Callum B. Downes

A Description of Billy (first edit)

Standing weakly on the beach, Billy was soaked, shivering and scared for his life. Being a runty nine-year-old, the current situation only added to his reputation as being ‘all skin and bones’. His ribs – along with his knees, collarbones and cheekbones – seemed to pop out of his pasty-white skin. Some nicknamed him ‘skeleton’, much to his dismay. Others, who enjoyed joining his freckles together with pen, called him ‘freckle-fart from K-Mart’, on account of the sun spots that covered his face, neck, lower arms and legs. Deep blue eyes squinted from his face and a wild mop of bleach-white hair hung down from crown to shoulder blades. To top it all off, he was the shortest boy in his year at school, and the year below. A handsome boy, no doubt. But none could ignore his scrawny build.

Author’s Notes

This is the first description of Billy’s physical features, introduced on the very first page of my manuscript. This is also my first attempt at editing / re-writing my story.

The passage doesn’t intend to accurately depict his appearance. Instead, it captures Billy’s negative self-concept and highlights the self-esteem issues that contribute to his social anxieties. 

In an effort to reinforce his issues of body dis-morphia, I have listed some typically envied features, such as bleached hair and blue eyes, as a prelude to the phrase, ‘To top it all off’. This oxymoron adds strength to the defeatist mood of the paragraph and entire first chapter. 

As if to almost confirm his fears, the last sentence summarises how others perceive him in blatantly, and almost certainly self-exaggerated, terms. 

Many of Billy’s self-perceived flaws are influenced by my own personal experiences of bullying. Both nicknames above haunted me during primary and high school respectively. It always amazes me how long negative comments like that can stick. Sometimes you don’t realise how deep some of those words cut, until you find yourself cutting others in self-defense, as they poke at old wounds that never healed.  

Peace, love and joy to you all,

From Callum

Billy: Boy Statue (excerpt from chapter five – ‘The Secret’).

It was exactly 7:15 in the morning when Billy regained consciousness. When he sat up on the floor that he had passed out on, he was surrounded by the all too familiar sights of the Barley Bay R.S.L club. The first thing he noticed was the surfboard hanging above the bistro counter. A makeshift menu board, the solid timber structure covered a length in excess of 12 feet. Every time he looked up at it, the hairs on his back and arms stood up in fear. Flashes of foul shore dumps pounding him into the sand always hijacked his thoughts. And the recurring nightmare of grotesque seas, sweeping him out into a lonely abyss, plagued him.

The second thing he noticed was the bar. The same three or four men, aged well beyond their 80s, sat motionless, unless they were sipping warm beer or hassling the young girls behind the bench. The third thing he noticed was his sister, Livy, leaning on the huge windows to the left, which were more like walls, covering the entire western side of the clubhouse. She breathed circles of fog onto the glass and scribbled frowny faces in them. Both hands planted either side upon the window. Billy rushed over next to her and peered out the glass expectantly.

“Livy!” He shouted. “Livy, look quick! Do you see him?”

She ignored Billy, as usual, choosing to draw more frowny faces instead.

Livy, I’m serious, you don’t want to miss this! Do you see the statue?” He grabbed her by the arm and shook her body a little too hard.

“Lay off, statue boy! Don’t you know people can see us?” She turned around and smiled at a disapproving lady, who was nursing a child, then returned to drawing frowny faces. Not once did she acknowledge Billy’s existence. “So what is it? You’re obsessed with statues now? They don’t even move. They are the most boring things in the whole world! You’re such a boring loser sometimes.”

“No, look! The statue is waving at us! Look, Livy!

She froze mid frowny, raised her eyebrows at Billy, made direct eye contact for the first time in weeks, and returned to her drawing, finishing the sad mouth and rubbing it out with her jumper sleeve to start again.

“I’m not trying to trick you! I swear to God there’s a statue that is waving to us right now!”

“You don’t even believe in God,” snapped Livy.

“Yes I do”

“Well Mum and Dad say he’s not real.”

“Well Mr C at school says he is.” He crossed his arms to make himself feel bigger. Big people were smarter than little people. Another reason he hated being short.

“Well maybe the teachers only say those things to stop us being naughty. God isn’t real and statues don’t wave to people.” Livy pivoted on her toes in a perfect pirouette and walked briskly away.

“I don’t care what you think! Mr C is smarter than you’ll ever be!”

