June 25, 6:42 pm
In the Foothills Above Salt Lake City
I suppose I can’t sit here forever.
Once the passageway disappeared, and after what I had promised to Pil, I knew it was time to go. So I walked away from our home in the Avenues, forcing myself to keep my eyes ahead and not look back, lest it destroy my resolve.
That didn’t make it any easier, of course. My memories followed me.
South Temple brought back all the times Keith and I had walked that street together. Looking down 7th East, I thought of Liberty Park, and I remembered making love to him in the dark that night that we scattered the ashes of Kubrick, our little dog.
As I came through the university campus, I remembered that glorious summer I spent with Justin, and how the intoxication of that new love made both of us holy fools.
And now, for the past hour, I have been sitting here at Billy’s death site, and ruminating on the life I lived, and all that I’ve lost.
I hadn’t intended to come here, but something drew me. And on the way, I tried to face my new reality: I can no longer stay here, among the memories and places of my life. I can never return to our house. Or to Liberty Park, or even to the university. Perhaps I can’t even stay in Salt Lake City itself. This valley holds too many memories, and if I stay, I’ll become that worst of all ghosts that Billy warned me about. I’ll become the shade that exists only in my memories. They’re precious to me, but if my memories become all that I am, I’ll soon be nothing more than a trapped soul, fluttering over dusty and unread books.
If there is any meaning that I’m still destined to find in my life, it won’t be here, chewing over all that I’ve lost, and all that I wish could have been different.
There are deserts in the Hereafter, and mountains. There is plenty of room in which to lose myself. If I allow myself to dream, perhaps there is even the possibility that peace waits for me, somewhere out there.
On the hillside here there is a blooming prickly pear cactus. I have been touching it, feeling the strange concrete sensation of the petals, and the contrasting sharpness of the spines. It causes me a thrill of pain each time I touch it. The sting reminds me to stay in the present, and to look to the future, not the past.
As I traversed the city, I saw signs of healing and rebuilding, even though the city still seems largely empty. Many of the refugees have yet to return. Like Keith, I suspect many never will.
I promised Tuilla that I would save this city. And I promised myself that I would save Keith. I succeeded with them both—but not without a price. Keith will never be the same. Neither will Salt Lake City. Both will carry their scars forever. All of us will have to learn how to look to the future, and not be haunted by everything we lost.
The site of Billy’s death feels even more empty than the rest of the city. But there’s a warm wind stirring the dust at my feet. And the longer I sit here, the more the loneliness settles over my shoulders. It’s a comfort. It’s heavy, but not painful. Even the animals in the nearby zoo now seem at peace.
As I look back over the city one last time, the reality of everything I’ve gone through settles over me. I’m alone. The valley is silent. The fires have all been extinguished. The sound of the sirens has faded. And even though my loneliness aches in me, there is also a stillness, and even an anticipation of what must come next.
Richard walked up the hillside, as he had once watched Billy do.
As he ascended, he felt a great joy flow over him. Even the devastated city at his back felt beautiful and sacred. The overwhelming magnificence of it all brought tears to his eyes, and he remembered what he had once told Keith—that his last act would be to pull a handful of living clover with him into the grave. But the clover had deeper roots than he knew. And rather than pulling the clover with him into the grave, perhaps the clover was pulling him out.
He reached the edge of the Hereafter, and kept walking.
He remembered that Billy once told him there was no place for ghosts outside of this valley, and that to leave it would, Billy believed, mean passing over.
He walked up the hillside. But, to his surprise, he didn’t reset. He didn’t fade, and he didn’t shatter.
On the contrary, he felt more tranquility and calm than he had felt at any point in his life, or since his death. It was as if the losses and the regrets of his life were being left behind in the wounded city. His climb up the mountain was an angelic ascension. Surrounded by light, the sound of birds, the buzzing of insects, and the hum of the city in the valley below, he opened his arms wide and welcomed the new day, imagining that it would be just the first of millions to come—a life that would go on at least until the planet crumbled or the sun sputtered out. And who knew, maybe even beyond?
A strange faith overcame Richard Pratt in that moment, as he climbed higher and higher above the city. He still didn’t believe in God. But he discovered that he did now believe in the wisdom of the universe. And he did believe in destiny.
He looked back at the valley, now far below. The city was calm and beautiful, and from this great height, it was easy to imagine that it had never suffered this madness. It was easy to imagine it as eternal and ethereal.
So this is how I leave the city of the dead, Richard thought. Perhaps no one needs to forget my name, after all.
He was high in the Wasatch now, and looking east, he saw the endless mountains rolling away into the morning sun, like an invitation to eternity.
Behind him, the stone was gone from the stream, and no more souls would be caught upon it. But what happened here in 1851 must not be unique. For centuries humanity had reported the world to be haunted by ghosts and spirits beyond number. Was it all just imagination? Words like “ghost” and “medium” and “possession” had belonged to the world long before he was ever a part of it. And although he now understood those words to mean things far different than he had ever dreamed, perhaps there were similar pockets around the world where souls like his wandered in fear and confusion.
Perhaps that is my meaning, Richard thought. Perhaps it exists. Somewhere out there…
Facing east, he started walking.
Three dogs, still lingering in the foothills, felt Richard Pratt disappear over the crest of the Wasatch, and into the sunrise. When he was gone, they turned their sad faces to the wounded city below.
It was broken, but it was still theirs. And perhaps someone who loved them was waiting.
Without glancing back, they started for home.
— END OF BOOK THREE —
Congratulations! You have finished the third book of the trilogy, The Last Handful of Clover! Thank you for taking this journey with me!
If you’ve completed this book, please drop by my website and let me know. You’ll find it at http://wessmongojolley.com. There is a contact form there, at the bottom of every page, and I’d love to hear from you. At over 500,000 words, this has been a long and powerful journey we’ve taken together, and I’d love to get to know my fellow travelers!
From the bottom of my heart, thank you for getting to know Richard, Billy, Keith, Howard, Justin, Michelle, Pil, Tuilla Mattie, Carla, George Drouillard, and all the other characters in this epic story. They thank you, and I thank you. And I hope we’ll all meet again down the road. In this world, or whatever awaits us through that shimmering gateway.
Best wishes, stay in touch, and thanks again for supporting this story.
— Wess Mongo Jolley
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.