Poetry and Prose by Wess Mongo Jolley

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TLHOC Character Sketches

The novel contains more than fifty named characters, of which seventeen serve as point-of-view characters, creating a vivid, immersive world for the reader. Following is a list of all characters with at least one point-of-view scene.

The Dead:

Richard Pratt (57 at the time of his death, three days before the story begins): A professor of Linguistics at the University of Utah, the story begins with his murder: a single shot to the head, fired through his living room window.  The shot kills him instantly, and he dies in in his husband’s arms. Three days later, Richard escapes the place he only knows as “The Void,” and begins his adventure into the netherworld of the living and the dead known in the novel as “The Hereafter.”  Haunted by regret and guilt, we follow Richard as he attempts to right wrongs while he still can.

Billy Travers (15 at the time of his death in 1857): A young and idealistic boy when he and his family set off from their home in the Midwest for the gold fields of California, Billy Travers falls in love with Frances, the oldest daughter of the family he meets on the Oregon Trail.  But an accident on the plains of Wyoming crushes Billy’s ankle, and he dies of sepsis just as his family enters the Salt Lake Valley.  Like Richard a century and a half later, Billy is trapped in the Hereafter, and becomes a friend, confessor, and sage to Richard; much wiser than the innocent 15-year-old boy he was the year he died. 

Justin Kimball (18 at the time of his death, 22 years before the time of our story): Justin is a young student at the University of Utah who had an ill-fated affair with his professor, Richard Pratt.  Richard’s betrayal and Justin’s violent death have turned him into a ghost that is filled with rage and consumed with a need for revenge.

Justin has become one of the key disciples of The Wanderer, a dark and mythic figure who is bent on destruction of the Salt Lake Valley.  Justin’s destiny is complicated, not only by his fury and unresolved feelings for Richard Pratt, but also by a deep obsession with Howard Gunderson; the boy he possessed as a tool to kill his old professor.

Mattie Sowersby (8 at the time of her death in 1857): Mattie is the younger sister of Frances Sowersby, whom Billy fell in love with before his death.  A strange and shy girl, Mattie nurtured a crush on Billy during the brief time she knew him, before his accident.  But she doesn’t realize that Billy’s ghost is still watching over her and her family later that summer when a pair of rogue bandits from a passing wagon train murder her entire family.  She returns three days later, another prisoner of The Hereafter.  But the trauma of her murder, and the fact that she returns and finds herself trapped in the cabin with the rotting bodies of herself and her family, conspire to permanently destroy Mattie’s sanity.  By the time she is freed from the cabin she has become easy pickings for The Wanderer, who calls her “Princess” and makes her one of the prime instruments of his vengeance.

The Wanderer (78 at the time of his death in 1847): George Drouillard (aka “The Wanderer”), is based on an actual historical figure.  Drouillard was a guide for the Lewis and Clark expeditions, and a mountain man who, history tells us, died in 1810.  However, for this story, George Drouillard faked his death in the Montana wilderness that year, and wandered into the Great Basin, where he was adopted by a tribe of Goshutes.  There he met Tuilla, a widow with several children, who became his wife.  It is the Goshute that give Drouillard the name “The Wanderer,” and in the last decades of his life, he becomes a respected elder of the tribe. 

But in 1847, Drouillard, his family, and many elders and children of his tribe are killed by a marauding band of Mormons, led by Porter Rockwell.  This, too, is based on an actual incident in Utah history, in which a posse of Mormons took vengeance on the Goshutes for allegedly stealing their horses.  The massacre is so brutal, and Drouillard’s rage is so great, that his death causes a bubble to form between the world of the dead and the world of the living.  From within that bubble, which comes to be known as “The Hereafter,” Drouillard snags the souls of the dead that will help him take his vengeance upon the people who he blames for the death of his family and tribe. 

In 1969, The Wanderer possesses the body of a young boy named Sutton Deary, and by the time of our story, Deary has grown into a 62-year-old Corporal in the US Military, working as the head of security for the West Desert Test Facility.  He has forgotten much about his origins, but not his hatred for everyone and everything in the Salt Lake Valley.

Tuilla (82 at the time of her death in 1847): Tuilla is the Goshute wife of The Wanderer and is caught up with him as the Hereafter is created.  Tuilla is a wise, compassionate, and mysterious figure, who helps Richard and Billy as they struggle to save the Salt Lake Valley from the wrath of her deceased husband.  Early on she befriends Billy and later identifies Richard as The Disruptor: the ghost whose power can save the entire Salt Lake Valley from The Wanderer’s vengeance.

