Bob, a stocky, football-playing lad of 15, was hard at work. Always finding something to do, keeping himself busy and his mind occupied with thoughts about the next great idea. If great plans and ideas were riches, Bob would be the wealthiest person in this section of the known universe.
On this particular day, on this particular job, it was hot and he felt as if he was miles away from anything cool. It was hard work pulling the weeds that seemed to take over Mrs. Openhimer’s garden. Stringy thin weeds the kind that cut into your hands when you’d try to yank them from their foothold in the soil. The kind that never really come all the way out, but break off, just as they lulled you into a sense of apparent victory.
He did not really mind that they broke. In that way he felt some job security knowing in a few weeks he’d need to come back and do it again. Moreover, with return trips to her yard and to the others in the neighborhood, he'd soon be able to afford that burnt out shell of a ’72 Chrysler he'd had his eye on since spring. He was planning to rebuild her into the car of his dreams in time for his senior year. This gave him just over two years and he’d need every day of it.
Mrs. Openhimer did not really mind the return trips either. She liked Bob or ‘Bobby’, as she would affectionately call him, and enjoyed his company. Often at lunch, she would bring out a sandwich with a cool drink and the two of them would talk until dinnertime.
They both could talk a horse out of its shoes. Bob however, would spend hours talking about something until you were just so tired and confused that you’d end up agreeing with him just so he’d quit talking. Between him and Mrs. Openhimer, it was almost a contest to see who would wear out first.
Today, Bob was not really interested in working but was very interested in talking. He grabbed a few handfuls of weeds to work up a quick fake sweat on his brow, and went into Mrs. Openhimer’s for a drink.
“Bobby,” Mrs. Openhimer said, “I’ve no kin of my own left and I have no children. So, I want to tell you about a place that I was told of as a child.”
She got out two glasses and proceeded to get some ice cream for root beer floats. This was one of her and Bob’s favorite drinks when a long talk was brewing.
“This is so you may know and when the time comes, tell your children, so the story won’t be lost. Then maybe, just maybe, someone will find this place and bring back the secrets we have all forgotten. I will tell you the story as I was told and as you then will tell it. Who knows, maybe, you are the one? I thought I was. Now I am old and time is no longer my friend, but rather my tormentor.”
Bob pulled his chair up to the small round kitchen table. He stirred his float to help the ice cream melt into the root beer and make a thick frothy head. He hoped it was going to be a long story, so he wouldn’t have to go back into the hot sun any time soon.
“Long before anyone kept track of time,” she began in a crackling voice. “Before people knew of space and technology, there was a place of great mystery. A place called Odium.”
“Some say it exists only in the minds of crazy men. Others say that it's just a fairy tale to tell children when they could not sleep, nevertheless, it is real and only a believer can find it. Those who search but don’t believe will become lost, lose their minds and perish.”
“Why would anyone even try to find it?” Bob asked. “Why would anyone want to?”
Mrs. Openhimer’s eyes began to glow as she began again; “Odium holds the secrets of time and life itself, Bobby. It is said that to know the secrets of Odium will bring about great peace and prosperity. It is what we all want in our heart of hearts. Listen and look deep inside yourself, Bobby. What is it that you really want from life?”
A glazed look came over her eyes and she began to tell Bob the story of Odium, as she was told, many, many decades ago. Her voice crackled as she spoke the words from memory. She must have heard the story so many times that she was able to recite it.
“There is a land between heaven and earth, between good and evil and between right and wrong. A land where every curiosity exists and begins; a land where time has no meaning; a land known as Odium.
The name Odium came from a great giant, who lived when the world was new. An island formed when Odium stepped from the sea, and mud from the bottom of the sea came up under his foot and remained upon the surface of the water. As he stepped away, a shell cut his foot and left his blood mixing with the seawater, creating the essence of life and causing the evolution of the many strange wonders on and around Odium.
Sail many leagues to the West and then as many to the North, until the stars form a crescent in the heavens and the light dances before your eyes.
