June 16, 2:35 pm
Billy’s scream as he was reset was more of frustration than physical agony.
He had endured the resetting process many times, and he knew what was happening. He expected and endured the indescribable pain as the hands and feet of the crowd passed through him to the pavement, just as he would have felt it if his fleshly body had endured those atrocities. He tried one last time to battle his way to the surface of the crowd, and then he felt the momentary release that happened when his body shattered like glass. He even felt the fragments of himself evaporate on the street, as the bits and pieces of him continued to be trampled under the crowd’s feet.
As always, the darkness was intense, but brief, followed by the expected sudden rush of existential terror and brutal pain as his body reformed itself on the sand at the mouth of Emigration Canyon.
It was all exactly like he had experienced it, so many times.
What was new was the feeling of utter defeat and loss—the knowledge that he had failed in the solemn promise he had made to Richard to protect Keith and Pil, no matter what dangers they faced.
“Oh, Richard,” Billy moaned, as his mouth knitted itself back together. “I’m so sorry. I promised, and I failed, and I’m so, so sorry…”
It took several minutes for his flesh to complete the reassembly that a reset required, and several more minutes before he could get past the agony of it and sit up in the dirt. The smell of the fires burning in the valley and the distant chatter of what sounded like wild animals roaring and screeching were the first things that registered on his addled mind. The smoke he understood, but the wild cacophony of animal sounds confused him for a moment. Sitting up, he looked toward the sound, and remembered that he was only a quarter mile from the Hogle Zoo. The sound he heard was definitely coming from there, and it was the sound of animals in pain, in panic, or both. It sounded as if all the animals in the zoo were throwing themselves against their cages, roaring in desperation as they tried to escape their enclosures. The sound was desperate and haunting.
What he saw when he turned his head was even stranger.
The edge of the Hereafter was only a dozen yards up the hillside from where he sat. And as he turned, his eyes focused on a dog sitting there, just beyond the edge. It was outside the Hereafter, at almost the exact spot he had crossed when he was explaining to Richard how a reset worked. It was a small dog; perhaps a pekinese. But right next to it was a larger beast that looked like a collie/shepherd mix. The two dogs were not looking at him, but they were also not looking toward the sounds that came from the zoo. Instead, they were gazing out over the devastated city, with sad eyes and longing on their quivering muzzles.
As Billy struggled to sit upright, his body still shaky, he realized that there were not just two dogs there, lurking at the edge of the Hereafter.
There were hundreds.
It appeared that any dog who had been able to flee the dangers of the city had gone only as far as the edge of the Hereafter itself. They dotted the hillside, as far in both directions as his eye could see. Some lurked just inches from the edge of the ghost zone. Others had fled higher up the hillside. But they were all facing the city, still and watching, like silent witnesses to the devastation that was being wrought upon, and by, their masters.
Terror might have made them flee, Billy realized, but loyalty now holds them prisoner.
They were waiting to either witness the ultimate end of their guardians, or for the time when they could make a safe return. And they would wait as long as it took.
Billy tried to stand, but howled in frustration as he sank back to the sand. His body was frustratingly slow in reassembling itself. His bones were taking their time to knit, and his muscles were on fire as they tried to become whole. Unfortunately, Billy knew there was no rushing this process, and he would just have to wait until he was strong enough to get up from the sand.
The dogs did not turn their heads to look at him. It was a myth that dogs could see the souls of the departed, although at this moment, he could have used the company. As he finally found enough strength to climb to his feet, and begin shuffling slowly away from his death site, their sad eyes just stared through him and past him, as if they were made of stone and he was made of nothing more than the wind.
He limped down the hillside, past the “This is the Place” Monument, where he had explained the Gifts to Richard. Then further, until he found his way to a paved road.
Finally, he was running, and the pain was more endurable.
I have to be careful not to be reset again, he thought. I’ll go down Foothill Drive, and then I can cut across the university campus. If Pil and Keith get through, maybe I’ll be lucky, and I can meet them there.
He prayed that the two men would, indeed, be lucky. But he feared that the men’s bodies were lying dead in the tunnel, riddled with automatic machine gun fire.
Billy glanced up at the hillside full of dogs one last time as he departed. Although they still stood absolutely still, he now couldn’t shake the feeling that they were watching him.
No, that’s impossible. They’re just watching their world dissolve before their eyes. The world their guardians had assured them would always be safe.
The sadness Billy felt for them was overpowering, and he was glad when he was far enough from the hillside that he could no longer sense their grief.
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.
Copyright 2021, Wess Mongo Jolley. All rights reserved.