Hi everybody, Billy here.
Just thought I'd let you know how everything started.
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“For splinter’s sakes, Billy. Will you lie down?” Gregory, the oldest and grumpiest pencil in the box, wiggled himself comfortable between Pendrick and Cyril who were dozing as usual.
Billy was leaning over the edge of the pencil box to make sure he didn’t miss anything going on in the shop. He dropped back in, crossed his arms and stared at the top shelf above him. “Don’t you ever wonder what’s outside?”
“Nothing but trouble,” came Gregory’s answer. “The safest place for us is this stationery shop. We’re lucky not many people buy individual pencils anymore.”
Billy sighed. “I’ve seen amazing stuff in the magazines.”
“You only saw the bits of pages you could fold over.” Gregory huffed. “And you left Mr Barnickle’s magazines all dog-eared.”
Billy folded his arms behind his head. “I know there are adventures out there; fanpenciltastic places.”
“Get your elbow out of my wood.” Pendrick rolled on his side. “Arms and legs are just for emergencies, you know that. No wonder you take up so much space in this box. Anyway, we’re pencils. We write about adventures. We don’t live them.”
“I will,” Billy insisted and pulled in his limbs. “And if somebody doesn’t buy me soon, I’ll just leave.”
Gregory finished wiggling. “You know we owe it to Mr Barnickle to wait until we’re bought.”
“And when’s that supposed to happen?” Billy pushed out his arms and propped himself onto an elbow. “I’ve been waiting forever.”
“Stop exaggerating.” Gregory yawned. “It’s been a few years at most. Anyway, didn’t you have enough adventure when you got locked in the basement? You barely made it back here.”
Even Cyril was awake now. “You’ll bag yourself much worse than an adventure if you keep sneaking into the Barnickle’s living quarters. There’s a reason it says ‘Private’ on that door. That place is not for us.”
Billy rolled his eyes and listened out for the old clock above the counter. Closing time soon. Another day gone by. “I’ll stay this summer.” Billy lay down again. “But that’s it.” Ashes forbid that he would end up like the others in his box, sleeping day in and day out. No way would he—
The shop door chimed.
Billy snapped up like a jack-in-the-box and stretched over the edge. A little boy in a black Batman T-shirt appeared next to the comic book stand. His white sneakers squeaked on the polished floor. Squeak, squeak. He passed the shelf with the binders. Squeak, squeak, squeak. He walked past the notebooks. Squeak, squeak. He turned into the aisle with the pencils and markers—Billy’s aisle—and he headed straight for Billy.
Billy plunged back into the box. The squeaking stopped in front of their shelf.
“Incoming,” Gregory shouted, and he and the other pencils rolled to the far side. Billy stayed put, tugged in his arms, legs, and face, and waited. Through a slit in his wood he watched a hand reach over the edge. The boy’s fingers groped for a pencil in the empty middle section. Any moment, and they would find one of the others. Billy gave himself a push and rolled over to the hand.
Warm fingers gripped him and lifted him.
Holy Jotter, this was it!
Billy pushed the brown paper from his face. So much for exploring the world. On coming home, Batman boy had tossed Billy, paper bag and all, onto something hard and had left him there. For a long time the boy’s voice boomed through the paper: “Vroom. Vroom. Go, go, go. Yeah, you’re busted!”
Billy waited and yawned. Then he waited some more and yawned some more. Finally, he snuggled into the folds and fell asleep. When he woke, everything was dark and quiet. Everything except…Billy listened. There it was again. It sounded like someone crying. With his graphite tip Billy bore a hole into the paper bag and wriggled out. He found himself on a desk in the boy’s bedroom. The Batman T-shirt hung over a chair, and the sneakers lay under the bed, separated by a large see-through toy box. A milky moon shone through a tipped-open window behind Billy, and a breeze tickled his back. The boy lay in his Batman covered bed, peaceful and fast asleep.
“Hello? Anybody there?” Billy whispered and listened.
“Just me.” From a whiteboard on the wall a large, magnetic A looked down at Billy. Her eyes were red and puffy.
Billy climbed over an Xbox controller, like the one Mr Barnickle’s grandkids always argued over, and stepped closer to the wall. “Hi, I’m Billy. I heard someone cry. Was that you?”
A wiped her nose with the back of her hand and nodded. Big, shiny tears filled her eyes, and she smiled the saddest smile Billy had ever seen. It made his graphite melt and bubble, and he felt so woozy he could hardly stand. “Why are you crying? What’s wrong?”
“I miss my friends.” A big fat tear rolled down A’s cheek.
“Where are they?”
“Gone to see the world.” A wiped her eyes and sniffed. “We were a full alphabet. Ah, the fun we had until one after the other left.” She glanced at the window and let out a tiny whimper. “And now I’m all alone. And what’s more, today I found out that the family will be moving in two weeks. So when my friends come back eventually, I won’t be here. I’ll never, ever, ever see them again.” Her tears splattered onto the desk.
“I’m the same with my friends in the stationery shop.” Billy looked around. “Does the boy have any other pencils?”
A pointed to a schoolbag in the corner. “In there. You’ll probably join them tomorrow.”
“Great,” Billy said. “Then why don’t we all do something fun tomorrow?”
A shook her head. “The pencils only come out at homework time. Sometimes not even then.”
“What do they do the rest of the time?”
A shrugged. “Sleep.”
The walls seemed to shrink around Billy as he stared at the schoolbag. He swallowed a mouthful of sawdust. Is that what he had left the shop and his friends for? To be cooped up in a schoolbag? Dark and cramped; no windows, no lights, no gardening magazines. And absolutely no adventures.
Behind him, A whimpered. “All alone. I’ll be all alone forever.”
Again Billy felt the breeze. He glanced at the window then at the school bag and back at the window. “Let’s go out there and find your friends.”
A’s eyes grew wide. “Go out? Don’t you know there are alligators out there? They attack you and eat you.”
Billy swallowed. Alligators? There had been no mention of them in the magazines. “I’m sure those ‘alligators’ won’t dare attack when there are two of us,” he said. “Come on.”
But A gripped the board behind her and shook her head. “I can’t. I’m too afraid. Awfully afraid.” Her eyes brimmed with tears.
“No problem,” Billy said. “I can go on my own. I’ve wanted to see the world anyway. The move is in two weeks?” He nodded to himself. Thirteen days to search. Plenty. “Tell you what,” he said. “I’ll search for your friends while I’m out there and send them back to you.”
A gaped at him. “Aren’t you afraid of all the dangers?”
“Nah, I’ll be fine.” But just to be sure, he created a mental watch-out-for list and put alligators to the top.
Watch out for:
Alligators (attack + eat me)
“I’ll start with B,” Billy said. “How will I recognize your B?”
This time, A smiled a happy smile. “Ah, that’s easy. B’s always singing ‘Bring back my Bonnie to me’. Used to drive me up the board, but how I wish I could hear him now.”
Outside, the sky brightened. Soon, the house would be busy. Another glance to the schoolbag, and Billy was ready. He ran to the curtain, and despite his short legs, he managed to climb to the open top of the window. He sat on the frame and breathed in the cool air. Every fibre inside him trembled with excitement. He smiled at A. “Cheer up. You’ll soon have all your friends back.”
“Promise?” A asked with hope in her eyes.
Billy squinted into the dark, wide-open space outside. Twenty-five letters should be hard to miss. And how big could the world be?
“Promise,” he said, waved, and pushed off.