June 14, 5:00 pm
It felt like a memory.
Richard didn’t know if the old woman had only told him the story, and allowed the vivid details to be created by his own imagination, or if she had somehow downloaded the entire experience to him, the way you’d download a song to your phone. In the end, though, it didn’t matter. By the time the last act of the Goshute’s demise had played out in Richard’s mind, the experience had left him drained and nearing despair. Even as the sound of the horse’s hooves receded into the desert and the blood was soaking into the sands, Richard was struggling to bring his mind back to the here and now of the City and County building clock tower.
When he opened his eyes Tuilla was sitting before him, exactly as she had been when he had last seen her. It felt like many hours had passed, and the angle of the sun had definitely changed since he had closed his eyes.
The sunlight on his face triggered his tears, and he wept openly and silently for a few minutes. He wept for the dead Goshute, as well as for the inhumanity of his ancestors. His mother had told him that among his forefathers was not only the Apostle Parley Pratt, but also Brigham’s “enforcer” Porter Rockwell. He had read much about his infamous ancestor, and although much of it was likely apocryphal, the man had certainly been ruthless.
Finally, he wiped his tears on his shirtsleeve and looked up at Tuilla. All of the yellow glow was now gone, and she no longer appeared to him as a turquoise star. Now, she was just a withered old woman, sitting in the fading late afternoon sun. Leaning his head back against the cool stone of the clock tower, he let out a long sigh.
“But that wasn’t the end of the story, was it?” he asked.
“No. Of course not,” she said with a sad smile. “The story still hasn’t ended.”
“So what happened next? After you and George… died?”
“Just what you would expect. Even though we were the first, like all of us, George and I returned three days later. Almost simultaneously, from what I could tell. Our return was not unlike all the others that have followed. Not unlike yours, or Billy’s, I imagine. And when we arrived, we could neither see nor hear each other.
“But you could sense him?”
“Yes. Billy has told you about his connection with the little girl, Mattie. My connection to George was very much like that. It is possible that we accepted our return more easily than many of those that followed, perhaps because the Hereafter was so new. Or perhaps because the Goshute understand that the veil between life and death is much thinner than your people believe.”
“So you remembered what had happened right away?”
“Yes. I remembered how we had died, and I knew that something profound had happened to the nature of reality. I sensed that George had formed a breach between life and death. I think of the Hereafter as a blister, like a bubble between layers of skin. George’s death caused this breach to appear, and somehow, we had become trapped in it.”
“Did any of the other Goshute return that day?” Richard asked.
“No. We were alone.”
“And the bodies?”
“It had been three days, but the bodies were still there, including my own. They had been ravaged terribly by the animals of the desert, but strangely, the only body that was completely missing was George. For some reason, the scavengers had been driven into a frenzy for his flesh. They had even carried off the bones. All that was left was a gnawed piece of forearm that extended from under the rock he had dropped. Everything else was gone.”
“You say you could sense George? Was he still filled with the rage he had when he died?”
“Even more so. It frightened me, because it felt like a burning sun that wanted to expand and consume everything around him. I’m ashamed to admit that when I returned and felt that madness, I fled from him. I ran away, into the desert.”
“Where did you go?”
“The only place I knew. Back toward our camp, about a mile to the west. To my surprise, everything was still there. Even the basket I had woven was sitting where I had left it, now half filled with sand by the winds. I sat there and waited. The next day, men from our southern encampment arrived. With them was the young man who had led the horses into our camp. He looked devastated and wept when the scouts found our bodies.”
“Did you stay with them? I mean, after?”
“I did. I followed them south and stayed with our tribe for many years. The murders had cut the size of our band by almost one in five, and everyone in the tribe had suffered the loss of someone they loved. In some cases, entire families were lost, and there were many orphans among the braves. I thought it was my duty to stay with them, and at least witness their grief. I believe it was from that day that the spirit of the Goshute was broken. There was no more will to fight the white men after that.”
“Did you ever see George again?”
“As the terror I felt at our return faded, and as I grew calmer, I felt compelled to find him. It was years later that I finally left the Goshute and sought him out. But where I had grown calm and accepted the reality of my death, George had only grown more defiant and angry. I found him in Salt Lake City, and as I suspected, he was obsessively following Porter Rockwell and Lorenzo Custer.”
“He was just… following them?”
