June 16, 7:55 am
“Where the fuck is that old bitch?” Richard barked, banging his fist uselessly against the keyboard of the great pipe organ. They had been at the Tabernacle for hours, and it was still just as deserted as it had been when they arrived. And with every passing minute, he was getting more and more frantic.
He had known even before they walked into the building that the old woman would not be there. When they were close to Temple Square, Richard had opened his mind to let his vision of the Hereafter bloom, and he had searched it for turquoise stars. By all rights, the old woman should have shown up on his radar as one of those blue dots that represented the ghosts not under the sway of the Wanderer. But to his surprise, not only were there no turquoise stars in his visualization of the Tabernacle, there were none anywhere around Temple Square. Surprised and a little alarmed, he pulled his vision back to see the Hereafter from above, like an ancient and golden Lake Bonneville, spreading out across northern Utah.
It appeared that all the dead that did not serve the Wanderer had fled the city center. They were now congregated in a dozen pockets—sanctuaries of some kind, like they were seeking safety in numbers.
No, that’s not it, Richard realized. Cemeteries. They’re gathering in the graveyards.
In the heart of Salt Lake City itself, only the red stars of the angels still burned, now flaring and sparking in their destructive power. The rest of the Hereafter was covered with scattered red stars, like an angry case of the measles.
But despite his doubts, Richard had rushed them to the Tabernacle anyway. Perhaps his powers had failed him. And perhaps—he hoped against hope—they would still find the old woman waiting for them there.
“Try to stay calm, Richard,” Billy said. He was seated now on the dais of the empty Tabernacle, looking forlorn. Like him, Billy had clung to the hope that they would find Tuilla waiting, and that she could somehow give them the last piece of the puzzle, and finally lead them to Drouillard.
“Have you tried contacting him again?” Billy asked.
“I haven’t stopped trying!” Richard snapped at him. “I’ve been trying off and on ever since Liberty Park. But he recognizes me now, and he’s blocking me, I think. It must have been a fluke that I got through when I did. Something about my vulnerability, or maybe because his mind was so open to his fucking minions at that moment.”
Over the last hours he had tried to contact Drouillard, and that had failed. He had tried to just wait, hoping that Drouillard would be consumed by curiosity, and come looking for him. He had even tried using some of the techniques that Tuilla had taught him. He opened his mind and made himself vulnerable. He tried tapping into his compassion and directing it outward, with the image of the Wanderer firmly in his mind. He tried envisioning the evil being’s mind as a giant sponge with paths to explore. And when none of that worked, he even tried Drouillard’s path of rage.
It’s like setting a trap over and over again with different bait, hoping that one will finally attract the prey.
“I can feel him,” Richard said, his frustration at a fever pitch. “I can sense his presence over this whole valley. When I picture the Hereafter now, he is like a kind of… webbing that holds it all together, with threads linking him to each of his angels. But I can’t sense a direction or a location to where he’s holed up.”
Richard sat on the organist’s bench and leaned his elbows heavily on his knees. His hands worked each other like they were kneading bread, and he felt the perspiration on his face, born out of effort and frustration.
“What am I missing?” he moaned. “Is he afraid of me? Does he know we’re close to finding him? Does he even fucking care? Or has he decided that I’m more like a gnat, buzzing about his ears. Has he decided that I’m not any threat to him after all? Billy, I just don’t know…”
The boy seated at Richard’s feet seemed strangely quiet, and after a moment, he suggested a simpler explanation.
“Maybe it’s just that he’s busy,” Billy said. “I think he’s in control of every ghost he has.”
More minutes ticked by, and the Tabernacle only felt more silent, more oppressive.
“God damn you, Tuilla!” Richard exploded, but it was more in despair than actual anger. He wondered if despair was all that he had left in him. He remembered the dark agony he had felt when that hopelessness had conquered him back at Liberty Park. Back when he was holding the hand of the dead boy, who had written so eloquently in his journal. Did he have to fall to that level of despair again before he could find his way back to the Wanderer? He didn’t think his soul could survive another trip down that dark road.
“She wouldn’t leave us if there was anything else she could do to help,” Billy said. And his words were so simple and so heartfelt that Richard had to stop and ponder them. Somehow, that simple assertion calmed Richard’s mind, and he let the weight of it sit in his heart for a moment.
Perhaps Billy was right.
“One of the last things she said to me was that I have everything I need,” Richard said, his voice quiet now, and thoughtful.
“Then maybe we should believe her. Maybe she’s not here because you don’t need her, and if she was here, it would only make you feel like you did. Maybe she knows you really are ready.”
“Ready for what?” Richard asked, looking at the boy with desperation.
“To find Drouillard. To… to kill him.”
Richard almost laughed. “Yeah, those are the only two problems we have. We don’t know how to find him. And we couldn’t do anything to him, even if we did. So that leaves us right where we started.”