In the distance, you will see the Mist of the Ages beckoning you onward and behind you will form the Crystals of Forever. Travel into the mist and then toward the brightest star in the heavens. Do not look into the water and do not go into the light. When you are directly under that star, look North and you shall find Odium.
Approach with caution, for Odium is a treacherous land and guards her secrets well. A land of wonder and terror that will reveal to you the many lost secrets of life. Avoid the passages to the North and the islands nearby. Avoid the river and go to Almost, Oops or Sheerluck. If you get to Nowhere, go North, but beware of the Griffin. If you find Tomorrow, you will be safe for awhile. If the Devil starts to rumble, to Dreams you must go.”
Mrs. Openhimer took a long slurp of her float and looked over at Bob. “How’s the float Bobby? Want more?”
Bob looked puzzled. Was she suffering from heat stroke or something? More? What was she talking about? “You mean more of the story?”
“What story, dear?” Mrs. Openhimer replied. “What story was that?”
“The one of Odium!” Bob said somewhat shocked. “The one you were just telling me about. You know, the land called Odium!”
“Why, whatever are you on about,” she said. “I think you need a rest. That sun and those weeds are getting the better of you, Bobby. Finish your float and then lay down on the sofa for awhile.”
Bob wondered if he really had been in the sun too much. How could he have imagined everything that just happened? The look on her face, her voice, the story, could he have daydreamed all of that so quickly? He tried to remember what she had said and recount everything in his thoughts. Over and over his mind went, “North until the stars look like nowhere... No, West until the stars become crescents... No, no, do not go in the ocean, until the crystals look like forever... Oh, nuts,” he thought. Try as he might, he could not seem to remember exactly what she had said.
After some time of struggling with his memory, Bob finished his root beer float and was headed to the kitchen with his glass. He noticed Mrs. Openhimer asleep in her chair and decided to ask her just one more time.
Bob came over to her chair. “Mrs. Openhimer,” he said quietly. “Mrs. Openhimer,” he softly called again, with a song in his voice. “Mrs. Openhimer, I really want to know more about this Odium place, can’t you just try and...”
At that moment, Bob noticed Mrs. Openhimer’s eyes were wide open and she was not breathing. Bob slowly placed his hand to her eyes and closed them. Bending over to give her a kiss on the cheek, he noticed her pendant. It was in the shape of a footprint, like in the story. As he examined it, he began to see details that he was sure were not there before. Little nooks and crannies started appearing, with letters and arrows by them. Carefully, he removed the pendant from around her neck and placed it in his pocket. He then used the telephone to call the Police and report her passing.
The Police arrived with much fanfare, sirens blaring and screeching up to the walk. Two Officers ran out of their cars and up to the front door. Bob was sitting on the steps as they raced by him and into the house. Soon, others started arriving and then the whole neighborhood was standing around gawking.
Bob slowly got up and started walking away down the street, into his family’s two story home, and up into the sanctuary of his own bedroom. He was sad that he would not have his friend Mrs. Openhimer to talk with anymore. He lay on his bed just thinking of her and trying to remember the story of Odium.
It was dark when Bob’s father finally came home. Bob could hear his heavy footsteps climbing the thin wooden stairs and then coming slowly down the hallway and into his room. His Father had heard about what happened to Mrs. Openhimer and had come to comfort Bob.
“Dad,” Bob said quietly, as his Father opened the bedroom door. “Where do we go when we die?”
“Well, that depends on what you believe in son,” his Father replied. “Whether you believe in a heaven or a hell, according to the many churches out there, is not important. The important part is that we all have a soul that will never really die. And that a man over 2,000 years ago, died for our sins, so that we’d have everlasting life...”
“No, no,” Bob interrupted. “I know all that. But, where do we go? That’s the question.”
“I don’t know where exactly,” his Father said sitting down on the bed. “I just know that we’ll all be there eventually, if we believe.”
“If we believe,” Bob said staring out of his window and into the night sky. “If we believe, that’s what Mrs. Openhimer said, if you believe.”
