The Last Handful of Clover

Chapter 2.81: Return

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, 8:16 pm

When Richard plowed into Pil, the surprise of it, more than the impact, knocked Billy from the big man’s shoulders. He crashed to the porch in a heap, but was quickly back on his feet.

The scene around Billy was so surreal that it seemed more like a dream.

Pil Kilani stood where he had been, clearly not having seen or felt the impact of Richard Pratt as the ghost dove into him like a still pool on a summer day. But no longer were the big man’s eyes full of hatred and anger. Instead, he was flushed, contorted, and frozen, as if all the three consciousnesses that now resided in his body had wrestled his bulk into immobility. There was a drop of drool emerging from the corner of his slack jaw, but the rest of his body remained rigid and trembling.

Pil continued to hold Keith aloft, with one hand clenched around his throat and the other knotted in his shirt. To relieve the strain on his neck, Keith had grasped Pil’s wrists and was attempting to bear the bulk of his own weight. His knuckles were white and his arms trembled from the effort. Keith’s face was beet red, and the kicking of his feet was becoming weaker.

As Billy stood helpless, Howard Gunderson raced to Keith’s assistance. The boy grabbed Keith from behind, his arms locked under the struggling man’s belly, and heaved upward. Michelle was crying and making wordless sounds, but now she too rushed to Keith’s aid. She clawed at her husband’s hands, trying to dislodge them from Keith’s throat, but the big man’s grip may as well have been cast in iron.

Billy could only watch now, feeling helpless—but in that moment, Pil’s grip relaxed. Keith, Michelle and Howard tumbled together onto the porch at Pil’s feet, while the man’s hands stayed, quivering in the air above them, tense and claw-like.

Keith drew in a huge breath of air that both looked and sounded painful, and he scuttled back from his attacker so forcefully that it pushed all three of them against the railing of the porch. None of the three could rip their panic-stricken eyes from the big man, who hovered over them like a terrifying titan. Keith continued to gasp for air, and instinctively threw his arms around Michelle, who was calling out her husband’s name in a voice that sounded to Billy like it came from a thousand miles away.

Howard Gunderson was the first of the three to look away from Pil, and his eyes locked onto Billy, wordlessly pleading for help. It wasn’t until that moment Billy remembered that the boy was a medium, and could see him. It was the first time in more than a hundred and fifty years that he felt a living human look into his eyes, and it felt as if a bucket of cold water had been dashed into his face.

“Billy, what’s happening?” Howard asked, still cradling Keith and Michelle in his arms.

Billy took a deep breath, and walked up to Pil, who was trembling worse now, but still steady on his feet. He placed a hand on the big man’s chest, which felt as cold as stone, but in which he could feel the vibration of the battle that was raging within him.

“Richard and Justin are both in Pil,” he said to Howard.

“What is Richard doing?”

Billy looked at the boy, and in that moment he looked so young, so vulnerable. And so sadly unaware of the world in which Justin’s possession had so cruelly thrust him.

“I don’t know. I supposed he’s trying to… stop him. Or save him, maybe. We have to pray that he’s strong enough. That Tuilla taught him what he needed to know.”

“What…” Michelle stammered, staring at Howard. “Who are you talking to? Who is Billy?”

“Billy is… Richard’s friend. I think he has been watching over Keith.”

“Well, tell him he did a piss-poor job of it,” Michelle whimpered, still cradling her friend while he coughed and sputtered against her chest. “What is wrong with my husband?”

Billy didn’t know if the question was to him or to Howard, but he answered anyway. “Tell her that Richard can do it. Pil will be okay.

“Billy said that… Richard is inside Pil’s mind, and he’s trying to get Justin out. Richard is trying to save your husband.”

None of that appeared to make any sense to Michelle, but before she could protest, Billy’s attention was drawn suddenly back to Pil, whose tremors now seemed much more violent. Just as he was afraid the big man was going to collapse, Billy and Howard both witnessed an amazing thing: Justin was suddenly expelled from Pil, emerging from the big man’s hunched shoulders like a watermelon seed squeezed between the fingers. And it was not a gentle expulsion. To Billy’s eyes, it looked as if the boy had been physically hurled from his host. Justin’s ghostly body smashed against the house with a scream that only Billy and Howard could hear, and he fell to the boards below, writhing and wailing as if his back had been shattered.

“Justin!” Billy yelled, rushing forward.

He knew how important Justin was in finding the Wanderer, and finally, here he was! The boy looked shattered and broken, but maybe that was for the best. If he could just question him, maybe they’d find out what they needed to know.

This may be our only chance, Billy thought, bending down over the boy’s writhing, moaning body.

But Billy wasn’t the only one that could see Justin. The sight of his nemesis made Howard shoot to his feet, bowling over both Keith and Michelle in the process. They looked at him in shock, not knowing what was happening. Instantly, Howard was back to where his crowbar lay. He had dropped it as he ran to help Keith, but it was only two steps away. He scooped it up and rushed upon Justin so quickly that Billy barely had time to react. And of course, he knew he could do nothing, anyway. He could speak to and be seen by this medium, but he was still a ghost. He couldn’t do anything to change the course of his actions.

“Howard, no! Don’t!” Billy screamed

But it was too late. Howard was past Billy and on the writhing boy as fast as a cobra, and there was such rage and hatred in him that Billy knew his words would have no effect. To Howard, this was the creature who had violated him. Who had used him to kill, not once, but twice. Who had made him into a medium. And who had destroyed his life.

Howard brought the tire iron down twice. Both times it passed through Justin and made deep dents in the wood beneath. The first strike landed on Justin’s shoulder, and Billy thought he could almost see the boy’s arm severed from his body. Justin screamed, but the second blow was already coming, and it landed between his eyes, cleaving Justin’s head in two like a rotten watermelon. The sound of its impact barely reached Billy before he saw the boy shatter like glass, each shard evaporating instantly into the warm summer evening.

