Chapter 1.53: Under the Stars
Book One — The Hereafter
NOTE: This chapter is available in audiobook format on the TLHOC Podcast.
Access previous chapters of the book on the Table of Contents page.
June 7, 1:10 am
Richard’s maniacal laughter, and the tainted joy behind it, passed. As he knew it must. And as the hours crawled by, he was left with a much more mundane emotion.
He stayed with Keith as he slept, listening to the tick of the grandfather clock downstairs. But just past 1:00 am, he had finally had all that he could take of the silence and the discomfort of lying on the rigid, unforgiving bed. He became restless, and began to pace—first the bedroom, and then the entire upper floor. He had promised to always stay with Keith, and it was a promise he planned to keep. But did that promise mean always staying in the same room with him? Or could he give himself a little latitude on that promise? Surely, Keith would allow him that. They were never the kind of couple that needed to be with each other every second of every day…
By 3:00 am, he had decided that there was only so much waiting that a ghost could do in a dark room. So he allowed himself to slip out of the house and into their backyard.
When Richard was a little boy, growing up in this house, he had spent the summer of his twelfth year obsessed with sleeping outside. Fortunately, the climate in Utah was dry, and it was possible, for several months of the year at least, to just roll out a sleeping bag on the grass and spend the night under the stars. He spent more time just staring up at those stars than actually sleeping that summer—watching for meteors, and dreaming of the UFO that would come to abduct him and take him on some grand adventure. But now, standing in that same backyard, it all looked totally different from what he remembered as a child.
He and Keith had spent a lot of time and money turning their backyard into an urban oasis. When he was a kid it was just grass, some wooden fences for privacy, and an old mine car his father had brought home in his truck when Richard was a toddler. Now, more than a half-century later, the mine car was still there, but it was more rust than steel. There were also some beautiful hedges, two fine rock garden beds full of flowers (that he had tended just a few days ago), and even a tiny pond with koi fish. The amount of grass remaining was probably only half of what it had been when he was young.
So the back yard was different from when he was a child. But surely the night sky was the same. Tipping his head back, he looked up.
The stars were brilliant…
No, they were more than brilliant. In fact, they were unlike anything Richard had ever seen. He had spent plenty of nights camping in areas where the city lights didn’t interfere with the milky way. But he’d never seen stars like this, on any desert hike or on any mountain top, ever in his life.
He wanted to say it wasn’t natural, but it was actually the opposite. It was nature, unfiltered by either the atmosphere or the limitations of his physical eyes. Having ghost eyes allowed him to truly see the heavens as he never had before. It was as if he had been given the eyes of a hawk or a wolf.
Maybe this is the world as it appeared to our ancestors, he thought. Before too many books and too much television dulled our vision. Maybe I’ve returned to the original eyes of men, the way we were when we were still both predator and prey.
If anything was the same as when he was twelve, it wasn’t the yard, and it wasn’t the sky. The only thing that seemed the same was… the joy. And the wonder.
Richard remembered the thrill he felt as a boy, lying in the grass in this yard, looking up at the stars and trying to make them come down to him. He had studied astronomy that year, and could name all the constellations and each of the major stars in the sky. Looking now, he realized that all that knowledge was long gone from his memory. There was the Big Dipper. He recognized that, and following the pointer stars, he could find the Little Dipper as well, and the North Star. The cloud of the Milky Way was so vast and brilliant that his mind could barely take it all in.
He felt the light of the stars sinking into his skin, just like he imagined it would do when he was a child.
He remembered how exciting it was, on warm nights, to slip out of the sleeping bag. He’d take off his Star Wars pajamas and lie on top of the cool nylon, totally naked. The thrill of being naked outside, and the light of the stars finding every secret nook and cranny of his body, had made him feel so alive. He would roll on the sleeping bag, making sure that the starlight touched even the most hidden parts of him, as if their light would give him superpowers, or be an armor against anything that life in Salt Lake City could throw at him. And frequently, he remembered, he had actually left the sleeping bag and run circles in the yard, feeling the cool grass on his toes and the night air rushing past his naked skin. Flesh that the starlight had made impervious and on fire with electricity and wonder.
He had even challenged himself, on more than one occasion, to take a naked lap around the house, trusting that nobody would pass by on the street, in the deepest hours of the night.
