June 16, 3:25 pm
Billy reached the southern end of the University of Utah campus in a matter of minutes. On the way, he saw very little of the living. But there were plenty of the dead, littering Foothill Drive. In fact, the wide thoroughfare was impassible by anything bigger than a bicycle, and even on foot Billy had to bounce and weave between burning cars, downed telephone poles, and massive pileups. It was clear that a huge number of frightened people had tried to find their way out of the city via this route, likely hoping they could get far enough south to head up either Parley’s Canyon or Emigration Canyon. Some of these cars still held the faces of frightened families, who had locked their doors and were hoping to ride out the storm at the spot where their cars could go no further.
And a heartbreaking number held families of the dead, the interior of their car windows splattered with blood or shattered completely, leaving a halo of diamonds around the car like some primitive shrine.
Just as he reached the university itself, Billy heard and then saw the three military helicopters, as they crested the spine of the Wasatch. Moments later, he was surprised to find that a platoon of soldiers had blocked off the campus entrance on the southern side, and about a dozen soldiers stood at a roadblock near the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, which was one of the main entryways into the central campus. They nervously scanned the empty street in front of them, fingers on their triggers, although not a living soul could be seen. Even though Billy knew the soldiers couldn’t see him, he watched them warily as he darted through their lines. Men with guns were, at best, a mixed blessing, and it would likely be only a matter of time before roving angels turned their guns against them. Billy rushed past the guards just as the helicopters passed over his head and began to descend.
When he reached the center of the deserted campus, he stopped to look around. He was standing in the main pedestrian walkway between the Marriott Library and the Olpin Student Union. Since Keith worked at the library, Billy’s best guess was that this would be the route they would take on their way to Red Butte Canyon, and safety. But there was no one in sight.
Have they already passed by here? Should I go up toward the canyon? Or should I head back down, hoping to catch them closer to South Temple?
The one question he refused to ask himself was if it was all for naught, and whether the two men’s bloody bodies were even now draining themselves into the nightmare tomb that the tunnel on South Temple had surely become.
Wait, he thought, suddenly realizing exactly how alone he was. The campus really is deserted! That was a big crowd on South Temple, and it was heading this way. So where is everybody? Maybe they’re blocking access from the west as well.
He found the idea frustrating. If they were stopping people on the lower end of campus, maybe Pil and Keith were stranded there. Or maybe they were holed up somewhere nearby, or trying to find a way around. Billy wanted to scream, desperately trying to decide what to do.
The helicopters appeared to be heading for a landing just down the hill, perhaps on the President’s Circle itself, just past the campus Administrative Center. Making a quick decision, he darted after them.
He was almost there when he heard the first gunshot ring out, and his ghostly body went cold. He whipped past the corner of the Park Building just in time to see the two helicopters spinning down upon the lawn, and to their left, the body of what appeared to be a young man, sprawled out and face down in the grass, motionless. An impressive crowd was shouting and milling on University Street, just past the President’s Circle.
He started to run toward them, but what he sensed in that moment caused him to trip on his own feet, and sprawl hard onto the concrete in front of the Park Building.
Without warning, and without seeking her out, Billy’s mind was filled with her presence once again. He hadn’t been thinking about her since he came back. He had assumed that she was still off somewhere, and still in the body of an innocent, which would make her unreachable. But in a sudden rush she appeared in his mind, and Billy could only conclude that she was, once again, outside of whoever she had been possessing.
But no, that’s not right, he thought, struggling back to his feet.
Something is wrong.
It was definitely Mattie that he was sensing. But something was… different. Something was strange and somehow twisted about her. This was not the tug in the forehead he had always sensed when he looked for her. Now it seemed as if her presence was more urgent, more strident. Perhaps more dangerous.
And very close.
She was literally only a hundred yards away now, and he could get there quickly, if he could only get through the crowd and the soldiers. And something in his gut told him he needed to try. He needed to get to her. As it had for more than a century and a half, her troubled spirit beckoned to him, and he could not resist.
