June 6, 12:03 pm
It did not surprise Billy to find Mattie in the playground at Liberty Park.
In watching Mattie for so many years he had learned that, despite her actual age, she was still a child. While Billy no longer felt like a fifteen-year-old boy, Mattie was still the strange and troubled little girl he had met on the plains of the Midwest. The only difference, or course, being that she was far more strange and troubled now than she had ever been in 1857.
Mattie still craved the company of other children. For more than a century she had frequented elementary schools and playgrounds all over the city, where she would sit and watch the other children with hungry eyes. Of course, she couldn’t play with them, as she surely longed to do. But she could sit with them, and Billy would watch as alternate waves of longing and loathing passed over her face.
Now, after her most heinous act yet, she had led him back here to Liberty Park, where the children were frolicking and roughhousing in ways that they probably could not get away with on their school grounds. He couldn’t see her face, as she had sat on the swing with her back to him, but he could feel those waves of emotion passing through her.
Although he wanted to go to her, Billy stayed away. He had long since stopped trying to interact with Mattie, since every interaction ended like the one in the mall parking lot last night. It probably hadn’t been wise to speak to her after the theater massacre. But Billy had not been able to stop himself. He knew that if he approached her now, she would just flee from him again.
So he stayed back among the trees, just north of the playground, and watched. Strange foreboding told him he should draw no closer.
From his vantage point, he watched her back as she sat on the swing. She was moving her legs, but of course, the swing itself remained still, not even stirred by the wind.
She knows I’m watching her, he thought. She knows, but she won’t turn around. She wouldn’t want to give me the satisfaction.
It did her no good to run from him, of course. He could always envision in his mind exactly where she was, and it was easy to find her again. Their connection was like sonar in his head. All he had to do was think of her and he could tell where she was, like a warmness on his face, or a tug, deep in his forehead. Sometimes that walk took a day or more, especially if she was back in Round Valley where she had died. But his sonar never failed.
And of course, that bond went both ways. Staring at her back, he knew she was also aware of him, standing in the shadows of the trees. She was ignoring him with the studious intensity of a lion ignoring a bird that had come to inspect a recent kill.
Suddenly weary, Billy took off his straw hat and rested his forehead against the trunk. He allowed his eyes to drop from Mattie for just a moment. His bare feet were still clean and soft, just as they had been the day he died. And he had long ago learned to banish the pain he once felt, walking barefoot on the rough earth and the hard streets of Salt Lake City.
The feel of the bark, hard against his cheek, was calming. His mind had been racing ever since the theater, trying to come to grips with what Mattie had become.
He had followed her for more than a century and a half. But only in the last couple decades had he seen her descend into this level of violence and madness. Once, long ago, she was just a lost little girl, overwhelmed by her own sadness, and full of fury for what they had done to her. Even then she had hated Billy, for reasons he never fully understood. Still, all that was to be expected, considering the violence and the horrors she had endured.
But once she and the voice she called God began their long conversations, Mattie became something very different. Something very dark, and something very terrifying.
I should have seen all this coming, he thought with resignation. This is the road that the Wanderer has led her down. The lost little girl that I came to love must still be somewhere inside this dark and twisted thing. All that she has done… All that she hopes to do…
He stopped his thoughts, afraid to face what he knew deep inside. His cheek trembled against the rough bark, his mind filled with dark foreboding. He had long known that this day was coming. But it had come quicker than he had expected. The previous acts of death and destruction Mattie had committed for her God were only a prelude to what happened last night.
And last night will be just the prelude for whatever is to come next. The thing that the Wanderer really wants of her… And not just with her. With so many of them…
More than a century ago an old woman named Tuilla had hinted that he should expect this day. She had warned him, but she had not told him what to do when the day arrived. Thinking of Tuilla, he couldn’t help but long for the old woman. It had been many, many years since he last saw her. She foresaw all of this. Why had she abandoned them all to what was coming?
He looked back at the little girl on the swing.
Mattie is the key. If I’m going to prevent what is coming, I must stay with her. She is the key to everything.
As if she could read his thoughts, the little girl jumped down from the swing, and turned to look directly into Billy’s eyes. For a moment, she just stared at him there amongst the trees. Billy felt a chill run through him.
She is so different. So enthralled by her God. So terrifying.
Then she smiled, turned away, and walked to the sandbox where two younger boys were playing with a toy truck…
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.
If you’re interested in listening to the book, rather than reading it, the audiobook is available at the Patreon link above, and also as a podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Anchor, and all other podcast platforms. Visit the podcast page for more details.
Copyright 2021, Wess Mongo Jolley. All rights reserved.