June 15, 8:13 pm
Richard’s desperation to get to Keith had only grown as he dashed up South Temple. And as he got closer to home, he started cutting through fences, hedges, and even full houses. The feeling of running through solid objects was now so second nature to him he barely noticed. Just as he did not stop to notice the death and destruction that was a new feature of the city he had lived in for most of his life.
He did not stop to count the bodies. He did not stop to watch the angels rage, nor to bear silent witness to their victims. He had only one thought in his mind as the streets rushed past him. He had to get to Keith.
Finally, he blasted through the hedge behind his house. He was still in a full run, but he stopped cold when he saw what could have been the last thing in the world he expected to see.
Standing at the corner of his house, in the shadows but still fully visible in the last rays of the setting sun, stood Michelle Kilani… And Howard Gunderson!
Howard Gunderson, who was wearing his clothes.
Howard Gunderson, with a tire iron in his fist.
Howard Gunderson. The man who killed me…
In his primitive panic, Richard didn’t stop to acknowledge that it wasn’t really Howard Gunderson who had pulled that trigger. As he locked eyes with the young man, the only thing he could see in the boy’s face was danger. He saw a threat to Michelle, and more important, a threat to Keith, who the tug told him was still inside the house.
Why is he here? Why now? What does he want?
With a roar, Richard ran toward Howard the way a linebacker would run in to sack a quarterback. The man immediately fell into a crouch, and covered his face with his hands, as if he had forgotten that Richard Pratt was only a ghost. Richard ran into Howard at full speed, intentionally making sure that he didn’t pass through him, the way he had passed through the hedges and the fences on his way home.
But of course, Richard Pratt was dead, and Howard Gunderson was not.
It was as if he had smashed shoulder-first into an immovable marble statue. Pain exploded through his shoulder and arm, and he collapsed groaning to the ground. But he recovered his feet quickly, and began to punch and pound at the young man with his fists. That too was like punching a brick wall, and it was clear that none of the blows were affecting Gunderson in the least. Soon, the pain in his hands was so intense that he switched, and started to let his blows fly through Howard the way his body had flown through walls and hedges.
Vaguely, he knew that Howard was flinching, but he could clearly not feel any of the violence that Richard was desperate to inflict on him. But his reaction to Richard’s onslaught triggered Michelle, who leapt in front of Howard and she knocked Richard on his ass at their feet. He looked up in time to see the fear and confusion on her face as she gripped Howard’s shoulders.
“Howard, what did you say? Richard? Did you say Richard is here?”
But Howard ignored her question. He took his hands away from his face and looked down at Richard. Then he straightened, stepped forward, and put out a hand. The hand without the tire iron.
“Richard, stop. I’m not going to hurt anybody here.”
The ghost on the ground just stared at that outstretched hand for several seconds before finally reaching out and taking it. Although he knew Howard couldn’t feel it, he used the solidity of the boy’s hand to pull himself to his feet.
Michelle just looked shocked now, and she stared at Howard with wide eyes, clearly uncertain what was happening.
“Is Keith okay?” Richard said, spitting the words at Howard with such malice that the boy looked as if he might turn away. Instead, he turned calmly to the woman who stood next to him.
“Michelle, Richard is asking about Keith,” he said.
She looked at Howard, hesitated, and then Richard saw that she just decided to accept what Howard told her was happening. Which was extraordinary.
“Tell him Keith is fine,” she said, her voice steady. “He’s in the house.”
Richard almost turned to run inside, but stopped himself. Instead, he stared hard at Howard Gunderson. “Then what are you doing here? Why are you talking to her?”
Richard realized that underneath Howard’s calm exterior, he was fighting against terror and panic. He didn’t know if it was terror of ghosts, or just terror at the situation in which they all found themselves, but something had clearly devastated the boy’s soul. He looked tired, and there were heavy rings under his eyes.
“I… I came here to convince the three of them they need to get out of the city. And take me with them.”
Michelle still looked shell-shocked, but she had thawed out enough to speak. She tried to follow Howard’s gaze, to look at where he indicated Richard stood, but she missed by a good two feet.
“Keith doesn’t want to go,” she said to the empty air. “He doesn’t want to… leave you, Richard. He thinks you’ll protect him.”
Richard felt as if he might explode and only controlled his anger through a supreme effort of will. He grabbed Howard by the shoulders and yelled into his face. “You have to convince them! They have to go now!”
“What do you think I’ve been trying to do, Richard?” Howard said, sounding suddenly very defeated. “But how am I supposed to do that, exactly? I’m just the crazy guy that’s seeing ghosts!”
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.