June 15, 12:13 am
Tuilla had seen a great deal of death in her time. But never had she seen terror linger on a face the way it did on this young girl. The shock and confusion on her face encapsulated all the existential horrors of the unknown, and all the mindless panic of the cruelest death. Tuilla did not know what exactly had happened to this girl in those few minutes while George was speaking to his angels, but it must have felt like having your soul torn apart by wolves.
If my hands weren’t useless in the world of the living, she thought, turning her face away, I’d at least reach down and close her eyes.
Blinking away the tears, she looked up at the statue of Moroni on the spire of the temple. The statue looked upon the scene with indifference, his trumpet’s call to glory mocking the pathetic and tragic way in which this innocent soul had died.
The last of the ghosts were leaving the corners of the plaza now, streaming out to fresh horrors. They had received their orders, and like dutiful soldiers, they would carry them out. Tuilla fought against a hard despair, which whispered to her that they had already lost.
When Richard loped back to her side, she thought of trying to hide the girl’s face from him. Would he lose all hope too, if he looked on that death mask?
Taking his elbow, she led him quickly away from the scene, and was grateful that he didn’t want to linger over the body in the shadows.
Richard was angry. Perhaps that is best, she thought. Perhaps his anger will keep him from losing hope. If I had anger left, perhaps it could save me too. But I’m so very tired.
“Why did you try to stop me?” Richard snapped, pulling away from her hand on his elbow. “Maybe I could have gotten to him in time. Maybe I could have gotten into his jeep, or followed him. God dammit!”
When she didn’t speak, he turned and finally looked at her closely by the reflected light of the temple. Please don’t let him see it in my eyes, she thought.
For a long time Richard just stared at her. She was afraid to ask what he saw in her face, but it was clear that whatever it was troubled him. Finally, he looked away and scanned the plaza. “They’re all gone now,” he said. “Where are they going?”
“I don’t know. But I think this is the beginning. If it hasn’t already started, then it will soon.” Even she could hear how weak her voice sounded, and how little remained in it for the Disruptor to draw upon.
Richard sank down on a concrete bench. And for the first time since this began, he seemed reluctant to look at her.
“So. What do we do now?” he asked.
“I don’t know.”
His eyes shot daggers at her. “Is that right? You don’t know?” His voice had so much acid in it that it burned her ears. “You’re a couple hundred years old, and you’ve been preparing for this for God knows how long. And now that the moment has arrived, you tell me you don’t know?”
“I’m sorry,” she said, unable to meet his gaze. “But I fear we may already be too late.”
Richard made a sound in his throat that was somewhere between a growl and a laugh. “And here I thought you were this old, wise woman that had all the answers.”
“I wish that were true, Richard. But from here on out, I’m afraid that nobody knows what is going to happen.”
“Well then, fuck that. And fuck you.” Richard said, and stomped away. He stopped about ten paces from her, and she saw him looking up at the temple. For a long time, the silence of the plaza pervaded everything. It was so quiet that when he spoke again, she heard him clearly, even though he was whispering, and did not turn to her.
“I’m sorry. I used to snap at Keith that way. And I always felt like shit when I did. You didn’t deserve that.”
The softness of his words melted the despair in her heart, when nothing else could. We may fail. But not yet. We still have this man. And while we have him, we still have hope.
She took a deep breath and wrapped her blanket more firmly around her shoulders. “Richard, we don’t have much time. We don’t understand everything we just witnessed. But we both know what it means.” She waited, but he didn’t turn to face her. “I don’t know what happens next, but I suspect that we have a brief window. If George is going to attack this city, he wants to do it at a time to induce the greatest terror possible. I don’t think that he will unleash the worst of it until at least dawn.”
The man neither turned nor gave any sign he was even listening to her. But she thought she could see the hair on the back of his neck bristling.
“If we have a chance of beating him…” she began.
“Did you say we?” Richard said, his voice still soft and without emotion.
She started again. “If you have a chance of beating him, you still need to know how to possess. You don’t yet have the Fourth Gift. And you’ll need that to… to kill the man we just saw.”
“And who is that man?” Richard asked. “More importantly, where is that man?”
Tuilla sighed. “I don’t know. But finding him will be useless if you don’t have the ability to fight him. Nothing is more important than giving you the Fourth Gift. From what happened earlier tonight, I know it is within your grasp. And I know I can give it to you. If you still trust me.”
She was completely unsure if he did. The shattering of the illusion of her as an all-knowing being was hitting the man hard. If he had lost all faith in her, then they truly were lost.
When he finally spoke, it was not what she expected.
“I can’t stop thinking about the man we just saw. He was old and frail, but he was unmistakably human. You tell me that George has been in this body for something like sixty years. Then he must have possessed a tiny child.”
“Yes. I think that is true,” she said, tentatively.
“He’s spent an entire lifetime in a new body. He was an old soul, given a second chance to live. A life starting almost at the beginning. A rich, and full life.” His voice sounded dreamy now. “What a chance that would be…”
Tuilla shivered, knowing how tempting such a prospect must be to Richard. In the depth of his loss and grieving, so soon after his own death, the chance to begin again and having a second life must seem like the ultimate gift from God. The ultimate relief of his suffering. If he learned to possess, would he take that path?
