The Last Handful of Clover

Chapter 1.58: Like Grapes on a Vine

Book One — The Hereafter

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June 8, 9:45 am

Mattie had spent so many years wandering at random in the Salt Lake Valley, that it felt strange to have a destination. But so many things were strange about these, the last days. She couldn’t well expect God would want them all to go about their business as usual, now that things were so close.

You must be willing to act, God had told her. And you must be willing to wait.

The acting was easy for Mattie. It was the waiting that she found difficult. The silence. The patience required to be part of God’s plan. Only God himself could be eternally patient.

Mattie had returned to the Valley Fair Mall, in West Valley City. She had returned because soon, it would be three days since the night of her greatest triumph. God had led her here that night, and God had pointed out his next chosen one. And although God had not promised Bradley Seward would be hers after that special night they spent together, Mattie harbored a secret hope that the pilot would return to her. That God would bring him back and make him her angel forever.

Bradley would be her second angel. Her second beloved child, lover, and follower. Already she could picture the two of them walking behind her, honoring their mistress, and both gazing at her in eternal devotion.

All three of us, walking together, hand in hand, into the glory of God…

The parking lot in front of the theater was empty. The police had cordoned off a vast portion of it, using red and yellow sawhorses and long streamers of crime scene tape. She could see that there were cars far across the parking lot and behind the restricted area. That made her happy. It meant that the mall had reopened, even if they still had the theater wing closed.

So many souls in the mall. So many kind, angry, sad, desperate, curious souls. Like grapes on the vine, waiting to be plucked and smashed into wine.

The analogy seemed right. It was one God himself had told her. And even though she had never tasted wine herself—and never would—she could not imagine the wine could ever be as delicious as the smashing of the grapes.

Before crossing the parking lot, Mattie stilled her mind, and tuned it to the tug that she shared with Billy Travers. To her relief, he was still far away—somewhere to the north and west. Her mind functioned so much more clearly when Billy Travers was not pawing at it, the way he had for a century and a half.

Over the decades Billy had often disappeared for days and weeks at a time. But he had always returned, eventually. He was always watching her, judging her, trying to speak to her. He was her own personal cross to bear. Or perhaps her own demon that God had sent to test her will and her resolve.

God had given her both of those metaphors as well.

You will not sway me, Billy Travers, she thought, turning away from the tug in her mind.

Until these past few months—in fact, until these, the latter days—Billy had been little more than a nuisance. But since God had shifted his angels into his service, it was as if Billy had sensed it. And since then, she had rarely been able to escape his gaze. She didn’t know why he was suddenly keeping his distance today, but she was grateful for it.

When God took her and all his good angels from this place, Billy would either be damned to hell, or left here to wander the wreckage. And she didn’t care which. She only cared that she would be rid of his vile presence.

Silently, she danced past the two news network vans, and past the lone police car that stood guard outside the entrance to the theaters. Inside, she found the lights turned down, and the whole theater wing of the mall deserted. There were no reporters, and only one lone cop was standing guard behind the barricades that separated the theater wing from the rest of the mall.

She danced around the theater lobby and waltzed happily through the dark and empty theater itself. At first she thought it was just to her ghostly eyes that it still looked soaked in blood, but then she realized that, no, they had not yet cleaned the gore from the carpets and the seats. Everything looked very much the way she, and Bradley, had left it. The only signs that the police had been there were the stacks of steel boxes at the front of the screen, three bags of trash from forensic kits and first aid supplies, and a dozen plastic markers with numbers that showed where they had discovered each of the bodies.

Tonight, it will be three days, she thought, surveying the scene. I will have to be patient just a little while longer.

Mattie left the theaters, walked to the barricades, and stepped around them and into the long central gallery of the Valley Fair Mall.

Walking down the concourse, she saw it was as busy as it would be on any normal morning. It was opening time for many of the stores and bored young workers were rolling back metal grates and unlocking doors. A small group of Mormon mothers were power-walking, all in matching pink and gray sweat clothes, red baseball hats, and shirts that said “Red Hat Mall Walkers.” A few gaggles of teenagers were hanging about the still closed food court, and the benches were filled with bored middle-aged men, sitting next to the purses their wives had left as they disappeared into J.C. Penney.

And scattered among them, like undercover agents, were the ghosts.

Before she had entered that theater three days ago, this mall had been as full of docile and clueless ghosts as any big gathering place in the city. But after her great triumph, most of the docile ones had fled.

And as they fled, God’s angels had come to take their place.

Mattie loved the angels. They all shared the same glorious purpose, and when she looked into their eyes, she could see that they were as excited as she was to be of use to God. They were electric and glowing, full of anger or burning with a desire to do his will. They were comparatively few, but they were majestic. The rage of God was boiling in them, and the glow of atrocities committed, or yet to be committed, hung about them like black and writhing clouds.

The few remaining docile ghosts, in contrast, were pathetic. They shrunk away from the angels in terror. Most of the sad creatures had not obtained either the Hand or the Eye, but even though they couldn’t see or touch the angels, they still moaned and stumbled away when one was in their midst, holding their heads as if there was a painful roaring in their ears.

