June 16, 2:50 pm
Pil knew they could not be the only ones still alive in the tunnel. But in the moments after the weight of all the bodies had finished piling upon them, everything seemed strangely still. The gunfire ended after no more than a minute, receding quickly down the street. And then the tunnel was filled with a ghastly smell that was part unwashed bodies, part blood, and part (he had to face it) the evacuated bowels and bladders of the dead and dying. In a matter of less than a minute, he and Keith had gone from the bright sunlight above to a nightmare tomb full of darkness and death.
Underneath the pile of bodies, Pil and Keith held each other and waited. And as they waited, the air became thicker with the moans and thrashings of the dying. Soon the blood was running over them as if it was being wrung out of a hundred sponges over their heads, dripping and flowing and running down their bodies, thick and warm and stinking of fear and despair. It got into their ears and eyes. They spat it out of their mouths. It dripped off their noses onto the concrete floor below them, where it pooled and thickened.
The weight of perhaps a half dozen bodies bore down upon Pil’s back, and he was doing his best to protect Keith from the pressure. Fortunately, as they fell, they had ended up against the far right edge of the passageway, and by bracing himself against it he had prevented Keith from being crushed. He could feel his friend panting underneath him, pressing his face into Pil’s neck to avoid the worst of the blood. He realized that he still had his tire iron, and he quickly wedged it between the floor and wall, creating a small breathing space into which both he and Keith pressed their faces hungrily. Above, the weight of the dead and the dying was hard to bear, but slowly, the pile of bodies was shifting, as those who were still alive climbed further into the dark tunnel, or up toward the light.
The passageway was filling with sounds. With the departure of the shooters, the wounded and dying were no longer trying to stifle their cries and their moans. They echoed throughout the dank corridor, which made it sound all the more horrifying and ghostly.
Pil didn’t wait. With a tremendous groan he used the bunched muscles of his arms and back to push up against the weight that was above them. And ever so slightly, the bodies shifted and moved. He kept his grip on the tire iron, and used it to lever a mangled woman’s shattered torso off of his arm, and she cried out as he pushed her aside. In the darkness, Pil could not tell if her wounds were minor or fatal. And at that moment, he couldn’t allow himself to care. Only one thing mattered now, and that was getting himself and Keith out of this death trap.
He stuffed the tire iron under his belt on his right side, and then, reaching down, he grasped Keith by the collar of his shirt and heaved. The blood-soaked cloth first ripped in his hands, but then held. Keith’s burned arms dragged heavily against the other bodies as Pil pulled, and his friend let out a scream of agony that he quickly stifled. They were both almost free now, and as they made their way to the surface, dead and dying bodies fell back into the space they were vacating. Twice he lost his grip on Keith’s shirt, and it was only then that Pil realized they were not just splattered with blood, but bathed in it. If they got out of this tunnel, they would look worse than the most mangled of Drouillard’s angels.
Pil had to step squarely in the chest of one body in order to pull Keith the rest of the way to the surface, and as he pressed, he heard the body below him exhale a gurgling breath. But that was the last leverage he needed, and Pil fell backward with Keith on top of his chest, and lay there panting, holding the smaller man as they both gasped for air. The tire iron dug viciously into his back, but that was the least of his worries.
Thankfully, there was light visible at the south end of the tunnel, and Pil paused for just a moment to be sure that the gunfire had really stopped.
“Keith, can you hear me?” Pil asked over the sound of the dying.
To his surprise, his friend was not only conscious but also alert, and his mind seemed clear. “I’m okay. I think. I’m not shot. Are you?”
“No. I don’t think so.”
Keith levered himself up on Pil’s chest and looked around. Pil saw the realization flood over Keith’s face that not only were they among the dead and dying, but they were almost halfway to the ceiling of the underground passageway. There were bodies piled under them, at least three feet thick.
“Baby Bear, look at me,” Pil said, turning Keith’s face so he was looking only into his eyes. “We have to get out of here. I want you to climb up on my back. Put your arms around my neck.”
