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by Phil Geusz
©2000 Phil Geusz -- all rights reserved

This story is available from Amazon.com, as part of the Amazon Shorts program.

I shivered under my long overcoat. It was a miserable day, the climax of a miserable week. Cold rain fell in a continual drizzle from a sky of gray so featureless and forlorn that the sun might as well have been a distant memory, a legend made up long ago by men who had almost forgotten how to hope. It was Tuesday, a day when I should have been at work. But instead here I was, out in bad weather chasing after dancing bears. It was totally out of character for me, completely contrary to my usual conservative habits. I was considered sane, sober, hard working, even perhaps a bit dull by my co-workers. They would have been amazed to know what I was up to. All the same though, there I was.

The toy store was supposedly located just off the town square of the quaint little village. But the nearest parking area was several blocks distant. I was tired; my pilgrimage was a spur-of-the-moment thing and I'd not really gotten enough rest the night before. But I had to keep moving quickly regardless of how I felt. The rain had slowed my progress more than expected, and it was getting late. Even as I looked up to check my bearings, I caught a glimpse of one of the little storefront business owners turning her window sign from "Open" to "Closed". What a shame it would be if I arrived just seconds too late! Briskly I strode down the sidewalk, trying to ignore the rain. If the newspaper article was accurate, the toy store should be just around the next corner...

And there it was, bigger than life and twice as bold. Contrasting sharply with the run-down thrift store to its right and the drab legal office to its left, Kobold's Clockwork Toys was richly painted in bright crayon colors. The door was blue, the window sashes orange, the shutters green. And in each big display window mechanical soldiers marched and saluted, wooden biplanes soared in fixed circles, and fierce lions and tigers roared mechanically over and over. I stood for a moment with a silly smile fixed firmly on my face normally unexpressive; suddenly I felt twenty years younger. Maybe even thirty!

The door had a little bell on it that jingled as I entered. "Come on in!" the man behind the counter exclaimed from behind antique-looking wire-framed spectacles. He was of late-middle age, and wore a slightly ridiculous looking suit that looked as perhaps it had come straight out of Dickens. "It's terribly cold and wet outside. Here, let me take your coat."

Wordlessly, I surrendered the dripping overcoat and looked around in wonder. The interior of Kobold's was simply a marvel! Everywhere mechanical toys seemed to hop, wriggle, roll and pop out of boxes in a marvelous moving display of wondrous color and shape. There was not a single electronic gadget to be seen anywhere. The store seemed almost to have been lifted bodily and transplanted from another time. "Wow!" I exclaimed. This is... Special."

"Very special," the storekeeper agreed. "Very special indeed. I don't believe we've met. I'm Mr. Kobold..."

If you want to know Mr. Kobold's secrets, you'll have to see the Bear Dance for yourself! Only USD 49¢, from Amazon Shorts.

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