Like most five year olds I was tucked into bed by seven with Redford, my teddy bear, snuggled in my arms. Unlike most five years olds however, I was waiting for the light outside my door to disappear so that I could break almost every rule that applied in my life. As with most boys I wasn’t one to follow the rules. Even though Grandfather was the one person for me who I always listened to when he told me there was a specific thing I shouldn’t do, tonight that was going to change. He always warned me to stay out of the barn. I never was very good at following instructions. Especially if I thought it was for my own good.
The light didn’t go out until far later than I had ever stayed awake before. But the thought of adventure kept me wide awake.
The floorboards creaked outside of my door as Grandfather made his way along the hallway to his room. The door closed with a thud and then all went silent. I told myself that I would count to one thousand before moving to make sure he was going to stay in his room. I lost count somewhere above ten – you can’t blame me I’m only five – and skipped to a thousand instantly.
Slipping out of bed I pulled on my gumboots and then gathered Redford before pulling the door open. Moonlight flooded through the open windows at each end of the hallway as I stepped up to the very edge of where the carpeted bedroom turned into wooden floors.
I had spent almost the entire day walking up and down the hallway looking for a path where the floor wouldn’t creak. Grandmother hadn’t even noticed, thinking I was playing a game. Surprisingly the only way I could do it was by running. I didn’t understand that it was because walking would add more weight to a spot for a longer amount of time. I thought it was magic.
I adopted my sprinting start position and then took off with Redford dragging behind me. My rubber soles tapping on the floorboards without a single creaking floorboard was proof that my plan had been a success.
At the end of the hallway I dove onto the couch with a muffled thud. Getting to that point without being caught was the only part of my plan that I had been worried about. Crawling off the couch I walked without fear straight out the back door and across to the barn.
The side door was directly ahead of me so I approached and rested Redford on the ground. I managed to force the door open a foot before it hit something and would go no further. The gap wasn’t wide enough to squeeze through so using the bright moonlight I moved my head around like a bobble head doll, looking at the bar of light as it moved around inside. As my eyes adjusted to the confusing light I could identify nothing out of the ordinary. Overflowing and poorly stacked cardboard boxes, disused sporting equipment and power tools, and a metallic foot poking out from beneath a tarpaulin. That last one froze my dancing head in place.
I followed the foot up and saw that the tarp extended almost ten metres into the air, draped over something tall. Why on Earth did Grandpa have a giant foot in his garage? And if the part I could see was a foot then did that mean that there was a giant robot under the tarp?
I grabbed Redford by the arm and carried him around to the large barn doors. There was usually a padlocked chain looped through the handles but it was nowhere to be seen. I knew that Grandfather would only have left it unlocked if he was planning to return. That meant I had to get inside and look around before he came back out.
Even though the doors looked heavy I knew that they had been rigged to open with little effort. Keeping hold of Redford I yanked on both doors at once and took a step back allowing them to swing past me. I was caught completely unaware as floodlights flickered on inside the barn. Covering my eyes from the harsh light I turned my head and stared towards the house for almost a minute, waiting to be caught.
When neither of my Grandparents seemed to be coming I turned back to the barn and went straight towards the tarp. The four corners were connected to the roof by ropes so there had to be a control somewhere to lift it off. I walked over to the closest wall and looked around until I found a bunch of switches. I reached up but they were too high above my head. Before I could move to find something to climb on a hand rested on my shoulder and if it wasn’t holding me down I could have jumped out of my skin.
“Let me get that for you Harp,” Grandfather said reaching over my head to press a button.
The jig was up. I had been caught in the middle of my act of deepest betrayal. Yet Grandfather had pressed the button to raise the tarp. I hoped that meant I was going to avoid getting in trouble and I turned and looked up at him with an innocent smile. If he was going to yell at me I didn’t have time for it as I caught sight of the tarp reaching the roof
“Woah!” I said as I stepped under his arm and walked forward, dropping Redford without a second thought.
“That’s my War Machine.” Grandfather said and I could hear the smile spread across his face.
It really was a giant robot! Not blocky and boring like the toy I had somewhere inside but sleek and shiny. Sharp angled panels of matte black armour and solid limbs connected to a podlike torso. An enormous cannon mounted on the right shoulder appeared to be the only weapon but I knew by the look of it that there had to be more hidden inside the armour.
The armoured super heroes in the comic book movies were always my favourite, but this was just something else entirely. None of them ever controlled something on this scale.
Grandfather walked up and ran his hand across the side of the torso while starting to talk about a lot of complex things that I couldn’t understand. I caught the word Mech a few times but other than that I just let what he was saying wash over me as I stared at the exquisite machine.
Whatever Grandfather had done with his hand caused the torso to split in half vertically and the front folded down and rested on the ground. The interior glowed with neon blue light and strangely the only thing inside was a chair mounted to the floor.
“Move back out of the way Harp,” Grandfather commanded, finally giving up on all of the technical talk, as he climbed into the machine. I finally realised that he was wearing an almost skin tight black leather outfit.
I backtracked slowly, not wanting to take my eyes off of the machine and nearly tripped over Redford. Kicking him out of my way – there was no way he was going to be as important to me after what I had seen – I watched the torso close. I hadn’t realised before it had powered on but the entire front panel of the torso was actually a tinted window that was barely see-through from the outside. There was a faint outline of Grandfather as he moved his hands around in mid air seemingly at random.
Suddenly the machine started to slide forward as if it was on rails and I was forced to retreat quicker so I didn’t get run over. It stopped once it had cleared the barn and then its legs straightened and it stood at its full height. With a slight mechanical whir it moved around like a boxer preparing for his fight. Before I knew it it took two steps forward, dropped to one knee and reached a hand out towards me.
“Tell your Grandmother every day that you love her,” Grandfather said, his voice being projected to sound like a robot. The fingers of the machine tried to ruffle my hair like Grandfather would always do but didn’t make contact. “ You could be all she has now,” he said solemnly and I didn’t understand until he turned and ran. Each footfall pounded the dirt like rolling thunder. The sounds that I thought I had been hearing each night; the reason I had finally decided to sneak out of the house became clear. Grandfather’s War Machine had been leaving each night to fight and he didn’t know if he would be back.
“You can beat them all Grandfather,” I yelled, running until I reached the end of the driveway. “You’re my hero.”