June 9, 5:40 am
It was useless for Justin to try and hide. In the contained world of the Hereafter, there was nowhere to run, and nowhere that God couldn’t find him. He knew it was only a matter of time, and all he could do was cower and wait—and hope that terrifying voice would be too busy with the Cleansing to bother with his transgression.
But of God’s eventual wrath, Justin was certain.
For Justin had lied—grievously, and intentionally. God’s commandment that his angels never possess the same human being more than once was clear and absolute. He had known it from the beginning, and yet, he had been powerless in the thrall of his desire for Howard Gunderson. He had possessed the boy not just once, but four times now, and his intention was to keep possessing him until the boy was his, body and soul.
His obsession with Richard Pratt and his piggy boyfriend was also a transgression likely to draw God’s wrath. Angels were not to kill for their own reasons—they were to kill solely for God’s glory. And in both of his sins, he had put his own needs above the will of the Almighty.
God would surely see him as a great disappointment, and might even curse him to be left behind at the end of days. He would be damned, he knew. And although part of him felt he deserved it, another part of him wanted to turn his anger on God and shout his defiance, whatever the cost.
Every ghost had a place they went to for comfort. For some, it was a place they had favored when they were alive, or that evoked a nostalgia for their lives. But for many, it was the place where they had died. Justin’s life had ended in a violent crash at the bottom of this ravine. It was still a no-man’s-land, just as it had been the night he died. Interstate 80 hugged the high hillside at the mouth of Parley’s Canyon, and the rocky gulch a hundred feet below was good for absolutely nothing except as a final resting place for discarded appliances, old tires, and the giant, angular, blocky red boulders that had been blasted from the roadway above.
When his car had launched into the gully that night, it had hurtled down and directly into a block of red stone the size of a camper. There had been little left of the car other than a twisted hulk that looked as if it had been crushed by a giant’s fist.
The car itself was long gone now, towed out by the Highway Patrol. But it had hit the boulder with enough force to break the giant stone in two. A slice of the boulder bigger than a sofa had broken away from the right side of the rock and left a gap the size of a coffin.
Justin had found shelter from the rain here the afternoon he returned. He could still remember the panic that set in when the rain started—feeling like needles ripping through his newly reconstituted flesh—and he had barely made it under the shelter of the rock before the pain had broken him. He had cowered in this place in terror for a string of days that unwound in slow motion.
It had been a week before he had eventually found the courage to leave his shelter, and this gulch.
But he always returned, even after the car was long gone.
This is where Justin Kimball found his comfort. And where he hid, after all his plans had crumbled.
In the early morning hours of June 9, less than a day after Justin fled from the Matheson Courthouse, God came looking for him. And he found his angel cowering in the stone crack, like a beaten dog hiding under a porch.
Justin felt the tentacle of God’s mind crawling toward him like a giant snake upon the broken boulder. He could see nothing but a splash of stars above him, but God’s probing mind was always invisible. As the coil of the tentacle wrapped around the stone, he sensed God’s insistence, but he also sensed something else: God was impatient, and almost frantic. It was strange and disquieting to sense the mind of God so troubled, so desperate. Justin squeezed shut his eyes, trying to become so small in the coffin-sized crevice that God might overlook him.
The tentacle hesitated, twisting in the cool night air, and then crawled into his sanctuary like a malevolent serpent over the red stone. He held his breath and felt the terror overwhelm him. But although God could find him and probe for his mind, only Justin could let him in. His presence was like someone pounding on a door, or like a deafening and persistently ringing telephone. God could only enter his mind if he opened the door, or picked up the phone.
Justin summoned his courage and kept the door closed.
After some probing, the tentacles simply stopped, paused, and then retracted. Perhaps God had concluded that Justin’s mind had gone, the way that so many ghosts’ minds did. But there was also a sense of impatience, that God could not wait for Justin to respond to his call. The desperation he had felt in God’s mind was strange and made him squeeze his eyes together against his own terror.
Justin burrowed deeper into the crack in the rock, like a cockroach hiding from the light, nursing his rage and his fear and his troubled mind.
When God came again, it was almost a day and a half later.
