The Last Handful of Clover

Chapter 1.55: The Blue Note

Book One — The Hereafter

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June 7, 8:00 am

Billy had spent the previous evening going from bar to bar, trying to find a place that had a TV that was both on, and tuned to the news. Unfortunately, it had been a frustrating night, and when the bars closed at 1:00 am, he was no closer to identifying the bearded ghost than he had been when the FedEx truck snapped the man out of existence on South Temple.

He considered finding a private home with some late night news junkie. But he realized that by that time of night, there wouldn’t be any local news broadcasts to watch. And staring at CNN all night would not give him any leads. So he had waited for dawn, just walking the streets of downtown Salt Lake City.

When the sun came up, he found himself at the Blue Note Diner.

The Blue Note was a little dive of a place just off State Street, with only a dozen tables, and a clientele made up primarily of firefighters and construction workers from downtown. What they lacked in quality they more than made up for in quantity, with what they unabashedly called their “heart attack on a plate”: A bed of shredded hash browns, covered with two eggs cooked to order, two slices of bacon, two pieces of sausage, white gravy, and melted cheese. The meal included coffee and you could get a third egg for a dollar more. The whole thing was more grease than anything else, but it kept the construction guys going until lunch.

Billy hadn’t eaten since 1857. But still, the smell of the place and the look of those steaming heavy white platters made him remember what it was like to be hungry.

There was a handwritten sign on the wall next to the TV, which was always on. It read:

WELCOME TO THE BLUE NOTE:
Our food is hot and cheap, and
our waitresses never have a bad
word to say about anybody.*
*except Democrats

What attracted Billy was the TV above the bar, and Hazel; the matronly head waitress that worked the Blue Note most mornings. Indeed, as far as Billy could tell from visiting the Blue Note off and on over the years, Hazel truly didn’t have a bad word to say about anybody (and that actually included Democrats as well). But she was also a tough old bird who didn’t put up with any nonsense. She was the one that decided what was on the TV, and at least in the mornings, that was more than likely the local news.

The joint was full this morning, and it forced Billy to climb up and stand on the lunch counter to avoid being bounced around like a pinball. Even then, he had to dance around Hazel’s wet wash cloth every few minutes.

He didn’t mind. The vantage point put his face just a few feet in front of the TV. And it wasn’t like he had to worry about blocking anyone’s view.

Billy watched the parade of horrors on the morning news, recounting the troubling series of tragedies that had befallen the city over the past several days. The lead story, as he expected, was the murder spree at Valley Fair Mall. He learned the name of the man everyone had identified as the perpetrator, Bradley Seward, and that he was a pilot out at Dugway. There was a shot of a reporter trying to talk to the family outside a home in Salt Lake City, but they just hustled past the reporters without speaking.

Billy knew that the real perpetrator was not this man named Seward. But a little girl named Mattie.

The news anchor moved on, as if relieved to be talking about anything other than the massacre. But the other stories were equally horrific. Besides the massacre, there had been a rash of suicides at a local school, an attack at a nursing home, and even two little kids who had thrown themselves under a train. He could hear the strain in the voices of the journalists, trying to make sense of the violence.

It’s happening, he thought. And it’s happening much faster than Tuilla ever anticipated.

The conversation among the patrons confirmed he was not the only one to have noticed. There were two older men at his feet, and as the story about the two children and the train was playing out on the screen, he overheard their conversation. On the one hand, it sounded like typical old-man banter, and one actually said, “None of this crap happened twenty years ago.” But despite their dismissive words, Billy could hear genuine fear and anxiety in their voices. They too knew that what was happening was far from normal.

And then Billy glanced back at the screen, and saw him.

It was the bearded ghost! His picture next to a mug shot of a teenage boy. And there was a name on the chyron under the photos: Hearing scheduled in the murder of Richard Pratt.

Richard Pratt, Billy thought, repeating the name several times to cement it in his memory.

So, now he had a name for the ghost. That he had been murdered was something Billy had never doubted, based on the blood on the man’s sweatshirt. But the boy who was pictured beside him didn’t look like the killing type.

Billy focused on the words of the reporter.

“…received word with this morning’s court docket that Howard Gunderson will have his first appearance and formal arraignment at Matheson Courthouse tomorrow. Unfortunately, we still have no word from the SLPD as to a possible motive for the murder of Richard Pratt, who was a respected member of the faculty in the Linguistics Department at the University of Utah. Unofficially, we have heard from sources that the murder may have been random, and perhaps was committed as part of a gang initiation ritual…”

Richard Pratt.

Matheson Courthouse. Tomorrow.

Billy committed those key facts to his memory. Of course, there was no guarantee that Richard Pratt would be at that hearing, but it was a good place to start looking. Sometimes ghosts needed to understand what had happened to them. And since this man’s death was clearly sudden, he was likely still confused. If he knew of this hearing, there was a good chance that he would be there.

At the very least, Billy thought, I can find a cop or a detective there, and then follow them. Somebody might lead me to Richard Pratt, eventually.

Maybe he was wrong. Maybe Richard Pratt wouldn’t be able to stop what was coming. But he was the only vague hope that Billy had, so he was determined to follow it.

Billy left the diner, just avoiding an impact with Hazel and her platter of four heart attack specials. He jumped through the front window effortlessly and landed with his bare feet on the sidewalk outside.

Making his way down State Street, he encountered the ghost of a young woman who he had seen many times before. Billy believed she must have died somewhere in that area, since she was always on the bustling sidewalks of State Street. In fact, he had seen her there, off and on, for at least a half century.

He stopped to speak to her.

This was a ritual for him. He always spoke to the ghosts that looked to be the most lost, the most forlorn. He never gave up hope that the lost ones could respond to him. But he had only been successful a handful of times, and for the most part, the mad ghosts either could not see or hear him, or fled from him in terror.

As was usually the case, this ghost couldn’t see or talk to him. She just shuffled down the sidewalk, being jostled roughly from side to side by passers-by.

Billy hoped she would find a quiet place someday, before she was reset again. Which had probably already happened dozens of times. The busy streets were not safe places for ghosts, especially those who had not yet found their way, or had fallen into madness. With time, perhaps this girl would get herself to one of the safer places for ghosts to congregate—parks, libraries, warehouses… And of course, the cemeteries. Anywhere would be much safer for this lost ghost than a busy street in downtown.

Of course, it was also possible that she would simply do what many others had done over the years. She would wander out of Salt Lake City and into the desert, looking for isolation. Billy had seen many of them standing in groups of two or three, still and silent in the white expanse of the Salt Flats, staring up at the sun, unmoving for decades at a time.

Billy watched the young ghost until she was out of sight.

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.

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Copyright 2021, Wess Mongo Jolley. All rights reserved.

Wess Mongo Jolley

Wess Mongo Jolley is Utah native, who is now an expatriate American novelist, editor, poet and poetry promoter, living in Montreal. He is Founder and Director of the Performance Poetry Preservation Project, and is most well known for hosting the IndieFeed Performance Poetry Channel podcast for more than ten years. As a poet, his work has appeared or is forthcoming in journals such as Off The Coast, PANK, The New Verse News, and Danse Macabre; and in collections such as the Write Bloody Press book The Good Things About America. He enjoys hearing from readers, and can be contacted through his website, at https://wessmongojolley.com. If you are enjoying this story, please drop me a line, and consider supporting my work as a novelist at http://patreon.com/wessmongojolley. More than half of the the trilogy's over 200 chapters are already available there for subscribers.

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