Billy’s search for answers

by Callum B. Downes

It was time to ride this wave of adrenaline and do something he would almost certainly regret later. Without a second thought for the countless risks he was about to take, he climbed back up on the chair, removed the old book from the top-right corner and watched intently, as the entire book-case began to turn  easily, as if it were one of those rotating doors you see at the front of skyscrapers on Hollywood movies. As soon as it shut on the other side, a circular button upon the wall flashed the letter B for Basement and the little closet began to descend past two floors. A few seconds later, it came to a crashing halt, sliding open its doors with all kinds of squeaking, mechanical noises, and revealing the train-set wonderland before Billy’s eyes once more.

It was in this moment, taking in the details of the model city, that Billy was swept up into another one of his daydreams. There before him, once again, was his Grandfather. This time, he was showing a four-year-old Billy how to drive the trains along the tracks. Every time little Billy would de-rail and crash the train, his Poppy would laugh with patient eyes. He placed his hand on Billy’s shoulder and when Billy reached up to hold one of his old fingers, he was gone, leaving Billy with nothing but a palpable sense of his presence. A sense of familiarity. Like this was a place he’d been before. The feeling was unnerving and Billy shook it off by blowing anxious air through flapping lips. He set off across the floor, scaled up the Parisian cityscape with greater care than before and slipped through the open window with elegant composure, ensuring his escape would go completely unnoticed.

In a flash, he hooked Django up to his leash, took off through the gate and down the narrow driveway to freedom. The sun had just gone down behind the hills of the Barley Bay hinterland and Billy knew it wouldn’t be long before the Parker’s would be serving up dinner. He tumbled toward the town hall in tow of Django, who tore ahead into the fading twilight, its beauty beckoning them to dream beyond those rugged foothills, to a place deep within. A place of winding paths, carving true calling and identity into the most courageous facets of Billy’s heart. And his heart was pumping. Faster, harder, loud enough to hear. His throat was dry from the frosty air being sucked up into greedy lungs. But he didn’t notice. Sheer elation blinded him to the restraints of fatigue.

Upon reaching the town hall, he remained blind to the disappointment he should have felt. No old man statue to be seen. Only the solid sculpture of some famous explorer, whom Billy always forgot the name of, but who apparently first colonised the town of Barley Bay in 1818.

Onwards they charged, heading for the church to find their answers. But Jesus didn’t welcome them when they arrived. The crucifix, from which the old man statue would usually hang, stood lonely in the fading sunlight.

That left one last place to look. It would be a push to get there and back to dinner in time, but Billy was still blind with the buzz of anticipation. So he powered on once more, now with Django in tow, toward the R.S.L club and the brave young ANZACs.

When he arrived, he was disappointed yet again and this time he felt it punch him in the guts. There was no sign of the old bearded captain. Just two clean-shaven soldiers. Billy collapsed onto the foot of the structure, the reality of his exhaustion finally catching up with him.

Between heaving breaths, he started muttering to himself. He pounded against the feet of the sculpture and began screaming for old man statue to show himself. Anger possessed him again and he wished more than anything that he could just disappear without anybody noticing. He looked up into the eyes of the first ANZAC and that’s when he noticed something remarkable. Right there, carved out into the soldier’s cheek like a tattoo, was a message. By the look of things, it had been scribbled in haste, as if the messenger was in grave peril when they scrawled it. It read:

I MUST LEAVE FOR MELBOURNE. NO MONEY HERE. SINCERELY W.B.

There was no time to ponder on who wrote it or why. Dinner was probably getting cold and they’d have discovered Billy’s escape by now.

Django was too tired to go on, so Billy swept him up into his arms and set off with the waning moonlight shining upon his back. The fleeting promise of his dreams was now a dull glow of fading purple light, haunting the horizon. Maybe it was time to reach for the stars instead?

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