Richard remembered it all and wondered if he had ever felt so alive as he did that summer when he was twelve years old.
Carefully, Richard undressed.
He had to go slowly and be sure to always keep his clothes wadded in one hand. If he were to drop them, he knew from experience, they would reappear on his ghost body instantly. But as long as he held them in one tight fist, they remained there.
Luckily, there weren’t a lot of clothes to remove. Just a pair of sweatpants, a sweatshirt, and two socks. He seldom wore underwear at home, so it took very little time to get stripped down to his pale, hairy skin. In the moonlight, his body looked exactly as it had days ago, when he was still a living being on this earth. It was the body of a stocky, furry professor, now past middle-age, complete with a sagging belly, bony shoulders, and an ass that was nowhere near as high and firm as it had once been. And yet it was still his body. And it yearned for touch and warmth as much now as it had when he was twelve. As much now that he was dead, as when he was living
Cautiously, he walked into the yard. The feel of the grass on his bare feet was prickly, but like the ability to pass through walls, he was slowly adapting to the harsh meeting between his feet and the earth.
He laid down in the grass and looked at the stars. And they were so beautiful that it made him feel like he was twelve again. And like it often had that summer, he found his body responding to the stimulation of the cool night air. Soon he had an erection that throbbed skyward.
Taking hold of it with his free hand, he began to stroke. Just as he had as a child. Just as he had countless times in the decades since. Just as he had with his own hand, just as other men had with theirs. His hand enclosed his cock, just as Keith’s hand had, thousands of times. Keith’s hand, his mouth, his ass… Memories of a lost world of flesh and passion flashed through Richard’s mind like outtakes from a film.
In minutes, he brought himself to an orgasm, and he cried Keith’s name as he felt his semen shooting upwards towards an empty sky, and disappearing.
Exhausted, he collapsed heavily into the grass, one hand on his cock, and one hand still holding his clothes. The spikes along his back felt less painful now. More comforting.
He hadn’t been sure that jerking off would even be possible as a ghost. He felt thankful that it was, and he imagined that those drops of semen that had flown out of him had become yet more stars in the firmament. God knows, wherever they had gone, they had not fallen back onto his naked body. His semen had gone the way of his tears.
With a heavy sigh, he got up from the grass. There was no need to worry about being caught now, and holding his clothes in his hand, he walked around to the front of the house, and then into the middle of the quiet street. Here, the streetlight illuminated his naked body completely, and he looked at it as best he could. He would never see this body in a mirror again, but he could still look down and see the hairy curve of his belly, and his knees that were knobbier than he would have liked. He looked at his feet, which looked clean and soft, with patches of dark fur on his toes. And he looked at his cock, soft and withered now, but still twitching as a tiny drop of cloudy fluid clung to the tip, refusing to let go.
Suddenly conscious of his nakedness, he glanced up. He could see no one in the street. All the surrounding houses were dark. He almost wished someone were looking out of a window, because in that moment, he felt extremely lonely. If it wasn’t for the dim tug of Keith sleeping in the house at his back, he could almost imagine that he was alone in the world. The sole survivor of some great catastrophe, like in all those post-apocalyptic disaster movies that Keith loved.
Richard spread his arms and cried out. He was surprised at the words that came, and that they were not a cry of sadness or defeat. Instead, they were a wail of existence. A cry of defiance.
“I’m still here!” he screamed into the night air.
And then screamed it again.
From deep in the shadows, she watched the naked ghost in the street, standing with his arms outstretched. She saw him scream and heard his words echo through the empty neighborhood.
“I’m still here!” he screamed.
And for a moment, as the strange ghost gazed into the darkness beyond the streetlight, the old woman thought that perhaps he saw her. That he was screaming his words specifically for her to hear. But he soon turned away and looked toward the house.
The ghost stood silent for a moment; the streetlight illuminating him, but casting no shadow. Then his hand released, and the clothing fell.
The man was dressed, instantly. She could see again the clothing he had worn in the funeral home. The white sweatshirt with the collar of blood in front, and the long, deep, continuous stain of red on the back.
Without a word, but with a heaviness in his shoulders that she could almost feel, the man walked slowly back toward the house, and disappeared through the front door.
The old woman watched from the shadows for a few minutes, hope and fear battling in her weary eyes. But then she turned and disappeared into the night.
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.