With a final, wordless scream of hatred, anger, and frustration, Justin was gone. And then there was an instant of deathly silence.

Michelle shouted Howard’s name, but Billy knew that to her, none of this made sense. All she could see was this strange boy she had somehow befriended, smashing the crowbar into the empty porch.

If only she could see, Billy thought. If only she could see what Howard sees. Maybe she would be less terrified.

Keith was now sitting up, and his color was nearly back to normal. So he was the first one to notice the change in Pil.

“Look!” he croaked, pointing up at the big man.

No longer was Pil’s face contorted in pain, and no longer did his limbs tremble. His claw-like hands suddenly relaxed, and slowly his enormous arms settled back to his side. His body straightened from its crouch, standing tall. But then he gasped, with a huge intake of breath, and his head rolled back as if he was having a seizure. Billy could see his eyes rolling back in his head as well, and Pil’s vast bulk swayed like a heavy tree in the wind.

“Howard, quick, grab a chair!” Billy called. Howard was still reeling from his attack on Justin, but to his credit, he reacted to Billy’s command quickly. He once again dropped the crowbar and grabbed one of the porch chairs, placing it behind Pil just in time. The man’s knees sagged, and he fell hard into the chair. The weak furniture let out a loud crack, but held. Pil remained sitting upright.

Billy stepped back, expecting to see Richard emerge from Pil, so that the man could have his body back. There was a beat when nothing happened, and then another. And with a growing trembling in his heart, Billy walked up and put a hand on the big man’s chest.

“No, Richard… Don’t… Please come out… Come out…” Billy whispered.

Michelle was suddenly there, taking her husband’s hand in hers, and saying his name, over and over.

“Pil, honey… It’s Michelle! Can you hear me? Open your eyes. You’re okay. Everything is okay….”

And as if her command had been what the big man needed to hear, he did indeed open his eyes.

As Billy watched with growing despair, Pil’s eyes went from cloudy to clear, and slowly, a tragic smiled crossed the big man’s lips. Michelle was crying and covering the man’s face with kisses. She threw her arms around his neck and collapsed onto his chest.

“Howard, you need to tell them that this is not Pil,” Billy whispered. “This is Richard.”

He saw the impact of his words on the boy, whose face suddenly fell and he took an involuntary step back. Howard was about to speak when suddenly Pil lifted his hands in front of his face, pushing Michelle back as if she wasn’t even there. Her eyes went wide as her husband looked at his hands, opening and closing them as if he had never seen them before. His face looked like that of a child, fascinated by the movement of his own body.

Slowly, Pil brought his hands toward his face. But Michelle grasped his chin and turned the man’s blocky head toward her. She looked into his eyes, and with a rattle in her throat, she fell back, knowing that the eyes she was looking into were not those of her husband at all.

“It’s Richard,” Howard said.

“What?” Keith whimpered, almost inaudible. “Richard?” His face looked drawn, as if in a dream world.

Howard knelt and pulled Michelle away. The two of them drew back, and Billy thought they looked like vulnerable children.

“Richard is still in there,” Howard whispered softly.

Michelle said nothing, and neither did she look at Howard. It was clear that she believed what he had said, but it was the look in Pil’s eyes that had convinced her, not Howard’s words.

For his part, Pil hardly saw any of them. He gathered his shirt in his hands and breathed in the smell of it. He trembled with what could have been joy, or could have been relief. But no longer was there the slightest fear in him. He looked like a man reborn.

Finally, he focused on Howard and Michelle. His eyes settled on Howard, and he asked, “Justin?”

Howard straightened his spine, and although the fear lingered in his eyes, he met the big man’s gaze.

“He’s gone, Richard. I saw him leave Pil, and he smashed into the wall so hard that he… disappeared.” Howard took a deep breath and continued. “Richard, I know you can’t see him, but Billy is here. He’s been begging you to leave Pil. He is right there in front of you…

“I… I don’t understand…” Michelle said, her voice high and cracking. “Where is my husband?”

But the big man in the chair could not hear her, nor did he care. He had suddenly focused his eyes across the porch, to where Keith was slowly getting to his feet. Richard’s husband wavered as if he might topple over at any second, but he stayed on his feet. He was slowly absorbing what was happening, and he looked at Pil’s face in wonder. He took two tentative steps forward.

“Richard?” he asked, his eyes wide and his hand already reaching out.

Pil’s voice broke. The tears streamed down the sides of his face as he looked at Keith.

“Baby Bear…” he said, his voice cracking.

Billy watched the two of them, and despaired.

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.

ADDITIONAL LINKS:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WessMongoJolley
Twitter: https://twitter.com/WessMongoJolley
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/mongobearwolf

Copyright 2021, Wess Mongo Jolley. All rights reserved.

Wess Mongo Jolley

Wess Mongo Jolley is Utah native, who is now an expatriate American novelist, editor, poet and poetry promoter, living in Montreal. He is Founder and Director of the Performance Poetry Preservation Project, and is most well known for hosting the IndieFeed Performance Poetry Channel podcast for more than ten years. His poems and short stories have appeared or journals such as Off The Coast, PANK, The New Verse News, and Danse Macabre, Apparition Literary Journal, Grain, and in collections such as the Write Bloody Press book The Good Things About America. He loves hearing from readers, and can be contacted through his website, at https://wessmongojolley.com. If you are enjoying this story, please drop him a line, and consider supporting his work as a novelist at http://patreon.com/wessmongojolley. All of the trilogy's over 207 chapters are available there for subscribers, and new poems, short stories, and other content is posted there every Friday.

Related Articles

Back to top button