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 18 - 21…
The crowd bowled the alien father aside and stormed into his house. 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. He only needed to plonk his bulk 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 nobody had food with them. In their hurried fright, they’d forgotten to bring any.
The villagers 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 boulder about the size of a briefcase and tested its weight. He guessed eighty kilos.
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 side of 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.”
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 had broken 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 a tug 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, ignoring the awkward question. He stopped, leant forward with hands on his knees, and spat.
“Every one of us must reach the monastery. You too, Bert. The Guardians will raise the village to the ground.”
Bert scratched behind his ear. He didn't understand how something could be raised to the ground. Surely the alien father meant flattened to the ground? “I’ll stay,” he called 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.
In this post: Bert misses his horse, Bigfoot…
With shoulders slumped, Bert traipsed back to the alien father’s yard. He missed his two Alsatians and his horse, Bigfoot. While trapped on this strange alien planet, who would see to them? Nobody, apart from his buddy, Alf, dared to go near them. But Alf wasn’t fond of animals and probably wouldn’t think to feed them or bother to groom Bigfoot properly.
Bert gave a little whimper of mirth. The first time Bigfoot allowed him to climb onto its back, Bert faced the wrong way. It happened next time, too. He’d never ridden a horse, but when The Stable’s owner, Mr Styles, finished laughing, he taught Bert all about it. He learnt fast. Despite his bulk, after years of sparing with Alf, his coordination, balance, and agility were exceptional.
Bigfoot was the most majestic and proud creature Bert had ever known, and they soon trusted and loved each other. To ride Bigfoot was exhilarating, nerve-racking, and freeing, all at the same time. It made Bert feel as though he had superpowers, and it wasn’t long before they played and pranced and performed tricks like a circus act.
He stumbled now into the alien’s deserted village and wondered if he’d ever see his friends again. He felt so gloomy he couldn’t think where his future would end.
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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