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Story Soup 1.5

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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?”

Story Soup 1.3

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Thank you to everyone who voted for what Gregory should do with the poor bag lady. ‘Other’ suggestions included ‘take her home for tea’, ‘switch clothes with her so he can spend a day being a crabby old woman’ and ‘learn to play the saxophone’, but a massive 46% voted for Gregory to conceal the bag lady in the tree.  (I love that absolutely nobody voted for him to do the honest thing and phone the police!)

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.

Gregory’s day gets a little bit worse.

Gregory felt awful. Of all the stupid things he could do he had gone and knocked out an old lady. Not just once but twice. He beat his head with his fist, blinking back tears as he muttered, “Idiot! Idiot! What have I done?”

He felt that perhaps he should stay and try to wake her, but he could not bear to look at her, afraid that at any minute she would open her eyes and say his name again. Racked with guilt, he was about to run away when a sudden, more terrifying, thought came to mind. If somebody found the bag lady and managed to wake her, she would be sure to say, in that eerie rasping voice of hers, “Gregory Bedcarrots did it!”

What awful bad luck to assault a stranger who already knows your name!

“Who are you?” Gregory whispered fretfully, “How do you know my name?”

But the bag lady lay ominously still.

Gregory looked around frantically, searching helplessly for an answer. His friend, the apple tree, seemed to beckon like a loyal ally. In a blind panic Gregory hoisted the old lady onto his shoulders and dragged her over to the hollow trunk. He shoved her inside the tree; pressing her in as far as she would go in the hope that nobody should spot her before she came to her senses.

Gregory stepped back and shuddered. The bag lady looked truly gruesome.

A small note in the bag lady’s defence: She was not really as frightening as you might imagine. She may have smelt funny and had a creepy face but she was actually a rather jolly bag lady. She could make a box into a bed in ten seconds flat, she could tell you what time it was without ever looking at a watch, and she knew several good jokes about a man with a dog. On a good day, she might look something like this:

But on a day when she has trudged through a muddy forest, been punched in the face, and then stuffed into a tree, she looked understandably worse for wear.

Gregory’s next thought was to hide the old lady’s bag. He reasoned with himself that he was actually doing a kind thing; keeping the old lady and her possessions safe until she awoke. And where better to awake after an assault than in the safe hug of a cosy tree trunk? Gregory turned and reached for the bag. But, to his horror, the bag was gone. A sudden terror took hold of him and he spun around wildly. It was nowhere to be seen. A chilly wind began to blow through the forest and Gregory shivered with fear as the leaves fluttered round him and tickled his ankles. The trees no longer looked warm and inviting. They seemed to point at him in accusation. Even his friend, the apple tree, appeared to leer at him as if to say, “I give you sanctuary all this time and this is how you repay me?”

Gregory gulped and began to run. He ran so fast that he was frightened he might turn himself inside out. It was a terrifying run, the kind of run I hope you never have to endure, where everything around you threatens to attack and consume you. His chest hurt wildly and he had a stitch in his side, but still he ran, never once looking behind him. He ran so fast that he nearly threw up Penny’s pie and barely noticed when his shoes fell off. By the time he got home he was sweatier than a soggy southerner sweltering at the World Sauna Championships.

Blinking back tears, Gregory dragged himself up his street and breathed a small sigh of relief. He felt as though he wanted to have a long bath and wipe the whole sorry episode from his mind. But as he walked up the garden path, an astonishing sight met him. There on the front porch sat the armadillo bag.

Gregory gaped at it in shock and muttered in a panic, “How did you get here?”

To his utter surprise the bag snapped back, “Same as you, Idiot! I ran!”

Gregory’s heart leapt into his mouth and he almost collapsed in shock, but the bag kept on speaking.