Two fingers and a thumb was all he could fit around the half inch nub of coarse threaded bolt. The other end of the bolt fastened the handle onto the opposite side of the cupboard door, behind which he, and his sister, were hiding. The tips of his numb fingers, and the skin under his nails, were white, and the small ball of muscle between thumb and forefinger beat with a regular jagged spasm.
His sister had been making low, gutteral, animal sounds for the last hour, only just audible but gradually rising in volume. After the latest incident he had reached up his free hand to shake her shoulder. Gently, more warning than rebuke. At his touch the cupboard filled with light. His sister had switched on the tiny, pink, wand-like torch that he had allowed her to bring with her. It was little more than a toy, the light a dim flicker, but after so long in the dark it was like an explosion in both sets of eyes.
He didn’t, couldn’t, bring himself to speak, could barely make her out through the spots dancing before his eyes. The torch in one hand, her free hand clutching her lips, knuckles white with effort, she was fighting to hold her voice in check. The way his eyes widened in shock, and the curt shake of his head was enough for her to extinguish the light. The boy reached around her with his free arm and hugged her tight to his side.
A few minutes later they both heard the first chime from the clock over the fireplace. The girl, startled by the sound, squirmed in her brother’s grasp, her foot struck the side of the cupboard and, momentarily, the boy’s attention was diverted between restraining his sister, and counting the chimes. With her settled, he thought he had picked up the count... nine... ten... eleven.
The twelfth chime sounded, and both exhaled, sharply. Cautiously the boy released his grip on the stub of bolt, and the cupboard door swung open. He pushed it fully open, and massaging his throbbing hand, stepped from the cupboard into the room. He had to be sure. He motioned for his sister to stay where she was, and slowly, carefully, made his way to the fireplace where the clock was. He looked at the face.
Midnight. They had made it without being discovered. He turned to give his sister the signal to come out, but she was already standing behind him. He returned the smile on her face with a broad grin of his own. He reached for an ornament that was next to the clock, and handed it down to his sister. It had a heavy, square base, and she was barely able to hold it in her two hands. The boy then took a hook-backed poker from the stand by the fireplace. Together, they silently left the room and climbed the stairs to where a family slept, unaware what time it was.