June 16, 8:56 pm
Richard would never know what forced him into the body of Sutton Deary.
Perhaps it was his own subconscious need, far too strong to resist. Or perhaps it was Drouillard himself—staring death in the face, and reaching out to grasp Richard’s soul like a lifeline. Or maybe it was Pil, now allowed to rise from the dark well, whose rage at Sutton pushed Richard out with equal fury. But however it had happened, Richard Pratt suddenly found himself transported—sucked out of Pil like a bubble through a straw.
Everything was silent. And time was suspended.
Richard was still in the desert, and still in this exact place. The landscape had not changed, but the time of day had. It was now bright sunlight, rather than early evening. The brush around the dry wash was much more lush, and there was a hint of spring in the air.
And horrifically, Richard found himself standing among a blood-stained and silent tableau.
The ground around him was covered with the dead bodies of a native tribe, and a posse of white settlers on horseback was standing around the edges of the wash, with their guns drawn, all still as sculptures. The wind whispered its secrets through the bodies of the living and the dead.
Standing next to Richard were two white men. One was a long-haired man with his gun drawn, and the other was shorter, heavier. But they, like everything else in the tableau, were frozen in time. The expressions on their faces were full of horror, their eyes gazing not on the dead bodies around them, but at the sky above, as if the very earth had just shaken them to their cores. Richard looked closely at the tall man. He had a face that Richard recognized from history.
Porter Rockwell, he thought. Brigham’s avenger.
He followed the barrel of the man’s rifle and saw that there, on the ground, a very old man lay dead. He had taken what looked like a shotgun blast to the chest and another bullet to the head. A dead baby, still swaddled in a blanket, lay beside him, and an old woman still cradled his broken body.
She too was dead, executed by two shots; one into her throat and a second into her brain.
“Tuilla,” Richard said, recognizing the old woman who he had first met at the funeral home, and who had given him the Fourth Gift. His gaze traveled to the old man with his hand crushed under the stone. “And that must make you George Drouillard.”
He became aware that the desperate silence of the scene was not complete. There was a sound of weeping, and it came from the far side of the rock. Someone was there that he could not see.
Cautiously, he walked past the dead old man and the dead old woman. He stepped over the body of the baby and looked behind the rock.
He expected to see Sutton Deary there. It was a name that he had not known seconds ago, but now that he was in the man’s mind, he knew it all. He knew more, even, than George Drouillard himself knew. The whole tableau of Drouillard’s life spanned before him; not only his life as a mountain man and explorer with the Lewis and Clark expeditions, but also his time as a trapper, how he had faked his own death, and his time with this tribe.
The Goshute, he whispered reverently.
And then there was the more recent history. How the ghost of George Drouillard had invaded and stolen the body of a young boy named Sutton Deary, and been trapped there when Sutton’s young soul had been thrown into the beyond.
Somehow, he almost expected to see Sutton Deary as a young boy behind the rock. Or even the old body of Sutton Deary, as it had appeared to him seconds before, holding a gun to his head. But what he saw, after all, was none of those. What he saw was George Drouillard—a carbon copy of the dead man with his arm trapped under the rock. He was dressed in the same bloody rags, and he had the same white hair. But unlike the dead man, his features were untouched.
This is the ghost of George Drouillard. The Wanderer. The beast I’ve been seeking.
And he was tiny. And weak. And broken. And he was weeping for the losses of nearly two centuries. The losses he remembered, and perhaps even more, for the losses he had forgotten.
Richard desperately wanted to hate him. He wanted to rage at him and destroy him, if such a thing were possible in this silent and frozen memory. But as he stared at this frail, quivering old man, it reminded him of a phrase that had come out of the holocaust.
This is the banality of evil, he thought.
Strangely, he could not locate any hate in him. The rage, which had been so all-consuming just an instant before, was gone. He could not scream and cry out against this broken man, because there was so little of him left. And what was left was so sadly banal. So tiny. So irrelevant. So lost.
Instead of venting his fury, Richard eased himself down until the two were sitting side by side, their backs against the cool stone. And as he sat silently, the old and tragic man wept, hunched forward and half turned away, all but oblivious to Richard’s presence. The rock behind him pulsed at his back, as if it was a living thing. A beating heart. It too seemed old and tired, and wanting nothing more than the peace of eternity.
Finally, Richard spoke.
“Drouillard, it’s time for you to go,” he said.
