June 17, 9:17 am
Billy arrived at Richard’s house a short while later. He had worried about rushing here as quickly as he had. But with the city so quiet, and not yet fully aware that it had finally awoken from its nightmare, he felt the risk was worth it.
Especially since he didn’t know how long his own passageway would remain open.
He and Richard had work to do, and once that work was done, he would be moving on. Unlike Richard, he trusted that what was on the other side of that shimmering pool would be the welcoming arms of his family, and of Frances, whom he had not seen for more than a century and a half. Not only was he willing to move on. He was eager.
“Richard?” Billy called out, after he eased through the closed door of the house in the Avenues.
There was no reply to his call, but already he could see the light shimmering in the hallway from Richard’s passageway. It hung against the wall of the living room like a strange magic mirror. He instinctively knew that it still hanging there meant that Richard had not yet stepped through.
“Richard, it’s Billy,” he called out again, and heard a rustling upstairs.
He found his friend sitting on the bed. Through the morning light that streamed through the curtains, he could see Richard on the far side of the bed with his back to the door, and he made no sign that he heard Billy when he entered. Richard’s left hand was on the nightstand, resting on a notebook that lay there. His fingers worked against the cover, as if he was in the futile act of trying to pick it up, over and over again.
Billy sat down next to him.
“Richard? Can you hear me?”
He didn’t turn, but Billy knew the man heard him. He had been afraid that Richard’s mind might have snapped because of the events in the desert, but there was a calmness and a resignation radiating from him. It wasn’t peace. But it could be acceptance.
“I’ve lost everything, Billy.” Richard said, slowly and evenly. “Keith is gone. There’s nothing left. I didn’t know this kind of emptiness was even possible.”
Billy sat silently for a few moments, trying to think what he could say to this man, who seemed so broken and so helpless.
“Your way out is downstairs,” he said, finally. “It’s time to go. For both of us.”
“I can’t, Billy,” Richard said, his chin dropping to his chest. “All I see when I stare into that thing is the pain and terror I remember from the Void. I think that’s all that waits for me through there.”
“It doesn’t have to be, Richard. We talked about this once, you and I. I believe that what’s beyond isn’t a void. It’s the vastness of God’s love. It’s the natural way things are supposed to unfold. It’s our destiny. Our human destiny.”
“For you, maybe,” Richard sighed. “But I don’t think there is anything on the other side… for me.”
Billy looked at the defeated ghost, but he was still staring at his lap, as if he was afraid to turn and meet the boy’s eyes.
“So what does that mean? You’ll just stay here?”
“Maybe. At least for a while. If I’m here, at least I can witness life, even if I can’t live it. Even with all this pain, it has to be better than nothingness.”
“I’m not sure that’s even possible, Richard…” Billy began. “What Drouillard did… the creation of the Hereafter… It wasn’t natural, and it wasn’t right. It has to end. It is going to end, once we’re all gone.” But Richard clearly wasn’t hearing him.
“I’ve been thinking about Keith,” Richard said, his voice wistful and quiet. “And about you and Mattie. She came back to you, three days after you saw her die. What if Keith does too? If he came back, he’d be all alone here.”
“Richard, Keith isn’t coming back. That’s all over. There will be no more ghosts in Salt Lake City. That ended with the Wanderer. We stopped the nightmare.”
“I know you’re probably right,” Richard said. “But I can’t go. Not yet. I have to go back to Dugway and wait for Keith. Even if there’s only the slightest hope. The slightest chance.”
Billy wanted to argue, but he imagined himself in Richard’s shoes. If someone had told him not to wait for Frances, if he thought she might return, could they have stopped him? Even if the possibility was the slightest he could imagine? Even if the chance was none at all?
Richard’s mind appeared to be wandering now.
“Billy, why did all the passageways open, anyway? Was it just killing Sutton Deary?”
“I don’t know,” Billy mused. “I’ve been thinking about that. I wonder if it was because he remembered who he used to be. When he saw Tuilla and recognized her, I saw the love wash over his face. All of his hate and anger was gone. I think that’s why the doorways opened.”
Richard just nodded. “I know this might sound odd to say, but I’m actually happy for him. For Drouillard, I mean. No matter what he did, every soul deserves to find peace.”
“But you still want to stay?”
Richard nodded. “I do.”
“But what if you miss your opportunity to cross over, because you’re waiting for Keith? What if your way out closes?”
Richard sighed deeply. “I hope it does. Billy, there’s nothing through that door for me. For better or worse, I’m a creature of this world. I once told Keith that when they buried me, I intended to reach up and pull one last handful of clover with me into the grave…” Richard paused, as if he was remembering something that touched his heart. “And on the night I died, Keith told me that me saying that was just philosophy. It was just one more quirky thing people would remember about me when I was gone. It would be a funny anecdote they would tell in maudlin moments, or when they wanted to remember.”
“I think Keith was very wise,” Billy said.
“He was. And I hope I’m wrong. I hope Keith has crossed over and has found peace. If he has, then he’ll have what he needs to be happy. But if he does come back here, he’s going to need me. The way Mattie needed you. So I’m staying. At least until I know.”
Silently, Billy rose to his feet and came around in front of Richard. He knelt down and put his hands on Richard’s knees. He waited for him to look up, and their eyes to meet.
“Richard, that’s still two-and-a-half days away. We have some time until you need to be in Dugway. It won’t take you any more than a half day to get there. So we have a little time, and I need your help.”
“Yes. The Hereafter is almost done. But there are those that will need our help to find their way. Will you help them? There is still some work we need to do. And I can’t do it without you.”
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.