The Last Handful of Clover

Chapter 3.54: Sunset

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, 8:55 pm

In just minutes, the sun would be gone.

Morgan Jensen had been hiding with Rhonda Ferguson under the metal walkway between the two helicopter pads for over thirty minutes. They crawled under there, at Rhonda’s insistence, the second they saw the helicopter approaching. And now they were just waiting—peering out through the metal grating at the two figures standing on the edge of the roof. Morgan had to squint to see them clearly, since they were outlined in the glare of the setting sun, and appeared no clearer than silhouettes.

One appeared to be a female soldier in fatigues. The other was taller and dressed in a white coat. Perhaps a scientist of some kind? Even from here, though, Rhonda could see that the man’s jacket was splattered and stained with blood. And from what she had glimpsed of the man’s face as he left the helicopter, she thought it was mostly his own.

“It’s the government,” Rhonda was whispering. “They’ve decided to wipe us out. I know it.”

“We don’t know that, Rhonda!” Morgan whispered back. “Maybe they’re here to help.”

“How? Morgan, only one of those two is a soldier. The other looks like a scientist or a doctor. Why would you send a soldier and just one doctor? Especially one that looks like he’s been through a meat grinder?”

“I have no idea, but…”

“You’ve seen those two black suitcases! Those aren’t first aid kits, for Christ’s sake! I covered the destruction of the chemical weapons at Tooele, years ago. Those are the same symbols on those cases that I saw on canisters of anthrax and mustard gas. I tell you, Morgan, I think that helicopter came from Dugway. What if they’ve decided we’re all infected? What if they want us all dead? We were talking about that in the newsroom a few hours ago. Larry said he thought they would wipe us out, if they thought that was the only way to stop something deadly getting out!”

Morgan’s mind reeled. Could Rhonda be right? The older woman had been growing ever more paranoid since they started hearing those rumors from the CDC that afternoon. Morgan herself found it hard to believe that the government would actually send a helicopter to disperse chemical agents over the city, but it was clear that Rhonda thought it was totally possible.

“Why, in the name of God, would they want to kill us rather than help us?” Morgan whispered. “And if they are doing some kind of operation, why just one helicopter? And why would that guy in the white coat be covered in blood?”

“I don’t know, Morgan. Maybe Dugway’s gone now too. Maybe this is a last-ditch effort of the government to save their own asses. All I know is that I don’t trust them. And that I’m not going to go quietly.”

“What are you going to do?” Morgan asked, crouching lower behind the steel grating.

“I don’t know. But they’re just standing there. They haven’t looked back this way since they landed. It’s been close to ten minutes. They’re just staring into the sun. Maybe they have earpieces. Maybe they’re waiting for orders.”

“Rhonda, you’re getting paranoid,” Morgan said.

“Maybe. But if they’re not here to do something horrible, what is there to be afraid of? We should be able to walk right up to them and say hello. But you haven’t tried to do that. You’re as terrified of them as I am.”

Rhonda was right there. “Well, maybe they are here to kill everyone. And maybe we should let them.” Morgan couldn’t believe she had said that, even when the words were out of her mouth.

“What the fuck are you saying, Morgan?”

“Just that maybe they know things we don’t. If they’re here to wipe us out, then it must be the last resort. There must be a good reason. Rhonda, what if we stop them, and then everybody dies? The whole country. Hell, the whole planet!”

Rhonda just stared at her like she didn’t even know her friend. “Fuck you, Morgan. I’m not going to die in this city. I’m going to get those cases.”

“If they’re really here for what you think, they’ll shoot you rather than let you get near those cases.”

“Then we’ll be dead. But then you’ll know I was right.”

Morgan didn’t want to comment on the absurdity of that remark. Or that Rhonda was suddenly speaking about both of them being dead, rather than her alone.

“You want me to help you, I take it.”

“We’ll have a better chance,” Rhonda said, grabbing her hand. Morgan couldn’t remember the producer ever touching her, in all the years they had worked together. She couldn’t take her eyes off the woman’s hand.

“Okay,” she sighed. “So how do we do this?”

Five minutes later, Rhonda had worked her way under the raised walkway, darted off to the side of the landing platform, and was creeping around the back of the army helicopter. The plan was for Morgan to stand up and shout something to distract the soldier and the scientist. With any luck, they’d go after her, and leave the two suitcases unattended. Then Rhonda could dart out from behind the helicopter to grab them. They hadn’t come up with a convincing scenario of what happened after that, probably because the chance that the plan would even get that far seemed completely impossible. The best Rhonda had come up with was throwing the cases off the side of the building into the trees below, or dropping them down the air shaft behind the building. They just had to hope the cases were padded well enough that nothing would break.

