The Last Handful of Clover

Chapter 3.51: Arrival

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, 7:15 pm

The trip from the roadblock to Dugway seemed to take forever.

It wasn’t because of the speed. The squad car actually made great time down to Tooele, and then up and over the mountains toward Dugway. The only thing that slowed them down was the sluggishness of the heavy escort vehicle that Corporal Anderson had sent, which had a top speed of about fifty miles per hour. Still, Mattie knew, she’d been lucky to have it. Several times, over the past couple hours, they had come across cars blocking their way. And rather than chancing the soft sand of the shoulder, the soldiers had simply used the big truck to push the stalled vehicle aside, like a giant battering ram.

What made the trip wear on Mattie’s nerves was the constant and annoying chatter from the giant in the back seat. Nothing more than a metal grate separated her from her two passengers. So there was no way to silence him—as much as she wished she could. She tried to tune out his noise, but more than once she had considered defying God and pulling over to the side of the road, and putting a bullet between his eyes.

It was a small bit of grace that only one of the two men was still awake. She had seen the big man slip some kind of pills to the fat guy that was all bandaged up. At the border, he had told the soldier man it was something called “OxyContin,” but she had no idea what that was. It seemed to calm the short, fat man, and then finally put him into a restless sleep. And from then on, at least it meant that she only had to deal with the giant’s annoying voice.

If only he’d take a couple of those pills himself, she thought. Or the rest of the bottle.

To his credit, the big man was persistent. He had tried pretty much everything, and she was grateful that the back of the car was as secure as a prison cell. One time she had even felt a drop or two of blood splatter the back of her neck from the man’s knuckles, as he battered them against the wire grating.

Finally, about thirty minutes from their destination, he appeared to accept that he wasn’t going anywhere and calmed down. The peace in the car for those last twenty-five miles was exquisite, and Mattie had some time to look around at the empty road, and the beauty of the desert that surrounded them. It all reminded her of how this valley had looked a century and a half ago, when she had trekked into the wilderness with her parents and her sister.

Her mind was wandering, when suddenly the big man in the back seat spoke—but calmly this time. His voice surprisingly sedate and thoughtful.

“So, you’re taking us to see your God, I suppose,” he said, stressing the last word in an annoying way.

She was surprised to hear that he knew that much, but she shouldn’t have been. He’d been spending a lot of time with the Gunderson boy, and even with Billy. It annoyed her that the heathens had been sharing her business with this repulsive beast, but there wasn’t anything she could do about it. So she just glared at the man in the rear-view mirror, and he went silent.

When she looked again, a few minutes later, the galoot had pulled the bandaged man next to him into his arms, and was cradling him like a baby as he slept. It reminded her of the big sheep dog Frances had when they were girls back in Missouri. She had cuddled that stupid dog like that in front of the fireplace.

She had hated them both, even then.

Finally, they cleared the low hills and were looking out on the vast expanse of the western Utah desert. From their elevation they could see Dugway down below them, and beyond the town itself, what seemed like an infinite expanse of brown desert, with scrub oak lining the sides of the road, and a line of ancient black telephone poles marching like soldiers into the distance. She let the escort truck pull a little further ahead, so she would have an unimpeded view of all this grandeur, glowing and golden in the early evening sunlight.

She wasn’t sure why, but seeing that desert expanding before her, as she hadn’t seen it in years, made her melancholy, and even a little lonely. All at once she was overcome with a need to talk to someone. So she looked in the rear-view mirror and saw both her passengers were awake now, although the little one still seemed dazed and groggy.

“It looks almost like it did back in 1857,” she said. “Well, except for the telephone poles and the road, that is. But other than that, it’s just as empty as I remember.”

“You’ve been here?” Pil asked, his voice still surprisingly calm.

“Well, not here, silly. Mommy and Daddy built a cabin in a place called Round Valley. There is a town there now, called Scipio. But we lived up in the hills. It was pretty. It was a desert, too. Kind of like here, but not so flat.”

The car was silent for almost a minute before the man spoke again. He seemed unusually calm, as if perhaps he thought he could be her friend. Or maybe get her to tell him something that would save them. That thought amused her.

“Why are we here, Mattie? Where are you taking us?” he asked.

She glanced up in the rear-view mirror and gave the man her biggest smile. The one she used to reserve for her daddy, or for Billy back before he became such a little shit and forsook God and all that.

“Why, we’re going to the Stone in the Stream, you funny man!”

“And what will we do there?”

“Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m going to find my destiny. God’s going to take me with him. After everything is clean, that is. We’ll all go to live in his ocean, and I’ll sit at his side and we’ll all be happy for eternity.”

