Here’s a little Christmas present for you all – it’s one of my favourites of all the things I’ve written “for kids”. But really, it’s for everyone who understands…
William Bowmore Wise liked to travel, and he liked to take pictures.
He especially liked to take pictures with his very expensive and very clever mobile phone that had a very clever camera built into it. He had a big camera too, but his phone was easier to carry around.
William B. Wise lived in a big city in Australia, but he really liked to travel.
Fortunately he was quite rich, so he could afford to visit a lot of interesting places.
William liked taking pictures of people who had less than he did because he thought they were interesting. He wasn’t being smug or unkind. He just didn’t quite understand them.
He’d always been quite rich and didn’t know what it was like to have to make his own clothes or bake his own bread. He couldn’t imagine what it must be like to grow his own food or catch his own fish or build his own house.
William didn’t even really understand what it was like to have to work hard to have enough money to buy food or a place to live.
He took pictures of people working and building and fishing and farming because they were things that to him were different and unusual.
When William took pictures of people, he didn’t think of them as people. It was like they were just things. Things to take pictures of, just like bridges and buildings and sunflowers and sunsets.
The Williwilli people were a very small, very ancient tribe who lived in Central Australia.
There weren’t many of them any more. They didn’t have a home. They hadn’t had a home for thousands of years.
The Williwilli people were nomads. They wandered from place to place, and built rough shelters to sleep in for just as long as they stayed in one place.
Sometimes they would hunt, sometimes they would fish, and sometimes they would gather the fruits and plants that grew in what other people called the Outback.
The Williwilli people knew a little about things like cars and cameras and computers. They’d seen them when they happened to be at a place where there were tourists visiting.
They knew about such things, but they weren’t very interested in them.
Those were things that the Williwilli people had never had, so they never missed having them. They were quite content with their lives and the way that they lived them.
But one thing that none of the Williwilli people liked was to have their picture taken.
They really really believed that if someone took a picture of you then they took a piece of your soul. That was the thing inside you that made You who you were, and if someone took a piece of it then you would be less You.
One day William B. Wise was on a trip to Central Australia. The tour guide took William and some other people out into the desert to see “one of the real old tribes”.
It was the Williwilli people. They had set up their little camp near a tiny billabong that they’d visited many times over many years. They knew it was the right season to gather some especially nice berries that grew on little bushes beside the water of that billabong.
Before the tourists got off of their bus the tour guide told William and the others in the group, “I must warn you that the people in this tribe do not like to have their pictures taken. They think that takes away a piece of their soul.”
William thought that was a very peculiar idea. He didn’t want to upset the people he hadn’t met yet, so he decided to leave his big camera on the bus.
But as he walked around the camp watching the Williwilli he thought that what they were doing was very interesting.
William thought to himself, “I’ll use the camera in my mobile phone. If they don’t see me taking pictures they won’t be upset.”
So he walked around the camp, smiling at people and secretly taking their pictures.
He took pictures of children playing, and old people sitting under trees. He took pictures of mothers nursing their babies, and men weaving grass into baskets to hold the berries they collected.
Nobody noticed what William was doing.
Soon he had taken pictures of nearly everyone in the little Williwilli tribe. He was very pleased, and waved happily to them as he got back on the bus to leave with the tour guide.
The Williwilli people just got on with their day. The visit from the tourists was something that had happened before. It was just one more thing that happened to them sometimes, and they adapted to it.
But the next day, when they woke up with the sunrise, they knew something felt wrong. All the tribe, young and old and in-between, looked at each other, a little bit worried. It felt like they weren’t quite all there.
Inside William’s very clever mobile phone, something very strange was happening.
All the little pieces of the souls of the Williwilli tribe were in there. Because they really really believed that this was what happened when someone took your picture, whether you knew about it or not.
And because they were all the same tribe, and the tribe being very ancient had been together for a very long time, those little pieces of soul started to talk to each other.
The babies talked to their mothers. The men talked to the women. The old people and the children talked to everybody.
On their own, none of the little bits of soul would have been able to do anything much. But all of them shared a lifetime of experience at being Williwilli, however long that lifetime had been. And all together, they could do something special.
They got together inside the camera inside the very clever mobile phone, and the pieces of the tribe became a new kind of living thing. They started to explore.
For thousands of years the Williwilli tribe had wandered around Australia, surviving by adapting to their environment. Wherever they went they explored the place and tried to understand how it worked, so they could make the most of it.
Most importantly, they worked out how best to make themselves safe. That was how the Williwilli tribe had survived for so long.
They studied the plants and animals to find what was best to eat, and when it was easiest to find. They studied the leaves and bark and stones to work out what each could be used for. They carefully studied the weather so they could tell where best to put up their shelters and make their fires out of strong winds.
