The Last Handful of Clover

Chapter 3.37: Down the Rabbit Hole

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, 2:20 pm

At that exact moment, as Richard and Justin were disappearing into Howard Gunderson, a spray of automatic gunfire mowed down a dozen people on South Temple.

Pil, Keith, and Billy were working their way east with the crowd, and they were less than three blocks from the hospital when Pil heard the shots. At first, he thought it sounded unreal, like a string of firecrackers had been lit a block ahead. The surrounding crowd, which had been surging steadily east, all froze in their tracks as if the sounds had turned them to stone. Only their heads moved, swiveling desperately from side to side, looking for the source of the gunfire, which echoed from the buildings as if it came from everywhere, all at once.

And then the screaming started.

Dropping to a crouch, and instinctively raising his tire iron, Pil looked back and saw Billy standing behind them, searching the crowd in every direction. They had just passed the Wasatch Elementary School on their right, but Pil couldn’t see any sign of gunfire coming from that direction. The playground was mostly deserted, since the crowd around them was walking up South Temple itself. But any one of a dozen of abandoned vehicles could be shielding the gunman, so that meant the shots could be coming from almost anywhere.

At that moment, a second round of gunfire went off, and this time Pil got a clearer bead on the direction. It was from directly ahead of them, and less than a block up. And even as he whirled in the sound’s direction, he saw people falling.

As that distant row of people dropped like bags of flour, and the rest ducked and scattered, what Pil saw terrified him.

Two elderly women were advancing toward them, both carrying what looked like automatic weapons, and both walking quickly and steadily forward. Once again, shots rang out, and this time Pil could see that both women were firing at once, like two knights on the back of a chessboard, mowing down the pawns in their way. The two women looked like they could have been school teachers or social workers, and Pil had an instant to wonder where they had found such enormous fire power. But they were marching rapidly toward the crowd and already stepping over the first of the dead bodies in the street. Barely three seconds had passed, and already the crowd had fallen into a panic. Almost as one, hundreds of people turned and started bolting back down South Temple, in the direction from which they had come. Mothers were pulling or carrying small children. Fathers were trying to shield their sons and daughters with their own bodies. And others, still unaware of the location of the shooters, were actually running directly toward them.

Pil grabbed Keith by the belt and pulled him toward the playground, fifty yards behind them, thinking at the very least they could get clear of the crowd, when Billy yelled.

“No, Pil! Not that way! Stay with the crowd. They’re picking off the ones on the edge!”

Billy was right. The woman on the left swung suddenly toward the sidewalk and took out a half-dozen people who had made a dash for a side street. The other was already picking off some of the crowd that had surged into the parking lot, in the direction Pil had been ready to run. The possessed women were herding the panicked crowd back toward downtown. There were easily still a couple hundred people between them and the shooters, but already the crowd was so packed that people were tripping and smashing against each other in their desperation.

If someone stumbles, we’re all dead, Pil thought, tightening his grip on Keith’s belt. Nothing’s going to stop this crowd. They’ll run right over us…

They were right across from the playground, when the thing Pil had most feared happened to a couple with three small children in front of them. The father stumbled, and he went down with a two-year-old in his arms. He didn’t release his wife’s hand, and he pulled her down with him. The crowd swept away the two older children as the first of the panicked boots and sneakers trampled the three on the ground. In seconds, others fell as well, causing an instantaneous pileup of bodies. The screams of those being crushed were the only sounds that seemed louder than the automatic gunfire, which was growing quickly closer.

But then Pil saw something that at first confused him, but suddenly clicked into focus.

At the edge of the playground was a white concrete structure. One exactly like it was on the other side of South Temple, and Pil remembered they were the entrance and exit to an underground passage, which students from the elementary school used to avoid having to cross the busy street on their way to the playground. It was small and dark now, with all the lights dead, but already the crowd was surging toward it.

“Billy! There!” Pil screamed, pointing with the tire iron.

Billy was still close, but already he had been battered by the crowd that was running so madly around him. He looked stunned, terrified, and disoriented. Even as Pil watched, a fat man ran right into Billy, knocking him to the pavement. Pil recognized the man named Gordon as his great bulk and momentum blew past, leaving Billy stunned on the ground.

He’s going to be reset! Pil thought in terror. One boot heel in the center of Billy’s chest, and we’ll be on our own.

He reached his free hand toward the boy, knowing that if he could get a hand around his wrist, he could pull him above the crowd.

“Get up!” Pil screamed, and Billy shook his head and rolled to the left just in time to avoid being trampled. Pil felt himself being pulled toward the underpass by the crowd as the gunfire drew even closer. A woman directly in front of Pil went down with a bullet in her chest, and a string of slugs traced themselves across the white concrete of the underground passageway that was now just two feet away.

“This way,” Keith was screaming, and pulling Pil toward the dark opening. But now the crowd had recognized the relative safety of the passageway, and the movement of those around the pair had shifted like water drawn to a drain. Before he could even resist, Pil realized they were being carried toward that dark concrete entrance. He turned back just in time to see Billy make a bounding and almost superhuman leap into the air, and the boy came down on the heads of the crowd that was surging under him. For a strange moment, the boy with the straw hat stood on the heads and shoulders of the crowd that was surging under him, looking like a surfer trying to keep himself up on a violent wave.

Pil felt the sun blocked out as the crowd pulled them into the underground passageway.

“Billy!” he cried, and he saw the boy for one last second, reaching out, as if he could grasp Pil’s wrist and pull himself to safety. Then he felt the floor drop out from under them, and they were falling in a tangle of bodies, down the concrete stairs, and into the tomb-like depths below.

The last thing Pil saw before darkness closed around him, and he and Keith tumbled in a waterfall of screaming bodies into the dark, was Billy losing his footing. The boy disappeared head first into the trampling feet and crashing bodies, and then he was gone.

Even as Pil fell, he kept one hand wedged tightly into Keith’s belt, and the other around his tire iron.

They hit hard, on top of a pair of wailing teenagers who wriggled away. But more bodies were surging in, and in seconds they were buried under their weight. The way out of the tunnel was now blocked by the bodies that choked the entrance, and only a meager light penetrated. Pil wrenched his head around to try to see the other end of the tunnel, but that too was blocked. He was now covered with writhing bodies and overwhelmed by the stench of their sweat and fear.

From both ends of the tunnel the gunfire began again, and Pil did his best to wrench his body and cover Keith, who was moaning and writhing under him. Pil felt more bodies falling down upon them, and hot blood poured down into his eyes and mouth. He realized with horror that at least one of the women with the machine guns was now standing at the entrance to the tunnel, and firing into the wedged-in bodies below in long and steady bursts. Only the fact that he and Keith were too far into the tunnel for the bullets to reach saved them. An occasional round snapped against the concrete above them, and Pil heard, rather than felt, the shower of plaster.

Pil covered Keith with his body, waiting for the gunfire to end, trying to bear the weight of those above him with his arms, so as to prevent Keith from being crushed. He squeezed his eyes shut and waited for a bullet to end their lives.

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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