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 40 - 43
While the alien father toasted his hands, Bert set about making his special porridge. He found a large basin and dumped in one giant mug of oat-based instant-breakfast cereal and three mugs of energy protein powder. It needed one full bottle of vodka to mix it into a thin gruel. Then he added an eggcup of salt, a teacup of sugar, and a tin of Popeye spinach. Three minutes in the microwave made it pleasantly warm and thick.
He carried the porridge, two cereal bowls, two spoons, and a jar of honey back into the lounge and set them on the floor between the armchairs. After making himself comfortable, he spooned porridge into one bowl, smothered it in honey, raisins and sliced banana, and handed it to the Alien Father. Then he filled his own dish.
The Alien Father dipped the tip of his spoon into the porridge and tasted it carefully. Bert watched with keen attention; his own spoonful halted in front of his mouth. The Alien Father’s eyebrows shot up and a smile exploded across his face. “This is good,” he said and spooned porridge as if he hadn’t eaten for a week.
Happy that his experiment worked out so well, Bert gobbled his own bowlful. To his surprise, the Alien Father ate his just as fast. Bert refilled both bowls. Compared to the bamboo tips porridge he’d choked on lately, and even though he'd rather have a slab of bloody beef, his own vegan creation was heaven.
When he reached to fill the bowls for a third time, he saw the Alien Father had fallen asleep, his dish and spoon nestled on his swollen belly. Reckoning his alien friend wouldn’t want more, Bert finished the rest, eating straight from the basin.
Two minutes later, stomach full, head spinning, comfy and warm in front of the fire, the threat of the Guardians forgotten, Bert fell asleep too.
In the adjoining house next to Bert, Olive finished her fifth cup of tea and yawned. Today, she’d set her alarm to ring at nine in the morning: the middle of the night! She wasn’t an early riser like her fiancé, Bert, and she wasn’t a nosy person either, but she fidgeted to learn what Bert had found out about the strange dwarfs at number three.
After she’d showered and applied her make-up, she’d opened the back door of her house. Bert would then realise she was up, and come in to tell her his news. She’d noticed his horse parked outside his house, so she knew he was there.
Olive wasn’t keen on animals, and she’d never had a pet. Bert’s Alsatians and his horse frightened the life out of her, especially the stallion: big docile man and his bigger wild horse. Sometimes, she thought Bert loved his animals more than he loved her. God knows he spent more time with his pets than with her.
By now, it was noon, her normal waking time. In another hour she’d have to leave for work, sorting The Stable’s financial books. She pounded her fist against the kitchen table, making her teacup and saucer jump. Why hadn’t Bert come with his gossip?
Frustration kicked in, and she dumped her cup and saucer in the stone sink so carelessly the cup’s handle snapped off. A wave of fury crashed through her. Since Bert was so selfish and uncaring that he didn’t see fit to pop in, then she’d go to his house. And she’d make sure the big lout regretted the day he was born.
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. Without knocking, 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 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 out 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.
In this post: Bert and the Alien Father crack walnuts…
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, I feel strange, like 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 his arms twisted into knots and 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 crack walnuts 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, one nut cracked. “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…”
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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