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A Very Dark Day
Amos the bear was standing on the toymaker's bench, looking through the casement window at the purple-black storm clouds rolling in from the east. He was filled with great sadness—and fear.
This is a dark day, he thought, and he shivered.
Stripped of leaves, the November trees were stark, like many-armed black skeletons. The red light of the setting sun was fading fast. Soon night would fall, and it would be very dark. The oncoming storm would blot out the moon and stars.
To Amos, it seemed as if dawn might never come again, as if the world would forever turn in deep gloom.
The day was grim not merely because of the weather but because Mr. Isaac Bodkins, the toymaker, was dead. To his creations, the magical stuffed-toy animals that he had called Oddkins, he was "Uncle Isaac," and they were deeply saddened and frightened by his passing.
For many weeks the old man had known that he was dying. But the end had come quicker than he had expected. This morning, feeling tired, he had decided to lie down on the couch in one corner of his workshop, just to rest for half an hour before lunch. He had passed away peacefully in his sleep.
Sam Jenkins, who owned a toy shop and sold Isaac Bodkins's creations, had come to pick up some merchandise and had discovered that the old man's sleep was deeper than it should have been. While all the stuffed toys sat on shelves and workbenches, pretending not to be alive, Mr. Jenkins called the doctor. The doctor came, carrying a bag filled with instruments and medicines. Seeing the physician, the Oddkins had felt a surge of hope. But eventually Uncle Isaac's body had been taken away.
Now the stuffed animals were alone in the rambling old house that had been Mr. Bodkins's workplace and home. It was still the home of Leben Toys, the beloved old man's small company. Grief was so heavy in the air that Amos the bear felt it pressing on him, making his shoulders sag.
He would have wept if he could have formed tears. With his great skill and magic Mr. Bodkins had given life to the toys he made. But Amos was still only a teddy bear, after all. He could not produce tears, no matter how much he ached to shed them.
Behind Amos, in the workshop, the others sobbed. Like him, they were unable to weep, but they could make the soft sounds of grief.
Amos would not permit himself one sob. He must be strong, for Uncle Isaac had chosen him to lead the others in this terrible time.
Last week, Isaac Bodkins had taken Amos into the book-lined study at the front of the house, where they could have a private conversation. The toymaker had sat behind his richly carved desk while Amos had sat on top of it, basking in the red-yellow-blue-green light from a stained-glass lamp. The old man had talked about Amos's destiny and had revealed certain secrets....
Leaning back in his big leather chair, Uncle Isaac folded his aged but still strong hands on his round belly. Peering at Amos over the tops of his tortoiseshell glasses, he said, "You know the reason you were made, of course, the reason I've made all of you Oddkins ..."
Amos sat up straight and proud. "Oh, yes, sir! One day I'll be put on display in a toy shop. I'll be sold as a gift for a very special child who'll desperately need a secret friend."
"That's correct." Mr. Bodkins smiled and nodded approval. "It will be a little girl or boy who, if he grows up whole and happy, will contribute something of importance to the world. A special child, as you have said. But this will be a child who has to face enormous problems or who must live through a terrible sorrow. Perhaps it will be a child whose parents mistreat him—"
"Or maybe one who'll fall ill and need tremendous courage to pull through," Amos said solemnly. "Or a child whose mom or dad dies ... or who loses a sister."
"Yes. But whatever the child's problems, you will be there to offer comfort, counsel, and love. You must help the child to grow up confident and loving, regardless of what cruelties the world inflicts on him. Because, you see, this special little girl or boy of yours will perhaps become a doctor who saves lives, or a diplomat who negotiates peace, or a teacher ... if only he can grow up whole and happy. But if he's broken by the tragedies he must endure, then he will never have a chance to make this world a better place."
Sitting on the desk in the multicolored light of the stained-glass lamp, his furry legs straight out in front of him, leaning back on his forepaws, Amos sighed heavily. "Gosh, it sure is a big responsibility."
"Enormous," Mr. Bodkins agreed. "And you must always remember that you and the other Oddkins have to conceal your missions from everyone—except, of course, from each other and from your special children. In the privacy of that boy's or girl's room, you'll be alive, but to the rest of the world you must pretend to be only a stuffed animal."
"I'm good at that," Amos said happily. He went stiff, and his eyes were suddenly as blank as painted buttons.
"Very good," Isaac Bodkins said. "Excellent!"
Amos grinned, and his eyes became expressive and warm again.
"If you let another child or any adult see your magical life, you won't remain effective as a secret friend to your assigned child."
"Yes, sir," Amos said. "I understand."
