June 9, 5:10 am
The mind of God is troubled.
And why should I be troubled? God asks himself. Nothing should disturb the mind of God!
But troubled he is, and he cannot deny it.
Seeking answers, his whispers spread out across the world. They test and probe, like the tentacles of a hungry leviathan, prowling the depth for unsuspecting prey.
All across this beautiful, damned, doomed city he senses his angels preparing… going about their work. Their presence warms him, and he touches each one as his tentacles glide past, blessing them, knowing that they will fall to their knees in gratitude for all that he has given, and all that he has promised.
And for every lie I have told.
The angels do not know it, but he has deceived them. They will not know of his betrayal until they have finished their work, and this valley is clean. Only then will they realize, and then they will despair.
It will all be over so soon. And it will all be so exquisite, God thinks. So why is my heart troubled?
Something is… out of balance.
God has been feeling it for several days, but only in the last hours has that sense of foreboding grown into a flood. He knows he has pulled a lethal fish from those dark waters. One that threatens now to bring it all crashing down around him. A deadly catch that is the source of this imbalance.
He knows little more about it. He does not know if it was a man or a woman, someone old or someone young. And most importantly, he does not know where this soul died.
When a soul crosses back into the world beyond, they do so through a portal. This liminal doorway stays at their death site—an invisible link between the world of the living and the world of the dead. If he can only discover where this rank and defiant soul died, he could reach his tentacles into that mind, and perhaps break it to his will. And restore the balance before everything spins out of control…
Never have I sensed a soul that radiated such power! That threatens to disrupt everything I have created…
Yes. Disruptor. That is the word. This soul is enough to cause the whole of the Hereafter to wobble, as if it is a plate spinning on top of a circus performer’s pole. If that wobble is not calmed, if the Disruptor’s presence is not brought into alignment with God’s purpose, then everything he has worked for could break apart and fly into a million pieces.
No, not when I am so close!
His tentacles creep and slither across the Salt Lake Valley. They slide into homes and through office buildings. They slink through the desert sands and into the beds of sleeping children. They touch and they probe and they explore. But although he can sense the imbalance and rot that has infected this world, he cannot find its source. The tentacles writhe in frustration, and beat themselves invisibly against doors and walls and streetlights, searching. They smash into the bodies of couples in love, just out for a late night stroll, who then shiver and draw closer to each other in the dark. They batter at old people, huddled alone in their dark rooms. They slide menacingly across cheats and hustlers and saints alike.
With growing frustration, the tentacles seek out his angels. But few of them have minds strong enough to answer his questions. They have been fine-tuned to kill and maim, but for insight, they offer precious little.
And still, he senses that new mind, like a powerful whirlwind. It is not a pure power. It has flaws and it is uncertain—and perhaps even as dark as his own.
And a thought occurs to God.
What if I could turn this dark soul to my will?
The idea gives him a thrill.
If it could be done, this would become the most powerful of his angels. Even Mattie could not compete with the dark potential in this unknown soul. The thought of turning that troubled heart loose upon the world makes God smile. But the fear of that force against him makes him tremble.
The time is so short.
His angels have been testing their wings. They have only caused minor death and destruction to the faithless vermin that inhabit this valley. Only a few of them have truly caused havoc. But he will unleash them all soon. This valley has been infested for more than a hundred and seventy-five years. But before the week is out, God and his angels will be ready. Then this valley will be cleaned.
I will burn the nest to ashes, with as many chicks inside as possible.
This vision of destruction brings him peace, as it always does. It is a vision of a land where the Salt Lake valley is empty of the invaders. Empty of everyone. It is a vision where the wild grasses he remembers, that once clung to the side of the Oquirrh mountains, will once again spread through the valley, and into the foothills of the Wasatch. It is a vision where slowly the buildings of the church, the buildings of the white settlers, their farms and their factories, slowly all crumble back into the dust.
It will take hundreds of years, once the vermin are gone. And I will not be around to see it. But my angels will.
God smiles, knowing how easily he has lied to them, and how eager they have been to believe his lies. He promised them all that at the end of the Cleansing, he would transport them with him to the Ocean of God. But he had lied. There is no paradise for them at the end of this journey. They will all remain to forever bear witness to the rebirth of the Valley of the Great Salt Lake. To forever guard it against re-infestation. To stand as silent witnesses to the glory of God.
His angels will be angry, at first. But their minds will be so far gone that there will be little they can do except turn their anger back upon the living, forever, inside the confines of this valley. It will be their prison for eternity, and their rage will leave them forever on patrol, forever waiting for any new person to cross the border into their world. When any foolish person does, the angels will descend upon them. They will possess them. They will drive them mad. They will drive them to murder and to suicide.
And this valley will be clean once again. This time, it will stay clean forever.
Eventually, the world will learn that the Salt Lake Valley is synonymous with death and destruction—a void where no living human should ever venture. Planes will re-route over the dead valley, not because any plane has ever succumbed, but because it is a land with such a reputation for darkness and malevolence that no pilot will dare to draw near.
God imagines that day, not so many years from now, when the name of the Salt Lake Valley will be spoken in hushed tones. When most of the living will not speak the name at all, for superstitious fear that the very sound will bring bad luck or disaster into their lives.
What will happen to the rest of the world is unknown, and of no concern to God.
Perhaps humans will venture into space, and the astronauts who speed away to distant planets and stars will pause to look back upon this blue marble. And as it rotates slowly, and as the small oval in the western United States comes into view—the small oval that still portends death and destruction and the soul-wrenching fear of the unknown—they will instinctively look away from their portholes, and turn their faces back toward the stars.
The ghosts… his ghosts… will remain.
As the buildings crumble into dust, they will watch. When the rubble weathers under the snows, they will huddle in basements and under what remains of rotting porches. They will wait. And they will kill. And soon, the killing will stop, because the valley will be clean. And white-tailed deer will graze among the overgrown streets. And the wild horses will drink from the broken fountains of Temple Square.
The tentacles of God writhe in the sand and in the streets and in the bedrooms of the city. Lost in his thoughts, he has almost forgotten that which threatens everything. And yet, somewhere that presence burns. And he feels his rage returning.
If there is one thing that God understands, it is rage. And he knows that his own will last well beyond his time in this world. It will still be white hot and glowing when the last of the ships to the stars leave this world behind.
I would give up all my toes
and maybe even a foot
Thumbs are not required,
so one of those can go.
But not a thumb and a foot.
Only one of each.
Below the elbow there are
bargains we can strike.
But I need one hand to raise a fist
to heaven, and demand justice of God.
And a middle finger to raise
if he refuses
One arm must stay, so I can
pull you from the grave.
But wait, the other I must keep
to fight back the demons.
So perhaps I cannot give up
both arms to have you back.
I have two ears, but at night
I will need just one
to listen to your soft murmurs
against my cheek.
But wait, my other ear must always be tuned
for danger, if I hope to never lose you again.
So perhaps I cannot give up
both ears to have you back.
It seems that I have
very little to offer.
I’d give up my breath to make this bargain,
but you took that away, years ago.
—Excerpt from “To Have You Back” by Keith Woo, as it appears in “The Heavy Work of Vanishing: The Collected Poetry of Keith Woo,” edited by Pi’ilani Kilani, page 220.
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.
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