The men in camouflage were unloading the three helicopters, and at the bottom of the President’s Circle, he could see perhaps two dozen more soldiers, all holding at bay the civilians, who he could sense were on the verge of panic. The shouting of the crowd and some unintelligible words being blasted through a bullhorn, and it lent an air of surreal chaos to the scene. By the time Billy reached the line of confrontation, he knew he was taking a tremendous risk. It would only take an outburst of gunfire or a stampede by the crowd to reset him once again.
I can’t allow that to happen!
Carefully, he tried to weave through the perimeter the soldiers were holding, and they paid him no mind as he ricocheted through their ranks. He could sense Mattie very near now. In fact, she was only a few dozen yards away. She was probably somewhere near that police vehicle he could see, with its blue and red lights revolving in the smoky air.
Just to his right, a soldier shot his rifle into the air, and everybody, including Billy, ducked. He turned just in time to see a struggle break out, as the students rushed the knot of men in uniform and began to wrestle with them for control of their weapons.
Billy was in the heart of the retreating crowd now, trying to cover the little ground that was left between him and Mattie, and trying not to get trampled or shot in the process.
And then he saw her.
But it was not her. She was possessing someone, and it froze him in his tracks.
He knew she was in the woman cop that was getting into the cruiser. He recognized her as the detective that had been investigating Richard’s murder. But what he didn’t understand was how on earth he was able to sense Mattie inside of her. He had never been able to sense her when she was using the Fourth Gift before. By all the rules he knew, she should be invisible to him. And yet he knew it in his soul. Mattie was possessing Detective Carla Grayson. And somehow, he knew she could sense him, too.
“Mattie!” he yelled, instinctively. And to his surprise, the possessed woman paused for just a moment, and looked up through the windshield. Not at him, but in his general direction. And then she smiled.
She can’t see me… but she knows I’m here!
She held up one finger, and then waved it slowly back and forth in the air.
No, no, no! she seemed to be saying.
Billy dove forward, but at that moment a bystander who was running across the street barreled into him, and he went down hard, just a dozen feet from where Mattie, even now, was putting the car into gear. He dodged a foot that almost came down on his chest, and then looked up again.
The car was already moving. And to his horror, he could now see, in the back seat, the unmistakable shaggy silhouette of… Pil Kilani!
“NO!” he screamed, struggling to his feet. But already, the car was swinging around in the street. He watched as the right front fender struck two college girls and sent them sprawling into the gutter. He sprinted for the car, but at that moment, shots rang out—first one at a time, and then in rapid succession. Billy tripped over a body that was lying in the street, and went down hard a second time, and the crowd surged past him, thankfully avoiding him and the body over which he had fallen. The gunfire was now steady behind him, and the crowd was in a full panic, either rushing away from the shots, or toward the men in fatigues.
Looking up one more time, the last thing Billy saw was the outline of Keith and Pil, huddled together in the back seat of the squad car, like frightened children. Keith was gazing out the back window as they sped away. Billy tried to use his hat to wave and make himself visible to them—or at least to Pil.
But it was too late. Pil did not turn to see him, and within seconds the car was far down the street, and picking up speed.
In a rush, it all became clear. Mattie had possessed the Detective. She now had Keith and Pil, but for what insane purpose, Billy did not know. He screamed madly after the departing car, ignoring the exploding chaos and gunfire that was erupting behind him. He knew a stray bullet could easily reset him once again, but at that moment, he scarcely cared. As he watched the car speed away, the only thing he felt was despair. A student spraying blood from a head wound rushed past him, leaving a trail of gore across the pavement. Billy dropped to his knees and howled at the sky in rage and frustration as the car disappeared to the west, weaving between the shattered bodies and burning wreckage.
Billy did not bother to look back at the carnage behind him. He heard the shots pick up in frequency, and the crowd continued to scream in panic, parting on each side of the body and of Billy as if he was a stone in a stream.
Soon he was in the middle of the street, alone.
Feeling very little hope, Billy picked himself up and began running west.
I have to get back to Richard…
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.