The Last Handful of Clover

Chapter 2.20 The Disruptor

Book Two — Gifts Both Light and Dark

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June 12, 3:32 pm

Billy was worried about Richard’s nerves. He had already given the man so much to ponder, and he knew that the most challenging of all was yet to come.

On their long walk from the Avenues to the University Billy had told Richard the story of how he and Mattie had gained the first two gifts, and how they had finally been able to see each other. It had been an emotional tale to tell, but Richard had said very little—content to just listen and absorb Billy’s words. He appeared to be pondering what Billy was saying, but the man’s silence was becoming unnerving.

He hasn’t asked where we are going, Billy thought. And he hasn’t spoken again of Keith. Or of anything. There is a passivity in this man that does not bode well, for any of us. Does he have it in him to do what destiny is going to ask?

They walked in silence for a time, and finally Richard spoke. Billy was relieved that he seemed finally ready to ask his first questions.

“So what happened after that?” Richard asked. “After you saw Mattie, and she saw you? Did things change, now that you two could see and speak to each other?”

Billy looked up to the blue sky and sighed. “Well, to tell you the truth, Richard… No. In fact, nothing much happened at all. Everything went back to just the way it was. For a very long time.”

“How long?”

“Well, let’s just say decades.”

Billy could see Richard’s mind working faster now, and it was loosening his tongue. That, at least, was a relief.

“I find that impossible to believe,” Richard said, his eyes focused on the sidewalk. “I mean, that nothing else changed. The world changed a lot after 1887.”

Billy laughed. “It did indeed. Salt Lake became more than just a thriving frontier town. It became a bustling metropolis, and one that welcomed people from all over the world. No longer was it just a Mormon enclave. By early in the twentieth century, it had become a major urban center. The city teemed with streetcars and automobiles. That alone changed things a lot for me. With cars on the road, I could get to and from Mattie’s death site much more easily, just as you and I traveled to the Valley Fair Mall last week.”

“So you kept returning to Mattie after she would reset?”

“I did. But by then the resets had become very rare. She pretty much stopped throwing herself against the barrier of the Hereafter, but she would still occasionally toss herself off a cliff or under a car.” He shivered, remembering it. “And despite the fact that every look she gave me and every emotion I sensed in her told me she still despised me, I actually think that those resets were a way to call to me when she was especially sad. She knew I’d come to her, and I did.”

“So she was lonely?”

“Yes, lonely and mad. But loneliness is more powerful than madness, and when she would see me, she always radiated a sense of relief. It never lasted long. She could not bear to be in my presence for more than a few minutes. But it soothed my heart to know I was the one connection she still had to something outside her own dark thoughts.”

Billy rubbed his eyes and sighed before continuing.

“Of course, by this time the cabin was gone. It was just an overgrown clearing filled with prairie grass and sagebrush. But the town of Scipio in the valley below was thriving. By the 1920s over five hundred people were living there.”

“And she was still the only ghost you saw? I mean, besides the old woman?”

“Oh, no. I suppose I forgot to mention that. By this time I had begun to see more ghosts. They were still rare, but it was comforting to know that Mattie and I weren’t alone in the Hereafter. It could be weeks or months between sighting another of our kind.”

“Could you speak to them?”

“I tried. But invariably I failed. Other than Mattie and the old woman, none of them could see me. Remember, it took Mattie and I thirty years to get those first gifts.”

“The ones I had the first day that I returned.”

Billy sighed and looked at Richard as if he was some kind of mythical creature. “But many things are different now. Perhaps you are just the natural evolution of our kind. Although it took us thirty years to get the first two gifts, the new ghosts that are arriving now usually get the gifts within the first three or four years. So much is changing, so quickly. And I don’t understand why.”

“And you still couldn’t touch any of them?” Richard asked.

“No. Back then, I didn’t even dream such a thing could even be possible.”

Richard sighed. He seemed unhappy with that answer. “Okay. So what did you do?”

“Do?” Billy asked, stopping to look at Richard quizzically. “What do you mean?”

“I mean… What did you do?” Richard said, clearly frustrated. “What you’re describing to me is still all more than a century ago. You must have been doing something for the past hundred years!”

“I’m sorry to disappoint you, Richard. But for the past century, I’ve done very little. If by that word, you mean action. My life this past century has mostly been one of observation, and contemplation.”

“You’re kidding me,” Richard said.