“You mean… We’ll have to climb over…” Keith started.
“K, don’t think about it. And Jesus, don’t talk about it. Just close your eyes if you have to, and climb up on my back!”
In the dim light from the street that cascaded over the bodies and through the misty red air, Pil could see Keith staring at him. “I’m not a child, Pil. I can keep my eyes open. And I don’t need you to carry me out of here. Let’s go. You lead, and I’ll follow.”
Pil was shocked, but grateful. He didn’t know how long Keith’s adrenalin would carry him, so he started moving right away. “Stay right behind me,” he said, as he started crawling over the bodies. “Keep a hold of my feet if you need to.”
It took them only a few minutes to reach the street. On the way, they had to step on and over dead men, and slaughtered children. Over young women and old men. At one point Pil had to stop and push aside a woman with a destroyed face that was still alive, but he knew would not last more than a few more minutes. His only choice was to crawl over her, as her hands grasped weakly at his clothes. Pil turned back briefly and saw Keith moving forward and over her as well, without seeming to notice, or allow himself to notice, what they were doing.
Nearer the mouth of the tunnel, he no longer encountered anyone who was living. And strangely, that made it easier.
It appeared they were among the first survivors to get to the sunlight. Pil glanced around, blinking in the light, praying that the two women with the automatic rifles were truly gone, and he instinctively pulled the tire iron from his belt, just in case another ghost should appear. When he was sure there was no sign of life on the street, he tumbled out, with Keith on his heels.
Only seconds after they collapsed on the sidewalk, among the hundreds of corpses that now littered South Temple, a handful of other blood-soaked survivors emerged behind them. Their red and shell-shocked faces stared up in the sunlight, blinking.
If any of us make it out of this, Pil thought, we’ll never be the same.
“Come on, K,” Pil said, standing up from the pool of blood his body had left when he collapsed on the pavement. “We need to keep moving.”
Keith reached up a hand so covered with blood that it looked like all the skin was gone, and Pil took another moment to check that neither of them were injured.
When he was finished, to his surprise, Keith walked over to a corpse on the ground whose clothes were mostly clean. He ripped the shirt off the corpse’s back and used it to wipe the blood off his hands and out of his face, and then handed it to Pil. Once their faces and hands were cleaner, they felt a little less like zombies, although the blood with which they were covered would not be gone until they could find new clothes.
For a moment, Pil considered trying to do just that. But there was so much blood covering everyone and everything that he knew no clothing he found here would be much better than what they already wore.
“Wait, where’s Billy?” Keith suddenly asked.
“He’s gone, I’m afraid,” Pil said. “I saw him go down in the crush of the crowd. I’m sure he was reset. They way he described.”
“You mean, like what Howard did to Justin?”
“Yeah, exactly. I think Billy got trampled by the crowd, and he’s gone. That means that we’re on our own.”
“That’s fine, Beastie,” Keith said with a small smile that shocked Pil. “I’m tired of you talking to the air. You’re all we need. We’ll be fine. Let’s go.”
Keith put out his hand, and Pil took it, amazed at the strength he was seeing. Had he really so recently thought of Keith as so weak and vulnerable? Had he really never seen this side of him, in all the years they had known each other? He felt a rush of affection for his friend, and the knowledge that Keith would be just as ready to protect him as he would be to protect Keith, gave him some hope. Not only for himself, but for the entire city.
“Let’s run,” Keith said, and they headed up the street in a jog, still grasping hands.
Pil allowed Keith to take the lead, since they were in his stomping grounds. Keith had walked this route to his job at the university five days a week for more than a decade. Pil had no doubt that Keith would take them by the fastest and safest route, so when they took a hard right down 13th East, just on the edge of Reservoir Park, he wasn’t surprised. The streets were clearer here, and he even saw a few people in cars, trying to make their way out of the more congested streets to the west.