It was also understood that, once his assigned child's crises had passed, when a secret friend was no longer needed, the magical life would drain out of Amos, as it went out of every Oddkin sooner or later. Then he would be only a teddy bear, just like any other. In time, his special child would forget that Amos had once really been alive. Their secret conversations and adventures would seem to have been fantasies, mere games that the child had played in more innocent days before growing into the no-nonsense world of adults.
This fading-away of his life was a difficult thing for Amos to accept. But he understood that true magic was strictly for children and would only confuse and upset most adults. Many people had been guided by one Oddkin or another in their troubled youth, but none of them remembered the truth after they grew up.
Amos rose and walked around the stained-glass lamp, stepping over the cord, frowning at the gleaming oak desktop. "Something I've been wondering about," he said in a gruff voice which should have seemed too deep for his small body but which strangely fitted him. "What happens when the life goes out of me, Uncle Isaac? Do I have a spirit? Does my spirit go to Heaven or someplace? What happens to me? Is that one of the secrets you've brought me here to tell me about?"
Isaac Bodkins shook his head. His fine white hair gleamed like moonlit snow. "No, I can't tell you that, dear Amos. What comes after life must remain a mystery to you, just as it is a mystery to human beings ... including me."
Even then Amos had known that Uncle Isaac was dying. The old toymaker had not hidden his illness from his creations. In fact he had encouraged them to get used to the idea of his passing. A new magic toymaker must be chosen during the next few weeks. And when Isaac Bodkins died, those Oddkins who were still in the shop would have to help the newcomer settle into his job.
A few days ago, when Uncle Isaac told them that he, their maker, would soon trade this world for another, the Oddkins had pretended to be strong and stouthearted. They pretended to accept his approaching death with regret and sadness but also with grace and courage.
In reality they were sick with grief—and scared. Very scared.
"Death," Uncle Isaac had told them, "is not an end. It is only a station between two places. There's a new beginning beyond death. Don't be afraid for me. I'm merely going on to a new life of some kind that I can't imagine but that I know will be even better than the life I've had here."
"But we'll miss you," Butterscotch the dog had told him, unable entirely to conceal her misery.
"And I'll miss you," he said. "But I will never forget you. In memory we'll always be together."
"Memory?" Skippy the rabbit had said scornfully, brash as usual. He had cocked his head in the direction of his floppy ear, as if it were pulling him over on his side—the other ear was straight—and he had squinted at the toymaker. "Memory's not good enough. Memory fades—"
"Mine doesn't," said Burl the elephant.
"Well, Mr. Hose Nose, everyone else's memory fades."
"Too bad everyone isn't an elephant," Burl said.
"Heaven forbid!" Skippy declared. "If elephants were the only creatures in the world, they'd have eaten everything down to bare rock and would've died out long ago. Walking stomachs, that's what elephants are. And can you imagine the din of all that trumpeting, the thunderous pounding of all those billions of big feet?" Before Burl could respond, Skippy had looked at Uncle Isaac again and said, "No, sir, having you in memory isn't good enough by half."
"I'm afraid it will have to be good enough," Mr. Bodkins had said quietly but firmly.
And now, in his study, he was equally quiet and firm with Amos. "Worry about this life, Amos. Worry about doing well in this world. The next world, whatever it is, will take care of itself."
Though he was only a stuffed-toy bear, Amos had a good, solid bearish personality. He was slow to become excited, and he was patient, and he tended to think about all the possibilities before acting. So he stared at Uncle Isaac for a while, finally nodded, sat down on the desk blotter, and said, "Okeydoke," which was his way of saying, "All right, okay, I'm agreeable to that."
Leaning forward in his chair, closer to the lamp, Isaac Bodkins said, "But I will tell you the meaning of the symbol on your sweater."
Amos's eyes widened. "You will?" Ever since he had come alive on the old man's workbench a couple of months ago, Amos had wondered about the mysterious symbol on his blue sweater. "Will you really tell me?"
"Alpha and Omega," Uncle Isaac said.
"That means 'the first and the last.'"
Frowning, Amos said, "The first and last what?"
Uncle Isaac leaned even closer, until his kind face was like a moon hanging low over Amos's world. "After I have passed away, there may be a time during which the new toymaker is not fully in charge. After all, it takes a while to accept the mantle of magic and to feel comfortable with it. During that time, when the new toymaker is not totally in control, there may be ... trouble, danger...."
"What kind of trouble? What danger?" Amos asked, his pleasant furry face settling into a bruin's scowl.
Isaac Bodkins hesitated. Then he sighed. "You'll know it when it comes. And then you'll be first among all the Oddkins, the leader of them in any time of crisis."
"Me? Leader? Hmmmmm. I'm not sure—"
"Yes, you can lead them, Amos. I made you a leader."
