Claire, Jacoby, and I were in a room in the basement, while Ava was upstairs, and someone was moving around in the house. It was the worst thing that could happen… and I didn’t remember if I’d shut the door at the top of the stairs. If I hadn’t then the person might pay us a visit down here. There were places to hide though, in the other rooms. If they had a furnace or washroom, the visibility would be limited and afford us adequate concealment.
I was more worried about Ava. Hopefully she’d heard the person and had managed to get out on time. She should have also grabbed some of the more valuable items before escaping.
We waited with baited breath for a scream or yell indicating she’d been caught, but none ever came. The footsteps never started down the steps to the basement, but the steady rhythm didn’t halt other than for momentary pauses. It seemed like there was nothing to do but wait it out. At least we weren’t going to be caught right away.
I looked around the room we were in again. In the few minutes they’d been down here, Claire and Jacoby had done some amazing work. First of all, there was a window in the back, which they’d propped open with what looked like some pieces of a desk chair. The desktop computer had been placed haphazardly on the couch, which Jacoby was in the process of moving over to the window. The desk that the computer had previously been on was under the window, presumably to act as a stepping stool from the couch. I had no idea how they’d thought of and done all this in the short amount of time I’d been worrying about them upstairs. It made the room a mess, but we could clean it up before we left.
Actually, when I thought about it, it didn’t matter if we left a mess. Mrs. Gissard and her husband would be able to tell a ton of stuff was missing anyway. Cleaning up would be a nice thing to do though. If we were taking all their shit we could at least straighten up before leaving. I knew that it shouldn’t really matter to me, but I didn’t like messes. The room looked like it’d been neatly arranged before, and it wouldn’t be too hard to leave it in the same shape we left it, sans electronics and painting.
The couch was fully in front of the desk by this time. The noises were still coming down from upstairs at a steady rate, and we had to be as quiet as possible. Getting caught was not in the plan. My adrenaline levels had increased since the footsteps started, and I was getting excited. This had the potential to be interesting. I felt different than before; not so much shakily nervous as amped up. I could have sprinted home without stopping, with the amount of energy I had. Unluckily, that was not what the situation required.
Jacoby motioned for Claire and me to come closer to him.
“How are we going to get out of here?” he asked, keeping his voice low. “I don’t like this. Not so much the getting caught as the taking stuff. I told Claire to leave the painting here, but she thought it was valuable. Some artist she recognized.”
He looked to her.
“Yeah,” she started. “I think if we’re going to do this, we should to the best job possible. As in be thorough; don’t leave anything that would be worth taking behind. I don’t think that choosing thing by thing is a good way to do it.”
I looked back and forth between them, then walked over to the painting. I didn’t recognize it, but then again, I wasn’t into art. There might be sentimental value to the painting though, so maybe we should leave it… No. I’d been doing too much compromising on my morals lately. There was a way I was supposed to behave, and anyway, I couldn’t start making exceptions in a situation like this. It was the worst possible time and place to grow a conscience.
I turned back towards them, and said resolutely, “We’re going to take it. It can fit through the window, which is what I presume you are planning-“ Claire nodded, “-and like you said Claire, making exceptions doesn’t make sense.”
Jacoby looked pained at my decision, but the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. We couldn’t decide on things on a case by case basis, if not for any other reason than time constraints.
“So are we going to go now?” he asked, starting to climb from the couch to the desk.
“Yeah, let’s go.”
Claire got on it as well, and propped open the window. Jacoby started climbing out, but I told him to stop so we could listen in silence again. I heard the same footsteps as before. I clenched my fists. Why couldn’t they just go back to bed? It didn’t sound like Ava was captured though.
I sullenly told Jacoby to get out the window. It led into a small pit, a tiny area, whose only purpose was to expose the window to the sky. He looked cramped standing it in, back pressed against the wall.
He bent down, and I handed him up the painting first, which he grabbed and put on the ground. I could barely see the sky, almost cloudless, through the opening. The first waft of air made me shiver. It felt colder than when we’d walked here, and I was less preoccupied with planning, didn’t have anything preoccupying my mind.
The computer was harder to wrangle together. Claire tried to scoot out of the way a little, but wasn’t able to manage much. I tried to put the keyboard on top of the base, and unplug the monitor, but there didn’t seem to be an easy way to do that. Instead, I unplugged the keyboard and mouse, gave them to Jacoby, then turned my attention back to the rest of the mess. There was still a large morass of unidentifiable cables, but those were so wrapped up in the rest that I couldn’t separate them.
I’d have to pick up the monitor and actual computer as one item. My arms strained as I reached underneath. The couch also wasn’t the best thing to be standing on. If I could just get it up to the desk though, from there it’d be easier to lift to Jacoby. I tried to get under it, get some leverage, but there was no use. I repositioned myself, and bent down, leaning against the back of the couch. I picked it up, got it almost over the lip, when my hand slipped.
