| Out of the Woods |

Out of the Woods: Chapter 11 

Elchanan could say what he liked, but it was time to use the map for real and work out what had gone wrong


“You want to know what we’re up against?” Avi’s eyes opened wide. “So you— you also think that—”

Elchanan kicked at the ground, restless. “Something’s wrong. Something doesn’t add up,” he said. “About this whole thing, the trail, the people behind us... I want to figure out what’s going on.”

Avi very much doubted that going to spy on some violent strangers with guns was a good place to start their investigations.

“I think we should get as far away from them as possible,” he said firmly, starting to walk off in the opposite direction. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Elchanan shrug and reluctantly follow.

“It’s just — really, really strange,” Elchanan said, his voice troubled, as they walked, single file, along the narrow trail, as it moved deeper into the forest. “I mean, Mr. Kreiser kept saying that the forest is safe — monitored. So if these people are really dangerous, then either we’re in the wrong place entirely, or everyone else in the class... they’re in danger, too. And we have no way to find them or warn them about what’s going on.”

“Listen, the best thing we can do is keep walking,” Avi said, feeling calmer now that they were putting distance between themselves and the fearful noises. “I don’t hear them anymore, it doesn’t sound like they’re following the path that we’re taking. Let’s just keep walking. Maybe we’ll meet other hikers, we could borrow a phone...”

“If we meet anyone else. Without guns,” Elchanan said, darkly.

“If we don’t, we’ll just keep walking, okay? The trail’s got to end somewhere.”

Elchanan didn’t answer as they rounded a bend and came to a large clearing in the woods. It looked strange, to see a circle of bare ground surrounded by dense forest trees. Without saying anything, the two boys began walking the perimeter of the clearing, looking for where the trail continued. Finally, they found a dirt path between the trees and continued to walk.

“I hope the trail doesn’t go on for days. Some do, you know,” Elchanan said suddenly.

“Well, let’s hope this one doesn’t,” Avi snapped back. His shoulder was starting to hurt from the heavy knapsack. “Anyway,” he said, remembering, “my father was the one who dropped us off. He knows exactly where we started. If it’s not the right place, at least they’ll know which trail we took.”

“Wait a minute.” Elchanan stopped, leaning against a tree for a moment. “Why did your father drop us off here if it wasn’t the right drop-off location?”

“Well, he didn’t think it was the wrong place, did he?” Avi shot back. What a chutzpah that Stark had, trying to insinuate that Ta—

“I didn’t mean that,” Elchanan said. “I’m just trying to figure out — oh, never mind.”

He started to walk again. Avi scrambled to follow, biting his lip. Stark knew forest hiking way better than he did; they couldn’t afford to fight now. And the fact was… it was strange, the way the trail didn’t match the map they’d been given. The sound of people right nearby, possibly very dangerous people. Surely Ta hadn’t made a mistake when he drove them?

Elchanan could say what he liked, but it was time to use the map for real and work out what had gone wrong.


“Hold on,” Avi said, from behind him. His voice was quiet, determined. “I know you want to just follow the trail, but we need to figure something out.”

Elchanan’s eyes narrowed. Not again. “I thought we were done with that.”

Avi ignored him. Instead, he crouched down and spread out the map, furrowing his brow. “We entered the forest around here, and we’ve been walking — you have a compass?”

“Are you serious?!” Elchanan yelped. The muscles in his shoulders went rigid. “What on earth do you need to use compasses and maps for? We’re on a path! You don’t need to use a compass to follow a trail, you need your eyes. Or if it’s too much for you to find your way like that, you can follow me, okay?”

Avi stood up abruptly, the map fluttering a little as he jumped to his feet. “Stop it!” he snapped back. “Don’t you get it? We have a problem here, we’re deep in a huge forest, something’s not adding up, and very possibly there are murderers somewhere on the trail. We can’t just run randomly this way or that way, we need to figure out what to do.”

Elchanan let out a breath. “So—”

“And we need to work this out together,” Avi continued. The last word hung between them, oddly comforting in cool shadows. Elchanan swallowed.

He hated to admit it — hated to think that the way forward was to put aside their differences and team up with Avi Shine, of all people — but the kid had a point.

He lifted his chin, keeping his face impassive. “Okay,” he told Avi, quietly. “Fine. So what, exactly, do you think that we should do?”

An expression of surprise flitted across Avi’s face, like he hadn’t expected things to go so easily. Then he looked gratified, and his lips parted a little. It wasn’t quite a smile, more of an acknowledgement, but Elchanan didn’t care. This wasn’t about making friends. This was about getting out of the mess they were in, preferably sooner rather than later.

He dug through his knapsack and tossed his compass onto the ground beside the map. “You wanted this?”

Avi’s eyes registered a flash of gratitude.

“Give me a second,” he said, poring over the map again. Elchanan rolled his eyes, but didn’t comment. Avi leafed through the pages, looking for a clue.

“We were supposed to take the Bordon Road entrance into North Ridge Forest Trails,” Avi read aloud. “And that’s definitely what my father put into his GPS. So why…” He thumbed the pages again, landing on a page with a bird’s eye view of the entire area. “Here’s the highway, here’s Bordon Road. This is our entrance… ooooohhhhhh. My. Goodness.”

Elchanan studied the map over Avi’s shoulder, but all he could see was a large blob of green. Avi rocked back on his heels and glanced up. His eyes were wide and frightened.

“You don’t see what happened?” he asked, and then went on without waiting for an answer. “Look here. We were on this road, see? And we were supposed to start the trail on the left of the road, that’s the North Ridge Forest Trails, it’s a relatively small wooded area with monitored trails and a campsite in the middle.” He pointed, and heard Elchanan give a small gasp of understanding. He jabbed his finger in the center of a huge green forest that went on well beyond the boundaries of the page. “Instead, we’re here… deep inside North Ridge Forest itself.”

They looked at each other. Elchanan realized that, for the first time, Avi’s fear was mirrored in his own eyes.

“If we’re really in the middle of here, and those people we heard behind us really are dangerous…” He leaned over and traced a finger over their path into the forest, which continued for miles in every direction, and his voice rose with mounting panic. “How are we ever going to find our way out?”

to be continued…

(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 873)

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