June 14, 8:30 am
The legend, which Howard believed utterly as a credulous pre-teen, was that if you circled the Moritz Mausoleum three times, while chanting, “Emo, Emo, Emo,” then when you looked through the blue steel grating, you would see Emo’s red eyes staring back at you.
Howard Gunderson had grown up not far from the Salt Lake City Cemetery, where Richard Pratt’s ashes were now buried. His family had not lived in the Avenues—they had been far too poor for that—but in an apartment on 5th East, close to Liberty Park. His two favorite summer playgrounds had been the park, and when he and his friends wanted to do something at least a little forbidden, The Cemetery up in the Avenues.
Howard’s feet had now brought him back here, as if they had a mind of their own. And as soon as he stepped foot into the cemetery he remembered the Mausoleum, and the strange curse and legend that had so thrilled them all as children.
“Emo, Emo, Emo…” he muttered to himself, as he cut into the cemetery at the corner of 4th Avenue and N Streets.
The reason he could believe the legend so utterly back then was that he and his friends had never built up the courage to actually test it. They had gotten as far as circling and chanting, but then none of them ever had the guts to boost themselves up to the window and actually look in. One of them would usually scream or jump-scare the group, and they’d all run off into the cemetery, giggling in terror they only pretended wasn’t real.
Now, as an adult, the only thing Howard remembered about the Moritz Mausoleum was that it would make a perfect hiding place—if he could only get inside. It was off the beaten path, in the Jewish section of the cemetery, and it had a thick steel door, which even when he was a kid was corroded and looked as if it needed to be replaced. If it was the same old door, he just might use the leverage of the tire iron to pry it open.
If it wasn’t for the gray rain and the fog, they would have caught me already, he thought. Twice, on the way to the cemetery, he’d had close calls with squad cars cruising through the neighborhood.
I’m either really lucky, or somebody is looking out for me.
Now deep in the deserted heart of the cemetery, Howard made his way toward the Moritz Mausoleum. But as he crested a small rise and began to cross through the sea of headstones, he had a sudden jolt.
There, ahead of him, were dozens of people, wandering through the cemetery as if they were looking at the graves. He ducked quickly behind a tall headstone and looked around. Through the fog and the drizzle he could see that there were about twenty or thirty people in his field of vision, but he was surprised that there were no cars parked along the roadsides, and no low hum of conversation creeping across the misty grounds.
Then he noticed that several of the figures were naked, most of them were old, and many were wrapped in sheets or clothed in hospital gowns. His mind struggled to wrap itself around what he was seeing, but then it dawned on him with such clarity that he literally sank to his knees on the grass in wonder.
They’re dead, he thought. The cemetery is full of ghosts! Then he started to laugh. Well, of course it is!
For a moment, he totally forgot that he was on the run, and walked slowly, and strangely unafraid, into the dozens of dead that were scattered like wandering shades around the graves. Their faces were universally blank, and often they just stood in silence, staring at a headstone, or at the sky. From time to time one would seem to see him, and would even move out of his way as he passed.
Without thinking, he reached up to one and placed a hand on the thing’s shoulder. She was, or at least had been, a middle-aged woman with a kind face. There were bandages wrapped around what appeared to be a wound on her chest, visible through her open hospital gown. One perfect breast hung free in the gap left by the pink gown. She seemed lovely to Howard, with a kind face that was too young to be motherly, but a body that still spoke of age and experience. He placed a hand on the woman’s shoulder and was surprised that he couldn’t feel it. To him, it was like his hand was hovering in midair. But when he pushed, the ghost moved, as if his hand was an unstoppable force.
The woman stumbled, looked at him with sad eyes, and then walked away.
Through the fog, Howard was startled by the sound of a siren. He could vaguely see the outlines of a cop car on 4th Avenue, perhaps fifty yards away through the fog. But it was racing along with a clear goal, and that goal was not inside the cemetery. With the sirens blaring and the lights illuminating the fog in a kaleidoscope of colors, it blazed away to the west and was gone.
In the distance, Howard could hear other sirens now. He held his breath and stood among the dead, waiting to see if he had been discovered, and if the cop cars would roar into the cemetery and surround him. But none came.
It almost feels like I’m safe here, he thought, standing among the dead. I almost feel like I’m one of them. Like I’ve blended into the crowd, and nobody can find me.
He had to shake himself out of that notion, and remind himself that he alone could see these multitudes. To the rest of the living, Howard Gunderson would appear to be standing alone in the middle of a sea of headstones.
Slowly, the sirens faded, and Howard had a sudden thought.
I wonder if it is Mattie they’re after.
The strange little girl ghost Justin had called “Princess,” and who had possessed the guard at the Matheson Courthouse, had gone off on her own. Howard had the clear impression she was intoxicated by being in Officer Delgado’s body, and she really didn’t care what Justin did or didn’t do with his newfound plaything. She had mischief of her own to pursue.
Howard felt like his luck was holding. If Mattie had drawn the cops away from the search for him, perhaps he could make it to the Moritz Mausoleum without being seen.
Hurrying away from the crowd of ghosts, Justin headed toward the old stone crypt, which was at the edge of the cemetery, near Q Street. He hadn’t been there for years, but it didn’t take him long at all to find the tomb.
He was surprised that it looked exactly like he remembered it. And his luck was holding—the crypt had the same corroded door, and the decade or so since he had last played here had weakened the steel even more. He went to work on the latch with the tire iron, and in just a couple minutes, it gave way with a dull groan. He eased the gate open, just far enough to slide inside, and pulled it closed behind him.