The computer fell back down to the couch. I reached after it, but couldn’t get a grip. It bounced surprisingly high, and I watched in fascinated horror as it hit the wood floor, and broke apart with a crash.
I winced, hoping that no one had heard the noise. Instead, the distinct sound of a doorknob knocking against a wall rang into the room. The door coming down to the basement had been thrown open.
“Shit, go!” I hissed to Claire. Silence wasn’t a priority anymore.
I put a hand on the wooden surface of the desk, and stood on it, watching as Claire tried to get through the window quickly.
God damn it, hurry up!
This was a situation where you go the absolute fucking fastest in your life. No time to worry about pain or discomfort, just get out the fucking window. It was maybe two feet tall; not too awful, but not easy either when it was at chest level.
Claire finally made it through, as the footsteps coming down the stairs sped up a little. It seemed like the person was proceeding down the stairs with caution. Reasonable, since he had no idea whether we were armed or not. They would be getting close now.
I placed my right palm on the window edging, then reached up to grab Jacoby’s arm. When my hand clasped his forearm, I was glad I hadn’t tried to do this alone. I owed them big time. He pulled, and my shoulder almost tore, but with only my ankles, I managed a small jump, fingers scrambling to find some better purchase. I didn’t want to be dragged out the window on my stomach. They finally found his shoe, and I swung sideways, getting my foot over the edge of the frame. I used my leg to pull myself up more, and along with Jacoby’s tugging, eventually got so my weight was out more than in.
Before pulling my other leg up, I glanced back into the room. Mrs. Gissard was standing in the doorway, staring at me with dismay. She shouted, but I, in a flash, retracted my leg and was standing up. As she approached the window, arms outstretched and reaching for me, I slammed it down in front of her. Hopefully her fingers didn’t get slammed in it.
I pulled myself up out of the pit, and then yelled, “Go!”
Jacoby and Clare were shocked out of their frozen state, and picked up some stuff we’d taken from the house. I grabbed the keyboard and mouse. They still might be worth something, even without the actual computer. Fuck, that sucked. The computer, probably the most valuable item we had a shot at, was gone. My fault.
I knew Mrs. Gissard would be outside soon, and we needed to get out of the area. She would probably call the police too. I was so glad we had gloves and face masks. She had been staring at me for what seemed like seconds, but was probably only a fraction of one. Our fingerprints would be on everything, in multiple rooms, if we hadn’t had gloves.
Jacoby was holding the painting with one hand as we sprinted around the corner of the house. Bushes lined the back wall, which we passed, not giving a care to whether we were in shadows or not. I’m glad I remembered the design of the narrow area between the house and the hedge and wall, since there was a lawnmower to avoid. I stayed towards the hedge and was safe, and Jacoby and Claire made it too. Still no idea where Ava was. I thought it was most likely she was with the backpacks, hopefully with the Wii and the phone, but if she didn’t have them, it was still better than her being caught. If she wasn’t there, then this was a situation where cell phones would be very beneficial.
The road loomed ahead of us, an open expanse. I was praying Mrs. Gissard or her husband wouldn’t appear out her front door when we were near it. We just had to pass this, and get around the hedge, then we could grab our stuff and go. But it wouldn’t be the best strategy to just run.
I tried to keep my voice quiet as I said, “Stop!”
Jacoby and Claire skidded to a halt before they went out into the more open area and around the hedge. We needed to be careful here. They looked back at me, and I motioned them to hide along the wall of the porch, where we’d started this mission.
I was only doing this because I didn’t want anyone to be on the porch and see us and chase after us. With our backs pressed up against the wall, I thought about peeking out in front of it, but then I’d be silhouetted against the much lighter area behind me. Instead, I put my foot on a potted plant, and, making sure it didn’t tip over, pushed myself up, barely peeking over the edge.
Shit. I dropped back down just as quickly. A man was standing there, outside the front door, pacing, but currently looking in the other direction. This would be like a game. He couldn’t see us, yet we had to get past him. Simple jailbreak. Except with a time limit, since assuming that was her husband, Mrs. Gissard would be inside calling the cops.
Then I remembered that the phones are out. Fuck yes! No way to call the cops on us, unless phone service had been turned back on while we were burglarizing their house. Unlikely enough that we didn’t need to worry about it. So it was just her husband that we had to be careful of. The phone situation also meant that Mrs. Gissard herself might come outside, from either the front or back of the house, which renewed the urgency I felt.
I told Jacoby and Claire the plan I’d thought of.
“We need to get past a man up there,” I said, directing my head towards the wall. “He’s pacing, so he’s not constantly looking in our direction, but it will still be hard to get by him. How about I look out, looking over this wall, and you both run at the same time. No reason to go one by one.”
Jacoby nodded, but Claire said, “People always go individually, why do you think it will work better if we go together?”
