Welcome to Story Soup! If you need to catch up with the events so far, you can read the whole story in chronological order here. Thank you to everyone who voted for how Gregory should react to questioning from his neighbour, Penny. With 50% of the vote, you have decided he should ask Penny to join them! ‘Other’ suggestions included ‘Pretend his other self is his twin brother’ and— as if we needed more tangents—‘Practise for his role as Blackbeard in the school play.’
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Gregory Bedcarrots in Loving your Neighbour as Yourself.
Gregory turned around slowly. Under the gleam of the morning sun, Penny looked positively radiant with sharp little eyes and thick hair glistening like the glossy mane of a showstopper at Crufts.
“It’s not a lizard,” Gregory said quietly. “It’s a dinosaur.”
“You what?” Penny’s mouth curled into a smirk. “Dinosaurs are extinct!”
“Not this one,” Gregory said firmly. “In fact, he’s a diplodocus.”
“He looks nothing like a diplodocus!” Penny said.
“Well he is. His name is Darren,” said Gregory. Then he added, “And he’s magical.”
Penny raised her eyebrows. “What does he do?”
“Well… I don’t know yet.” Gregory blushed.
Penny looked at Gregory carefully, as if trying to work out if he was mocking her or merely delusional. She bit her lip and said slowly, “Are you alright, Gregory?”
“I’m not mad!” Gregory insisted angrily, which of course made her suspect madness all the more, for mad people are usually in denial. “It’s a long story really, but there was a bag lady and I accidentally punched her… and this is her bag,” he raised the bag in the air. “…and he’s alive…” He shook the bag, which hung limply in his hands. “Come on!” He hissed. “Stop sulking!”
The bag did nothing. Penny stood awkwardly and took a deep breath.
“He is alive,” Gregory insisted. “He’s just cross with me because I made us follow the future me’s instructions but it all went wrong.”
Penny was starting to look quite alarmed. “What do you mean the future you?”
“Me from the future!” Gregory exclaimed. “I met him earlier. Then I saw myself being born, and right now there was another one of me but I buried him.”
Penny stared at him and said nothing. Eventually she gave him a soft pitying sort of smile and said kindly, “Don’t worry about the pie, Gregory.”
“I’m not mad!” Gregory repeated angrily. “I’m just not explaining it very well.”
“It’s alright Gregory, I believe you.” Penny said in a quiet soothing voice. “I just have to go right now…” She started to back gingerly away.
“Look!” said Gregory angrily. “There’s another one of me and I’ll prove it!”
He stormed over to the mound of earth under which he’d buried his other self and hastily brushed the soil away. When the other Gregory came into view Penny gasped and screamed. The other Gregory stirred and let out a low groan.
“What’s going on?” Penny whispered in fear, stumbling back in horror.
“Well if you’d just let me explain,” Gregory said irately.
“Fine!” Penny said quickly. “Explain.” She sat down and eyed Gregory with extreme trepidation.
Gregory sat down beside her, took a deep breath, and began to tell her the whole story. Penny said nothing the whole time. If there is one thing you ought to know about Penny it’s that she was quite a practical, reasonable sort of girl. The sort that grown ups call ‘wise beyond her years’ and that teachers trust with important duties like collecting books or passing notes to other teachers. She had always understood, with a quiet sort of humility, that she was a rather intelligent girl. But upon hearing Gregory’s account of his day, everything she had ever believed to be true suddenly seemed absurd. All her good intentions (getting her homework done on time and following rules of common decency such as waiting in line and sending thank you notes) now felt to be entirely in vain. You may as well have told her that in the event of a hung parliament a cat and dog would be drafted in to run the country and that there was no hope but to start running around on all fours.
“And these are time worms,” Gregory explained, retrieving a handful of worms from his pocket. Now that he had Penny’s attention, he was relaxing into the story and took the opportunity to brag, “I could go anywhere in time with these. I could go to… I don’t know… a robot tea party in the future if I wanted to!”
At this, the bag promptly forgot about pretending to be inanimate and said snootily, “Which is what I suggested, I’ll have you know!”
Penny’s face went pale as she stared at the talking bag. Finally she took a deep breath and said in a controlled voice, “I’m not judging you Gregory Bedcarrots, but you seem to be making rather a big mess of it all.”
Gregory gave her a bashful smile and shrugged. “Will you help me?” he asked quietly.
Penny glanced over at where the other Gregory lay half conscious and covered in mud. “I think I’d better,” she said seriously.
At this the other Gregory gave a moan and started to open his eyes. Gregory looked at Penny in horror, “What should I do?” he hissed.
Penny got immediately to her feet and snapped into practical mode. “Just play it cool,” she said swiftly. “Pretend you’re his twin brother.”
