“Hey, did you hear the rumour about the junkyard on Southwest Street?”
My ears perked up, and I turned the volume down on my Walkman, opening my eyes a crack. Southwest street was a magic word, never failing to bring to mind memories of the long summer days we spent in the junkyard which made up our “kingdom”. Even these years later, whenever I was feeling nostalgic, I would take a walk through the old dump, strolling down memory lane. Of course, as with any junkyard, it was constantly changing, and even our old clubhouse vanished one day, no doubt buried beneath a pile of other useless, once-treasured belongings.
“Oh, you mean the Junk Genie?” a second voice queried, skeptically. “Isn’t that just some garbage that glue-sniffing loser Bax made up again?”
“Come on, don’t say that.” A third, cheerful voice interjected. “You shouldn’t talk about others behind their back.”
“Well, I’ll say it to his face too.” The second voice shot back. “That damn geek is always spreading rumours around. Remember when he claimed that Mr. Villard was bald?”
“That’s still on you for trying to pull his hair off.” The first voice laughed heartily, slamming his palm on a table. “Still, I didn’t hear this one from Bax, I heard it from Yvonne’s little brother, he says it’s been going around his school for the past couple weeks.”
“You heard it from middle schoolers? That’s about as unreliable as if Bax had made it up. Are you that bored where you’re listening to kids’ gossip?”
“Actually,” the first voice dropped to an attempt at a confidential whisper that was still loud enough to be heard from my desk across the classroom. “He claims it’s tied to those six missing kids from last week.”
Instantly, from across the room, the sound of a chair being suddenly pushed back snapped me out of my half-listening daze. I opened my eyes and sat up just in time to see a taller, warmly-dressed student storm over to the desk where the three gossipers had been talking.
“Who told you that nonsense, eh?” The student spat, his voice dripping with animosity. “You said it was Willum?”
“Don’t ask questions you already know the answer to.” The owner of the second voice, Martin O’Conner shot back. Martin was easily the toughest kid in our class, and was known to have even won in fights with the 12th-graders, making him something of a legend in our 10th grade class. When Martin said “jump”, weaker kids like me asked “how high?”.
“Now now, calm down a little, Alex.” The owner of the third voice, Michael Chen said placatingly, rising and placing a hand on the student’s shoulder. “You can’t blame Yvonne’s brother for repeating rumours going around. I mean, the Junkyard Genie is basically widespread already, right Brodie?” Michael was a well-off kid from the only Asian family in our small rural neighbourhood. They moved in only last year and were working on restoring the old Marlowe house to its former glory. Apparently, they didn’t believe in ghosts.
“Junk Genie.” Brodie Furlough, the first speaker corrected him. “Either way, you’re half right. I had already heard it circulating a few months ago, but sounds like it’s gaining a second wind, thanks to those missing kids.” Brodie was another notable character in our school, although not especially among our grade. The wide-framed giant of a kid was widely known as a bully among the middle-schoolers, and any of the weaker 10th and 11th graders that were unfortunate enough to cross his path. It was further known that Brodie’s ever-present supply of junk food was funded by the collective pocket money of any kids smaller than him.
“Just because it is still circulating does not make it any more credible.” Alexander Regis, the warmly-dressed student continued in his articulately clipped voice. “The children simply ran away from home together. They will return when whatever supplies they stole run out.” Adding to the list of noteworthy students, Alexander was not only top of the class, but top scoring student in our school district. A studious kid from a strict family, he had never been noted to have any friends.
“Oh, I just remembered!” Brodie smiled sarcastically, over-exaggerating his point by slamming a hammy fist on his open palm. “Your little brother is one of the missing kids, isn’t he?”
Michael smiled uneasily. “You should probably drop that Brodie…”, but he was cut off by Alexander.
“Quite.” Alexander returned, completely unconcerned. “You might say that because my brother is among them, I know exactly what they were thinking. My brother Victor is and always will be a coward. He isn’t the sort to chase ghosts and “graveyard genies”.”
“Junk Genies.” Brodie corrected.
“Regardless, my point stands.”
“So just what is your point then?” Martin interrupted. “You got a problem with us sharing stories, teacher’s pet?”