“After I met the old woman in the desert, and after Mattie and I spoke, I felt consumed by a need to learn, and to understand. And so I became an observer. A watcher, if you will. And, if you don’t mind my saying so, a bit of a philosopher.”

Richard laughed. “When I first met you, I thought you talked like some of the philosophy professors I know at the University. You seemed like a stuffy old man crammed into the body of a kid.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment, Richard.” Billy said with a grin.

“I’m not sure it was intended as one, but okay.” Richard waited for him to go on, and when he didn’t, he added, “I have to say, what you’re describing sounds pretty boring. And more than a little depressing.”

“No, not at all. In fact, the 20th century was the happiest time I ever experienced. I was pursuing a life of the mind, and it… gave me purpose.”

Richard grimaced. “You might have had a purpose. But you couldn’t have had much hope.”

Billy cocked his head sideways, looking at Richard as if he didn’t understand what he was saying. “I don’t know if ‘hope’ and ‘purpose’ are really all that different,” he said, with a tired smile. “The meeting with the old woman in the desert provided a kind of spark, or a seed, around which both hope and purpose accrued. Even though I didn’t know what it was, I became convinced that there had to be some reason we ghosts were here, and some purpose we had been destined to fulfill. So I set off to find it.”

“And did you?” Richard asked.

“It isn’t achieving our goals that makes us happy, Richard,” Billy said, putting a hand on his shoulder. “It is the striving for them. And what I learned gave me plenty of reason to believe that I had a purpose, and a reason to go on. I became convinced that God had a plan for me.”

Richard stopped walking and looked at the boy with clear disdain, and perhaps even disgust. He rolled his eyes and said, “Well, you just lost me, there—talking of God. It sounds like you’ve been drinking too much of your own Kool-Aid.”

“Yes, perhaps,” Billy said with a shy grin. “But it wasn’t just my Kool-Aid. For more than a century I immersed myself in ideas, in philosophy, and yes, in theology. I went to classes on Aristotle and Plato at the University, and also to religious services in every church in Salt Lake City. I followed the best students and the most vibrant pastors and listened to their conversations. At night, I’d read over their shoulders, and while they slept, I sat in their darkened rooms and contemplated their ideas. Understanding humanity’s relationship to God became my obsession—perhaps because there was no other way I could think of that would give me any answers at all about the strange world that I inhabited.”

“I don’t know if those answers can be found in a church,” Richard said, waving a hand in dismissal. “Or even—if I can be a heretic—in the classroom. I guess I don’t know if they even exist.”

“Well, I think you’re right, that nobody has the complete answer. Both the church and the classroom represent only small windows into the great human mystery. What I was looking for was much more vast and humbling.”

“And did you find it?”

“No, not really. But by the early sixties, I felt I was close. I’d witnessed the mind-numbing conformity of the fifties, and the way everyone retreated into fear during the cold war and the threat of nuclear annihilation. But then the counter-culture movement came along, and I saw the world trying to find its way back from the precipice. I spent a lot of the 60s and 70s living in a commune down on M street, that was started by a very colorful character named Charles Artman. I sat with them for years as they smoked pot, took LSD, and passed around books on eastern wisdom. There was a genuine sense of community there, and it restored my hope. And by then I was struggling to create my own rudimentary theology that attempted to explain why God had abandoned our souls in this strange place.”

“And why is that? I’d like to know.”

“I wish I could tell you. Back then, I saw it as a trial that our souls were undergoing, and that we were destined to overcome.”

“Yeah, that sounds like more of the same old bullshit.”

Billy let out an audible sigh, but didn’t answer.

“And what happened to Mattie during all these years?”

“It sounds trite, but I guess you could say that we drifted apart. Her presence receded to a low rumble in my consciousness. And while I was living in the commune, I stopped going to her each time she reset. For all intents and purposes, I abandoned her, in favor of my self-indulgent spiritual quest. I’m not proud that I did that, but it is true.”

Billy looked at Richard, and knew what he was thinking, even before he spoke. “At least that took you a good century. I’ve abandoned Keith, and it’s only been a little more than a week.”

“You haven’t abandoned him, Richard.”

“Whatever,” Richard said, looking glum. “Anyway, you’re still clearly following Mattie around now, so something eventually changed. What happened?”

“Well, I guess you could say that ‘God’ happened.”

Richard turned and stared at Billy. “And this time, by ‘God’, I think you mean the one you call the Wanderer.”


“He contacted you? The way he contacted me?”

“He did. It was in 1980 that I heard his voice for the first time.”

“What did you do?”