This wasn’t the time to have an argument, this was a time when they should do as I say. An urgent situation, and I hadn’t led them wrong so far, had I? Saying that wouldn’t convince her though, just prompt a reaction like Ava’s previous.
I stepped down fully from the plant, turning to face her.
“Because if he sees one or both of you it doesn’t matter. He’s close enough we won’t have time to get away if we don’t run. It’s the easiest, and more importantly, it takes the shortest amount of time.”
She frowned, but acquiesced. Good. We needed to be on the same page. I put a foot on the plant again, hoping the person wouldn’t be looking in our direction because he’d heard voices talking. It probably wasn’t the best idea to be saying anything so close to him, and I decided I’d use hand signals instead of vocalizing more. I had no idea if they’d understand my intent, but if I wasn’t go to talk anymore, I couldn’t explain it to them.
I pushed up, shifting my weight to that leg. Momentarily balanced on one leg, I put my fingers on the top, the ledge, and gripped. A fall would completely suck; I’d probably fall into something else, and make a bunch of noise.
The porch unfolded before me. I hoped that my face covering was dark enough that he wouldn’t notice the top of my head and eyes that were above the wall. If he looked right at me it was unlikely he wouldn’t, but there’s always a chance.
The man was standing on the doormat, still and stern, head faced outwards. Almost like a guard. Maybe if burglaries got bad enough, people would need to hire guards. The phones would probably be turned back on before we had that big of an impact.
He was the only thing that mattered. He would make or break our escape. I waited around five seconds, and he still hadn’t moved. I had no idea what he was waiting for, but it didn’t matter. Only the physical aspects of the scene mattered. I slowly turned my head to look at the hedge, in particular where it ended. I looked back at the man. His peripheral vision would probably cover it, but just barely. If Claire and Jacoby ran, there was a chance he would miss them. It seemed like the best shot we had.
I kept one hand on the surface, but leaned down towards Jacoby and Claire. I pointed at both of them, one after the other, then to the hedge. I mimed running with my fingers, then moved my arm rapidly to indicate running. If they succeeded in decoding that they’d be geniuses.
They both nodded. Now for the scary part. I pushed back up and watched the man some more, waiting for any type of movement. If he did, I’d run too. If not, I’d wait for a few seconds, then run. Just in case he heard something. I knew Jacoby and Claire would be near the corner of the fence. Any second now.
The man didn’t move, didn’t even turn his head a little. Success!
Now it was my turn. I placed a foot back on the ground, and got down, careful not to disturb anything or knock over the plant. I was going to go slower, and keep to the shadows. It might be safer than running. This may also be the only chance I got to see how good I was at sneaking.
I moved out towards the hedge, then crouched down where it was darker. My eyes were adjusted, but I don’t think the man’s were. It was strange that he didn’t turn the porch light on, but maybe he thought it would make him less able to see. Well that was his mistake, given how close we were to him. I moved forward, placing my feet gently, up on my toes. Less surface area, so less chance to step on something bad. There were a few small sticks, but it was mostly pine needles. The hedge was some kind of coniferous plant.
So far so good. I was adjacent to the edge of the porch, currently out of sight. Now for the hard part; the final stretch. I stopped to take a breath, then continued moving along at a snail’s pace, the corner of the hedge coming ever closer. I turned my head and looked back at the man. That movement disturbed my balance, since I was trying to step with as little pressure as possible.
I tried to lean inwards, but it was no use. I slowly, inexorably, teetered, then fell towards the bush.
The crushing noise of the branches was like the crumpling of a potato chip bag in a silent classroom. His eyes were suddenly on me. From my position, now leaning into the hedge, we stared at each other, then he shouted something indiscernible.
I threw myself back up to a standing position. He ran forward and did a flying leap off the porch.
I bolted around the corner of the hedge, not looking back, and yelled, “Go! He’s coming!”
Ava’s startled face greeted me around the corner. Thank God. At least she was alright. She wordlessly handed me a backpack, much harsher than necessary, and I threw it on and started running with her. Claire and Jacoby were nowhere in sight, and I’d presumed they’d gone ahead. That made sense; no reason to have more people than necessary near the house. It irked me that I hadn’t thought of it. Ava was usurping my role. As long as it worked, that was what mattered in the moment. I had to keep any discontented thoughts in my head.
We sprinted down the street. The pavement pounded under our feet, a steady rhythm. I was glad I was naturally athletic, because it seemed like he was right on our tail. I pushed harder, trying to get just a little more speed out of my legs. I glanced back, and saw the man looking around at the corner of the hedge. Guess he wasn’t right behind us. He saw us and started towards us, but there was a yell from the behind him. He turned around, seeming reluctant, gesturing wildly. Thank you for being scared, Mrs. Gissard. It was probably her that made him go back. She had saved us, if not in the way we had originally envisioned.