“Maybe,” Billy said, finally getting up from the dais, and crossing over to where Richard sat. “But you’ve already manifested abilities far beyond any spirit I know. And that’s all in less than two weeks. Let me remind you that you returned to this world just eleven days ago, Richard Pratt. Most ghosts, at eleven days, are still senseless and confused and wandering aimlessly. But look at you. You are the Disruptor. Maybe you just need to take a step back and look at what you already have. What you already know.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, what did you learn from Tuilla?”
Richard felt a surge of annoyance at the boy, but he was trying to help, and getting pissed at him would not be of any use.
“What did I learn?” he asked. “Well, I’m not sure. She taught me to see the mind as a maze, and to follow it through to find a way in. She taught me about the red path and the blue path. And she somehow taught me to see the Hereafter, and all the ghosts and angels in it, like a vast yellow sea…”
Billy interrupted. “It sounds like she really only taught you one thing.”
“She taught you to visualize.”
That took Richard aback for a moment. Billy was right. Everything that the old woman had taught him was based on the single art of using his imagination to construct visual metaphors for things that were hidden to him, in such exquisite detail, that somehow that made them real. Whether it was the pathways of the mind, or the blue and red stars, or the Hereafter itself, she made him picture it all, and then refine those pictures until every detail was crisp and clear and as real to him as the world he saw with his eyes.
“That’s true,” he said. “It’s all about the pictures. All about being able to see the things that otherwise are hidden…”
“Do you think you were really there with Drouillard, in that ravine?”
Richard hadn’t thought about it. “No, I guess not. At least, no more than he was really there with me in the clothing store. It’s all…”
“It’s all just thoughts!” Billy finished his sentence for him. “It’s all just a mental construct.”
“Yeah, I guess so…”
“Okay. So maybe the key is to use that new skill. Maybe that’s what Tuilla meant when she told you that you had everything you needed. She knew you now could find Drouillard by visualization alone.”
“Billy, seeing isn’t the problem. I could see where he was. But I don’t have any context! There is no way to know where that stretch of desert actually is in the real world.”
“No, but you have a location, and you already have a map. It’s just a matter of putting the two together.”
“What do you mean, I have a map?”
“Well, you say you can see the whole of the Hereafter, right?”
“Okay, then humor me. Right now, close you eyes and picture it. Clear your mind, and describe to me what you see.”
Richard did as he was asked. He closed his eyes, and the image of the Hereafter sprang into his mind. He described to Billy the vast golden reach of it, and how it extended all the way out to the borders that Billy had described to him, based on his walking that edge over so many years. He described the scattered red stars—hundreds of them, burning throughout that golden lake like tiny bonfires viewed from a great height. And he described again the turquoise stars, clustered and quaking in their cemeteries, radiating fear and despair.
“But you told me you could also sense Drouillard. You told me you felt he had a connection to each of those red stars. Can you see him now?”
Richard tried to hone his perception, to pay special attention to those threads that he felt, connecting to each of the red stars… And to his surprise, the threads thickened and writhed, as if he was looking at a nest of angry snakes.
“No,” he said aloud. “It’s not snakes! Those are tentacles! I can sense him now. Drouillard is like… He’s like…”
“What is he like, Richard? Develop that picture! Give the image a name!”
“He’s like a giant… octopus! Yeah, that’s it! I can feel him. I can see him! I can see his tentacles stretched out over the entire valley!”
“And where is the octopus, Richard! Can you find him?”
“No, I…” Richard struggled, trying to develop the picture, to find where the octopus lived. He traced the hundreds of tentacles, but they were all tangled, like a gigantic bowl of writhing serpents. His mind was becoming overwhelmed, and he could sense it threatening to shut down.
Finally, he broke his trance. With his eyes still closed, he said, “It’s no use. I sense him. And visualizing him as a black octopus is… interesting. But it doesn’t tell me where he is. Not really.”
Finally, he let out a huge sigh and opened his eyes.
To his surprise, Billy had a slight smile on his face.
“I’d say you know more than you think you do, Richard. You say you saw him as an octopus?”
“Yeah, but one with hundreds of tentacles, reaching everywhere.”
“Describe it for me,” Billy said, his eyes steely and hard.
“The octopus. Describe it. If we’re right about this visualization thing, then it was important that you picked that metaphor. You must have a picture in your mind. Describe it for me.”
Richard described a dark, wet octopus with tentacles outstretched.
“Describe the shape,” Billy said. “Close your eyes, and draw a line around the end of the tentacles. Does it make a circle?”
Richard did. And yes, Billy was right!
“Yes! Well, not really a circle, more like an oval, actually. It’s much taller than it is wide.”
“In the picture in your mind, is the oval standing up, or on its side?”
“What do you mean? It’s an oval!”
“But look at the picture! Imagine it as a poster on the wall. What orientation is the oval? Vertical or horizontal?”
Richard paused, then with his eyes closed, he reached out to illustrate what he was saying with his hands. “I’d say it’s vertical, but tipped. Maybe a few degrees.”
“Counter-clockwise,” Billy said, but it wasn’t a question. “Richard, open your eyes.”
When he did, he saw Billy Travers staring at him, and a shiver went through Richard as he saw a knowing smile on the boy’s face.
“We need to find a map,” Billy said.
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.