Welcome to the penultimate instalment of 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 whether or not Gregory should trust the bag man. ‘Other’ suggestions included, “I’d rather eat wasps,” and “Only if you give me my stuff back,” but these are really just glorified ‘No’s joining 43% of voters keen to tell the bag man where to go.
The FINAL instalment will be posted very soon, but if you want to be reminded, then please subscribe using the links on the top left of the site or by joining the Story Soup Facebook page.
Gregory Bedcarrots: out of time.
I don’t suppose you have ever wondered what somebody would look like if they were half human and half polyester bag. There are certainly stranger and more exciting things to imagine, a man made of babies for example…
However, you would be wrong to think for one moment that the strange hybrid that stood before Gregory was any less fantastic. The bag man was now as tall as Gregory and almost as wide, but with coarse patterned skin and peculiar flaps hanging off his body. He had brown stitching across his forehead and a zip down his right cheek and looked a bit like a Muppet gone wrong. With a patchy hand extended to Gregory he gave a sickening smile and repeated his proposition. “Well, Gregory, what will it be? Do you trust me or not?”
Gregory gave a little cough. He didn’t trust him, not at all, but wondered whether saying he did might be safer than outright defiance.
But before he could reply, Penny (still the size of a hamster) came scurrying over and exclaimed in a pip-squeak voice, “We thought you were our friend, you monster!”
The bag man gave a wounded little whimper and scowled. “I’m only trying to help,” he said softly.
“Help?!” Penny shrieked, positively hysterical as she beat her tiny fists upon the bag man’s feet. “How is this helping anything?”
The bag man took a deep breath and said sombrely, “I’ve seen many things on my travels, but the fate of man remains unchanged: Men talk of killing time while all the while time is killing men.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Penny demanded in a shrill squawk.
“It means that unless preventative measures are taken, one’s time on this earth is limited.”
“Well that’s hardly rocket science!” Penny squeaked in derision. “Don’t listen to him Gregory, he’s just a bag remember!”
The bag man glared at her. “Who asked you, Mousy? I believe I was talking to Gregory.” He turned to Gregory and said in a simpering drawl, “Come now Gregory, we are pretty much brothers after all!” He gave a dazzling grin and Gregory’s baby tooth glistened from inside his scratchy mouth.
At the sight of his own tooth, Gregory felt anger rising in his chest. “How can I trust you?” he demanded angrily. “You’ve been pretending all this time— sneaking round and stealing bits of my life!”
Taken aback, the bag man paused for a moment before appealing more gently, “Come on Gregory. It was for your own good…”
“My own good!” Gregory exploded. “You’ve got to be kidding! How do you think it feels seeing a piece of my own coffin for goodness sake! Just get lost!”
The colour drained from the bag man’s face as he narrowed his eyes at Gregory. “Fine!” he roared furiously. “Have your stuff back! I could have shown you a way to live forever but you’ve blown it you ungrateful little idiot!” Without another moment’s thought the bag man kicked off Gregory’s shoes, ripped out his tooth and began to pull all manner of items belonging to Gregory from out of his pockets. He threw them angrily at Gregory and then, with a nauseating gulp and a crazed look in his eyes, picked the remaining time worms up from the ground, tossed them into the air and caught them in the back of his throat.
Gregory and Penny watched in stunned silence as the bag man started to shrink and unwind until all that was left of him was a pile of orange thread and a pair of polyester armadillo ears.
“Well, that was really weird,” Gregory said nervously, trying with all his might to ignore the petrified lump that had formed in the back of his throat.
At that point, the elderly Mr and Mrs Bedcarrots came shuffling over, his father mumbling something about needing to buy a mousetrap.
Gregory squeezed his eyes shut to keep from crying, but before he could reply he was interrupted by Penny who was pointing frantically towards the pitiful fragments of his life that lay on the ground. “Gregory, look!” she squeaked.
Gregory looked up and saw to his horror that his umbilical cord was wriggling. Sparks began to fly off it and it looked like it might blow up at any moment. In a matter of seconds there was a puff of smoke and a newborn baby appeared in its place; and not just any baby but baby Gregory James Bedcarrots, as though fresh from the oven.
