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.
#4: Evil Portent ® James Field.
Bert turned the page of his alien invasion magazine and could feel Olive’s impatient eyes burning a hole into the back of his neck. Knowing his fiancé as he did, she had some gossip she wanted to pass on.
“Why do you read that rubbish?” she said.
Bert swung around, causing the chair to creak under his weight. Olive stood with her hands resting on her generous hips, her left foot tapping. “This here,” said Bert, finger jabbing at his magazine, “is intellectual stuff, written by genuine professors about alien invasion and obstruction.
“Do you mean abduction, Bert?”
“Yeah, that’s what I said, up-suction. I’m reading it because you don’t like it when I read my Hulk comics or even Popeye. Popeye has a sweetheart called Olive, just like me and you, and when he eats spinach, his muscles grow so big that—”
“Stop it,” screeched Olive.
“Anyhow, these intellectual professors reckon aliens are roaming all over Earth.”
“And you believe them?”
“Yeah, of course I do, otherwise I wouldn’t be reading this rubbish, would I.”
Olive’s luscious make-up enhanced features broke into a smile. “Do I have your attention now?”
“Yeah,” Bert closed his magazine and sighed. “Fire away.”
“Have you seen the new neighbours at number three?”
Bert’s house was number one in Flintstone Terrace. Olive’s was the middle house at number two, which is where he now sat eating egg and bacon and studying the fantastic pictures in his magazine. Number three was at the terrace’s other end. “No. What about them?”
“They’re weird, spooky.”
“Maybe they’re aliens.”
“Maybe I should clout you around the head. Anyway, Florence told me she—”
Bert shut his ears off and let his eyes drift back to his magazine. The pictures of wiry aliens with egg-shaped heads fascinated him. If he ever met one, he wondered what he’d say. Probably something like, “Welcome, mate. Please don’t poop in the sink.”
A knock at the front door made both of them turn. “Come in,” called Bert, even though it was Olive’s house. “It ain’t locked.”
The door opened straight into the snug lounge. Three people stepped inside, each stopping to wipe their shoes on the Welcome mat: Vicar Bitter in his two-piece black suit and dog collar; Chief Inspector Dobbs in his yellow pullover and baggy trousers with turn-ups; and his wife, Florence, plump and younger-looking than her fifty-something years.
Their faces looked grave, and Bert wondered what he’d done wrong now. The last time they ganged up on him was to accuse him of being a pickpocket. In his youth, he had been, but not these days. These days he worked at the Cloud Estate as a security guard, and despite his brutal appearance, was mostly a model law-abiding citizen.
Olive lifted a pile of blankets and overstuffed cushions from the settee and dumped them on the floor. “Take a seat.”
Florence nodded a greeting, bustled past her into the adjoining dining room, and sat at the table next to Bert. He shifted his bulk to give her room. The others followed and settled on the table's opposite side.
“I’ll put the kettle on,” said Olive, and headed for the kitchen. “I can’t guess why you’ve come, but from the look of you, it must be something juicy. Don’t start until I get back.”
In this post: Bert is more interested in the eclairs than his new devil-worshipping neighbours…
With a pot of tea on the table and a plate piled with Bert’s favourite cream eclairs in the centre, Olive dropped into the only remaining seat. “I’m ready. Bert, you can pour the tea.”
The cups and saucers looked like doll’s toys in his oversized mitts, but before he got as far as pouring the tea, Florence smacked the back of his hand and took over.
Chief Inspector Dobbs drummed his fingers on the table and then spoke up. “Your new neighbours are causing concern in the local community. I think they are criminals. Dealers in drugs or child smuggling. Perhaps both.”
“My concerns are far worse than yours,” said Vicar Bitter, his layers of chins wobbling as he spoke. “I fear they worship Satan. Strange lights come from their windows all night long, and a teenager listened through their letterbox and claimed they were talking backwards.”
Olive gasped and covered her mouth with her hands. Bert kept his eyes on the eclairs; he’d already selected the biggest.
“You’re both being silly,” said Florence. She lifted the teapot’s lid and gave the brew a stir. “I’m the only one who’s spoken to them and they’re charming people. See here, the lady gave me a badge.” She pointed to a disc on her hand-knitted cardigan, about the size of a coin. It glistened like a cat’s eye, glittering with all the colours of the rainbow as she wiggled it. “I met them on the street late at night and the lady told me she was homeless. She had twelve children with her, none over four or five years old. I went straight to Mr Styles and got the keys for number three.”
“Did you go in with her?” asked Olive.
“No, I didn’t. But she was grateful.”
“What did she look like?”
“It was dark. Difficult to see. She was small, a dwarf I would say.”
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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