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Much later, Peter remembered a lesson from last year’s 9th grade mythology class. They had just finished learning about Pandora and how her curiosity released the world’s woes. Someone said, “That’s sort of like Eve in the garden of Eden. If she hadn’t messed around, eating that apple, we’d still be in paradise.” Somebody else said, “And Helen is the reason Troy was destroyed and so many heroes died.” The first boy laughed. “So, women caused humanity’s problems.”

Mrs. Stiles looked at the class for a minute before saying, “All that you can conclude from so many stories about women bringing trouble into the world is that the myths were written by men.”

But Peter Van Meer wasn’t thinking about mythology when he was at the dump, wearing yellow dishwashing gloves while searching for treasure, or if he was, it was about thrown away lamps that hold genies and three wishes. At the beginning of the summer, he’d reached under a long, sun-burnished metal plank, and plunged his hand into a rotting mess of sun-warmed meat swimming with maggots, and even days later he thought he could smell it on his fingers, so he’d taken the gloves from the kitchen to scavenge.

Today, though, in the September heat, he didn’t whiff anything sketchy, and the rustling leaves from the elms and willows surrounding the clearing seemed particularly bright and cheery. He wasn’t worried about the gross out.

Over the last hour, he’d scooted down from the lip of the depression that held the dump, working his way through the leavings. The trash pit was only thirty feet across. He could sort through the mess in a couple of hours. Most of the trash seemed to be metal, although he’d examined with interest a broken doll made of a very light wood, and what might have been a book, except the pages were too long and blank. He’d also found and discarded dozens of silvery beer cans, except that they didn’t have labels, and whatever they had held didn’t smell like beer.

His best friend, Dante Blevins, maintained that the dump was a secret government waste site. “That’s why the trash keeps changing,” he said the last time they’d gone treasure hunting. “They put their classified stuff here temporarily, and then recycle it elsewhere.”

Peter sat back and rested his weight on his hands behind him. He hadn’t pointed out to Dante that there wasn’t a road to the clearing, nor any evidence that anyone visited the site. The winding, nearly invisible trail they followed to get here never had other footprints. The only way the dump was a government site would be if the trash was airlifted in and out, and the clearing wasn’t that far out of town that people wouldn’t notice a low-flying copter.

Still, the contents of the dump did change. Someone put new trash in and pulled old trash out.

He leaned forward to move another metal sheet. This one was four feet long and a couple of feet wide, but thin as a road sign. Like most of the stuff in the dump, it had no writing. Almost everything he found lacked identifying information. He wondered if he should take a picture to post to his online friends. Maybe they would know what the trash was. No, then he might have to explain why he wanted to know and where he’d found it. Having Dante know about the dump was bad enough. Dante didn’t have Peter’s sense of wonder. Peter thought of himself as having scientific curiosity. You could tell a lot by what people threw out, he thought. Digging in a dump was modern archeology.

Dante, though, wanted to try to sell the metal as scrap, as if anyone would want to backpack out heavy hunks of busted machinery. The materials had no serial numbers. No labels or stamps. Nothing that identified where the scraps came from or their function. Occasionally, he longed for the familiar: a dented soup can, maybe, or a greasy pizza box. Mostly broken things filled the dump. Discarded things. Gears, levers, hinges, boxes that wouldn’t open, springs, thick bottles that looked more like crystal than glass (most were chipped or cracked), lengths of corroded wire, worn cloth that wouldn’t tear, wheels like car wheels but too narrow and made from a stiff leather instead of rubber. And occasionally, smelly things. He looked at his yellow gloves ruefully.

And sometimes, there were treasures.

He kept the best ones on a shelf in his room. His favorite was a small statue of a bare-chested man, about the size of a little kid’s soccer trophy. When he’d found it, the figure had been reaching up with both hands as if in supplication. The metal was copper-colored and soft. He could dent it with his fingernail, but the dent filled within a half hour, and the statue was unmarked again. The statue moved, too. In the months it had sat on his shelf, it had gone from the hands in the air pose, to semi-kneeling, hands down, head turned to the side, as if it thought something approached from behind. The change was so slow that Peter had taken measurements to compare from week to week. It gradually, but definitely changed position.

He’d found a broken sword in the pile another time, made of a metal that always felt cooler than it should. A hard leather or plastic binding protected the hilt, and the inch-wide blade had been snapped off, leaving only a couple of inches of an unbelievably sharp edge. He’d lost skin off the end of his finger testing it.

