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 25 - 28…
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 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, shooing his people along, “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 Doodad. But he was an optimistic sort of bloke and reckoned he hadn’t broken the it. The reason it didn’t respond was because he hadn’t figured out how to use it, simple as that. “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 gazillion miles of space-time is folded to less than a millimetre.”
“Yeah, I can imagine. Awesome, ain’t it.”
“Of course," said the alien father, "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. All I want to know is how to turn it on.”
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 Ewetopians worried the Guardians would seize it and follow him back to Earth, they’d never let him use it. He let his shoulders slump. They were a kindhearted race of aliens, not wanting to bring havoc to Earth, and he could only admire them. It just meant he'd have to find some other way of pacifying them.
Problem solving wasn’t one of Bert’s strong points, but he realised he had 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. “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. 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. We start early in the morning, right after breakfast.”
"Don't tell me," said Bert, so hungry he'd eat anything. "Bamboo shoot porridge."
In this post: Bert sees a red glow in the dark…
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. From a distance, it looked like a prominent blob on the hilltop. Closer up, it resembled a black rotten tooth, jagged at the top. A weird display of lights danced in the sky above it, a red glow in the dark, too distant to see details.
Bert and the Alien father remained well hidden in the trees until they found a large boulder, big as a house, where they could set up camp if necessary.
From the citadel’s depths issued grinding music, crashing with fanfares of trumpets.
“Can we go now?” said the alien father.
“Not until I get a proper sight of them. Come on.” Bert strolled boldly through the woods 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. It had no carvings or ornaments and was a simple structure of straight lines. It throbbed with dominant power under restraint, and Bert thought 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 among the crimson bloom; the figure of a Guardian. Watching it made Bert dizzy, and when it turned to face him, he cowered. Red glowing pinpricks appeared, swelled, and developed into eyes.
The pupils were black chasms, pierced by bloody suns. Bert wanted to run, but those eyes held him. They radiated fury, loathing, hatred, and Bert wondered if anyone’s imagination had ever dreamt even a fraction of such 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. He knew his next breath would be his last.
To be continued…
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