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.
#4: Evil Portent ® James Field.
Previously from posts 15 - 18…
The alien father visibly shook in his boots.
“Why not let me go home and come back with a pile of weapons?" Bert drew his knife, the eight-inch blade flashing in the light. "I only use this as a toothpick. With a few bazookas we’ll soon stop those pesky Guardians. Then we can all live happily ever after.”
“I’d give anything to be as big and strong as you, Bert. Then I wouldn’t be so frightened of them.”
“Does that mean you’ll let me fetch some dynamite and stuff?”
“How can I trust you’ll return?”
That was a good question. The answer was simple. He'd return because it was the right deed to do. If it came to a fight, he’d die for his buddies, even new buddies like these kindly little people who ate nothing but repulsive grunge. He had his moral values, too. He’d never allow bullies to lay a finger on children or animals, and he wouldn’t let space invaders continue to ravish this fine world for all the money in China. “If I didn’t come back to help you, I’d never forgive myself.”
“No, forget it. It can never be. Our people are not warriors. In our millions of years of evolution, there has never been a war. Beside, the Guardians would follow you and ravish your planet.”
That was a problem Bert would sort out if and when it should happen. Right now, he needed the little man on his side. “You were brave enough to go against the Elder’s rules and open a new tunnel to my planet.”
“Yes, and look what trouble I’ve caused. The Guardians are keeping an extra eye on us when all we want is inconspicuous peace.”
“Don’t look so glum, you saved the lives of all your children.”
“No, I didn’t. The guardians will come again, and when they see you, they’ll punish us. Oh, woe is me.”
Just then, a hammering of fists erupted on his door, and the poor man almost fainted.
“Open up,” they heard voices cry.
The alien father closed his eyes and summoned a deep breath, holding it in. Turning his head a fraction, as though straining to understand the voices, he uttered a soft curse and tutted. “I feared the Guardians were here, but it’s simply the villagers.”
Bert’s stomach growled, he noticed a headache coming on, and if he didn’t eat something soon he worried he'd lose his powers of reasoning. The crowd’s urgent mumbling outside and the loud thudding on the door drove him crazy. “Can’t you see what they want?”
“They sound panicky,” said the alien father.
“Well, at least they ain’t hungry, so I don’t what else they’ve got to fret about. Are you going to tell them to go away, or shall I?”
The alien father squeezed past Bert, rushed to the door, and tore it open. “What is it?” he asked, a quiver in his voice.
Bert peered over his head and narrow shoulders and saw the whole yard swarmed with little people. As far as he could see, the entire village had gathered. The Elder headed the group, his fist still raised and ready to bash against the door. “The Guardians are coming in their hundreds,” he said, and his knees rattled in his baggy shorts. He pointed to the citadel on the mountain. “They’re firing cannons and hurling death rays in every direction.”
The alien father stopped to listen, then darted out to see for himself. Bert pressed his shoulders through the opening, 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 are arriving in large numbers, and soon they will 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 had dared to poke him in the chest, he would have snapped his finger off. It wasn't exactly his intuition that told him not to interfere, more that it 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, 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.
In this post: Bert offers a seed of hope…
They hadn’t been sitting long 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.
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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