| Out of the Woods |

Out of the Woods: Chapter 17 

He couldn’t leave Avi alone with this man. Not after the threat he had just uttered


“RUN!” Elchanan yelled. “Avi, MOVE!”

He spun around, darted to the side of the leering man with the thin lips. They could get away, disappear among the trees, find somewhere to hide until the search parties would arrive. He half-turned to see if Avi was behind him, when his partner let out a scream.

Elchanan skidded to a halt, grabbing on to a tree trunk for support. The man had caught Avi, and twisted his arms behind his back as Avi frantically fought to free himself. The man was laughing soundlessly, a slightly crazed look in his eye. But when he spoke to Elchanan, his words were deliberate.

“You run away now, boy, and you’ll never see your friend again.”

Elchanan’s body was frozen. His mind felt detached, numb, and horrified all at the same time.

This must be a dream. I must be dreaming.

He took a step toward Avi.

“Elchanan…” Avi croaked out, his eyes terrified. Was he asking him to go, to run and get help? Or to stay with him, save him… save his life?

He couldn’t believe he was doing this. One foot, another, stepping toward his doom.

But he couldn’t leave Avi alone with this man. Not after the threat he had just uttered.

Elchanan forced his feet forward. We’re going to escape, he told himself. We’re going to find a way… to get out of here.

“That’s right, you just come along nicely,” the man said, looking calmer. “You walk right ahead of us, and I’ll keep a tight hold on your friend here to make sure there’s no monkey business. Follow the path to the right — into the clearing—”

“Gregor?” came a voice, and another man, not much more than a boy, emerged from a tent in the middle of the campsite. Elchanan thought he recognized him as the one who’d complained when the leader assigned him guard duty. He was startlingly thin, with straw-colored hair and a wispy beard that only made him look younger. When he noticed Elchanan and Avi, he looked dumbstuck. “What — who are they?”

“Found them. Sneaking round the back of the campsite, spying.” The thin-lipped man — Gregor — gave a sudden vicious kick. Avi stumbled and fell forward with a muffled cry. Elchanan tried to help him up, but Gregor pushed him aside.

Elchanan managed to catch himself before he fell. He stood there, trying not to let the fear show in his eyes, but Gregor wasn’t looking at him, and the light-haired one was staring at Avi.

“Go get rope. A lot of it,” Gregor ordered, and the second man hurried back to the tent he’d come from. At the same time, a third man materialized from the other end of the campsite; this one was broad-shouldered and pot-bellied, with coal-black eyes.

“What you got there?” he rumbled in a low voice. “Was it them kids who were shouting before?”

“No, those were adult voices, but I haven’t seen any of them yet, and that means they haven’t seen us. Luckily for them.” Gregor’s thin lips twisted. In the firelight, he looked crueler than ever.

The young man returned, two lengths of coiled rope in his hand. Gregor tossed one to the black-eyed man.

“Tie him up. I’ve got the one on the ground here.”

The rope was coarse. It prickled against his wrists as the man roughly tied his arms behind his back. Out of the corner of his eye, Elchanan could see Avi being given the same treatment by Gregor.

The heavy man shoved Elchanan to the ground and stepped back, satisfied, but Gregor looked unhappy.

“No more rope? We should tie their legs, too.”

Elchanan could see the young man blinking very fast. “I couldn’t find any more.”

Gregor muttered something.

“What we doing with them?” the third man asked. His voice was rough and uncultured. “Should we — you know, get the Boss involved?”

The young, wispy man gave a start, and a small shudder.

“Of course we will,” Gregor said smoothly. He glanced over at the young man and his lip curled in derision. “But upon consideration, I think we better wait until morning. The Boss doesn’t like being woken up in the middle of the night for nothing — even for these two nasty little brats over here.” This time, he kicked Elchanan. The foot caught him hard in the ribs, and he only just held back a cry of pain.

“Put them in the supplies tent, then,” the third man said. “Matt can guard them. When the Boss wakes up, he’ll tell us what to do with ’em.”

Elchanan was lifted to his feet and half-dragged to the tent in the center. The young man, Matt, held the tent flap open. Elchanan passed so close to him, he could hear the young man’s shallow, fast breath, and see beads of sweat on his forehead.

“Are you… sure?” Matt asked Gregor in a whisper. “We’re supposed to be keeping the… stuff… safe in here.”

“That’s why you’re going to be watching them, idiot!” Gregor hissed back. “They’re tied up, and you’re going to make sure they stay that way.” He turned to the boys. “The Boss is sleeping now, but he’ll be awake before long. And he’s not going to be happy to find you two here, interfering with our plans. Want a piece of advice? Enjoy your last couple of hours while you can.”

Avi’s face was utterly white. Elchanan tried communicating with his eyes, telling Avi to calm down, they’d figure something out. But, he wondered helplessly, what could they even do? They were tied up, imprisoned, in the center of a campsite full of criminals, guarded on all sides.

Matt surveyed them, sitting side by side in a corner of the tent.

“Don’t move,” he said, but his voice sounded a little frightened. Was he scared of them?

Matt retreated to the doorway of the tent, closed the flap tightly, and sat down, too. As Elchanan’s eyes adjusted to the dimness, he made out several bags and boxes tossed haphazardly along the side wall of the tent. In the back corner, just across from them, were several tall, narrow containers. These had obviously been put down perfectly straight and with utmost care. Elchanan looked at them and thought, These must be the valuables they keep talking about.

A sound from the tent opening startled him. Beside him, Avi stiffened. But nothing happened, no one came in, and then the sound wafted toward them again….

“He’s snoring,” Avi whispered, his voice hoarse. “The guard is sleeping.”

Elchanan weighed their options. They could try to escape, but Matt was sleeping squarely in front of the tent flap. Besides, Gregor and the other man were on guard outside. On the other hand, if they waited until morning, when all the men were awake, their situation would be a whole lot worse. And from what they’d seen of the leader, once he got hold of them, they didn’t stand a chance.

“Let’s get these ropes off, for starters,” he said, scrambling awkwardly to his feet. He took a deep breath, trying to infuse his voice with a courage he didn’t feel. “And then… we’re going to make a run for it.”

to be continued…


(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 879)

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