June 15, 8:13 pm
Michelle thought she would jump out of her skin when she looked up from the table and saw Howard Gunderson peeking in through the kitchen window.
She had been trying to dial Detective Grayson for the past half hour, and she was almost beside herself. Keith still refused to leave, and she was convinced it was far too late for that now, anyway. If they were going to leave, the proper time to do it would have been when it was still light out. But now the sun was almost down. It would get darker within the hour, and the thought of being out in that chaos at night was too much for her to even contemplate.
When she saw Howard’s face, she was startled, but she wasn’t frightened.
Even though she knew that this was the man who had killed Richard, he was also the man who seemed perfectly sane and rational when he had showed up at the house the previous morning. Ever since, she’d been praying that he had escaped the city, or at the very least, that he was holed up somewhere safe. Michelle’s first reaction upon seeing him wasn’t that she should be afraid, but that she wanted to pull him into the house—to make sure he was safe, and out of the violence that permeated the world outside. It was a strange, maternal reaction, and she didn’t pause to dissect it. Instead, she dashed into the kitchen and looked out the window.
At first she didn’t see anything, but then she looked down. Howard was crouched there, below the window, his face upturned and bathed in the golden light of the evening. It made him look almost angelic.
She was just about to call to Pil, but then stopped. He hadn’t reacted to the encounter with Gunderson how she and Keith had, and he’d remained adamant that the young man was dangerous. She was suddenly afraid that if she called to Pil, he would either drive the boy away, or worse.
Howard was beckoning her now, making a motion with his hand that indicated he wanted her to come outside. But despite her warm feelings for the boy, Michelle recoiled for a moment. When she looked again, Howard had his hands together, as if he was pleading, or even praying. The sight of it totally melted Michelle’s heart, and she knew she was going to do it. She was going to go to him.
She quickly crossed back to the dining room, and then to the sliding glass door, and pulled aside the curtain. She quietly slid open the door and stepped out on the porch, leaving it open behind her.
If things go badly, I’ll just scream, she thought, and Pil will be here in a matter of seconds.
As soon as she stepped out, the curtain fell back into place, leaving the porch in the fading gloom of the day.
Howard had crossed to the far corner of the house, at the edge of the garage and the narrow strip of grass that led to the front yard and the street. Even though her heart was fluttering in her chest, Michelle crossed quickly to him. When she got closer, she was surprised to see anger in his face. She was even more surprised to see that he gripped something dark in his right hand. Something that looked like it could be a weapon. A black rod with a sharp bend near one end.
I think that’s a tire iron, she thought, an arrow of sudden fear piercing her chest. But before she could react to the fact that Howard had a weapon, he spoke.
“Why are you still here?” he hissed at her.
Michelle stopped and took a step back. Howard’s face immediately softened, and he raised his free hand in apology. He still held the tire iron, but it didn’t appear that he even remembered it was in his hand. And she couldn’t blame him for carrying some protection through the streets.
“I’m sorry,” Howard said. “I just thought… I thought you’d be gone. I told you, you had to go!”
“Keith refused to leave,” Michelle said. But now she too was annoyed. “And because of you, there’s been a cop watching the house. We had to answer questions. We had to lie! And after that, there wasn’t any way to leave.”
Howard leaned heavily against the side of the house, his face suddenly pale. “I don’t think you understand how much danger you’re in.”
“Are you kidding me?” she asked incredulously. “We’re all in fucking danger! The city has gone insane.”
“It isn’t just the city that you need to worry about,” Howard said, glancing around them nervously. “Justin is still out there.”
“Justin? The one who… who made you kill Richard?” Michelle asked.
“Yes. The one that possessed me. The one that made me kill Richard. But that isn’t all. Justin still hates Richard, and now that Richard’s dead, I think he hates him even more. Justin still wants to hurt him, and he’s decided that the best way to do that is to kill Richard’s boyfriend, and anybody else he loved. He thinks if he does that, he can destroy what’s left of Richard’s mind.”
“Jesus…” Michelle looked at Howard blankly. “Keith? But… that’s crazy! Can he really do that?”
“I think so. Actually, I don’t understand all of what is happening either. But you need to believe that Justin’s going to be coming for Keith. In fact, I’m surprised he hasn’t already. That’s why you needed to leave. It’s why you still need to leave!”
“You’re worried he’s going to… possess you again? Can’t you stop him?”
“No, you don’t understand.” Howard looked frustrated. “I’m not worried about him possessing me. I think I have a way to fight him. But he can possess anybody! He could get you, or your husband, or a neighbor, or a cop, or a goddamn stranger, and then use any of you to kill Keith.” Howard pointed at his hand that still held the tire iron. “If you feel your hand itching, or see somebody around you scratching at their hand, it could be Justin. He could use anybody. Somebody you don’t even know!”
“How can we stop him?”
“We can’t,” he growled. “And that’s why you have to leave. Now! What is happening in this city is only going to get worse. Within a day or two, there won’t be anything left of Salt Lake City worth salvaging. If Justin doesn’t get to you, another ghost will.”
He took her hand and squeezed it. “Michelle, please go. And please… take me with you.”
Michelle thought that Howard actually looked shocked at hearing those words come out of his own mouth, as if he didn’t know until that moment what he was about to ask. She could only stare at the boy for the space of several heartbeats. Finally, she took a deep breath and squeezed Howard’s hand back.
“Listen, I’ve been on the phone to my mother. It doesn’t look like whatever is happening here is affecting Ogden. It’s not that far, and if it gets us out of Salt Lake, maybe it’s far enough.”
“Oh God, yes,” Howard said, and tears sprang to his eyes. In that moment, he looked more like a scared little boy than a murderer who had fought his way out of prison.
“Okay, then we just have one problem,” Michelle said. “Well, maybe two. The first is getting Pil to agree to take you with us, but I think I can convince him. The big problem is that Keith says he won’t go, and we’re not going to leave without him. He’s convinced that Richard is here, and he won’t leave the city. He’s says that Richard is going to protect him.”
“Dammit, Richard can’t protect anybody!” Howard shouted, and then quickly quieted his voice. In a harsh whisper, he went on. “Don’t you see? Richard is dead. If Justin possessed somebody so he could kill Keith, Richard wouldn’t be able to do anything but watch. That’s just how it works. If you won’t leave Keith, then you need to convince him, and do it fast!”
“He’ll want to know where Richard is…” Michelle began.
“There’s no way to know that. I have no idea where he might be.” Michelle realized Howard was very near to a state of panic now, and she felt that same fear creeping into her as well.
But then Howard stopped, and all emotion drained out of his face, leaving it a pale, waxy color. He was looking over her shoulder, at the back of the yard. He turned to her.
“He’s here,” Howard said, his voice strangely and suddenly calm.
“What? Who’s here?” she asked.
“Richard,” Howard said, still staring into the backyard. “Richard Pratt is here.”
Michelle watched, dumbfounded, as the young man convulsed and covered his head, as if he saw the sky about to crash down upon him.
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.
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Copyright 2021, Wess Mongo Jolley. All rights reserved.