June 15, 7:50 pm
The urgency in Tuilla’s voice was enough to shatter all the progress Richard had made. Resentment and anger threatened to overtake him as his mind spiraled dizzyingly out of the tunnels and pathways he had been exploring. It was as if a giant rubber band had been released, and it was snapping him backwards at a breakneck speed.
And then he was out of it, and back in the Tabernacle.
He opened his eyes and screamed, his frustration pitching him forward onto his hands and knees. Tuilla was sitting across from him, one gnarled hand in front of her face.
“God damn it! I was so close! I almost had it! Why the hell…”
He stopped when his eyes focused and saw the look of absolute terror on Tuilla’s face. There was sweat on her old and wrinkled brow, and her limbs quivered as if she had been undertaking some Herculean task.
He could hear her breathing. But otherwise, the Tabernacle was strangely silent. There was an odd smell in the air, like something burning, far away.
Tuilla spoke with a quivering voice. “Richard Pratt. Thank God you’re back. Did you… Did you get through?”
Richard moaned and leaned forward, cupping his face in his hands. “No, I didn’t. I don’t think I learned a fucking thing. It’s just… endless… Maybe my soul is too sick and diseased for this. Maybe my mind is too broken. I don’t know if I have enough compassion in me to do this.”
When she finally spoke, he barely recognized her voice, it was so full of despair.
“I’m afraid we’re out of time,” she whispered.
“Out of time? What do you mean? We’ve hardly begun!”
“Richard, you have been in deep meditation for almost eight hours. I tried to awaken you when… it started. Much has been happening since you slipped away, and I was beginning to doubt that you would ever find your way back to me.”
Richard looked around the Tabernacle with a sinking feeling. It all looked normal. Just as he had left it.
And yet, there is that smell, he thought.
Looking closely, he saw a haziness in the air he hadn’t noticed before. And waves of smoke rolling past the windows outside. He was now dimly aware of voices—shouts and strange wailings, both human and mechanical. With a sharp intake of breath he locked eyes with the old woman, but she looked even paler than when he had come out of his trance.
Without another word he leapt to his feet, and ran toward the doors of the Tabernacle.
“Richard, prepare yourself!” Tuilla shouted from behind him as he sprinted past the rows of wooden pews. He reached out his hands for the crash bar on the door, forgetting for a moment that he was a ghost. Not getting the resistance he expected, he tumbled through the door and into the courtyard beyond the tabernacle. Right at the feet of two men in uniform.
The first thing Richard noticed was how late it was. He could tell by the angle of the sun that Tuilla had been right. It was now almost evening, and the sun was already behind the tall buildings to the south and west. And yet the top of the Temple itself was still bathed in errant sunshine. Moroni’s golden trumpet shone brilliantly in the angled light.
The next thing he noticed was the sound. So much of it had been swallowed up by the Tabernacle, and maybe he had not wanted to hear the rest. But now that he was in the outside air, the sounds were battering him from all sides. There were the sounds of sirens and horns honking. There was the sound of running footsteps. But mostly, there was shouting, and the clanging of metal that rang dully like a fractured bell.
Looking up at the two men who were standing over him, Richard was shocked to see them in full body armor and helmets. He knew instantly that these were not SLPD cops. They had the insignia of the LDS church on their shoulders, which meant they were part of the church’s mysterious private security force. He’d seen them around the temple before, but he’d never seen them dressed like they were going to war. Who knew that, secreted in the depths of some storage room on Temple Square, was an arsenal fit for a SWAT team?
Still lying on the paving stones, Richard turned his head to his left. The smoke was more visible on the south side of Temple Square.
And so were the bodies.
Less than five feet from Richard, two young men lay dead. Both were dressed in conservative white shirts and ties, and Richard immediately recognized them as missionaries. But now, their white shirts were covered with blood. The one directly in front of him had half of his head missing. His thin black tie lay perpendicular from his body, as if the spreading blood around him had tried to carry it away.
Richard leapt back, scuttling like a crab until his shoulders and skull cracked against the wooden door of the Tabernacle so hard that it made his head swim.
When he opened his eyes, Tuilla was standing in front of him, panting and reaching down to ensure he was alright.
“It’s okay,” he said, struggling to his feet. “I’m not going to reset.”
