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 48 - 51
Olive lay sprawled on the lawn, unconscious, but still breathing. Hot tears flooded Bert's eyes. All of this was his fault, a result of his dumb, meddling stupidity. To see his beloved fiancé in such a sad state was more than his heart could bear, and it fluttered in his chest like an Ostrich with a knot in its neck.
The Alien Father rushed from hiding and plunged head first into the throbbing tunnel, back to his own world. There was no time for Bert to reflect on whether he should stay and tend to Olive, or have it out with the Guardians. With a soft nudge from his heels, Bigfoot reared on its hind legs and then charged into the tunnel’s mouth, his Chums running beside him.
The shift between planets happened so fast it seemed no worse than jumping through a loop, a trick he’d often practised with Bigfoot. The abrupt switch of scenery, however, spooked the horse, and it took all Bert’s coaxing to halt his gallop. “It’s alright,” soothed Bert, stroking the animal’s neck. “It’s a new trick. Sorry, I should’ve warned you.”
“New trick,” snorted Bigfoot. “Okay, let’s do it again.”
“Later,” said Bert. “Work first.”
Back outside the Alien Father’s house, the Guardian slumped against a wall, its chest caved in, dead. Bert dropped from his horse and called his Chums to his side. A quick search revealed their bodies covered in bumps and bruises, but no bones broken or severe cuts.
The Alien Father had already turned the Doodad into the ‘off’ position, closing the tunnel and stopping Earth time. A wave of relief passed through Bert. Back home, Olive lay prone on the lawn, and when he returned, if ever he did, he wanted her still lying there, where he could care for her.
“The Guardian was alone,” said the Alien Father. “But others will come. What shall we do?”
Bert wasn’t good at taking charge and giving orders. He usually let his best mate, Alf, do that. He tilted his head from side to side, weighing choices. “I think you should hide the Doodad and join the villagers at the Temple where it's safe.”
“What about you?”
Before answering, Bert tugged on his bottom lip. “Well, I’m going to the Guardian’s citadel.” He wasn’t sure what he’d do when he arrived, but it seemed the obvious move.
“Take me with you. Mount your magnificent beast, make room for me, and pull me up.”
Bert’s mouth fell open. “You want to come too?”
“Yes. Just give me a second to hide the Doodad.”
Bert blew into the nostrils of his horse and stroked its long neck. “Be brave, my friend,” he breathed. “Remember the tricks we’ve practised, we’ll need them now.”
The horse nodded. “I remember. You want me to fight. I understand. You and me. Fight.”
“Good,” said Bert. “You, me, our Chums, and the Alien Father. The magnificent five versus the curse of the universe: the Guardians.”
The horse trotted, reserving its energy, but they covered distance fast. As they neared the forest edge that hemmed the citadel, Bert stopped, lowered the Alien Father to the ground, and dropped to his side. “Back on my planet," said Bert, "we have animals called sheep. They’re a lot like you, docile, but not half as brainy. We call the male sheep rams and they can be aggressive. Some have caused serious injuries, even death, to people.” He placed his hand on the Alien Father’s shoulder and fixed him with a stare. “I’m asking you to be a ram. Can you do it?”
“I won’t run away this time,” said the Alien Father, tightening his impressive muscles.
"We have to take the Guardians by surprise."
"Yeah, that's what I reckon, too. You stay here and count to a hundred while I get closer. Then kick one of their lawnmowers again and go hide yourself before they see you. When they come out of the citadel, I go in. Got it?”
The Alien Father gave a curt nod and answered with a steady low-pitched voice. “Got it. Count to one hundred.”
It wasn’t much of a plan, thought Bert, but he didn’t want the Alien Father hurt. If the little fellow was brave enough to do his part, and then run off, good. He’d take care of the rest. “Here, take my knife. It’ll give you courage.”
The Bowie Knife looked like a sabre in the Alien Father’s grip. The tip rested on the ground. “Don’t you need it?”
“I’ve got another one,” said Bert. It was a lie, and he almost changed his mind. "Why didn't you take the ray gun back on my planet? It was on the lawn. You almost tripped over it."
"Why didn't you?"
Not wanting to start an argument, Bert spurred Bigfoot and rode off. He stopped when he faced the citadel’s doors, keeping out of sight in the trees. Right on cue, the Alien Father darted out and booted a lawnmower onto its back.
Instead of retreating into the trees, as Bert expected, the Alien Father sprinted across the neatly cut grass and kicked another lawnmower onto its side.
The citadel’s double doors cracked open, and a huge Guardian emerged, wielding a ray gun. The Alien Father whirled about, bent over to touch his toes, and let his guts unleash a riot of gas. Produced from his unusual meal and extreme nervousness, it sounded like a long sharp military blast from a bugle.
“You measly little turd,” screeched the Guardian as it charged, “You’ll pay for that with a boot up your arse.”
