The Last Handful of Clover

Chapter 3.22: Legacy Village Senior Living

Book Three — The Stone in the Stream

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 16, 11:50 am

Hours after Carla got Michelle’s voice message, she was still almost four miles from the Avenues.

She had encountered so many dead-ends, blocked streets, and impassable roads, that she worried that her cruiser would run out of gas before she could get downtown. She likely wouldn’t have made it at all if it hadn’t been for a mustached man driving a lawn tractor who had agreed to help her siphon some gas from a pileup of abandoned vehicles, in exchange for a ride to his daughter’s place in Sugarhouse. The two had found a garden hose in a yard, and with the emergency knife in her squad car, they had cut a length from it to use as a siphon. They had transferred gas, a gallon at a time, from a Honda Civic that was wrapped around a telephone pole. Without a gas can, they were forced to use an empty plastic milk jug they dug out of a dumpster.

They had both wordlessly agreed to ignore the dead body of the red-headed woman, whose skull was wedged in the car’s broken windshield, misshapen like a shattered cantaloupe.

When the Honda’s tank was empty, they had found a Ford Ranger that still had enough to top off her tank the rest of the way. But the process had taken the better part of an hour, and by the time Carla dropped off the man in Sugarhouse, it was almost noon.

She looked at her watch, wondering if she would ever make it to the Avenues, and if she did, would it be too late? Michelle still wasn’t answering her phone, and neither was anybody else. Carla was pretty sure that the cell networks were now completely down, and the ringing she heard on her phone in no way guaranteed that it was ringing on the other end of the line.

She drove down 13th East as quickly as she dared, avoiding the bodies, the abandoned vehicles, and the occasional fires that were still burning. Some of those fires appeared to be just piles of trash or vehicles. But others looked much more like piles of the dead, perhaps thrown together and set ablaze by other cops or citizen militias.

At the corner of Wilmington Avenue she cut due west to avoid some of the more well-traveled (and thus more likely to be blocked) roads leading into downtown. Wilmington would provide her with a shortcut past Fairmont Park, and then to 9th East, which she hoped would then be mostly open all the way to South Temple.

Wilmington looked relatively clear, and even though she knew it was a bad idea, she hit the gas on the straightaway. It wasn’t until near the end of Wilmington that she brought her car to a screeching halt in the narrow street, almost careening into the building on her right.

Standing in the middle of the road, waving her arms and screaming madly, was a middle-aged nurse in her full sky-blue scrubs. They were dirty, and her hair was wild, and she carried in her hand what looked like the pole from an IV stand, which she was brandishing as if it was a sword.

At first, Carla wanted to just pull back onto the road and avoid the woman, and keep moving, as she had been doing with every frantic person she had seen for the past couple of hours. But there was something in the nurse’s manner that made Carla believe this was not another of the crazed killers that were stalking the city. This woman seemed more afraid than crazy, and on this narrow street, her only choices were to stop or run the woman down. Which, for a moment, she definitely considered.

How quickly we all fall apart, she thought, as she pulled to a stop.

Drawing her weapon, she leapt from the car and drew a bead on the woman, who cowered back. Carla could see that there were deep gashes in the woman’s arms, some of which were still bleeding freely. The building from which the woman had emerged was, according to the sign above the awning, the Legacy Village Senior Living Center. She’d heard of it, although she couldn’t recall ever noticing it before today. It was one of the larger assisted living centers in the city.

“Please, officer!” the woman cried, cringing from Carla’s gun as if she were a vampire and Carla was brandishing a cross. “Please! You have to help us! It’s one of our orderlies. He’s killing our residents! The ones that can’t get out of their beds, up on the fourth floor! He has a knife, and he’s killing them!”

The woman didn’t wait for Carla to answer. Without another word, she turned and ran back into the reception area of the nursing home. She obviously assumed that Carla would follow, and to her dismay, Carla did just that, rushing to keep the woman in sight and keeping her service revolver at the ready.

Tracking the woman wasn’t hard. She was bleeding so profusely that she left a splattered red trail as she ran. Carla knew that if the woman didn’t get help for her slashed arms soon, she’d probably bleed out.

The reception area was strewn with paper as if a filing cabinet had exploded, and shattered computers littered the floor. There was no power in the facility, so the lobby was in shadows and operating on weak emergency lighting that flickered as if it could fail at any second.

Carla caught up to the nurse at the base of the stairwell.

“Stop, lady! You have to bandage those arms. You’re bleeding like crazy.”

“We don’t have time! We have to help them! They may already be dead! He’s up on the fourth floor!”

“Is he armed?”

The nurse didn’t seem to hear Carla’s question, but she kept chattering as she started up the stairs. She was on the edge of hysteria.

