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 17 - 20…
The alien father stopped to listen to the distant rumblings, then darted out of his house to see for himself. Bert followed. He pressed his shoulders through the door; rose to his full six-foot and five-inches, stretched his back, and let out a groan of relief. The villagers must have seen him as an overgrown gorilla because they yelped and scuttled to a prudent distance.
Even on Earth, Bert had the same effect on people, so he ignored their reaction and peered across to the distant hill with its citadel. In that direction, the heavens had turned black with the bruise of thick angry clouds. The darkening sky rumbled like Bert’s empty stomach and jagged silver flashes jabbed at the coming night. A cool breeze caressed his bare arms and a lone drop of rain kissed his bald head. “It’s only a storm.” Bert could see his new friend was uncertain.
“It could be thunder and lightning,” said the alien father, “but it could also be a new offensive by the Guardians. In times like this, when we’ve opened another port, who can tell?”
“We take no chances,” said the Elder. “This house has an underground shelter," he called to the crowd. "We take refuge here.”
Like a bunch of frightened mice, the villagers surged to the alien father’s house. The alien father stood in the entrance, arms stretched, blocking them out. “Not so fast,” he said.
The crowd bowled the alien father aside and stormed in. He tried to protest, but nobody took any notice. Outside, the distant rumbling grew louder. “It’s only a storm,” said the alien father. “More violent than normal, but that’s all it is.”
“No,” insisted the Elder. “You have angered the Guardians by hiding the children and opening a tunnel to another planet. They're amassing in large numbers, and soon they'll be here to kill us all.” He jabbed a finger in the alien father’s chest. “You brought them, you shelter us.”
It would have been easy for Bert to stop them from occupying the alien father's house. All he'd needed to do was sit in the doorway, and if the Elder dared to poke him in the chest, he'd snap his finger off. It wasn't exactly his intuition that told him not to interfere, more his hunger that had made his brain too sluggish to react.
Bert peered in at them through the open door. The house was so crowded that everyone sat side by side on the floor, men, women, and children, leaving no room for him. They’d even occupied the bedrooms. The underground shelter was nothing more than a cool pantry, already filled with sacks of bamboo shoots.
“Anybody got anything decent to eat?” called Bert. It was soon clear that nobody had food with them. In their hurried fright, they’d forgotten to bring any.
The intruders 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. 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. 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 large boulder and tested its weight. He guessed eighty kilos and was about the size of a briefcase.
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 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.”
In this post: Bert acts as a doorman…
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 broke 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 pull 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. 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. He stopped, leant forward with hands on his knees, and spat.
“Every one of us must reach the monastery. You too, Bert, and pray we’re safe there. The Guardians will raise the village to the ground.”
“I’ll stay,” called Bert 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.
To be continued…
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The Dry by Jane Harper
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is the best crime book I've read. Everything is just right: the prose, the suspense, the plots, and the baffling puzzle of who did it.
I say plots because this book is a mixture of two separate stories, both mysterious murders that kept me guessing right to the end. In a subtle way the stories connect, and yet they don't. You'll have to read it to see what I mean.
The only irritation with this book is that I had to keep putting it down because real life interfered.
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