Big Big and Little Big: Part One
Ms. Lumberdut swept into Neovia on a chill Sunday evening. She was an austere, frightening Skeith who had worked herself down to a most impressively slim figure. She had her hair wrestled back into a severe schoolmarm's bun, for that's what she was; a schoolmarm. She declared herself to have a charitable plan, and requested the support of the local aristocracy and other with deep pockets to donate.
Her plan? The Lumberdut Orphan and Urchin School Establishment. Or LOUSE, for short.
Local gentry and those with a social standing—and money to stand on—gave generously. They were inspired by her vision of Neovia where the street ragamuffins would be educated and given some purpose besides petty thievery and beggary.
Or they just wanted there to be peace and quiet and figured that the little urchins being educated for a few hours a day would help somewhat in that regard.
On the very next day after her arrival, for she was a very organized, determined Skeith, Ms. Lumberdut rang her school bell and set the donated books out, three to a desk, and waited for three minutes.
The children playing outside of the school had raised their heads at the sound of the bell, but not being accustomed the idea of coming when a bell was rung, went back to their own form of mixed martial arts tournament.
After three minutes, Ms. Lumberdut went out into the streets and dragged the entire body of ragamuffins and ne'er-do-wells into her class room—somewhere around sixteen young children—and sat them down.
For although she had gotten thinner than most of her kind, she had not lost any of the famous Skeith strength.
The children all sat in shock in their new desks, looking around in bewilderment, wondering what sort of punishment this was for all their worldly misbehaviour.
"Greetings, class," said Ms. Lumberdut primly. "I am going to request you to, one by one, starting with the first row and moving back, say your name, your age, and if you have any schooling previous to this." She held her clipboard and pen at the ready, and studied her ragtag group of pupils. "All understood?"
The group nodded as if in a dream, and, too stunned to disobey, the children offered their information and made no other noise.
When Ms. Lumberdut had collected all the information she needed, she went back to the front of the room and smiled forbiddingly at the student body.
"Now, we begin."
Vandebart "Bart" Biggsby had been raised in an alley by his mum and grandmum. He was a small, dirty, greenish Gnorbu who was often teased for his stature and his name. He had never been taught etiquette or any sort of trade, and he lived mostly on the streets, fighting with his comrades in the perpetual mist of the Neovian streets.
He wore his big brother's old clothes and generally was a street urchin. He never expected anything better or worse of his life, and neither did his peers.
So when he had been dragged into the LOUSE classroom, he had at first felt tricked out of his comfortable, if uncouth, free lifestyle. But then he wondered if this were not the thing his mother had told him about: "Opportunity to Rise".
So he behaved better than most of his classmates, hoping that this was the beginning of a new life; perhaps he might even work for Prigpants & Swolthy if he got a good schooling!
It wasn't until the second week of school that Bigsby Shadington started coming to class.
His father was a worker for Prigpants & Swolthy who had always wanted to send his special son to a good school, but could never afford it. When LOUSE opened, he leapt at the chance for his dear child to get even a slightly better schooling, especially since Bigsby seemed to have an exceptional mind.
When Bigsby Shadington first walked into the classroom, everyone stared—that is, until Ms. Lumberdut rapped her knuckles on her desk and reminded them that staring was rude. But even she was a bit shaken by what she saw.
Bigsby Shadington had green cloth skin, was held together with thread and had glassy button eyes. He wore nicer clothes than any of the other students, but they were by no means fancy. He had a patched book bag, and had brought his own writing utensils and paper.
Ms. Lumberdut placed him in the only open seat: Next to Bart.
"Hullo," said Bigsby. "I guess we'll be seeing a lot of each other." He grinned with genuine friendliness at the lonely little Bart. "My name's Bigsby Shadington, but my dad's always called me 'Big'."
"I'm Vandebart Biggsby. Me mum's alwa's called me 'Bart'," replied the other.
"Well, look at us! My first name's Bigsby and your last name's Bigsby!" laughed Bigsby Shadington. "Y'know, I like you. I've never met someone else named Bigsby before; it's nice to know you're not alone."
Bart nodded and smiled slowly. "It is."
And for the first time, he had found a friend.
Bigsby Shadington quickly took Bart under his wing, and treated him like a younger brother. They worked their studies out together and Bigsby always shared his lunch with Bart.
It was nearing the end of the first semester when Bigsby came up with the nicknames.
"I'm going to call you Little Big," he declared, smiling at his surrogate sibling. Bart looked at him with curiosity. "And you're going to call me Big Big!"
Bart had always liked his own name, but Bigsby was such a good person, and had such influence over him that Bart nodded happily. "Okay, Big Big!"
Bigsby grinned. "Glad you like it, Little Big."
Bigsby also helped Bart with the bullies, who had always tormented him.
"Look at Biggsby, small as a petpet!" Mikey Tunka, sneered at Bart, showing all of his yellow teeth. He was a nasty big Meerca who had a posse of younger boys who followed him loyally, hoping that if they were on his side he wouldn't beat them up. They all chortled at the insult, supporting their leader.
"Leave me alone, Tunka," growled Bart, hiding behind his tattered book bag. "Your name's no cleverer."
"Hey!" shouted Mikey, thumping his fist on Bart's makeshift shield, causing the sad Gnorbu to cower even further. "Don't call me that, I told you I changed it to Michael! With schooling I'm going far!"
But this time there was no support from the little posse, and a large shadow loomed over Mikey. He turned around slowly and found himself staring into a pair of glinting button eyes.
"You'll never go far if you treat other people like that," Bigsby growled. He grabbed Mikey Tunka's shirt collar and lifted him off the ground. "Now you leave Vandebart alone, or I'm getting Ms. Lumberdut to suspend you."
