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 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.
Life in the Clouds #4: Evil Portent ® James Field.
Previously from posts 24 - 27…
When at last he reached the chapel, he was so exhausted he could hardly stand. The villagers were in no better shape; some had lost hats, some had lost shoes. One man’s braces had snapped and his trousers hung around his knees.
It was midafternoon, and all were so weary they huddled on the chapel’s stone-cold floor and dozed. Couples and children clung to one another for warmth. The others clutched themselves and shivered.
The chapel was dome-shaped, built from chalky white stone. Big by comparison to the villager’s homes, Bert could stand erect under its roof and didn’t need to duck while passing through the arched doorways. Doors and windows were mere holes in the stonework, offering no protection from the chilly breeze.
Bert strutted in, and the alien father rushed to greet him, a smile beaming on his face.
“You’re still alive,” said the alien father, rubbing sleep from his eyes.
“Yeah,” said Bert. “What did you expect? You left the village deserted and there ain’t no sign of the Guardians.”
“But we witnessed them in the hills,” said the alien father in self-defence. “They threw a grenade at us. The whole building shook.”
“Mini earthquake, and the ruckus on the hill was a local thunderstorm. That’s what you so-called men scampered from. I’m disappointed in you.”
The alien father sunk his head. “You are right. We have behaved like scared children.” But he pulled himself together and demanded attention from his kinfolk. “All back to our daily lives. It was merely a thunderstorm we ran from, not a raid of Guardians.”
The Elder squeezed to the front of the crowd and faced the alien father. There was no sign of aggression in his posture, but his tone rippled with authority. “How do you know?”
“Because I said so.” Bert towered above the Elder and he jabbed a podgy finger at his face.
The Elder backed off two paces. The villagers stirred anxiously.
“I waited until the storm blew away,” said Bert. “Nobody or nothing came to your village. Go to your homes and stop acting like a load of stupid sheep.”
Some villagers groaned, others laughed, but when they heard what Bert had to say they understood they’d acted rashly. With jokes and commotion, the crowd strolled back to their valley.
“Don’t judge us so harshly,” said the alien mother as she passed Bert. Children clutched at her skirt and her gaze darted anxiously between them. “The Guardian’s threat is real. They snatch children from the entire planet and we have many in our village of a ripe age. One day soon they will come, and we can’t stop them.” Tears welled in her eyes.
“I’m sorry.” Bert stared at the floor, hands hanging by his side. Women's tears always brought him to his knees. “It’s just that I’m hungry and I want to go home.” He sniffed. “I’m ashamed of meself for going on at you poor people. Of course those Guardians terrify you.” His muscles tightened and he spread his stance. "Don't you fear none. You aren't alone. As long as I'm here, ain't nobody going to harm the kids."
“At least,” said the Elder, “we have tested our evacuation strategy.”
A short while after Bert and the alien father had returned home and made themselves comfortable, a frantic banging pounded at their door. The Elder burst in, gasping for breath. “The Doodad is missing. Somebody stole it.”
Bert whistled and gazed into the ceiling.
The alien father blinked at him. “Thou shalt not steal. Where is it?”
“How should I know?” Bert shrugged.
“Because you were alone here.”
“Not all the time I wasn’t. I came up to the chapel with you lot.”
A look of understanding crossed the Elder’s face. “The Guardians have been here.” His face grew grim. “They’ve found the Doodad and taken all hope of our escape with it.” He nodded, sighed, and an air of sorrow replaced his other expressions. He almost patted Bert’s arm. “I’m sorry, but it means they will invade your world of Bertlings and Vegans. I should’ve hidden the it better.”
“Yeah,” said Bert, “leaving it next to your chair like that was—.” He clamped his mouth shut, but the Elder didn’t react. Instead, he finally combated his terror of Bert, reached up, slapped his arm in commiseration, and went away.
With the Elder gone, the alien father challenged Bert. “If you damaged it, you’ve taken all hope from us.”
“Weren’t me what took it.” There was no conviction in Bert’s meek voice, and he hung his head, knowing they wouldn’t believe him. “I want to go home. Why should I break it?”
“I’m not saying you ruined it on purpose, but it’s fragile.”
“Oh!” said Bert, recalling how clumsily he handled it. If he’d busted it, he'd never tunnel home.
But he was an optimistic sort of bloke and reckoned he hadn’t broken the Doodad. The reason it didn’t respond was because he hadn’t figured out how to use it. “How does it work then?”
“Periodic congruent entomological meta-euclidean adjacency.”
Bert nodded all knowingly. “That’s what I assumed. Better-included adjuicency.”
“Meta-euclidean adjacency, Bert. You can pass through a non-congruent adjacency, but you can’t connect its two aspects. It’s only logical. Imagine the differential energy stored when a quarter of a million miles of space-time is folded to less than a millimetre.”
“Yeah, I can imagine. Awesome, ain’t it.”
“The Doodad bends space-time so two parts are adjacent and at the same instant separated by millions of light years. Of course, I’m no expert. You’ll have to ask the Alien Mother for a detailed explanation.”
“Look mate," said Bert, lips pinched together. "I understand all that babble perfectly, but how do use the damn thing?”
“Do you have it?”
“Might have. Ain’t saying.”
The alien father stifled a scream. “The Doodad is so simple to operate a four-year-old could manage it.”
“Yeah, but you’d have to show it how first.”
“True, and since you don’t have it, there’s no point in me telling you.”
In this post: Bert promises a scout badge…
Bert couldn’t tell the alien father he had the Doodad. Not yet. If they worried the Guardians would seize it and follow him back to Earth, they’d never let him use it. Problem solving wasn’t one of Bert’s strong points. He needed more information. “I’d like a closeup look at the Guardian’s citadel. Will you take me?”
The alien father squeezed his eyes shut and his chin trembled. “No.”
“Why not. You said you tried to organise a scouting expedition once. Why so frightened now?”
“Because... Because when I suggested it I knew nobody would go.”
Bert slapped his knees and laughed. He liked the little man’s honesty. “Show me the way and you'll earn a scout badge. When we get there, you can hide behind a rock and watch.”
The alien father clamped his hands over his ears and shook his head. “No. I daren’t. What are you going to do? They’ll kill us.”
“I ain’t going to do nothing. I’ll hide with you, quiet as a mouse.” Bert laced his fingers behind his head and whistled tunelessly. He wasn’t as honest as the alien father, but telling believable lies was one of his strong points. “Eh, what do you say? After I’ve seen them, we’ll scamper:”
“Can’t you ask somebody else to take you?”
“You’re the bravest man here. When we get back, you’ll be a hero.”
The alien father pinched the bridge of his broad, flat nose. “You promise it’s only for a quick peek?”
“I give you my word.”
“Okay. Let’s go before I change my mind.”
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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