“We still did not have the First Gift in those years. So although I knew where he was and could sense his moods, I could not see him. But that did not prevent me from knowing that he was following and raging at the men who killed him. I imagined he would beat his fists senselessly against the men’s bodies, growing more and more frustrated that nothing his ghost body could do would affect them in the least. That fact surely increased his rage and contributed to his madness.”
“I’d never heard of Lorenzo Custer. But I know that Porter Rockwell lived to be a very old man.”
“Yes, and I suspect George stayed with him to the end. But after those first few years, I abandoned George and his rage. I could not drive his awareness from my mind, but I decided that there was no use in me witnessing his continuing descent into his fury and madness. And so I walked away.”
This shocked Richard. He couldn’t imagine this kind old woman making that choice. He thought that she must have stayed with the man she loved for years. No matter the pain, and no matter the cost.
“Do you think that leaving was a good thing to do?”
The old woman smiled. “Yes, I think so. I know it seems cold. But I knew quickly that I had two choices. I could stay with George and witness his descent into madness, and likely be broken by it as well. Or I could seek some kind of peace. I could look for some understanding and acceptance of what happened to us.”
“So you never saw George. Never again.”
“No, I’m afraid not. And I’m also afraid that there is much less of value I can tell you from this point forward. For more than a hundred years I felt his presence in the bubble of the Hereafter. I always knew where he was, but I also knew that his mind was growing more powerful, and feeding upon the rage that began that day in 1851. I often wondered if the crack he had created in the fabric of life and death was feeding his madness—making him into something… evil, and powerful. But all of that is just supposition. The truth is, I never really knew. All I knew is that the rage he felt soon went far beyond those that had killed the Goshute, and soon extended to every living person in the Hereafter. Not just the Mormons. He soon wanted to destroy them all.”
“Do you think he was equally aware of you?”
“I have often asked myself that question. But in the end, no, I don’t think so. Perhaps very early on. But soon any memory of me was consumed by the madness that was raging in him. I never stopped loving him, but I felt that he soon forgot about our lives together. He forgot that I ever existed.” She sighed, and Richard could see the horrible ache that she still carried. “Even more than my own death, and the death of my family, the loss of George breaks my heart the most.”
The pathos of this simple woman suddenly overcame Richard. Although he felt he had lived a good life, it was nothing compared to the epic scope of what she had experienced and endured. He felt small and humbled by her presence, and could think of nothing else he should ask. Fortunately, she soon spoke again.
“There is little more that I can tell you of George,” she said. “It was years later that I saw my first other ghosts, and I became aware that we were no longer unique in our suffering. Even then I sensed that George pulled these souls through the rift that he had created, although I did not know why or how. Slowly, I understood the extent of what he had done. How this valley truly was cursed by his rage. Even after I had received the first two gifts, and I could see and hear the other ghosts, I still did not go to George, because I did not think my heart could bear it. I knew I could see his face again, but I was fearful that it would be a face so transformed that it would be unrecognizable, and that there would be nothing left of the man I loved. To see him like that would be like losing him all over again. And so I stayed away. But I still sensed him. I could not avoid that. Like Billy is connected to Mattie, I was connected to George. I always knew where he was.”
“But then, why can’t you find him now? If you are connected to him like Mattie and Billy, why don’t you know where he is?”
“Because, as Billy has told you, when a ghost possesses a human body, it is like a veil is drawn over them. To possess is to return a soul to the world of the living, and leave the world of the dead. I’m sure Billy has told you that when Mattie possesses, he can no longer sense her. Usually, that just means a few minutes. But George has been in a host body for a very long time.”
“And who has he taken? Do you know…” Richard began to ask.
“No. And if I did, our task might be much easier…”
At that moment, they were interrupted by the sound of footsteps on the stairs. Richard walked over and looked down the clock tower, and saw Billy rushing up the stairs, three at a time. When he rounded the last corner, he wasn’t out of breath. But he looked flushed and so full of anxiety that he could hardly speak. And a rush of terror coursed through Richard.
“Keith! Is he okay?” he asked, although he should have known the answer to that question. The tug in his forehead seemed even stronger now that he had learned to control it. And he knew Keith was right where he had left him, in their house.
“Yes, he’s okay,” Billy stammered. “But… Richard, a lot has happened. I didn’t want to leave him, and I know you’re going to be angry at me. But you need to know this!”
