June 9, 2:43 am
Jesus Fucking Christ…
It’s not even 3:00 in the goddamn morning, and I’m writing again.
For the second night in a row, my dreams have been super intense and strange, and I know that they’re trying to tell me something important! I just wish they’d stop fucking around and get to the point already.
This one woke me out of a really deep sleep, and I want to get it written down before I lose it.
The first thing I remember from the dream is that I was back in high school, and I was hanging out with some friends. It wasn’t Michelle or any of the other kids I hung out with back then, but it felt like perhaps I’d known these friends for years. Like maybe they were some of my old theater crowd, although I didn’t recognize any of them. But the odd thing was, they were all still young, while I was older. I was at least as old as I am now, but maybe even older than that.
In the dream I knew Richard was dead, but I couldn’t remember how he’d died. In the weird logic of the dream world, it felt like it was something that had happened long ago, and that somehow I’d pushed it out of my mind because it was too painful to recall. Richard felt like a distant memory, or perhaps even just a character from a book I once read.
My friends were on the stage of our old high school in Heber. There were two boys, and a girl, and they sat together on a tattered couch. The stage was set for some play that I didn’t recognize, but at the back of the set was a shattered window, covered with plywood. I was trying to recall what play we were doing when I heard my friends talking.
“He was such a dick to me,” the girl with golden hair said, laughing.
At first I thought maybe they were talking about me, but then I realized these actually weren’t my friends. They were Richard’s friends, and they were talking about him! They knew he was dead, but they were trash-talking him, anyway. It quickly made my blood boil.
“It wasn’t just you,” said the skinny, geeky boy. He looked like he should be competing at the state science fair. There was white tape holding his glasses together on the bridge of his nose. “Richard was a jerk to everybody. Me too.”
I wanted to speak up, but I was too shocked and too angry to say anything.
“He wasn’t a jerk. At least, not to me,” the other boy said. I looked at him and saw that he was strong and muscled, looking a lot like a football player. He wouldn’t have been the high school quarterback, but definitely a tackle, or a blocker. He looked like a guy who could plow through the opposing team like a knife through butter. The kind of young jock that would always turn Richard’s head.
“He was always really friendly to me,” the boy said.
“Of course he was,” laughed the girl. “He probably thought you were hot. He probably wanted to fuck you under the bleachers!”
“He wanted to fuck all the boys,” the skinny kid said, and they all broke into laughter. “He was such a perv!”
I stood up, furious, memories of my life with Richard finally flooding back.
“Have some respect!” I yelled at the kids. “The man is dead! He was my partner, and he loved me, and now he’s dead!”
The three looked at each other, as if I was insane. Then the girl smiled and stood up to playfully pat me on the shoulder.
“Richard isn’t dead, you silly willy!” she said.
I just stared at her. She was wearing a frilly dress, like some old school pioneer girl. Was that the play we were in? Were we doing Little House on the Prairie?
“No, he’s not dead. But he’s really, really sick.” The skinny boy said. I noticed one leg of his pants was torn off, and he was only wearing one sneaker. His bare foot looked filthy. “There is definitely something wrong with him. I think he’s broken.” He put his straw hat back on his head. “Why are you here? Shouldn’t you be with him? He’s probably going to die, and then you’ll never see him again.”
“No, not probably,” the athletic boy said, rising to slip on his Levi jacket. “Definitely. He’s fucking dying. Maybe he has AIDS.”
I was shocked and mortified, and struggling to find words.
“He’s already dead!” I screamed at them. “And it wasn’t from AIDS. He was shot. Somebody shot him, and he died in my arms!”
The three friends were no longer looking at me like I was insane. But their faces were full of pity and a hint of disgust.
“Whatever… Maybe you should go home, you silly boy,” the girl said, twirling so that her dress fanned out around her ankles.
“Tell Richard we said hi,” the skinny boy said, scratching his bare foot with dirty fingernails.
“Yeah, tell him hi and fuck you,” said the other boy, and I saw he was gripping a steel tire iron that had appeared in his hand. The sight of it terrified me, and I walked backwards until I reached the door and fled the theater. I could hear all three of them laughing behind me.