In a statement of victory, Livy didn’t turn around to fight back. It was obvious she had won the argument and Billy always felt tiny and insignificant when she ignored him like that. But not this time. This time Billy knew he was right. In fact, he felt strangely satisfied that Livy didn’t see the statue waving. It was as if he had been chosen to keep a highly important and valuable secret. Like he was the only person in the world worthy enough to know that statues can walk, talk and wave. He felt special. His life mattered to someone. He wasn’t a loser at all. Livy is the loser for not believing the truth.

With this in mind, he turned back around to wave at the statue, but the bearded soldier had vanished. There far below him, in the hedge gardens of the R.S.L club, stood two, brave, clean-shaven and young soldiers. One carrying the other over his shoulders to safety. Both standing completely still. Like any good statue would.

“There you are, Tiger. We were worried sick about you.”

“Oh, darling. How could you run away like that? Into the worst storm in Barley Bay history.”

The panicked voices of his parents were another familiar sound of the R.S.L club. This was the fourth time they had been evacuated here for flooding. But this was the only time their house had actually been flooded. And the only time they had to stay here for longer than an hour or two.

“You’re grounded for a month, mate. I’m sick and tired of your foolin’ around,” threatened Mr Baker.

Billy didn’t really hear him. He just took of right past them, down out the door into the gardens. He called out to the bearded soldier, and to his surprise, the old statue appeared from behind the hedge instantly.

“Pssst, over here,” he whispered. Billy ducked and crouch-walked over to meet him, desperately trying to hide from his parents.

“We don’t have long, kid, so listen up.” He dropped his voice lower and whispered behind gritted teeth, as he could hear Billy’s mum and dad pushing the club door open.

“Don’t you ever pull anything like that again,” he whispered.

“Like what?”

“You know what I mean. You can’t tell anybody about me, it will blow my cover.”

“I don’t know what you’re on about,” Billy said in a loud talking voice.

The statue covered Billy’s mouth with his hand before he continued whisper shouting. “Just promise me, you won’t tell anyone about me. Not a soul. Especially your sister. People will recognise me.”

Billy’s parents were getting closer, their yelling voices were now clear and tonal.

The statue put a hand either side of Billy’s head, forcing him closer to prove his seriousness. “Listen to me. I’m not a real statue. I’m just a street performer.”

“A what,” asked Billy in confusion.

“You know, like a busker. I stand on the corner of Archer and Market Street, pretending I’m a statue so people will give me their money.”

“You’re the Jesus Statue out the front of the church?” Billy shouted this question and the statue was forced to clamp his mouth shut.

“Yes I am. You thought that I was a real statue?” The soldier dropped his hand away from Billy’s mouth in disbelief.

“Yes!” Billy whisper shouted this time. He could hear his parents on the otherside of the hedge. “Yes, that’s why I recognised you yesterday! You’re Jesus on Market street. I walk past you on my way to the supermarket.”

“Yes I am, but promise me you won’t tell anyone.”

Billy could tell the old man was pleading with him. He nodded his head slowly.

“I promise.”

“Billy! There you are! Get back inside right now!” Shouted Mr Baker.

Billy stood up from his crouched position, stroked the arm of the bearded statue in front of him, which was completely frozen and astonishingly real, and walked back inside next to Mr Baker.

Author’s Note: Happy Easter folks! This will be my last full length installment of Billy: Boy Statue, before I intend to publish the complete story. From here, I will only post brief phrases or paragraphs, alongside my own annotations like this, to keep you posted on the my progress.

I hope that my posts so far have left you wanting more, and I hope you have many questions bubbling away in your heads. I promise you will never guess what happens next and it’s my prayer that the finished product will change the way you and your children view life’s many obstacles.

Peace and love to you all on this auspicious day!

Callum

Excerpt from The Storm (Chapter IV)

As soon as he reached the safety of his house, Billy launched himself into Mr Baker’s bedroom, hoping to find refuge in the forgiving arms of his Father. But the bedroom was empty. Billy ran frantically around the house, searching for anyone to cry on. He screamed the names of his family in desperation. He paused to listen for a response. Nothing but the drum of rain on the tin roof met his ears. A peculiar sensation took over him, as if his body was completely empty and he was floating through the air. He floated across the kitchen, down the hallway and into his room. Ever so gently, he drifted down into his bed, whispering the same words over and over. “Sorry Dad, I’m so sorry.” Then the weight of loneliness sunk his heart. It hammered his heart hard, down into the depths of his mattress, so it felt like he was drowning in his sheets. Somehow, within this struggle, he fell asleep. Yet his dreams were equally brutal.

