It was the sound of car wheels crunching on gravel that woke him. It was the children and their mother leaving for school, and it heralded freedom. He sat up in the bed immediately, bubbling with excitement, and poked the figure next to him.
“Hey. Frank. Wakey wakey.”
Frank grumbled and did not open his eyes.
“Too early,” he mumbled in his American accent, snuggling further down. “Go back to sleep, Toby.”
Toby poked him again hopefully.
“But, Frank! Today’s the day!”
That was enough to get Frank sitting bolt upright.
“You’re right! I forgot. Get up the others, would you?”
Toby nodded enthusiastically, and swiftly roused the other eight who shared their bed. Seven of them were all enthusiastic about his plan, and the atmosphere soon fizzed with suppressed excitement as they discussed it in quiet voices, careful not to attract the attention of the builders downstairs.
It was the eighth that was the problem.
“It’ll never work,” he said flatly. “How on earth do you think you’re going to manage it?”
“You’re just a pessimist,” Norman said scornfully. “It’ll work, and then you’ll wish you were in on it!”
The one he was addressing, the oldest, wisest and most bad-tempered of the ten, gave Norman a flat look.
“Norman,” he said wearily. “You’re a hand puppet. How are you going to do anything?”
Norman, who was indeed a hand puppet in the shape of a black lamb, flushed angrily beneath his synthetic wool.
“Just because I don’t have legs,” he huffed. “Toby will carry me, won’t you Toby?”
“’Course I will,” said Toby, who was a stuffed animal in the shape of a sabre-toothed tiger. “Don’t be a spoilsport, Crocodile!”
“I’m not being a spoilsport, I’m being sensible,” Crocodile argued. He was a hand-made stuffed crocodile, fashioned from what looked like curtain material by their owner’s mother, and the one that their owner always hugged when she went to sleep. As such, he was usually the de facto leader of the toys; it was only on this matter that they dared to argue with him. “You can’t really think that a bunch of stuffed animals and a plastic dragon can really get out of the house, have an adventure, and get back in time for our girl’s return from school, do you? You must be mad!”
“He’s right,” Emo Bunny said gloomily. His girlfriend Happy Bunny gave the stuffed Easter rabbit an elbow in the midriff.
“C’mon, Emo, cheer up,” she said chirpily, giving Toby a slightly apologetic look. Her boyfriend couldn’t help his gloomy nature; when he’d been made, his mouth had been sewn into a permanently downcast frown. Happy Bunny, although she was also a stuffed Easter Bunny, had a smile on her face. Hence the names.
“I don’t care what you say,” Toby said loudly. “We’re going and that’s that!”
There was a general cheer from the others. As well as the two Bunnies, Toby, Norman and Crocodile, there was Frank (a stuffed otter who was a hand puppet blessed with legs as well), Beary (a very small teddy bear who, if measured in belligerence, was as tall as a human), Whiskers (a cheap stuffed lion with extremely long whiskers), Purple Bear (a purple teddy bear who was rather eccentric) and Stanley (the aforementioned plastic dragon who longed to be able to breathe fire).
And they were going on an adventure.
Tired of living permanently in a bedroom, and fired up by the fantasy books their owner was so fond of, Toby had decided they all needed a bit of excitement. Several of them had travelled, as they had mostly come from places their owner had been on holiday (Frank was even American; he was the subject of some awe), but for the most part all they had seen nothing but bedrooms and perhaps the landscape as seen out of a car window. They’d never experienced it, and Toby felt they needed to.
“Right,” he said, clapping his paws, or at least trying to. “Let’s go! Crocodile, you coming?”
“I think I’ll have to,” Crocodile said wearily. “I might be able to keep you out of trouble…”