The Grey Girl

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Chapter 27: 1938

Edgar’s breath hung in the icy air. He shivered as he made his way deeper into the old barn. He puzzled as the outside air had been so warm on this late July evening. There was a light in the back and muffled voices. Edgar was rooted to the ground, his heart hammering away. As if this night needed to get worse, he thought. He had just left the main house after yet another heated discussion with his father.

“You are a disappointment to me and a disgrace to the family,” his father had growled during dinner. Edgar had just lost one of the mill’s oldest clients due to missing several deadlines. “I don’t know why I ever thought putting you in charge would change you,” the elder man continued as Edgar twisted his napkin in his lap. Richard stared at his brother, shaking his head slightly, warning Edgar not to react. “If your brother wasn’t so busy with his studies, I would have him taken over at once.” Mr. Davis’s hand slammed the table, sending the glasses tinkling and silverware clinking.

“Father,” Richard began. “I would not want that job. It is thankless.” He sighed heavily. “The clients have unrealistic expectations. I believe their problem is more with Edgar trying to run the business effectively than any fault of his own. Under the previous management, they were given too—”

“If it is not his fault, he can answer for himself!” The elder Davis slammed his hand down again.

Both Edgar and Richard sat in stunned silence. Their father never raised his voice to his young son. Their mother smiled as if oblivious to the raised voices and murderous looks. “I think a little sip would do us all good.” She got unsteadily to her feet, bustling over to a cabinet in the corner. “I don’t really care what the president says; a little nip never hurt anyone.” She made to pour some amber liquid in Mr. Davis’s glass, but he covered it with his hand.

“I believe it was a little nip that caused most of our troubles at the mill. Perhaps not so little.” Mr. Davis was glaring at his eldest son. Edgar took the glass his mother had just filled for him and downed it in one go.

“Attaboy,” his mother cried as she downed her own drink. Richard stared at his own untouched glass. He watched as his brother’s drink was refilled by their mother. He knew where this evening was going and excused himself. His mother shrugged, taking his drink and finished it before he was out of the room.

Disgust crumpled Mr. Davis’s face. “You both are repulsive. Stay here with your mother, boy. When you grow to be a man, come back to talk to me.”

Mrs. Davis laughed at her husband’s back while she poured two more drinks. “When you can prove to me you’re a man, maybe I’ll let him go.” Her glare could burn through steel. Mr. Davis half-turned back to the room. Edgar’s drink shook in his hand as he waited for the verbal tornado to fall. It didn’t. His father left the room to the cackle of laughter of his mother. Edgar had sat drinking with her until the second bottle was half-empty, and she got up to continue the fight with Mr. Davis. Edgar left the house to angry screams of his mother calling for his father and the shattering of glass.

A board creaked under Edgar’s boot. In an instant the barn was silent and dark. The air began to warm. A silhouette appeared as the back door was thrown open and disappeared with the slamming door. Edgar listened for a moment, making sure he was alone. Another fear jabbed into his stomach. What if they knew? What if they found his secret? Quickly lighting a lamp, he rushed behind the bales and discarded timber. Straw was strewn over the floor, covering charred wood. Brushing off the board with the knot in it, he disregarded the symbols carved into it. More of Richard’s doodles, he thought. Throwing the board aside, relief washed over him. It was still there; he was still safe.

Edgar woke the next morning with a band saw ripping through his skull and cats fighting in his stomach. Dangerously, he got to his feet. Bending over to replace the board and cover it with straw nearly killed him, or so it felt. Stumbling out in the blazing sun, he threw up. Today was not going to be a good day. His father was on the porch now. Edgar waited for the berating. None came. His father stared at him, blood appeared on his mouth, and the older man fell.

At the hospital, the doctors couldn’t tell the family what was wrong, but it didn’t look good. Edgar wasn’t sure how he felt, but there was something odd about his brother’s blank stare. He couldn’t tell if he was satisfied or terrified.

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