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 where in the orphanage Gregory and his gang arrive. ‘Other’ suggestions included, ‘The angry orphanage manager’s under desk cabinet’ and ‘A laboratory in which 12 dinosaurs like Darren are lined up on a shelf’, but the winning choice, with 42% of the vote was in the Laundry room…
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Gregory’s first trip abroad.
“Are we there?” Gregory asked anxiously. “Is this the right place?”
They were surrounded by piles of white towels, creased sheets and clean pyjamas.
“I don’t know,” Penny replied, picking a pair of pants off her head.
The room was very small and smelt of soap. It was probable that it was usually kept quite tidy, but their arrival had caused quite a disruption as many of the shelves had collapsed, leaving the contents in a disorderly heap on the small white floor. The bag was stuck under a pile of dirty pillow cases and was crying out for assistance. Gregory ran to his aid, though he soon wished he hadn’t when the bag snapped ungratefully, “Thanks for nothing, Idiot!”
Gregory sniffed and went to retrieve Darren who had landed in a box of pegs. “Are you alright?” he asked the dinosaur tenderly, unhooking a peg off his tail.
Darren purred and closed his eyes.
“I want to go home!” moaned the bag, twisting awkwardly to look at his limbs. “I think I’ve pulled a stitch!”
Gregory ignored him and took a deep breath, looking round at the piles of laundry that surrounded them.
Penny was clearing boxes of washing powder from the window sill in an attempt to peer through the window. “I can’t see anything,” she muttered in frustration.
Gregory caught sight of a tag sewn into a nearby towel. He picked it up and read, “Princeton Orphanage.” He shot Penny a wide grin. “We’re here!”
Penny beamed at him and then began to rifle through some clothes on the floor. “This is nice!” she said, holding up a long flowing skirt. She pulled it on over her trousers and did a little spin.
“What are you doing?” Gregory cried in exasperation. He knew that Penny, like most girls, was rather fond of clothes, but surely there were more pressing matters at hand.
“Put this on,” Penny suggested, thrusting a t-shirt into Gregory’s hands.
“Penny, be serious!” Gregory snapped in frustration.
“I am being serious!” Penny said, affronted. “I just meant it might help us look like we belong. We can’t walk through in our own clothes; we’ll look strange to them. It’s the fifties! They’ll have no idea what Star Wars is!” She pointed to the logo on Gregory’s shirt.
Gregory looked down at his own clothes and realised she was right. “All right,” he said. “But you’ll need to hide your earphones. And your High School Musical bracelet.” He looked her up and down. “And your crocs,” he added pointing to her feet.
Penny gave a squeak of fury. “I should have thought of this before we left!” she scolded herself. She started to rummage more urgently through the clothes, holding dresses and shirts up to herself and asking Gregory to vote for which ones suited her most.
Gregory shrugged in a most unhelpful manner as he pulled on the nearest clean shirt. “Just pick something,” he said impatiently.
“Alright, I am…” Penny tried on a dress and then decided it made her look ‘too frumpy’. The next top ‘didn’t quite fit right’ and the shirt after that was ‘too orange’. She found herself quite smitten with a pale pink scarf and insisted on wearing it even though Gregory (quite rightly) asserted that it made her seem like she was trying too hard to look older than she truly was. She then couldn’t decide between a white poodle skirt and a pair of black peddle pushers and ended up wearing them both. To top it off, she wore a loose pink shirt and tied it in a knot at the waist, stating firmly that, “All girls wore clothes like this in the fifties.” Eventually she undid the plaits in her hair and swept it back into a half ponytail, keeping the loose hair in place with a clothes peg. “How do I look?”
Gregory looked her over and said nothing.
“Would I fit in?” Penny begged him urgently.
Finally Gregory gave a long, slow nod.
“Good! Then let’s go!” said Penny. “Oh, and one more thing: We’re in America so we’d better speak in American accents.”
Gregory shot her a flabbergasted look and followed her nervously out of the laundry room. They crept along an empty corridor, sticking close together and muttering incoherently as they attempted American accents under their breath.
Penny carried the bag under her arm and he too was muttering incoherently, though he wasn’t as much practising an accent as heaping bitter curses as he grumbled about his withdrawals from Mario Kart.
Darren sat snugly in one of Gregory’s pockets while the bag lady’s key was wedged safely amongst the time worms in the other. Every now and then Gregory felt to make sure they were all still there. “We need to get to the hallway,” he told Penny, racking his brains as he tried to remember what the older him had said so many weeks ago. “A little girl should be there— Alberta, I mean. We need to get her out of the way so I can pretend to be the child the scientist has been allocated.”
Penny nodded and said in an appalling American accent, “Sure thing Buddy!”