Billy laughed. “The same as you, I imagine. I crumbled. Remember, I hadn’t heard a voice actually speak my name since Mattie had last croaked it at me almost a century before. In fact, I had almost forgotten the name ‘Billy Travers’. And then suddenly there was this presence in my head that not only knew my name, but also knew my story. It spoke to me with a voice so full of compassion and insight that it transported me. I found it to be both thrilling and intoxicating. It was everything I had longed for, for more than a century. My own voice had atrophied, and it took me some practice to form words again. But the voice was insistent and patient, and at first, I really believed it was God that was talking to me.”

“Only at first?”

“Soon, I began to doubt.”

“Why? How did you know it wasn’t really God?”

Billy closed his eyes, remembering. “Well, it was little things at first. His knowledge of my life was scattered, at best. He knew the names of some people from when I was alive, but not others. And he was completely wrong about the town my parents and I had come from. They were small errors, but they were telling. It was as if he had heard the story of my life second hand, from someone who didn’t really know me very well. But even more than the errors, there was something dark that I couldn’t define. It was in his words, and in how I would feel when he spoke to me. There was a sinister quality to him, and to what he wanted from me.”

“So you rebuffed him? Like I did.”

“Yes. And his reaction told me it may well have been the first time he had ever been rejected. His anger and wrath erupted, and what had been a quiet and seductive voice in my head became petty and enraged. He threatened to destroy me or leave me here forever. I knew nothing for certain about God. But I couldn’t allow myself to believe that God would show all the worst and most base emotions that cursed his creation. Somehow, I expected God to be better.”

“So you think he was talking to other ghosts? Not just you?”

“I’m certain of it. By then the population of ghosts in Salt Lake City had grown by leaps and bounds. There were now hundreds, or perhaps thousands of us. I still couldn’t communicate with them, but I could now see them. And with some of the old ones, I knew they could see me as well. So I knew that if God could speak to me, he could speak to the others. And there was one ghost I was worried about more than any other. One that I thought might be tragically receptive to the dark and threatening words that ‘God’ was offering.”


“Exactly. She had stopped resetting herself by that year. I almost hadn’t noticed it, because the change was so gradual, and we had drifted away from each other’s minds. But after the voice came to me, I realized I hadn’t paid any attention to that tug in my head for a very long time. And that I had not felt her do a reset for at least a few years. When I turned my attention to her, at first I thought I might have lost the ability to find her. But it came back to me, and I rushed to where she was.”

“And where was she?”

“She was at Bridal Veil Falls, in Provo Canyon.”

“I know it. It’s beautiful. Keith and I always stopped to see it when we were driving up the canyon.”

“Yes, it’s majestic. And it’s also right at the edge of the Hereafter. The border passes right through the base of the falls. It didn’t take me too long to get to her, since jumping on a bumper or into the back of a truck was so easy by the 1980s. And when I got there, I discovered that much about her had changed.”

Billy hadn’t relived this memory in a very long time, and he found it difficult to speak. His voice became thick with emotion as he pushed on.

“She stood just feet from the border of the Hereafter, looking up at the spray, which cascaded around and through her like waves of light. No longer was her madness radiating off of her like echoes of chaos. Now her mind seemed focused and cold. It was calculating, even conspiring, and seemed backed by an almost fanatical intensity.”

“How she is today,” Richard said.

“Yes. And when I got to her and looked in her eyes, I realized she was under the thrall of this terrifying entity—and probably had been for quite some time. She was why he knew what he did about me, and why his knowledge was so fragmentary and scattered.”

“Mattie had told him about you,” Richard said, understanding dawning on his face. “Did she speak to you?”

“At first, all I could get from her was a loathing that transcended anything I had felt from her before. But when she found her words, she screamed that God had told her I was a demon, and that I was there to tempt her. To destroy her. She would go from that raging monster back to the little girl in the blink of an eye, and when she was the Mattie I remembered, she begged me to fall on my knees, and give myself to God. She said that if I didn’t, then I was destined to remain here forever, after God had taken all his righteous angels with him into Heaven.

“I tried to reason with her, but it was no use. And eventually, in her fury, she turned and threw herself into the falls—which was also through the border of the Hereafter. I had never been so close to her before when she reset, and it felt like the connection to her in my brain was being ripped out of my skull. I stumbled away and climbed up the talus slope. My goal was to get to the road, so I could get back to Round Valley and the cabin as soon as possible. I wanted to follow her. But someone stopped me.”