“But what of the boy he took?” Tuilla asked. “Do you wonder what happened to him? He was an innocent, Richard. A tiny child. And what has happened to him?”
“I don’t know. You tell me.”
“I wish I could. But I don’t know either. Perhaps he is still in there—locked deep in George’s subconscious. If so, he must truly be mad. He would have suffered watching his body used for more than half a century. He would sense all George’s plots and schemes. His anger and his need for revenge. That would drive anyone mad.”
“And yet you still want me to kill him. Your husband. Even if it means that the innocent soul that is locked away in there with him will be dragged into hell as well.”
“I don’t believe in hell, Richard. But if the boy’s soul is still locked in there, then yes, they both must pass on. What awaits him after his body is gone will be far better than what he is enduring now.”
Richard’s head sank, and his chin rested on his chest. “My heart aches for that boy.”
It was a simple statement, but there was such sincerity in it that Tuilla expected Richard to drop to his knees and weep. But he didn’t. He just stood there, a silhouette against the brilliant illumination of the Temple. And the silence grew long between them once again.
Finally, she felt she had to speak.
“Richard, I do not know what the fate of the boy’s soul was. As far as I know, no other ghost has possessed a living person for more than a matter of minutes, or perhaps hours. But George has been in this body for a lifetime, and… I believe he can no longer leave it. That is the only fact working in our favor. It means he is vulnerable, if we can find him. And if we can get you into a body as well… Then we have a chance. You can do… what needs to be done.”
“You’re using euphemisms again,” Richard said. “Why don’t you just say it? I can smash in his head with a rock. Or I can choke the life out of him, or maybe rip out his throat with my teeth. Or I can just claw at him with someone else’s fingernails until he bleeds to death in the middle of the street.”
Tuilla refused to rise to his prodding. “Yes. And by doing that, you can save this city. And you can save Keith.”
Richard laughed in a dry, sardonic chuckle.
“Tuilla, your plan sucks. There is so much that can go wrong.”
“Well, what if killing him just kicks his ghost out of that body and he takes another, younger host? Who is to say he won’t be around another sixty or eighty years after that?”
“This isn’t a science, Richard. We don’t have evidence or even a hypothesis to go on. All we have is myth and rumor and legend and… instinct.”
He finally turned to her, and as he spoke, he walked slowly toward her. Silhouetted against the brilliance of the temple, his dark face chilled her, and she felt herself taking a step back.
“But that isn’t the worst risk we’re taking,” Richard said. “I think you’re ignoring the biggest risk of all.”
“No, I have to say this, and you need to hear it.” He was standing just inches from her now. “What if, once I get into a body, I don’t want to leave? That’s what George did. What if I decide that old George had it pretty good all these years, after all? Maybe I’m more powerful than you know. Maybe once I’m there, I’ll have the power that he has. Maybe you’ll just be trading one god for another.”
“I don’t think that will happen…”
“You don’t know!” Richard spat. “You know nothing about me! Old woman, my heart is not as pure as you would like to think. I’m a fucked up guy, who has done fucked up things. Who says I don’t have many more fucked up things I could do!”
“You’re talking about Justin.”
“Yes, I’m fucking talking about Justin! But I’m also talking about what is in here.” He pounded his fist against his chest, and the sound was hollow and resonant. “From what you told me, George was a good man before he became whatever he is now. If a good man can turn into that fucking nightmare, then what is going to happen if someone like me gets that kind of power?”
He stood before her, his chest heaving. And when she didn’t answer, he finally turned and sank back down on the bench, his back to her.
“I don’t want to be that weak. I want to tell you I could resist that seduction. But I have to be honest. I just don’t know. And neither do you.”
Richard settled into a morose silence, and he put his head in his hands. He radiated such misery that Tuilla felt helpless against it.
This isn’t the moment for more words, Tuilla thought.
She sat next to Richard and put her arm across his shoulders, pulling his head down against her chest. She wrapped her frail arms around his body, and held him the way a mother would hold a child—hoping that deep inside he would find the strength and courage that this moment required. Eventually, she felt the rigidity of his body loosen, and he allowed himself to lean against her. And she felt the tension flow from his limp body.
For more than an hour, the two sat together on the bench, still and silent. She could feel a tiny tremble in Richard’s shoulders, but otherwise, he seemed calm and lost in his thoughts. She could only imagine the turmoil that was coursing through him, despite his stillness and silence.
Finally, without pulling away from her embrace, he spoke.
“I know everything you’ve told me is true. Possession is an evil tool. It will harm everyone it touches, including me. Using it might just cost me my soul, and who knows what it may cost this city. And even Keith.” He took a deep breath. “But we’re not going to go down without a fight. And it sounds like this is the only option we have.”
She felt him pull away, but as he did, he took her hand in his. For a moment, they sat silently, their hands clasped together in the dark. Finally, he bent down and kissed the back of her hand. He held it against his cheek for a moment, and then he spoke.
“Okay, old woman,” he whispered in the dark. “I’ll kill your husband for you.”
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.