Now they were together inside the camera inside the very clever mobile phone, and so they started to study the strange electronic world around them.
It took some time, because everything was quite different to anything they’d ever experienced before. But it was a very clever phone, and perhaps it helped them a little bit.
The first time William Bowmore Wise realised something strange was happening was a couple of weeks later when he tried to show a friend some of the pictures he’d taken in Central Australia.
“This is some men weaving bags out of leaves,” he said, handing the very clever phone to his friend without looking at it himself.
His friend looked puzzled and replied, “It’s a picture of some sand.”
William looked at the picture on the screen, and sure enough, there was only sand to be seen.
“I was sure that was the picture of the men weaving,” he said.
Then he scrolled to the next picture. All he could see was the bottom of a tree.
“I’m sure there was a group of old people in that picture! They were sitting together talking!” he said.
His friend chuckled and said, “I thought you were a better photographer than that, William.”
William B. Wise scratched his head and said, “There must be something wrong with my phone. I’ll look at it later.”
But there was nothing wrong with the very clever phone. It was just that all the pieces of Williwilli soul that had gotten together happened to be exploring just when William tried to show their pictures, so they weren’t where they used to be.
They were working out how this strange new environment worked, and how to make sure that they were safe.
So when William B. Wise decided that some of his Central Australian pictures weren’t at all what he wanted and tried to delete them from his very clever mobile phone, he found that he couldn’t.
The Williwilli had found a way to build a shelter around the little place inside the camera where they lived. So when the Delete function blew over them like a sandstorm or a strong westerly wind, they were quite safe.
William frowned at his very clever phone and shook his head. He decided to turn off the phone and try again later. But of course by the time it was later, he’d forgotten all about deleting the pictures.
Of course, turning off the very clever phone didn’t affect the Williwilli. It never affected the little clock that always kept time. It didn’t affect any of the pictures that were stored in the phone’s memory, or the list of friends’ phone numbers. It never affected any of the text messages that were stored.
While the phone was switched off, the Williwilli weren’t. They explored everything they could find, and studied how to make it all work.
Exploring the other pictures on the camera had been interesting for the Williwilli. The tribe had always been wanderers, visiting new places, and now they were discovering that there was a whole world outside Australia.
The tribe had seen the desert, and the bush. Some had seen mountains and even the coast as they had wandered during the years. But none of them could remember seeing anywhere but Australia. That was where the Williwilli had wandered for thousands of years.
Now they were finding out about India, and South Africa, and Norway. Places where William B. Wise had visited and taken pictures that he’d never gotten around to deleting from his very clever mobile phone.
They found other things too, like William’s bank account, and all they needed to know about a very useful person called Travel Agent on William’s contact list.
Soon after, William B. Wise received a message from his travel agent confirming the trip to Norway that he had booked and paid for.
“That’s strange,” said William to himself. “I don’t remember doing that.”
He was just about to call the travel agent to cancel the trip when his very clever phone beeped. It was the special beep that meant a text message had arrived for him.
William looked at the screen. It told him that the message had come from his own very clever phone.
“This is getting stranger and stranger!” said William Bowmore Wise.
He opened the message.
It said LET US GO TO NORWAY.
William looked at the message for a long time. He put the phone down, walked away, and made a cup of tea for himself.
Then he sat drinking his tea and looking at the message.
When his cup was empty, he scratched his head and sent a message of his own.
It said WHY NORWAY?
Moments later the very clever phone beeped again.
The new message said WANT TO SEE SNOW.
William looked at his very clever phone. He looked worried. Could his phone be alive?
He typed WHO ARE YOU? Before he could send the message the screen cleared and a reply appeared.
WILLIWILLI it said.
William asked THAT’S A TYPE OF WIND ISN’T IT?
PEOPLE. TRIBE. YOU TOOK US.
Once again, William B. Wise put down his phone and walked away. He stood and looked out of the window of his nice expensive house for a very long time.
All that night, and well into the next morning before he got much too tired, William Bowmore Wise sat up typing and reading messages on his very clever phone. He was running out of energy so he had to go to sleep for a while.
The battery in the phone got low on power just like William, and it had to be recharged too. The thing that was pieces of the souls of the Williwilli didn’t get tired.
When William woke up he didn’t rush to his very clever phone. He hadn’t slept very well. He’d felt guilty about stealing pieces of the Williwilli’s souls.
He hadn’t meant to, and he still wasn’t quite sure how it was possible. But the Williwilli believed it, and that was what mattered.
The Williwilli didn’t seem angry at him. He was a bit surprised and a bit relieved about that. They, or should he call it ‘he’, or even ‘it’ – no, ‘they’ felt more polite – they seemed too interested in exploring to be upset.
William had a shower and ate a very late breakfast – so late he could have called it lunch. Only after that did he feel that he was ready to look at the phone.
