June 6, 1:58 pm
While Carla Grayson was talking to Michelle Kilani, the subject of their discussion, Howard Gunderson, was sitting in his cell, staring at the white cinder block wall across from his steel bunk. He was staring and still, but a closer look would show that his hands gripped the metal edge of his bed so hard that his knuckles were white, and his lanky forearms were roped with tension.
And Howard Gunderson was not alone in his cell.
The other occupant looked a year or two younger than Gunderson, and they might be mistaken for cousins. Gunderson wore his standard orange prison clothes, but the other boy had on a Levi jacket over a ratty t-shirt with the name of a band that went out of style twenty years ago, and a faded black baseball cap that sat backwards on his head. Both boys had brown hair, but Howard’s was sandy brown and neatly combed, while the pacing boy’s hair was darker, and his cut was a bit shaggy. Both boys had muscles that made them look like they had just popped out of the gym, but Howard was tanned and healthy, while the other boy looked pale, like he had spent his life indoors.
While Howard stared at the wall, his companion paced back and forth in front of him, as if he was not used to being in a cell. His hands searched for something to do with themselves, and he kept shaking his head and running his fingers through his hair, as if a fly were trying to land on his forehead.
Each time he walked in front of Howard in the short cell, the strange young man stopped to look down with a lean, hungry look in his eyes, like a wolf sizing up a meal. But then he would quickly resume his distracted pacing, as if he was listening to something in his head that only he could hear. Finally, the pacing boy sat down next to Howard Gunderson. He sat very close. Close enough that their arms touched, and their knees slid gently against each other, almost tenderly. Howard did not look at his companion. He just continued to stare at the wall, but his breath became a bit more strained and ragged. The sweat on his forehead dribbled down to his thick, sandy brown eyebrows.
The new boy finally shook his head especially violently, then calmed. In fact, he fell into a state of strange contemplation, and he let his head drop onto Howard’s shoulder. For a few moments the two shared the silence of the cell, and you could be forgiven for mistaking them for two young lovers, sitting together on a hillside, watching the sun set over the mountains.
But soon Howard Gunderson’s anxiety grew so strong that the shaking traveled all the way to his shoulders. He let out a soft, strangled, mewling sound, and he squeezed his eyes shut against the trembling that threatened to engulf him. His hands clenched and released, clenched and released…
The other boy seemed not to notice, or not to care. Now his hands were on Howard. First, it was just one hand, gently, on Howard’s thigh. But then he turned, and both hands were touching him. They explored Howard’s chest and torso, and eventually both converged on his face, which the dark-haired boy explored hungrily like he was a blind man.
It was only a voice in the boy’s head that stopped his exploration of Howard.
Justin… said the voice.
The new boy stopped, and snapped his hands back from Howard Gunderson, as if he was a boy caught with his father’s pornography and his hand in his pajamas. He drew in a deep breath, before answering the voice in his head. Finally, he spoke aloud.
“Yes, Lord. I’m here.”
It is time, Justin. God has need of you.
Justin squeezed shut his eyes, and he pressed straining fists against his forehead. “Whatever you wish, my Lord. I will do whatever you ask.”
I know you will, Justin, the voice continued, softly, but as insistent as a knife pressed between his eyes. But you have much to prove. Your Mistress tells me you have repented your sins and done as you promised.
“Yes, Lord. I did what you asked. Four days ago. You told me I could pick anyone I wanted, and I found… a man in the Avenues. I found someone to kill, and I did as you wished.”
I am pleased to hear it. But you have yet to prove yourself worthy of my grace. The time of the Cleansing is near. And your immortal soul is in danger.
“What is your will, my lord?”
It is time for you to take another. And this time, you must kill more than one. You must prove you are ready to be part of the Cleansing.
“Yes, Lord,” Justin said, trying desperately to sound submissive to this terrifying voice.
And Justin… Need I remind you that you must find someone new? You defied me once, possessing the same host a second time. Should you defy me in this again, you will receive no more mercy. You will be left behind. After the Cleansing, you will be alone.