Justin had spent the intervening hours feeling almost feverish, as if his mind was a balloon in a storm, blown between memories and fears and needs, until everything blended together. His need for revenge and his desire for Howard Gunderson was all of a single bolt of cloth now, like having one would immediately ensure the other, and his mind was crazed with both lust and fury. And yet he also felt he was very close to the brink. That it would be very easy for him to relax his grip and let his mind drift away. Letting go would be as easy as a child, releasing of the string of his balloon. And it would be a relief.
He was imagining how glorious it would feel to watch that balloon drift away into the summer sky.
And then God returned.
It was mid-afternoon, and the sun was blazing high in the sky, shining straight down into the crack of the rock, dazzling Justin with its brilliance. But even in the glare, he felt God’s tentacle enfolding his body, and insistently seeking a way into his mind, a way past his defenses. He resisted for as long as he could, but he knew that this time, God would not be denied. The frantic desperation he had sensed the last time God had sought him out had only grown, and this time God’s will was stronger than his own. He would submit, or God would tear him apart.
He let loose of the balloon. Hoping it would drift away, and he would no longer have anything to fear.
But the tentacle of God darted toward the string of the balloon and wrapped around it with the speed of a striking snake.
Justin’s mind was ripped open and exposed. He could not resist it, and he could hide nothing. He squeezed shut his eyes and held his breath—
When he opened his eyes again, he was no longer in the ravine. God had transported him deep into his memories, and he found himself standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon. It was the exact spot that he and Richard had visited during one of their long weekend drives, early in their relationship. That had been spring, many weeks before he finally admitted—to the man he still called Professor Pratt—that he had been lying, and that he would not be staying in Utah. It was here that his Professor had first taken his hand, as they looked out into the abyss. It was here that Richard had looked into his eyes, kissed him, and Justin felt himself falling into something that had left him breathless.
If there was any moment when his life went out of control, this was probably the one.
Justin felt a hand in his—warm and firm and comforting, as he stared out over the vastness of the canyon. He turned his head slowly to the left, and Richard Pratt was standing there. It was a younger Richard Pratt than the man he had shot. This one was in his mid-thirties, and dressed in a long-sleeved hiking shirt, short pants, and a windbreaker. He wore sunglasses, and the wind was ruffling his dark hair and beard, neither of which had begun to show the gray. Richard didn’t speak, and he didn’t move. But he smiled, obviously delighting in the warm air rising from the canyon, and the feel of Justin’s hand in his own.
If time hadn’t been frozen, this would have been the moment that Richard turned to face him, and then drew their bodies together.
But nothing moved except the wind, which caressed them both in the warm air.
“Professor Pratt,” Justin began, unsure what he would say to this specter from his past. But before he could finish his thought, he realized they were not alone on the ridge.
Standing in front of them now was another man.
He was a very old man, dressed in Indian garb, and walking with the help of a stick. His long silver hair hung over his shoulders, which quivered with age. His eyes blazed, and despite his frail appearance, he radiated a power that made his body look as if it was illuminated by a single shaft of brilliant sunlight from above.
Justin almost crumpled in fear before God and only kept his feet under him by squeezing Professor Pratt’s hand. God stood before him, and reached one shaking, craggy, sun-browned old hand toward Justin’s face. Justin thought he would touch him and braced for the disgust he already felt rising in his throat. But instead, God’s attention was drawn to the man at Justin’s right. For a long and pregnant moment, God stared into Richard Pratt’s frozen features, studying the face of the man who still stood, smiling into the abyss.
When God turned back toward Justin, his eyes had become twin coals of fire and fury. And when he spoke, it was with the voice of a withered old man. Not the booming voice of God he had heard so often in his thoughts.
“I came looking for the Disruptor,” God said, using a word that meant nothing to Justin. “But instead, I find one of my angels, broken, defiant and ruined.” God’s eyes narrowed. “And yet, something tells me this broken angel has led me to what I am seeking.” His gaze darted back to Justin for just a moment, before he brought that craggy finger back to the boy’s smooth cheek. He laid it there, and Justin shivered as he felt it draw down his cheek, imagining that it left a string of blood droplets like red pearls in its passing.
“What have you done, Justin?” God asked, his old voice low and threatening.
The last of Justin’s will drained away, and he knew he would tell God everything. He would tell him of his sins, his defiance, and his weakness. There would be no secrets left…
He squeezed Richard’s hand one last time.
“Confess,” God said.
And Justin did.
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.
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Copyright 2021, Wess Mongo Jolley. All rights reserved.