Gregory gave a nod and went towards his other self. The other Gregory whimpered at the sight of him and hastily rubbed his eyes.
“It’s alright,” Gregory said calmly. “I’m your twin brother.”
“Huh?” the other Gregory said in horror. He scrambled out of the hole and backed fearfully away.
“I’m your twin brother,” Gregory repeated.
The other Gregory shook his head and started to mumble incoherently.
Penny came forward and put a hand on the other Gregory’s shoulder. He seemed to melt under her touch. “Don’t be scared,” she said gently. “He’s your brother.”
At this, the other Gregory began to relax. The fear faded from his eyes as he looked Gregory up and down. “I always wanted a brother!” he said softly.
“Me too!” Gregory exclaimed in astonishment.
Penny rolled her eyes and stifled a grin as the bag muttered dryly, “Great, now we have two Idiots.”
“But how? Why?” the other Gregory mumbled in confusion.
“The thing is we were separated at birth.” Gregory said, improvising wildly. “And you were brought up by Mr and Mrs Bedcarrots and I… well, I live…”
Penny stepped in to help. “He lives here,” she told the other Gregory. “It’s part of a government scheme to see what happens when siblings are raised apart but in identical social conditions.”
“You mustn’t tell anyone,” Gregory added.
“That’s ridiculous!” the other Gregory exclaimed in shock. “How could they keep something so big from us?”
“Er…” Gregory cleared his throat and scratched his head.
“It was an initiative from one of the old prime ministers,” Penny said with a shrug. “They thought it would be good for er, the economy.”
Gregory looked over at her in awe. She was so calm, so slick. He felt as though he was gazing at a picture of perfection. The other Gregory looked rather frightened. Gregory couldn’t help feeling sorry for himself.
“You’re really my brother?”
Gregory nodded quickly.
“What’s your name?”
“Gregory,” he said without thinking.
The other Gregory looked confused. “But that’s my name…”
“Er… I mean…” Once again Gregory floundered and once again Penny jumped to his aid.
“You’re both known as Gregory to keep the experiment as fair as possible,” she said. “But your real name is James. That’s why it’s your middle name.”
The other Gregory, whom we will now call JAMES to minimise the confusion, raised his eyebrows and then said in a quiet whisper, “He’s lived here with you all these years and I never even noticed? You must think I’m an idiot.” He looked like someone who has just been delivered some earth shattering news in the worst possible way.
“No, Gregory— I mean James!” Penny shook her head. “I don’t think you’re an idiot at all. I think you’re really cool… in a kind of strange sort of way…”
James’ jaw dropped and Gregory’s heart leapt. “You do?” they both said at the same time.
James turned sharply. “I think you’ll find she was talking to me.”
“Yes, but she means me as well!” Gregory snapped back.
“Course she doesn’t!” James countered irritably. “You meant me, didn’t you Penny?”
Penny looked from James to Gregory and gave a disturbed kind of laugh. “I meant both of you…” she said finally.
“Nonsense!” James got angrily to his feet. “You were talking to me. You think I’m really cool! Oh Penny, I think you’re cool too!”
Penny shot James a bashful smile. “Thanks.”
Then James pushed his luck even further. “Does that mean you want to go out with me?”
Penny gave a shy shrug. “I wanted to see your hiding place didn’t I?”
Gregory looked at them in shock. “Hey!” he cried. “That’s not fair.”
“Course it is!” James snapped at him.
“No it isn’t!” Gregory insisted. “Penny should be going out with me!”
“Well she’s chosen me!” James said arrogantly. “Haven’t you Penny?”
“I can’t choose between you!” said Penny in bewilderment. “You’re both… so similar.”
“I’ve got a cool new watch!” James said triumphantly. He flashed his father’s watch in front of Penny’s face.
“You nicked that from your dad!” Gregory snapped, much to James’ alarm. Then he turned and appealed to Penny, “I’m ever so slightly older and wiser.”
Penny looked at them both in dismay. Finally she looked at Gregory and said forcefully, “I’m sorry Gregory. I don’t think I can help you after all. This is too weird.” Then she shook her head, gave a soft sob and started to walk away.
“What did you do?” James demanded angrily. He came towards Gregory and gave him a shove.
Gregory glared at him and shoved him back.
“Right! That’s it!” James raised a fist.
“Come on then!” Gregory shouted, swiping for James’ head.
“I don’t think you should do that,” the bag said grimly.
Gregory ignored the bag and pulled his other self to the ground. They started punching each other wildly. They were quite evenly matched, as you’d imagine, and bearing in mind they were really both the same person it was quite a sorry sight to watch them beating the life out of one another.
“I really don’t think you should do that,” the bag repeated slightly louder. “The future you said something awful would happen if two of you ever came into… contact… oh dear.”