June 14, 4:00 am
Justin Kimball felt as if he was a malevolent virus, rushing through the veins of the unsuspecting city and looking for a vulnerable cell.
As he crept down 4th East, he kept out of the pools of light cast by the street lamps, slipping carefully but quickly between dark alleys and the shady pools under the big cottonwood trees that lined the quiet street. When a patrol car appeared, he hid behind a dumpster at the rear of a Chinese restaurant until it slid silently away, its lights revolving in the unearthly canopy of the high leaves.
Even with the threat of detection passing so near, Justin could do nothing but hug himself with delight.
The feel of Howard Gunderson’s body was still a revelation to him. In his previous possessions of the boy, he had never taken the time to actually feel the joy that being alive again entailed. Since his death he had forgotten much of the wonder that came from breathing air, from actually feeling the hard pavement and the soft grasses. The sensual intensity of it only reminded him that being a ghost was a sad mockery of actually living.
When all this is over, he mused, I’m going to strip Howard’s body naked, and we’re going to float in the Great Salt Lake. We’re going to climb peaks and feel the soft grass and the mountain leaves against our naked flesh. Or we’re going to lie in the winter snows until every muscle aches.
It had all been so easy.
When he and Mattie left the cell, he knew that his new body had become more than just a set of clothes he was wearing. This flesh was now his, and the sound of Howard’s protests and screams were already only delicious background music to all the new sensations running through him.
Mattie had handed him the guard’s taser as they left the cell, and as they came to the end of the hall, he had seen the look of shock on the officer who had stayed behind at the duty desk. The guard looked at Mattie, in the body of his big colleague, and he only had the time to say, “What the fuck, Delgado?” before Mattie cracked him viciously across the forehead with the nightstick. The man had fallen so hard that Justin thought he might be dead already. But he had still been alive, and a good jolt from the taser was enough to bring the man around. As he moaned, Justin had pulled the cop into the corridor, despite his desperate attempts to grab the sides of the duty desk, and crawl under it.
His Princess was so sweet to him. When he had the officer clear, she handed him the nightstick. And then she just watched and clapped like a proud mama as he beat the cop to death. What they left in the hallway had no longer looked human. In fact, it was hard to imagine it had ever been alive.
Mattie looked at him, and he could see the pride in her eyes.
By using the guard’s handcuffs, they had been able to pass the last checkpoint on the way out of the courthouse without a lot of fuss. The other guards appeared to know the big officer that Mattie was riding like a stallion, and didn’t think twice about letting them pass without anything more than some small talk, and a scribbled signature on a prisoner transfer log.
Luckily, the guards hadn’t looked down at Howard’s shoes, or seen the bloody splatters on the cuffs of his orange pants.
In the parking lot they found another cop, writing out notes behind the wheel of his cruiser. Mattie knocked on the window and when the cop rolled it down, Justin hit him in the neck with the taser, and Mattie pulled his convulsing body through the window with her bare hands. Justin heard the man’s skull crack against the pavement and he lay still, like a broken toy soldier. They could have taken the time to beat the man to death, but they had been in a hurry. The engine in the squad car had been running, and they took the opportunity to get out of there before the inevitable alarm was raised.
Two blocks away Mattie had pulled the car over and kicked him out with hardly a word. That wasn’t a surprise. As long as he had known Mattie, she could only stand being in his presence for a few minutes at a time. But this time he knew she wanted to go out and play with her new body.
He had understood. He felt exactly the same way.
“This is for you,” she had said, shrugging out of the cop’s jacket. “Put it on. You look like a ridiculous jack-o’-lantern.” She handed the coat through the window, and he took it with gratitude. He was already wondering how far he’d get in his orange prison clothes. The jacket did nothing to help with the day-glo pants, but it was a start.
“Thank you, Princess…” Justin had started to say, but already Mattie had thrown the car back into drive. As she roared out of the parking space, he heard her giggle, a high-pitched and girlish laugh that seemed almost human.
“I’m going to have such fun with this one!” she had said.
Now, running through the dark streets and alleys, Justin felt as if everything that had brought him to this moment was inevitable. It was fate—every decision, every act. It was the universe finally giving him his due. He had suffered since Richard ruined his life. But all that suffering was about to be worth it.
I have a new body, he laughed, running through the dark. I have a new life!
He would never vacate Howard Gunderson, and when all this was over, as it inevitably must be soon, he would live long and happily. He’d ensure that he and Howard survived the Cleansing. And then, in the burned-out ruins of what was once Salt Lake City, he’d use this new body for all it was worth.
