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.
Hello! If you like mystery/thrillers with a dash of the supernatural, a pinch of romance, and a solid dollop of humour, 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. Current book: Evil Portent.
Life in the Clouds #4: Evil Portent ® James Field.
Previously from posts 42 - 45
Not daring to go near the horse, and knowing Bert kept his ferocious dogs in the living room, Olive burst into Bert’s house by the front door. She stormed straight into the lounge. The air stunk of alcohol and Bert’s deep snoring made her wish she wore earplugs. He slouched in his favourite armchair, arms dangling over the rests, feet almost in the fire that still glowed warmly.
In the opposite chair slept a dwarf. He was tiny, but had muscles like a bodybuilder, straining against his clothes so tightly she marvelled at how he’d ever put them on. Between them on the floor was a gadget that pulsed with a dull glow.
Olive’s lips thinned. Momentarily fascinated, she plucked the gadget up for a closer look. It was about the size of a lunch box, made of two metal plates sandwiching an inch thick layer of jelly. Inside the jelly floated odd-shaped bits and pieces, some of them glowing faintly in various colours, swimming around like miniature fish.
She thought it would look perfect in her bathroom, alongside the candles and glass of wine, glimmering in all those gorgeous colours while she meditated in the bath. So she tossed it on the sideboard close to the door. On her way out, she’d take it with her.
“Wake up, you fat pig,” she screamed at Bert. He smiled and grunted, but didn’t wake. The dwarf, however, did. My God, he seemed drunk, because his two eyes rotated in all directions and he spoke some gibberish that sounded like backwards Arabian.
Ignoring him, she bent over Bert and prised his eyelids open with her green-manicured fingernails. “Wake up. What’s going on here? Why haven’t you come to my house? Who’s this?”
Bert groaned and held his eyes open without Olive’s help. “Oh, my head,” he grunted, and then smiled as he recognised her. “Hi, Olive. Lovely to see you again. What day is it?” It sounded as though his tongue flopped around inside his mouth like a wet sponge.
“Who is that?” Olive pointed at the Herculean dwarf.
“Ah, him. He’s called Alien Father, and he’s from a town called Lambden on planet named Ewepiter.”
Olive nostrils flared. Not only had Bert ignored her when he returned from number three, but now he mocked her. “And what’s this gadget?” she snatched up the glowing sandwich and shoved it under Bert’s nose.
Bert squinted at it and scratched his battered ear. “Better be careful with that. It’s a Doodad that opens a tunnel across the universe and works on the principle of Better-European Idiocy.”
“Meta-Euclidean Adjacency,” corrected the Alien Father, flexing his biceps and gazing at them with eyes as wide as saucers.
“What did he say?” asked Olive.
“He said what I said.” Bert gave a shaky laugh. “Oh, yeah, I forgot, you ain’t got a universal translator like what I’ve got.” He patted a gleaming badge on his sweat-stained T-shirt. “You can’t hear him like what I can. I can even speak to me Chums and me horse now. Want me to translate to English?”
Olive didn’t understand why Bert was talking to her like this, and she didn’t like it. She didn’t know whether she should box his ears or phone for an ambulance to take him away to the funny farm. She spun and headed for the door. “When you’re sober, you can come and apologise. And you better make it good.”
She didn’t realise she still clasped the gadget until she was safely in her own house again. It had lost its charm for her; whatever it was, she hated it. She opened her back door and flung it into her garden. It bounced twice, rolled along on its thin sides, and stopped in the middle of her lawn, still teetering on edge. A puff of wind nudged it. It fell, on side up, and the tunnel opened, breaching the way for the dreaded Guardians.
With Olive out of his face and out of the house, Bert ogled the Alien Father with amazement. The little man’s muscles bulged. “You feeling alright?” he asked.
“No, my skin is too tight.” He stretched this way and that, groaning with pleasure as he flexed his bulging muscles. “Your mixture. It works. We must return to Ewepiter without delay so I can crush the Guardians.”
“Now you just hold on a minute there,” said Bert. “You might be stronger, but you’re still a little squirt. You ain’t no match for the Guardians. And I don’t suppose you’re any braver either.”
