June 14, 7:00 am
I could almost learn to love this feeling, Richard thought as he and Billy ran through the rain.
When it started, Billy had checked in with Richard to make sure he had mastered the ability to let the rain pass through him, rather than chop him to pieces. But the look on his face told Billy all he needed to know.
“It’s like a massage, but it’s everywhere, inside and out. It feels amazing!” Richard said, turning his face up to the sky. The drops cut through him and splashed under his feet. He could even feel the splashes on the pavement, like bees buzzing against his soles.
Billy hadn’t allowed him to pause and enjoy the feeling. The boy was adamant that they get back to the Courthouse as quickly as possible. Richard still felt it was a long shot that Justin would show up, but he also had to admit that being out of that dark bedroom was a relief.
After crossing State Street, they both headed toward the front doors of the Courthouse. It was Billy who stopped Richard before they got there and pointed off to one side.
Richard recognized both Carla Grayson and Morgan Jensen immediately. And something told him that while they were gone, something strange had happened at the Courthouse. The reporter’s cameraman had the pair in his sights, and there was a brilliant white light that illuminated them under the reporter’s black umbrella.
With Billy in tow, Richard ran through the rain and crowded close against the pair. He instinctively avoided standing between the women and the cameraman until he realized that was ridiculous. They wouldn’t be able to see him, no matter where he stood.
The Detective was speaking as they arrived.
“…he was not ‘allowed’ to escape. We’ll be able to provide details on how he accomplished the break in the near future. But please understand that this is still very early in our investigation. All we can tell you for now is that Howard Gunderson is at large, and we are asking the help of the public in finding him.”
“Oh, Fuck!” Richard screamed into the reporter’s faces. Of course, they didn’t hear him and didn’t react, even as Richard stamped his feet on the wet sidewalk. “Fuck, fuck, FUCK!”
“He’s not here,” Billy said, dejected. “How the hell did he get out of the prison?”
“It sounds like he broke out,” Richard growled.
The detective was still speaking. “… as we believe he is armed, and should be considered dangerous and unpredictable. When he left the Courthouse, he was dressed in his orange prison issue clothing, and he may be wearing a dark blue SLPD jacket, stolen from the Courthouse.”
“How would he steal a jacket?” the reporter asked.
“We’re not prepared to give those details at this time…”
Richard turned and stomped a half-dozen steps away from the reporter. Billy tagged behind him, saying nothing, but Richard was so frustrated he barely knew the boy was there. He was pacing now, up and down the sidewalk.
“It sounds like someone helped him,” Richard said, wringing his hands in front of him as he paced. “Who would do that? And why?”
“I don’t know,” Billy said. “But I have a bad feeling about it.”
Richard stopped. “Why? What kind of bad feeling?”
“Like… maybe we’re too late. Like maybe Justin’s already been here. And that he’s now back in Howard.”
“Fuck!” Richard yelled again. He never expected Howard to get out of his prison cell, so hadn’t considered Justin possessing him again to be a threat.
“If Justin still wanted to get to Keith, why would he have to use Howard? Why would he possess someone in fucking prison, with a whole world of people out here walking around free?” Richard paused, a kind of desperate hope in his eyes. “Or could Howard have possibly escaped on his own?”
“I don’t see how,” Billy said. “Did the boy we saw in that cell look like somebody who was ready to stage a jailbreak?”
Richard didn’t need to answer that. It was clear that, without some kind of help, Howard would still be in that cell.
“So he either had help, or Justin has him. Or both.”
“Maybe Drouillard sent somebody to break him out. And if that’s true, then Howard Gunderson must be important.”
“I have no idea.”
Richard stopped pacing and stared at Billy.
“Forget your fucking Boogeyman. Justin wants Keith dead,” Richard said. “It has nothing to do with the Wanderer. It’s all about hurting me. If Justin’s back in Howard, then he’s heading to my house.” His voice was shaking so badly that he could barely string words together now. And he felt as if his legs were about to collapse under him.
Oh, Baby Bear, I’m so sorry, he thought. I should never have left you.
“Billy, I need to get back there. That’s where Justin’s heading. I have to get back there and protect Keith!”
“Richard, stay calm. Maybe you’re right. But think about what we discussed earlier. What if he’s there, just waiting for you to arrive? What if he’s just waiting for you to be there, so he can kill Keith in front of you? What if you going to him is Keith’s death sentence?”