And maybe, from time to time, I’ll let Howard Gunderson out to play. Never completely, of course. But it might be fun to let the boy surface far enough to remember the life he lost, and then listen as he whimpers and begs.
Justin tried to think of the worst, most painful things he could do to this body that would not damage it unduly, but which would drive Howard Gunderson to despair. Things with pins, perhaps, in sensitive places, he mused. Things with fire. Things with vises and pliers…
Howard would be his pet. His companion. His obedient and perpetually terrified whore… And eventually he’d beg Justin for the pain because it would be the only thing that reminded him of the life he lost.
But all that was in the future. Now, only one thing mattered. It was the unfinished business that he would defy even God to complete.
First, I’ll make Richard Pratt watch his piggy die, knowing he can’t do anything to stop it, Justin imagined, feeling the grin on his face so wide it almost hurt. I know he’s going to be there. He might spend his days with Billy, but there is no way he isn’t spending his nights with his butt-boy. I’ll kill him while Richard watches. And then the bastard’s mind will crumble like dry clay.
Driving Richard mad was going to be even more satisfying than killing him had been. The man was a crime against nature, and he deserved to die. It was a cruel joke that Richard Pratt, of all people, should be drawn back to the Hereafter. And it was an abomination that he had somehow been granted the first three gifts. That he could hear and see and even touch was proof to Justin that God was not righteous—or worse, that God didn’t even have control over this place at all. The thrill of such blasphemous ideas caused a tingling sensation under his scrotum, and he squirmed in delight.
Well, if God isn’t in control, then I am. It will be Howard Gunderson’s face that Richard sees, but he’ll know it’s me. The last sane memory Richard will have is of the boy he betrayed, now torturing his lover to death in front of his eyes.
He imagined the aftermath: Richard, mad and roaming the Hereafter endlessly. He imagined him suffering forever, without Keith, bereft of God, and more alone and in more agony than any human soul could possibly endure. The thought tasted delicious; warm and savory on his tongue.
There were sirens in the distance now. Several of them, coming from different directions. Perhaps they’d found the body of the guard he and Mattie had killed, or the tasered cop in the parking lot.
Things are going to get crazy really fast, he thought. I have to get to the piggy as fast as I can.
Just before crossing South Temple, Justin found a small auto parts store with a variety of tools and accessories in the window. One that immediately caught his eye was a two-foot black tire iron. It was long and heavy; more like what you’d see in a garage, rather than something you’d put in the back of your car. Wrapping his fist in the cop’s jacket, he drew back and put his hand through the plate-glass window. The sound seemed surprisingly loud, but a quick glance showed nothing stirred on the street. He’d undoubtedly set off the store’s alarm. But that didn’t matter now. He only needed the one item.
Grabbing the tire iron, he pulled it out of the window display, knocking loose another big shard of glass in the process, which shattered at his feet. The iron rod felt heavy in his hand, and he slapped it into his palm, imagining the sound it would make breaking the bones in Keith Woo’s fat little arms and legs.
Yes, this will do nicely.
And then he was on the run again. He crossed South Temple, avoiding a couple of cars that were haunting the early morning street, and then disappeared into the Avenues.
Once he was in the residential district, he breathed a little easier. Unlike the main thoroughfares in Salt Lake City, the streets in the Avenues were smaller, quieter, and less well lit. The street lamps here were few and far between. He found it easy to navigate the darkness, sliding between the bushes and the shadows with ease.
When he got to Richard’s house on J Street, it was almost dawn, and there were unmistakable signs of the neighborhood coming to life. Almost half the houses had lights on inside, as the middle-class warriors that lived in them prepared for another day of battle. There were even a few cars pulling out of their driveways and making their way out of the neighborhood.
A cop car turned a corner, and Justin barely got Howard’s body wedged under a parked car before it cruised slowly past, a single beam from the driver’s side piercing into the morning shadows, searching in the dark places as it cruised by.
They are definitely looking for me now, he thought. Well, let them. I’ll be off the street in a few minutes.
He looked at Richard’s house, and the memory of sitting in his car on this street, writing an angry note to the man, rushed back on him with a vengeance.
