It was nearly time. Henry’s nose was pressed against the bedroom window, his breath steaming up the glass. He watched his mum crunching over the snowy driveway towards the car, toss the shopping bags on the passenger seat and drive away. Dad was snoozing on the sofa downstairs. His big sister, Charlotte, was listening to pop music in her bedroom. The moment had come. He crossed the room, carefully avoiding the army of dinosaurs and soldiers lined up for battle, and gently turned the doorknob. The door was obstructed by a pile of discarded school clothes, shoes and an overstuffed rucksack. Henry forced it as far as it would go, and squeezed through the gap. Phase One: complete. He was now on the landing.
Henry took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. He could feel his heart pounding in his chest. A surge of adrenalin coursed through his veins. It was now or never. A flicker of doubt crossed his mind. Perhaps he shouldn’t be doing this. Would he spoil the surprise on the Big Day by continuing with his mission? What if Dad awoke, or Mum came home early from the supermarket? She often forgot something. It was entirely possible she could already be on her way back up the drive. Henry steeled himself against his doubts, and entered Phase Two.
The goods were located in one of three separate locations on the first floor of the building, narrowed down to one specific area in the master bedroom. Location One: At the back of one of the drawers under Mum and Dad’s bed. Location Two: Mum’s wardrobe, under the handbags. Or, Location Three: Above the wardrobe, behind the box of his and Charlotte’s old paintings. The bedroom was situated right above the living room, where Dad was napping. The house was old, the floorboards creaky. There was a very real danger of being discovered.
Fortunately, Henry had planned ahead regarding the floorboards. Simple physics implied that the best method to avoid detection would be to approach the target location on his belly. With a larger surface area placing less pressure on the boards, he figured they would be less likely to creak and give the game away. Of course, this method would add time to the mission, time which was already of the essence. He must engage immediately.
Phase Two underway, Henry dropped to the floor in the middle of the landing, and, using his elbows and the movement of his thigh and stomach muscles, began crawling across the carpet. This is how snakes move, but they don’t have elbows. Their muscles must be very strong, and probably very different to mine, Henry thought to himself, shuffling along. He made a mental note to look up the anatomy of snakes in his encyclopaedia once the mission was over.
Henry was making good progress. He had already passed the top of the stairs, and was just about to broach the quarter-way point under the tinsel-decked bay windows, when the sound of a door opening made him freeze mid-shuffle.
“What are you doing?” It was Charlotte. She was leaning against the door frame to her bedroom with her arms crossed.
“Shhhh!” Henry hissed. “I’m on a mission.” “You’re such a loser,” she scoffed, and disappeared back into her room, closing the door behind her.
Phew! That was close. Had she suspected? No, Henry didn’t think so. He paused a moment, wondering whetherto engage Charlotte in the mission. She was taller, after all. If the goods happened to be in Location Two, above the wardrobe, her height would be extremely beneficial to attaining the goal. But no, Henry decided against it. It was too much of a risk. Charlotte’s loyalties were split, and you never could tell which side she’d be on at any given time. His sister was a dangerous double-agent, not to be trusted.
So our hero shuffled on, stoic and resolute, to his destination at the end of the hall. The door loomed in sight. The door was closed, but not locked. It could only be locked from the inside, and with both occupants elsewhere, entry would be simple.
At the door, Henry eased himself up onto his knees, and slowly turned the knob. He heard the catch slide back, and the door swung inwards. Henry lowered himself back onto his belly. Entering Phase Three.
Location One was closest, just a few feet ahead. Henry shuffled towards the bed. There were four drawers under the bed, each one of them potentially holding the goods. He began with the one closest to him, sliding out the drawer and raising himself onto his hands to see inside. Bed sheets, all neatly folded and stacked. Henry slid a hand right to the back, felt under each pile just in case.
Executing a perfect alligator roll to the right, Henry opened the next drawer. This was filled with all kinds of weird stuff. An old hairdryer, magazines, a tangle of unidentified cables. There was a white plastic bag at the back. Henry felt inside. It was just old tights. Now he’d have to make it round to Dad’s side of the bed and check the drawers there.
Henry managed to shuffle his way over to Dad’s side without so much as a peep from the floorboards. Alas, there was nothing to be found in either of Dad’s drawers. Next stop: Location Two – Mum’s wardrobe. He shuffled across the floor, still on his belly, and opened the wardrobe door from the bottom by hooking his fingers under it. Peering into the darkness, Henry located the pile of handbags. He stuck his hand inside and felt around for something beneath the pile. Nothing. Feverishly, Henry climbed half into the wardrobe and turned the pile of bags upside down. Still nothing underneath.
Henry whispered a bad word under his breath, and sat up. He closed the wardrobe door and sighed. That left only one more place to check. Taking pains not to upset those creaky floorboards, he got to his feet. The wardrobe was too tall for him to see to the top. There were no handles or other footholds he could use to scale the face of it. There was just one thing for it: he’d have to get Mum’s dressing-table chair.
With all the care and silence he could muster, Henry dragged the heavy wingback chair across the carpet, and climbed on. He couldn’t reach. He tried standing on the arms, but he was still too short to even reach a hand onto the top of the wardrobe, let alone to move the box of paintings to see what was behind.
Still, he was running out of time. He’d come too far to abort the mission now. With the skill of a trained stuntman (as he was sure he would one day become), Henry climbed right onto the back of the chair, and hoisted himself up onto the top of the wardrobe. There was a sound from outside the window, a car’s engine purring on the drive. Shaking but determined, he pressed on. He could see something shiny, just behind the box. It was Christmas wrapping paper, he was sure of it! Squinting in the dim light, he reached out an arm. A creaking of footsteps on floorboards in the distance. He could see something else there, in the bag with the wrapping paper. It was toy packaging! He could even make out the Action Man logo. If he could just get a little closer . . . just a little closer . . . “HENRY!”