Billy looked at Richard and saw his eyes grow wide. It was as if he was expecting this part of the story.

“Was it the old woman?”

“It was. And surely by now you realize that you have already met her.”

“Yes. I knew it when you told me how she was dressed. You’re talking about the old woman who was at the funeral home with Keith. I saw her again at the cemetery today.”

“Her name is Tuilla. And she is the daughter of a Chief of the Goshute tribe.” Richard absorbed this new bit of information without comment.

“What did she say to you?”

“It wasn’t what she said. It was what she did. As I was rushing after Mattie, she stepped out from behind a parked RV, where I’m sure she had been watching the two of us. She appeared as if out of thin air, and it startled me. I froze in my tracks, with her just inches in front of me. And without speaking, she lifted one of those gnarled old hands, and placed it on my chest.

“And Richard, I felt it!”

Billy’s recollection of the moment caused his body to shake all over. “Richard, you can’t imagine what it was like. I know how shocked you were when I grabbed your wrist outside of the courthouse. But you had only been dead for a matter of days at that point. You still remembered what real touch was like. I had forgotten it completely! Nothing in my world had been anything but cold stone for more than a hundred and thirty years. And suddenly, there was this hand on my chest. It was a warm hand. A living hand. It moved, and I felt it. I trembled, and I could sense that she felt that too. I put one hand over hers, and felt the skin, old and dry like sandpaper, but also real, human flesh. It was alive!

“I knew she was speaking, but nothing she said mattered in that moment. I just sank to my knees, held her hand in mine, and I cried. I don’t know how long I wept, but it felt like hours. There was anguish and regret and loss and pain in me I didn’t even know existed, and she pulled it all out of me that day with her frail old hand, as easily as if she was pulling the fluff off a dandelion. And when she was done… I felt absolutely empty and at peace. Everything I had learned and believed, all the answers I thought I had found over the past century and a half, were suddenly gone. And all that was left of me was a hollowed-out shell.”

Billy could see that his story had moved Richard. The man’s jaw clenched and released, as if he was trying to imagine what such an experience would be like—how it would feel to be touched for the first time, after more than a century. Billy knew Richard was thinking of Keith, and how he longed for his touch, even now.

“Did you eventually hear what she was saying?” Richard asked.

“I did. It took some time. It was dark before I could hear her. And I can’t remember most of it. She comforted me. I certainly remember that. But she also told me she needed me. That everyone in the Hereafter needed me, both the living and the dead. She said that Drouillard had come to a dangerous place.”


“I didn’t understand the name, and she didn’t explain. But I knew she was talking about the Wanderer. I suspect it may have been his name before.”

“Before what?”

“I don’t know. Perhaps when he was a man, or before he became so powerful. Certainly before he came to believe that he was God. She said that Drouillard was once kind and generous, but that he had become evil, and intent on doing great harm to the living. She said that his anger and his madness knew no bounds, and that he was finding allies like Mattie as quickly as he could.”

“So she wasn’t the only one.”

“Not by a long shot. Back then, I think that his so-called angels were few in number. Tuilla said that it could take a decade, or it could take a century, but that Drouillard’s plan had only had one goal—death and destruction of this valley, and everyone in it.”

“Why didn’t she try to stop him?”

“I asked that very question. She told me she couldn’t, and that I couldn’t either. In fact, she said that none of the ghosts that existed in the valley had any chance against him. I remember what she said next as clearly as if it was yesterday. The words have stuck with me for all these years. She said, ‘We are but pale smoke, and he is the fire. But his equal is coming. The Disruptor will have all the gifts. That’s where our hope must lie.’”

Richard looked almost angry. They were now in the foothills above the University, and were sitting on a rock that gave them a beautiful view of the city, spread out below them, hazy in the afternoon heat.

“The Disruptor,” Richard said, glaring at the boy. “You think she meant me.”

“I know she meant you, Richard. She knew you would come.”

“What did she mean by ‘all the gifts’?”

Billy stood and turned to Richard “I think I’ve told you about all that I can for now. Before I explain that part to you, I think you need to understand our world a little better.” He looked down the hillside. Below them sprawled the gigantic campus of the combined University of Utah and University Medical Center.

“What comes next will not be easy for you to see, Richard,” Billy said. “You’ll need to summon all of your courage and strength.”

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.

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 If you are enjoying this story, please drop me a line, and consider supporting my work as a novelist at More than half of the the trilogy's over 200 chapters are already available there for subscribers.

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