June 15, 1:22 am
They went somewhere familiar.
As soon as Tuilla said that it was necessary to have a quiet and peaceful place where he could begin his training in the Fourth Gift, Richard knew exactly where they needed to go. And fortunately, it was less than a hundred yards from where they stood.
Together, the pair left the courtyard and passed the reflecting pool, heading toward Temple Square. But rather than turning right or left at the iron fence that separated the plaza from the Temple Grounds, they just walked forward and through the bars. The temple itself was not their goal. They skirted the marble edifice on the left, along the face that had been the backdrop for untold thousands of wedding pictures, and passed through another wall.
The complex of buildings that made up Temple Square in Salt Lake City was actually two separate compounds. The Temple itself was located on the west side of the enclosed block, behind the high outside walls. But there was also a wall that cut the block in half, separating the sacred, private grounds of the temple from the more secular, and more public, half of Temple Square. Tuilla and Richard passed through that inner wall, and in front of them was the building they were looking for.
Completed in 1875, the Tabernacle was even older than the Temple, and an architectural and acoustic wonder in its own right. Richard’s mom loved the famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and had dragged him to performances here for more than a decade.
The building was closed and silent now. Quite unlike a typical summer afternoon, when there would be a steady stream of tourists passing through, whispering amongst themselves, and waiting their turn to see a demonstration of the building’s acoustics. Richard had seen that demonstration a half dozen times, where a tour guide at the far end of the building would literally drop a pin into a plastic dish, and the click of it could be heard echoing through the vast chamber.
Richard and Tuilla passed through the heavy doors of the Tabernacle and made their way along the wooden pews to the stage, situated at the foot of the choir risers. The huge pipes of the famous organ towered above them like a thick stand of aspen, as the two of them sat on the carpeted steps. The vaulted white ceiling of the tabernacle, once smooth and unblemished, was now adorned with racks of theatrical lighting used for the television broadcasts that were made every Sunday morning. “Music and the Spoken Word” had been broadcasting since 1929, and had been a staple of his youth.
Despite the warmth of summer, the Tabernacle always seemed cool, and on a night as dreary and wet as this one, the emergency lighting gave the whole place a close, comforting atmosphere. It always amazed Richard how quiet this space could be, and he felt the majesty of the building lulling him into a complacency that he could ill afford. Looking up at the imposing pipe organ, Richard felt the silence bearing him down.
“This is the perfect place,” Tuilla said, startling him out of his reverie. “Let’s take advantage of the time we have.”
Richard shivered and brought his attention back to the old woman. “Okay, what do we do now?”
Tuilla didn’t answer, or perhaps Richard just didn’t hear whatever it was she had to say. For at that moment, he felt a sudden pressure drop in his head. It was like the feeling you get when you descend rapidly in an elevator, but your ears refuse to pop. He tried to shake his head to regain his composure, but suddenly everything seemed strangely surreal and disorienting…
He knew what that feeling meant. The Wanderer was knocking at his mind. He was nosing into his consciousness the way a snake would slide under a tent flap. The feeling made his hands clench into fists, and he gulped a sudden intake of breath.
“He’s here,” Richard said, the words swallowed by the immensity of the Tabernacle. “I feel him probing at my mind.”
Tuilla turned pale.
“What do I do?”
“Let him in,” Tuilla whispered hoarsely. “But be careful. Don’t tell him anything! Just learn what you can. Try to get a sense of where he is…”
Richard let out a deep breath and turned his eyes to the featureless white ceiling. He eased back on the riser on his elbows. Then closed his eyes, and opened his mind.
He had faced the Wanderer in the hot tub where he met Keith. And he had faced him in the bedroom of his own home. So Richard expected his arrival this time to conjure some other iconic stage set from his memories. But instead, Richard found himself standing in absolute darkness.
Like the Tabernacle, this vast and empty space absorbed sound as easily and completely as it swallowed light. But unlike the Tabernacle, the silence here was heavy, tense, and oppressive. The blackness was so complete that Richard felt himself swaying on his imaginary feet, trying to maintain his balance.
“Hello, Richard,” a voice in the darkness said. It was a soft and friendly voice, and yet deeply menacing. “How nice to see you again. It’s been far too long, don’t you think?”
It was the voice of George Drouillard, and yet… it also wasn’t. The mind behind the words seemed the same, but not this sound. This wasn’t the voice of a man. It was higher pitched, and had a strange, child-like lilt to it.
“I’m glad you’re back,” Richard said, trying to pitch his own voice with some vulnerability. “I’ve been afraid. I think… I mean, I’ve just felt so alone.”
The voice just laughed, circling him like a wolf just beyond the glow of his fire. Suddenly Richard was certain—this wasn’t the voice of George Drouillard.
This is the voice of the boy that the Wanderer invaded. This is the boy that lost his soul to this evil thing. Or, at least, Drouillard wants me to think so.
“Oh, that’s quaint, Richard,” the childish voice giggled. Did you think I’d buy that?”
“Well, it was worth a shot,” Richard said, actually feeling somewhat relieved that he could stop trying to play games with this thing. “Did you think speaking in the voice of the boy you… hijacked was something that I’d buy?”
There was a tiny chuckle from behind his right shoulder, and he tried to turn. But nobody was there in the darkness. “Oh, perhaps,” Drouillard whispered, “I know you better than you think. I know we’re both attracted to innocence. And vulnerability. We have that in common.”
“I don’t think so,” Richard snapped, a little too quickly.
“Oh, really? Wasn’t Justin just a boy? Wasn’t he an innocent? And Keith was barely older. Now be honest, didn’t you possess and despoil both of them because they were so innocent and vulnerable? Are we really so different, Richard Pratt?”