Penny screamed and Mr and Mrs Bedcarrots started cooing in confusion but Gregory just stood in stunned silence. A moment later, his baby shoes exploded leaving in their place another baby Gregory, crying hysterically. Next, the tooth went and there came another Gregory, slightly older. When it came to a bright yellow colouring book, the Gregory that arrived came with chicken pox and a demand for juice.
Gregory started to back away as his young self came towards him. “Don’t touch me!” he exclaimed in terror. “Please don’t touch me!”
At that moment, a school tie by his foot exploded into the six year old Gregory who said in a petulant whine, “I’m bored!”
On and on it went like the world’s wickedest magic trick, with every item the bag had stolen transforming into the Gregory from whom it had been taken. From a distance the scene looked like some wild family reunion and the elderly Mr and Mrs Bedcarrots began to mingle blissfully through the crowd. “My son!” they kept repeating. “How are you?”
Penny was squealing in terror at each new Gregory that arrived, looking more and more like she were about to faint and doing all she could to keep from being trodden on.
As the Gregorys got older, they began to appeal to one other, recognising each other with wild shouts of disbelief.
“Is that me?”
“Am I you?”
“Is this a prank?”
At one point, a gold chain transformed into Professor Gregory J. Bedcarrots, the future Gregory whom Gregory had met so long ago. This Gregory took one look at our Gregory and said simply, “Oh, so you’ve brought the brain back for me have you? Where is it?”
“I, uh…” Gregory began to stammer and shake as the older Gregory started towards the brain that the bag had left rotting on the grass.
“What’s going on?” the older Gregory asked, finally noticing the other Gregorys.
But before Gregory could answer, the final piece of his life— the piece of wood from his coffin— exploded suddenly into a stiff hard corpse.
Gregory screamed and fell to his knees in despair. The younger ones started to cry.
“Keep calm,” he heard one of the older Gregorys say. “Everybody hold hands.”
“Good idea,” Professor Gregory J. Bedcarrots agreed, tucking Einstein’s brain under his arm.
Gregory jumped to his feet in fear, “No!” he exclaimed wildly. “Don’t touch each other!”
“Don’t do it!” Penny echoed. “You could turn into stone!”
“It will be fine,” the older Gregory said calmly. “I’m a scientist.”
“No, please!” Gregory begged desperately. He ran to the older Gregorys and tried to reason with them but they carelessly brushed him aside. Gregory had always been a somewhat stubborn and defiant young boy and he really could not compete with the combined obstinacy of so many of himself.
One by one the Gregorys got into a circle and took one another’s hand. The younger Gregorys had to be carried and one in particular (the toddler) kept trying to run off and had to be restrained by the fifteen year old. When the rest were assembled, one of the older Gregorys said firmly to our petrified Gregory, “Come on now! Don’t be selfish.”
“Go on son,” the elderly Mrs Bedcarrots said gently. “It won’t hurt you. It didn’t hurt you last time.”
“Last time?” Gregory muttered in confusion. Was this just the ramblings of a senile old lady, or did his mother know something he did not know?
“It never hurts you,” his mother continued quietly.
But before Gregory could ask further questions, one of the middle-aged Gregorys came and yanked him by the arm, forcing him into the circle. Gregory contemplated fighting, but he felt exhausted, confused, and sick to his stomach, so in weary surrender he closed his eyes and completed the circle. He felt an electric current flash through him and crackling, like white noise, filled his ears.
For the casual observer, it was a most peculiar sight; a multitude of the same person stood holding hands with himself in all sincerity and seriousness. Few scenarios could be so pertinent, so tragic and yet so delightful.
Penny gave a distressed sob as a flash of light surrounded the Gregorys. Mr and Mrs Bedcarrots, however, simply looked on fondly as their one and only son (as many as thirty of him) vanished into thin air.
Just before it happened, Gregory felt a sharp pain in the back of his head and cried out helplessly, “I love you Penny!”
And, just before everything turned to black, he heard her reply, in her tiny squeaky voice, “Thank you—!”