The Last Handful of Clover

Chapter 3.49: Whatever is Necessary

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, 4:57 pm

Richard remembered the exhilaration he had felt, the day after he returned from the dead, when he discovered he could run like a cheetah, and never get tired. But now, as he and Billy darted around the stalled cars and leapt over the bodies and other obstacles that littered the roads, he felt nothing but anxiety.

Even with their abilities, getting out of Salt Lake City was slow, and dangerous.

After first trying to hitch some rides on bumpers of cars, Richard and Billy had discovered that the post-apocalyptic roads of Salt Lake City slowed down traffic and diverted it so badly that they could make better time on foot. In fact, the roads within the city were such a mess that Richard was surprised Mattie had found her way through in a vehicle at all.

Several times Billy had to beg Richard not to be reckless. Even though they could run close to forty or forty-five miles per hour at top speed, going that fast could be their undoing.

“If we stumble, or trip, or run into a stalled car, one or both of us is going to be reset, and we’ll have to start all over again,” Billy kept reminding him. “Let’s be fast, but let’s be smart!”

Richard had reluctantly agreed. Keeping a rein on their speed certainly didn’t eliminate their risk, but it reduced it.

Things became a bit safer after the airport.

Only the most dedicated refugees had made it that far, and the road looked relatively open to the west. They took advantage of the improved traffic flow to hop into the back of a pickup truck, piled high with belongings, and covered with a tarp. Finally, as the truck sped west, they assessed their situation.

“How far ahead is she?” Richard asked, leaning close to Billy so the boy could hear him over the wind. It was probably the fifth time since they left the Avenues that he’d asked some variation on that same question.

“I don’t know,” Billy replied, as he had the previous five times. “I wish I could tell. She’s definitely making good time. And I’m afraid the open roads are going to work against us. She can go faster than us in that squad car, even if we hitch a ride the whole way.”

“And I don’t think we’re going to,” Richard said with a sigh. “This ride isn’t going to take us much farther,”

“What makes you think that? You sound pretty certain.”

“I am,” Richard said, pointing across the divided highway. “Have you looked at the east-bound lanes? There are as many cars heading back to Salt Lake now as there are heading west. And a lot of them look like this truck. Full of somebody’s life possessions.”

“They’re being turned back?” Billy asked.

“I’m sure of it. And my guess is that we’re going to hit a roadblock, long before the Flying J. Probably somewhere past Saltair.”

Richard wasn’t sure that Billy would be familiar with either the truck stop he mentioned, or Saltair, the abandoned resort most famous for its appearance in the 1962 film Carnival of Souls. But Billy just nodded, and didn’t ask any questions.

“Do you think Mattie will get through the blockade?” Richard asked.

“I hope not,” Billy said, squinting into the sun to see the road ahead. “But I can’t imagine she’d have gone to the trouble to bring Pil and Keith all this way if the Wanderer didn’t have a plan.”

The sound of Keith’s name stole all the air from Richard’s lungs, and for the longest time he couldn’t speak—thinking of Keith in that car, trapped with the insane girl ghost, and the agony of his burned arms. All he could hope was that Pil was still alive, still with him, and would honor his promise to protect the man he loved.

The man we both love, he thought, the realization strangely comforting. Of course Pil will do his best to protect him. But will he be enough?

Twenty minutes later, and just three miles past Saltair, Richard’s prediction came true. The truck they were riding in pulled up at an impressive blockade that completely cut across Interstate 80 and both frontage roads, sealing the way out of the valley. The driver of the truck pulled to a stop and was immediately surrounded by armed soldiers.

Billy and Richard didn’t wait to hear their conversation. They quickly jumped out and dashed through the military encampment, surprised by the extent of the operation. Not even the sight of the shot up vehicles, or the tarp covering what could only be a pile of dead bodies, slowed them down. They darted and weaved around the soldiers and their support vehicles until they emerged on the far side of the blockade.

The road in front of them was eerily vacant for as far as the eye could see. And Richard felt his heart sinking in his chest.

“She’s still ahead of us,” Billy said, his voice sounding miserable in the still afternoon air.

“And we’re not going to catch her now,” Richard said. “She’ll be able to drive a lot faster than we can run, even if we risk going as fast as we can. And there aren’t going to be any bumpers to ride on from here on out. It looks like we’ll be on foot until we get to Dugway.”

“Then let’s run,” Billy said. “We’ll still get there before sundown. But we have to hurry.”

 As they sprinted south on State Route 36, Richard’s mind ran even faster.

All that remained now between them and Dugway was the town of Tooele, which lay directly to their south. Fifteen miles later, the road would take a hard right and curve up over the last, low row of mountains. Beyond that, they would be able to see the hundreds of miles of empty desert in every direction, and the town of Dugway in the distance.

Richard didn’t expect to see anyone along the way. There was no reason, especially in this crisis, that anybody except the army would ever go west of Tooele on Route 199. There just wasn’t anything there other than the army base, the bombing ranges, and open desert. By his estimation they would barely get to Dugway before sundown. He could only hope that they had the time to find Keith before it got dark.

