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.
In this post: Jump through a loop...
Life in the Clouds #4: Evil Portent ® James Field.
Previously from posts 44 - 47
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 swollen 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 a mite 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 from his clenched fist.
Bert shook the Alien's hand off and offered him 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. It's full of protein.” He took the harder 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 jaws 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 don't understand. 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: what was that supposed to mean? “So, while we’re here, do you mean time isn’t running on your planet?”
“Yes, of course, but 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.” 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 whether the tunnel is open or not.”
“Oh.” Bert's concentration shattered and his posture collapsed. To make sense, he needed to draw a diagram. Just as he half rose to fetch a pencil and pad, 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 howled so fiercely that Bert couldn’t figure out a bark they said. All he knew, is that something dreadful outside was happening.
A piercing scream reached them from somewhere out back. Bert could recognise Olive’s exquisite voice anywhere. For one reason or another she often screamed, especially at him. This time, Bert could tell she was genuinely terrified. Then, to make matters worse, his horse brayed and stamped. Fearing the worse, Bert lurched to his feet. To his surprise, the Alien Father darted past him and out through the back door.
“Come on, Chums,” said Bert as he followed the little man.
“Kill, kill, kill!” snarled the Alsatians, vaulting through the back door before Bert.
The Alien Father hid behind a coal bunker, no sign of his bravery now. Bert glanced past him, and what he 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 half-a-metre broader than the biggest gorilla he’d seen at London Zoo. Olive's unconscious body flopped 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 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.
In the event of guns, Bert had trained his Alsatians to attack the wrist. They didn’t let him down. Only feet away from the beast, both dogs clamped their teeth onto the Guardian’s arm and wrist. It roared, threw Olive aside, and used its free arm to swipe at the dogs. Despite the animal's enormous size, compared to the Guardian, they looked no larger than miniature poodles. But they’d locked their jaws, and although the Guardian lifted both from the ground and wrenched at their necks, they held tight.
Head first, Bert crashed full speed into the Guardian’s stomach. It gave a blast of air and toppled over, ray gun skidding across the lawn. “Throat,” said Bert, and his dogs dropped the arm and went for its neck. In the same instant, Bert darted to his horse and vaulted onto its back.
The Guardian was on its feet again. Blood poured from its torn arm, but still with enough strength to wrench at the dogs and protect its hairy throat. Fearing for the safety of his pets, Bert roared a command at them. “Stand away, Chums.”
High in the horse’s saddle, Bert towered above the guardian. Beneath him, Bigfoot vibrated with energy and rage. Bert swung the stallion and gave a signal to kick with its hind legs. With enough force to punch a hole through a barn wall, Bigfoot’s hooves crashed into the Guardian’s chest at the speed of two-hundred miles per hour.
Bert heard bones crack, then saw the guardian fly backwards and disappear into the tunnel he’d come from.
In this post: jump through a loop…
Olive lay sprawled on the lawn, unconscious, but still breathing.
The Alien Father came from hiding and plunged head first into the throbbing tunnel. With a soft nudge from Bert’s heels, Bigfoot reared on its hind legs and then charged into the tunnel’s mouth, his Chums running beside him.
The shift between planets happened so fast it seemed no worse than jumping through a loop, a trick he’d often practised with Bigfoot. The abrupt switch of scenery spooked the horse, and it took all Bert’s coaxing to halt his gallop. “It’s alright,” soothed Bert, stroking the animal’s neck. “It’s a new trick. Sorry, I should’ve warned you.”
“New trick,” snorted Bigfoot. “Okay, let’s do it again.”
“Later,” said Bert. “Work first.”
Back outside the Alien Father’s house, the Guardian slumped against a wall, its chest caved in, dead. Bert slid down from his horse and called his Chums to his side. A quick search revealed bumps and bruises all over them, but no bones broken or severe cuts.
The Alien Father had already turned the Doodad into the ‘off’ position, closing the tunnel and stopping Earth time. A wave of relief passed through Bert. Back home, Olive lay prone on the lawn, and when he returned, if ever he did, he wanted her still lying there, where he could care for her.
“The Guardian was alone,” said the Alien Father. “But others will come. What shall we do?”
Bert wasn’t good at ruling. He usually let his best mate, Alf, take charge. He tilted his head from side to side, weighing choices. “Hide the Doodad and join the villagers at the Temple.”
“What about you?”
Before answering, Bert tugged on his bottom lip. “Well, I’m going to the Guardian’s citadel.” He wasn’t sure what he’d do when he arrived, but it seemed the best move.
“Take me with you. Mount your magnificent beast and pull me up.”
Bert’s mouth fell open. “You want to come too?”
“Yes. Just give me a second to hide the Doodad.”
Bert blew into the nostrils of his horse and stroked its long neck. “Be brave, my friend,” he breathed. “Remember the tricks we’ve practised, we’ll need them now.”
The horse nodded. “I remember. You want me to fight. I understand. You and me. Fight.”
“Good,” said Bert. “You, me, our Chums, and the Alien Father. The magnificent five versus the curse of the universe: the Guardians.”
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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