She lied, of course. She knew exactly what would happen to the two men in the back seat. They were nothing more than wriggling worms on the end of a hook. And that never really ended well for the worm.

Even before they reached Dugway, she knew they were near. She sensed God, of course, but more than that, there was a plume of smoke rising in the distance, at the end of a long stretch of blacktop. It appeared to be only a few miles away, and as they got closer, details of what had happened there became clearer.

This must be the guard station.

She knew there would be one, as God had told her that was where they were to meet. But she had not expected to see it burning like an oil drum, and did not expect to see the bodies arrayed on the road surrounding it. There had to be a dozen.

But she really didn’t pay attention to any of that. As she pulled up to within a few hundred feet of the burning complex, she saw God himself, standing in the middle of the road. He was beautiful in his green uniform and white hair, and leaning on his cane—exactly as she remembered him from Temple Square. The sight of him made Carla Grayson’s body quiver like a plucked guitar string.

God had his hand raised and was beckoning the truck ahead of her to slow down and stop.

It was only the second time Mattie had seen him in his suit of flesh, and she couldn’t help but stare. Through Carla Grayson’s eyes, God just looked like a frail old man, in a military uniform. Perhaps it was one of his lessons—that human eyes could never see things how they truly were. He might look like a man. But even through the windshield of the car, she could sense his power, radiating off him like a lion. And she felt infinitesimally small in his presence.

The military vehicle slowed to a stop in front of her, and she pulled up beside it. The two soldiers jumped out of the escort vehicle and ran up to God, both crouching low, with their rifles at the ready, looking for some enemy upon which they could fire, and barely keeping their eyes off the dead soldiers strewn around the burning checkpoint.

Mattie quickly got out of the car and walked calmly up behind the two men, who were now deep in conversation with God himself. They were gesticulating wildly and pointing to the burning guardhouse and the bodies in front of them.

They need to be more respectful, Mattie thought. They are talking with God, after all. They should be on their knees…

“Jesus, what happened here, sir?” the driver of the truck was gasping. “Did the sickness get here? Did you see who did this? Who killed these men?”

Mattie found the sound of his voice annoying, and really didn’t like the way he was talking to her Lord.

God focused his eyes past the two men and smiled at Mattie, recognizing her instantly despite the body of the woman she was wearing. His gaze upon her made everything seem calm and quiet and right.

“Princess, do your duty,” he said.

She instantly shot the driver in the back of the head, being careful to not spray any of his brains upon her lord and savior. She was getting ready to shoot the other before he could lift his rifle, but God put up his hand, and she hesitated. It was the tiniest fraction of a second, but suddenly the man reeled as if he had been slapped hard across the face, and his rifle, which had been just a fraction of a second away from being fired into the body of Carla Grayson, clattered to the pavement.

The man started scratching wildly at the back of his hand, and then both hands dropped limply to his sides.

Mattie was confused, but only for a moment. She took a step forward and looked in the soldier’s eyes, who was now standing as still as a statue. His eyes were focused not upon her, but upon God. Even so, as she gazed deeply into their gray depths, something stirred in her. It was almost a memory, but one that jumped into the shadows whenever she looked at it directly. Like firelight, glinting on silver.

I know you, she thought, and turned to God.

“Is it Bradley?” she whispered.

God smiled at her and placed a hand on her shoulder. His touch thrilled her. “No, Mattie. Your angel is on a mission. He’s taking care of important things for me. You should be very proud of him. As proud of him, as I am of you.”

Mattie instantly forgot the other ghost, now in the soldier standing at God’s side. She fell to her knees and cried.

“No, my dear. Stand up. Remember, you’re my Princess. You’re going to rule at my side. No need for you to bow in front of me. You are the best of my angels, and you will always be my favorite.”

Mattie rose, and God folded her into his arms and kissed her.

It was a light kiss, but it was on the lips. And even though God’s bristly mustache felt funny on Carla Grayson’s bulky lips, it filled her with a joy and a strange passion unlike anything she had ever felt. It was intoxicating, and if it had gone on any longer, Mattie believed that she would have ascended into the heavenly realms right there. But God finally stepped back, releasing her.

Mattie was so full of joy and delight that for a moment, she could not help herself. She danced in the street. It was a brisk waltz, and all for her God. She twirled and held out her imaginary dress with her hands, and laughed and pranced back and forth, from one side of the road to the other, while God smiled at her and the other soldier looked on, his face impassive. Finally, she bowed to God, as she would have bowed to a courtier in one of those old English novels, like her sister used to read.