Billy and I can see pretty well in the dark, but Keith and Pil won’t be able to…

He tried to stop that train of thought, but couldn’t. He had no idea what they would do when they got to the place that Justin had called “the Stone in the Stream.” If Mattie handed her captives over to Drouillard and then left, he and Billy would have no way of being able to find them.

And even if we can find them… what happens then?

Richard had long accepted that possession was the only tool he had to combat Drouillard. As a ghost in the world of the living, his only hope of protecting Keith was to find someone he could possess, and then use that person to physically stop Drouillard from harming him. Saving Keith meant killing the Wanderer.

It’s not just Keith. You have to save this city too. Don’t forget that, a voice inside his head said. At first, he thought it was his own voice, but he wasn’t sure. It had sounded strangely like the old woman.

But killing Drouillard means I’ll have to use the Fourth Gift. Without a body, there is nothing I can do to stop him. What if there is nobody there for me to possess? With Howard gone, who will I use?

When Justin had fled with Howard’s body, that had been the end of any possibility that they could fight Drouillard without Richard using possession. Howard had said he would kill Drouillard, but Howard was gone. Richard would simply have to find a body to occupy and use as a weapon.

It shocked him how committed he was to that reality, when it had seemed like such an ultimate blasphemy only hours before.

I’ll use the Fourth Gift. I’ll use it on anybody that’s at hand. I’ll even use an innocent, if that’s what is necessary. Anything, if it means finding a way to kill that bastard and keep Keith alive.

Richard glanced at the ghost running at his side.

He knew Billy understood this. The weight of what Richard planned to do when they got to Dugway hung between them like a shameful secret, and had been hanging there ever since they left the Avenues. They had not spoken of it, because to do so would risk making the weight of it impossible for either of them to bear.

Billy knows what I may have to do. In his own way, I think he’s accepted it.

The silence between them suddenly felt dark and heavy, and Richard was grateful that their running was preventing any conversation.

They were making better time as they neared Tooele. And even though they had found several cars abandoned at various points along the road, none of them were blocking their way. Most had pulled off the side of their own volition, but three times now they had passed cars that had clearly been pushed sideways, their tires making dark black marks on the pavement as they were shoved down and off the embankment. The caved-in sides of the cars showed damage from some powerful vehicle. The hissing tire of one and the newly dripping oil of another made Richard think that these were moved fairly recently.

Is someone helping Mattie get to Dugway? Even in this, he could sense the dark and heavy hand of the Wanderer.

They continued south along the west slope of the Oquirrh mountains. To his right, Richard remembered, was the Tooele Army Depot. This was where all the chemical and biological weapon stockpiles had been stored until their liquidation in 2014. A vast array of hundreds of storage bunkers still dotted the landscape north of Tooele. The bunkers were empty now, but they still served as a reminder of the death and destruction that had plagued the world of the living for far too long.

Thirty minutes later, they reached the intersection with State Route 199, and began their final approach to Dugway. The military base was now just over twenty miles away, and they would be there within the hour.

And I’ll do whatever is necessary to find and save Keith. No matter what it takes.

A thought suddenly hit him like a punch to the chest. It had been something that he had been trying to avoid thinking about, but now that he was getting closer to Dugway, he couldn’t avoid it.

What if there isn’t anyone else there? What if the only ones we find are Drouillard, Mattie, Keith and Pil?

He couldn’t use Mattie. She would have mastery over the body of Carla Grayson, and he could not take the time to battle her for that control, even if he was sure he could successfully do so. And of course, trying to get into Drouillard’s head would not achieve what he was after. He couldn’t kill the man from the inside, and that would leave Keith vulnerable.

So that left Keith and Pil.

He could never force Keith to kill someone and then live with that memory. And he also did not know what would happen to his own resolve, or his sanity, if he were to have that kind of union with the man he loved.

Which left Pil.

What if the big man was his only choice? He certainly couldn’t find a better man than Pil if it came to strangling Drouillard to death with his bare hands. In fact, he was sure that Pil could snap the spine of the old man as easily as he would snap a pencil in his paws.

He suddenly heard echoes of Michelle, screaming at him when he first possessed Pil. “Save my husband!” she’d yelled. Now, he felt her presence in him and around him, judging… Her presence seemed to know that, if necessary, he would sacrifice anyone he possessed. Even Pil, if it meant saving Keith.

I’m sorry, Michelle. But if Pil needs to die… Then he’ll die.

It was a hard truth to face, but he thought it better that he face it directly. The voices in his head be damned.

But then again, Drouillard was not stupid, by any means. He would know how dangerous Pil was. And he would know that Richard would go after him. Would he have him restrained, somehow?

We are playing chess, and he is at least two moves ahead of me, Richard thought.

They kept running, ascending now into the low hills that separated them from the endless expanse of desert beyond.

The sun was sinking too quickly into the west.

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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