Dear friends, 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.
#3: Gamblers who Cheat ® James Field.
Standing alone now on Ye Olde Inn's car park, Alf put the lawyer from his mind, glanced about, and noticed a small moped scooter parked next to a bicycle stand. It had small balloon tires, orange and silver trimmings, and a large luggage box in the same style behind the seat.
He strolled across to inspect it closer, swung a leg over the softly padded saddle, and noticed the keys remained in the ignition. He considered loaning it for a while and wriggled his hairless eyebrows. It was neither a sin nor a shame when the owner was most likely the fake Hell's Angel he'd met at the bar just now. A jab on the start button brought it to happily life, its exhaust making a sound like popcorn in a hot saucepan.
There were no gears, so Alf gave it full throttle and pushed off with his long legs. Not caring what others thought, he whooped, did a lap of the car park, and zipped off toward the main road and freedom.
The scooter wielded even less power than Alf expected, and he kept the throttle opened at full. He'd ridden many a motorcycle, his own was a massive Harley, but none of them were as puny and light as this. But what did it matter? he consoled himself. You never know how life will turn when you have no expectations.
Potholes riddled the dirt-track road that led out of The Stables, forcing him to drive slalom. A cloud of dust followed, and a young couple holding hands almost fell into the ditch as he swerved past. "Yahoo!" shouted Alf, both legs and his free arm raised as high as he could lift them.
Driving along the highway proved much less fun. This time, it was he who almost fell into the ditch as lorries squeezed past to overtake. At the first opportunity he veered into a single-lane side road that wormed its way to a cluster of distant farmsteads.
As soon as he turned into the lane, throttle still wide open, he recognised the slim outline of a young lady ambling beside the curb, hips swaying like a pendulum. She carried a pink handbag over her slender shoulder and lugged a plastic carrier bag in one hand, swapping as he watched to the other. If Alf guessed right, he reckoned a bus had dropped her off on the main road and she was walking home.
One minute later, he swished past her, skidded to a halt, stopped the little machine, and bowed his head. "Hello there," he said, presenting his friendliest Pug smile. "My name is Alf. Can I give you a lift?"
"No thanks, I don't have far to go," said the girl, looking at him with suspicion.
But Alf, enjoying himself, couldn't let her slip away so easily. "It's a beautiful day, my darling, and you are a beautiful woman. Hop on behind and I'll take you for a spin, just for the fun of it."
The girl screamed, dropped her carry bag, and set off running as if the devil loomed on her heels. Alf laughed out loud, swallowed his disappointment, and considered his haggard features. Baldheaded, flat-nosed, cauliflower ears, a stubble of scruffy hair on his jaw, and enough scars to make anyone think he was a veteran battlefield casualty. Who wouldn't run off?
Before he'd started his career as a street fighter, he'd been an irresistibly handsome hunk. In those days, girls threw themselves at him, and if he still had those looks the girl would have gladly climbed on behind him and hugged him tightly. He clasped his hands together in his lap and stared at them; today, he couldn't think of anyone who found him attractive.
It dawned on him then that perhaps this was the reason he sought solitude: a desire to escape the lonely sadness, a need to be alone. Being in his early forties, he was still a young man, plenty of time to find a warm companion willing to share his days. But where was she? He leant forward, elbows resting on the moped's handlebars, and stared off at nothing; one more dream he'd save for later.
Not downcast by nature, Alf set his gloom aside, stepped off the moped, and picked up the girl's carrier bag. Just as he suspected, it was full of nosh: cakes, potato crisps, and coke. With a bitter smile, he told himself off for thinking negatively. Heaven smiled on him today, and he couldn't wait to see what it had in store.
In this post: Alf finds a wedding suit…
Pebbles on the gravel road crunched under his boots, or was it the scatters of broken glass littering the wayside? There, among the tangled clumps of dandelions and foxtail, he fixed his gaze on cigarette butts, plastic food trays, and beer cans: a sad reminder of modern society.
The distant clank of a tractor made him look up. Wide-open countryside surrounded him with the occasional copse of trees spread here and there, and old rotting shacks and barns forgotten in fields.
A cloud of birds followed in the tractor's wake, feasting on worms turned up by its plough. The smell of cow manure assaulted his nose. "The farmer's wife," he muttered, recalling his and his friend's retort whenever the farmers spread muck.
Another symbol of modern society invaded his awareness: the rumble of traffic on the distant main road. It triggered his sense of survival. Time to rid himself of the stolen scooter. By now, the fake Hell's Angel would have reported the theft to the police and they'd be on the lookout. Nonchalantly, he opened the luggage box to see what it contained.
An expensive dress-suit met his gaze: the fake Hell's Angel's set of wedding garments. With the ease of two mated jigsaw pieces locking together, an idea slid into Alf's mind. If he were to make entry to The Hotel California he wouldn't stand a chance in his scruffy T-shirt and frayed jeans.
Ah, but with such a fine wardrobe of clothes, he reflected, tipping his head back, eyes closed to face the sun's life-giving warmth, I might just get away with it.
To be continued…
The real world:
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A River in Darkness: One Man's Escape from North Korea by Masaji Ishikawa
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
To save the jobs of those in the Japanese government who helped him escape, Masaji Ishikawa wrote: “…obviously I wasn’t going to start talking to the press.” Instead, he wrote this mammoth best-selling book? Sorry, but I don’t believe this man’s autobiography can be true. If it is, then he is likely responsible for the sacking of those government officials who helped his return to Japan, and worse, expose his family to torture or execution in North Korea.
It may well be that he moved to North Korea in 1960, aged thirteen, where he lived until his escape in 1996. However, I rather believe his memoir is an over dramatised collection of exaggerated incidents he picked up from others. In which case, good for him.
I hope this is the case; otherwise, he puts himself in a poor light. From his book, he already comes across as egoistic, beating up anyone who upsets him and often leaving his family to starve while he runs off to find work to feed himself.
North Korea is undoubtedly not an agreeable place to live, but propaganda and false news flourish. The story in this book is captivating and mind-bogglingly tragic, hence four stars. I just don’t accept Mr Ishikawa’s life was as awful, or maybe I don’t want to believe, as he relates.
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