June 13, 6:00 pm
The guard brought Howard his dinner at the usual time, and it was the kind of light, cold fare that he was used to at the Matheson Courthouse. The food at the Detention Center was much better. At least it was hot.
It took him a few minutes to even remember why they had moved him back to the courthouse.
Oh, that’s right. My hearing has been rescheduled for tomorrow morning.
In the last hour, since Richard Pratt and the ghost named Billy had left his cell, Howard’s mind had been whirling. Thanks to their strange visit, he had learned an incredible amount, and he was still trying to sort it out.
As he toyed with the bologna sandwich, he tried to put all the little pieces into some kind of larger context. It was like having a puzzle with ninety percent of the pieces missing and still trying to figure out the picture from the scattered pieces remaining. At first he had thought of Justin as a demon. But since seeing Richard and Billy, he now felt confident in a different explanation.
They’re ghosts. All three of them.
And now he knew something even more important. Justin’s possession of him (yet another new word, but one that seemed instantly correct) was not just random. Justin had used him with a purpose, and that purpose was to kill Richard Pratt, specifically. His crime was not a random act of violence. It was deliberate, and his body had been no more than a convenient murder weapon.
He had gleaned from the conversation that Richard and Justin had been lovers in the years before the boy had died. Had Pratt murdered him? At the very least, the man felt responsible for his death, and there must be a reason for Justin’s rage. Pratt clearly feared the bastard and thought that he was out to kill his current lover. The man named Keith Woo.
I can’t believe I’m in the middle of some god damned gay lover’s quarrel between a ghost, his dead lover, and his new boyfriend.
It all seemed like some kind of surreal nightmare. He hadn’t even had any gay friends in high school. He hadn’t hated the gay guys that were out of the closet, as they called it—but he had had no reason to hang around with them either. They were the ones doing all the shows and playing in the band, while he’d been playing football. The gay guys in his school had a reputation for being overly dramatic. And now, here he was, stuck in a level of gay drama he hadn’t ever dreamed could exist.
Finally taking his first bite of the bologna sandwich, he marveled at how clear his mind felt. Knowing that he hadn’t actually killed Pratt was liberating. The deep weight of guilt and shame had been lightened. He had believed that he wasn’t a murderer and never could be. But there was a difference between believing that and having proof.
His mind was slowly transitioning from seeing himself as a perpetrator, to seeing himself as a victim. And somehow, that made him feel far less alone. All along he had been assuming what was happening to him was some kind of unique phenomenon. But the new ghosts had made him realize that what was going on was much larger than what was unfolding in his little world.
There are more ghosts out there. I’ve seen three now, so there must be more. How many? Dozens? Hundreds?
Now that they were gone, Howard found himself missing Richard Pratt and the strange boy named Billy. He felt a strange camaraderie with them, and especially with Richard, who had also suffered at the hands of Justin. And although he had learned a lot in the hour or so they had been in his cell, he now wished that he wouldn’t have played possum. He could have asked them questions.
At the very least, I could have told Richard that I was sorry.
He didn’t know if the pair would return soon. Or ever. More likely, Justin would be back for him, long before he ever saw the two ghosts again. As he thought more about it, his hatred for Justin grew, and he remembered the pain and the violation he had experienced at the boy’s hands.
I’m not going to allow him to do it again, he promised himself. If he comes back, I’m going to be ready. And I’m going to kick the fucker’s ass. It was an easy promise to make, as long as he didn’t focus on the fact that he had no idea how you could actually kick a ghost’s ass.
He pushed away the tray and tried to lay back on the cot. As he did, he realized how stiff and sore he was. He had taken quite a battering by the officers who had tackled him at the hearing, not to mention where the big man had come close to shattering his breast bone. He could still feel the hand-shaped bruise there, where it had developed like a Polaroid photo.
That big man was a monster, he thought.
But as Howard played the scene over and over in his mind, more details emerged. Or rather, details he had noticed before suddenly made sense.
There had been someone else there that day. Someone that saw his attacker, and even spoke to him, as Howard himself was gasping for air on the courtroom floor. At the time, he just thought it was another bystander, and he was just imagining that the man had actually seen Justin. But now that too clicked into place.
It was Richard Pratt! He had been standing there, behind the big man, who had thrown the pile driver into his chest.
So, the ghost of the man I killed… No, the man Justin killed… was there, watching at the hearing. Perhaps Richard Pratt has been following me for some time now.
It all clicked into place and made sense—at least, as far as it went. Justin made him kill Richard Pratt. But Richard was back, and he was trying to find the boy who killed him. All that made sense. But it also felt like the tiniest tip of the iceberg. Something much larger, and much darker was going on. Justin was just a stepping stone. Richard and Billy were looking for someone else.
Richard called him God, but that sounded like sarcasm. What else did he call him? Howard searched his memory and then something clicked.
The last part of Richard and Billy’s conversation confused him; especially the long period when the two were silent, and then how agitated and terrified Richard was when he spoke again. Who was “The Wanderer?” He clearly frightened them both, and they seemed intent on finding him.
Howard sighed and closed his eyes. Just a few hours ago he felt like what was happening to him was the most important thing in the world. It felt strange to see himself as a small piece of a much bigger puzzle.
A puzzle still missing too many pieces.
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.