The Last Handful of Clover

Chapter 3.35: Carol from Public Relations

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, 2:09 pm

I feel like we’re a pack of squirrels that have been chased up a tree…

Morgan couldn’t stop thinking about how accurately Rhonda Ferguson had described their plight that morning. Or about her own response.

I just hope whatever is hunting us hasn’t learned how to climb.

Things hadn’t gotten better for the newsroom since dawn.

The night before, Morgan had convinced the reporters that they needed to go back out and try to document what had happened to the city. But when the light of day had revealed the situation more clearly, her colleagues had seen quite enough through the windows of their high-rise offices and studios. It was mid-afternoon now, and the two teams that hadn’t returned from the night before were still missing in action.

As morning had bled into afternoon, the conversation had turned away from their duty to their survival. Everyone was tired and on edge, and Morgan watched with concern as the emotions in the conference room threatened to spin out of control.

“We need to barricade the stairwell doors!” Rhonda said, her voice high pitched and cracking. “Seal them shut, like they’ve done on the lower floors!”

“Rhonda, we’re twenty-one floors up,” Levi Cannon said. “Nobody is coming up that dark stairwell.”

Unless they’re squirrel hunting, Morgan thought.

“You don’t know that,” Rhonda countered, sharply. “If somebody’s crazy enough, and if the doors lower down are blocked, they might get this far.”

“In case you didn’t notice,” Martha Gillespie said, “it wasn’t a stranger bursting into the studio that killed the intern. It was one of our own. Nobody from the outside made Stan go crazy.”

Morgan heard a note of panic in everyone’s voices. They all kept glancing nervously toward the station manager’s office, where Stan’s dead body, as well as Phil King’s living one, were still locked up.

“Do we still think it’s a virus, then?” Larry Wiggins asked. He’d taken his customary place at the head of the conference table, but his contribution to the discussion had been pretty useless so far.

“I don’t know,” Morgan said, after no one else ventured an opinion. “But whatever it is, something tells me that locked doors aren’t going to keep it out. And neither are dark stairwells.” They all stared at her. “Stan thought it was a… consciousness… of some kind.”

“A ‘consciousness’?” Buck Jones mumbled through his swollen jaw. The weatherman sat with his arms crossed across his ample chest, the two ends of his tie hanging in front of his sweat-stained shirt. “That’s nuts, Morgan! What kind of ‘consciousness’? A demon? Maybe an alien invasion? Pod people, for Christ’s sake?”

“All of that sounds just as likely as a virus,” Morgan shot back. “If it’s a virus, why don’t we all have it? Why did Stan have it, and then he suddenly didn’t, as soon as he got shot? I’ve never heard of a bullet scaring away a virus.”

That silenced the table, and they all sat staring at each other and out of the windows for several minutes. Wisps of black smoke curled around the outside of the building, perhaps from one of the more than a dozen fires visible in the distance. Or (even more terrifying) from a lower floor in their own building.

Over the next ninety minutes, there was little conversation. Mostly, everyone just stared out the windows, drifting to and from the bathrooms down the hall, and constantly checking their phones for a signal that was clearly not going to come back.

At 3:55 pm, a sudden commotion in the hallway made everyone in the room jump nearly out of their skins, and seconds later, the door to the conference room flew open. Morgan couldn’t help herself. She felt herself jump into a fighting stance and she looked around the room for anything she could use as a weapon.

But it wasn’t a crazed killer. It was Mia Everett, the head of the news division.

“We have a visitor,” she said, breathless. And instantly, she ducked back into the hallway.

Morgan was the first in line to dash out of the conference room and rush down the hall to the lobby. The reception area was an interior room, just next to the dead elevators and the stairwells, dimly lit by open doors to rooms with outside windows.

Collapsed on the floor was a young, dark-haired woman with bloody hands and a blouse that was so covered with splattered gore that looked like a painter’s smock.

“Who is she?” Larry Wiggins whispered. Everyone was standing back from the collapsed woman as if she carried the plague, and Morgan knew that more than one person in that circle wanted to throw her back into the stairwell from which she had emerged, and then barricade the door.

The woman was slowly regaining her breath. Morgan quickly recognized her face, but it was just from seeing her in the elevator over the years. To the best of her recollection, the woman worked on the tenth or eleventh floor. She could definitely remember her getting off the elevators about halfway to the station’s studios.

Morgan knelt at the woman’s side. Her eyes looked terrified as they darted to and from each person in the circle, as if she expected one of them to pounce upon her at any second. She had a bloody letter opener in her left hand, but it was shaking so badly that Morgan wasn’t even sure the woman knew what she was holding.

“What’s your name, hon?” Morgan asked, gently.

The woman’s eyes focused on her and cleared, if just a bit.

“I’m… I’m Carol. Carol Worthington. From Public Relations down on twelve. Public Relations for… for the bank.”

“It’s okay, Carol,” Morgan said, keeping her voice calm. “Why are you here? What’s happening down there?”

Suddenly, the terror in the woman’s face exploded, and she dropped the letter opener. Both hands gripped Morgan’s forearms.

“We have to get out of here. It’s coming!”

“Take a breath, Carol. What’s coming?”

“I don’t know! But it… it’s coming!”