Gregory grimaced and pointed towards some stairs. “Let’s go down there.”
They ventured carefully down the stairs, slightly disturbed by how empty and quiet the orphanage appeared to be. As it was, it was lunchtime and most of the children were on the other side of the building waiting to be fed in the dining room. But of course, they weren’t to know this. As they neared the bottom, Penny shook Gregory’s arm in excitement. There, sitting on the bottom step was a little girl with her hair in pigtails. Gregory felt both sick and exhilarated at the same time as they ran the last few steps and stopped in front of the child.
For a moment, forget anything you may believe about the kind of person the bag lady is. At this point, she was a sweet and simple child of three or four, largely untainted by the stains of this world. She liked painting and animals and pretending to be a princess. At this moment in time she was dreaming of flying. Gregory could not help but feel a twinge of compassion for her. He nudged Penny, indicating that as a sensitive girl, she should do the talking.
“Hello,” Penny said to the girl in her raucous fake accent. “I’m Penny.”
The girl looked at her with wide eyes and gave a shy smile. “Wanna play with me?”
Gregory’s jaw dropped as Penny shot him triumphant grin. It was like taking candy from a baby. Or a nut from a squirrel.
“I’d love to!” Penny said sweetly. “Let’s go and play outside…” She led the girl down the hallway and through the front door, pausing at the doorway to mouth Gregory a swift good-luck.
Gregory forced a determined grin and took a deep breath as the door swung closed behind them.
Goodness knows how long Gregory sat there on the cold grey step. It felt to him like hours and hours and he soon began to lose heart completely. More than a couple of times he got to his feet and edged towards the door, running his hands through the time worms in his pocket as he contemplated grabbing Penny and insisting that they were leaving. But every time, he remembered the sweet face of the little girl and, much as he hated the bag lady for putting him in this position, he couldn’t find it within himself to leave her to her dire fate.
While he waited, Gregory tried fruitlessly to produce an American accent. He had never been to America before. In fact, this was his first ever time abroad. When he first realised this, he felt rather excited and wondered where in the world he and Penny should go next. But then he considered that from what he’d seen of it, America wasn’t much more exciting than England, and what with the ridiculous task he had ahead of him, he probably wasn’t so lucky after all.
At one point, the matron of the orphanage walked through the hallway and eyed Gregory suspiciously. “Are you alright?” she asked him.
Gregory looked at her in horror and nodded wildly.
“Are you sure?” She looked closer at him and then, realising that she didn’t recognise him, asked, “Are you new?”
Feeling as though his tongue was glued to his mouth, Gregory nodded quickly.
“When did you arrive?” she continued, putting her hands on her hips.
Gregory simply shrugged.
“Are you hungry?”
Afraid that she would continue to press him until he gave himself away, Gregory said quietly, “No,” and looked away, desperately hoping that just one little word wouldn’t reveal him to be an English boy.
The matron shook her head and muttered something about him needing to have manners beaten into him. But thankfully she left him then.
A few minutes later, Gregory heard the rattling of a nearby door. His heart leapt as he got to his feet.
“I’ll bring her to you now,” he heard a voice saying courteously.
“Good,” a second voice said civilly from inside the room.
Gregory pretended to be studying a plaque on the wall as an aging gentleman came out of a nearby office. He wore a dark brown suit and was clearly the director of the orphanage.
“Oh, where has she gone?” he muttered angrily to himself upon finding the stairs empty. He looked up and down the hallway, peered into a nearby room and then disappeared down a corridor, shouting angrily for the little girl.
Gregory bit his lip and let out a whimper. This was it. Without another thought, he forced himself to walk over to the director’s office, turn the handle on the door, and walk through to face his doom. The scientist (whose name was Professor Harvey) was stood by the window. He had a long grim face and smelt of cigars. His lip curled into a sneer as Gregory came in and stood before him.
Taking a deep breath, Gregory said in a garble, “I’m-the-child-you-waitin-for-!”
Professor Harvey raised his eyebrows, “Excuse me?” he said in a deep American drawl.
Gregory cleared his throat and tried again. “I’m the child… for you.”
The scientist shook his head and said firmly, “No, you’re not. I asked for a young one.” He turned his back on Gregory and started to stride around the director’s office.
Gregory bit his lip and took hold of the sideboard to steady his beating heart. There, beside the scientist’s chair, was a large brown bag. Gregory’s heart skipped a beat as he remembered the older Gregory’s words; His bag contains Einstein’s brain which he removed without permission that very morning.
A few minutes later, Professor Harvey checked his watch and tutted angrily. “I really can’t wait much longer,” he muttered. He turned to Gregory and demanded impatiently, “Is that old fellow bringing me a child or not?”