“We’re totally different, you sick fuck,” Richard spat, and swung a fist toward the source of the voice in the darkness. But his efforts did nothing but cause him to sway unsteadily on his feet.
“You see, my friend, I know you. For instance, I know you were there tonight, watching. I know you saw me in the plaza. What did you think of my show?”
Richard took a deep breath. He would need to stay calm. “It was rather disappointing, actually. There wasn’t much to it. Maybe you should have provided subtitles.”
The childish voice hissed in derision. “I could feel you there, watching. When you saw me, I know you thought about the long life I’ve lived. How I’ve been given a second chance. A whole new life to live. That must have made you hard, just to think about.” The voice had moved now, and was behind him. He turned in the absolute darkness, trying to keep track of the source of the thing’s words. Richard decided to change the subject.
“Yes. I was watching. But why couldn’t I hear you then, if I can hear you now?”
“Because, you strange man, the words of God are not for you. Only the blessed are privileged to know what is coming. You may think you’re special, but you’re not chosen. You’re just another one of the damned.”
Richard didn’t respond. Don’t let him draw you in. Just let him talk, he thought.After a moment of silence, the voice continued.
“Would you like to be part of the great work? I could teach you. There are marvelous things you don’t know. Things you can only dream of. Things that would save your soul. Think of it, Richard! If you like, you could start fresh. If I taught you the Fourth Gift, you could find a body, just as I did. You’d have a chance at a whole new life. A new, long life. How would you like that?”
“It doesn’t look like it’s turned out all that well for you.”
“Oh, on the contrary, it’s worked out very well. I’ve drunk a lot of good wine. I’ve fucked a lot of women. But more than that, I’m now God! I pick and chose who dies! I can kill, or spare, anyone that I’d like. For instance, the one that Justin calls your ‘piggy boy’… I have his life right here, in my hand, at this very instant…”
Richard felt his imaginary body tense, whirling around in the darkness, before getting control of himself.
No… Don’t let him get to you, he groaned in his mind. Don’t let him, don’t let him, don’t let him…
The thing was breathing in the dark. Richard could even picture the little boy now. He sounded about five years old, and the voice came from below, as if the boy stood no more than three feet tall. It sounded as if it was only inches from him, like he could reach out a hand and touch the boy’s head. But would it be the white hair of the old man who died a hundred and seventy-five years ago? Or would it be the close-cropped hair of the military man he had just seen in the plaza? Or would it even possibly be the tousled hair of some innocent young boy, still trapped with this monster in the rotting prison of his own mind?
Let’s see if we can throw him off his guard for a change, Richard thought.
“Did you know I wasn’t alone in the plaza, tonight?” Richard asked, pitching his voice as nonchalantly as he could. “Did you know there was someone with me? Someone you know very well?”
To Richard’s delight, the presence that had been encroaching closer and closer to him suddenly withdrew. It wasn’t in fear, but in confusion.
“Who were you with, Richard?” the voice asked, and in those few words, Richard knew he suddenly had the upper hand. Yes, I got you, you son of a bitch, he thought.
“Does the name Tuilla mean anything to you?” he asked.
The reaction was not what Richard expected. But he knew instantly that Tuilla was right—George Drouillard’s memories of his life before he became a ghost had to be almost non-existent. But somewhere, deep in the thing’s subconscious, he had struck a nerve. And the shock wave spreading out from that was everything he had hoped for.
“Who did you say?” the voice rasped—and it was no longer the voice of a little boy. Now it was once again the voice of the old man who had taunted him in the hot tub, and who had sat at the foot of Keith’s bed, running a craggy and withered hand up the smooth skin of his thigh.
“I said Tuilla. I’m sure you know her. She certainly knows you. She has always known you.”
“I know no… I don’t… I know no one of that name! You lie, Richard Pratt! You lie and you know nothing!”
You know nothing, George Drouillard, Richard thought.
“Tell me where you are,” Richard said. “I’ll bring Tuilla to meet you. She would love to see you, I’m sure.”
“Tuilla… I know no Tuilla. There is no… Tuilla!” the voice was now whirling around Richard as if Drouillard was running laps around him in the darkness. He felt tendrils of the thing brushing by him, his cheeks, his face, his back, his knees. Suddenly, he realized that he was naked in the darkness, and very vulnerable. He expected to feel sharp talons piercing his flesh at any second, as the voice continued to thunder. “Tuilla! Tuilla! Tuilla! I don’t know any Tuilla! There is no Tuilla! You lie, you lie, you lie! You lie and you die! You die you die you die!”
Richard felt his hold on his sanity slipping, as if the anger of the Wanderer was enough to break through his defenses and leave his brain as open to the man’s whims as his body felt in this darkness.
Don’t let him do it! his mind roared. He’s not as strong as he thinks he is! He’s trying to frighten me, so fuck him! Fuck him, fuck him, FUCK HIM!
With a roar, Richard shouted into the blackness. “Where is the little boy?! What did you do with the little boy?! You son of a bitch, where is the boy?!”
The scream that filled Richard’s ears made him clasp his hands to his temples, and he bent at the waist. If there would be a moment when the Wanderer would sink claws into his body and rip his mind from him, this would have to be it.
“THE BOY!” Richard screamed once again. “What did you do?! WHAT DID YOU DO?!”
“He died! You’ll die! Keith will die! You’ll all die!!! Every motherfucking one of you!!”
And then the voice was gone. The oppressive silence of the darkness remained, but Richard realized he could see a dim light through his closed eyes, and slowly he opened them.
Tuilla was staring at him with a thousand questions in her eyes.
“George says hi,” Richard said.
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.