“We tried to stop him! But there were only three of us on the staff that stayed after things got really bad. It was just me, another nurse, and Peter, the orderly. But then Pete just went nuts. He got a knife from the kitchen…”

Well, that explains the arms, Carla thought. From what she’d seen, the blades of Salt Lake City were doing far more damage than the guns. She imagined the woman trying to fight off the knife-wielding attacker to save her patients, and paying the price for it. Despite the woman’s loss of blood, she was moving fast, and she was now already a flight ahead of her. It was much darker in the stairwell than in the lobby, and Carla’s eyes hadn’t adjusted. The nurse, probably much more familiar with the place than she was, wasn’t having any such problem. On the second landing, Carla stumbled and went down. Before she could get her bearing, she felt the nurse’s hands on her arm, bringing her to her feet. The hand was sticky in the dark, and Carla felt the blood splattering her uniform.

They burst through a fire door and into the fourth floor hallway, which was thankfully illuminated by windows at each end of the long corridor. Blinking in the light, Carla tried to focus. It all looked strangely normal in that instant, with upscale decor and fresh flowers still undisturbed in a vase halfway down the hallway.

The nurse immediately backed away, getting behind Carla, but pointing down the hall. “He’s there!” she whispered.

Carla couldn’t see anybody. All she could see at first glance was the hallway, which looked surprisingly neat and tidy. But as her eyes adjusted, she noticed that the doors to a half dozen rooms were broken open as if by a great force. The doors and their frames were either splintered, or the hinges had torn free of the wall. One door was completely off its hinges and lay sideways across the frame.

Someone at least got all these doors locked before the intern started his rampage. The nurse, maybe?

Now that her eyes had fully adjusted, Carla could see more evidence that this pleasantly decorated corridor was actually backstage for the slaughter that lay beyond each of the broken doors. What she had first thought was just a pattern on the carpet was actually trails of blood. Red splashes and swirls led to and from every room with a broken door.

And yet, it was all so strangely still. She couldn’t hear any moaning, or sounds of terror, or even the sounds of a scuffle.

Carla lifted her gun and waited.

Peter, the orderly, calmly emerged from the last broken door, near the far end of the corridor.

“That’s him,” the nurse whispered, sinking back even further. Carla leveled her gun at the man. Although she knew from experience that it would do no good, she yelled.

“Stop! Police! Get down on the floor! Now!”

Peter was a big man, and he ignored her completely. He had a knife in his right hand, and it, along with his entire right arm, was covered with blood, all the way from the tip of the blade to the crook of his elbow. The rest of him looked like a man who had just stepped off the line at a slaughterhouse. All that was missing was the white apron. Instead, the blood that covered his blue uniform made its own apron down the front of his chest and thighs. As he shuffled down the hallway, his back to Carla, she watched the blood swirling off the end of the knife, as thick as maple syrup.

Without a word, or even a glance, the man crossed the hallway, and then began to batter his left shoulder against the next door down. He didn’t even bother to try the handle to see if it was unlocked. He just threw his shoulder against it, over and over. Carla heard the wood creak and snap, but it held.

It was then that Carla noticed that there was something strange and deformed about the man. He was tall, and probably close to two hundred and fifty pounds, with a huge barrel chest. But his left shoulder was somehow malformed. It was higher than it should be. And as she watched him throw his weight against the locked door, again and again, she knew why. The man had dislocated his shoulder completely. His left arm hung down uselessly, like a heavy and pendulous weight, and the shoulder itself was stained dark red. Each time he threw himself against the door, blood splattered against it, and the man’s useless arm slapped back and forth as if the bones themselves had disappeared.

But no, they hadn’t disappeared. One of them protruded, white and gleaming, from the man’s shoulder, just below his neck. She wasn’t sure if it was a shattered piece of his shoulder or collarbone, or perhaps the bone of his upper arm, driven up and through the skin of his neck. There was also blood on his lips, and Carla wondered if he had perhaps punctured a lung with a broken rib as well. It was a miracle the man was still standing, let alone throwing his considerable weight against a locked door.

“I said stop!” she repeated! “Get down on the floor, or I’m going to put you there!”

Slowly, the man stopped battering the door, and with a strange, calm demeanor on his face, he turned to look at Carla, as if he had only now just noticed that she was there. To her surprise, the misshapen thing actually smiled at her.

“Well, hello officer!” The man said. But his voice was strange. It sounded much younger, and there was a definite “valley girl” lilt to it. Even as she watched, he shifted his weight onto one leg, and cocked his good right hand on his hip, as if he was posing for a selfie.

“Who are you?” Carla asked. She was surprised at her own voice, and that the question came, unbidden, to her lips.