“I understand,” Justin stammered. He did not want to remember the fury that God had unleashed upon his mind the last time he had been defied. “I understand. We must never possess a host more than once. It is your commandment, and I have promised. I’ve promised you, and I’ve promised my mistress.”
God was silent in his mind for a very long time. And the silence felt almost as devastating to Justin as God’s wrath. He just trembled and waited.
Now go, God said.
And in that instant, the voice was gone. It was almost as if he could hear the click in his head as God broke off the connection, like the abrupt end of a phone call.
It took several minutes for Justin to open his eyes and turn to look at Howard Gunderson, who was still shaking and staring at the wall across the cell.
God’s words were clear. His admonition left no room for doubt or interpretation. Living humans were to be used once and then discarded. God had been forever clear on that, and his anger at Justin’s past defiance had been terrifying.
But even as he put his hand into Howard Gunderson’s lap, he knew he would defy God’s will again. And this time, it would not be from ignorance or pettiness. This time, it would be by choice. This time, it would be an intentional act of defiance.
There were two beasts swirling around inside of Justin Kimball, like twin hurricanes. They were the two overwhelming obsessions that threatened to consume him, like writhing and hungry serpents.
One was the serpent of revenge. And one was the perennial serpent of desperate human desire. And the two were now so coiled and tangled together as to become indistinguishable from each other.
As he felt himself calming, with his head on Howard’s shoulder and his fingers toying with the hard stone bulge in the boy’s lap, Justin allowed himself to remember the joy he had felt just four short days ago, when he had murdered Richard Pratt. It had also been the day he had first possessed Howard Gunderson, a boy he had encountered at random. He had followed the boy home, and he had seen the handgun in the rack in the family’s garage. When he heard the boy planning to go out with his friends, he had acted on impulse, and slipped into him.
The feeling of inhabiting Howard Gunderson was unlike any other person he had possessed. Something about the boy’s spirit felt like it completed him. There was a purity and a sanctity to the boy’s soul that drew him in like the subtle scent of a rose. It had been both intoxicating, and it had cried out for despoiling, both at the same time.
And the boy’s body—his body—was strong and tender and beautiful. He had loved touching himself and exploring the feeling of having flesh again. No other person he had ever possessed had made him feel so much as if he was truly alive again. In fact, he felt more alive in Howard Gunderson’s skin than he had ever felt in his own. It was as if Howard’s flesh was a miracle that far surpassed his memories of being alive.
When the time came, it was a simple matter to sneak into the garage, steal and load the gun, and then wait for Howard’s friends to pick him up. And then it was easy to convince them to drive to Richard Pratt’s door.
God had told him to pick someone at random for his first kill, but he had also said that it could be anyone. So of course he had chosen Richard Pratt, whom Justin had followed and hated for more than twenty years. Justin had endured watching this horrible man heal from what he did, and worse, he had watched him fall in love again.
Keith Woo had made Richard Pratt happy, and that was unforgivable. If there was one thing that Justin could not tolerate, it was Richard Pratt being happy. He soon despised them both.
Nothing could ever be as satisfying as the day that, in Howard Gunderson’s beautiful body, Justin had walked up to Richard’s porch with a gun in his hand. It was the very porch where he had left a note, more than two decades ago, damning Richard to hell for what he had done. And even though it had taken him years, he had returned to make his curse to Richard real.
But it had not gone according to plan. His intention was to break into the house and hold both Richard and Keith at gunpoint. He wanted Richard to understand who he was before executing his piggy boyfriend in front of him. Then, as Richard’s soul crumbled, Justin would put a bullet in his old professor’s brain. But when he had stepped onto the porch and seen Richard through the window, he had lost control. Richard had just risen from the couch and taken his fat boyfriend’s hand. There was a smile on his face, and the sight infuriated Justin. Before he could stop himself, he had fired that single shot through the window, and it had flown precisely home.