Pride surged through Amos, and he sat up straighter, puffed out his chest. He considered what Uncle Isaac had said, then nodded. "All right. I'll lead them. You can count on me."
"You will be the first to confront trouble."
"Yes, Uncle Isaac, I will," Amos said, though he had no idea what sort of trouble he might have to confront.
"And you will be the last to turn away from it."
Amos stood, squared his shoulders, and nodded.
The wire rims of the old toymaker's glasses glinted with orange light from the stained-glass lamp. Spots of blue and green and red were reflected in one lens. In spite of this cheerful coloration, Uncle Isaac was somber, not like himself at all. "In bad times, you will be the first to give heart to your friends—and the very last to be dejected. You'll be first in courage and the last to be afraid."
"Me?" Amos said, blinking. "Afraid? Not me. I'm not afraid of anything. No, sir. Not me."
"But there are things in this world that you should be afraid of, Amos."
"I should?" Amos asked uneasily.
"And if you encounter them—when you encounter them—you'll feel the cold grip of fear."
"But you must be the last to give in to it."
"I promise," Amos said.
That had been less than a week ago. Now as Amos the bear stood on the age-worn workbench and stared out at the oncoming storm and at the descending twilight, he felt gripped not only by grief but by that cold fear. Uncle Isaac Bodkins was dead. The old man had thought he had a few weeks of life left. But now he was gone, and things that should have been done before his passing—such as the choosing of the new magic toymaker—remained unfinished.
Lightning flickered along the edges of the clouds. The fiery red sky in the west had turned purple-red and would soon be dark.
Amos turned from the diamond-paned casement window and surveyed the big workroom. Ordinarily, in spite of its size, the shop looked warm and cozy. The walls were cream-colored, hand-textured plaster. The floor and the beamed ceiling were of lustrous dark oak. The many tool and supply cabinets were also of oak, to which Mr. Bodkins had added beautifully hand-carved decorative vines and leaves and birds. But today, a damp chill reached into every corner of the room.
The other Oddkins grew quiet when Amos turned from the window and faced them. Fifty-one of their magic kind were gathered in the workshop, the only ones who had not been sent off to toy shops before Isaac Bodkins's death. There were teddy bears, though none like Amos, for each Oddkin was different from any other. There were dogs—a Dalmatian, a spaniel, a golden retriever, a Scotty, and more. Two velvet penguins. A lion with a mane of yarn. A duck. Three cats.
They stood in small groups on the floor below Amos, or huddled singly in corners. Some perched on the tops of supply cabinets, looking down at Amos, while others sat in stunned silence on the sofa where Uncle Isaac had passed away in his sleep only hours ago.
"I dropped the 'B' from 'Bodkins,' added another 'd' after the 'o,' and called you 'Oddkins,'" Uncle Isaac had explained to Amos, "because you are my kin in a way, my only children. And let's face it, you're all a bit odd, aren't you, my furry little friend? Odd kin. You are my wonderfully odd children. I love you all."
Amos swallowed a moan of grief and jumped down from the workbench to the stool on which Uncle Isaac had sat when stitching together his wondrous creations. From this slightly lower perch, he addressed the assembled toys: "We have a difficult and dangerous mission to perform, and we must act tonight."
Two floors below, in the toy factory's secret subcellar under the known cellar, all was dark and still and musty as it had been for many decades.
Then light appeared. No one had turned it on. It just came on of its own accord, or as if a ghost entered the chamber and flicked a switch.
At first, it was not much of a light, dim, like the pale glow of a winter moon reflected in snow and frost. Most of the deep, deep cellar was still cloaked in thick gloom. Nothing could be seen except a small section of cobblestone floor and stacks of old wooden crates.
CHARON TOYS was imprinted on every crate, for that was the name of the company that had occupied the toy factory before Isaac Bodkins had founded Leben Toys. These boxes of various sizes were festooned with cobwebs. Their lids were hidden by inch-thick blankets of dust.
Suddenly a shiny blade poked through the crack between the lid and the side of one of the crates. Something within the box was prying its way out. Wood splintered with a dry sound. An old nail began to pull loose with a series of sharp squeaks.
A disturbed spider scuttled down a trembling web and vanished into the darkness.
The gleaming blade moved along the crack inch by inch, prying at the lid, and one by one the nails pulled loose. Then the lid was thrown back, and Rex emerged from the crate that for decades had been his coffin.