And then, with the inexplicable logic of a dream, I was walking up to our house. But it wasn’t yet our house. It was Richard’s house, the way it looked when we met. The porch railings hadn’t yet been replaced, and it still had that old solid door, without the little glass windows.
I walked up, and knocked on the door, and it swung open under my hand, as if a ghost had opened it from the other side.
“Richard?” I called. “Are you here? They said you were sick!”
The inside of the house was dark and terrifying, with cobwebs hanging on the light fixtures and dust settled onto furniture that looked like it hadn’t been used in decades.
“Richard, are you here?” I called again, my voice cracking.
There was no answer, but somehow I knew to take the stairs and look for Richard in the bedroom. If he was sick, like those kids said, then that was where he would have to be.
I pushed the door open, terrified at what I might find on the other side. And in the darkness, I could see a shape in the bed. It was a strange and lumpy shape, and my first thought was that Richard looked shorter and rounder than he should.
As I passed into the room, I saw that a light was on in the bathroom. It was the only light on in the house, and it seemed as if the entire house was otherwise without power. I felt I should shut off the light, so as not to wake Richard in the bed.
I walked into the bathroom and reached for the light switch. But before I could flick it down, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror.
But it wasn’t me. Richard’s face looked back at me from the glass.
And yet somehow, it also wasn’t Richard. At least, not Richard the way I last knew him. The face that looked back at me looked so much older, the lines so deep and the cheeks so hollow. It was what Richard would look like if he had begun to lose a battle against HIV. Or perhaps if he was just very old, and on his deathbed. I froze and brought a hand up to my face.
The hand in the mirror touched its cheek as well.
Not only did the face in the mirror look like Richard, but the figure was even dressed like him. I saw the logo on the gray University of Utah sweatshirt first, before I saw the blood. It had splattered across the neck of the sweatshirt, and there were splashes of it on the sleeves as well. Touching my neck, I could feel the stiffness of the cloth where the blood had soaked in and dried. There was a hint that the stain went over my shoulder and down the back of the sweatshirt.
Horrified, I let out a low squeal and stepped out of the bathroom. I’d left the light on, and I didn’t have the courage to reach back inside to flip the switch.
I turned to the bed.
“Richard…” I said, my voice low, as I took two steps forward. As I moved, the light from the bathroom flowed over my shoulder and lit the bed. Finally, I could see the figure in it clearly.
It was not Richard. It was me. My face seemed contorted and in pain, and I was shivering under a thin sheet. But one of my hands extended out from underneath the sheet, and lay open on Richard’s pillow, twitching and grasping in time with my ragged breathing.
I reached out a hand, and was not surprised to see that it was older, thinner, and far hairier than the one on the pillow. The hand quivered as it reached toward the bed. Gently, I grasped that hand—my hand—and then laid Richard’s body down next to mine.
I saw my face in the bed as it suddenly smoothed and relaxed. I brought in a deep breath and then let it out slowly, and the hand I held stopped twitching, and simply squeezed mine in a grip that was both gentle and firm.
I could no longer tell if I was Richard or myself. The two figures in the bed both seemed to be me, and yet also not me.
And in that moment, I had a strange sense of peace. My grief was still monumental, and I was still lost and alone. But the unbearable weight of Richard’s death had lifted.
A wave of joy rolled over me. It really did not matter whether Richard was alive or dead. All I needed to do was leave my hand on that pillow and be grateful for the peace that washed over me like a warm ocean wave.
Even though it was a dream, it felt so real. In fact, I was suddenly unsure if I was still dreaming, or just lying in a half awake state in my own bed. I could hear the clock ticking in the living room downstairs, and a dog barked somewhere on the street. But mostly, the room was just silent. I wanted to reach out with my other hand, to see if there was an arm and a face beyond that ghostly presence that held my hand. But I knew that to do so risked breaking the spell. If I was dreaming, I didn’t want to wake up. If I wasn’t, it was best not to know.
A voice spoke in the darkness, and now I was sure. It was Richard’s voice.
“I won’t leave you, Baby Bear…” the voice said. “I won’t leave you the way I left Justin…”
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.