The Checkup
January 2, 2012
Murder In Ellsworth
January 15, 2012
The Checkup
January 2, 2012
Murder In Ellsworth
January 15, 2012


Hattie inhaled the fresh spring mountain air before sweeping the porch. The children were asleep and her husband, Clay, had taken the wagon into town some 50 miles away. He would be gone for several days to get supplies, do some trading and hunting on the way back.

                Oh, I do enjoy this time of year. It’s like no other this side of Heaven.  She continued sweeping until Claire, her eldest daughter, slowly opened the cabin door.

                “Mama,” Claire said still rubbing the sleep out of her eyes. “Do I have to go to the outhouse? Can’t I just use the pan inside?”

                “Well child, I guess if you have to go that bad,” Hattie began, “but you’ll have to clean it before the others are up.”

                “Yes, ma’am.”

                Hattie shook her head, laughed, and leaned the broom next to the rocking chair before entering the cabin again. “Claire, I need you to tend to the other children when they’re awake so I can work in the garden this morning. When I finish that chore, we’ll have to take the wash to the creek.”

                “Yes, Mama,” Claire replied as she took the pot outside. “I’ll be right back.”

                Hattie repositioned the burning logs and moved some of the hotter coals to the perimeter of the cooking area. She had just replaced the kettle of porridge on the coals when Claire returned.

                “I won’t be long, Claire,” Hattie told her as she tied her garden apron around her waist.

                The morning heat permeated through the starched rim of Hattie’s cotton bonnet. After hoeing a short time she stood upright for a minute to stretch her back and catch her breath. Shouldn’t take me much longer. She wiped the sweat off her brow with her dress sleeve. Should be able to wash the clothes and get the beans planted today. Claire and Timothy can help.

                Hattie continued hoeing another row of weeds, pleased with the progress she was making when she abruptly dropped her hoe and winced in pain.

                “Oh,” she yelled not realizing what had happened. She quickly turned to see the scaly head of a poisonous snake she had disturbed. Its fangs had penetrated the back of her leg, just above the top of her boot.

                She retaliated quickly and ferociously slammed the blade of the hoe on the snake. Hattie knew she had killed the snake but also knew that poison was already in her bloodstream.

                Oh, Lord help me.

                Her neighbors weren’t close. The Haskin’s farm was nearly a mile away. She couldn’t catch up with Clay’s wagon; he had been gone too long now.

                Hattie knew the more she moved the sooner she would die and she couldn’t bear the thought of her children not having their mother. Her mind vividly played a worse scenario—her husband returns only to find her and her children all dead. Oh, God. NO!        Hattie hurried back to the cabin, her leg throbbing with each step.

                “Claire! Get Timothy. I’ll carry the baby. Hurry, we must go NOW!”

                Claire was stunned. She had never heard her mother speak with such force.


                “Now, Claire! Go—NOW!” She grabbed Georgia, wrapped her in her apron, tying it like a sling across her back. Hattie could feel her leg swelling. Claire gasped watching Hattie grab the hunting knife.

                “Mama?” Claire cried.

                Hugging each of the children Hattie told them that she loved them. Then without further hesitation she ran down the dirt path toward the Haskin’s farm. Claire and Timothy followed quickly behind her. Will I make it in time? I’ve got to.

                The mile to the Haskin’s homestead felt like 100 miles to Hattie. With each continuous step she grew weaker. The farther she went the sicker Hattie felt. Her stomach churned nauseously. Her head was pounding; she was sweating profusely. She tried swallowing but her throat was tight. Would she reach the Haskin’s before it was too late?

                “Mama,” Claire said finally catching up with her mother. “Look. There’s the creek by the Haskin’s farm. I’m so thirsty, Mama.”

                Hattie stopped and looked at her nine-year old. She’s a beautiful girl….she’ll be a good moth…

                “We don’t have much time, Claire,” she wiped her forehead, trying to catch her breath. “Take the baby, Claire, and the children, but quickly, Claire, QUICKLY.”

When they were just out of sight, Hattie cut into her swollen leg where the snake had bitten her. She knew the poison was already in her system, and she prayed she would get help in time.

                The children scurried back from the waters’ edge but Claire was the only one that noticed the blood stains on her mother’s dress.

                “We must hurry, children,” Hattie said, partly stumbling as she ran.

                Claire grabbed Timothy with one hand and held the baby closer to her and she obediently ran after her mother.

                Ben Haskin was in his field plowing when he happened to look up. “Whoa,” he told the horses quickly pulling back on the reins but immediately releasing them.

                “Hel—p! Hel—p us!” Claire hollered.

                Ben ran toward the children. Behind the children a woman crawled into the clearing. “Hattie? Land sakes, what happened?”

                Hattie’s dress was torn and bloody. When Ben reached her, she pointed to her leg and boot, and then collapsed.

                Ben removed Hattie’s boot and saw the deep cut and fang marks. His heart sank.

                “Hang on, Hattie, hang on,” he told her, gently lifting her up. “Come on Claire, you and the baby and Timothy follow me.”

                Timothy and Claire were crying when Ben hollered for his wife’s help as he approached the cabin. She opened the cabin door to see Hattie’s body limp in her husband’s arms and the children sobbing.

                Quickly but gently Ben laid Hattie on their bed while his wife brought a pan of water and rags to cool Hattie’s body. Claire stood by the bed cuddling little Georgia. Timothy clung to Claire’s skirt and cried while Mrs. Haskin tended to their mother. Between changing the wet rags, Mrs. Haskin gave the children some biscuits to eat and assured them that their mama would be fine. After finishing the biscuits the children curled up on the bear rugs by the fireplace.

                They all waited. Only time and prayer could make a difference now.


                Ben, his wife, and Hattie’s children were eating supper that evening when the bedroom door opened.

                “Mama!” Claire and Timothy said, jumping out of their chairs and running to hug her.

                Hattie managed to hobble to the nearest chair with Claire and Timothy clinging to her.

                “We thought you were gone, Hattie,” Mrs. Haskins said handing her a cup of hot tea. “God has answered our prayers.”

                “Best we can figure,” Ben added, “you must have sweated all the poison out of your system, even with cutting your leg.”

                Hattie managed a smile of thanks as she took a sip of hot tea. Her children were safe, she was alive, and hugs were in abundance that spring morning in the Appalachian Mountains.