“What is it, Billy,” Tuilla asked calmly, putting one hand on Richard’s shoulder.
“It’s hard to know where to start,” Billy said, looking as if his head was reeling. “Keith stayed home from work, so he’s been at the house all day. He’s still there now, with his friends. They were sitting on the back porch, and I thought everything was fine, so I decided to take a walk around the house, just in case Justin was lurking somewhere. I’d been doing that every hour or so, thinking that if he showed up, I might see him before he got into anyone. But as I was coming back around the corner of the house, I saw Howard Gunderson!”
Richard bolted forward, seizing Billy’s arm. “Gunderson? At my house? Why?” He gripped Billy tighter to stop himself from running down the stairs. “Did Justin have him? Did he try to hurt Keith?”
“No, no, not at all! Richard, I knew immediately he wasn’t possessed. It was just Gunderson, by himself. And,” he glanced at Tuilla, “I knew that something was different about him. He was… I guess the word is radiating. There was a strange light around him I’ve never seen around the living. So I just stood behind the corner of the house and listened. That’s when I heard him. He said he was there to see Keith. To give him a message.”
“A message from who?”
“From you, Richard!”
Richard felt his vision narrow, as if he had stood up too quickly. Only his tight hold on Billy’s arms kept him from falling to the ground.
“What do you mean, a message from me?”
“That’s why I decided I needed to come back here. It’s the strangest thing,” Billy said, turning to Tuilla, clearly hoping that she could explain. “It seems that when we were in his cell last night, waiting for Justin, Howard wasn’t asleep. He was awake! Richard, he was awake and he was aware of us.” He looked directly at the old woman. “Tuilla, he heard and understood every word we said. I think… I think he could even see us!”
The look of shock on the old woman’s face only lasted a moment, and then an enormous smile replaced it. She brought her hand to her lips in a gesture of wonder. “Oh, Billy! He has the Fifth Gift!” she exclaimed.
Richard was dumbfounded. “Wait… The Fifth Gift?” Richard’s mind whirled as he tried to remember the lesson on the gifts that Billy had taught him. Then he remembered. “Are you telling me Howard is a medium? That he can see and talk to the dead?”
“Yes, exactly! Oh, Billy!” Tuilla said, her hands over her mouth, and her eyes full of wonder.
“Did he see you?” Richard asked. “If he can see ghosts, did he see you watching them?”
Billy turned to Richard. “No. I don’t think so. I stayed around the corner of the house until he was gone. And to be honest, he was so focused on Keith he never even glanced around. I think I could have walked right up to him and he wouldn’t have even looked at me.” Billy grasped Richard’s shoulders. “Richard, he came to Keith to tell him that he was sorry. He apologized for what he and Justin did to you. He knows all about Justin, and he’s more full of pain and guilt than anyone I have ever seen.”
But Richard was barely even able to hear him now. “Howard Gunderson is a medium?” he said again, his words sounding incredulous, even to him.
“Yes!” Tuilla said. “Richard, I think he’s the first. From what I have been able to discern, the Fifth Gift is something that George has told his angels is possible, and results from multiple possessions of the same living person. He’s strictly forbidden any of them from creating a medium. It looks like Justin has defied his god in this, which is… hopeful!”
“I don’t understand what this means,” Richard said. His mind felt thick as molasses as he tried to take it all in.
“Howard must be exceptionally powerful,” Tuilla continued. “And spiritually aware. It’s possible he has successfully fought off Justin’s violation.”
“Billy, what else did he say?” Richard asked.
“Just one more thing. He told Keith that Justin wanted to kill him, and that you had told him they all needed to get out of the city.”
“Oh, thank God!” Richard said, as a wave of relief swept over him. Suddenly he felt such gratitude toward Howard Gunderson that he wanted to weep.
“But that’s not all,” Billy said. “It’s not that simple. After Gunderson left, the woman detective came. And at first they tried to lie and hide from her the fact that Howard had been there. But eventually, they gave in, and so now the police are searching the Avenues for Howard.”
“But then why do I still sense Keith at the house? Why haven’t they left?”
“That’s what I’m trying to tell you, and why I came back here.” Billy took a deep breath. “Richard, they’re not going.”
“What? Why not?” Richard felt as if his emotions were being whipsawed back and forth so quickly that he could hardly even tell what he was feeling.