Still, seeing Richard Pratt’s brains explode against his nice cream-colored wall was exhilarating to him in a way that nothing in his life or in his death had ever been. And he had every intention of breaking down the door and finishing off Keith Woo as he cradled his dead lover’s body.
But it hadn’t worked out that way.
Howard Gunderson had been far stronger than Justin realized. And after he fired that first shot, Gunderson had surged back into his body in a rush of anger and revulsion, like a bear emerging from his den. Justin had found himself ejected out of Howard’s body, like a watermelon seed spit across the lawn.
When he sat up on the grass, he saw Gunderson stumbling down from the porch like a drunken man, back in control of his own body once again. Justin tried to enter him again, but his own panic and the sound of the truck with Howard’s friends crashing into the telephone pole down the street had made it impossible. People were coming out of the houses now, and they were turning their heads toward Pratt’s house, where the sound of the piggy’s wailing was now filling the air like a badly tuned ambulance siren.
In the chaos of that moment Justin had fled, ashamed of his weakness and fearful that somehow God would realize his transgression. But even as he fled, he realized he had not yet satisfied the twin serpents that raged within his chest.
He needed to finish his revenge by killing Keith Woo.
And he needed to satiate his lust by once more, and forever, taking over the body of Howard Gunderson.
Neither of those things could happen in that moment. But they both would happen. They both had to happen.
Perhaps this time it will be even better, he thought, as he gazed down at the beads of sweat on Howard’s face. When he knows it will be forever, feeling him finally submit to me will be delicious.
All he had to do was find a way to get Howard out of this prison cell. And together, they would find and kill the piggy boy. He and Richard Pratt would rot together in hell for all eternity, and Justin and Howard would spend their eternity locked in a beautiful, horrible, ecstatic embrace.
I’ll lock Howard deep in the well. He’ll be like a pet. He’ll feel everything I feel, and he’ll know everything I know. And his anguish and terror will be a drug that I can tap whenever I want it. I’ll never leave him and I’ll never be lonely again. That is my destiny. We’ll leave this city and not even God himself will be able to stop us.
Kneeling now in front of Howard, Justin nestled his hips between the boys spread knees, and wrapped his arms around his quivering torso. Howard’s staring eyes looked right through him, focusing on the wall. But Justin could feel the boy trembling as he held him closer, kissing his cheeks, running his tongue lightly over the boy’s lips. Howard’s body still felt like a rock to him. But soon, Justin would be inside him, and his body—their body—would be soft and living and breathing again.
He was so close now that he could feel the boy’s ragged breath on his face, and he opened his mouth to taste it. But a ghost cannot smell or taste anything of the living. Even bringing their lips together did not bring Justin the satisfaction that he sought.
God doesn’t care about me. He doesn’t care about me or Howard, or Richard, or Keith, or any of us. All God wants, all God cares about, is the Cleansing. God is only ruled by one serpent.
The closeness to Howard, and his own defiance, sent a thrill through Justin’s ghostly body. He felt a swelling in his crotch, and he placed one hand between Howard’s thighs. There was no swelling there, no sign of desire. It was all just more cold marble. But it was trembling marble. A trembling that was now taking over the boy’s entire body.
No matter. He would feel that passion and that flesh soon enough.
I will have this boy, and God will never know.
Slowly, he leaned forward into Howard.
The last thing he heard with his ghostly ears was Howard’s voice.
“No, not again… No! Please…”
And then everything was calm in the cell.
Howard Gunderson’s breath slowed. His body relaxed, and his hands stopped shaking. His sweating ceased, and he stood, slowly, in the center of the cell, alone. Gently at first, he ran his hands up and down his face, his chest. Then he slipped one hand inside his orange prison pants. Howard’s hand traveled down his belly and slipped under the band of his white undershorts. It then continued down until he found what he sought.
Soft and warm, but already firming in his grasp.
Justin Kimball laughed.
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.