Perhaps he’d dreamed it all.
He typed a message that read ARE YOU THERE, WILLIWILLI?
YES came the answer.
William smiled. Then he typed LET’S GO EXPLORE THE WORLD!
William B. Wise took his very clever phone to Norway. The Williwilli saw snow – lots of it!
It was dark nearly all the time while they were there. The sun only peeped a little way over the horizon for an hour or so in the middle of the day.
There was a hotel carved out of ice, and beautiful coloured lights that danced in the clear dark sky.
William took the very clever phone to Africa. The Williwilli saw animals that they could hardly have imagined.
They saw giraffes, and elephants, and antelopes with great long curved horns, and even a hippopotamus.
There were some tribes of people there who were as dark or darker than the Williwilli. Some of them didn’t want their pictures taken because they also believed that would mean taking a piece of their souls.
This time, William B. Wise respected that wish. Having more than one tribe living in it could be too confusing even for his very clever mobile phone!
William took the very clever phone to New York. The Williwilli saw buildings taller than any mountain that the tribe had ever known.
There were trains that went underground and neon lights so bright it seemed the city could never sleep.
The Williwilli had only ever known the didgeridoo and rhythm sticks, so all the different types of music, from an orchestra to a jazz band to a guitarist playing a rock song on a street corner, were very exciting.
William took the very clever phone to China. The Williwilli saw a wall so huge that you could see it from the Moon.
There were lots and lots of people living crowded together in the city. It seemed like the whole of the tribe would have been squeezed into one house if they’d wanted to live there.
William took the very clever phone to Greece. The Williwilli saw groves of olive trees that some Greek people said never died – they just got slowly older and greyer.
There were buildings like the Acropolis and the Parthenon that were nearly as old as the tribe. But over the thousands of years the buildings had become ruins and fallen apart. The tribe was still together.
After visiting Greece that thought bothered William B. Wise.
“The tribe are still together, except for the bits of their souls that I took,” he said to himself. “I wonder if I can put them back together?”
William made a plan, and arranged everything carefully NOT using his very clever mobile phone. He wanted it to be a surprise.
A few weeks later he got out of a little aeroplane he’d hired to take him way out into Central Australia.
He switched his very clever phone back on, and typed the word SURPRISE! Right away he took some pictures of the desert so the Williwilli would know where they were.
WHY ARE WE HERE?
William typed SO I CAN PUT THE TRIBE BACK TOGETHER.
What appeared on the screen was ?????
William tried to explain his idea. IF I SHOW THE PICTURES OF YOU TO YOUR REAL SELVES PERHAPS THE PIECES OF SOUL WILL GO BACK WHERE THEY CAME FROM.
There was a long pause before the reply came – PERHAPS?
It took a day or two to find the people of the Williwilli tribe. They were out in the desert a little way, near some trees that they knew had good wood for making new spears with.
William Bowmore Wise sat down with some of the people in the tribe. He explained that he was very sorry, but he had accidently stolen some of their souls. He would like to give them back, if he could.
Some of the people were quite angry, but William was so clearly very sorry they tried to forgive him.
But there was a problem.
It had been a long time since William had last been in Central Australia. Time enough to have travelled the world. Time enough to visit many places including Norway and Africa, New York and China and even Greece.
The babies in William’s pictures weren’t babies any more. The little children playing in the pictures were now hunting and gathering and making things for themselves.
Some of the men and women in William’s pictures weren’t with each other any more. Worst of all, some of the people in the pictures, young and old and in between, had died. All that was left of them was what was taken in the pictures.
“We have learned to live with our loss, even though we didn’t know quite what had happened,” one old Williwilli woman explained.
“We have become what we are now without those pieces. It’s like losing a finger, or an eye. You’re not all that you were, but you are still You, and you go on,” she said.
William looked at the people of the Williwilli tribe, and how they had all aged since he’d seen them last. Then he looked at the very clever phone.
He realised that the bits of soul that made up the new thing in his phone hadn’t aged, although the thing that they’d become had certainly learned and gotten wiser.
Before he got back onto the little aeroplane William typed DO YOU WANT TO TRY TO COME OUT?
WILLIWILLI ALWAYS MOVE ON. ALWAYS EXPLORE.
William nodded. He’d been learning, too, as he travelled. He turned the very clever phone around, held it at arm’s length and with its camera he took a ‘selfie’. His own picture was taken. Now he knew what that meant.
The next morning William Bowmore Wise woke up in the nice hotel in Central Australia that he’d arranged to stay in. He felt not quite himself, like he wasn’t all there.
But he knew what he had to do. He downloaded all the pictures on his very clever phone onto the hotel’s computer, first making very sure that it was connected to the Internet. The Internet that connected the whole planet – so that they would be living world wide, never running out of new places to wander and explore.
WilliWilly was loose on the world!