Past the old woman’s shoulder, the scene that spread out in front of Richard was like nothing he had ever seen. Black tendrils of smoke were drifting over the courtyard, momentarily blocking out the blue sky. The bright sunshine caught the smoke high above the evening shadows and made it dance like a writhing roof of vines over their heads. Sirens blared in the distance, and Richard thought he could see the glow of a burning car through the gates at the north end of the plaza. There were several more bodies in that direction, although Richard was not close enough to see any more details about them.
Most terrifying were the screams, and the faces that were visible through both the north and south fences, now closed and locked with silver chains and shiny new padlocks. The Tabernacle was far closer to the south gate, so Richard scrambled to his feet and quickly made his way in that direction, aware that Tuilla was tagging close behind him. In front of the gate, trying to keep out the mob that had formed outside, were more of the LDS security force. They had guns, but they were using their batons and stun wands to drive the desperate crowds away from the bars and back onto the sidewalk.
The screams from the locked-out crowd were mostly unintelligible, but in the midst of the chaos Richard could hear the stronger voices begging, “let us in!” and “we don’t want to die out here!” One older woman kept saying, “Good lord protect us, good lord protect us,” over and over again, even as the nearest guard brought his baton down against her knuckles and she fell back in agony.
Despite their best efforts, the guards had not been able to keep everyone out of Temple Square. Some of the younger and more agile in the crowd had climbed the walls and fences. They flung themselves over, and as fast as they were dropping into the courtyard, they were being detained, handcuffed, and herded into a group. Close to a dozen were there on their knees, being held at gunpoint in front of the building known as Assembly Hall. But even with their hands over their heads and the guns pointed at them, the faces of those who had made it inside seemed beatific, as if being on the temple grounds made them feel safe and protected in the arms of God.
Turning violently, Richard found Tuilla wringing her hands just two steps behind him.
“What the fuck is happening?” he screamed at her.
“This is the Cleansing, Richard. This is what George promised.”
Before he could even respond, the screaming outside the gate became much more shrill, and Richard turned in time to see an older man in a suit and tie through the bars. He had a knife, and he was slashing his way through the crowd. But there were too many of them, and although he wounded a half dozen, the crowd quickly descended on him and he disappeared from view. The cries of “God protect us” slowly dissolved into “Kill the bastard!” and Richard could hear the laughter of the well-dressed man as the mob pounded and clawed at him with their fists.
The young ghost who had been inside the well-dressed man surfaced above the crowd, like he had been ejected by a fountain. The angel looked to be a young Hispanic man, lithe and athletic in life, and even more so in death. The ghost body-surfed the crowd with surprising agility, laughing, and then he leapt down to the sidewalk. But to Richard’s horror, the thing didn’t leave. He passed through the iron gates as if he was made of light, and dashed so close to Richard that he could have almost reached out to touch him.
The young ghost rushed up to one of the guards in the plaza. She was a heavy-set woman, and despite her thick armor, Richard saw the ghost blast into her as if he was diving headlong into a pool. Instantly, the young man was gone, and the expression on the guard changed from fear to delight.
Richard and Tuilla gaped as the guard walked up to a stocky boy who had climbed the fence, and without a word, dragged him from the group. The other guards just watched in numb horror as the woman plunged the boy’s head into the fountain and held it there. The boy struggled, but his hands were cuffed behind his back with plastic straps, and he couldn’t get purchase against the woman’s superhuman grip.
It only took seconds before two more guards jumped on her, but she was incredibly strong, and brushed them aside as if they were mere annoyances. She laughed as the boy she was drowning struggled, already growing weak. But one guard she had floored was up instantly, and he cracked the woman across the helmet with his nightstick. That only annoyed her, but she released the boy. Without a word she drew her gun from her belt and shot the man who had hit her, once in the body armor, and then twice more above it, in the man’s throat.
The gunfire erupted from all sides of them in that moment, and Richard tackled Tuilla, fearing that a stray bullet could reset one or both of them. The guard finally went down, but the knot of people they had been guarding was panicking now, stumbling to the far side of the plaza with their hands still cuffed behind their backs. A half dozen officers ran after them, and the south gates of the Temple were suddenly unguarded.