“Are you saying the building is being invaded?” Buck asked with a dismissive snort.

“No, it’s not that….” She took a long breath, and Morgan could see the woman trying desperately to calm herself, as if being clear and making sense was all that mattered to her now.

“It started on the lower floors. Some of the bank officers down there had barricaded themselves in, but we had some walkie talkies that were still working from the security staff. They said some people on the lower floors went crazy and started attacking everyone. But that it was weird. It was like… one person would go crazy, but then stop, and the person right next to them would go crazy instead…”

Like Phil and Stan, Morgan thought.

“I think they kept trying to subdue the people who were crazy, but they couldn’t keep track of them long enough. They’d hold somebody down, but then they were fine, and then it was somebody else.”

The newsroom staff looked at each other, all of them replaying what had transpired the night before. The woman was chattering now, her voice going too fast, her shoulders hunched so far forward her back looked deformed. It was as if her eyes were overflowing with the terror of what she had seen and heard.

“Even as they were trying to describe to us what was happening down there, it started happening on our floor! All at once, people were fighting and… dying! They were using anything they could get their hands on to kill each other. Broken pieces of furniture. Pens and pencils. My friend Mary got stabbed with a broken wooden ruler. I think she’s dead…” The woman had to pause a second to gather her courage. “A few of us got to the stairwell. My supervisor started heading down, and I followed, but two floors down I heard her scream in the dark, and then I heard the sound… It was… oh God, I heard the sound of her falling down the shaft at the center of the stairwell. I heard her falling, and then she stopped screaming. She stopped when I heard her hit…”

The woman gripped Morgan even tighter, but she was now looking into the faces gathered around her, staring at her and listening numbly.

“Then I started up. I ran past twelve, my floor, and I could hear what was still happening in there, and it sounded horrible. So I kept running up. It was pitch black, and I tripped over some bodies on the stairs. I don’t know what floor I was on, but I kept climbing. Some of the doors were blocked. I finally got out of the stairwell on seventeen. It was the first floor I came to that I could open. There were only a few people there, and they had… They gave me something to drink, and I tried to warn them about what was happening. But I don’t think they believed me. They just kept telling met to calm down. And I tried…”

“So everybody was fine down on seventeen?” someone asked.

“They were. At first. But then the nice lady who gave me the water started clawing at another guy’s face. She had long fingernails, and she was trying to dig out his eyes. He was screaming, and blood was everywhere. The woman turned and came at me, but I grabbed a letter opener off the desk and stabbed her… in the chest. But she kept coming, so I kept stabbing at her and stabbing at her. I think I got her in the throat, but I’m not sure. Because I just ran. I got back out into the stairwell, and I kept going up.”

“Did you stop again?” Morgan asked.

“No, I didn’t. I didn’t dare stop. I just kept going up. I think I lost count of the floors. I thought maybe this was the roof. I couldn’t tell because it was so dark. But I came out, and I was here…”

The woman’s gazed darted around the room, settling first on one person, and then on the next.

“Don’t worry, you’re okay,” Buck said. “We’re going to barricade the door now.”

“Buck, don’t be stupid,” Rhonda spat. “If we barricade the stairwells, we won’t have a way to get out if we need to. She’s only alive because she could run!”

“We won’t need to!” the weatherman barked. “I say we make our stand here! We lock ourselves in, then we’ll be safe!”

“Weren’t you listening!” the woman on the floor suddenly shrieked. Her voice was high and full of terror. “We have to go up! It’s coming up the building! One floor at a time. Nothing below here is safe, and it’ll be here any minute! We have to get out of here. We have to get to the roof!”

Buck Jones bent down and looked at the woman. His eyes were right next to hers. “How do we know that what you’re telling us is true? I for one don’t believe you. This is a fucking virus, and we stay safe by staying put. God knows the last thing we want to do is get up on the roof, out into the open air. I say we throw this woman out and block the goddamned door!”

“Buck, it can’t be a virus!” Rhonda said, yanking the weatherman to his feet. “A virus doesn’t leave one person and go into another like Carol’s describing. And it doesn’t go through blocked doors and climb stairwells. We’re dealing with something else here. I think Carol is right. If it’s coming up the building, floor by floor, we need to get out of here. She says it’s already on seventeen. That’s only four floors down…”

Her voice trailed off, because at that moment, Buck Jones, the weatherman with the shattered jaw, started to sway as if he was going to faint, and then moaned and started scratching at his hand.

“Get back!” Morgan screamed at the tightly packed circle. “Get back! He’s scratching his hand!”

 But before any of her colleagues could even process and react to what Morgan had said, Buck stooped down, scooped up the letter opener off the floor, and plunged it with a shriek into Larry Wiggins’ midsection.

As the Station Manager flailed, pushing Buck back and clutching at the blood that was pouring from his belly, he fell back hard against Morgan, and she bore his weight all the way to the floor. Buck was still slashing at his colleagues with the letter opener, but now Levi Cannon was also laughing manically, and had leapt onto Mia Everett. He was biting into her face with his perfect white teeth.

Carol from Public Relations had already sprinted back toward the stairwell and was gone. Mia had Levi in her arms, and together they crashed through the glass partition above the reception desk.

It’s too late, Morgan thought.

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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