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 19 - 22…
The villagers hadn’t been sitting long in the alien father's house before a cry went out for drink, and another for food. “We eat what we find,” called the Elder, and all cheered in agreement. “We can’t starve to death in this hour of refuge.”
They opened cupboards, placed a huge pan on the heater box, and prepared bamboo tip porridge in vast quantities. Bert would have settled for a bucket of popcorn, or a raw carrot, or even boiled spinach to make his muscles grow like Popeye. Anything but that disgusting porridge.
The alien father tottered out of his house and sat next to Bert in the humid warmth. He spoke through his teeth with forced restraint. “Am I not master in my own home?” he said. “This is how we are. We flock together when frightened, and with the enemy out of sight and hearing, all we think about is food. My food.”
Bert patted him on the arm. “It’ll be okay, you’ll see.” It occurred to him this was the first physical contact he’d made with any of them, and the tough little guy didn’t react worse than stiffening and going still. “If you let me go home, I’ll bring some seeds with me too. You could grow corn and oranges and potatoes and all sorts of stuff that tastes delicious.”
With a probing gaze, the alien father cast a glance into Bert’s face. He wet his lips and swallowed hard. “I’ll think about it.” Then, with hesitant steps, he went back into his house.
With everybody slurping at their porridge, conversation settled to a mumble. Bert sat outside, and many thoughts came and went in his sluggish brain. Thunder still rumbled up on the mountain, and he didn’t understand how the little people mistook the storm for an invasion. Hadn't they felt the few drops of rain? The idiots were so hysterical that he couldn’t imagine how to convince them otherwise.
Such behaviour irritated Bert. Wasn’t there ever a time in their past when they had more guts? The only one who showed signs of bravery was the alien father, and even that didn’t amount to much.
A hard smile came to his lips. He needed release for his frustration, and the little people needed shaking up. Glancing about, he singled out a boulder about the size of a briefcase and tested its weight. He guessed eighty kilos.
Far too light, he could have juggled three that size. Then he noticed one as big as a suitcase and almost pooed himself lifting it above his head. With his teeth gritted, and muscles cramping under the strain, he stumbled the few steps back to the house. There, grunting in a last supreme effort, he tossed the boulder against the side of the house with all his might.
It pummelled the building like a cannonball, and inside he heard plaster and cement fall from the wall and ceiling. “Yeah, now the weedy little runts have something to think about other than porridge and water.”
The door burst open and the Elder dashed through like the wind. “Save yourself those that can,” he screeched. “The Guardians are attacking.”
Wild terror had broken out in the house. All wanted to escape at once, but in their panic, they stuck in the door frame and couldn’t get out or back in. Bert gave a nudge here and a tug there sufficient to untangle the jam and clear the way to freedom.
“One at a time,” said Bert, acting as a doorman. “And watch out for the children.”
Like a flock of frightened rabbits, they scattered from the house and fled up through the woods towards the hills. Panic gripped alien father too, and with a child under each arm, he raced up the path to join the others.
“To the hills, to the hills,” he shouted. “This is the end of Lambdon.”
Bert trotted by his side, the path rising so steeply he soon gasped for breath. “Where are you off to?”
“To the temple in the hills.”
Bert recalled seeing it in the opposite direction of the Guardian’s citadel. “Are you going to be any safer there?”
“The guardians are hurling grenades at us. You were outside, didn’t you see it?”
“I ain’t built for running,” said Bert, ignoring the awkward question. He stopped, leant forward with hands on his knees, and spat.
“Every one of us must reach the monastery. You too, Bert. The Guardians will raise the village to the ground.”
Bert scratched behind his ear and then tapped at the translator-badge fastened to his T-shirt. He didn't understand how something could be raised to the ground. Surely the alien father meant flattened to the ground?
“I’ll stay,” he called as the last of the villagers disappeared from view among the trees. “If the Guardians come, which I doubt, they’ll have me to deal with.” He spat again. He didn’t suppose anyone heard his final words.
With shoulders slumped, Bert traipsed back to Lambdon. He missed his two Alsatians and his horse, Bigfoot. While he was trapped on this strange alien planet, who would see to them? Nobody, apart from his buddy, Alf, dared to go near them. But Alf wasn’t fond of animals and probably wouldn’t think to feed them or bother to groom Bigfoot properly.
Bert gave a little whimper of mirth. The first time Bigfoot allowed him to climb onto its back, Bert faced the wrong way. It happened next time, too. He’d never ridden a horse, but when The Stable’s owner, Mr Styles, finished laughing, he taught Bert all about it. He learnt fast. Despite his bulk, and after years of sparing with Alf, his coordination, balance, and agility were exceptional.
Bigfoot was the most majestic and proud creature Bert had ever known, and they soon trusted and loved each other. To ride Bigfoot was thrilling and nerve-racking at the same time. It made Bert feel as though he had superpowers, and it wasn’t long before they played and pranced and performed tricks like a circus act.
He stumbled now into the alien’s deserted village and wondered if he’d ever see his friends again. He felt so gloomy he couldn’t think where his future would end.
In this post: Bert fancies a jelly sandwich…
Bert strolled back to the alien father’s yard, stuck his hands in his pockets, and gazed about. A light bulb suddenly glowed dimly in his head. The villagers had all fled. Little did he think he’d be walking here as the only living person in the settlement.
His chest felt lighter and a slow smile crossed his lips. With the little people gone, he could find the Doodad and tunnel off back to Earth.
The last place he’d seen the Doodad was in the Elder’s house, so that’s where he started his search. He found it where the Elder had discarded it, on the floor next to his chair. With his mouth gaping wide, he stared at it, dumbfounded by the Elder’s carelessness and his own great fortune.
He carried the gadget back to the alien father’s cabin and rotated it this way and that, hunting for a start button. The Doodad was a square-shaped object about the size of a chunky hardback book and looked simple enough with its firm green jelly sandwiched between two thin metal plates.
A jelly sandwich, the thought made his mouth water.
Jelly and metal? Not really. They embodied a strange, snakeskin texture he didn’t recognise. There were no markings on the metal surfaces; both were a dull grey, but one side felt warmer than the other. And the jelly can’t have been jelly all the way through because miniature stars and constellations hurried about inside, blinking and flashing as always.
Bert prodded the jelly, stroked it, tapped it first with one finger and then with two, and then repeated on both metal plates. Nothing happened. No tunnel opened.
He shook it, twirled it, flipped it like a coin, balanced it on his head, and then stopped to think. What had the alien mother done to make it work? She’d dropped a piece from his ruined mobile phone into the Doodad, said it was working and placed it on the floor.
For starters, how did she drop the piece into the workings? Bert found no opening. He held it in both hands, lifted it to his face, said firmly, “It’s working,” and then set it on the floor. Still nothing.
He lifted his hands in an “I give up” gesture, stuffed the Doodad in a hole in the stone wall where he’d damaged it, and jammed the dislodged stone back in place. With the Doodad hidden, Bert stalked away from the village and headed for the hill temple.
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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