Thank you to everyone who voted for what is sitting in the bag lady’s place. There was a tie for the first time with ‘old folded Exam papers’ and ‘Other’ each receiving 36% of the vote. ‘Other’ suggestions included ‘a leprechaun’, ‘a My Little Pony (alive)’, ‘a small elephant’, ‘an earwig in a woolly hat’, ‘a singing mushroom’, ‘a small dinosaur’, ‘action figure Jesus’, and ‘Ronnie Corbett’. I cannot dispute the fun to be had if you stumbled upon such a party…
…however, only one could win. Unable to decide on a winner, I put them all in a hat and the victor was ‘a small dinosaur’. This brought to mind a character request from Tom right at the very beginning for a character named Darren the magic diplodocus. So here he is… Oh, and the bag lady’s name was a joint effort by Anna and Gav, who don’t know each other but whose lives are now intertwined because of the wonders of Story Soup.
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A seemingly impossible task for Gregory.
After the initial disappointment of finding the bag lady gone, Gregory took a step back in alarm at the sight that met him. There in the bottom of the apple tree sat a very small diplodocus with a wad of papers in its mouth. It did not look much like a diplodocus; or rather, it did not look much like we think a diplodocus should look. This is because although the scientists studying dinosaurs made a very good guess as to how a diplodocus looked, they got some vital details wrong. For one thing, this dinosaur was bright blue. For another, it was incredibly small.
Gregory’s first thought was that it must be a lizard. “Perhaps it’s a chameleon…” he said quietly to the bag.
“Course not!” the bag replied. “It’s a dinosaur!”
Gregory shook his head. “Dinosaurs are extinct,” he said indignantly.
The bag started to laugh. “Extinct!” he said with a snort. “Don’t they teach you anything at school?”
Gregory rolled his eyes. “There’s no point asking you. You’re just a bag.”
The bag gave an angry tut. “It’s not a chameleon. Its neck is too long.”
“Well, it can’t be a dinosaur…” Gregory said in a daze. “I know that for sure.”
The bag simply turned its nose up. It was a dinosaur, clear as day, but there was no point in arguing. Some people will refuse to believe in all sorts of things, no matter what kind of alarming proof is presented to them.
As they continued to watch, the dinosaur looked up at them and one of the pieces of paper fell from its mouth. Gregory tentatively picked it up and unfolded it. It was the front page of an old maths exam. It had a series of difficult questions down one side, and a hastily written note from the bag lady on the other. In an untidy scrawl it read:
‘Dear Gregory. I have taken your watch in exchange for Darren. As you have probably gathered, he is a diplodocus (at this, the bag gave a smug little chuckle) and is therefore infinitely more valuable than your watch, so do take care of him. He is also magical but I’m sure you’ve guessed that too so I won’t patronise you by explaining why. I’m sure you meant me no harm when you attacked me and stuffed me into this tree, but I must tell you that I have now lost all sensation in my arms and legs. I had been in the middle of an incredibly important experiment but your little attack has left me unable to continue. If you want to see your watch again you will have to complete my experiment for me. These papers show you my life’s work up to this point. I won’t disparage you by spelling it all out. But at any rate, Darren should come in helpful. Yours, Alberta Anne. PS: Tell that ungrateful little bag he can get stuffed. I never liked him anyway (at this, the bag gave a wounded little growl).’
Gregory looked from the bizarre note, to Darren the diplodocus, to the talking armadillo bag, and back again. Then he rubbed his eyes and took a deep breath. By his side, the bag was hopping up and down, gleefully exhorting the fact that the bag lady was gone and that they were in for a grand adventure. Gregory wasn’t the kind of boy to delight in grand adventures. He felt thoroughly weary and bewildered. I have used two dogs to illustrate the scene:
The bag gave a little whistle. “A magical dinosaur, hey? Here little fellow, there’s a good boy…” He put a polyester arm out and gave Darren a tentative pat on the back.
Darren rubbed against the bag and uttered something between a roar and a purr.
“Oh, I like him!” the bag said eagerly. “This is going to be fun!”
“Important experiment…” Gregory muttered in confusion scanning the note once more. “She’s left me her entire life’s work!”
“Well then,” said the bag smoothly, “you’d better stop Darren chewing them.”
“Oh yes!” Gregory leant across and pulled cautiously at the papers in Darren’s mouth. Although Darren looked utterly harmless, there was no telling when he might turn. He was magical, after all. Gregory laid the papers out on the ground. The top page looked something like this:
“What does it mean?” Gregory asked the bag in confusion.
“Don’t ask me,” the bag replied with a careless shrug. “I’m just a bag.”
“Didn’t she tell you what she was doing?”
“Obviously not,” the bag said with a hint of bitterness.
Darren the diplodocus sneezed and lay flat on his belly.
Gregory watched him roll over and then said, “I guess you don’t know how he’s magical, either?”
The bag gave a nonchalant shrug. “Not a clue.”
Gregory covered his face with his hands and gave an exasperated whimper. “I hate maths!” he said. “And I hate challenges. And I hate animals. Especially magical ones. In fact, I hate everything about today.” (At this, the bag gave an affronted little sniff and said, “Hate you too, Idiot,” although it didn’t mean it.)
Gregory read the note one last time. He looked at each piece of the maths exam in turn. The ramblings went on for eighteen pages. Front and back. It seemed like an awful lot of hard work just to get his father’s watch back. And if she was a witch then who was to say that the experiment would actually lead to anything good? It was only a watch; surely his dad wouldn’t be that angry! In fact, if Gregory kept quiet, perhaps he could get away with it completely. It crossed his mind that if he took Darren to a national newspaper he might get some kind of reward and be able to buy his father not just a new watch but all manner of lavish things. But then, he reasoned, there would be many questions and no end of trouble. The bag lady would probably come after him and cast a spell on him. Turn him into an animal perhaps, or chop off all his limbs. He could go home right now, turn his back on the bag, the dinosaur and Alberta Anne’s silly mission. It would be better to quit now than to get in too deep and fail. Gregory took a deep breath and put the old exam papers down.
“Oi!” said the bag. “Where are you going?”
“Home,” Gregory said simply.
“Phew,” the bag said with a whistle. “What a coward.”
Gregory turned back sharply. “I’m not a coward!” he snapped. “It’s just too much. I have no idea what this experiment is or where to begin. Besides, I haven’t got time. I’ve just joined the chess club at school.”
“The chess club!” the bag scoffed. “What a loser!”
(A small note from the writer, I know many decent people who play chess and are not losers. Indeed, I myself played for many years and I am not a loser. My brother played for England and he is not a loser either. This was just the opinion of the bag. And what would bags know?)
Something inside Gregory churned at the bag’s words. It was true. He was a loser. A loser who played chess and wasn’t any good at it even if he cheated. He was boring and lonely and had never amounted to anything. He glanced at Darren who was bopping up and down as if to some silent trance music. He looked down at the papers by his feet and contemplated the impossible mission. He looked at the bag who gave him a wry smile and said simply, “What will it be, Bedcarrots?”