Monday, September 12, 2011

A Children's Book in Progress

So for the past year, I've had a work in progress, a children's book entitled, When The Dickens Is Will Lillywhite? Since it is sometimes difficult to get feedback on such projects, I've decided to go ahead and post the first chapter on my blog. Other chapters will follow as I complete them. Hope you enjoy!

Chapter 1

"Preposterous!" cried Will Lillywhite. The eight year old boy swept his desk clean with melodramatic flair, and buried his face in the crook of his arm. The word was his new favorite, and he used it whenever he remembered to. The white sheets of his unfinished letter tumbled into the waste paper basket, the unmarked grave of his false starts.

"What's the matter, Will?" His mother's voice revived him from despondency.

"Only the crushing defeat of all my attempts at historical significance!" cried the forlorn boy. Hearing no reply, he sighed and pulled another blank sheet of paper from his drawer. As he poised his pen above the page, his mother's face overshadowed him, and he felt her hands on his shoulders.

"Having trouble with your assignment?" she asked.

"It's not an assignment. It's a letter," he replied.

"Who are you writing?"

He didn't answer immediately. After all, could he really trust his mother with such a fantastic discovery, one that could change the world? He decided he had no choice.

"I'm writing to the time travelers."

"Time travelers? Is that a club?"

"No, mom. I mean real Time Travelers."

"Which ones?"

Will shook his head. "I'm not sure," he replied, looking up at her. "I think there must be three groups: the first would be explorers, people who are always heading into far off times to discover new things. The second are more like monk warriors. They would time travel for the sake of spiritual enlightenment."

"And is there a third club?" asked his mother.

Will's face grew grim. "The third group is the Conquerors. These people are bad business. They want power and would use time to make themselves gods."

A smile danced at the corners of his mother's lips. "My, what an imagination you have!" she said.

"Just because something is fantastic doesn't mean it has to be imaginary," he replied.

She kissed his cheek. "Well, just make sure you finish your homework as well as your letter."

Will's eyes returned to the perfect untouched page. The problem was this: he hadn't decided on a message. If he were writing to the Explorers, he would need to use grand phrases like "the Great Unknown" and "the Unending Destiny of Humanity". But if his letter fell into the hands of the Warrior Monks, his message must show great wisdom and prudence. Prudence... what an ugly word. What in the world did it mean anyway? He reached for his dictionary and flipped to the P's.

PRUDENCE - proo dence- acting with or showing care and thought for the future.

"Preposterous," muttered Will. He had no time for prudence.

He dove his hand into the wastebasket and drew out his last letter. Perhaps it wasn't as bad as he thought. Uncrinkling the wadded paper, he smoothed the creases and read it to himself.

To the Masters of Time and Space - Greetings!

You undoubtedly know the reason for my letter. You have probably read it already. But if I do not write it, you are unlikely to read it. So I am writing it. Like you, I care about the future. I also care about the past and the present, but the future is where you probably are right now. You ask why I write this letter? Because I want to be part of the Unending Quest of Humanity to discover the Great Unknown, and also pursue Spiritual Enlightenment and Gather All Knowledge for the Conquest of the Universe. Don't you agree?

It was here that Will's pen had faltered. Who was he kidding? The Explorers, the Warrior Monks, even the Conquerors would reject him. His only hope had been Capitalization. Everything was so darn difficult to understand that he had to Capitalize it for emphasis. He had to convince the Time Travelers that he knew their secret. The problem was... he didn't.

The door slammed behind him, and the bed bounced. Turning Will saw a familiar grinning face. Bertrand Wilder was a big fellow for a thirteen year old. His dark brown hair curled generously, and a piece of chewing gum drew attention to his splendid teeth.

"Hello, Will," said Bertrand.

"Hello, Bert," replied Will.

Bertrand stopped chewing. "It's Bertrand, not Bert, and you know it, buddy."

Will allowed a smile to escape him. "Sorry. It's just sometimes you just look like a Bert."

"Coming from you that might be a compliment," replied Bertrand. He laid on the bed and placed his hands behind his head. "So what are you up to? Your mom said you were working on a letter. You writing a girl?"

"I care not for such trivial matters," declared Will.

Bertrand grinned. "Well, who are you writing to?" He bolted beside Will and glanced at the letter. He read the first few lines in a flash and laughed uproariously. Bertrand had a great laugh.

Will swiped the letter from him. "That's a bad draft anyway," he said, tossing it into the basket.

"Masters of Time and Space? You could be a little more personal and write "To Whom It May Concern." Come on. What makes you think there are time travelers just waiting to receive a letter from William... Harold... Lillywhite."

Will grimaced. "Don't say that name, Bertrand. You know how much I hate it."

