I was pretty positive that the clock had been frozen for a while now. Every time I glanced at it, 2:59 would glare back in an impatient red glow. So I’d look away and stare at the darkness or close my eyes and pretend I was asleep, but the clock drew my eyes back again. This happened repeatedly at 3:11, or 3:42, and all I could do was listen to the breathing of my siblings all sleeping around me, on the floor and on the bed.
Finally, it was five minutes to 4:00 a.m. and Kara started gently shaking the others to wake them. Everyone’s eyes were wide from exhaustion and excitement as we crept soundlessly from our sleeping positions and tiptoed to gather round the door exiting our parents’ bedroom. Kara motioned to Kenneth to pass her the flashlight and mirror; they both checked under the door, pressed their ears to it, and then ever so gently they began to twist the doorknob a fraction of an inch at a time. As we always reminded each other, opening the door was the hardest part since we never knew what trap lay beyond, what noises might fall if we didn’t move so slowly.
Kayleen peeked through the centimeter crack in the doorway and whispered, “It’s just a few paper bags in the hallway,” and she pulled the door open a little wider. It seemed too lucky that the only trick we could see so far was a pile of brown bags and plastic strewn across the walkway. Only a few minutes passed before we had silently shifted each bag and maneuvered our way to the top of the stairs. We couldn’t see a lot below us because of the dark, but from the light that came in the front window I saw a dim reflection on the stairs. Crouching down, I reached out to feel in front of me and my hand came to rest on the cool metal of an aluminum can. There were many of them: countless cans of food lining each stair, no doubt from our food storage, but they made it impossible for us to walk down carefully. The risk of sending a can tumbling was too great. Thus we began to one by one move the cans stacked up on the stairs and put them in the hallway at the top; though not an impossible or difficult task, it was a time consuming one, and we were all itching to see the presents underneath the bright Christmas tree. Eventually, we were able to form an assembly line about halfway down the staircase, to pass each can up until we had cleared a decent path for us to make it to the bottom without a single noise.
Our anticipation was growing, we had been working for only an hour and we were already so close to the room with the Christmas tree! It only heightened our excitement when we found no difficult obstacle at the bottom of the stairs. Silently congratulating each other, we glided forward to the entrance to the kitchen and we didn’t see it until we had practically hit noses with it. A giant wall extended up in front of us, as tall as the staircase it was next to. As we considered what it was and the best approach to taking it down, we found it was actually a huge box, just wide enough to perfectly block the one and only way into the family room. Gently, Kenneth pressed on it to see it would budge, only to find that the box was extremely heavy. Try as he might, it remained stubbornly in place. In fact, we ALL tried to move it together, yet all four of us did not have the strength required to move such a large box. What could possibly make a box so heavy? I wondered about this, and we all realized the gravity of our problem: if we could not move this box, we would not be able to win the trap. All of the tools we had stashed away in the weeks prior were useless compared to something this size.
Feeling pretty hopeless, I sat down, but it was then that Kenneth said, “I have an idea.” He hurried back the way we’d come, climbing between the random cans we had left on the stairs until he reached the landing at the top and he was exactly next to the giant box only above it not below it. After considering it for a moment he whispered down to us, “There’s nothing on the other side of the box. I can climb over the banister here to the other side! Then I can help you guys climb down.” Feeling a little more hopeful about our situation, I followed everyone back to the top of the stairs where we watched Kenneth straddle the railing as he climbed over and down until he could drop to the floor below. He made it look so easy, but when I peeked over, the height made me nervous. Kayleen went down next, and then it was my turn. “Okay Kandace,” Kara said. “I’ll help you from up here and Kenneth and Kayleen will help you land at bottom. One of us will always be holding you.” I gulped and nodded, but my body did not want to listen to her. I was only eight and just tall enough to get my arms over the banister. Kara hoisted me up and held my waist tightly as I scrambled over one leg at a time. She then held my hands and wrists and instructed me to lower myself down while Kayleen and Kenneth both reached up to catch my ankles and legs. Fear rose up in my throat and I wanted to cry out, but I held it in knowing we had to keep quiet now especially. Feeling my older siblings’ arms around my legs and ready to catch me if necessary, I trusted Kara when she said "Let go" and I landed on my feet with Kayleen and Kenneth grabbing my arms. When Kara climbed over, we all reached up to steady her and she seemed to come down with the skill of a rock climber.
We all smiled and turned to the doorway into the family room. It was covered by a blanket, but we easily pushed that aside and found the Christmas tree twinkling and all the presents glittering in their wrapping paper and ribbons. Mom and Dad were there snuggled up on the couch, and as we’d hoped, they were fast asleep. We all jumped forward and burst into song, “We wish you a merry Christmas!” And watched our parents slowly open their eyes and smile at us. “Darn,” Dad said groggily. “They got over that huge new washer.”