The box was in the living room when Billy came home from school. “What’s in the box?” he asked.
“You’ll see,” said Mom, “as soon as Dad comes home from work.”
When Dad came home, he opened the box. Inside was a television set. All of Billy’s older brothers and sisters were happy to see the television, but Billy was more interested in the box. It was as tall as Billy, and so wide he couldn’t touch both ends at the same time. Billy thought the empty box would be a lot more fun than the TV.
“Dad,” said Billy, “can I have the box?”
“Sure,” answered Dad.
The next day Billy hunted all over the house for things to put in his box. He found an empty toothpaste tube in the bathroom, and an empty cereal box in the kitchen. He found a whole box full of old buttons. He found a shoe that didn’t have a mate. And he put them all in his box in the living room.
When his sister Annie came home from school, she said, “What is that box still doing in the living room?”
When his brother Todd came home from school, he said, “Does Mom know you have all that stuff in here?”
When his sister Dora came home from school, she said, “Can’t you play without making a mess?”
And after dinner they all said, “What is all that stuff for, Billy?”
Billy didn’t say anything. He just sat inside his box, putting the cereal box, the toothpaste tube, the buttons, and the shoe right out in front.
Dad smiled. “Why, it’s a store, of course,” he said. “How much are those buttons selling for?”
Billy thought for a minute. “A hundred dollars,” he said.
“Oh,” said Dad. “I’m a little short this month, I can’t afford that. Don’t you have any bargains today?”
“Oh yes!” agreed Billy. “They’re on sale for two cents each.”
“That’s a real bargain,” Dad said. “I’ll take three buttons.”
Then he handed Billy six cents, and Billy handed him three buttons.
“Oh,” said Billy’s brother and sisters admiringly. “What a neat store!”
The next day Billy hunted for things again. This time he found a yardstick, and Mom gave him some string. He tied the ends of the string through the holes in the ends of the yardstick. He pulled back on the string and the yardstick bent a little. Then he let go of the string with a twang.
“SWICK!” he said. “SWISH! ZIP!”
When Annie came home from school, she said, “Is that box still in the living room?”
Billy was hiding down inside the box. When she said that he stood up and held the yardstick out, and twanged the string. “SWICK!” he said. Annie left the room, laughing.
Todd came home and said, “Does Mom know you’ve got the yardstick in your store?”
Billy twanged the string at Todd and said, “ZIP! No she doesn’t, ’cause it isn’t a store!”
Todd left the room, saying, “I thought it was a store.”
When Dora came in she said, “What’s all this twanging and zipping and swicking? Can’t you play without making noise?”
But Billy only twanged the string at her and whispered, “SWICK! ZIP! SWISH! TWANG!”
And after dinner they all asked, “What are you doing, Billy?”
Billy didn’t say anything. He ducked down inside the box where no one could see him. Then he stood up and twanged and zipped them all.
Dad smiled. “Why, that’s a castle, of course!” he declared. “Are you a knight?”
“No,” answered Billy. “I’m the king. And if you come any closer, I’ll get you with my bow and arrow.” And then Billy pulled back on the string with all his might to make a huge twang. But the string didn’t twang at all. Instead, the yardstick broke right in half.
“Ooops,” said Billy, “I’m sorry.”
Billy’s brother and sisters were about to say, “I told you this would happen,” but just in time Mom said, “Well, looks like without a bow you’re not a king anymore, are you?”
Billy looked at the broken bow. “Nope,” he agreed.
“Now it’s just a yardstick,” Dad said.
Billy looked at the two pieces in his hand. “I think it’s two half-yardsticks,” he said.
“Well then,” Dad said, “it looks like that box isn’t a castle anymore. What can it be now?”
Billy thought and thought. Then he got an idea. “It’s a repair shop!”
“Good idea,” said Dad. Billy, Dad and Mom hunted through the house. Mom found glue and tape, and Dad found two straight sticks. Then Billy set the yardstick on top of the box, and he put glue on the broken place and pushed the two pieces together. Dad helped Billy tape on the two straight sticks so the yardstick would dry straight.
“And now,” said Dad, “let’s leave the yardstick in the repair shop overnight.”
That’s what they did. Mom turned on the television set and Billy sat down between Mom and Dad and watched the show with the rest of the family. “I’m sorry I broke the yardstick,” he whispered.
“You didn’t mean to,” Dad said.
“And tomorrow it will be good as new, thanks to your repair shop,” added Mom.
Billy smiled. “I like my box,” he said.
When he went to bed, he thought for a long time about what his box would be the next day.
Maybe a zoo—if I can find a tiger, he decided at last—just before he went to sleep.