There was a sarcophagus in the mausoleum, and Howard quickly crouched down behind it. On the cold cement, he felt safe for the first time that day. In fact, he felt safer than he had since the night Justin had used him to kill Richard Pratt. As he lay on the floor, he tried to think through what he would do next. He might feel safe, but he knew it was an illusion. And it was one that could get him killed.
I just wish I knew more of what was really going on, he thought, rubbing his burning eyes in frustration. But as he went over the facts in his mind, he realized he actually knew quite a lot. He knew about Justin, and he knew about the weird and deadly lover’s quarrel in which he had been ensnared. He knew about Richard Pratt and the boy named Billy, and that they were looking for someone they called “The Wanderer.” It was all enough to give him tantalizing clues to the bigger picture, but still not enough. There were still huge pieces of the puzzle that were eluding him.
For instance, should he expect Justin to find him again, or had he scared him away permanently? Squeezing the tire iron, the prospect of the boy ghost returning actually wasn’t something Howard dreaded, as he had before. He now felt confident that he could prevent himself from being possessed, and if Justin came back, the idea of putting the tire iron through his head again actually brought a smile to this face.
But what if I’m wrong? What if Justin comes back, and I can’t keep him out?
The idea was so terrifying that he briefly considered cutting his own wrists, rather than giving the bastard another crack at him. His hatred for the boy who had used his body and locked him away felt like a hot coal that was lodged in his chest.
And yet, he thought, I also feel strangely close to him. I feel like I know Justin more intimately than I’ve ever known anyone. Even though he’s no longer controlling me, it’s like his psyche has left a permanent imprint on mine.
It was like the picture he once saw of the outlines men and women left on the walls after the Hiroshima blast. The people who left those shadows were long dead, and yet, traces of them remained, like indelible photographs. In the same way, it was like the shadow of Justin was left on the wall of his soul.
I wish there was a way to wash that wall clean, he thought. I would scrub until I felt like I was finally rid of him, even if I had to scrub out parts of myself in the process.
One thing he knew for certain was that the ghost was in love with him. Or at least, whatever passed for love in the thing’s twisted soul. To be sure, it was more lust and power than it was love. But Howard had clearly become an obsession, and there was no reason to think that Justin was through with him yet.
Howard shook that thought out of his mind and tried to do an inventory of what else he didn’t know. One question loomed over all the others.
Who is this “Wanderer”? And why are Richard and Billy so afraid of him?
Finally, he gave up on that question. He wasn’t going to get any more information sitting here in this tomb. So then what should be his next move? Should he turn himself in? Should he try to get out of the city? If what Richard and Billy said was true, then he wanted to be as far aways as possible when it all came down.
Should I steal a phone and call my mother? Or would that be the worst thing I could do? The pain she must be going through…
In any case, he would not get far in daylight. At least, not dressed the way he was. He looked at his clothes. The inside-out jacket still looked ridiculous, and his orange pants clearly said PRISONER in huge letters down the right leg. In the coat’s pocket he found a black plastic comb, and used it to break the stitches of the shoulder patches on the jacket, and the yellow insignia on the front. When he was done, the jacket looked more civilian. He took off the orange pants and turned them inside out. That didn’t change the glaring color, but at least the word PRISONER was no longer visible.
It all didn’t help much. He would still be much more conspicuous than he would like. But it was a start. Maybe he could steal some better clothes somewhere in the neighborhood. Do people still hang their clothes on the line to dry? Certainly not on a rainy day like today, he thought dejectedly.
Every logical impulse he could muster told him that he needed to stay here until dark, and he was just getting ready to make himself comfortable, when a memory of a face popped into his mind. It was the last person he expected to be thinking about. But once he started, he couldn’t stop.
Keith Woo. Richard Pratt’s boyfriend…
Howard wouldn’t have known the guy from Adam, except for the pictures he had seen during his interrogation. And now, he could add to those images a hazy memory of the day of the hearing, when Justin had made him lunge at the chubby man in the back of the courtroom.
One of the clear impressions that Justin had left on his soul was his hatred. And not just for Richard Pratt. He seemed obsessed with killing anyone who meant anything to Pratt, and he knew for certain that they had ended up at the Pratt house last night because Justin had every intention of murdering Keith Woo.
Even if Justin doesn’t come after me again, how safe is Keith Woo?
The answer, he knew, was that Keith was in even more danger than he was. Justin wasn’t trying to kill him (or at least he hadn’t been so far). But he was definitely trying to kill Richard’s lover. And if Howard stymied Justin from possessing him, what would stop him from finding someone else?
Don’t you owe him something? Howard asked himself. You killed the man’s boyfriend, after all. You know where he lives. At the very least, you need to warn him. He may have no idea that he’s in danger.
For almost an hour, Howard struggled with that inner voice. He wanted to justify staying in the crypt. He wanted to save himself first. But that little voice kept coming back to him, and soon it overpowered everything else.
You killed the man’s boyfriend. Don’t you owe him at least a warning?
Before he even fully realized what he was doing, he was putting on the jacket and looking out the metal grating at the falling rain. Luckily, it was still gray and foggy. If he had a chance in daylight, it would be now, before the rain stopped and the air cleared.
He did not know what he would say to the man. And he wasn’t sure Keith wouldn’t attack him on sight. Or call the cops. But he had to try. I owe Richard Pratt at least that much.
The rain was falling harder, and the cemetery was silent. The cops were nowhere to be seen. Q Street, which he could see through the narrow metal grating, seemed quiet and empty.
It was now or never.
He picked up the crowbar, then thought better of carrying it through the neighborhood, and laid it behind the sarcophagus. Then, not even completely sure why he was doing it, he left the crypt and started back toward Keith’s house.
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.
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Copyright 2021, Wess Mongo Jolley. All rights reserved.