As soon as his mother had closed the bedroom door, Martin burrowed down under the blankets. For him, this was one of the best times of the day. In that long, warm hour between waking and sleep, his imagination would take him almost anywhere.
Sometimes he would lie on his back with the blankets drawn up to his nose and his pillow on top of his forehead so that only his eyes looked out. This was his spaceman game, and the pillow was his helmet. He travelled through sparkling light-years, passing Jupiter so close that he could see the storms raging on its surface, then swung on to Neptune, chilly and green, and Pluto, beyond. On some nights he would travel so far that he was unable to return to Earth, and he would drift further and further into the outer reaches of space until he became nothing but a tiny speck winking in the darkness and he fell asleep.
At other times, he was captain of a U-boat trapped thousands of feet below the surface. He would have to squeeze along cramped and darkened passageways to open up stopcocks, with water flooding in on all sides, and elbow his way along a torpedo tube in order to escape. He would come up to the surface into the chilly air of the bedroom, gasping for breath.
Then he would crawl right down to the very end of the bed, where the sheets and the blankets were tucked in really tight. He was a coalminer, making his way through the narrowest of fissures, with millions of tons of carboniferous rock on top of him.
He never took a flashlight to bed with him. This would have revealed that the inside of his space-helmet didn’t have any dials or knobs or breathing tubes; and that the submarine wasn’t greasy and metallic and crowded with complicated valves; and that the grim black coal-face at which he so desperately hewed was nothing but a clean white sheet.
Earlier this evening he had been watching a programme on pot-holing on television and he was keen to try it. He was going to be the leader of an underground rescue team, trying to find a boy who had wedged himself in a crevice. It would mean crawling through one interconnected passage after another, then down through a water-filled sump, until he reached the tiny cavern where the boy was trapped.