Slowly, the old man ceased his weeping, and Richard felt his shoulder lean back against his own. It was bony and frail and trembling. He wanted to reach out and take the old man’s hand, and he was sure it would feel exactly like his mother’s hand on the day that she had died. Like his mother, George Drouillard was experiencing that ultimate moment of fear, and the dread anticipation of release.
“My name…” the old man said, slowly, “was George…”
“Yes,” Richard said. “It was George. George Drouillard.”
“Drouillard?” the old man asked, looking at him for the first time. “Yes. George Drouillard. I remember George Drouillard. That was… me.”
“What else do you remember?”
“I remember… an old woman. She was lovely once. When we met. We had children. Her children. I loved them. And… I loved her. But she died.” He looked up at the sky. “She died here…”
“Her name was Tuilla.”
“Tuilla… was my friend,” Richard said, suddenly feeling the loss of the old woman acutely. He suspected that he would never see her again. She was one more of the people he had loved in his life, who could never be more than a memory now.
“I remember Tuilla. I loved her. She was my wife.”
“And this is where I died, too. It’s where we all died. It was in… 1851. That was so long ago. Why had I forgotten?”
“Your revenge was more important to you, I think. More important than everything. You made yourself forget.”
“But I loved her. Why would I forget?”
“We all fail those we love…” Richard said. Then added, inexplicably, “…my friend.”
The old man leaned toward him. “Are you my friend?”
“No, George. I guess I’m not.”
“You’ve come to kill me?”
“I’ve come… To help you on your way.”
“I tried to save the man I loved. I tried, but I think it’s too late. You’ve killed so many.”
“I’ve been so lonely, Richard Pratt…”
“I know. I have too.”
Richard felt something swelling in his heart, and finally the words burst out in a long and steady stream. They were not words of anger, but words of peace and acceptance. Words that he did not know he had inside of him.
“In my life I have had…” Richard paused, his eyes clouding and his throat full, “…such love. I’ve had joy and adventure, and quiet nights amazed at the beauty of the stars and the warmth of a lover’s hand in mine. I’ve had mornings full of tears and terror at what the day would bring. I’ve felt both the hope that everything would go on forever, and the dread of knowing that it can’t. I’ve looked into the eyes of the men that I’ve loved and I’ve seen the universe unfolding in front of me like a glorious flower. And I’ve spent days feeling so alone that I thought I’d just crumble away into dust. Days where that was all I longed for.
“And now, having lost it all, I know I wouldn’t give up a second of it. I told Keith once that if I had to go, I planned to grab one last handful of clover and drag it with me into the grave, because life is so precious, so great a treasure, that even the smallest token of it needs to be held close. You need to cling to life. Until that very, very last second…”
Richard felt all the guilt and loss drain from him, and as his muscles unclenched, his hands opened, palms to the sky. The mortal wound within him eased for an instant, and the two men leaning against the rock were engulfed by a shared stillness. They were like two pythons who had devoured each other from the tails. They had reached the point of ultimate stress and ultimate stillness. Neither of them had anything more to lose. Not even their hope.
“Drouillard, life is about loss. People are both the most miraculous, beautiful thing about the universe, and also the most evil and horrible. What happened to you and your people is tragic beyond my ability to understand. What you have done is even more tragic and inexplicable. But there is a point where we all must just step back, and bear witness to the pain. And in doing that, maybe we can see that it is all just… part of the dance. And maybe we can see that without the horrors and the pain and the loss, the joy and the love and the ecstasy of life would mean far less. Without them, maybe nothing would mean anything at all.”
“I don’t understand,” the old man said, looking at him now with eyes that radiated such loneliness and confusion that they pulled at Richard’s heart.
“That’s okay,” Richard said, taking the man’s hand. “You don’t have to understand. I don’t either. Not now, at any rate. Someday we will. Maybe. I hope that someday, we’ll all be able to see the world with… better eyes.”
Richard Pratt reached out and touched George Drouillard’s withered cheek. “But it’s time. You have to go. I hope you find your Ocean of God, if it exists.”
Richard kissed the old man’s forehead, and then stood up and turned away from George Drouillard without another word. He crossed back to the far side of the rock, where he had been standing when this vision began. And in the desert’s silence, he heard the old man moan with a sound that incorporated both hope and despair.
“Everything!” the old man was saying. “I remember everything! And, oh God, it’s… beautiful!”
Richard closed his eyes, and imagined himself flying free of this place. Flying beyond all this agony and all this death. Flying into his own oblivion…
And then he was gone.
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.