June 16, 9:03 pm
As the Stone in the Stream crumbled, the shock wave of the Wanderer’s demise rolled out, like a sonic boom across the Hereafter.
As the wave reached Salt Lake City, the carnage ended as suddenly as it had begun. Hundreds of Drouillard’s angels were ejected from their hosts, and sent sprawling into the streets and the living rooms and the parks of the city, only to shatter moments later as the resetting of their ghostly bodies took hold. What they left behind them were hundreds of their hosts, many in the middle of the acts of violence that had terrorized the city. They stood stunned, looking down at the faces of their victims, or those who had nearly become their victims.
Thousands of screams of anguish echoed throughout the city for those few minutes, as the dead were reset, making a sound over the city that was worse than any imagined in the darkest circles of hell. But the sound, though terrifying, was brief. In mere moments, every ghost in Salt Lake, both the innocent and the damned, were reset to the places of their deaths.
And what they found waiting for them was the Sixth Gift.
Like thousands of shimmering circles of light, the passageways of the dead hung in space, calling them home with an almost unbearable siren song. As soon as they were able, most of the dead rushed into them with gratitude; especially the innocent ghosts who had been helplessly watching the devastation of Salt Lake unfold, and had been driven nearly mad with their own despair. One by one, the ghosts walked or dove or fell into those shimmering crystal mirrors, and one by one, they disappeared.
The stars in the Hereafter began to wink out.
On top of the Wells Fargo Building, Morgan Jensen opened her eyes, shocked that the bullet she had been expecting had not taken her life. Instead, she saw the soldier with the assault weapon staggering and pitching back and forth, as if she was drunk, or hit with a sudden bout of vertigo. The woman came very near to pitching over the edge, but then she simply collapsed onto the roof.
Despite Morgan’s fear, she rushed to the woman, who was already regaining consciousness, and was looking around at her surroundings as if she had awoken from a dream. As Morgan held the trembling woman, she was moaning and saying things that made no sense to the reporter. But still she listened and tried to understand.
“Commander Deary,” the woman said. “Please… Put down the gun. Please sir, for God’s sake….”
In a dark theater in a suburb of Salt Lake City, a dozen people had found refuge from the madness. They cowered in the dark in twos and threes, huddled in the top row of seats, terrified of who might find them. Terrified of each other. Terrified of themselves.
Once Bradley Seward was able to stagger to his feet, he could see their faces illuminated in his gaze by the glowing and shimmering circle of golden light behind him. He stood in the fifth row, between the torn and partially burned screen at the front of the theater, and the cowering bodies in the upper rows. And all around him he saw the evidence of his carnage. Blood splattered the seats and pooled between the aisles, like spilled soda or melted chocolate.
As he looked into the circle of shimmering light, he remembered everything. He remembered his own little girls, and his wife. He remembered the feeling he had of losing control that fateful night, as Mattie ripped his body away. And he remembered the teenagers that had fallen under his knife, as his own soul had screamed in anguish from the bottom of a deep and dark well, unable to stop what was happening. He stared at the blood at his feet, wondering if it was really there, or only a figment of his imagination.
Perhaps it is only my guilty conscience, insisting that I face what I did.
Bradley felt sadness and regret and loss. But more than anything else, he felt peace. He had always been a man of great faith, and he knew that if he stepped through that golden halo, he would walk into the arms of God. Not a fake God that wanted to use him as an instrument of destruction, but of a loving God. A God of peace, and a God of compassion.
Will I ever be forgiven? he wondered
He didn’t have the answer to that question. But it didn’t matter. He had already found something more important than forgiveness or redemption. He had found his release. He saw it in his reflected, shimmering face, as he stared into the eternal depths of the passageway.
“I’m sorry,” Bradley said, to the people in the theater, who could neither accept nor reject his apology. And then he stepped into the circle of light, which closed behind him and disappeared.
What Morgan Jensen could not see, and what those terrified souls in the theater could not know, was that the madness was finally over. It wouldn’t be until the next morning that anyone in the city would truly allow themselves to believe that their nightmare had ended, as they emerged blinking from wherever they had hidden. And as the fear dissipated, the anguish would begin. And it would only grow as they searched for loved ones, and wailed over the bodies of the dead.