The people they saw here were less frantic. Some looked at them calmly out of their apartment windows, and a few were actually just standing around in the streets. They all just looked at the bloody pair as if they were watching an episode of The Walking Dead. But the staring they got was just a fraction of what it should have been. Pil was amazed at how easily people had already come to accept even the most horrific sights.
For his part, Keith’s energy finally appeared to be failing. It wasn’t due to despair. Pil could tell by looking in his friend’s face that the pain he was feeling in his arms had simply become so intense that it was threatening to stop him in his tracks.
He pulled Keith to a sheltered spot behind a crashed bread delivery van.
“Keith, baby, you need to take another pill. I have the Oxy in my pocket. I think you need one.”
Keith shook his head. “I can’t. I need to stay alert. That stuff puts me to sleep.”
“You won’t be any good to either of us if you are in so much pain you can’t keep moving. How about if I give you just a half of a tablet? It might take the edge off.”
Keith nodded, mutely. His face was so pale now that Pil knew he had to have something, and have it fast. He dug the pill bottle out of his pocket and sorted through the dozen tablets until he found the one they had broken in half earlier. Keith swallowed it dry.
“Okay, let’s keep moving,” Keith said, climbing back to his feet.
This is much harder for him than it is for me, Pil thought. I don’t know if I could keep going, after what he’s been through. And what he’s still going through.
As they came out from behind the van, they saw a welcome sight. The crashed truck had damaged a fire hydrant on the sidewalk, and it was bubbling up a foot-tall water fountain from a crack along the top. Keith immediately rushed to the water, and thrust his head into it, washing off the worst of the blood and gore that was caking his face and drying in his hair. Pil followed, and then the pair took two minutes to do their best to douse their arms and clothes. When they were done, they still looked as if they had survived a massacre, but no longer did they look as if they had bathed in the blood of its victims.
Two more blocks down they came to 2nd South, which led directly up to the university. But even before they got there, they knew they were going to have a problem. The crowds were once again becoming thicker, and they could hear what sounded very much like a riot ahead and to their east. As they turned onto 2nd South, they could see a crowd gathered at the gates of the University Circle.
“What in the hell is going on here?” Keith asked, still dripping pink water onto the pavement.
“I don’t know, but we’ve got to get past this, if we’re going to get up to Red Butte Canyon. Billy said that’s the edge. The campus and the hospital complex are the only things we have to get through, and then we’re out.”
“So, how exactly will we do that?”
It would not be easy. As they got to the edge of the crowd, they could see a man with a bullhorn standing on the back of a pickup truck, and he was addressing the crowd. To their surprise, he appeared to be a soldier in a full uniform, with a military grade rifle slung over his shoulder.
“This is your final warning!” the man was shouting through the bullhorn. “The university campus has been designated by the federal government as a disaster response site! But we will not be allowing anyone onto the campus until we have facilities set up that can deal with refugees. Medical personnel are being flown in, as are hospital supplies and doctors. But you must stay out until we can get established here! Your gathering is hindering our efforts at recovery, and you are ordered to disperse! I repeat, you are ordered to disperse! Failure to do so will result in the use of whatever force we deem necessary!”
“When will you help us?” someone in the crowd shouted, and a growing murmur of angry and excited voices responded in words that Pil couldn’t quite make out.
Pil grabbed a man’s arm who was standing near him in the crowd. The man looked at Pil’s bloody and wet clothes and tried to jump back, but Pil held him firm.
“We need to get through the campus. Do you know a way?”
“I don’t know anything,” the man said, trying to pull away. “Just that they want us out of here. And that there are doctors in there. In the University Medical Center.” Pil noticed for the first time that the man was bleeding from a wound on his thigh. It didn’t look life threatening, but a steady red flow was running down his leg and dripping onto the pavement.
“Wait,” Pil said. “I thought the military had evacuated. That they were outside the city, closing off all the roads.”
“They were. They said that the roads are still closed. But I guess they’ve decided to come back into the city. The guy earlier called this a ‘beachhead,’ like they were an invading force or something.”