“Come, my dear,” God said, still smiling upon her. “We have work to do.”

God walked toward the squad car, and Mattie followed. The ghost in the soldier followed as well, having picked up his rifle from the pavement. She watched as he turned it over and inspected it for damage, as if he knew everything about guns, and was admiring the craftsmanship in this one. It wasn’t until they were almost to the vehicle that she realized the big man in the back was pounding desperately on the window with his fist, and had finally made a single, jagged crack in the shape of a lightning bolt. He had been trying to work that crack further open, without success. But his bloody knuckles had now smeared the glass, and made it difficult for God to see into the back seat.

The little fat one was awake, huddled against the far door. He stared at her as well, but at least he wasn’t flailing about like his friend.

As they approached, Pil Kilani finally ceased pounding on the window, and just stared at the face of God with a hatred that proved to Mattie how corrupt his soul must be. Neither of them said a word, but the expression on the big man’s face made her angry, and she hoped God would tell her to shoot him now.

But that was not what God asked of her. Instead, he led them around the car to the passenger side.

While Mattie and the soldier kept their guns trained on the back door, Sutton opened it and dragged Keith out of the car. The big man tried to cling to him, and even tried to leap out after him, but Mattie put her gun almost against Keith’s forehead and screamed.

“I’ll kill the fat little fuck!”

When he heard that, the big man finally put up his hands and fell back into the car.

The fat man stumbled when he got clear of the car door, falling onto his hands and knees. He was shaking now from one end to the other, although he also seemed drowsy and confused. Spots of fresh blood showed on the dirty bandages around his arms, and he smelled as if he had been rolling in roadkill. Eventually, he raised up from the pavement, still kneeling before God, who looked at him as if he was examining a cut of meat in the supermarket.

“Yes, this will do nicely,” God said, and then ripped the man’s colorful Hawaiian shirt from his body, baring his pale, flabby torso. The quivering man looked more like a soft loaf of bread now, all pink and jiggling like soft custard, with streaks of red and black across his soft skin. He tried to cross his bandaged arms across his torso, as if being shirtless made him feel ashamed, but something about the strain that caused in his arms made him moan, and finally he let them hang loosely at his sides. His chin dipped against his chest, but whether it was from shame or exhaustion, Mattie could not tell.

“Not much to you, is there?” God said, as he pinched a roll of fat on Keith’s arm, and then roughly grabbed one of his sagging breasts. The fat man hardly reacted to the taunt. “Or should I say, there is too much to you?”

Keith trembled, and once again tried to cross his hands in front of his chest, to protect himself from further insults.

“Handcuff him, Princess,” God said, and she instantly used the cuffs on her belt to lock his hands firmly behind his back, delighting in the little sounds of pain he made as she wrenched his burned arms backward.

The ghost in the soldier kept a close eye on Pil, still inside the car, while she finished securing his little piggy boy. But she could see the big man still had that look of anger and violence on his face, as if he was seconds from trying to tear them all apart. Mattie kept hoping that he’d leap out of the car, so the soldier would have an excuse to put a bullet in him.

God took the ripped shirt and twisted it into a gag, wedging it in Keith’s mouth and using the arms to tie it behind his head. The makeshift gag did little to stifle the man’s moans, but at least it prevented him from speaking. God took a step back to look at his handiwork. Mattie stood next to the helpless man and stroked his head. His thick black hair felt soft, like the hair of one of their hogs, or maybe the hair on a horse’s flank. She liked how it felt against her palm.

“Get the other one out of the car,” God said.

The soldier motioned Pil to get out, and he did, with a fire in his eyes that enraged her. She hoped that God would have no need of this defiant thing and would order her to shoot him. But to her disappointment, God told her to use her second pair of handcuffs to secure the big man.

She did, cinching the cuffs tighter than they needed to be. She enjoyed hearing him wince as she clicked the cold steel into place.

Mattie stopped and lifted her face, scanning the road behind them.

“They’re almost here,” she said. “I can feel Billy. He’s like a foul smell.”

“Then lets get prepared, Princess. We’ll be in paradise before the sun rises here again. I promise.”

God walked south, toward a Mormon ward house just behind them, and then out of the back parking lot. Motioning with their guns, Mattie and the Dark Ghost marched their two prisoners after him into the desert, leaving the vehicles, the body of the escort truck driver, and all the dead guards behind. The guard post had nearly burned itself out, but the smoke was continuing to rise.

The tableau was brutal.

The lights of Carla’s squad car circled in the setting sun.

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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