Authors: Lynne Reid Banks
For Omri—Who Else!
t was not that Omri didn’t appreciate Patrick’s birthday present to him. Far from it. He was really very grateful—sort of. It was, without a doubt,
kind of Patrick to give Omri anything at all, let alone a secondhand plastic Indian that he himself had finished with.
The trouble was, though, that Omri was getting a little fed up with small plastic figures, of which he had loads. Biscuit tinsful, probably three or four if they were all put away at the same time, which they never were because most of the time they were scattered about in the bathroom, the loft, the kitchen, the breakfast room, not to mention Omri’s bedroom and the garden. The compost heap was full of soldiers which, over several autumns, had been raked up with the leaves by Omri’s mother, who was rather careless about such things.
Omri and Patrick had spent many hours together playing with their joint collections of plastic toys. But now they’d had about enough of them, at least for the moment, and that was why, when Patrick brought his present to school on Omri’s birthday, Omri was disappointed. He tried not to show it, but he was.
“Do you really like him?” asked Patrick as Omri stood silently with the Indian in his hand.
“Yes, he’s fantastic,” said Omri in only a slightly flattish voice. “I haven’t got an Indian.”
“I haven’t got any cowboys either.”
“Nor have I. That’s why I couldn’t play anything with him.”
Omri opened his mouth to say, “I won’t be able to either,” but, thinking that might hurt Patrick’s feelings, he said nothing, put the Indian in his pocket, and forgot about it.
After school there was a family tea, and all the excitement of his presents from his parents and his two older brothers. He got his dearest wish—a skateboard complete with kick-board and kryptonic wheels from his mum and dad, and from his eldest brother, Adiel, a helmet. Gillon, his other brother, hadn’t bought him anything because he had no money (his pocket money had been stopped some time ago in connection with a very unfortunate accident involving their father’s bicycle). So when Gillon’s turn came to give Omri a present, Omri was very surprised when a large parcel was put before him, untidily wrapped in brown paper and string.
“What is it?”
“Have a look. I found it in the alley.”
The alley was a narrow passage that ran along the bottom of the garden where the dustbins stood. The three boys used to play there sometimes, and occasionally found treasures that
other—perhaps richer—neighbors had thrown away. So Omri was quite excited as he tore off the paper.
Inside was a small white metal cupboard with a mirror in the door, the kind you see over the basin in old-fashioned bathrooms.
You might suppose Omri would get another disappointment about this because the cupboard was fairly plain and, except for a shelf, completely empty, but oddly enough he was very pleased with it. He loved cupboards of any sort because of the fun of keeping things in them. He was not a very tidy boy in general, but he did like arranging things in cupboards and drawers and then opening them later and finding them just as he’d left them.
“I do wish it locked,” he said.
“You might say thank you before you start complaining,” said Gillon.
“It’s got a keyhole,” said their mother. “And I’ve got a whole boxful of keys. Why don’t you try all the smaller ones and see if any of them fit?”
Most of the keys were much too big, but there were half a dozen that were about the right size. All but one of these were very ordinary. The unordinary one was the most interesting key in the whole collection, small with a complicated lock part and a fancy top. A narrow strip of red satin ribbon was looped through one of its curly openings. Omri saved that key to the last.
None of the others fitted, and at last he picked up the curly-topped key and carefully put it in the keyhole on the cupboard door, just below the knob. He did hope very much that it would turn, and regretted wasting his birthday-cake-cutting wish on something so silly (or rather, unlikely) as that he might pass his spelling test next day, which it would take real magic to bring about as he hadn’t even looked at the
words since they’d been given out four days ago. Now he closed his eyes and unwished the test pass and wished instead that this little twisty key would turn Gillon’s present into a secret cupboard.
The key turned smoothly in the lock. The door wouldn’t open.
“Hey! Mum! I’ve found one!”