"What? Harold? Why? Wasn't there some famous general named Harold?"

"Unlikely," replied Will. "I've read a Children's History of the World three times already and found no such person. The best you could get is Light Horse Harry."

Bertrand chewed on. "Never heard of him. Civil War hero?"

"Revolutionary," corrected Will.

"Whatever. Either way, if there were Time Travelers, we'd have heard of them," said Bertrand.

"But maybe you have and you just don't know it!" Will raised his arms as if he were supplicating an unknown god.

Bertrand considered this startling possibility for a full three seconds. "Nope," he said finally.

Will sighed and rubbed his temples.

A knock was heard at the door.

"Come in!" said Will.

The hinges creaked and a slender elfish face appeared. The boy's blue eyes and fine yellow hair almost seemed like a trick of the sun. "Hello everybody," said the newcomer softly. "How are things?"

"Hello, Pelago!" cried Bertrand. He chuckled slightly. Even after five years of friendship, he loved to say those words. Pelago was, of course, not Peregrine's real name. But it fit.

Pelago smiled bigger. "Oh good. I heard you all having an argument in here, and thought something might be wrong."

"No, nothing's wrong, except Will's brain. He's trying to convince me that there are Time Travelers hiding in our midst, just waiting to be written to by eight year olds."

"I did not say that!" cried Will. It was insufferable. Bertrand was making the whole thing sound stupid.

"That's all right, Will. I've met them," said Pelago.

Will and Bertrand stared at him, and then stared at one another. "Really?" asked Will.

Pelago nodded profoundly. "The man upstairs. He leaves every day at seven, and comes back at midnight."

"And why do you think he's one of Them?" asked Will.

"He always wears a black suit and black sunglasses. Even his tie is black." Pelago nodded as if this fact confirmed all his suspicions.

Bertrand huffed. "Doesn't seem that strange to me," he said. "My uncle is a vice president of a pencil company. He always wears a black suit to work."

"Does he use No. 2 pencils?" asked Pelago meaningfully.

"No. He has a fountain pen in his shirt pocket."

Pelago raised his eyebrows and shrugged his shoulders. "Probably one of the undercover agents my dad is always talking about. He says half the businesses in the phone book..." he leaned in with wide eyes and whispered, "don't even exist."

"Think about it," Pelago went on hurriedly, "have you seen that many businesses in real life?"

Bertrand moaned and fell back on the bed. As he massaged his eyelids, Will scowled at Pelago. "Your conspiracy theories are preposterous, Pelago," he said.

"What?" replied Pelago, backing away. "I was just trying to help. Besides, the man
upstairs never moved in. He's been living there for two months all by himself and has never brought up so much as a suitcase."

Now Will's interest was up. "What do you think he does for a living?"

Pelago got closer. "He spends a lot of time on the telephone. We know because Dad is real good friends with the maintenance man, and he says that the man upstairs had two new phone lines put in. The only time he ever visited his apartment, the man wouldn't let him in. He says that the little glimpse he got of the room was enough to tell him that something wasn't right."

"What wasn't right?" Even Bertrand was gripping the bed post now.

Pelago shook his head. "I don't know. He never told me."

Will rolled his chair back to the desk. "Well, your mystery man might as well receive one of my letters as anybody. The way I see it, I'll need to send out at least five. Three will go to men who are dead like Saint Martin or Captain Cook."

"Captain Cook?" snorted Bertrand.

"He was a great explorer, okay!" replied Will. Why didn't boys his age understand politics? If he was going to get into one of the three future factions, he would need to hedge his bets. Saint Martin would do for the Warrior Monks and Cook for the Explorers.

"And whose your third pen pal?" asked Bertrand.

Will tried to sound nonchalant. "Oh, Genghis Khan."

"Genghis Khan! Are you crazy? The guy who conquered half the world? The guy who destroyed whole villages?" said Bertrand.

"Dreadful," muttered Pelago.

"He's probably nicer on acquaintance," answered Will, shifting in his chair. "Besides, we all know that the history books are rigged to make people like him look bad." He didn't really believe what he was saying, but he had to come up with something. Writing to ruthless barbarians wouldn't exactly fly with his mom.

"Don't give me that baloney," said Bertrand. "If the history books are full of lies, why do you read them?"

To this, Will had no answer, so he looked at his arm and pretended to be picking a scab.

"Besides," Bertrand was in his ear now, "the guy's Asian and probably doesn't speak English. So how in the world is he supposed to read your letter?"

"Don't bother me with trifles," snapped Will. "I'm sure they'll find a way. All my letters together will create a signal, a kind of message in time. They'll have to find me once they read them."

Bertrand's face did not show the same confidence. "Well, I hope it works," He stopped and his eyes widened. "Wait a minute... what am I saying! If you were right, and these time travelers did come crashing in on some spaceship, you'd be history!"