Surrounding him from all directions, waves, as high as skyscrapers, swelled up and tumbled. Towering peaks and terrible troughs thrashed him about like a toy ship in a bath tub. Between dunking his head beneath the water and gasping for air above, he spotted a red light flashing in the distance, a few hundred metres away. Its light was strong on account of the enveloping darkness of the nigh time sea. Facing the light, he yelled for help, but that’s when he noticed that all was completely silent. Not even the raging sea produced a whimper, let alone his weakling voice. With great rapidity, the flashing red light grew fainter and smaller, until it was just a speck on the seas roller coaster horizon. A strong current was pulling him away from the hopeful flashing lamp. The current seemed to move faster every time he struggled against it. It was as if the more he tried to get where he wanted, the further it drifted away from his grasp. He sensed he was a great distance out to sea now. Perhaps the nearest person was a few thousand kilometres back toward the light, which had completely disappeared a few hours, or maybe seconds ago. Time didn’t exist right now, or was it back then. Nevertheless, shear dread pounded in his chest, as the ocean boosted him to the peak of the highest wave, before spitting him down into the dark depths below and crashing on top of him with the weight of a thousand mountains. Fighting to reach the surface, Billy thrashed his body about with all his strength. But up was down and down was up, or was it the other way around? Was right this side, or was that his left? Where were his hands, where was the light. Any light at all. Nothing made sense, only the certainty of drowning without anybody noticing. Would anybody even care if he was gone?

An arm shot down through the water and grabbed him by the shoulder. Which shoulder it was, Billy could not tell. With surprising speed he was pulled back up to the surface, coughing up great lung-fulls of salty water. When he eventually opened his eyes, he couldn’t make out the face of his saviour as it was still awfully dark. So instead, he reached out with his hands and touched the man’s face. He knew it must have been a man, due to the scraggly beard around his mouth. It was an old man too, because Billy could feel the wrinkles covering his cheeks and forehead. After scrutinising the old man’s face, Billy wrapped his arms around his back and felt something rather odd between his tight grip. At first he thought it was just a fur coat, but after a proper examination he was sure he could feel feathers. Yes, he was convinced that the man had feathers, as soft as sand, all over his back.

That’s when the first sound of the dream suddenly appeared. It was the unmistakable sound of his front door bursting open, followed by the gushing of a stream flowing into his house, down through the hallway and surrounding his bed in three feet of water. It was a scene that had often haunted his nightmares, ever since their little shack was flooded when he was four-and-a-half years old. The scariest part though, was that it was actually happening right now.

He was now wide awake and the flashing red light from his dream was right outside his window. It was a police rescue boat, searching for anyone trapped in their homes, most of which had flood waters lapping against their roofs.

The Storm (continuation from the last post)

He stopped. The rain kept going. He gave up. The rain never ceased. He retreated inside. Thunder clapped its hands in victory. When will the world stop punishing David Baker? When will it give back all it’s taken away from him?

Billy tore down the lumpy nature strips of Finders street, turned right onto Bower Street, then left onto Market Street, which was the main drag. Knowing these streets like the freckles on his skin came in handy on this particular afternoon, as not once did he look up from the ground in fear of being blinded by the sideways rain, and there was no chance of bumping into anybody on the footpath in weather like this.

On he went, past the shabby post office on the corner of Gallop Road, which was owned by the Presley’s and always left you on the verge of sneezing on account of the 2 inch layer of dust that covered everything on the shelves. Past the deli, the cafés and general store. Across the road and past the town hall, with its eternally peeling paint. Down a gentle slope past the ice creamery and the hair salon, where Mrs Baker always dreamed of visiting on the weekends. Then eventually, Billy charged past his favourite store in all of Barley Bay. The Bakery. With its doors still open, the enticing sent of hot bread wafted through the cool air, almost stopping Billy dead in his tracks.

On any other day, the smell would have taken him back to hot summer mornings, when he would rest his bike against the parking sign just outside and tie Django up next to the water bowl. After scrounging through his filthy pockets for $4.50, he’d ignore the menu board and slam his assortment of coins on the counter, each of them grubby with stains of chewing gum and apple stickers. Without hesitation, he’d demand the exact same order. If the owner, Mr Barker was working, he’d already be poking his tongs into the oven to retrieve the steaming hot delight. With a tub of sauce for no extra cost, the famous pie and can deal was a staple of Billy’s summer diet. It brought him a sense of stability, especially when served with a friendly smile and “How’s the family, Bill?” But on this miserable day, he had no such joy.