“Have you, darling? Which one?” His mother came to look. “Oh
one! How very odd. That was the key to my grandmother’s jewel box, that she got from Florence. It was made of red leather and it fell to bits at last, but she kept the key and gave it to me. She was most terribly poor when she died, poor old sweetie, and kept crying because she had nothing to leave me, so in the end I said I’d rather have this little key than all the jewels in the world. I threaded it on that bit of ribbon—it was much longer then—and hung it around my neck and told her I’d always wear it and remember her. And I did for a long time. But then the ribbon broke and I nearly lost it.”
“You could have got a chain for it,” said Omri.
She looked at him. “You’re right,” she said. “I should have done just that. But I didn’t. And now it’s your cupboard key. Please don’t lose it, Omri, will you?”
Omri put the cupboard on his bedside table, and opening it, looked inside thoughtfully. What would he put in it?
“It’s supposed to be for medicines,” said Gillon. “You could keep your nosedrops in it.”
“No! That’s just wasting it. Besides, I haven’t any other medicines.”
“Why don’t you pop this in?” his mother suggested, and opened her hand. In it was Patrick’s Indian. “I found it when I was putting your trousers in the washing machine.”
Omri carefully stood the Indian on the shelf.
“Are you going to shut the door?” asked his mother.
“Yes. And lock it.”
He did this and then kissed his mother and she turned the light out and he lay down on his side looking at the cupboard. He felt very content. Just as he was dropping off to sleep his eyes snapped open. He had thought he heard a little noise … but no. All was quiet. His eyes closed again.
In the morning there was no doubt about it. The noise actually woke him.
He lay perfectly still in the dawn light staring at the cupboard, from which was now coming a most extraordinary series of sounds. A pattering; a tapping; a scrabbling; and—surely?—a high-pitched noise like—well, almost like a tiny voice.
To be truthful, Omri was petrified. Who wouldn’t be? Undoubtedly there was something alive in that cupboard. At last, he put out his hand and touched it. He pulled very carefully. The door was shut tight. But as he pulled, the cupboard moved, just slightly. The noise from inside instantly stopped.
He lay still for a long time, wondering. Had he imagined it? The noise did not start again. At last he cautiously turned the key and opened the cupboard door.
The Indian was gone.
Omri sat up sharply in bed and peered into the dark corners. Suddenly he saw him. But he wasn’t on the shelf anymore, he was in the bottom of the cupboard. And he wasn’t standing upright. He was crouching in the darkest corner, half hidden by the front of the cupboard. And he was alive.
Omri knew that immediately. To begin with, though the Indian was trying to keep perfectly still—as still as Omri had kept, lying in bed a moment ago—he was breathing heavily.
His bare, bronze shoulders rose and fell, and were shiny with sweat. The single feather sticking out of the back of his headband quivered, as if the Indian were trembling. And as Omri peered closer, and his breath fell on the tiny huddled figure, he saw it jump to its feet; its minute hand made a sudden, darting movement toward its belt and came to rest clutching the handle of a knife smaller than the shaft of a tack.
Neither Omri nor the Indian moved for perhaps a minute and a half. They hardly breathed either. They just stared at each other. The Indian’s eyes were black and fierce and frightened. His lips were drawn back from shining white teeth, so small you could scarcely see them except when they caught the light. He stood pressed against the inside wall of the cupboard, clutching his knife, rigid with terror, but defiant.
The first coherent thought that came into Omri’s mind as he began to get over the shock was, “I must call the others!”—meaning his parents and brothers. But something (he wasn’t sure what) stopped him. Maybe he was afraid that if he took his eyes off the Indian for even a moment, he would vanish, or become plastic again, and then when the others came running they would all laugh and accuse Omri of making things up. And who could blame anyone for not believing
unless they saw it with their own eyes?
Another reason Omri didn’t call anyone was that, if he was not dreaming and the Indian had really come alive, it was certainly the most marvelous thing that had ever happened to Omri in his life and he wanted to keep it to himself, at least at first.
His next thought was that he must somehow get the Indian in his hand. He didn’t want to frighten him any further, but he
to touch him. He simply had to. He reached his hand slowly into the cupboard.