Chapter 2.76: Alone in the Cave
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, 8:13 pm
Pil was staring at the TV, his hands around the beer bottle, and feeling very alone.
Michelle was back in the kitchen, and Keith was upstairs. Pil couldn’t help but feel the closeness and the sense of strength and unity they had shared at the beginning of the crisis had taken a hit in the past few hours, as the horrors on the TV continued to unfold and multiply.
We got through more than two years of the pandemic by sticking together, he thought. But already, with this, I feel us starting to come apart at the seams.
They had only been able to take so much of the constant parade of death and destruction on the news before they had finally been forced to turn away, and soon they had begun to argue. Keith and Michelle both begged him to turn off the TV, but he told them it was the only way they had any idea what was really going on. Finally, he had agreed to turn the sound down, but even that had not been enough. Eventually, Michelle and Keith had both drifted away, leaving him to stare alone at the flickering screen in the ever deepening dusk.
He still couldn’t turn away.
The fires, the bodies, and the looks of fear on the faces of the news anchors and reporters were only getting worse. Eight hours into the insanity, and everyone on the TV looked as if they were on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Even though he was alone now, he could not bring himself to turn the sound back up. Watching the devastation unfold was as much as his heart could bear. He felt like he was watching the death of the city he knew and loved.
He heard Michelle curse in the kitchen, and then he heard the squeak of her chair as she got up from the table. But then everything in the house seemed strangely silent. He tried to hear some sound from Keith upstairs, and there was none. He tried to hear Michelle’s breathing in the next room, but she too had gone quiet.
Pil suddenly felt even more lonely. And terrified.
I think this is the way some lone Neanderthal might have felt, huddled alone in his cave, he thought.
The feeling grew in him to the point that he was about to call out to one or both of them. He would ask Keith to come back downstairs. He would beg Michelle to sit with him here on the couch. Suddenly, more than anything in the world, he wanted his family beside him. Even if he had to turn off the TV, they should at least all be together until they could decide what to do.
But what could they do?
Yeah, we have to go, he thought, and the certainty of it was suddenly so strong as to be overwhelming. We shouldn’t have waited this long. We’re not going to make it through a night here before whatever is going on out there gets into this house. We’re all going to pile into Richard’s car, and we’re going to get the hell out of Dodge.
He was just getting ready to call out to Keith and Michelle, when the strangest feeling washed over him…
Instantly, his vision narrowed and he felt woozy and dizzy, as if he had just stood up too quickly after a big meal. He leaned back further into the couch, trying to make the world stop spinning, and his anxiety immediately kicked in.
Am I having a stroke? he wondered. Something… Something is definitely not right…
He tried again to call out, but his vision suddenly narrowed, and an uncontrollable itch blossomed on his left hand. It was the strangest set of symptoms he had ever experienced, and he found himself simultaneously scratching at the back of his hand, and trying to make his jaw work so he could call out. When he failed, his panic became so intense that he thought his heart might stop. The itch continued to grow, and a strange numbness rushed through his arms.
No! he screamed inside. I can’t lose it now! This can’t happen! Keith and Michelle need me!
His fist gripped harder on the beer bottle, and he feared it would shatter in his hand. Then he hoped it would. Maybe the sharp glass slicing into his palm would break the grip of whatever had control of him. His head snapped back, and with all of his strength he resisted the feeling of slipping away, of losing himself.
He felt the panic and the numbness pushed back, but just for a moment.
Suddenly, he knew it was not just a feeling. It was a mind. It was as if a consciousness was trying to push him out, push him into the cellars of his own brain.
With anger, he fought it. Fought him. He roared and thrashed against the force, but none of the violence he felt inside manifested in his body. His heavy form sank further into the couch, while his soul fought for its life. But he quickly knew that it was a losing battle. The mind that was invading him was too strong.
With a great effort, he forced one arm to raise the full beer bottle up. Slowly, with his arm trembling and beer splashing out around the rim, he raised it, higher and higher, and then when it was above his head, he used every last bit of strength he had to tip it, slightly… until the beer poured out and hit his face with a bitter, lukewarm blast.
The presence flung the beer bottle from his hand. It hit the carpet with an audible thump, but did not break. Instead, it bounced back up and landed on the glass coffee table with an audible crack before falling onto its side and spilling its foaming contents onto the copies of National Geographic that lay there.
To his horror, Pil heard Keith’s voice drifting down the stairs.
“Pil? Michelle?” Keith yelled. “What was that? Are you guys okay?”
His throat clenched, and only a guttural growl escaped in reply.
“Don’t… come… down…” he groaned.
He prayed it would be loud enough.
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.