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.
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 26 - 29…
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. “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.
The alien father wasn't so easily fooled and he 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'd handled it. But he was an optimistic sort of bloke and was confident it wasn't broken. 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 supposed. 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 don't need to ask the Alien Mother nothing. I understand all that babble perfectly. All I'm asking you is how to use the damn thing?”
“Do you have it?”
“Might have. Ain’t saying. Just curious about 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 Ewepitertonians 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 who wanted to keep Earth safe, 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'd have 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 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."
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, prominent on the hilltop. From a distance, it resembled a black rotten tooth, jagged at the top. A weird display of red lights danced in the sky above it, 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.
Beyond the rock they heard grinding music issue from the citadel’s depths, 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 around the rock and 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, the grass lush and well trimmed. The citadel had no carvings or ornaments and was a simple structure of straight lines. It throbbed with dominant power under restraint, giving Bert the impression 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 in the demonic face, swelled, and developed into eyes. The pupils were black chasms, pierced by volcanic pools of molten lava. Bert wanted to run, but those eyes held him. They radiated fury, loathing, and the hatred of 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, and he knew his next breath would be his last.
In this post: Robot mowers in action…
Then the image faded, disappeared, and left the citadel in plain view. Bert saw a squat tower with four equally broad and high walls, a cube. There were no windows, heavy double doors on one wall, and crowned with a battlement. Bert counted ten robot mowers trundling around the hill, manicuring the lawn.
Small vehicles buzzed above the tower’s top, like honeybees flitting in and out of their hive. They resembled flying mopeds without wheels, and they towed a boxcar. The ones leavening were empty. Those that arrived contained ten children, crying hysterically.
“They take children from the entire planet,” said the alien father.
Bert had forgotten about the alien father, surprised he hadn’t fainted or run off, like he almost had. “Why so few?” Bert gulped, realising too late of the cruel question.
“We calculate they take three-hundred thousand children each year. Is that so few?”
Bert wanted to kick himself for being so insensitive. Boiling with fury at the guardians, he ground his teeth and clenched his jaw so tight it hurt. The alien father was angry too. Or was it fear? Bert couldn’t tell.
A robot mower chomped its way past their hideout and the alien father shot out and kicked it. It rolled onto its back, wheels pointing to heaven. Bert shook his head, as if that would help him believe what he’d seen. There was no doubt the alien father boiled with anger, too. Bert rushed out, lifted the little man, and carried him back to safety. Not a moment too soon, because a door in the tower creaked open.
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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