Disclaimer: All characters, events, and material related to ParaNorman are owned by Chris Butler and LAIKA.
Cover Art by Jake Nickleby. Currently looking for colored commission.
"C'mon, Neil! If you get this next question right, you're sure to pass the test tomorrow," Norman encouraged his friend as they walked to the Babcock household.
"Ugh!" Neil groaned. "These distributive properties are making my brain hurt!" he complained once they reached the front steps.
"Maybe a little break and some brain food will help," Norman suggested, shutting the textbook he held in his hands. He juggled with the book while digging for his house keys in his backpack. Then, finally, he managed to unlock the front door. "Meet me up in my room and I'll bring up some snacks."
Neil nodded and walked up the stairs to his friend's bedroom, while Norman ventured into the living room on his way to the kitchen.
"Hi, Grandma!" Norman murmured, giving the ghostly figure a wave.
"Afternoon, Norman," his grandmother greeted from her seat on the couch while she knitted. "How was school today?"
Norman shrugged. "It was okay," he answered. "I'm going to work on some homework with Neil." He walked into the kitchen and pulled a large bowl from one of the cupboards.
"Neil, hmm?" Grandma Babcock mused, tapping her finger to her chin. Poking her head through the wall, she stared at the redhead while thinking. After a minute, she reappeared fully in the living room to ask, "He's that boy you used to play in the sandbox with, isn't he?"
The eleven-year-old poked his head through the kitchen door. He blinked at her, confused. "No, Grandma," he corrected. "We've only met this school year." The door swung shut as he advanced to the pantry, pulling out a bag of white cheddar-flavored popcorn and emptying out the last half of the bag into the bowl.
Grandma Babcock left to look over the chubby boy again. She circled around him, then retured to Norman, who already walked back into the living room. "I'm most certain he is," she stated. "The two of you would build sandcastles together..."
He wracked his brain trying to remember, picturing in his mind of when his grandmother would take him to the park when he was younger. "Well, I remember the sandcastle..."
A mound of sand came into view, the shovel he held in his small hand, and the sound of an incessant voice chattering to no on in particular. Little Norman stared down at the tiny plastic shovel, as if wondering what to do with the gadget. Eventually, he began scooping up grains of sand and letting it fall on top of the little sandy hill. The particles rolled down the formation, causing it to fall flat. Little Norman frowned in frustration.
"Here," the voice said. "If you add a bit of water, it'll stay up better." Water from a brightly-colored pail poured over the sandy lumps.
"Now what?" Little Norman asked.
"You put bucket on top..." the boy demonstrated. "Then..." He lifted the pail up, the sand now molded in the shape of the container. Clumps of sand broke off from the edge, and the boy used his hands to pat the sand into place. He pointed to the shovel in Little Norman's hand. "You can even use that to make designs on the tower!"
Little Norman looked a little hesitant, but soon used the edge of the blade to create windows while the boy made three more towers. Little Norman produced windows on the other towers as well. The boy formed walls to connect the four towers together, then stared at the structure when he finished.
"What should we do now?" the boy asked. Little Norman stared at their creation, thinking of what a castle needed.
"Well, we could build a moat?" Little Norman suggested quietly.
"Awesome!" the boy exclaimed. "I wouldn't have thought of that!" Using his own shovel, the boy started to dig a deep, wide ditch around the castle. Little Norman watched him for a while before he realized that the boy was doing all of the work. Clutching the handle, Little Norman shoveled a trench on his side of the castle.
The boy continued to talk nonsensically, and though Little Norman didn't pay much attention to what he was saying, he didn't really mind listening to him speak. Then suddenly the chattering stopped. Little Norman looked up, and saw a pair of eyes staring at him. He jumped, startled.
"Huh?" Little Norman said.
"How old are you?" the boy asked.
"I'm seven..." he answered shyly.
"Me too!" the boy responded excitedly, and Little Norman returned the friendly gesture with a sheepish smile.
"Now for the finishing touch!" the boy proclaimed, holding up a little red flag to the sky. "Wanna do the honors?" He held it in his open palm, extending the object out to the slimmer seven-year-old.
Little Norman timidly reached out, and took the red flag into his own hand. Pinching the thin stick in the center, he stuck the pointed end into one of the towers. He gazed at the handmade building. It actually looked like a sandcastle! With his eyes trailing up, he saw the other boy staring back at him with a face that mustered up a silent phrase: We did it!
"I guess I do remember playing with someone," Norman said thoughtfully. "But I can't really remember his face." Grandma Babcock smiled knowingly, but something caught both of their attention before she could respond.
"Hey, Norman!" shouted Neil from the top of the stairs. "You need a hand down there?"
"I'm fine, Neil!" he called out. "I'll be up in a minute."
"Well..." he told his grandmother, shifting the weight of the popcorn bowl in his arms. "I better go study now..." Norman left the living room and walked up the stairs to his room, where Neil was waiting for him on the floor.
His friend was reading a comic book, and upon his arrival, Neil slapped the book down on the floor, and announced, "Thirty-two pages! My personal best... Oh, yeah!"
Norman chuckled and sat beside the redhead, placing the bowl in between them. Neil instantly dove into the bowl, taking one large handful of popcorn at a time. As he began to snack away, Norman observed his features. Neil stopped for a moment and looked at his friend quizzically.
"What?" he questioned, speaking through a mouthful of popcorn.
Norman just kept smiling. "...nothing."
"Norman!" his grandmother called, tucking her knitting in her purse. "It's time to go home..."
"Neil!" shouted a young teen, shoving his hands in his letterman jacket. "Let's go..."
"Mitch, did you see my new buddy?" the boy excitedly told the teenager. "I like him!"
"Made a new friend, I see?" Grandma Babcock asked. Norman smiled at her and nodded his head. "Well? What's his name?" His smiled disappeared quickly, and he looked out into the distance to think about it.
"I don't know..." he told her sadly, but then his face instantly lit up again. "But I had fun!"
Author's Note: This is actually my third or fourth ParaNorman story, but it's the first one being published. Sandbox started as a drawing (full-sized illustration is posted on Tumblr and deviantART), and I couldn't pass up the chance to write a story to go with it. I plan on getting those other stories posted within a year, but I hope you enjoy this in the meantime. I'm such a hardcore Neilman shipper!
18 November 2012