Pil thought that made sense. To the outside world, Salt Lake City would seem, at this point, like a hostile country—one that could only be liberated by the full force of a conquering army. He let go of the man’s arm, and he sprinted away from the bloody pair.
“Pil, I don’ t think it’s safe here,” Keith said, quietly, squeezing his arm. “Something about this is really giving me the creeps.”
“I agree,” Pil said, his voice low. “But we have to get through the campus. Somehow.”
“I can’t believe the army is back,” Keith said. “But I guess that’s good, isn’t it? At least that means the outside world hasn’t given up all hope. Right?”
“Maybe. But I don’t think this is a good place for us to be right now.”
“I’m just afraid that sending a bunch of guys with guns into this city is only going to make everything a hundred times worse.”
The soldiers were now driving the crowd back down 2nd South, but there was still a group of what appeared to be college students that were arguing with them and refusing to move. Some had even sat down in the street, and the men with the guns were attempting to get them back on their feet. Some were dragging at their arms, while others stood by with their rifles leveled.
“This is a powder keg,” Pil said. “Worse than South Temple. Keith, we have to get out of here. We’ll just have to go around. Back up into the Avenues, maybe.”
Just as Pil was about to turn and lead them back down 2nd South, they heard the helicopters.
The pair froze in the street, as did everybody else, including both the protesters and the soldiers. Everyone turned to look to the east, and in that moment, the three helicopters cleared the top of the Wasatch. The crowd fell silent and watched as the big choppers began their long descent toward the campus below. Spontaneously, a cheer erupted from the crowd, and all the military’s efforts to keep the crowd back were coming undone as it surged forward again. To these desperate people, the helicopters signaled hope, at the very least. Possibly even evacuation.
“I think we’re about to have a problem,” Pil said. The crowd was definitely moving now, and his instincts told him it was very possible the soldiers would open fire if they continued to push forward. He grabbed Keith by the collar, and the two of them dashed quickly off to the south side of the street.
They found themselves cowering in the stairwell to The Pie. It was a pizzeria they all knew well, and he remembered the four of them eating there together, only a month ago. The image of Michelle laughing over their pizza that night made his knees go weak and his stomach turn over.
What happened next almost made Pil forget the danger they were in.
He heard the squad car approaching even before it was visible, coming up from the lower part of 2nd South, sirens blaring. The crowd moved aside as the cruiser pulled up, and he saw that there was a single officer in the car, scanning the faces of the students and the rest of the crowd. The cop braked in the middle of the street and got out, gun drawn. Instinctively, the crowd fell back from the cruiser.
At that moment, one soldier sprayed a round of automatic weapon fire into the air, and that stopped the crowd from surging toward the helicopters, which were now landing on the big open lawn in front of the university’s administration building.
The cop turned her face toward the two men huddled in the pizzeria’s stairwell, and their eyes locked.
“Detective Grayson!” Pil screamed, jumping up. “Detective Grayson! Over here!”
He waved his arms, took Keith by the elbow, and began running toward the detective, as she stood in the street, staring at them in shock.
“Keith?” the woman cried in surprise. “Pil Kilani? My God! Is that you?”
Pil was so grateful to see the detective that he tried to give her a hug as she came around the front of the car. Grayson stopped him, obviously shocked by the still bloody tire iron he held in his hand. Pil hadn’t stopped to think how terrifying he must look, wet and bloodstained and carrying a weapon. He felt lucky that she only stared at the tire iron, rather that pulling her gun and shooting him.
“What in the hell are you doing here?” she asked, still staring at the hunk of metal, but clearly no longer afraid. “I got Michelle’s message! She told me about Howard, and what had happened. Where is she? Where is Howard Gunderson? Is everyone okay?”
Pil grasped the woman’s shoulder and leaned over heavily, the weight of it all hitting him hard once again.
“Michelle is dead,” he said, the grief in those words so thick he almost fell to his knees.
“Oh my god, no!” Grayson said, taking a step toward them. “How? What happened?”