“Dammit Billy, I told you! I’ll figure out how to possess someone. Anyone! And I’ll crush that bastard’s head with my own hands if I have to.”
Billy was yelling now too. If they hadn’t been specters, they would have been attracting a crowd.
“But it won’t be your hands you’ll be using, Richard! And it won’t be Justin’s head you’ll be crushing. You would be killing Howard Gunderson, and using an innocent’s hands to do it, like Justin did when he killed you! And then yet another innocent will be dead, and another innocent will be violated.” Billy took a deep breath and tried to get his emotions under control. “And besides, it wouldn’t matter. Justin would just flee Howard, before you could kill the boy. Howard would die, and Justin would be back again later, in a new body. And this time it might not even be anyone you recognize. Or maybe it will be someone Keith trusts.”
Richard understood everything Billy was saying, but it was too late. He was in too much of a cold fury to listen to reason. “What the hell do you expect me to do, Billy? Just stand here and wait for Justin to kill Keith?”
“Richard, you can’t protect him!”
“No, but I can get him out of this fucking city! Even if I have to kidnap him to do it.”
That silenced Billy, and he looked so tragic and betrayed that Richard had to look away. He felt Billy’s hand on his elbow, and his voice was quiet now.
“And then what happens to this valley, while you’re on your road trip with your boyfriend? Will you just watch on the news, there in your stolen body, as this city descends into death and chaos? Richard, that’s not who you are.”
“Billy, you have no fucking idea who I am.” Richard said, and knew how cruel he sounded.
“Maybe not, but I know you’re not a fool. And I know you understand there is only one way for us to end this.” Billy came around to stand in front of Richard, and he reached up to take the man’s face in his hands. His touch was tender and intimate, and his eyes were soft. “Richard, we have to find and stop Drouillard. It’s why you’re here.”
Richard wanted to weep, but his tears wouldn’t come. He wanted to flee, but his limbs refused to obey his orders. He wanted to lean forward and kiss the boy that held his face so tenderly. But he found all he could do was tremble.
Eventually, he found his voice again.
“And how do you propose we do that now? The plan was to find Justin, by waiting with Howard. But Howard isn’t here. Our only bait is off the hook.” He put his hand on Billy’s, and it felt soft, almost alive. “Billy, our only hope now is to go to Keith. We’re far more likely to find Howard there than here. Please. For God’s sake. Help me.”
At that moment, Richard’s strength failed him, and he fell to his knees. Feeling as if he might collapse completely, he leaned forward and wrapped his arms around the skinny torso of the boy in front of him. Billy was so short that Richard’s face was barely under the boy’s chest. And he felt his resolve crumble. In tears, he felt the words tumbling out of him.
“Billy, I haven’t told you everything. I’ve been doing more than just thinking about the Fourth Gift. I’ve sensed that it’s possible, and I’ve even been trying. When I am holding Keith’s hand, I can almost feel it! It feels like I’ve found a door, and that I should be able to walk right in. And dammit, Billy, I’ve tried! I’ve tried to break through that door and possess Keith, because I’ve just missed him so fucking much and I want to be part of him again. Any way I can. I tried, and it felt like it should be something I could do! I tried, but… I couldn’t make it work!” His eyes felt wet, but the tears refused to leave them, just lingering and making the world look like it was underwater. Richard felt that if he didn’t hold tight to this boy’s chest, he’d lose himself completely. And the feel of the boy’s firm torso under his cheek was suddenly everything the universe had to offer him.
“Billy, you have to teach me how to possess! If I can possess someone, I can at least warn Keith. I can beg him to leave Salt Lake City. He might believe me. Please, Billy. You have to help me!”
Richard realized that more than just allowing himself to be held, Billy had wrapped his arms around Richard’s quaking shoulders, and was squeezing him tightly. He was stroking his hair, and for long moments, he could feel the boy trying to find words. Finally, Billy broke his silence.
“Richard, I can’t. I don’t know how to possess, and I wouldn’t teach you if I knew. It’s forbidden. I’ve never learned how, and I can’t teach you. I’m sorry.”
Just as he thought the last flicker of his hope was about to die, Richard heard another voice. And he felt another hand. It touched his chin and gently turned his face to the right. He opened his eyes and looked up.
“Billy can’t teach you,” the old woman said. “But I can.”
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.