“I object to untruths, yes.” Alexander responded, not taking the bait. “Especially when they concern the family name. We are already disappointed enough in my younger brother, we would prefer to not have our reputation further tarnished by the idea that a Regis would chase after childish myths and rumours.”
“Oh, I don’t think you have to worry about your family’s reputation.” Martin smiled thinly. “You dress awfully warm for later spring, Alex. Why don’t you take off that heavy sweater?”
Alexander’s hands went reflexively to his arms, crossing them over his chest. “How I dress is none of your concern, and I would thank you not to make insinuations like that.” He shot back. “Now if you’re quite finished talking nonsense, some of us would like to use the classroom to study. As it was intended.”
“C’mon, why don’t we go somewhere else?” Michael smiled disarmingly. “We were being a bit loud, after all.”
Martin shrugged, then spat and rose to his feet. On his way out the door, he gave Alexander a stiff pat on the back, grinning smugly as he winced in response. Seeing that the situation was now over, I turned my Walkman’s volume back up again and waited for the end of lunch break.
If I had thought I had heard the last of the fabled “Junk Genie”, I was gravely mistaken. In fact, it was during PE class of the next day that I personally witnessed the continuation of the story.
As with most days, we started with stretches before practice. However, my exercise partner for the day was less than welcome.
“Hey, you heard about the Junk Genie, right?” He furtively whispered in my ear as he helped me touch my toes.
“Yeah, sure Bax.” I sighed. I had learned from experience, as had most of the kids in the grade, that Bax was bad news. A gangly, hollow-faced kid with a furtive demeanor, Baxter Stuart lived and breathed trouble. As much a stranger to hard work as he was to common decency, Baxter boasted openly of his proficiency with cheating at tests, and frequently indulged in his favoured hobby of spreading rumours.
“Aw, c’mon.” He grinned crookedly at me, rolling his arm in its socket. “I heard somethin’ good about the missing kids who went searching for it, no word of it a lie!”
“Good for you.” I intoned, being careful not to show too much or too little interest. Although even I could take on Baxter in a fight, he had ways of getting back at those that he didn’t like. If I was lucky, he’d eventually get bored and leave me alone. The last thing I wanted was to become the target of another of his “urban legends”.
“Get this, though!” He persisted, leaning in closer and lowering his voice. “There were actually seven kids, not six!”
Before I could register any form of surprise at this potential development, true or not, a familiar voice rang out from behind us.
“Care to share that, Bax?”
Both of us turned pale, not having to look to place the owner of the voice. A heavy hand descended on Baxter’s shoulder before he could escape, spinning him to face a menacingly-grinning Martin O’Conner.
“Oh, hiya Martin!” Baxter smiled weakly, as I edged away. “What ever can I do for ya?”
“I was just thinking about how I never got you back good enough for that incident with Mr. Villard.” The smile disappeared from Martin’s face as his grip tightened.
“N-now you know there’s no proof that I started that rumor!” Baxter started sweating openly. “C’mon, let me off the hook this time, m’kay?”
Martin locked eyes with Baxter for a long moment, then threw his arm over his shoulder, laughing out heartily. “Aw, c’mon Baxter, you know I’m not that bad of a sport. That was just a bit of fun. It’s all water under the bridge with me.”
Baxter laughed along nervously, cutting off abruptly as Martin started to speak again. “See, that’s not why I came to see you. What you said about the missing kids; was that the truth?” His voice went flat, as he turned to look Baxter in the eye.
“No word of it a lie!” Baxter smiled weakly. “I swear!”
“Perfect!” Martin grinned mirthlessly. “Now, if you wouldn’t mind, I’ve got some friends I’d like you to meet. You can tell them everything you know.”
“But what about class?” Baxter protested.
“C’mon, what’s more important, class or your friends?” Martin pressured. “We’re friends, aren’t we Bax?”
“’Course we are, Martin.” Baxter assured him
“I knew it!” Martin laughed. “And friends don’t lie to each other, do they Bax?”
“They sure don’t.” Baxter hoarsely assured him.
All though this exchange, I had been continuing my stretching, while listening intently to the two. However, when they rounded the corner of the school and strolled out of earshot, my curiosity got the best of me and I stole after them, eager to hear the continuation of the legend.
Approaching the very corner they had vanished behind, I carefully peeked around the bend, nearly bumping into the back of Brodie Furlough. My heart beating like a triphammer, I dropped backwards a couple paces, inching back towards the corner as I heard the interrogation begin.