The Alien Father slumped back into his chair. “You are right. The idea of meeting a Guardian makes me sick in the stomach.”
“Give me your hand and squeeze mine with all you’ve got.”
The Alien Father reached across and grasped three of Bert’s fingers. The muscles in the alien's arms twisted into knots as he gritted his teeth. Bert had felt stronger hands on the older children at the stables, trying to prise a coin hidden in his clenched fist.
Bert shook the hand off and pretended it hurt. He offered the alien a walnut. “Let’s see if you can crush this before you start on the Guardians.” Again, the alien’s muscles bunched, but the nut didn’t crack. Bert gave him another. “Here, try this one. Use both hands.” This time, the nut popped and crumbled. “Good, now eat what you find inside.” He took the other nut from the Alien Father, crushed it open between finger and thumb, and tossed the kernel into his mouth.
The Alien Father stopped chewing his nut. His muscles tensed. One of his eyes swivelled around the room; the other glared at the floor between them. “The Doodad,” he gasped. “It’s gone…”
“You stashed it under your chair,” said Bert, hardly paying attention. He had another matter on his mind. “There’s one goings-on I wonder about. I’ve been on your planet for two days, but time hasn’t changed here. It’s like I slipped away half an hour ago and just got back.”
“The Doodad also bends time.”
Cogwheels turned in Bert’s brain. Bent time? “So, while we’re here, do you mean time isn’t running on your planet?”
“The Doodad returns us almost to the moment we left. If we were away for ten years, the others would see we’d grown old in minutes.”
“Got you.” More clanking of cogs. Bert’s head ached from the alcohol and his stomach rumbled with hunger again. “Why?”
"Why would we look ten years older?"
“Because time continues simultaneously in both worlds while the tunnel is open.”
“Oh.” Bert lost his concentration and his posture collapsed. To make sense, he needed to draw a diagram. The Alsatians growled. A deep menacing sound in their throats. “What is it, Chums?”
“Intruder. Coming. Evil. Kill it. Intruder. Kill it...”
Bert laughed out loud. “I love the way you guys talk to me.”
“Danger. Boss. Intruder. Outside. Kill it.”
The alien father had lost interest in Bert. He tugged at the armchairs and peered beneath them, his new muscles flexing and heaving. “The Doodad,” he called, panic in his voice. “Where is it?”
Bert thought about it. The answer was simple. “Olive took it with her.”
They gaped at each other, horror in their eyes, and the Alsatians barked so fiercely that Bert couldn’t figure out a word. All he knew, is that something dreadful outside was happening…
In this post: Bert faces a ray gun…
A piercing scream reached them from somewhere out back. Bert could recognise Olive’s exquisite voice anywhere. Then his horse brayed and stamped. To his surprise, the Alien Father darted past him through the back door.
“Come on, Chums,” said Bert as he followed the little man. “I hope it hasn’t happened like I what I think has happened.”
“Kill, kill, kill!” snarled the Alsatians, vaulting through the back door before Bert.
The alien father had run out of bravery and hid behind a coal bunker. What Bert saw made his heart leap into his mouth, making it impossible to speak. In the middle of Olive’s lawn, the tunnel gaped open, hissing and throbbing like a maelstrom from hell.
A massive Guardian stood there, two heads taller than Bert’s six-foot-five, shoulders broader than the biggest gorilla he’d seen at London Zoo. Olive flopped unconscious over one of its arms like a rag doll. It clasped a ray gun in its other hand, looking just like a kid’s water pistol.
Bert didn’t know what plans the Guardian had for Olive, but seeing her in such danger in the arms of the giant drove him insane. Fury vibrated through his being. Almost choking with rage, he bent his head, clenched his hands into fists of granite, and charged.
When the Guardian saw him coming, a smirk creased its large jaw muscles, exposing broad, strong teeth. The mocking laughter dumped hot coals into the pit of Bert’s belly, super-charging his headlong rush.
The Guardian raised its ray gun coolly and pointed it at Bert.
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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