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 what is in the box from the bag lady. ‘Other’ suggestions included, ‘a ruler’, ‘a kiwi with a key inside it’ and ‘an anti-gravity device that lifts James to be seen’, but the winning choice, with 36% of the vote was a Key…
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The bubble bursts for Gregory Bedcarrots.
Gregory looked at Penny and then peered nervously into the box. It contained an old key; quite a strange looking one, with two ends, like this:
He and Penny shared a baffled glance and then, without speaking, they both abandoned the line of eager tourists and ran for Gregory’s house.
“What was she doing here?” Gregory wailed desperately, slamming the door behind them.
Penny shrugged and then took the strange key from him. “What do you reckon it’s for?” she asked.
“How should I know?” Gregory snapped. “Do I look like an expert in crazy witches?”
“Calm down!” Penny retorted irritably. “I’m just asking.”
“Do you want my help or not?” Penny demanded.
At this, Mrs Bedcarrots popped her head round the living room door. “Are you two all right?” she asked gently.
“Fine, thank you!” Gregory replied shrilly.
Penny nodded and fixed a grin on her face. “We’re just playing a game, Mrs Bedcarrots,” she said politely.
Gregory’s mother smiled and retreated back into the living room as Gregory and Penny exchanged tense looks.
“The bag might know what the key’s for,” whispered Penny. “Where is he?”
“In my room, of course!” Gregory whispered back. “Where else would I leave him?!”
“Oh yeah, sorry!” Penny blushed and followed Gregory up the stairs.
The bag, who was enjoying a spot of Mario Kart on the playstation, heard them coming and gave a huff of annoyance. “They’d better not be coming in here,” he snapped at Darren, who was half asleep on a pillow.
The bag had started to treat his secret stay at the Bedcarrots abode as a long-term vacation and despite starting off each day with the announcement that he was leaving, the truth was he had grown rather attached to Gregory. Although he was an extremely bolshy bag, he wasn’t particularly independent and had no intention of leaving any time soon. He spent his days reading comics and playing on Gregory’s playstation. His evenings consisted of making dens out of Gregory’s dirty clothes, and every night he would wake Gregory before midnight to ask for a glass of milk. He was quite used to having Gregory’s bedroom to himself, so was reasonably affronted when Gregory and Penny came rushing in, mere hours into the day.
“What do you want?” he demanded rudely, raising a polyester eyebrow.
“We saw Alberta,” Gregory said breathlessly.
“And she had an armadillo bag,” added Penny.
The bag turned quite white with shock. It seemed it had not yet considered the possibility of another one of itself.
“Did it look just like me?” the bag asked worriedly.
“What do you think?” Gregory said scathingly.
“Oh yeah…” The bag stopped and thought. “Did it… did it speak?”
“No,” said Penny. “It was pretending to be a normal bag.”
The bag nodded. “Well good job we didn’t meet,” he said simply, turning back to his game.
“Anyway,” Gregory continued urgently, “the bag lady gave us this.” He held the key out. “Do you know what it’s for?”
The bag took it and turned it over in his hands. He put it to his ear, and then sniffed it. “No idea,” he said finally.
Gregory let out a disappointed sigh.
“One thing’s for sure,” Penny said seriously. “She knows who you are.”
“Yes.” Gregory nodded grimly. “What should I do?”
Penny took a deep breath and then said resolutely, “I think you should go on with the mission.”
Gregory’s stomach turned over. Having finally managed to get his life back to normal, this was the very last thing he wanted to do. He would probably have reacted more favourably if you’d asked him to leap from a plane with nothing but a motorbike as a parachute.
“Think about it,” Penny continued. “Alberta knows who you are. There’s no escaping from her. The sooner you get this mission over with, the sooner you can get on with your life.”
All life and colour drained from Gregory’s face as he considered Penny’s advice. Eventually he nodded glumly. “You’re probably right.”
“I know,” Penny said firmly. Then she added kindly, “I’ll come with you, Gregory. It should all go to plan this time!”
Gregory gave a cautious nod and then retrieved the time worms from where he’d been storing them in his desk drawer.
“Hold on a minute,” the bag said petulantly. “I like it here. I don’t want to go on any stupid mission.”
“Tough luck,” Penny said brutally. “We might need you.” She switched the playstation off and swept out of the room, leaving the bag to gape after her with its mouth wide open.
