June 16, 1:45 pm
Before they reached Dugway, Bradley began to sneak glances at his companions.
Not directly, and not for very long. But at least the dark presences to his right and left no longer caused him terror when he turned his head. He could see a hat on the smaller one, and battered clothes that looked as if he’d been out on the trail. The thing’s face was lined and old, but the eyes shone a brilliant red, like coals in a fire, or like LED lights on a Halloween decoration. The glow glinted off the silver blade in his hand, which swung back and forth like something from an Edgar Allan Poe story. The other was taller and dressed like a gentleman. He had long hair, neatly washed and flowing in waves over his shoulders. His long beard was gray, but still flecked with black. His eyes shone like evil stars, but his hands were empty. Only the shotgun slung over his back indicated that this was anything but a well-to-do gentleman when he died.
And yet, both radiated such profound hate that it made them hazy, with details that were easier to see out of the corner of his eye. When he looked at them more directly, pain shot through his head and he would stumble, nearly falling onto the pavement under his feet. And that frightened him more than the Dark Ghosts themselves. Something told him that if he fell, it would be a sin for which the gray things would exact a price.
All the hours of walking between the pair had left Bradley feeling like he too had been drained of all color.
Long before they reached Dugway, Bradley realized where they were, and where they were going. His memories of his life remained scattered and incomplete, and he had no memory of his death, or the crimes he’d committed in the Valley Fair Mall theater. But he recognized this place. He’d done military exercises in this desert, and he remembered being stationed at the air base near here. His life seemed unclear and uncertain, but like the images of his dark companions, the outlines were emerging.
Didn’t I have a wife and daughters? Didn’t they live here, on this base? Weren’t they happy? Weren’t we all happy?
Without pausing, he and the two Dark Ghosts passed through the security checkpoint outside of town, and Bradley had just enough time to recognize that it was staffed with far more soldiers—and they were more heavily armed—than he had ever seen. He had crossed this checkpoint hundreds of times. But never had it looked so formidable.
Dugway itself was a ghost town. It was so different from the bustling army settlement he remembered. He could sense presences behind doors in the town, but absolutely nobody was on the streets. And although he wanted to pause, and even to go looking for his own home somewhere in this maze, he could not. The Dark Ghosts were made up of pure hate and malice, and their evil swept him along between them like debris in a raging river.
Just past town, they arrived at a complex of buildings, and Bradley remembered that this was the place he had called the Ditto. As an enlisted man, he had been forbidden to go beyond the gates into this complex. His clearance was never high enough, and as far as he could tell, only the top brass, scientists, and the assigned security teams had access. But today, his brooding escorts took him directly to a gray concrete administrative building on the edge of the complex.
God was waiting for him on the weathered steps.
He recognized God. He had seen him that night in Temple Square, and God’s eyes even then had turned his will to jelly. Now, seeing him up close, he felt the full force of the Lord’s power turned upon his mind, which felt weak, tiny, and useless in the shadow of such strength. Standing in front of God, he feared that any minute he might turn to smoke and dissipate into the air. Or, perhaps, melt like wax in the sun and become part of this red desert sand.
But God touched his cheek, and the melting stopped.
God touched his brow, and the smoke blew away.
“Hello, Bradley,” God said, and the sound of his name upon those holy lips made Bradley tremble in wonder. “Do you know you’re very special?” God asked.
Bradley wanted to believe. And slowly, his terror transformed into something more like submission, more like reverence. He dared to lift his eyes and look upon the very face of God himself. And what he saw there captured his soul completely.
“You have been chosen for a very important task, Bradley,” God told him. “It’s a task that will redeem you from your sins. It’s a task that will save you, and carry you out of here and into my loving embrace forever.”
He waited for God to ask him if he would do this thing, and he knew he would tell God that yes, he would do it, whatever it was, and whatever it cost him. Not because he wanted to save his own sad soul. But because it was what God willed, and that alone was enough.
“Do you believe?” God asked. Bradley gratefully felt the last of his will draining away, as if his field of vision was narrowing down to nothing but the holy face of the old man with the white mustache in front of him. A face that looked strangely familiar now, as if he had known God in a previous life.
“I believe,” he said, his voice sounding small and insignificant in the great expanse of this desert and the holy presence of the Lord himself. He felt so unworthy that he let his eyes drop, knowing that no mere broken soul such as his had the right to look upon such beauty and holiness.
His eyes downcast, he saw that God cast a shadow.
He looked at his own feet, and saw that he did not.
Only God is real, he thought. Only God matters.
“I believe,” he said again. And thoughts of his family, thoughts of the life he once had, thoughts of any life that could ever exist outside of the presence of this holy being, all burned away in the brilliant afternoon sun.
Without another word, God turned and entered the building, and the three ghosts followed.
Inside, Bradley saw a woman. He barely remembered what a woman was, but he saw her, and he sensed her terror, although he also knew she could not see him, and could not see his gray companions.
But clearly, this woman saw God. And clearly, she trembled in terror of his majesty.
“She will be your first, Bradley,” God said, a heavy hand on his shoulder. “I know you are very young. So newly dead. But I’m here to show you how. I’m here to give you what all my angels wish they could have. I’m here to give you my blessing. I’m here to give you new life.”
The Lord pulled up a chair, and indicated that Bradley should sit down, knee to knee with the captive woman.
“It begins with hate,” God 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.
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Copyright 2021, Wess Mongo Jolley. All rights reserved.