May 27, 1857
Billy’s going was not like smoke in the wind. There was no sense of falling, no feeling of terror. Indeed, as his mind broke free of his physical body, it simply left behind all the pain. The opium fogging his mind was gone, along with the brain whose synapses it had numbed. But with no brain and no body to encumber it, the essence of what made Billy Travers was unbound.
He did not fall. He flew.
He flew into what at first seemed like a blinding light. But soon, even the concept of light and dark was left behind, and he soared in a state of bliss where everything around him was part of himself, and nothing seemed out of balance.
Billy had feared death, for it was the unknown, and he had wondered if death meant the loss of everything and everyone he knew and loved. But he was surprised, for this felt like the opposite. Every imaginary barrier between himself and the universe fell away until he was overwhelmed by a euphoric oneness with the universe.
This was not loss. This was union. This was oneness.
Billy had never longed for God, and to be honest, had not thought of God much at all in his brief visit to the Earth. But now, he felt the presence of an all knowing intelligence all around him. No, not quite all around him. The presence was in him. He was the presence, and the presence was him. It was not that he sensed God, it was that he was God, realizing something that he should have known all along—that the distinction between the creator and the creation was always an illusion. There was only the Vastness: the miraculous clockwork of the universe which had always been in motion, and would always be in motion.
There was a sense of peace in the Vastness, and Billy felt himself hurtling toward a joyous and important destiny. It was as if he was in an endless stream, populated by the souls of others who had also completed their brief foray into flesh and time, but had now rejoined the unlimited mind of God. Which was his mind, which was all of their minds, rushing toward a glorious ocean in the distance. An ocean that would be the ultimate fusion of his consciousness with that of the universal being; like a single grain of salt dissipating into an infinite ocean. Becoming the ocean into which it dissolved.
Billy was infused with a great joy, and there was enough of his old consciousness remaining to be giddy at the prospect. This river journey would just be the last step of his path. It would be the last stage of his destiny, and then he would finally be home.
And then there was another presence in the Vastness.
This was not one of the souls hurtling toward eternity alongside him, not one of his brothers and sisters who had also become one with existence. Somehow, this figure was outside of the rushing stream. It was outside of him, which felt impossible. His mind struggled to find a metaphor for the being, reaching back into his quickly fading consciousness of life on the physical plane. What he landed on was an image of an old man, seated on a rock, amid the stream of souls that rushed by him on either side like a vast river.
This must be God, he thought. And he yearned for fingers so that he could reach out to the figure. But Billy was beyond fingers now, beyond bodies, beyond any control. The Vastness controlled everything now.
The strange figure had a dark visage, cold, unreadable and closed. Billy struggled to understand how this figure could separate itself from all that was, and all that could be. The dark presence seemed like a spot of rot in the otherwise perfect flesh of creation.
No, this was not God.
God was peace and rest, not an old man on a rock in this stream. God was the ultimate union of his own soul with that of the universe. God was the ocean that longed for him like his mother calling him home.
No, this was not God. This being wanted to interrupt his journey, not facilitate it. It didn’t want him to find his way to his destiny.
And Billy learned he was not yet beyond fear.
He tried to push away, to avoid the rock, but now there were burning eyes in the being, and he sensed something reaching for him. There was a dark shadow over the figure, like perhaps a tree, or a writhing nest of serpents. Billy felt the dark shapes reach and then catch him, and he froze. Cold claws gripped his soul, somehow separating it from all the other souls in the river. It was as if a hand the size of a covered wagon had closed around his tiny, helpless body. And he felt himself pulled up and out of the stream of souls.
The wrenching free of the stream was the beginning of true terror for Billy Travers. His parting from the river of souls was full of such agony and despair, as if his soul had become so intertwined with those around him, that his skin was being pulled free and left behind as he ascended.
Now, the joy had turned to a wrenching panic and fear. Billy fought the claw, trying to break its grip. If he could only struggle free, he could fall back into the stream, and flow on to the Ocean of God that still called to him, with even more urgency now.
He heard a laugh which was harsh and cruel enough to break his will, and the last of his ethereal consciousness was wrenched free of the stream. What he felt was now no longer the Vastness. It was cold and empty and dark beyond imagining. He felt himself being hurled back the way he had come, back toward the world of the living…
But then there was a voice, and it calmed him. It was a woman’s voice, cracked with age. He struggled to make out her words, which seemed just beyond his ability to comprehend. But the voice soothed him, even though he could not understand her words.
Was she God? Was God an old woman?
The river and the voice were both gone now, and there was nothing but emptiness and loneliness and fear. The emptiness sucked his memories from him, and his mind slipped away like a discarded cloak.
He struggled to hold on to who he was, even who he had been. But the faces winked out. His father, then his mother. He tried to picture Frances, whom he once loved, but her face was gone too. The last face he saw was the little sister, but he couldn’t remember her name. Then it came to him.
Princess, he thought.
Then she too was gone, and Billy Travers was empty. Just a shattered shell. No fear, no loss—just emptiness, as vast as the universe. And a feeling of rising, as if there must be, somewhere far above him, the world he had left behind.
A world that wanted him back.
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.
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Copyright 2021, Wess Mongo Jolley. All rights reserved.