The young angel rolled free from the bullet-riddled and dying guard, and brushed himself off, as if he had actually gotten dust on his jeans and t-shirt. For a split second, he looked at Richard and smiled. Richard felt his blood run cold at the look of ecstatic delight the thing gave him. He clearly thought Richard was also one of God’s warriors, and the look was meant to convey brotherhood, camaraderie, and encouragement. Richard felt his stomach turn over in revulsion.
Without a word, the ghost ran through the wall of Temple Square and was gone.
Richard felt in that moment that his mind was about to snap. But Tuilla was quickly kneeling before him, looking into his eyes from so close that the horror of what lay in front of him was blocked out. He found himself hungry for her eyes, as if he might find sanctuary there. He reached up and cupped his hands around the old woman’s craggy, weather-beaten face.
“My… my God… Tuilla… What are we going to do?”
She gave him a small shake and then met his gaze. “We are going to do what we said we would do. It has begun. And now it’s up to you to stop it. It’s up to you, Richard Pratt! It’s always been up to you!”
Richard was speechless for a moment, but finally stumbled to his feet and pushed himself away from Tuilla’s gaze, which now felt like it held only his doom. He staggered away and instantly tripped over a couple who lay curled together next to the fountain. Richard recognized it was the boy who had almost been drowned, and what must have been his girlfriend. She had fished him out of the water, and they were now clinging together and weeping.
Richard whirled around, feeling like a rat trapped in a cage, looking for a way out. But as if they were a magnet that demanded his attention, Richard turned back to the whimpering couple at his feet.
“It’s going to be all right,” the girl was saying, between her sobs. “My love, it will be okay…”
My love, Richard thought, and instantly his mind fastened on the tug in his forehead.
The hideous reality of Temple Square popped like a bubble, and what blossomed into his mind to take its place was the glorious entirety of the Hereafter, in all its golden splendor. But to his shock, the yellow glow of it was now marred by writhing black tentacles, as if they were reaching out from the center. The red stars reacted to the touch and the encouragement of the tentacles by flaring brightly. They were everywhere now, Richard realized. They had the entirety of Salt Lake City in their grasp, and they were squeezing, grasping, ripping, tearing.
His husband’s presence filled Richard’s mind until he could see nothing of the Hereafter at all. The entirety of it collapsed in the face of the simple tug that pointed him toward the man he loved.
He turned to Tuilla and groaned. “Keith is still here! In the city! Goddammit, he didn’t leave!” He felt his face convulse, as if it had been dashed with cold water, and met the old woman’s terrified gaze. “Tuilla, he’s still at home. And I have to go to him.”
His gaze darted around the plaza. With wild eyes, he looked at the throngs outside, now pouring over the wall and the gate, and rushing for the Tabernacle. The security forces had lost control of the situation, and they were now retreating toward the visitor’s center. Richard looked back at Tuilla, knowing his face must be wild and terrifying. Slowly, he took a breath, and then grasped the old woman by the shoulders. His gaze softened into a look of sadness and apology.
“I’m sorry, Tuilla. I’m so, so sorry!” he shouted over the melee. “But I’ve got to get back to Keith!”
“No, Richard, we have to find George!” The strength with which she grasped his wrists almost took him to his knees.
“And how would we do that?” Richard yelled at her. “We still have no idea where he is! Tuilla, we’re wasting our time! You’re wasting my time! There is nothing I can do here. Face it! We’ve lost! We’ve lost, and I have to go…”
“Open your mind to him, Richard! I know you can find him! I know you can!”
“No!” he thundered, wrenching free his wrists and pushing her away. “I’m not opening my mind to that madman again! If I have any ability to protect someone, it’s going to be Keith. I’m sorry, but I’m going to do whatever it takes to make sure Keith gets out of this city. George Drouillard can rot in hell!”
“Richard, you can find him,” she begged, her voice so desperate that Richard could not even look into her face. “You have everything you need! Don’t fall into his trap and lose your focus! That’s what he wants!”
But it was too late. Richard felt as if it would tear the heart from his chest to turn away, but turn away he did. Without glancing back, he bolted toward the wall of Temple Square.
Tuilla didn’t follow. At the last moment, Richard looked back, and saw that she was standing among the wretched and desperate throng, and weeping.
And then he melted through the wall and into the shattered streets of Salt Lake City.
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.