Prologue from An Only Child
York County, PA - September 1964
They sat in silence, neither looking at the other, averting their eyes not wanting to speak. Clayton Martin cut the overcooked pork chop with persistence and muted determination. Gnawing at the barely palatable meat until the effort made his jaw pop. The sound reminded her of his presence; Clayton didn’t want her attention. No, he did not want attention after the argument with Edgar. Clayton seethed, thinking back. He looked at her with disgust, then back at his plate. She can’t even cook.
“This meat is tough.” He said flatly, stabbing another chunk.
“It’s all there is,” Emma replied, just as flatly. Clayton gave his wife the briefest of glances and then went back to chewing the mouthful of meat.
Silence, again. Clayton hated it. Every night for eight months, the same routine. Since she uttered those fateful words, “I’m pregnant,” questions answered with one or two-word replies. The information offered under duress or compulsion. Why? Clayton didn’t know. What he knew, silence made it all worse.
Before Edgar, his firstborn, Clayton had been happy. Clayton had a clear vision of what life held. He heard the call of his destiny. Clayton knew where he stood. Somewhere along the way, he lost sight of his goals. He lost the scent of his quarry. Clayton couldn’t hear his future’s siren call. The silence overwhelmed him. He hated silence. Little superseded his hatred of silence, although the pregnant bitch sitting across from him continued to do so. Again, he had to ask, like so many times before, why did I marry her?
The quick reply, that bastard boy she’s carrying. Lately, whenever he questioned something in his life, he heard the rebuke or advice in Carrie’s voice. His first wife’s, Carrie, practical view of the world got them through every hard time they faced as Edgar grew up. She let nothing get her down. If something happened, something unexpected came along; Carrie carried them through—Carrie’s inner strength. That’s what had attracted him to her.
Clayton’s mother had seen it too. She said, “You’ll do no better than that one, Clay. You’d better tie her down while you can.”
Always the obedient son, Clayton said, “Yes, mama.” On his and Carrie’s second date, Clayton had proposed. Ten months later, on July 10, 1948, they had their first and only son. Two-weeks after Edgar’s birth Clayton’s mother died, leaving Clayton, Carrie and their newborn son Edgar the house on three acres. The small yellow ranch house nestled in woods outside York, Pa, known as Hallam Township.
Edgar, that handsome, adorable baby, grew up to be a troublesome child. When Carrie became sick with cancer, Edgar worsened. Edgar would go off for hours, leaving Carrie alone in her sickbed while Clayton was at work. Edgar blamed Clayton for everything and eventually refused to attend Carrie’s funeral to spite Clayton. Those memories filled Clayton’s mind now; Clayton chomped hard and relentlessly on the to-tough, overcooked meat, and he seethed.
Clayton’s stealthy hunting abilities are near legend around these parts. They say Clayton could sneak up on himself before he knew he was coming. Lost in his thoughts, the loud cracking sound of splintering wood from behind genuinely startled Clayton. What the hell? The sound triggered his hunter’s instinct. The thought—to get his gun and show this fool the business end—rushed through Clayton’s mind. Before he could react—and mind you, he had planned to react—a hand slipped around and latched onto his forehead: the pinky and ring fingers half-covering his eyes. Clayton’s head violently jerked back, allowing the icy sting of metal to slide elegantly under his chin.
Emma sat in the old creaky wooden dining chair. She took quick, stealthy glances at Clayton every few seconds. He’s mad again. She sighed. Lately Clayton mad was turning into the norm. Why did I marry him? That hard, stronger, person inside—the one who never let her get away with doubting herself for any reason—offered a quick reply. Because your baby needs a daddy; that’s why. Don’t go fooling yourself. Ain’t no world out there for a poorly educated woman lugging around a baby. Make your peace with this Old Man. You need him more then he needs you.
She hated that voice, mainly due to its tendency to be always right, even so she listened. Her mama always said she was ‘an obedient girl; never fussin’ or fightin’, just listenin’. She wished her mother was around right now. Emma wished she could, would love to do so, talk to her mother. Emma wanted to tell her mother how lousy everything had become. Emma wanted her mother to hold her. To smooth Emma’s hair down as she soothed Emma like she did when Emma was younger. Don’t wish for what you cain’t have. The voice shot at her. You won’t gain anything by shedding tears over what you cain’t change. Have your baby, Clayton will make his claim to it and hope that old age takes your husband soon, and nobody will be the wiser. You’ll get the house, land, and your baby will have his last name.
Emma chewed the tough meat: no one had ever accused her of being a cook, good, or bad. She glanced again at Clayton: despising every wrinkle on his weathered face. Emma missed her mother; not that Clayton cared a lick. He wouldn’t even go to the funeral.
Clayton had said, “I didn’t know the old bitch. Why should I go?”
Emma knew Clayton’s crude and rhetorical question didn’t need a response, so hadn’t offered one and walked out the front door. Emma remembered as she walked down the driveway, her feet crunching across the pea-gravel, she couldn’t believe she would be that man’s wife in two weeks.
Emma’s only solace: her mother died ignorant of her daughter’s bastard pregnancy. Wasn’t that the reason she made sure Clayton had never met her mother. Had they met Clayton would surely have blurted it out. So she went to the funeral without her fiancée, creating a became a scandal that would have given her mother a heart attack; had she not already died of one.
