Chapter 2.61: Blue Glass and Steel
Book Two — Gifts Both Light and Dark
NOTE: This chapter is available in audiobook format on the TLHOC Podcast.
Access previous chapters of the book on the Table of Contents page.
June 15, 2:07 am
When he had his breathing and his trembling under control, Richard told Tuilla what he had done.
“I think that may have been a mistake,” she said, much calmer than he expected her to be. “He may not contact you again now.”
“Well, if he does, then he’d better be ready for me. Because I’m done playing his fucking mind games. If he wants to come for me again, he’ll have a fight on his hands.”
Tuilla smiled at him, and he realized that the real reason she suggested he let Drouillard into his mind wasn’t because she expected him to tell Richard where he was. Her real reason was that she knew confronting the Wanderer would require Richard to rise to the task of facing him. It had been a test, and for a moment he resented being manipulated by her that way. But only for a moment.
He was surprised to see a faint glow developing in the windows that lined the perimeter of the Tabernacle.
“I think it’s almost dawn,” he said. And as that fact sank in, he imagined the city coming back to life, after the long and still night. Workers would soon be arriving at office buildings all throughout the city. Families would be making breakfast. Children would head out to play. The sky beyond the windows looked clear, like this would be a brilliant and warm summer day. The city was ignorant of the disaster that was about to befall it. The future lay heavily upon Richard, like a stone too big to lift.
“It’s time,” she said, as if reading his thoughts. “It’s time for you to learn the Fourth Gift.”
Once again it felt like what Tuilla was trying to teach him would be more appropriate in some kind of new age retreat. And yet, once again she somehow said exactly the right things to guide Richard into hidden powers of his mind. Powers that he never dreamed existed.
The yellow glow of the Hereafter was now instantly accessible to him, looking just like it had before—except now he could see the red stars fanning outward from Temple Square, rather than toward it. He wanted to follow their progress, to see where they were going, but Tuilla gently drew his attention back to her voice.
“Pay no attention to them now,” she said. “In fact, I don’t want you to pay any attention to the Hereafter at all. Instead, I want you to listen to the sound of my words.”
“I’m listening,” Richard said.
“Listen to my words, and don’t speak,” Tuilla said, a firm rebuke in her voice.
I’m listening, Richard thought.
“To use the Fourth Gift, there are two pathways. George has mastered the pathway of hatred and chaos. I’m going to show you how to master its mirror image. The pathway of compassion and empathy. You will need these skills to enter the mind of a living person and not lose either them or yourself.”
We’re definitely on a new age retreat, Richard thought, suppressing a smirk. But he tried to focus on her words, and let the yellow of the Hereafter fade away.
“I want you to imagine a living mind,” she went on. “It is like a sponge, with a million ways to enter. But like a sponge, most of the pathways are dead ends. There are only two that will take you through.”
He tried to imagine it, and the best image his mind could create was a large gray sponge, roughly in the shape of a human brain. It was an adequate image, and he let his imagination play over the surface.
“One of these pathways is red and raw, like an infected wound,” Tuilla continued. “The other is calm and clear, like blue glass, streaked with veins of silver. Can you see those two paths?”
Yes, Richard thought, and he did. They were on opposite sides of the gray brain. The red path did indeed look like a wound, and it dripped both red and yellow liquid, feverish and infected. But the blue path looked clean, and almost artificial, as if it had been crafted in glass and steel by an extremely talented artisan. Streaks of silver ran through the blue glass, and he felt the beauty of it drawing him in.
“Allow yourself to enter the blue path,” she said. “You’ll find it to be a winding corridor, with many branches. As you come to the first one, you must make a choice. Find which path speaks to your soul. Listen to the compassion in your heart as you make that choice, and trust that it is the right one. Follow it. If the path ends, that is the way of things. Just backtrack along your route, and try another path.”
The first path he took did indeed come to a dead end. There was a smooth and cold glass wall in front of him, and he had nowhere left to explore. Following her advice, he tried not to be discouraged, and retraced his steps until he found a new path to take. It too branched, and he had a new choice. The one he selected was wrong once again, and he returned.
“Try not to let the bad choices you have made weigh down your heart,” Tuilla continued, her voice soft now, but coming from all around him in the blue glass brain. “Just accept the mistakes as what they are, the beautiful imperfections of a striving soul. Love the choices you make, even the mistakes. Feel compassion for both your frailties and your strengths. And then try again.”
At each turn Richard would calm himself and try to feel compassion for the mind he was exploring. And each time he had to return, he tried to allow himself the same compassion—both for his mistakes, and his triumphs. That was harder, but as he did, he felt himself snaking deeper and deeper into the imaginary mind that he was exploring.
His explorations seemed to go on for hours, and eventually, he found he could no longer feel that compassion, either for the mind he was exploring, or for himself. He felt empty and used, as if he had walked a hundred miles in the blazing sun. The weariness became too much to bear.
Tuilla must have sensed the change in him, because he heard her say, very gently, “Richard, it is time to stop. Open your eyes.”
For a moment he resisted, knowing that to do so would mean losing all the progress he had made. But he felt so weary that, finally, he did. He opened his eyes and was back in the Tabernacle. The sky outside was bright now. He looked at the old woman, knowing the fatigue in his eyes must be clear.
“I couldn’t do it,” he said. “It seemed like there was no end to the choices. No end to the wrong turns I could make.”
“Yes, that is true. That is life.”
Her philosophizing annoyed him. “And how can this make the slightest difference? I’m not trying to possess a real person. I’m just exploring some imaginary brain. It all feels like a waste of time.”
“But Richard, it is a real mind you’re exploring. It is your own.”
Richard just blinked at her.
“George’s path to possession is power over others. But your path to possession must be through empathy. Through finding compassion and clarity in yourself. And for yourself. If you can’t find that path through your own mind, then you can’t hope to mesh your soul with another. You can only join another mind if you have accepted your own.”
Richard sighed, pushing back his urge to argue with the old woman and tell her they were wasting their time.
After a moment, he asked. “What do I do now?”
She smiled at him and squeezed his hand. “You begin again.”
And so he did.
It’s my own mind… he thought, as he turned once again down the first blue glass corridor.
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.