The metal sheet resisted efforts to move it. He tugged, putting his back into it, and was rewarded with a budge. On the third attempt, the sheet snapped free and flew several feet away, landing with a clang. A panicked rabbit scurried out from under the jumbled pile on the dump’s other edge, and didn’t even look back as it dashed into the forest. Peter’s laugh stopped in his throat when he saw what he’d uncovered: a black duffle bag, closed tight.

He lifted it by the handle, surprised by the weight. It wasn’t zipped—nothing he’d found in the dump ever had anything about it that seemed familiar, even something as mundane as a zipper. The bag opened along a long seam, but the edges separated more as if theys were magnetic or attached with an exceptionally fine Velcro, parting smoothly and quietly. Peter stared into the bag, trying to decide what he was looking at.

Translucent bricks, maybe four inches by three inches, lined the bag’s bottom. Sunlight fell into the bag, but the bricks absorbed the light without reflection. On top of the bricks rested an odd instrument, like just the grip half of a pistol. Where he’d expect to find a barrel, the pistol flared into a fist-sized lump. It felt heavy and solid in his hand, a dull gray with a purple sheen in the bright sun.

He set it aside. The little bricks seemed more interesting. He picked one up; it felt for a second like it buzzed. He wondered if it was electrical. When he held it up to the sun, an incredibly fine wire grid inside reflected a constellation of glitters. The brick itself looked like Plexiglas, but it was way too heavy to be plastic. He turned the brick over. He guessed there might be a couple hundred in the duffle bag.

A bird screeched in a tree by the clearing, and then beat its wings hard as it took off. Peter glanced around. The sun had moved several degrees across the sky. His phone showed him that it was almost an hour later than he thought it was. He looked at the bag thoughtfully. Had he lost time while looking into it? There was something hypnotic about the bricks. He couldn’t tell in the afternoon sun, but he suspected they might glow in the dark. There was a depth to their translucence.

Later, he thought about Pandora opening the box. At least she’d been warned to keep the box closed. Considering what happened, Peter thought that a warning would have been fair.

Reluctantly, he returned the brick he held back into the gap he’d created by pulling it out.

The truncated pistol didn’t fit his grip well. Whoever held it had bigger hands than he did. Careful to keep his finger off the unguarded trigger, he examined it from all sides. Grooves crossed the handle. The trigger curved out, a small sliver just big enough to wrap his finger around. The lump that constituted the rest of the instrument had a misshapen, almost handmade look. There was no hole where he’d expect to see one if it was a pistol, but clearly it was designed to be held and pointed.

Feeling a little silly, he aimed it at the nearest tree, a fifty-foot tall elm whose leaves would turn a brilliant yellow in a few weeks, after the first frost. He pulled the trigger.

A screen popped into view above his hand, ten inches by eight inches, about the size of a piece of typing paper. Startled, Peter released the trigger. The screen vanished.

What he should have done, Peter thought, was to put the weird looking instrument back into his bag. His mother had told him when he was little that if he found something, it wasn’t lost. “It belongs to somebody,” she’d said. The bag belonged to someone. The bricks and the strange gun were not his to play with, but he didn’t think that at the time.

He looked into the woods. No one could possibly see him here. He was alone. Tentatively, he pulled the trigger again. The screen was a projection of some kind, a hologram, but when he touched it, there was resistance. It displayed a series of icons, like a phone. None of the shapes were familiar. He pressed one, and the grip clicked. Something mechanical happened inside and the icons disappeared on the screen, replaced by a crosshair.

He pointed at the same tree, pulled the trigger, and flames flew from it from root to highest twig in a deep roar. Smoke and steam rose into the sky. Birds took wing from nearby trees, heading away from the huge torch.

For a moment, Peter stood frozen, finger still compressing the trigger, blinking against the sudden brightness.

Carefully, he put the gun back in the bag and closed it. The tree’s flames warmed his face, even in the sun’s heat, and smelled of boiling sap and crisping leaves. A thick branch mid-way up, hissed as if steam were escaping, and then exploded, bringing down a third of the upper branches, popping and crackling in a startlingly loud rush.

Thank goodness it’s been a rainy end of the summer, thought Peter, too stunned to think anything else. Burning limbs quickly flared out in the damp bushes and grass that made up the underbrush, and within a few minutes, the flames flickered out, leaving a sad, smoky and steaming ruin. A few burnt leaves, turned black and limp, clung to the now bare branches.

He took out his phone and texted Dante: “Meet me. 6:00. Important.”

If Pandora had a phone, would she have texted her friends? OMG! YOU WON’T BELIEVE WHAT JUST HAPPENED.

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