The chair creaked again under her girth as she shifted. I’ve gained so much weight. The chair just made her seemingly constant lack of comfort unbearable. Clayton preferred sitting at the table. Meaning I’m forced to endure these chairs. They’re so uncomfortable: when he dies the first thing I’m going to do is toss this dining set on the fire pit behind the house. May be cook up some doggies and marshmallows to celebrate. A tight smile slid across her face as the thought floated through her mind. She glanced at Clayton again, popping another blackened piece of pork chop into her mouth.
Splinters of wood skidded along the floor, stopping just before they reached her chair. She looked up towards the front door. The blade flashed brightly in the fading light. Like a deer in headlights, Emma froze as the person walked to and stood behind Clayton. Grabbing Clayton’s head and pulled it back with a jerked. His fingers partially covered Clayton’s eyes. For the first time in the eight months since they married, she looked, really looked, at Clayton’s face. She realized he was handsome, so handsome. Emma noticed Clayton’s strong brow. That he got from his father, she knew that because of the likeness to the old photos he kept. Photos locked away in a box at the bottom of his mother’s hope chest. I was looking at them the other day. I remember thinking then the young man in the photos was a decent looking man with high cheekbones. She hadn’t noticed before how they made Clayton look so regal, like a prince. She had hated the pout of his full lips, he never looked happy, but now they have a sex appeal she had never noticed before. Clayton’s eyes: the deep azure blue of a warm ocean, so clear you could see to the bottom of his soul. So thoughtful and deep that it made her regret never knowing him: and now I never will.
She watched as the bright-blue orbs darted back and forth beneath the fingers, thick sausage-like digits clutching Clayton’s forehead. The glint of a large hunting knife flashed—made brighter by the dull glow of the dining room’s lone ceiling light—as it went to Clayton’s neck with the determined ease of a seasoned hunter. The prey’s neck—Clayton’s neck—opened: spilling, red and gurgling, onto the unfinished dinner. Emma watched the crimson fluid bubble and spurt from Clayton’s neck, splashing onto the plate, pooling, overrunning the rim, forming a rivulet that streamed briskly across the table toward her.
Only then did Emma look into Edgar’s hate-filled eyes.
Edgar looked at Emma as his dying father’s head lolled in his grip. Edgar released Clayton’s head. Clayton’s lifeless, bloody body wobbled toppling to the floor falling with a satisfying thump. Still, Edgar looked; His and Emma’s stare never separating, never faltering. Then the fat, redheaded bitch spoke. She always messed up the fun by opening that sassy mouth of hers.
“Edgar, what have you done?”
Hell, she isn’t even bright enough to figure that out. My fuckin’ father is dead now; you’d think the hateful bitch would be happy. Edgar looked thoughtfully at her. I see it now. Something there I hadn’t noticed before. Love? He thought in wonder. No, that’s not it, cain’t be.
Edgar stepped across his father’s body, circling the table to the right towards Emma. She tried moving in the opposite direction, but the chair leg cracked and sent her sprawling on the floor. Edgar kicked the chair out-of-the-way. Emma tried to lift herself from the floor without much success. The unborn brat is weighing her down. Edgar let a little chuckle escape his otherwise tight lips. So now she’s crawlin’. It was a sight to behold, Edgar sarcastically thought and just shook his head. Where is her fat ass going to go?
Edgar caught her with little effort. He grabbed a handful of her thick, fire-red hair and yanked. She screamed, digging her fingernails into the wood plank flooring; trying to gain purchase and pull away. Edgar pulled harder, causing small clumps of hair to loosen. She screamed louder, scratching harder at the floorboards; her fingernail ripped off; it stood bloody and stolid in the wood like a sentinel.
Adrenaline coursed through Edgar’s body: the exhilaration he felt nearly overwhelmed. Elation permeated every inch of his body: head to toe, fingertip-to-fingertip. It hadn’t felt this good when he sliced up old Miss Cleaver a couple of hours ago. To call it fun doesn’t give it its due. He giggled at the irony of—and here he allowed himself the slightest of giggles—hacking at Miss Cleaver with the clever. Even that hadn’t felt this good. Miss Cleaver, that old mouthy bitch, deserved to get what she got; she told father everything. That’s not to say that father didn’t. It just felt hugely satisfying to shut her up. Clayton deserved to die. Edgar started planning death years ago. Today, I had reached my limit. This bitch put the idea in Clayton’s head, and he took everything. So, she deserves death, too.
Edgar slammed Emma’s head into the floor. Jubilation mounting, Edgar pulled Emma’s head back, repeating the act again and again. When she stopped fighting, he rolled her over. Her plump face cut; slick, oozing, and red. He cast his gaze down on her as her eyes fluttered open. Her eyes grew as wide as quarters as he raised the hunting blade into the air. Edgar had to stifle a laugh; he didn’t want to miss the target.
The 12” blade sliced through the hazy air of the house, penetrating the soft flesh of her ample breast, plunging deep into and through Emma’s chest cavity; thumping into the hardwood floor beneath. The baby lurched inside Emma. Oh, my God, the baby’s coming. I need to get up and go to the hospital? As Edgar pulled the blade out of her chest, a full-blown contraction seized her. She didn’t need the sudden wetness between her legs to tell her the baby was coming. The cold steel ripped from her body—she felt more than heard the sucking sound as it went—then Edgar raised the blade high again as another contraction hit her with searing pain. She couldn’t say which hurt worse—blade or baby. The pain made darkness crowd her mind. It crept into the corners of her vision; the blade plunged as unconsciousness took her.