The Last Handful of Clover

Chapter 3.24: A Good Man, But a Broken One

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, 12:40 pm

Keith and Pil sat, side by side, alone on the couch.

Without power, and with the blinds fully drawn, Keith thought that the room had a tomb-like quality; the air dense and claustrophobic. Perhaps it was the OxyContin, or perhaps it was the lingering pain in his burned arms that the drug hadn’t been able to extinguish. Or maybe it was the realization that Michelle was gone—a fact that threatened to crush him if he were to let the reality of it sink in.

Richard and Michelle. Both dead…

Or maybe it was a combination of all these things that made Keith feel that the world was too dark and warped to be real.

Slowly, he tried to push all that away, and concentrate on what Pil had just told him. He wasn’t sure whether to believe it, and if he did, he wasn’t sure how he should feel about it. Pil had taken his hand in the gloom as he calmly relayed what had happened while Keith was sleeping, but otherwise the big man sat back away from him, as if he knew Keith would need some space to try to comprehend what he had just been told.

“I don’t understand,” Keith finally managed. It was nearly the first coherent sentence he had muttered since Pil had spoken. “Richard has made you a… medium? Like Howard?” Keith was blinking his eyes as if that would help clear the fog that surrounded him.

“That’s right, K. I guess the way it works is that you have to be possessed and released a bunch of times. And Richard can do that now.”

“Like what Justin did to Howard. When he made him…”

“Well, it was different.” Pil’s voice sounded dreamy, as if he was lost in the memory of it. “But yeah, in the end, it was the same thing.”

“So that means you can see Richard now?” Keith asked. The implications of all this were slowly putting themselves together in his mind, like a gigantic puzzle.

“I can. And I can see Billy too. He’s just a kid. He’s actually barefoot, and wearing a straw hat, like something out of an old Western, if you can believe that.”

Keith was silent, as he tried to find an emotion, any emotion, that made sense. He didn’t know what to say, or how to give voice to the storm that was welling up inside him.

“I didn’t realize…” he finally stammered, “…that was how it happened. And I didn’t know Richard could… do that.”

“I don’t think he realized it either,” Pil said. “At least not for sure. Until he did it, anyway.”

Keith finally turned to look at Pil’s face, and he gripped the man’s huge hand tighter. He found he could barely see anything, and that his eyes had gone cloudy. He thought for a moment that he might faint, but he took a deep breath and calmed himself, and the feeling passed.

“Pil… How does Richard… look?” Keith asked.

“What do you mean? He looks like Richard.”

Keith blinked, but didn’t respond. He just looked at Pil until the man finally turned his face and caught Keith’s eye. It was clear he knew what Keith was really asking.

“Well, he doesn’t look… injured, if that’s what you mean. I guess that dying makes the body turn back to the way it was. He looks just like he did when he was alive.”

“But… not completely,” Keith said, clearly sensing Pil’s evasion.

“No. Not a hundred percent. It’s his clothes, mostly. They’re bloody. I guess that when you die, you take your clothes with you, and Richard’s are pretty messed up. He looks like…”

“…like he had his head blown apart.” Keith finished.

“I was going to say he looks like you would expect. But I guess. Yeah,” Pil said, miserably.

Dropping his head, Keith asked the next question. The one he really wanted to know, but didn’t know how to ask.

“And how does he… seem? Is he… okay? I mean, emotionally? Mentally?”

Pil closed a second hand over Keith’s and took a few moments to respond. “I guess that’s hard to say. Keith, the process… The thing that Richard did to make me into a medium… It meant that he and I had our minds locked together in a way that I don’t pretend to understand. It was way different from the first time. Richard said he possessed me that first time through violence and hate. But this time, he did it through… I don’t know, I guess empathy is the word. It was strange and… intimate, and I don’t know… I’m not sure what I felt. Or what it means.”

“Try to tell me,” Keith said, his eyes still on the floor.

“I guess what I’m trying to say is it’s hard to know whether Richard has changed, or if I just saw him for the first time. You know, I mean… really saw him. You know I was never really a big fan of the man. I never told you that directly, but I’m sure you could sense that Michelle and I never really… trusted him. But after tonight… Well, it’s not that I trust him now. But I finally see him for what he is.”

“And what is that?”

“I guess… I’d have to say, a good man. But a broken one. One who has been broken for a long time. Long before any of this happened. And one who doesn’t have much fight left in him.”

Keith heard so much truth in Pil’s words that he could almost picture Richard in his mind, almost feel him there in the room with them, although he had known from the moment he woke up that he and Pil were alone. And yet what his friend was describing in his humble way was the essence of the man that he had fallen in love with. Yes, Richard had always been a little broken. Keith never knew if it was from what happened with Justin, or something that dated from much earlier in his life. Richard had been aware of it too, although they had never talked about it directly. Not because it was a taboo subject, but because they both had realized from the very start that neither of them would have the right words. Keith quickly came to accept that helping Richard to heal was a big part of his reason for them being together, but that his healing would come through love and care, not through conversation or analysis. So when Richard had held him especially tightly, or he had felt tears come into his lover’s eyes unexpectedly, they had found their way through it in each other’s arms.

Keith realized that he had been silent for a very long time. And that Pil was just holding his hand, waiting for him to speak. The warmth he felt from the big man felt very much like the warmth he had struggled to give Richard, and it was a strange sensation to be on the other end of it.

“You said he doesn’t have much fight left in him,” Keith finally said, trying to bring himself back into the moment. “What is it he’s fighting for?”

Pil sighed and had to think for a moment. “I’m not sure. I think he really wants to save the city. But he can only do that if he knows you’re safe. So I guess what he’s really fighting for, and what is keeping him going, is you. The reason he did this to me was so that I could take you out of here. Protect you, until we could get out of the valley. Billy says we should go up to the university. I guess the border of what they call the Hereafter is right there, at Red Butte Canyon.”

“I know where that is,” Keith said, weakly. “Richard and I liked to hike up there during long lunches in the summer. It’s really close. We could probably walk there in an hour or so. Two at the most.”

“That’s good. And if we can get up the canyon, Billy says that we’ll be safe.”

“From Justin?”

“Yeah. From Justin, and from any of the other… bad ghosts. Billy calls them ‘Drouillard’s angels.’ I guess most of the ghosts are like Billy and Richard. They’re not dangerous. There are really only a few hundred that are doing all this.”

“Where is Richard now? Did he and Billy leave with Howard?”

“No, K. They’re still here. They’re in the dining room. Richard wanted me to talk to you first, and explain everything. He wanted me to make sure you knew everything was going to be okay.”

“I want to see him. I want to talk to him,” Keith said, trying to stand up. But the effects of the drug were still dogging him, and he didn’t quite make it to his feet. He fell back to the couch, and Pil caught him in his arms. The feel of the man’s big, muscular arms around him made Keith feel like a child.

“He knew you’d want to talk to him, and he’s waiting. Here, let me help you.” Pil got him to his feet and held him up with his forearms under his shoulders. Keith’s head was barely to the middle of Pil’s chest, and he let himself sink heavily against the man’s warm body. It felt safe and comforting, and Pil kept him there against him as his head slowly stopped spinning.

“K, I know you need to do this. But it’s not going to be easy. You’re not going to be able to see him, or hear him. Are you sure you want to put yourself through this?” Keith didn’t hesitate for a second. “I’m sure. Take me to Richard.”

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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