June 6, 12:25 pm
Mattie could never run far enough to rid herself of Billy Travers. And God knows she had tried. She had run to the limits of the Hereafter more times than she could count, hoping that she’d find some hidden corner of their world that was free of the haunting presence of the evil boy. And sometimes he would not follow. Even for days at a time. But always, he returned.
This time she ran until her lungs ached and her legs trembled. Because not only was she running from Billy but also from the strangely terrifying new ghost with the beard and the bloody sweatshirt. The one that had seen her and even screamed at her.
Screamed at her!
The one who had screamed that she was dead, as if that was something she hadn’t known for a century and a half. It wasn’t what the man said that terrified her, but it was something in his eyes. They seemed to know her in a way that made her feel naked and ashamed. And she didn’t want to be naked in front of anybody but God.
When she stopped running, Mattie found herself downtown, near the light rail tracks, not far from Temple Square. Even though this part of town was extremely busy, Mattie came here often. She had discovered that the concrete median on State Street was one of the safest places in the city for a ghost. There were never any pedestrians to avoid, and no cars were likely to jump the curb and reset her. And of course, to a ghost, the smooth concrete abutment was far more comfortable than a hillside of spiky grass. But mostly, the hum of the traffic passing by just a foot or two from where she sat was calming.
She needed calming. Now that she was far away from Liberty Park, she wondered exactly what had given her such a fright. The strange bearded ghost had already slipped from her mind. What still galled her was Billy.
This was the second time in two days that she had run from him, and she had long ago promised herself that the evil little boy would no longer have such power over her. Even though there was no way to hide from his prying mind, she had worked very hard to convince herself that he was nothing—just a fly buzzing in her ear, or an annoying thought that she could banish whenever she chose.
God had told her not to let Billy interfere with the work they had to do. And now, twice, she had failed God and allowed the despicable boy to upset her calm and focused mind.
And now, not just him.
Who was that strange man? she wondered, her mind involuntarily called back to his ugly, bearded face and blood-stained sweatshirt
Surely, he was another ghost, since he had seen her, and because his hand had passed through her. But why had he run toward her like that? Why had he screamed at her? What did he want? Was he somehow in cahoots with Billy? Had the despicable boy sent this new ghost to torment her? Why did the look in his eyes make her feel violated, and somehow ashamed?
I wish Frances was here. She’d make Billy go away and leave me alone. She’d make the scary man go away too.
She imagined her sister sitting in front of her, the way she used to do in their cabin in Round Valley. She imagined her mother baking bread on their wood stove, and her father out tending the hogs. Sitting there on the concrete in the middle of State Street, Mattie looked into her sister’s eyes, and began the song:
Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker’s man.
Bake me a cake as fast as you can
Pat it, and prick it, and mark it with “B”
And put it in the oven for baby and me!
Frances had taught her the complicated series of claps, and they would play Pat-a-cake over and over, until their mother grew tired of their voices and sent them both outside. She loved those times with her sister, and now, she could absolutely hear and feel their hands clapping together.
Why hasn’t Frances come back? Why am I here alone?
God said it was Billy’s fault. He said that Frances was afraid of Billy because the boy was evil and wanted Frances just for himself. It was because Billy had impure thoughts that Frances had gone on to the Ocean of Souls without her sister. But God had also promised Mattie that Frances would wait for her there once their work in this valley was done.
“When the wild horses once again run free,” she said, remembering what God had told her.
With a start she realized that the hum of Billy’s presence, the one that had been like a tug in her forehead for decade after decade, was now very dull, and very far away.
He didn’t follow me, she thought.
Strangely, without that hum in her mind, she felt almost empty. She hated him, but yet, not having him reaching out for her with his thoughts left her somehow off balance. It felt as if she closed her eyes, she might fall over into the street.
Recoiling from that feeling, she turned to the only force that had consoled her since the day she died. She longed for God’s kind words, and his soothing presence. She knew many people feared God, but she never had. To her, he was kindness and comfort, and she held nothing but love for him. As she had proved again and again, she would do anything that God asked of her.