Today he was alone. Did he have a family? Do the Barker’s really know his name? He couldn’t remember, and for some reason that he couldn’t be bothered to understand, he didn’t really care. He wished to be alone. Completely invisible, free to do whatever he pleased. Maybe if he ran fast enough, he’d blend into the rain and nobody could tell him apart. He closed his eyes and wished that it would come true, like when little boys and girls wish their thoughts would make their cup fly across the bench and into their hands.

He skidded around the corner onto Harvey Street at full speed, with his head still down. Then suddenly he slammed into something rock solid. In a daze, he tried focusing his double vision on the road block towering above him, as presently he was seated firmly on his bottom upon the soggy grass. For a moment, maybe half a second or less, Billy had sworn it was that Bearded Angel from the Bradley’s yard looming over him. But when he regained his sight, after rubbing the rain from his squinting eyes, he saw nothing but black rolling clouds and streaking torrents of water falling from the sky.

He got up too quickly, and his vision was hijacked by a fuzzy black fog. When it had parted, he caught a flash down the hill at the bottom of the road. Whatever it was, it had dashed behind a hedge in front of the R.S.L club. He half ran, half slid, down the steep grassy roadside, in pursuit of the thing that had knocked him over.

Without care for his safety, he jump over the hedge and landed hard on the other side, almost spraining his ankles. At this point, there was one thought on his mind. “Whoever you are, you’re dead meat!” An unruly rage pushed hard against his ribcage from the inside, stealing his already depleted breath away from his dry throat. A rage he’d only seen in Mr Baker until right now. It couldn’t be tamed, and at home it usually resulted in painful tears. But he didn’t care what it did to him. He needed to catch the bearded angel who had knocked him flat.

Across the carpark and into the grounds of the memorial, Billy now slowed down to a suspicious tip-toe and surveyed the wide-open circle around him. According to his gut instinct, he eyed off the enclosing hedge back and forth. He gradually turned his body around, ensuring every last inch of the surrounding bush had been thoroughly covered. As he neared a full rotation, a clear crack rang out just to his right. He shot around in reaction to the unmistakable sound, licking his lips as he craned his neck forward.

With eyebrows raised in anticipation, he eyeballed the centre-piece of the memorial up and down. It was a peculiar statue of two regular looking soldiers, both obviously too young to die, one carrying the other on his shoulders to safety, covered head to toe in mud and sludge. A standard scene from the trenches of the Great War. But Billy’s eyebrows dropped into a completely stupefying stare, his neck shot back in surprise and he stood with his hands on his hips in sheer confusion. Right there, directly behind the two brave heroes, was a much older soldier, presumably their captain, standing rigidly to attention. With rifle by his side and hand poised in salute, the old battler looked completely out of place. His uniform appeared near perfect, clean and tidy. Although his shirt was only half tucked into his trousers. Great bags beneath his eyes matched his deep wrinkles and scraggly beard. What kind of a soldier had a beard like that? This thought was trumped by Billy’s erupting anger.

Billy: Boy Volcano, kicked the ridiculous bearded statue in the shins, in hope that some old Vietnam veteran would see him and chase him back home. But it was hopeless. He just sat one the feet of the old captain and wept. What a depressing sight. A tiny weakling, balling his eyes out in the pouring rain, because some bearded angel that he had made up in his imagination, pushed him over in the street. He adjusted himself to get comfortable again, because he slid off the statues feet. Some old bloke behind him, most likely from the club house, let out a disapproving grunt.

“Go away!” Yelled Billy. He kept his head firmly planted between his folded arms and chest. “I don’t care about your stupid statues or your stupid wars!”

The old man let out a kind chuckle. “Well we sacrificed everything for you during that stupid war, as you put it. I almost lost my life for you. But they tell me I’m one of the lucky ones…” His voice was swept up into the violent gusts, as if what he said was too true and too close to home for even him to dwell on. “And I’d do it all again for you.”

Billy turned his neck around to blast the old fuddy-duddy about how he couldn’t possibly care about him and how he didn’t know him from a bar of soap. But when he looked up at the old man his tongue wasn’t there anymore. He had swallowed it whole.

Billy fell over himself trying to evade the old man, who now picked up his rifle and started towards him.

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