Gregory gave the bag a shrug and called timidly after Penny, “Wait for us!”
Being an extremely practical girl, Penny insisted that they make up a lunch to take on their journey. A dab hand at secret picnics and midnight feasts, she snuck into the kitchen and prepared the lunch expertly, without Mrs Bedcarrots hearing so much as the rustle of a crisp packet. Realising that they may not be back in time for dinner, Penny then packed a couple of tins of soup (and a tin opener) for their tea. Next she fretted for a while about the conditions inside the worm hole but Gregory (although incredibly nervous) assured her that they wouldn’t need any knives or any other form of weapon. Penny thought for a moment and then ran back to her own house to retrieve a jumper because, as she said, who knows what the weather might be like in the past. With all these delays it was a good twenty minutes before they made their way outside again, by which time Gregory was starting to lose his nerve. As they trotted through the swarm of tourists, Penny held onto the bag for, as she said, it was perfectly reasonable for a girl to have a handbag, and Gregory kept hold of Darren and the key. They went over to the far end of Gregory’s garden, squatting in the dirt and whispering to one another in hushed tones. Due to all the tourists spilling across the street, there wasn’t anywhere outside that Gregory and Penny could get to without being seen, so they crossed their fingers and hoped they would just look like two children playing in the mud, which of course they did.
“We’re going to Princeton Orphanage, 19th April 1955,” Gregory said, pulling a time worm from his pocket. He bent down in the dirt and started to write, ‘Priceton Orphenige…’
“You’re spelling it wrong,” Penny said, peering over his shoulder.
“No I’m not,” retorted Gregory. “This is how I spelt it last time— oh!”
“Let me do it.” Penny scuffed over the letters with her foot and then wrote neatly, ‘Princeton Orphanage, 19th April 1955’.
Gregory placed the time worm on the letters and watched anxiously as it started to chew through the mud. It was around this time that Darren began to blow blue bubbles.
“Stop it Darren!” Gregory whispered. “People will see you!”
But Darren ignored him and proceeded to blow an extremely large bubble which, within seconds, grew bigger than a small dog. This was a rather defiant act on Darren’s part as, up till now, he had always been incredibly well mannered and obedient.
“Darren!” Gregory cried angrily. Without thinking, he leant over and popped Darren’s bubble with one end of Alberta’s key.
Darren abruptly closed his eyes and began to sway from side to side as tiny blue bubbles fell from his nose.
Suddenly a cry of terror erupted from the tourists around the stone man. Gregory and Penny turned quickly and saw to their horror that the stone Gregory had begun to lift into the air. It rose slowly, like a helium balloon, twisting as it did so. Some of the tourists turned to run away, afraid that the stone alien had been resurrected and might devour them. Others began to bow down to the statue and beg for mercy. Penny’s parents ran through the crowd, appealing for calm, amid frenzied shouts of, “The alien is alive!” and, “We’re all going to die!”
Gregory felt as though his heart had stopped beating. Any second now, James’ stone face would be visible to all and there was absolutely nothing he could do about it. He was utterly trapped in an unimaginable nightmare. Like it being Christmas everyday for these children:
Gregory looked at Darren who continued to sway in a most bewitching manner and exclaimed in a horrified whisper, “What is he doing?”
Penny shook her head in confusion and tried to coax the dinosaur out of its trance. “Come on, Darren,” she begged. “Please stop!”
“I’m sorry I popped your bubble,” Gregory added desperately.
Finally Darren opened his eyes and the stream of bubbles ceased. As if on cue, the statue stopped rising and began to turn as it hung suspended in the air.
“It looks human!” some of the tourists remarked.
Mr Parsnip was eyeing the statue curiously, as if urgently trying to place where he’d seen that face before. Mrs Parsnip had begun to sob.
And then, to Gregory’s horror, one particularly loud tourist pointed in his direction and declared in a shrill squawk, “It looks like him!”
The tourists turned and stared at Gregory, some shrieking with fear and many others beside themselves with wild excitement.
“Quick!” Penny hissed, tossing Darren, the bag and their lunch into the open worm hole.
Gregory stood on the edge, rigid with fear as the tourists began to huddle round, pointing their fingers and cameras towards him.
“Now, Gregory!” Without another moment to spare, Penny pulled Gregory into the hole and the pair clung to one another, shutting their eyes as everything turned to black.