Bert felt jealous, cheated on, and blue. Then he discovered he could morph into a giant nightmarish slug...
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On Wednesdays and Sundays I’m blogging nibble-sized chunks of new ‘Life in the Clouds’ novellas. You can check in regularly and read them bit for bit, or leave a message in my 'contact' page, and I'll send the entire digital story to you for free when published.
Life in the Clouds #6: Take a Slug ® James Field.
If you ever visit The Stables, in London’s suburbs, you’ll find it’s like stepping back in time one hundred years. Horse-drawn carts, dirt track lanes, thatched roofs, black-beamed houses. The Stables is a quaint village for the rich, a club for snobs, a den where cash rules. This is where Olive lives and works: a low-paid bookkeeper.
She sat at her dressing table, studying her image, and sighted a curvy, somewhat podgy, blonde woman at the moment, past her heyday, wearing a fluffy pink pullover. Her hands were compact and nimble, with blood-red fingernails. The rest of her make-up was as brightly coloured as her bedroom, which, with its frilled curtains and deep luxurious bed, was the best room in her house at number two, Flintstone Terrace.
“I look like a vintage film star,” she said, and stuck her tongue out at herself. Large, glistening tears expanded in the corner of each eye, then dribbled down her cheeks, ruining her make-up. “But you’re a penniless slob.”
From her purse she extracted a bright-gold credit card, opened a small drawer in her dressing table, and tossed the useless piece of plastic onto a pile of other cards, all drawn to their limit.
“What am I going to do now?” she asked her reflection.
When no answer came, she plonked down the narrow stairs and slumped into a chair at her kitchen table.
“What’s the matter with you?” said her fiancé, Bert, looking up from his Hulk comic. “Looks like you're ready to drown yourself. Fancy a cup of tea?” He swung his massive bulk in his chair, reached across to a worktop behind his back, and flicked the kettle on.
“You better go home,” said Olive. “I’m not in the mood for making dinner.” Bert lived next door, at number one, Flintstone Terrace, so he didn’t have far to go.
“Oh,” said Bert. “Ain’t you going to tell me what’s wrong?”
Despite his gross appearance, Bert was a good listener: affectionate and always ready with a shoulder to cry on. The advice he gave, however, was constantly pathetic. “I was in town, buying some perfume, and when my credit card wouldn’t pay, the stuck-up attendant snatched the bottle out of my hand. People laughed at me. I’ve never felt so embarrassed.”
“Perhaps you should’ve bought something cheaper. Some of those roll-on deodorants smell nice.”
“It didn’t help when I told the snotty-nosed bitch to stick the bottle up her arse. She called security, and they threw me out onto the street. Just think, someone might have recognised me.”
“Can’t say I haven’t warned you, Olive.”
“Warned me. About what?” She often swore; so what? Anyone who resided in a village crammed with rich snobs and went around like a pauper would swear.
“Just don’t you go back to your old tricks again. That’s all.” Bert drew a ten-pound note from his wallet and thrust it across the table. “Here, buy some of that Cola flavoured lipstick we both like.” He winked at her, his eyes bright and glossy.
“I told you. I’m not in the mood. Go home!” She rose to her feet and opened the kitchen door. Outside, dusk had fallen, and a cold, damp breeze made her shiver.
Bert broke eye contact and let his head fall forward. “Alright.” He ducked as he squeezed through the door. “Love you, Olive.”
“I know you do. Now be off with you.” She watched as he slouched along the back lane and disappeared inside his house.
A muffled silence followed, broken by the soft sound of leaves rustling in the breeze. The mist twined itself around trees and lamp posts, and drops of dew glistened on telegraph wires like a string of pearls in the light.
Pearls. Olive wrapped her arm around her waist and took slow steps towards number three, the residence on the other side of her house. Number three terrified her because people had died in there and all sorts of weirdoes had hired it. Midget aliens were the last to live there. That’s what Bert called them, anyhow.
Now, the house was vacant, and Olive thought she might find something of value, like a pearl. A pickpocket hired it once and left in a hurry, maybe leaving a trinket or two somewhere.
A simple latch held the back door closed. The house’s layout was exactly like Bert’s and hers. Kitchen, dining room and lounge all in a row, and three bedrooms upstairs. No bathroom, and an outside toilet in the yard.
Olive found herself in the main bedroom. There was just enough daylight to see. Unlike her bedroom, this was a dump, with tea-brown wallpaper curling at the edges and chipped-wooden furniture fit for a junk shop. A single bare light bulb hung from the ceiling’s centre, covered in a haze of cobwebs.
A picture caught her eye, hanging above the metal-framed bed. She lifted it down and carried it to the window. Two elegant women posed, dressed identically in Victorian fashion: wealthy twins.
She sat at the dressing table and gazed into the looking glass. A jagged crack ran from top left to bottom right, splitting her image in two.
What had Bert said? Not to go back to her old tricks again. Did he think she would find a rich lover to solve her financial crisis? Bert was insanely jealous, perhaps with reason, but the cracked mirror had triggered a much better plan in her cunning mind. The picture of the twins and the stark vacant house could take their share of the credit too.
A burst of giggles stirred in her tummy and mingled with a flush of excitement in her cheeks. Her scheme would take nerve and skill, but her future looked golden. Never again would poverty embarrass or shame her. She couldn’t fail.
To be continued…
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The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
There’s a lot to like and a lot to dislike in this story. I like that it’s cosy, funny, and heart-warming. The plot, however, is a tragedy. There are two murders, and every character in the book, of which there are many, has a motif. With so many twists, turns, and red herrings throughout the narrative, it lost me in a virtual maze.
But the author commits the gravest crime: he introduces a new, guilty character right at the end of the story. Tut, tut, naughty.
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