Welcome to the FINAL instalment of Story Soup! Thank you to everyone who voted for how Gregory awakes. ‘Other’ suggestions included ‘curled up in the grass sucking his thumb’ and ‘as a young man who takes control of the situation’, but with 38% of the vote, it has been decided that Gregory will awake feeling decidedly Zonked-out…
Gregory Bedcarrots and the brand new day.
When Gregory disappeared into the dark void, or wherever it was he went, it felt a little bit like the sensation of not yet having been born. Of course, I don’t expect many of you to be able to remember the days leading up to your birth, but if you can, perhaps you will agree with the description of the womb as the ‘happiest place on earth’. Gregory was not aware of who he was or where he had been. He didn’t know whether he was a person, an elephant or a dolphin; he did not even know what people, elephants or dolphins were. He felt fleeting pangs of fear or confusion, but only in an impulsive irrational way; on the whole he was rather joyful. He wasn’t aware of wanting very much, but if he could have put his compulsions into words he would have asked only one thing: “Don’t let anything change.”
Gregory had no idea how long he had been suspended in this marvellous void— perhaps it had been forever— but all of a sudden, and all too quickly, the feeling of euphoria began to slip away, bringing in its place a sense of falling. Somewhere inside of him Gregory was aware that he was hurting, but somewhere outside of him a bright light beckoned. So, not knowing any better, he closed his eyes, shoved a soggy thumb into his mouth and hoped for the best.
When Gregory finally awoke, he became aware that he was standing in a dark hollow space. He squinted in confusion as he ran his hands over the rough corky walls that encased him. He was in a tree trunk. He rubbed his eyes and yawned. As he brought a weary hand across his face he felt something warm and sticky on his lips. The remnants of a pie.
“Oh yes,” he said to himself sleepily. “I remember.”
Gregory leant against the bark and let out a long cool sigh. He felt exhausted. He had just run for several minutes after stealing a pie from his pretty neighbour, Penny Parsnip. Penny was the sort of girl who makes a boy like Gregory spend hours at a time practising his smile in the mirror. For weeks Gregory had dreamt about bringing her to his secret hiding place but when the opportunity had finally arisen that very morning he had simply panicked and bolted.
“Perhaps one of these days I’ll ask her out,” he whispered determinedly. “When I’m a little bit bolder.” He gave a great self-pitying sigh and absentmindedly began to scratch his knee. “Thank you for looking after me,” he continued softly to the tree, wishing for a moment that he were a carefree knobbly tree, rather than a twelve year old boy with acne.
The tree, of course, did not reply, for this is not that kind of story.
Gregory could not help but feel a little bit lonely wedged inside the tree trunk. A secret hiding place is only really fun with somebody to share it with and he was now kicking himself for rejecting Penny so rashly. He felt that if anyone saw him they would think he looked rather pathetic, like a friendless horse pretending to be playing hide and seek.
However, he was not going to stay alone for much longer; something had begun to shuffle through the forest. Gregory’s heart started beating loudly as he strained his ears to listen. Whatever it was, it was grunting and wheezing and sounding distinctly un-human as it came closer and closer. Gregory edged closer to the hole in the tree trunk and waited. He had a funny feeling it was going to be an interesting day.
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.
The next instalment will be posted later in the week, but if you want to be reminded, then please subscribe using the links on the top left or by joining the Story Soup Facebook page.
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?”