"Good thing it's all pretend," said Pelago.

"It'd better be," said Bertrand, "or we might wake up on a spaceship with Genghis Khan's sword at our throats."

"Amazing!" said a new voice.

The three boys looked to the door only to see Sally, Will's younger sister, standing in the doorway, her strawberry blonde hair shimmering with her freckles. She hurried into the room and sat down.

"What are you guys talking about?" she asked breathlessly, excitement etched on her face.

"Nothing that you would understand, Sally," said Will, "At least," he corrected, seeing her mouth open with dismay, "nothing that it wouldn't take an awfully long time to explain."

"Will believes in time travelers," said Bertrand.

"Really?" replied Sally.

"Yes, and he is writing a letter, so he can join them"

"Oh, but Will you can't go!" said Sally, hugging Will tightly. "What if you never came back?"

"I will too come back," insisted Will. "Now all of you leave me alone so I can finish this letter."

Bertrand chuckled. "Okay," he said, "Pelago and I will do just fine without you. We're meeting Emma at the park and wanted to invite you along. But seeing as how you're too busy to hang out with your own friends, we will go on our merry way. Come along, Pelago."

Pelago smiled and followed him out the door. Only Sally remained.

"I'm serious, Will," she said. "This is dangerous. What if there really are time travelers?"

"Listen, Sally," said Will, swiveling to face her. "There probably aren't Time Travelers. Think about it. Have I ever been wrong before?"

"Well, you were wrong about the black hole in the back yard, and the plot to assassinate
you at school, and that your kindergarten teacher was a robot..."

"Yes, yes! You don't have to run through the list," said Will. "I'll probably be wrong about this too. Besides, even if there were Time Travelers, I'd have to ask Mom and Dad before I joined them. Alright?"

"Right," said Sally.

"Now go on and let me finish."

Sally gave Will one more hug and then left him to the blank piece of paper. He stared at it for the next five minutes, and then dug his hand into the basket and pulled out the discarded letter. "I guess this will have to do," he said to himself. He copied the contents onto five sheets of paper, found postage stamps, and addressed them, respectively, to Mr. Captain Cook, The Supreme Genghis Khan, and Saint Martin. He wondered if Martin needed a "His Holiness", but he decided that just "Saint" would be enough.

Placing the letters in the mailbox, he hurried back in the house, only to have his mother call to him. "Telephone, Will!" she said.

Will picked up the receiver. "Hello, this is Will."

"Hello, Mr. Lillywhite," droned a dark voice. "We know who you are."

"Who is this?"

"In my earthly life, men called me Khan. You will call me Master."

A giggle betrayed itself on the other end of the line.

"Emma is this you?" asked Will.

"I am a Master of Time and Space, insolent cur," said a different voice.

"Bertrand! You'll all pay for this," said Will, and with a snort, he hung up. He had
hardly walked away from the phone when it rang again. Exasperated, Will answered.


"William? William Harold Lillywhite?"

"Who is this?"

"You may find this difficult to believe, Mr. Lillywhite, but my name is Charles Dickens."

Click. Will sighed. What would those guys think of next?


  1. A splendid chapter, old chap! Although, we were disappointed not to see the duel between Lewis and Clark over the love of Saca, we did thoroughly enjoy the humor and GREAT characters portraits in your children's book. The only thing we might suggest is that Willy Lilly used his vocabulary a little bit too skillfully to be believable. Keep up the good writing!

  2. Nice start!

    Looking forward to the rest...

  3. Ah, Captain Starch. You're still out there.
    We think we know who you are.

  4. I love it, Ben! Sure, I think most kids would have to become best friends with a dictionary to understand it, but I personally LOVE it! More? Please? Pretty please with Blue Bell Cookies and Cream Ice Cream and a cherry on top! Time travelers...

    Your story makes my story about the Music major, the kidnapped theory professor, and the stolen Strad slightly more believable. Hmm... I should squeeze y'all in there somewhere! Yeah, that would work.


  5. C.S. If you don't know us, then you are
    correct. However, if you do know us, what
    makes you so sure?

  6. This is really great, Ben! I love the concept, and the title gets two thumbs up. ;)

  7. Very nice… I would have to say, that held my attention exceptionally well, and got me wondering what was going to happen next. I like how you get attention from the very first, starting with something to get the readers to question stuff in their mind. That’s one thing I have a hard time doing. How much other stuff have you written?

  8. Thanks, Aidyl. I have written quite a bit, none of it finished though. I have about five chapters written in this particular book, but until finals are over and done, it will probably be on the shelf. I am very anxious to get writing again! I see you are a writer yourself. I like the blog!