“It’s like this;” Baxter’s nasal voice carried around the corner. “You remember how they said there were six kids missing?”
“Yeah, the police are still looking for them. What about it?” Martin prodded.
“Well, they’re not wrong, there’re only six missing.” Baxter continued “But get this; there were seven kids total who went looking for the junk genie!”
“I don’t get it.” Martin snarled. “Cut to the chase, Bax.”
“Don’t you see?” Baxter continued. “One of the kids made it back, safe and sound.”
I could hear Brodie whistle to himself, impressed.
“How’d you find out?” A third voice queried, which I identified as belonging to Michael.
“Simple really, I went down to the school in question and asked around.” Baxter returned nonchalantly.
“I already did that.” Brodie interjected. “Nobody told me anything about some seventh kid.”
“I think you used the wrong tactics.” Baxter chuckled dryly. “Kids talk a lot more freely once you’ve loosened them up than under threats.” As if to accentuate this, I heard the sound of coins jingling.
“Ok, so assuming you’re telling the truth on this one, I still don’t get what this has to do with anything.”
“That’s because I haven’t finished yet.” Baxter’s voice dropped lower, knowing he had a captive audience. I hated to admit it, but Baxter did have a way with words, and I even found myself caught up in his tale.
“It took me a while, but I manage to find out exactly which kid was the seventh kid, the one who made it back.” Baxter started.
“How?” Brodie interrupted, still skeptical.
“I just had to find his enemies.” Baxter replied knowingly. “Even in the children’s kingdom, friends rarely sell each other out, but enemies will pay any price to see the object of their hatred knocked down a peg.”
“I like to think that even friends have a buying price, if you have the funds.” Michael interjected.
“Be that as it may, some of us don’t have the luxury of so much disposable income.” Baxter returned wryly. “But moving on, it turns out the kid in question used to be quite the wallflower, never really one to stand out, either in academics or in popularity. However, seems like he snuck along with the other six when they went on their “adventure”, and out of all of them, only he showed up at school the next day.”
“Go on.” Martin urged.
“I was about to.” Baxter shot back. “So, here’s where the real interesting part starts. Nobody knows what caused it, but after that day, the kid was changed. In just this last week, he scored the highest on all subjects out of nowhere, joined the soccer team as their new ace, and even started his own gang, after beating the previous gang’s boss in a one-on-one fight!”
“You aren’t talking about Daniel Buckingham, are you?” Brodie interrupted again.
“You already heard of him?” Baxter sounded surprised.
“Only that he took over as the new gang leader.” Brodie responded. “I found it out while searching for more info on the Junk Genie, but I didn’t know it was related.”
“Well, that just adds to the credibility of my story, then.” Baxter continued, not missing a beat. “Either way, this brings me to my point; I did a lot of research into the origin and details of the legend, and while I couldn’t find how it started, I did find out why those kids decided to hunt for it.”
Here, I heard paper crinkling, as it sounded like something was passed around between the teens. After a short time, I heard Martin’s voice again.
“I don’t get it, what’s it mean?”
“Put simply,” Brodie summed the note up “If you go to the junkyard in the evening, bringing with you three treasured belongings in exchange, the Junk Genie will appear and grant you your heart’s desire!”
“One wish for three treasures?” Michael complained. “It seems like the exchange rate’s increased somewhat. Weren’t we supposed to get three wishes for nothing?”
“Are you telling me three objects aren’t worth a whole wish, anything in the world you could want?” Baxter shot back, his voice quivering with excitement. “Don’t you see? Daniel was lucky! I don’t know what happened to the other six kids, but he got his wish granted, and now he’s living the life of his dreams!”
“But what about the other kids?” Brodie complained. “What if only one wish can be granted, period?”
“It didn’t mention that, did it?” Baxter countered. “The other kids probably wished for something silly, like going to Africa, or the moon or something. Alex’s kid brother probably wanted to go anywhere except back home.”
At this, the other teens broke out in laughter. Having heard all I wanted to know, I hurried back to the PE field before anyone could spot me.
However, I didn’t escape all notice. I didn’t know it then, but someone had been watching my every move since the day in the classroom where I first heard about the legend.ns188.8.131.52da2