Bob strained his lungs with an all out sprint. He dug his toes deep into the loose soil and flung dirt with each hurried step. Low branches, budding with new life, slapped at his face. He hooked a trunk with his arm to make a sharp turn, and bark scraped at his skin. He slid down the slope and into the dry riverbed. Green reeds stood high in the sand, and he ducked down behind them. The roar of his lungs filled his ears as he tried to silence his breathing.
Footsteps soon filled the air. Sticks snapped and branches were pushed aside. “Bob?” called the voice. “I know you’re out here,” she said. Her tone was playful with confidence. Bob ducked down further. “I can see your footprints,” she said. The footsteps drew nearer.
Bob could hear Susanne descending the steep slope into the riverbed. He peeked and saw a brown ponytail. He laughed and bolted down the stretch of sand.
“I knew it!” screamed Susanne. She took up the chase. Their young legs burned as they ran through the sand. “I’m catching up,” Susanne shouted with a smile. Bob turned to catch a glimpse, tripped, and fell straight on his face. Susanne fell to her knees with laughter and struggled to breathe. “You dumbo!”
Bob spat sand from his mouth and laughed. Sand stuck to the perspiration on his face, and he wiped at it with the back of his hands. He rolled side to side with laughter and pain. “My foot!” he said. “I kicked something.”
“I told you you can’t outrun me,” she said, crawling forward and grabbing at a rusty piece of metal. “I was gonna chase Brian, but god, he’s so fat. It’s not even fun.” She pulled the object from the sand and held it up. It was corroded and dirty and oddly shaped. “What’s this?” she said.
“I dunno,” Bob said, “but goddamnit I think it broke my little toe.”
“You don’t need that toe anyway,” Susanne said. She turned it in her hands. She picked at the metal and large flakes of rust broke away. “Junk,” she said. She threw it back to the sand.
Bob crawled forward, still covered with sand, and picked up the thing that tripped him. “It kinda looks like one of those Genius Lamps,” he said.
“A what?” asked Susanne.
“A Genius Lamp. Ya know, those things you rub to get wishes from.” Bob crossed his legs and placed the lamp in his lap. He began to pick at its top.
“My god,” said Susanne. “You really are a dumbo. Genie lamp, not genius.” She crawled forward and sat in front of him. The reeds around them stirred in the soft breeze, and a grasshopper buzzed through the air nearby. “But it’s all rusted. I thought those lamps were supposed to be shiny.”
Bob shrugged and continued his picking. “It looks like Corn Flakes, don’t it?” He threw one at Susanne. She swatted it away and leaned forward. “What do you think it is?” asked Bob.
“Junk, like I said. Why else would it be in the river?”
“People can lose stuff. Sometimes they just fall out of boats.” Bob looked up and laughed. “My mom said that Dad can’t go on the river with his friends no more because he loses all his marbles in the river and can’t remember how to drive home.”
“I don’t even know what that means,” she said, leaning in further. Her head was almost blocking Bob’s view.
“Lean back!” he shouted. “I don’t either. But people lose stuff in the river. Maybe this is special.”
She looked him in the eye. It made Bob uncomfortable in a good kind of way. “It’s junk,” she said.
“I’m gonna wish on it!” Bob said. He spit on his hand and rubbed at the rust. Red and black crumbs rolled away from the object. Bob rubbed his open palm around the top as quickly as he could without hurting himself, but nothing happened.
“See?” Susanne said.
“Huh.” Bob held it up and rotated it. “Maybe the genius is sleeping or something. Maybe he drowned. Can geniuses drown?”
Susanne shook her head. “No, only morons can drown. You’re lucky this river is dry this year.” In the distance came a call. It was shrill and filled with worry. It called both of their names. “Ah shit,” said Susanne. “It’s Brian. You stupid, you should’ve never fell down!” she chided.
Bob held the metal to his face and whispered. “I wish Brian would just disappear forever.”
Susanne looked at him and then turned back to the small embankment above them. They listened. The reeds swayed and brushed against each other. Birds darted through the sky and chirped their quick songs. In the distance, a slow train could be heard rumbling its way toward town. No voice called their names.
Susanne looked at the piece of junk in Bob’s hand. “Gimme that!” she hissed. Bob clutched it close to his chest and gave her a big, sandy smile.