Why did I ask that? she wondered.

A smile crossed the man’s lips, and then one hand came up to his forehead, as if it was searching for long hair that he wanted to brush out of his face. The hand fumbled at the empty air around his ear for a moment and then fell back to the man’s side.

“Who am I?” the girlish voice asked. “I’m God’s main squeeze, of course. Who the fuck are you?”

“Just shoot him!” the nurse behind her was saying. Carla gestured for the woman to be quiet. And then she took a deep breath.

“Are you a spirit?” she asked. “When did you die?”

The nurse behind her gasped in shock at the question, which was likely the last thing in the world she had expected the cop to ask. And Carla didn’t blame her. She couldn’t believe she was asking, either. Did that mean that she was taking what Michelle had said seriously?

Maybe… Something in this man’s eyes makes me think….

The orderly just stared at her. Then his eyes narrowed, and a smile crossed his lips. The voice that came out of him was definitely not his own. It could have been the voice of a cheerleader in a movie, or some girl overheard at a makeup counter.

“Have you been talking to him?” the voice asked. “Has he told you about the great work? Oh my god, it’s going to be so awesome!”

“Put down the knife,” Carla said. “And then tell me about… tell me about him.”

The girl (and Carla was now strangely convinced that it was a girl she was talking to) just laughed.

“Oh, honey, we have way too much to do to stop for gossip. Let’s talk about it when we get home.”

“Home?” Carla asked, narrowing her eyes.

“Why, home to God’s ocean, you stupid shit!”

“God’s ocean,” Carla said, but it was not a question. She still kept her gun on the thing. “Is that who told you to do this? God?”

The thing spread its arms wide. Even the nearly useless right arm did its best to rise. “Of course! What did you expect? This is his world! Who else could cleanse this valley? Who else but God?”

“So God told you to kill these people?”

The smile faded from the thing’s eyes. “Oh, dear, you’re so sad. You really don’t know, do you? You’re just guessing. Oh, Officer Ladypants, That’s very, very sad!”

“No, I don’t know. Why don’t you teach me? Tell me. What is happening here? Why are you doing this? Why is… God doing this?”

“I’ll do more than teach you,” the orderly said. “How about if I show you!”

And with that, the creature raised the knife in its left hand and rushed at Carla like a linebacker. For all the damage it had done to its torso, its legs were totally intact.

The nurse screamed.

Carla put a bullet in the orderly’s right thigh.

With a roar, the creature crashed to the carpet at her feet, the knife skittering out of its hand and clattering against the end of the hallway, leaving a long trail of blood in its wake.

“I’ll see you there,” the thing on the floor erupted, still trying to crawl toward her. It was laughing. “We can gossip then. Oh, I miss girl talk! It’s going to be so fun!”

As she watched, the wounded thing on the floor changed. The smile on its face faded, and it looked for an instant that the presence of the girl was about to leave the body of the orderly.

Carla would never know why she did it, but she acted without thinking, and on instinct.

She put a bullet into the thing’s head, splattering the creature’s blood and brains all over the dark carpet of the hallway.

Well, so much for my promise, she thought.

Five minutes later, the nurse was also dead.

At first Carla thought she’d just fainted from the shock of seeing her shoot the orderly, but as she tried to bring her around, she realized that the blood had stopped flowing from the woman’s arms, and she had no heartbeat. She leaned the woman up against the wall and left her there.

Before she even knew what she was doing, Carla was back in her squad car, shaking so badly that she had to grasp the steering wheel to calm her nerves. She’d just had to get out of there, despite knowing there were dead bodies in all the rooms with the broken doors. And despite knowing there were bodies—sick, old and perhaps dying bodies—in the rooms beyond. But her nerves were shot, and she knew if she didn’t get out of here in the next two minutes, she’d lose it completely.

She looked at her watch. It was 12:15. It had now been a full twenty-four hours since the city first descended into this madness. Forcing her hands to steady, she pulled her cruiser back onto Wilmington Road. She needed to get away from this place, but she was now even more certain that she had to get to the Avenues.

I have to find Howard Gunderson.

The city was a wounded animal. Perhaps even a dying animal. She could not be sure that finding Howard would do anything to help, but it still felt like the only thing that made sense.

The haunting voice of the girl in the orderly’s body came back to her as she drove. She was sure now that haunting was the right word. Maybe what this city needed wasn’t a police force, but an exorcist.

What would Michelle say, if she was in the seat next to me? she wondered.

Suddenly, it seemed just as important to talk to Michelle as it did to find Howard. Hopefully, she would find them both waiting for her when she got to Keith Woo’s house.

She pointed her car north. Toward the Avenues.

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.

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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.

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