1857 – 1887
A decade after Billy and Mattie died, much had changed in Salt Lake City.
No longer were the Mormons under threat of war from the American Government. That cloud had passed, and the residents of the Salt Lake Valley were finally looking forward to long and peaceful lives. The territory would not become a state for another thirty years, but already in 1867, there was talk of the day when it would. Or even, if God was willing, when Utah would be recognized as its own theocratic country.
None of this mattered much to Billy, or to Mattie. That first decade after their deaths was a dark one, for both of them.
Billy suffered greatly from the loss of Frances, and it was perhaps that loss that motivated him to follow Mattie so closely in those first years. He still could not see her. But he could sense her, and the tug in his mind always ensured that he knew where she was. He would stop following her for days and then weeks at a time, but always that tug called him back. Mattie’s tortured and lost soul was all he had left of his love for the girl and the family he had lost.
Mattie appeared to be wandering aimlessly during those early years, and Billy could neither see nor speak to her. She was a bundle of emotions in which rage predominated, followed closely by fear. And although it was clear to Billy that the little girl sensed his presence as strongly as he sensed her, he could not understand why his proximity triggered her to even more brutal spasms of rage and hatred. So even though he felt destined to return to her again and again, he quickly learned to keep his distance.
What Billy couldn’t understand was that his presence instantly threw Mattie back into the memories of her family’s murder. And she soon saw his triggering presence as a focal point for her rage.
Like all new ghosts, Mattie still saw herself as the person she was before she died. She was still the little girl in her favorite dress, even though it was now stained with her blood. And even as her mind was permanently frozen at eight years old, it was spiraling inexorably down into a bottomless pit of rage and madness.
It wasn’t until 1867 that Mattie finally discovered, quite by accident, the limits of the Hereafter. She was wandering near the town of Manti, not that far from where she had died, when she walked through the border. And before she could react to the terror of feeling herself torn apart by that barrier, she was gone, and reassembling in the burned and decayed hull of the cabin in Round Valley.
But rather than terrifying and traumatizing her further, Mattie’s broken mind found the new experience thrilling. The pain felt like the most real thing she had experienced since she died, and when she had recovered enough to leave the burned-out shell of the cabin, she rushed immediately back to Manti, and threw herself through the barrier again.
Billy felt that first reset and knew exactly what had happened to Mattie. He was just over a mile away, which he had found to be the minimum distance that he should maintain between them, to avoid causing Mattie distress. But he knew she was near the edge of the Hereafter, and he had been afraid that she would accidentally cross through it. When she did, he felt rather than heard a brutal scream, and then the tug in his forehead suddenly winked out as if it had never been. The effect of its loss was so profound that he physically stumbled back a pace, and whirled around, trying to locate the little girl. Only slowly did the tug return, being reassembled in his mind at the same slow pace as Mattie was herself reassembled in the burned-out cabin.
Billy rushed back to where she had died in time to follow her to Manti, and feel her throw herself through the barrier again.
In those first few weeks, Mattie reset herself a dozen times, and Billy could do nothing but track her movements, hoping that the process she was subjecting herself to would not destroy what was left of her already fragile mind. After every reset, it was as if the little girl was screaming right inside his skull. But they were screams not only of pain, but of ecstasy. Mattie was becoming addicted to that pain.
With time the resetting slowed. And in the following years, Mattie discovered she could achieve a reset not only by crossing the barrier of the Hereafter, but also by throwing herself under the wheels of wagon. Or throwing herself off of a cliff. Or even sitting in the blazing flames of a cowhand’s campfire. And with that discovery, her need to travel far to get a reset when she wanted one was no longer a barrier. It was as if she had discovered an endless supply of opium, and she used it liberally.
In the decades that followed, Mattie reset herself more times that either she or Billy could count. Sometimes she would journey to the barrier. But more often, she would find a convenient spot to destroy herself under the hooves of a herd of cows, or eventually, in front of a train. Anything to get that sweet rush of pain and glory—that exquisite agony of reassembly.
And as the years went by, the site of the Sowersby cabin in Round Valley returned to the earth. It decayed and dwindled, while the small town in the valley grew. Each time Mattie returned, screaming in agony, there was less of the cabin, and the town in the valley had become larger.
And each time, the demonic presence that she had finally come to understand was the ghost of Billy Travers, came to her.
With all her heart and soul, she still hated him. It was his fault that she had died. It was his fault that her family had been killed. And now, it seemed, God had cursed her with his spirit to torment her for the rest of eternity.
The only respite from his hateful presence was the agonizing dissolution she had found at the edge of the Hereafter, and under the pounding hooves of the passing cattle. Resetting went from being an addiction to a ritual. And then, a sacred ritual. She would reset. Billy would come to her. She would flee him, and it would all begin again.
But she believed that one day, God would bless her. She would reset, and she would not return to the cabin. Instead, God would take her into his bosom. And on that day, there would be no more Salt Lake Valley. And no more Billy Travers.
Long before she met God, she was convinced he’d come for her.
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.
Copyright 2021, Wess Mongo Jolley. All rights reserved.