Seeing Pil struggling with emotion, Keith jumped in. “It’s a long story, Detective. But the important thing is that we know what is happening here. And we know where we need to go to be safe. We’re heading up there.” He pointed toward the foothills in the distance, and Grayson focused on his bandages for the first time. “It’s hard to explain, but if we can get there, into the hills, we can be safe. All of us. Can you get us through the campus? Can you get us up to the foothills?”
“Wait, I don’t understand,” Carla said, clearly confused by all the information that they were throwing at her. “Where is Howard? I have to find Howard Gunderson!”
“Detective Grayson, it’s very complicated,” Pil said. “Howard is fine. We’ll tell you all about it. But can we do it on the way? Just take us where we need to go, and I promise, I’ll tell you where Howard is.” Pil was getting frantic now. “You can go back for him if you want. But we need to get out of here, and we need to do it fast. Things here are about to get crazy.”
Grayson looked around at the crowd of students, still struggling with the Guardsmen, and the helicopters on the big lawn beyond the soldiers. More men with rifles had been the first to jump out, and others in camouflage were now unloading huge crates as rapidly as they could.
“Okay,” she said, seeming to have come to a sudden decision. “Get in the car. I’ll get us through.”
Pil gave her a spontaneous hug. “Thank you, Detective. Thank you so much…” Keith reached out and gave Carla’s hand a squeeze as well.
And then a shot rang out, as harsh and clear in their ears as a crack of lightning.
From where he stood, Pil could see that one student had broken through the line of soldiers and was rushing toward the helicopters. A soldier had shot the man in the back as he ran, and they could see the body now, splayed out in the grass. The rest of the crowd was shouting and screaming, and the soldiers now all had their guns to their shoulders. It looked as if it could become a bloodbath at any second.
The crowd surged against them, and Pil fell back against the squad car. He dropped his tire iron, and it clattered to the pavement at his feet. Before he could even think to reach down and grab it again, Carla had bent to pick it up.
“Get into the car!” she screamed at the two men.
For an instant, Pil considered running around to the passenger side and getting in the front seat. But it just didn’t seem like they had the time. Things on this street were about to go south, and it could happen any second. He grabbed Keith, and together they piled into the back seat of the cruiser. He saw Carla jump into the driver’s seat, throwing his tire iron onto the floor of the passenger side.
“Drive!” Pil yelled at Carla as she slammed her door.
The Detective took a second to put the car into reverse, and Pil thought he saw her making a strange hand gesture at the crowd in front of the car. He was about to yell at her again, when she finally slammed the car into gear, and then swung the wheel around to get them pointed the right way down the hill. The crowd did their best to scatter out of the way, ricocheting off the car’s bumpers, but one young man with a three-foot length of chain in his hand careened over the car’s hood, the chain leaving deep scratches as he was flung into the street.
Through the back window, Pil watched helplessly as what he had feared began to unfold. A group of students, overconfident because of their numbers, rushed the line of soldiers. They opened fire, but not before a handful went down, and the students were instantly clambering over each other to get to their weapons.
Carla slammed the car into drive and sped down the hill, avoiding the stalled and smashed cars that littered the road like matchboxes.
Pil finally breathed a sigh of relief, and then realized his hand felt empty. He no longer had his tire iron. He leaned up against the steel grating that separated the back seat from the driver of the car and saw it there on the floor of the front seat.
He looked up and caught Carla Grayson’s eyes in the rear-view mirror.
And what he saw made him think he would faint. His vision narrowed, as his mind tried desperately to hold on to consciousness, hold on to hope.
There was a smile on the Detective’s face. But it wasn’t the smile of an adult woman. It was more the smile of a child. An evil child.
Pil reached for the handle of the door, but there wasn’t one. He’d forgotten that that the back seat of a squad car was as secure as a jail cell. They were trapped.
He glanced back at the driver in terror. She was holding up the tire iron now. She must have leaned over to pick it up from the floor.
In a little girl’s voice she said, “Is this what you’re looking for you, horrible, horrible man?”
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.