“Well, Michelle wanted to, although I think her husband was uncertain. I think she senses what is happening around them. But there is a police officer guarding them now. They’ve been told not to leave. I think they might have gone anyway, but… Keith is refusing to go.”
Richard smashed his fist down hard on the stone railing. “Why? Why would he refuse? He has to go!”
“Richard, he’s refusing because of you! He’s staying because of you!”
“What? That’s ridiculous!”
“Don’t you understand? Richard, he senses you. He knows you’ve come back, and he knows you’ve been with him these past nine days. It appears your constant attention, and perhaps even your attempt at his possession, has created a… link between you. Keith says he won’t leave if it means being away from where you are. He thinks you’re protecting him.”
Richard made a moaning sound in his throat and sank to the floor. I’ve been such a fool, he thought. Billy was right. My staying with Keith was the absolute worst thing I could do. And now I may be responsible for his death.
“Richard, none of this changes what we have to do.” Tuilla said, kneeling at Richard’s side. “If anything, it is a blessing. Justin may no longer be a threat to Keith. Howard may be able to resist him now.”
“It doesn’t mean that there aren’t about a million other people in this valley that Justin could use,” Richard said, his face buried in his hands.
Tuilla gently touched his hunched shoulders. “Richard, stop and think. This changes everything. We need to find Howard. We need to tell him what is happening, and we can now. Because he can hear us. Talk to us! And who knows what he has already learned from Justin? At the very least, he could warn people. He could save hundreds of lives. He could be the bridge between the living and the dead!”
“Tuilla, he’s a fugitive! He’s running for his life.”
Richard pounded the heels of his hands into his forehead, as if that might shake loose some of the cobwebs that were gathering there. He tried to think. What can I do? What in God’s name can I do?
When Richard finally looked up, he saw that Billy and Tuilla were both staring at him with needy eyes. He looked from one to the other, but they just stared, waiting for him to speak.
Something has shifted, he thought. It seems that I am now the leader of this little band. They are now relying on me to tell them what to do. The very possibility of them looking to him for leadership seemed so ludicrous that he wanted to laugh in their faces.
Their faces now deep in the shadows of twilight.
For the first time, Richard realized how late it was. The sun had set, and darkness was quickly falling. The rain had stopped, and a humid mist surrounded everything. He got up from the floor and walked past Billy and Tuilla without a word. From the railing of the tower, the lights of the city were already flickering to life, cutting through the fog all around them. The rain had stopped, but there was still a ghostly pallor in the air, and the sky to the west had a dim red glow, as if there was a fire burning across the Oquirrh mountains.
Richard was silent as he gazed out over the city. He was aware of their eyes on him, but none of them spoke. His mind was no longer like molasses. Now he felt it working overtime, following through suppositions and assumptions, looking for linkages. Slowly, he closed his eyes and found that the ability to see the Hereafter that he had learned from Tuilla was right at the edge of his mind, like a memory he could access any time he wanted. He allowed the yellow light to envelop him again, let the stars in it shine forth. He saw both the turquoise stars and the red ones. And for long moments, as if he was staring at blips on a radar screen, he was silent.
Did I not notice it before? Or is this new? The red stars are moving…
When he finally turned to the two figures in the gloom behind him, his eyes were sparkling.
“I don’t know where Howard is. But I know where Justin is. In fact, I know where they all are. Or at least, where they’re going to be. I can sense them moving. Hundreds of them. It feels like ants converging on their nest.”
He saw Billy and Tuilla glance at each other, and the look that passed between them had a spark of hope. As if everything they had invested in him might finally bear fruit.
“Billy, you need to go back to Keith,” Richard said. “Howard may come back to them, and if he does, and if he can see you, you need to tell him what’s happening, and that we need his help. And that, for God’s sake, he has to convince the three of them to get in a car and leave the city, even if they have to bash that cop that’s watching them over his head to do it. Tell Keith that Richard is demanding that he go.”
“That makes sense. But where will you be?”
“There is only one reason all the malevolent ghosts in this city are converging. They are going to see their God. We have to go there. And I know where they will meet.” He laughed. “Of course I know.”
As darkness fell across the city and the lights cut through the fog, three figures left the City and County building. One of them, a young boy with a straw hat, headed northeast, toward the Avenues. The other two, an old Indian woman and a man infused with new purpose, went in another direction.
They headed northwest. Toward downtown Salt Lake City.
Across the Hereafter, the angels marched.
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.