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.
Previously from posts 14 - 17…
“Many hundreds of years ago, our people dominated Ewepiter in their billions. They drove almost all other species to extinction. Food was short, pollution was high, and our world was dying. We needed to find a new planet to live on, so we built the...” he scratched his head, concentrating, then shrugged, “the doodads.”
“The gadget that makes the tunnel between planets?”
“Yes. When we activate a tunnel, we only have a limited control over where it opens. The planet must be hospitable: breathable atmosphere, comfortable temperature, compatible gravity, and so on; but we cannot tell what life forms live there. When we pass through the tunnel, we anchor the other end by placing a doodad there too. Unfortunately, our first and only attempt opened on the Guardian’s planet. They invaded us, confiscated our technology, and farmed us for the meat of our bodies.”
“Why did you come to my planet then?”
“On all Ewepiter, we have just two doodads left. We’ve kept them hidden all these years and never used them. When the Guardians came to our village a few days ago to round up the young, I ordered the mother of my children to gather all the infants in our village and take them through the tunnel to safety. If lucky, she might have found a planet where we could all escape. Alas, this time also, it opened on a useless, hazardous world, and now you are here and can never return.”
“We closed the tunnel and hid the doodad again.”
“What about the one that's left behind on my world, in number-three Flintstones Terrace?”
Bert shook his head slightly. “We know where it is, so it ain't lost." He scrunched his eyebrows together. "What about if you turned the doodad on again at this end?”
“The tunnel would open, but you will never find it and use it, and neither must the Guardians. The next time it opens, the Guardians will find it easily and invade your world, and the fate of the Berts will be the same as Ewepitarians." He spread his dinky legs, rested his hands on his hips, and gave Bert a harsh squint. "The destiny of your planet is in your hands.”
Cogs swirled in Bert’s brain. “What about if you smash the Guardian’s doodad? The one that opens to their world?”
“That is why we call them Guardians. They guard the doodad in their citadel on the hill. Nobody dares go there.”
“I tried to organise a surveillance group once, but everyone said I was mad.”
“So you just let them piss all over you?”
“What else can we do?”
The alien father visibly shook in his boots.
“Why not let me go home and come back with a pile of weapons?" Bert drew his knife, the eight-inch blade flashing in the light. "I only use this as a toothpick. With a few bazookas we’ll soon stop those pesky Guardians. Then we can all live happily ever after.”
“I’d give anything to be as big and strong as you, Bert. Then I wouldn’t be so frightened of them.”
“Does that mean you’ll let me fetch some dynamite and stuff?”
“How can I trust you’ll return?”
That was a good question. The answer was simple. He'd return because it was the right deed to do. If it came to fight, he’d die for his buddies, even new buddies like these kindly little people who ate nothing but repulsive grunge. He had his moral values, too. He’d never allow bullies to lay a finger on children or animals, and he wouldn’t let space invaders continue to ravish this fine world for all the money in China. “If I didn’t come back to help you, I’d never forgive myself.”
“No, forget it. It can never be. Our people are not warriors. In our millions of years of evolution, there has never been a war. Beside, the Guardians would follow you.”
“You were brave enough to go against the Elder’s rules and open a new tunnel to my planet.”
“Yes, and look what trouble I’ve caused. The Guardians are keeping an extra eye on us when all we want is inconspicuous peace.”
“Don’t look so glum, you saved the lives of all your children.”
“No, I didn’t. The guardians will come again, and when they see you, they’ll punish us. Oh, woe is me.”
Just then, a hammering of fists erupted on his door, and the poor man almost fainted.
“Open up,” they heard voices cry.
The alien father closed his eyes and summoned a deep breath, holding it in. Turning his head a fraction, as though straining to understand the voices, he uttered a soft curse and tutted. “I feared the Guardians were here, but it’s simply the villagers.”
Bert’s stomach growled, he noticed a headache coming on, and if he didn’t eat something soon he worried he'd lose his powers of reasoning. The crowd’s urgent mumbling outside and the loud thudding on the door drove him crazy. “Can’t you see what they want?”
“They sound panicky,” said the alien father.
“Well, at least they ain’t hungry, so I don’t what else they’ve got to fret about. Are you going to tell them to go away, or shall I?”
The alien father squeezed past Bert, rushed to the door, and tore it open. “What is it?” he asked, a quiver in his voice.
Bert peered over his head and narrow shoulders and saw the whole yard swarmed with little people. As far as he could see, the entire village had gathered. The Elder headed the group, his fist still raised and ready to bash against the door. “The Guardians are coming in their hundreds,” he said, and his knees rattled in his baggy shorts. He pointed to the citadel on the mountain. “They’re firing cannons and hurling death rays in every direction.”
The alien father stopped to listen, then darted out to see for himself. Bert pressed his shoulders through the opening, stretched his back, and let out a groan of relief. The villagers must have seen him as an overgrown gorilla because they yelped and scuttled to a prudent distance.
Even on Earth, Bert had the same effect on people, so he ignored their reaction and peered across to the distant hill with its citadel. In that direction, the heavens had turned black with the bruise of thick angry clouds. The darkening sky rumbled like Bert’s empty stomach and jagged silver flashes jabbed at the coming night. A cool breeze caressed his bare arms and a lone drop of rain kissed his bald head. “It’s only a storm.”
Bert could see his new friend was uncertain.
“It could be thunder and lightning,” said the alien father, “but it could also be a new offensive by the Guardians. In times like this, when we’ve opened another port, who can tell?”
“We take no chances,” said the Elder. “This house has an underground shelter," he called to the crowd. "So we take refuge here.”
Like a bunch of frightened mice, the villagers surged to the alien father’s house. The alien father stood in the entrance, arms stretched, blocking them out. “Not so fast,” he said.
In this post: Villagers shelter in the alien father's house…
The crowd bowled the alien father aside and stormed in. 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 are arriving in large numbers, and soon they will 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. All he'd needed to do was sit in the doorway, and if the Elder had dared to poke him in the chest, he would have snapped his finger off. It wasn't exactly his intuition that told him not to interfere, more that it 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, 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 that nobody had food with them. In their hurried fright, they’d forgotten to bring any.
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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