Mattie hated those unsaved souls, that littered this valley like beaten, starving dogs.  They were pathetic, and Billy was the most pathetic of them all. She hated his sad eyes, and his squeaking, pleading voice. She hated the fact that she could not reach out and rip at those eyes, or bite through that throat to silence that voice. Billy was like a ringing in her ears that always threatened to deprive her of her sanity.

As she walked through the mall, some of the angels met her eyes, and a flash of recognition passed between them.

Yes, we know each other. I am God’s favorite, and you know what I’ve done, and what we’re all going to do. Together and for him. When this is all over, we will swim together in the Ocean of God…

There was an old woman on a bench. She was frail and her cane leaned against her knee. Sitting next to the woman was her granddaughter, or perhaps even her great-granddaughter. She was an innocent little girl of no more than ten years; an age not much different from Mattie when she had died. She too would have had a long life ahead of her, if she had not been born into this cursed city.

As it was, Mattie knew, both of them had very little time left.

The little girl bantered with her grandmother without a care in the world, She had a new doll, and her grandmother told her how pretty it was. And how she too would grow up to be pretty and happy. The look in the old woman’s eyes betrayed her gratitude for the gift of the little girl, and Mattie laughed in contempt.

It was so easy. Mattie slid an arm around the old woman, who immediately dropped her cane and started scratching the back of her liver-spotted old hand. Mattie let her hate overwhelm her, and a revulsion at the old woman grew inside her—for hate and revulsion were the keys that God had given her. It was so easy to despise these pathetic, weak, corrupted souls that inhabited this city of the damned, and the more she hated, the wider her path became. Mattie let her hate build, and soon, she slid into the old woman’s mind and body as effortlessly as she had so recently slid into Bradley Seward, and so many more before him.

For a few minutes Mattie played with the old woman, alternately releasing and controlling her. She made her turn to the little girl and scowl, and made her say, while smiling sweetly, “I hate you, you little fuck. I’ve always hated you.”

Mattie loved the way the little girl’s eyes went wide, and how she cowered back on the edge of the bench, knowing something was very wrong with the kindly old lady she loved. For a moment, she considered beating the little girl to death with her cane, but no—the old woman’s body was too weak for such a thing.

Mattie toyed with the old woman some more. She made her hold her breath until the old heart was almost ready to burst. She made her bite her tongue until the blood flowed down her chin. She reached a hand into the yellow flowered blouse and squeezed a dry nipple until the old woman whimpered. The little girl was crying now and staring at the old woman. She brought her hand to her face, as if to hide what was happening, and kept chanting in a quivering voice, “Gramma? Gramma?”

Mattie laughed as the old woman, so deep down in the well where she had been thrown, thrashed in panic. That terror was delicious to her, like the apple cider her mother used to give her when she sat before the fire in their cabin. She let the panic build in the old woman, rising in a fever pitch until nerves and muscles in the old body began to fail, like snapping bridge cables.

My name is Mattie, you disgusting old bitch. And I’m here to send you to hell.

The old heart stuttered, like a drowning rat trying to catch its breath. She drank in those last beats and laughed in the old woman’s face as it pleaded with her from the bottom of the well.

Die, you cow, she thought.

At the last moment, Mattie jumped clear, and watched the old woman fall over on the bench, one withered old breast hanging out of her dress, and her heart now beating its last. The woman took a final breath, the look on her face a mixture of terror and relief. And then she released it and didn’t take in another. Her eyes glazed even as Mattie watched.

The screaming of the little girl was like a cherry on her sundae.

It’s so easy, Mattie thought. And such fun!

She could have just reached inside and touched the woman’s heart, and thought stop. But that would have been like swallowing ice cream without tasting it. Letting the terror wash over the crone was such a joy. Seeing the old bitty at the bottom of the well, begging for her life. It was so easy, as long as she gave herself enough time to jump free before the bitch’s heart gave out.

She could never risk being in a body when it died. God had told them all that they must never, never ride a tool they used all the way into death. If she did that, she knew, she would pass over with her victim, into some place dark and unknown.

God had forbidden that. And God was not to be defied.

She stood back and watched as horrified parents screamed and pulled their children away from the scene. The little girl wept next to, but was afraid to touch, the dead grandmother. Mattie watched as cell phones came out of pockets. As security guards arrived. As a fat man surreptitiously took a picture of the dead body with his cell phone. But they were all too late. Another piece of flotsam had fallen into the river of God. Another soul was bound for that dark place.

Two of God’s angels watched the dying woman with her. One was a teen with slicked back hair and a leather jacket, with a black comb behind his ear. The second was a fireman, his clothes burned almost beyond recognition. They both smiled at Mattie, and at the work she had done. They shared a moment of silent communion, and then the pair wandered off.

A security guard placed his jacket over the frail body, covering her withered breast but leaving her face exposed.

She looks so peaceful, Mattie thought. Except for the trickle of blood from her mouth and nose, she could almost be sleeping.

The little girl’s mother walked upon the scene, coming out of a nearby store. And as she saw her mother she screamed, and the little girl ran to her in terror.

Mattie was as happy as any little girl could be, and she hugged herself in delight. She was doing God’s work, and in his love, God had already given her an angel of her own.

Perhaps tonight, she would have her second.

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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