“Now,” said Bert, and sent Bigfoot bolting across the lawn. The Guardian skidded and stopped, undecided which way to run. Seeing Bert on horseback and two savage dogs rushing for the citadel door, it wheeled around and raced back.
Bert reached the citadel first and bolted inside. The space was as large as a tennis court, and the Guardian's Doodad rested on a low plinth in the centre of the uninhabited space. A tunnel swirled and wheezed, open to the Guardian's planet of evil.
“Stamp on it,” shouted Bert into the horse’s ear, and one second later a front hoof found its mark, smashing the gadget into a trillion pieces. In a flash, the tunnel collapsed, closed for ever.
Behind him, the Guardian scowled in the doorway, ray gun raised, rage foaming from the corners of its fat lips.
Bert cursed. He’d been careless. He should have set his dogs on the ugly creature. It had them trapped, too far to reach before it pulled the trigger. A fearful gnarl creased the Guardian’s brow as its finger squeezed.
In that same moment, a glint of steel flashed. The Alien Father inched up behind the Guardian, both hands clasping the razor-sharp Bowie knife above his head. His face was red and blotchy as if he’d been holding his breath, which then exploded from his mouth as he drove the knife into the back of the Guardian’s thigh.
The Guardian gasped, eyes suddenly as wide as jam tarts cooling on a windowsill, and it swatted its leg as if a hornet had stung it.
That was all the time Bert needed. His horse and dogs reached the stunned Guardian and bowled it over. The Alsatians tore at its throat, and a well-placed front hoof caved its skull in.
There was no joy for Bert over the victory. He was a 'has been' burglar, not a murderer. “It’s over, Rambi, you can come out.”
The Alien Father peeked around the door frame. Seeing the Guardian lying there, he tiptoed into view. “Rambi?”
“Yep. From now on I’ll call you Rambi.”
The Alien Father sunk to his knees and clasped his hands over his face. “You did it,” he muttered through his fingers. “You closed the Guardian’s tunnel. They can never come here again.”
“Without you, Rambi, it would have cost my life. You’re my hero.” Bert dragged his knife from the fallen Guardian and handed it hilt first to the Alien Father. “Keep it. It’s yours.”
A bloom of red spread across the Alien Father’s cheeks. Then an assured smile crossed his face, and he wagged his head up and down.
Above them, the terrifying projected image and trumpet sound continued. “I’ll soon stop that,” said Bert, scanning for the source.
“No, leave it!”
Bert didn’t understand but was glad to let Alien Father take charge. “Why?”
“Guardians are still on my planet, rounding up our children. If you interrupt the projection, they’ll realise something is wrong. Best to take them unawares.”
As if to prove his point, a flying scooter appeared over the top of the citadel and slowly descended. The Alien Father snatched up the dropped ray gun, waited until the Guardian landed, and pulled the trigger. A dazzling zap pummelled the Guardian, and it burst into fizzing flames.
They released the children, dragged the remains of the scooter and its carriage into the forest, told the petrified kids to dash down to the village, and watched hidden for the next Guardian to arrive.
“You’ll be here a while, doing this,” said Bert, impressed at the Alien Father’s newfound confidence. “You don’t need my help for a while. I’ll be back shortly.”
In this post: Sad goodbye…
Five hours later and Bert returned to the rock camp, his horse and dogs panting. On the way, he’d passed several groups of children, tear-stained, yelping, and plunging down the hill as swift as their stubby little legs would carry them. He found the Alien Father squatting on hands and knees, where he’d been sick.
“Hey, Rambi.” Bert helped the dwarf to his feet and moved him farther behind the rock, where the trees provided shade and the air was cool. “Stomach puking up that strange food I gave you?”
The Alien Father shook his head. “No, not the food. It’s this slaying.”
“Yeah.” Words stuck in Bert’s throat and he wished he could relieve his friend’s misery. He sat beside him and tugged him into a hug. “Want me to take over?”
“No. You’ve done enough. I have to prevail alone.” The Alien Father sniffed, freed himself from Bert’s massive arms, and thrust out his chest. He pointed to a stack of ray guns. “See. I’ve been collecting them. I’ll not run out of firepower.”
“You won’t be alone for long.” Bert told him he’d spoken to the Elder and disclosed all that happened. In a wave of jubilation, the Elder promised to send a small group of young men to help and plenty of supplies for a lengthy campaign. “I’ve brought the Doodad with me. You’re useless at hiding it. I’m going home. For ever.”
A groan accompanied the roll of the Alien Father’s eyes, making Bert want to hurry, to avoid the sadness of departure.
“When I get home, I’ll smash the Doodad at my end, but don’t turn your end off until the tunnel closes. I’ve got a present for you.” With that, Bert, Bigfoot, and the Chums torpedoed themselves into the tunnel.
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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