Richard Pratt stood in his empty living room, screaming at the top of his lungs. He smashed his fists over and over into the plush carpet, which still felt like concrete against his raw hands. He tried over and over to scream Keith’s name into the empty house, but no words of any kind would come. Not even the name of the man he had loved more than any other in his life. It was almost as if the gunshot Keith had taken to his belly had also stolen Richard’s voice, even his ability to use language. All that remained of Richard Pratt was his anguish, and his rage.
Shimmering in the air above him, hiding the red tree on the wall, was his way out—and he felt it beckoning to him. For long moments he struggled against his own body, which wanted to hurl itself into the light, on the vague hope that it might mean an end to his suffering.
The passageway called to him, and his limbs trembled, wanting to obey, but he was stopped by something far stronger. Something that Richard could not name or identify. Finally, in desperate anguish, he turned his back on the shimmering portal, and just wailed into the unforgiving carpet.
He was alone, and the red stains under his hands and knees would not reflect even the slightest echo of his cries. It absorbed his despair as if it was thirsty for his tears.
Through his pain, Richard could still see the Hereafter in his mind, the way that Tuilla had taught him to see it. It was still a yellow field full of red and turquoise stars. But slowly, the stars began to wink out, and the image of it distracted him from his own pain. The sight was mesmerizing. First it was just a few, and then the stars disappeared more rapidly, like a thousand Christmas lights burning out, one after another.
It is really happening, he thought. The Hereafter is dying. The ghosts are going home.
And go home they did.
Most, but not all.
As dawn broke atop the Wells Fargo Building, Susan Jarvis awoke in Morgan Jensen’s arms. Telling the reporter her story the night before had caused Susan to fall into a dreamless sleep that had been more like a coma. She had slept through the night. But with the dawn light, she awoke with a certainty that she still had work to do.
Without explaining herself to Morgan, Susan got up and walked over to where two black suitcases still sat on the edge of the rooftop. One hung open like the jaws of a great beast, lined with white teeth that each could kill thousands or tens of thousands of people.
Gently, she closed the lid, and then picked up both suitcases, and walked them away from the edge of the roof. She put them back in the helicopter and closed the door.
“Will you fly them back to Dugway?” Morgan asked, when Susan returned to her.
“I can’t. I don’t know how to fly. I’m just regular army.”
Morgan looked at her strangely. “But you were flying the helicopter when it landed.”
“Was I?” Susan asked. Some of what the soldier knew was too painful to share. And fortunately, the reporter could tell that this wasn’t the time for more questions. She was silent, as Susan sank back to the roof beside her. They both faced East, and the sun was just cresting the top of the Wasatch. The sky was clear and blue. A dozen seagulls soared over their heads, heading west. Susan noticed that Morgan’s hands were still quivering.
“Years ago, I almost got hit by a train,” Morgan said, speaking slowly. “It missed my car by inches. I had backed away from the tracks just in time.”
Susan said nothing, and she was unsure if the reporter even knew she was there.
“When I drove away, I had the same feeling then that I do now. The feeling that I was safe, but that death had never been closer to me at that moment, and that it probably never would be again.”
Susan turned to her. “Do you think it’s over?” she asked.
“I do. I think I knew the moment you didn’t shoot me. The moment you collapsed on the roof. Somehow, I just knew. It was like the whole city had been holding its breath for the last thirty-six hours, but at that moment, suddenly the city just… let it out. It felt like the entire valley just collapsed in exhaustion.”
“The train missed us,” Susan said.
“Yes,” Morgan agreed. “But not all of us. Not by a long shot.”
As the sun climbed over the Wasatch, Billy Travers stood in the foothills, wondering how long his passageway would remain open.
He wanted to go. He needed to go. But he was torn.
Richard, where are you, he wondered. Why don’t I believe that you’ve gone? Why can’t I step through myself until I know?
Billy did not have the sense of the Hereafter that Richard had. He could not watch the stars winking out all over the valley. He only sensed Mattie, and he could tell that she too had not yet passed through her portal.
The suffering in this valley is ending, he thought. But it won’t be complete. Not without some help.
He knew what he needed to do.
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.
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Copyright 2021, Wess Mongo Jolley. All rights reserved.