If you like a good chuckle, dim-witted heroes, and larger-than-life villains, then you'll love this fascinating series. On Wednesdays and Sundays, I’m blogging nibble-sized chunks of new ‘Life in the Clouds’ stories. You can check in regularly and read them for free, or wait to buy the entire story when published.
#4: Evil Portent ® James Field.
Bert turned the page of his alien invasion magazine and could feel Olive’s impatient eyes burning a hole into the back of his neck. Knowing his fiancé as he did, she had some gossip she wanted to pass on.
“Why do you read that rubbish?” she said.
Bert swung around, causing the chair to creak under his weight. Olive stood with her hands resting on her generous hips, her left foot tapping. “This here,” said Bert, finger jabbing at his magazine, “is intellectual stuff, written by genuine professors about alien invasion and obstruction.
“Do you mean abduction, Bert?”
“Yeah, that’s what I said, up-suction. I’m reading it because you don’t like it when I read my Hulk comics or even Popeye. Popeye has a sweetheart called Olive, just like me and you, and when he eats spinach, his muscles grow so big that—”
“Stop it,” screeched Olive.
“Anyhow, these intellectual professors reckon aliens are roaming all over Earth.”
“And you believe them?”
“Yeah, of course I do, otherwise I wouldn’t be reading this rubbish, would I.”
Olive’s lavish make-up enhanced features broke into a smile. “Do I have your attention now?”
“Yeah,” Bert closed his magazine and sighed. “Fire away.”
“Have you seen the new neighbours at number three?”
Bert’s house was number one in Flintstone Terrace. Olive’s was the middle house at number two, which is where he now sat eating egg and bacon and studying the fantastic pictures in his magazine. Number three was at the terrace’s other end. “No. What about them?”
“They’re weird, spooky.”
“Maybe they’re aliens.”
“Maybe I should clout you around the head. Anyway, Florence told me she—”
Bert shut his ears off and let his eyes drift back to his magazine. The pictures of wiry aliens with egg-shaped heads fascinated him. If he ever met one, he wondered what he’d say. Probably something like, “Welcome, mate. Please don’t poop in the sink.”
A knock at the front door made both of them turn. “Come in,” called Bert, even though it was Olive’s house. “It ain’t locked.”
"Are your dogs in there?"
Bert recognised Chief Inspector Dobbs voice through the letterbox. Everyone was frightened of his two Alsatians, even though they'd never tear anybody's throat out unless he commanded them to. "No, me Chums are out back with me horse."
The door opened straight into the snug lounge. Three people stepped inside, each stopping to wipe their shoes on the Welcome mat: Vicar Bitter in his two-piece black suit and dog collar; Chief Inspector Dobbs in his yellow pullover and baggy trousers with turn-ups; and his wife, Florence, plump and younger-looking than her fifty-something years.
Their faces looked grave, and Bert wondered what he’d done wrong now. The last time they ganged up on him was to accuse him of being a pickpocket. In his youth, he had been, but not these days. These days he worked at the Cloud Estate as a security guard, and despite his brutal appearance, was mostly a model law-abiding citizen.
Olive lifted a pile of blankets and overstuffed cushions from the settee and dumped them on the floor. “Take a seat.”
Florence nodded a greeting, bustled past her into the adjoining dining room, and sat at the table next to Bert. He shifted his bulk to give her room. The others followed and settled on the table's opposite side.
“I’ll put the kettle on,” said Olive, and headed for the kitchen. “I can’t guess why you’ve come, but from the look of you, it must be something juicy. Don’t start until I get back.”
With a pot of tea on the table and a plate piled with Bert’s favourite cream eclairs in the centre, Olive dropped into the only remaining seat. “I’m ready. Bert, you can pour the tea.”
The cups and saucers looked like doll’s toys in his oversized mitts, but before he got as far as pouring the tea, Florence smacked the back of his hand and took over.
Chief Inspector Dobbs drummed his fingers and then spoke up. “Your new neighbours are causing concern in the local community. I think they are criminals. Dealers in drugs or child smuggling. Perhaps both.”
“My concerns are far worse than yours,” said Vicar Bitter, his layers of chins wobbling as he spoke. “I fear they worship Satan. Strange lights come from their windows all night long, and a teenager listened through their letterbox and claimed they were talking backwards.”
Olive gasped and covered her mouth with her hands. Bert kept his eyes on the eclairs; he’d already selected the biggest.
“You’re both being silly,” said Florence. She lifted the teapot’s lid and gave the brew a stir. “I’m the only one who’s spoken to them and they’re charming people. See here, the lady gave me a badge.” She pointed to a disc on her hand-knitted cardigan, about the size of a coin. It glistened like a cat’s eye, glittering with all the colours of the rainbow as she wiggled it. “I met them on the street late at night and the lady told me she was homeless. She had twelve children with her, none over four or five years old. I went straight to Mr Styles and got the keys for number three.”
“Did you go in with her?” asked Olive.
“No, I didn’t. But she was grateful.”
“What did she look like?”
“It was dark. Difficult to see. She was small, a dwarf I would say.”
In this post: Bert can't abide mobbing…
Chief Inspector Dobbs coughed behind a clenched fist and plucked the eclair Bert had his eye on. “You and Olive,” he said to Bert, “are their closest neighbour. You can do us all a favour, Bert, by keeping a watch on them. Go and visit, check them out, and report to me.”
“You want me to spy on her?” said Bert. He didn’t like the sound of that. If people wanted their privacy, that’s how it should be. What business was it of any other?
“Yes, as much for her own safety as anything else. Everybody in the hamlet has taken a disliking to her and her kids. Some of the older youths have thrown stones at her house, and adults are talking about setting fire to it.”
That changed matters for Bert. One goings-on he couldn’t stand was mobbing and bullying. If he caught anyone throwing stones at her house, he’d break their wrist. If anyone so much as lit a cigarette in front of her house, he’d ram the whole packet down their throat. “Why can’t you go?”
“The vicar and me went to her house before coming here, but she didn’t come to the door. I know she’s in there because she peeked at us from behind the curtain.”
“What about Florence? Seeing as she’s already spoken to them, why can’t she go?”
“Because,” said Florence, passing the cups of tea around and helping herself to the next biggest Eclair, “the silly man thinks it’s too dangerous.” She blew her husband a kiss.
A flush crept across Chief Inspector Dobbs cheeks, and he made a rush job of blowing the kiss back. “I’ll not have her exposed to unnecessary risks.”
“Okay,” said Bert. He couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. How could a midget woman and a bunch of kids put such a fright into people? “I’ll go first thing in the morning. You lot must have scared the poor woman half to death. But what makes you think she’ll open her door to me?”
“I know,” said Florence. She tore the glittering badge from her cardigan and passed it to Bert. “Take this and say I vouch for you.”
To be continued…
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