June 2, 9:03 pm
In the stream, God has placed a stone.
He calls himself God, but he is not God. He calls it a stone, but it is not a stone (at least, not a stone in this place), and there is no stream. These are only metaphors that God created so long ago that even he does not remember when it all began.
The river is dark and turbulent and filled with souls. The tree is massive—perhaps a cottonwood—and it grows on the rock as if its roots are tentacles squeezing the breath from the stone, and writhing beneath the surface of the rushing black water.
God sits on the stone, under the tree like a Buddha—watching the river of souls rush by.
Far in the distance he sees the City, from which the souls in his stream come. At his back, behind the tree (and too far away for even him to see) is the Ocean of God. It is into this ocean that these souls are destined to flow, where they will be dissolved and digested like flies in a carnivorous plant.
He calls it the Ocean of God, even though it is an ocean he has never seen.
But don’t all streams flow to the Ocean? And isn’t everything natural “of God” in the strictest sense? Even those places I have never been are mine, he thinks, because that is the nature of God.
Someday he will visit the Ocean of God, like all these hopeless and terrified souls.
By contrast, the City of Man is not his city. God has the mountains and the clouds and the oceans. God has the animals and the wild horses that once ran free in this valley. But God has never had this city that the residents once arrogantly called Deseret. This city is not his, because this city is unnatural. And like all unnatural things, the city must be cleansed.
One day, when the city is clean, he will leave this cursed place, and flow into his Ocean, which is the source of all things. It will be the palace from which he will rule the world and live in harmony with all the dead.
But for now, he is alone on the rock in the stream, and has been since a time long forgotten, when his rage dropped the stone here and split the river in two.
God loves to sit on his rock and listen to the screaming that comes from the stream, as the souls are stripped to their essentials by the Void. Often, the air is rent with the cries of anguish as the souls are parted from their baser selves. This anguish makes God smile, for only a cleansed soul can be worthy of his love.
The soul of God sits on his rock. And from time to time, he makes a selection.
There is no stone, and there is no tree, and there is no stream. But there are souls, and as they rush by his throne at the base of the cottonwood, God must, from time to time, reach out his hand and point. When he does so, the branches of the cottonwood stir as in a strong breeze, and the limbs twist and turn like snakes. Hard branches soften, and leafless limbs bend gently but inexorably toward the rushing black water. And toward the lost soul that is the target of God’s gnarled, shaking finger.
Then with infinite care, but with frightening speed, the tree of God snags and holds a writhing, moaning, terrified soul, and lifts it from the black water.
In just three days, the soul will be back in the City of Man.
One voice among many, Richard Pratt screamed into the Void.
He had no mouth, and he had no body, and soon, he had no mind. All he had was his screaming, and a terrified whisper of a soul that was stripped of every memory from his fifty-seven years of life.
In the Void there is loss so deep, that even the memories of what we have lost are boiled away.
It is comforting to think that beyond the veil, after everything we knew and everyone we loved is stripped away, we will still remember. We are desperate to hold fast to an image of death that ends with us sitting quietly on a cloud with those we loved, leafing through the photo albums of our lives. We would like to have an eternity of quietness and stillness, with that endless album of memories to keep us company.
It is a dream, and a comfort. It is the stuff of myth and legends told around the fire. Holy books have been written upon that dream. The dying have found comfort in the harps and clouds of heaven since before we ventured from the caves.
But Richard discovered that, in the Void, the loss is so profound that even the knowledge of what has been lost is stripped away. All that is left is a profound grief that rends the soul into shreds that mend themselves, and are rent asunder once again, over and over—until the longing, the memories, and even the faces disappear.
In the Void, Richard wanted to cry out, but he had no mouth. He wanted to stretch his hands into the darkness and grasp for the life that had been ripped away. But he had no voice, no fingers to reach. And the depth of the surrounding dark was infinite and cold and filled with nothing but loss and despair.
If there had been anything left of himself to reflect upon it, he would have looked at his suffering and named it for what it was. He would have lamented his destruction. He would have tried to find hope that somehow this was just a passage to something greater, or that in his suffering, he would find redemption.
But self-reflection posits the existence of the self, and the ability to step out and look back. In the Void, there was no longer any self for Richard to reflect upon. Who he was had been stripped away as efficiently as the life he no longer remembered, the loves he no longer could name, and the world that had once been his home.
And so he floated in that black water and suffered. His suffering was an abstraction that was nothing, and thus everything. It was a unitary existence that allowed no time, no space, no source, no destination. It was loss. And loss. And continuing, all pervasive, relentless loss. And if he’d had a mind left, he would have thought it would go on forever, and he would have despaired.
But he had no mind. And that was the only kindness the Void offered. That, and the Stone in the Stream.
The stone that was not a stone, in the stream that was not a stream.
And the tree, with limbs like snakes, reaching for him…
God stopped, interrupted in his reverie. He had done his work, and the new soul he selected sent along on its three-day journey to The City of Man. He had selected several this day, but that last one…
Why did this last soul cause me to shiver so?
Standing at his office window, God saw the uniformed personnel bustling about, and the scientists in their white coats heading to their labs in the brilliant desert sunshine. He saw this all and shook off his misgivings.
No matter, he thought. Soon now, it will all be death and destruction.
It had been a long journey. Longer than he even remembered, but it was nearing a close. Soon, it would be the end of the City of Man. This City called Salt Lake. And he could finally leave this place and take his throne in the Ocean of God.
He closed his eyes, and saw the handful of new souls he had selected, now well on their three-day journey back to the places where they had died.
That last one, in particular, he thought. That one will bear watching.
The Last Handful of Clover is a supernatural thriller by Wess Mongo Jolley. Thanks for reading! If you are enjoying this story, please consider supporting the author on Patreon.
For more information (including maps of the story’s world and a contact form) visit the author’s website.
To read previous chapters of this book, go to the Table of Contents page.
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Copyright 2021, Wess Mongo Jolley. All rights reserved.