June 6, 12:35 pm
Richard found his way out of the playground and into a less chaotic space, where he wouldn’t be jostled by the frantic parents. But he might as well have been a sleep-walker.
As he watched from the sidelines, everything in the playground returned to normal fairly quickly. The boys had been separated, and the momentary flash of violence seemed unreal to everyone, almost instantly. It was like a bolt of lightning—it struck, it was terrifying, but it was gone almost before anyone who had seen it could register what it was. The mother of the injured boy had hustled him off for medical attention and the other parents were quickly retreating into a “boys will be boys” banter. But Richard knew what had happened was far from normal male roughhousing. He was sure the parents knew it too.
Richard’s breath was shallow, and he felt as if he was on the verge of a panic attack.
What the hell do I do now? he wondered.
Before what he had just witnessed, he was feeling like he at least understood the rules of this new world. But now, he wasn’t sure he understood anything at all.
So, I guess I’m not alone after all. There are other ghosts in the world.
He looked around the park, trying to see it with fresh eyes. He kept picturing the little fundamentalist girl. Yes, she was dressed a bit strangely, but otherwise she looked so normal! He didn’t know what he expected. But there wasn’t any ghostly glow about her, or creepy organ music playing as she glided two inches over the sand of the playground.
If we look like everybody else, how can I know who is a ghost and who isn’t?
On a bench to his left was a skinny guy in a Metallica t-shirt, with longish, dirty brown hair. He looked normal—but was he a ghost too? Richard wouldn’t know unless he touched him, so he stood up, walked over to the man, and put a hand on his shoulder.
Solid as a rock.
How about the matronly woman with the poodle and the copy of the Deseret News? Could she be a ghost? He tested her as well and found her solid. Not knowing what else to do, he wandered through the park, touching every person he could. He chased children until he could play tag with them. Every one was solid, and clearly, this process could take forever.
Finally he returned to the hillside where the boy he had been lying with earlier was still on his blanket. He sank down next to him, as if he was returning to an old friend. The boy was sitting up now, and Richard assumed he had seen the fight break out in the playground, and had watched it unfold. He had a troubled look on his face as he chewed the end of his four-color pen. The same kind Keith always used when he wrote in his journal.
Richard was about to speak to the boy when suddenly the true import of what he had seen came crashing in on him. If he hadn’t already been sitting, he would have sunk to his knees.
“Not only am I not alone,” he said to the boy “Not only are there other ghosts in the world. But I just saw a ghost actually affect the world of the living! I actually saw one…” he stumbled to find the right word. “I think I actually saw a ghost possess a living person! I saw that little girl take control of that boy and she used his body to attack the other kid.” He couldn’t shake the impression that the little girl had actually worn the boy, like a Halloween costume.
To Richard, this meant that the separation between the world of the living and the world of the dead was perhaps not as insurmountable as he thought. Despite all his isolation and inability to move or communicate with anyone, it appeared that the isolation was just an illusion. And if that little girl could actually make her presence felt to the living world, could he as well? Was there a road back to the living from this place?
Suddenly his mind was bombarded with the singular possibility of being able to touch Keith, and have Keith know he was being touched. He imagined being able to tell his husband that he loved him. And most important, to tell him he was sorry to have left him alone in the world.
He briefly considered searching for the little ghost girl, but she had disappeared so quickly, and moved so fast, he didn’t have any idea where to even begin. He laid back on the grass, one arm distractedly stroking the lower back of the boy seated next to him, as he stared at the playground.
But if that ghost was able to control some kid, what else could she do?
The boy suddenly laid back down next to Richard, who had to pull his hand away to stop it from being crushed. Rolling over, the boy scribbled in his journal once again. Richard curled up against him, wishing there was some warmth to be found in his body, imagining that he was that little girl, and imagining himself slipping into the boy, even if just briefly.
What would that be like? he wondered.
The thought felt dangerous and forbidden, and it thrilled him in its transgression. But he had to admit it was what he wanted. Even if it was just long enough to feel himself take a real breath and feel the soft blanket under his hand. Just that would be enough to give him some hope.
The boy scratched at his hand for a moment, then went back to writing.
Richard felt a warm contentment wash through him, and he smiled at the boy. He leaned close to whisper in his ear, as if they were sharing a secret.
“You know, if there was one ghost here, then there has to be more, right? How will I know them? She just looked like a normal little girl…” He paused, as if he really expected the boy to respond. “And if I’m looking for them, maybe at least some of them are looking for me. Are there ghosts watching me right now?”
He looked around, but couldn’t see anybody paying any attention to him. The mothers in the park were not looking his way. The children on the hillside were engrossed in their games and laughter. There was a boy in a straw hat on the far side of the playground, but his hat shaded his face.
Somehow, knowing that there were other ghosts in the world only made Richard feel more horribly alone.
His head on the boy’s shoulder, he read what the boy had just finished writing.
There is so much unexplainable evil in the world. I just watched a little boy, for no reason, begin pounding the shit out of some other kid. He just stood up and, without warning, started smashing him with a toy truck. I’ve never seen a kid act like that. They were just playing together one minute, and then the kid just went crazy. And if that isn’t evil, I don’t know what evil is.
It’s like that guy that stabbed all those people at the theater last night. It just makes no fucking sense.
The Prophet says that God loves us, and that he answers our prayers. But how can that be true, when he lets evil like that guy in the theater exist in the world and doesn’t do a damn thing to stop it?
I don’t understand this fucking world. Every day, I feel like I am less and less a part of it. Like I’m some microbe floating in the veins of this creature that has no idea I’m here. I just wander through my life, and nobody sees me. Nobody hears me. Nobody wants me. Nobody loves me.
I have to get out of this fucking city.
Richard turned away, embarrassed to have read the boy’s thoughts so baldly stated. The boy’s last words rumbled through his head, and he repeated it aloud:
“I have to get out of this fucking city.”
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.