her chest, and rocked back and forth. The quarrel she’d had with Benjamin the night before lingered in her mouth like the taste of an unripe persimmon.

Her eyes wandered over the surface of the water, pausing on a white object bobbing in the darkness. Blue fabric trailed in the current. Her mind worked to make sense of the sight until horror plunged through her, tightening her throat.

It was a hand. A girl’s hand.

A wave splashed over the body and twisted it loose to bob beneath the water and spring up again. Only a strand of tangled hair tethered to a branch kept her from plummeting downstream. If she left to get someone, the girl might be gone. She couldn’t let the river take her.

Adelaide hiked up her skirts and plunged into the water, the cold sucking her breath. She struggled for a few steps, but her shoes filled with water, and she tumbled forward. The panic she’d felt all those years ago when the boys had tossed her into the river came back with a rush. She flailed about, gulping dirt-choked water, her arms splashing uselessly.

At last her feet touched bottom. She pushed against it, sprang to the surface, and grabbed onto the body, its buoyancy keeping them both afloat. She spit out muddy water and jerked the girl’s hair loose from its tangle. Her churning legs steered them forward until the girl’s head bumped into the bank.

She slipped off the corpse and stood in the waist-high water, shivering as a gust of wind rose from the river. Her sodden clothing clung to her small frame, the wet-wool smell of her shawl tangled around her neck choking her. Adelaide bent down and turned the body toward her.

Johanna. She stared at the open eyes of her friends’ beloved daughter as water washed over the girl’s face. Her knees buckled as a vision of her own precious baby rose in her mind. She clutched Johanna to her breast and rocked back and forth, the chill forgotten. Whatever would Helga do when she learned of another daughter’s death?

The wind picked up, and a wave splattered them. Joanna’s lifeless arms flapped about, slapping her with icy hands. She’s so cold, poor child. I have to get her out. She groaned as she lifted the water-logged body farther up onto the bank. A whoosh of air escaped from Johanna’s lips.

Air? No water?

She tugged again. Only a dribble escaped the girl’s lips. Puzzled, she rolled Johanna over gently. The skin on the girl’s colorless face seemed as if it had been molded out of paraffin. Adelaide reached over and closed her eyes.

A voice from above cut through her. “Was machst Du?”

About Me

I’m the author of award-winning books for nurses and the Monika Everhardt medical mysteries. Cover Her Body is the first book in a series set in the 1830s village my ancestors settled after escaping religious persecution in their native Germany. It’s my pleasure to bring them to life in my fiction!

Buy Cover Her Body at: Amazon ($11.72) Kindle ($2.99) or autographed from my website:


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