The Living:

Keith Woo (32):  Richard’s husband of ten years (and twenty-five years his junior), Keith is a quiet, shy, bookish man who is content to write poems in his journal and shelve books at the Marriot Library on the University of Utah Campus.  Physically, Keith is short and round, with a soft face and gentle manner.  After experiencing the murder of his lover in his arms, Keith struggles with depression and despair.  But there is also a quiet strength and a level of introspection and introversion that helps him navigate his grief.  His love and his faith in Richard are nearly enough to bridge the world of the living and the dead.

Michelle Kilani (33): Keith’s best friend since high school, Michelle has long been Keith’s self-appointed protector and confessor.  The two have always been inseparable, even when Michelle returned early from her LDS Mission to Hawaii, towing her new fiancé. 

Michelle has never really trusted Keith’s husband Richard, both because she sees him as arrogant and unapproachable, and because he was more than twice Keith’s age when the two men started dating.  She’s done her best to be supportive of Keith’s life choices, but sometimes struggles to keep her opinions about Richard to herself.

Pi’ilani (Pil) Kilani (38): Pil met Michelle in Hawaii, when he was working as a performer at the Polynesian Culture Center.  Pil is huge Maori man, weighing over 400 pounds, and is over six and a half feet tall. An intimidating presence, with his long, curly black hair, and his thick arms and chest completely covered with traditional Maori tattoos, his appearance belies the fact that he is among the gentlest of men.  He’s been a devoted husband to Michelle, and is best known for his love of cats, which seem to gravitate to him wherever he goes.  He’s exceptionally fond of Keith, to a degree that makes Michelle wonder if there might be feelings between the men that verge on the romantic.  He is not as mistrustful of Richard as his wife is, but recognizes that he, Michelle, and Keith make up a family that Richard was never really a part of.

Howard Gunderson (20): There is something mystical, and almost holy, about Howard Gunderson.  Howard is the boy who shot Richard Pratt, in an incident that he can’t remember.  One moment he is just a happy 20-year-old guy, still living at home with his parents, and then, after a night of joy riding with his friends, he wakes up on the lawn of a strange house, accused of murdering a man he has never met.  He is determined to discover what has really happened to him, but is unaware that he has a powerful adversary of his own.  One who wants to possess him, body and soul.  And one whose destiny is inextricably tied up with his own.

Carla Grayson (47):  Detective Carla Grayson is the officer assigned to investigate the murder of Richard Pratt.  During her investigation, she bonds with Howard Gunderson, the accused murderer.  Carla is a widow with no children, but a strong matronly instinct that is triggered by Howard’s air of confusion and vulnerability.  She makes it her goal to understand what happened to this strange boy, but she never dreams where that quest will take her.

Bradley Seward (40):  Bradley is a pilot working out of Dugway and the West Desert Test Center.  He brings his wife and two young girls into town for a weekend, which starts with a movie at a local multiplex.  Like Howard Gunderson, Bradley is possessed, and over the course of a few brief minutes he massacres a dozen teenagers in the dark theater.  Like Howard, he doesn’t know what happened, but unlike Howard, Bradley takes his own life once he realizes what he has done. Unfortunately, the escape is brief, as The Wanderer calls him back to the Hereafter.

Morgan Jensen (38):  Morgan is a hard-hitting and driven local reporter with a Salt Lake City television station.  She and her cameraman are witness to the slow unraveling of life in Salt Lake City, as the Wanderer enacts his vengeance.  Her fate comes to a head on the roof of the Wells Fargo Building, where her actions might spell life or death for hundreds of thousands.

Susan Jarvis (36):  Sutton Deary’s secretary in his office in the West Desert Test Center, Susan has no idea that her boss is not who he appears to be, and that he has devised a role for her in the destruction of the Salt Lake Valley.

Gerry Anderson (46):  After the city is put under quarantine, Corporal Gerry Anderson oversees a roadblock on Interstate-80, just outside of Salt Lake.  His job is to ensure that nobody leaves the Salt Lake Valley.  But he does not know that he and his unit stand between The Wanderer and his quarry. 

Gus Humphreys (55 in 1857):  Gus Humphreys is the trail boss for the cowhands of the Fancher Train, which is passing through Utah in 1857.  Against his better judgement, Gus provides refuge for a disaffected Mormon “backout,” looking to escape the Salt Lake Valley.  This leads to tragic results.  Although Gus plays a small part in this story, he is the protagonist of a planned sequel.

Jacob Stauffer (28 in 1857): Known as “The Backout,” Jacob Stauffer is a disaffected Mormon whose wife has been stolen from him by a high-ranking Mormon official.  He goes into hiding to escape the Danites, Brigham Young’s secret enforcers, who are known to murder “backout” Mormons who attempt to leave the Church. 

Stauffer gets caught up in the murder of the Sowersby family along with another cowhand, who goes by the name of “The Dutchman.”  It is Dutch who leads Stauffer into his participation in a monstrous crime. 

Both of these characters play a larger role in a planned sequel.

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