"Okay, okay! Sorry, Bigsby!" squeaked the terrified Meerca, flailing wildly. "Please put me down!"
Bigsby turned Mikey around to face the still cowering Bart. "Apologize to him first," he growled.
"Okay, okay! I'm sorry, Bart! You're an okay guy! You're not as small as a petpet! Please please, I'm so-OOF!" And Mikey had hit the floor with a thud.
Bigsby patted Bart's bookbag gently. "Come on, Little Big; no one's going to hurt you anymore."
Bart peeked from around his shield in awe at the smiling protector who loomed peacefully over him.
"Th-thanks!" he gasped, then dove at Bigsby and hugged him. "Thanks, Big Big," he sobbed.
"No problem, Little Big." Bigsby smiled benevolently down at his charge. "I couldn't let my little brother be treated like that."
And they went back into the classroom for Mathematics.
It was Winter Break, and Bigsby decided he was taking Bart to Neopia Central. Bart's mother worried over the costs of the trip, but Bigsby assured her he would take care of everything, which she insisted was the problem, for how could she ever repay him? He calmed her down and insisted—once more—that it was no problem.
When they first arrived in the bright, slightly snowy mercantile center, Bigsby insisted on getting Bart some classic, Neopia Central food. He took him to the Bazaar, where they had hotdogs and smoothies, then wandered into the card shop and toy shop.
Bart stared wide eyed at this land of shops and clear skies. You could see the sun undimmed and there was no fog thick in the streets. There were lively small children running around, but they played with petpets and toys, instead of being occupied in wrestling or boxing.
Finally, Bigsby took him to the Arcade, to show him all sorts of fun games you could play.
"Wow, Big Big!" Bart gasped. "You're really good at games!"
"Thanks," chuckled Bigsby. "I want to be a game maker when I grow up. I've always liked mechanics, and I'd like to be able to make a game that gave out prizes like clothing. I like helping my dad at Prigpants and Swolthy, and whenever I bust a seam I sew it up myself."
The game beeped loudly as Bigsby cleared another level. Other gamers had gathered 'round, staring in wonder; who was this odd plushie Skeith and his little, ratty comrade? Where had he gotten such skill?
Finally Bigsby was at the final level, and the entire Arcade was quiet except for the music playing over the speakers and the sound of his one game. All the nerds and geeks and idle passersby had flocked 'round Bigsby and Bart and were holding their breath.
And then it came: The triumphal little trumpet sound that declared that the game had been won. Cheering broke out, and people flocked forward to congratulate the talented Skeith who had beaten the game.
Bart looked up in awe at his pseudo-brother. Bigsby smiled down at him. "I'll teach you the trick someday," he whispered.
Back at home, only a few children had dropped out of the school. For the most part, the kids were excited for the opportunity to get somewhere in the world. Maybe they could move to the Haunted Woods, or even somewhere where smart people went like Altador!
Some dreamed of studying in Faerieland, and still others thought of deep-sea diving to Maraqua.
Bart wanted to be wherever Biggsby went, and hoped he could help with whatever games Big Big came up with.
Winter was cold, but the schoolroom was kept warm with donations of coal and wood for the stove from the patrons who had founded the school in the first place. Children too poor to buy proper cold weather clothing could pick some up at school for free—often they were castoffs of a patron's child.
Bart had always worn clothes that were patched and baggy and a dingy little cap, but he had just hit a growth spurt and his clothes fit snuggly and his hat no longer covered his ears. He shivered all night and came into class numb all over.
Bigsby noticed this, and grew worried. There were no normal clothes in the donation bin, just jackets, coats, scarves and mittens, and sometimes boots.
One day he asked Bart about it.
"Oh it's not too bad. Mostly I wish I had a better hat," sighed Bart, trying keep his hands warm and still work on his multiplication sheet.
Bigsby nodded slowly, and grinned. "Okay."
"Hm?" queried Bart, looking up from his work.
"Oh nothing, Little Big," Bigsby assured his friend with a pat on the shoulder. "Nothing at all."
It was an especially chilly morning in Neovia. Bart's mum and grandmum were curled deeply within their tattered covers, just trying to stay warm, so there was no breakfast for him. But he didn't hold it against them. Instead, he made breakfast himself and left some behind for them when it got warm enough to get up.
He walked to school, shivering all the way, wishing he had some better clothes. He had picked up some boots and a jacket that fit from the box, but his shirt had big rips in it and his socks had no toes or heels left.
When he arrived, he was surprised to find his classmates crowded around his desk. When he got through the mass, he found a brown paper parcel sitting on top of his desk with a white string holding it together.
He lifted it up and looked at it from all angles, then pulled gently at the string. The bow loosened and slithered away, letting the brown paper elegantly open, to reveal a most excellent hat.
It was velvety felt of warm brown and had a satin blue ribbon around it. Everyone oohed, and some began to quietly chant for him to put it on. As if in a dream, Bart raised the hat above his head and pulled it gently down over his ears.
"I'm glad you like it," said a voice from outside the circle. Everyone turned to see Bigsby Shadington standing not far off, his arms folded across his chest. "I made it a little big so that it should still fit when you're done growing.
Bart stared at his friend, jaw agape. Then he ran towards him, and hugged him tight. Bigsby hugged him back, smiling beatifically all the while.
"Thank you," sobbed Bart into Bigsby's stomach.
"You're welcome, Little Big," the kind Skeith replied quietly.
The whole classroom erupted into applause.
They are not such hardened little dickens after all, thought Ms. Lumberdut as she watched the scene from the doorway. She wiped a tear from her eyes and slowly walked to the front of the classroom to ring the bell and start the day.
To be continued...