Excerpted from Oddkins by Dean Koontz, Phil Parks. Copyright © 1988 Nkui, Inc., Airtight Graphics, and The Land of Enchantment. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted December 31, 2012
Review of Oddkins by Dean Koontz
What a delightful tale! Suitable in my opinion for almost all ages, beginning with middle graders on up (although emotionally mature elementary age children who are not scared of the monsters under the bed may enjoy it). “Uncle Isaac,” Isaac Bodkins, toymaker, has created a magical (literally) selection of toys; no, not all his toys, not even the majority. Just some-and these toys are exceptional-for they are designed, each one, to guide a child through the early years, a child who if kept on a positive and light-filled path, will become an adult important in changing the world. If the child is not guided by one of the magically-animated Oddkins, that child’s purpose will go unfulfilled, and the world will be a darker place for it. But “Uncle Isaac” passes away sooner than expected, before he has time to persuade city toymaker Colleen Shannon to take his place, and the evil toys hidden away in the subcellar below the cellar, those toys constructed by Charon Toys, intend to take over instead: and to make the lives of very many children extremely miserable for a very long time. Only the Oddkins can stop this; but can they prevail against evil?
I received an e-book copy in return for my fair and impartial review.
3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 15, 2014
Uncle Issac, the magic toymaker, has died. Now it's a race between the Oddkins and the Charon Toys to get the new toymaker installed. A race between good and evil.
Vivid descriptions fill the pages while not being too graphic or complicated so that younger readers may also enjoy the tale.
Kind-hearted good guys to malicious bad guys make it easy to figure out which side characters are on.
Without giving too much plot away, I will just say this:
Overall, an enchanting read.
Posted August 26, 2013
What a lovely book for readers of all ages, especially those young enough not to be afraid of the proverbial monsters under the bed! As a huge fan of Koontz’s novels for adults, I was highly surprised to find he wrote a book for kids as young as middle grade, but also a story that can be enjoyed by his most hardcore adult fans. In true Koontz fashion, the story is filled with shockingly evil characters, but well-balanced by good and absolutely adorable characters, as well as a few subtle lessons to inspire the good in everyone.
The illustrations are spot-on and each character is depicted exactly as they are described and how I imagined their appearance to be. This is an exceptional story of bravery, friendship, magic and teamwork, and I highly recommend it to everyone, especially if you’ve enjoyed Neil Gaiman’s kid lit. With Oddkins, Koontz has proved he can also thrill and entertain younger readers, as effortlessly as he can his adult followers.
Posted April 5, 2009
Posted June 25, 2007
Taping into the almost universal belief that all children think that their toys have lives, Oddkins has an immediate advantage of feeling familiar to the reader. And while I enjoyed the base story of the book, so much of it seemed to fall back on tired clichés or unneeded condescending language so immature that any reader over about 12 should feel slightly insulted. I found it also to be sprinkled with clumsy and superfluous Christian idioms that simultaneously achieve to be both strained and childish. No one likes to be force-fed morals, especially when they don¿t fit with the flow of the story. It almost seemed as if they were added at a later time, and by a different author, to give the book a purpose and/or goodness. One of the saving graces of this book is the artwork, which is wonderful. The large, high quality, detailed pictures really bring the story to life. I would recommend the book for any child around a fourth grade reading level, with a strong Christian background, and with a love of dark stories.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 11, 2006
My mom read us this book when we were kids. After I became a mom, 3 years ago, I wanted to get the book for my kids, but couldn't recall the title. I finally found it while looking for another book by Dean Koontz. I could not be more excited. The story is enchanting and the illuistrations are captivating. I can't wait to read it to my little girls!!!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 16, 2005
My parents bought this book for me for my 8th Christmas. They told me that when I read it I would feel the magic. My Dad read the book to me a little at a time each night until we finished it and each page was magical. I reread this book every year around Christmas time to feel the magic again. This book touches a place deep inside all who read it. It is difficult to convey in words what exactly is so special about it. It's a story of hope, love, friendship and the magic of good in our world. Reading it touches that place inside of you that still believes in the magic no matter how old you are or how much you have seen.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 30, 2005
My mum first read this book to me when I was like 4, when she had it on loan from a friend. I loved the book so much the week-long loan turned into a 3-year-long loan, and during that time I reread and reread it over and over again. Then came the day I was looking in a junk-shop,and I saw it!!!!! I saw that book I had loved so much! It brought back all the memories, and I gave it to all my friends to read, and guess what? they loved it too! I don't think I've ever read a better book!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 26, 2004
my 4th grade teacher read me this book and i fell in love.... this book is the most best book I have ever herd of........... I cant believe I have found it! finaly! after all these years! I thought, thank you dean knotts for making a beautiful book!!!!!!!!!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 22, 2002
Posted November 16, 2001
When my father read Oddkins to me as a child I absolutely loved it! I have been looking for this book for years and just now have found it again. Truly a great book for older kids as well as adults.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 28, 2000
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Posted October 8, 2012
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