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 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 28 - 31…
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.”
Bert couldn’t let on he'd found the Doodad. Not yet. If the Ewepiterians feared the Guardians would seize it and follow him back to Earth, they’d never let him use it. He let his shoulders slump. The Ewepitarians were a kindhearted race of aliens who wanted to keep Earth safe, and he could only admire them. It just meant he'd have to find some way of pacifying them before he revealed the Doodad.
Problem solving wasn’t one of Bert’s strong points, but he realised he'd have to do something about those accursed Guardians. He needed more information about them. “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. “There ain't no danger. Show me the way, and 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. They’ll kill us.”
“I ain’t going to do nothing but spy on them. 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. We start early in the morning, right after breakfast.”
"Don't tell me," said Bert, so hungry he'd eat anything. "Bamboo shoot porridge."
By early afternoon, they’d scrambled along an overgrown path through the dense forest and advanced to higher ground. The air grew chilly, and the trees thinned enough to glimpse the Guardian’s citadel, prominent on the hilltop. From a distance, it resembled a rotten black tooth, jagged at the top. A weird display of red lights danced in the sky above it, too distant to see details.
Bert and the alien father clambered the remaining way and kept hidden in the trees. They found a large boulder, big as a house, where they could stay out of sight and set up camp if necessary.
Beyond the rock they heard grinding music issue from the citadel’s depths, crashing with fanfares of distorted hornpipes.
“Can we go now?” said the alien father.
“Not until I get a proper sight of them. Come on.” Bert strolled boldly around the rock and through the last few trees until he drew close enough to see the citadel clearly. The alien father hid behind one of his legs, whimpering.
The Guardians had cleared an area the width of a soccer pitch around their citadel, the grass lush and well trimmed. Bert counted ten robot mowers trundling around the hill, manicuring the lawn. The stronghold was a simple structure of straight lines—a squat tower with four equally broad and high walls with no carvings or ornaments. It had no windows, heavy double doors on one wall, and was crowned with a sturdy battlement. The entire setup throbbed with latent power, giving Bert the impression it might come alive at any moment and gobble them.
A hellish red glow burst from the parapets and up into the air. Bert backed away, his heart pounding in his chest, and almost tripped over the alien father.
Neither of them spoke because just then a figure formed in the crimson bloom—the figure of a Guardian. Watching it made Bert dizzy, and when it turned to face him, he drew a stuttered gasp. Red glowing pinpricks appeared in the demonic face, swelled, and developed into eyes. The pupils were black chasms, pierced by volcanic pools of molten lava. Bert wanted to run, but those eyes held him. They radiated fury, loathing, and the hatred of a mad devil’s soul.
Bert’s blood thickened like syrup, and his scrotum tightened. The Guardian hung suspended in the air, nailing Bert with its burning gaze, and he knew his next breath would be his last.
Then the image faded, disappeared, and left the citadel in plain view. Bert swallowed, fought the urge to scamper, and waited to see what might happen next.
A moment later, small vehicles buzzed above the tower’s top, like honeybees flitting in and out of their hive. They resembled flying mopeds without wheels, and they each towed a boxcar. The ones leavening were empty. Those that arrived contained ten children, crying hysterically.
“They take children from the entire planet,” said the alien father through gritted teeth.
Bert had forgotten about the alien father and was surprised he hadn’t fainted or run off, like he almost had. “Why so few?”
“We calculate they take three-hundred thousand children each year. Is that so few?”
Bert gulped, ashamed of himself and his cruel, insensitive question. Boiling with fury at the Guardians, he clenched his jaw so tight it hurt. The alien father was angry too. Or was it fear? Bert couldn’t tell.
A robot mower chomped its way past their hideout and the alien father shot out and kicked it. It rolled onto its back, wheels pointing to heaven. Bert shook his head as if that would help him believe what he’d seen. There was no doubt the alien father boiled with anger, too. Bert rushed out, lifted the little man, and carried him back to safety. Not a moment too soon, because a door in the tower creaked open.
A creature stepped out. Behind it, Bert saw a Doodad placed in the centre of the citadel. Against the back wall, the air shimmered and the throat of a tunnel gaped open.
The creature strutted toward the upturned lawnmower, rectified it, and scanned all around with black, sallow eyes, piercing and cruel. Its snout sniffed like a dog on the scent of a bitch.
It had the body of a gorilla but stood erect and proud, like a commando soldier, half a head taller than Bert. And what an ugly head; it reminded Bert of a wild boar with tusks in its bottom jaw. Certain of its dominance over the meek Ewepitarians, it carried no weapon that Bert could see.
It occurred to Bert this was a genuine Guardian. The image in the air a projection designed to terrify the Ewepitarians and keep them away. He thought that was hardly necessary when the creature was so frightful anyway.
“Stay still and don’t move,” whispered Bert.
“Run,” screeched the alien father, and bolted off down the hill.
“Crazy little twit,” grumbled Bert, and chased after him. A glance over his shoulder revealed the Guardian catching up. “If you’re going to run,” puffed Bert. “You better go a lot faster or you’ll be the main course at their next barbeque party.”
The alien father’s stumpy legs zipped along in a blur until he tripped and fell. Bert’s body weight carried him on, and when he eventually stopped and turned, the Guardian stood over the alien father with his boot raised above his head, ready to stamp it down.
In this post: Claws reach for Bert's face…
“Hey!” shouted Bert. He grabbed a fist-sized boulder and hurled it at the Guardian. It struck him in the chest with enough force to make him lose balance and step back. The Alien father squirmed to his feet and darted off down the hill.
Fury blazed in the Guardian’s black eyes, and he charged at Bert, outstretched arms clawing for his face. Although Bert was shorter than the Guardian, he reckoned he was heavier and stronger. Every day, sometimes twice a day, he wrestled and boxed with his best mate, Alf. Alf was England’s undisputed bare-fist street fighter champion. Rough stuff was an everyday part of Bert’s life, and he knew many tricks.
Bert bent his knees slightly and balanced his body. He waited unmoving until the Guardian's claws were an inch from his nose, stepped aside, tripped him, and helped him on his flight by tugging an arm and kicking his backside.
The Guardian’s head struck a tree trunk with a sickening crunch. Bert wasn’t sure if he was dead or unconscious, and didn’t hang around to find out. Without a backward glance, he took off after the alien father.
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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