She laid flat on the concrete barrier, closed her eyes, and opened her mind to God. As she expected, he was there. As he always was. She felt the warmth of him fold over her, like the warm blanket that her mother used to keep on the wood rack near the stove, always ready to wrap around her when she came in from the cold. She reveled in the warmth and felt God’s kindness wash over her and through her. And as she did, the world went silent. All that existed now was the voice of God.
He seldom spoke in words. Usually, all she needed was to bask in the glow of his love. Only when God needed her to do something did he form words in her mind. But she always found it best to use words in her prayers. So she would tell God how much she loved him, and promise that she would be forever his. That no matter what he needed from her, she was there to do it.
So when God spoke to her, it was Christmas and her birthday and a bowl of ice cream, all rolled into one.
Your mind is troubled, Mattie, God said. Why are you distraught?
The tears were in her eyes instantly, and the words poured out of her like God had released them from behind a dam. “It’s that horrible boy, Billy. I hate him, I hate him, I hate him!”
God sent her a wave of warmth and comfort, and her anger died away. You are right to hate him, God said. For I have told you to hate sin as much as I do. And Billy sins, greatly. I have told you to hate disobedience, as I do. And Billy disobeys me with every thought and deed.
“I wish he would leave me alone. I wish I could make him go away forever.”
Mattie, you are the most beloved of God. You are the best of my angels. And I promise you, when you accompany me into the Ocean of Souls, Billy will trouble you no longer. You will be with Frances, and Billy will be left behind.
Mattie remembered the sacred promise. When God gathered up his angels, the rebellious dead who had defied his will would be left to suffer alone forever in this place. Billy would stay here, but she would be with God, and with Frances. Forever.
I am very proud of you, Mattie. And I love you very much. You will always be the best of my angels.
Mattie felt special. God had hundreds of angels. She saw them every day, walking the streets of this city. They were all hungry for the approval of God—approval she long ago obtained. He had many hundreds of servants, but he would always love her best. He had told her so, right from the beginning. Nobody would ever please God how Mattie did, and she knew she would always be his special child.
Mattie felt her body relax and release. All the tension went away and she could almost imagine the hard concrete to be the horsehair bed she last slept in a hundred and fifty years ago. She was awash in peace and joy, and all that remained was her unwavering love and devotion to the will of God. It made her hug herself and rock back and forth in delight.
Be at peace, Princess, God whispered, his voice like a father’s kiss. Our journey is at hand.
It was what God had promised them all from the beginning. A release from the horrors of living in this in-between place. When the City of Man was destroyed, then God would take them all by the hand and lead them into the warm Ocean of his love. It would be her mother’s blanket around her cold, shivering body. It would be a soaring into eternal bliss and paradise. It would be a merging with God, and with her mother and father. And most of all, it would be Frances, smiling and laughing, and playing Pat-A-Cake with her in the summer sunshine.
And it would mean no more Billy Travers. The horrible boy would be left behind in the ruins of this city; just another failed angel, bereft of God. She would never have to feel his judgmental eyes on her again. Never have to hear him call her “Princess.”
Only God would call her that, after Billy was gone.
And to show my love for you, God continued, his voice caressing her mind, I will offer you a gift. Years ago, I gave you an angel of your own. I think it is time you had another. He will be waiting for you at the theater. Exactly three days after you liberated his soul, he will return to you. His name is Bradley Seward. You will take him and care for him, and he will serve both you and I in this, our last days.
Mattie was breathless. She had never expected to get a second angel, and it was truly a measure of God’s love that he would offer her such a gift, especially since there were so few days left before the Cleansing.
“He was handsome and strong,” she said, breathlessly. “My baby boy needs a companion, and the pilot seemed like such a nice man.”
Wait for him at the theater. Know that you will always be my Princess. And that you will sit at my side for eternity.
That was enough for Mattie. She wanted to stand up and dance, knowing that the pilot would soon be hers. Unlike all the others, this one would come back. It just took the right offering to God to make it happen.
Then God was gone from her mind. Mattie opened her eyes and looked at the bustling, busy, noisy city around her. She hated this world so much. This city of vermin and roaches. Such a seething and pathetic mass of sad, lost, unsaved souls.
They will all suffer, she mused, smiling. There will be so much suffering. And when this city has suffered enough, I’ll take my savior’s hand, and never see this valley again.
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.