Crouching behind the blunt nose of the helicopter, Rhonda gave Morgan a thumbs up. That was the signal. She was ready.

After taking a deep breath to steady her nerves, Morgan emerged from under the metal walkway and stood up. The two figures on the edge of the rooftop did not turn or seem to notice her at all.

“Hey! You guys! Help us! We need help! Over here!” Morgan shouted, jumping up and down and waving her arms.

The two figures turned slowly and stared at her. But neither moved. And for the first time Morgan saw clearly how mangled and bloody the face of the scientist was. It looked like someone had wailed on it with a crowbar.

The good news was that their backs were mostly to Rhonda as they stared. The bad news was, neither was inclined to move in the slightest away from the black cases.

“Please!” Morgan shouted. “Please help us! There are a dozen of us! We’re trapped on the next floor down! This way! This way!”

Morgan’s heart sank as she realized that the two were not moving toward her, and their expressions had not changed. But on the bright side, she thought, they’re also not shooting at me.

Instead of going after her, the man in the white coat bent down and opened one of the cases. Morgan could see what looked like cannisters of some kind, or perhaps rows of grenades. They were strange and egg-shaped, but from this distance, she couldn’t see much else. Still, her blood went cold as the scientist ran his fingers over them. Rhonda was also watching this unfold, and Morgan knew that her producer had been right. The contents of that suitcase screamed death and destruction.

And then Rhonda was moving.

Morgan had no idea why. There was no chance she’d get the two cases away from the pair if they didn’t move away from them. And so far, they didn’t seem willing to budge. In fact, they were about to do what they had come to do, despite the shouting woman across the rooftop.

With a chill that almost brought her to her knees, Morgan suddenly knew, with as much certainty as she had ever known anything, that Rhonda had been right. She was looking at death. Not just for her. But for everyone in the city who had survived this horrible ordeal.

“Hurry! Please,” Morgan screamed, the desperation in her voice real now. The man in the white coat looked up at her, and then, inexplicably, he looked out at the last rays of the setting sun, which would disappear over the distant mountains any second. She had been staring at the scientist so intently that she didn’t even notice that the soldier was raising her weapon. It was a large assault rifle, and when Morgan saw it, she froze.

Oh god, she thought, willing her legs to run, but too terrified to actually move.

What she saw instead was Rhonda.

The woman had broken into a sprint, and was running—not toward the cases, but toward the tall man in the white coat. She was only a couple feet behind him when she screamed, and the man, surprised to see her suddenly there, took his hand off the egg-shaped cannisters in the case, and turned his head.

Rhonda was not a big woman, but she was moving at top speed, and when she barreled into the scientist, it was enough to catch him off guard. It happened so fast that Morgan barely registered it. Rhonda hit the man hard in the chest, with both arms outstretched, in a shove that was meant to knock the man over the edge of the roof and into the void. What Rhonda clearly hadn’t counted on was how fast the tall scientist could move. He wasn’t fast enough to avoid her impact, but he was fast enough to deflect her, and to grasp her wrist at the last moment. So where he should have been catapulted into space while Rhonda stayed behind, instead he jerked against her arm, trying to save himself. For a brief instant, Morgan thought the two would collapse onto the roof’s edge, but not go over. But then the scientist took an involuntary step back. It was just an inch too far, but that inch was enough.

In an instant, he toppled over the edge of the roof.

“Rhonda!” Morgan screamed.

The man in the white coat didn’t make a sound. But Rhonda did, as she was pulled after him. It was a strange, guttural cry that could have been a curse or a plea. Morgan stared in terror, listening as the sound cut through the evening air, receding quickly as they disappeared.

The woman in the fatigues had lowered her rifle and turned to watch the falling scientist without a sound. Almost with no discernible emotion at all. Then she spun and looked at Morgan. And what Morgan saw there was a strange emptiness. Almost a lack of will of any kind. As if she were looking into the eyes of a robot or a zombie.

The two women stared into each other’s eyes for what felt like minutes, but was probably only an instant. And then the soldier was lifting her weapon to her shoulder once again.

Morgan wanted to turn and run, but her legs still refused to cooperate. She knew it would be useless. There really wasn’t anywhere she could go. All she could do was stare at the woman on the edge of the rooftop, standing over the two black suitcases. All she could do was raise her hands in a useless pleading gesture, and wait for the bullet that would end her life.

All she could do was watch the sun, as it finally winked out behind the Oquirrh Mountains.

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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