Richard is probably upstairs. He’s sitting in there with his little boy-whore. Looking at him with those big, moony eyes. Maybe even crying and moaning like a little bitch. I wish I could see it…
The only drawback of the Fourth Gift was that when you were in a human host, you could no longer see with your ghost eyes. So unfortunately he wouldn’t be able to see Richard’s face as he went about his work. But no matter. He imagined the man throwing himself against Howard’s body, trying in vain to stop the tire iron from coming down, over and over again. Maybe he’d throw himself between the two, and would end up being reset. That would be fine. By the time he got back up to the bedroom, he’d have started to work on Keith with the kitchen knives. Or maybe he’d take too long, and he’d only rush back in time to find his lover was now nothing more than a steaming pile of blood and lard.
He laughed to himself. Maybe Richard would rush back into the room just in time to see Howard pissing into what was left of the boy’s open mouth. Or, even better, slicing off and eating his tiny cock.
He grasped the tire iron tighter and swallowed the spit that was gathering in his mouth, threatening to leak down his chin. Without even realizing he was doing it, one hand crept into his pants and squeezed his throbbing erection, sending shivers of delight through his new body.
Still crouched behind the car, he looked at the house.
I’ll have to use the tire iron to break in, he thought. That’s one drawback of being in a body—no more walking through walls.
Just as he was about to rush the front door, a big yellow vehicle pulled up across the street. He melted deeper into the shadows as he watched two people get out of the SUV. The driver was a tiny and frail looking woman, but the man that got out of the other side was a giant. With a rush, Justin remembered where he had seen that hulking presence before. The long curly hair and the flat nose were unmistakable. As were the huge, thick-fingered hands. His own hand involuntarily clutched at his chest, which still felt bruised and raw.
That’s the bastard that knocked the shit out of us in the hearing room, Justin thought.
For a moment, he considered rushing him and taking him out with the tire iron before he knew what hit him. But at the last moment, Justin’s confidence failed him. The brute would certainly see him coming across the lawn in the glow of the early morning light. And if he saw him coming, Justin wasn’t sure he could take the giant, no matter what kind of weapon he had.
He watched, fuming, as the couple went up to the door, unlocked it, and entered the house. He sat on the pavement behind the parked sedan, trying to decide what to do. It only took him a few minutes to regain his confidence and come to a decision.
Fine. I’ll just have to kill them first, before I take on the pig.
He hefted the tire iron in his hand, feeling how solid it was. Ready to roll, he thought, feeling his cock now hard as a stone, straining against the cotton fabric. He crawled out from behind the car and started across the lawn.
Halfway to the porch he stopped cold, realizing that he was standing in the exact spot where he had abandoned Howard Gunderson the first time he had possessed him. After he’d shot Richard that night, he’d stepped off the porch and onto the lawn, and it was in this exact spot that he had leapt clear of Gunderson’s body, and watched as the boy collapsed on the lawn, the gun falling useless by his side.
It was in this exact spot, he thought, frozen…
And in that moment, Justin faltered. And it was his undoing.
For just a moment, he let his attention wander, imagining how Howard’s body had collapsed the last time he had been in this yard. And picturing it somehow gave Howard Gunderson a foothold inside his well.
It wasn’t a complete loss of control for Justin, but it was enough that Howard could use the element of surprise against him. And in that brief instant Justin knew Howard had been waiting and watching for this very moment since he had pushed him down into the well.
Justin cursed himself for his sloppiness, even as he realized it was too late. He felt an explosion that went from his knees to his shoulders, as if he had been standing in the way of a wrecking ball, or had hit the ground after falling from a great height. It was very much like the blow the big man in the courtroom had given him, except it was all in his mind. And it was all Howard Gunderson.
Justin Kimball was expelled from Howard’s body so violently that he felt the grass tear at his back like razors as he hit the ground. He felt like the wind had been knocked out of him, and when he looked up, he saw something horrible.
Howard Gunderson was standing over him with the tire iron still in his hand. He was trembling, and the rage on his face struck Justin dumb. He watched in horrified silence as Howard brought the tire iron up high above his head. There was drool on his chin, and fury in his eyes.
He looks like Moon-Watcher, Justin thought, but with a tire iron instead of a bone…
The sound Howard made, as he brought down the metal rod, reminded Justin of a wounded lion.
I heard an anguished cry in an empty street.
It woke me like a lion from the veldt,
furious upon the dew-moist grass.
Cold terror upon my cheeks.
Hands knotted in the sheets.
Eyes wide in the dark.
My nakedness an invitation to the predator.
Heart beating in the
—Excerpt from “The Lonely Room” by Keith Woo, as it appears in “The Heavy Work of Vanishing: The Collected Poetry of Keith Woo,” edited by Pi’ilani Kilani, page 238.
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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