“Well, get some rest now Bobby and we’ll talk again in the morning,” his Father said, as he shut the door to Bob’s room.
Bob just continued to lie on his bed looking at the stars through his window thinking, “If we believe,” repeatedly in his mind.
It was almost noon before Bob climbed out of his bed, still wearing the same clothes from yesterday. He could smell meat cooking on the grill from the backyard. Barbecues always made him feel good. There was something about the smell of charcoal smoking and food cooking over it that just made him feel happy inside.
As he slowly moved down the stairs, he could hear the voices of neighbors and friends. His Father was saying something about the vacation they were planning and his Aunt was discussing the intricacies of knitting sweaters, in July. No one noticed him sneaking out the front door and out through the front gate.
Bob didn’t know why he left; he just knew that he had this overpowering desire to find out more about Odium. He took the pendant from his pocket and studied it as he walked. He noticed how shiny and golden it was in the sun. How it sparkled from some parts and how it seemed to soak up the light in others. It appeared to have changed somehow, adding bumps and strange marks where there were none before.
“Hey, watch where you’re headed!” shouted Tommy.
Tommy was the school wise guy who lived down the block. They never really spoke much, Bob kept out of Tommy’s way and Tommy pretended he didn’t know where Bob lived.
“What ya got there?” Tommy asked. “What’s so all fangled important that you’re running into people?”
“Nothing,” Bob said quickly, sticking the pendant back into his pocket. “Nothing at all, just a pendant for my Mom.”
“Pendant! Better let me see that,” Tommy growled in a low but demanding voice. “Wouldn’t want to make you wear your pants on your head or anything. Paws it over!”
Tommy was now nose to nose with Bob. Bob could smell the unbrushed teeth and feel a slight spray every time Tommy said a word with an S or T in it. Looking into his eyes Bob could tell he meant business. Tommy’s left eye started twitching and the vein in it began to grow, making it seem like it was about to pop out of his head. Bob reached into his pocket and opened his hand toward Tommy.
“Why that ain’t nothing,” Tommy laughed. “Just a stupid old necklace,” he teased, as his voice became more mocking. “A little girlie necklace for his Mommy. Heck, even I could pick out something better than that hunk of junk for my Mom.” Tommy began to walk away, laughing and teasing Bob as he strolled on down the street. Bob looked down at his hand. Stupefied, he saw a simple gold chain with an oval shaped pendant attached. What had happened to the shape? The intricate details? Sparkling and then not? His hand rubbed the pendant again. Where were all the strange markings? The weird bumps and grooves?
Bob was puzzled. He stood and stared at the pendant for some time. He didn’t know what to make of it. He was sure that he had seen and felt those things. Where had they all gone? Had he accidentally dropped Mrs. Openhimer’s pendant and picked up this one by mistake? No, no, he thought, he hadn’t done a thing but put it in his pocket when he bumped into Tommy. Even then, his hand was on it the whole time.
He pulled it from within his pocket one more time and kept it in his closed hand. He began thinking of Odium and tried to remember what he was told. Slowly, cautiously, he opened his hand. Mesmerized, he watched as the pendant began to take shape. Features began to reappear; letters, bumps, and all of the marks he had seen and felt before were now returning as he watched.
“It must only change when you’re thinking about Odium,” Bob said in a soft voice. “The more I try to think about it, the more the pendant seems to reveal.”
Bob walked to the Neighborhood Park and found a nice big shady tree to sit under. For the next several hours he sat lazily under the tree watching the leaves flutter about in the soft breeze, with a few breaking away from the branches and spiraling down to the ground beside him. Watching a tapestry of colored leaves forming on the blanket of thick green grass, he tried to remember what Mrs. Openhimer had said. Over and over again he tried to recall the words she so mysteriously spoke to him, the words that so captured his imagination and caused him to thrill and quiver at the same time. The last thoughts and words of a friend passing on what might be the single most important discovery of his young life. A key to the past, maybe even civilization itself and his destiny.