"I think we should just keep going in the direction Matt told us. At least then we know we’ll get out of the forest.”
Avi stared at Elchanan, his eyes wide with shock. “What do you mean, they left the trail? Why would they do that? Weren’t they going to follow it to look for us?”
Elchanan shrugged. “I don’t know why they did anything. I just know what I saw.”
“They came from that direction,” Avi said, thinking hard. “Maybe they assume that we’re not on the path because that Stefan guy said he hadn’t seen us? Could that be why they left the trail?”
Elchanan shrugged again. He didn’t have the head for all these complicated calculations. “The fact is, they could be anywhere by now. I think we should just keep going in the direction Matt told us. At least then we know we’ll get out of the forest.”
Avi wasn’t listening. “I really want to try to find the search party,” he said. “They can’t have gone too far yet — maybe if we run really fast...”
Elchanan wondered if it was because Avi had been so tantalizingly close to his father that he was stubbornly determined to go after the search party. “They’ve had a 15-minute head start and we have no idea which direction they went,” he said, trying to sound reasonable. “I don’t think we’ll be able to find them, and we’ll probably just lose this trail as well, and then we’ll really be in trouble....”
“But you’re good at finding people’s tracks in the forest. Didn’t you find our way back to the main trail this morning?”
Avi looked so hopeful, Elchanan almost felt bad to let him down. “I can’t find them, Avi. I really can’t. I think it would be stupid to try. If we leave this path, we’re lost. And with those guys lurking in the forest... who knows when the search party will come back to this area?”
“Who says they won’t be on the path ahead of us?” Avi countered.
“They won’t,” Elchanan said confidently. “Remember, Matt is the one who showed us the escape route, and he’s their navigator. He’ll make sure they don’t meet up with us. But we have to move fast, because soon he’ll assume we’ve left the forest... and he won’t make sure to keep them out of our way.”
Avi was still hesitating, fighting an internal battle. “So you think...?”
“I really think we need to forget about going after them and just get out of the forest,” Elchanan said.
Avi took a deep breath. “Okay.”
Elchanan blinked, taken aback. That was it?
“You — you don’t mind...?” he stammered.
“Listen, you’ve been a pretty good navigator till now,” Avi said wryly. He hesitated, then continued, “Not to mention the tree thing. You — you saved our lives, that’s for sure. I would never have been able to get up a tree alone — if I would ever have thought of the idea in the first place.”
Elchanan had never imagined he’d see the day when Avi Shine would give him a genuine compliment — and he’d feel embarrassed by it.
“It’s okay,” he mumbled. “Anyway, you’re the one who figured out a lot of things... where we are, what the guys are up to....”
Avi looked away. “Thanks, but you know, brains only take you so far. And in a forest... not so far at all.”
Elchanan felt uncomfortable, but he knew that for Avi to admit these things must have been even more awkward. “I guess we make a good pair after all,” he said lightly as they set off down the trail.
“Have they been found yet?” Levi Lipman asked.
Rabbi Glazer walked slowly to the desk at the front of the classroom as the class clamoured for news. Unanimously, they had voted to return from the overnight early and come into school the next day as usual. No one was in the mood of camping out and having fun when two of their friends were missing.
Rabbi Glazer himself — after accompanying the boys back home — had returned to the forest and re-joined the search party, together with Mr. Kreiser. But when morning came, he’d headed back to be at school for the eighth graders, many of whom looked like they hadn’t slept all night, either.
“There’s no news — yet,” he said gently. “But don’t worry, boys. The forest where Avi and Elchanan were dropped off is a huge place, so it’s taking a long time, but the search parties will be covering every inch of it. Im yirtzeh Hashem, they’ll be found very soon.”
Despite his reassurance, the boys looked distressed.
“I can’t concentrate on anything,” Hillel Shapiro, a friend of Elchanan, said glumly.
“Me neither,” said Yitz Elberg. He was thinking of Avi, and the good times they always had together.
“I was saying Tehillim the whole night,” Pinny Schwartz added.
Rebbi walked around to the front of his desk and looked at the exhausted boys in front of him.
“Boys,” he said, voice gentle, “let’s do something as a class. For Avi and Elchanan. As a zechus that they should be found very soon.”
“We could split up Sefer Tehillim,” Meir Rottman suggested.
“Have more kavanah in davening,” Shmuli Deutsch called out.
“Or we can each commit to learning extra every night,” Hillel put in.
Rabbi Glazer shook his head. “Those are all beautiful ideas, boys, but I’m thinking of something else. Something special, as a class. Something that’s very hard for us. Something… that I’m sure will make Avi and Elchanan very happy when they return to us.”
The room fell quiet as the class digested his words.
“Shalom,” Rebbi whispered. “Peace, between all of you, all of us as a class. Each of you, right now, choose to make a commitment that you’ll end the feuds, the conflict, the fighting between different groups.” He spread his arms out wide. “Because you see, at the end of the day, we’re all one. We care about each other. If we commit to hold on to this feeling of closeness, of caring, on a regular day — what bigger zechus could that be for Elchanan and Avi?”
The classroom was very still. Rebbi looked around, as every boy slowly nodded.
“So that’s it? No more fighting?” Tuvy Frank asked, and the tension broke as everyone laughed.
Rabbi Glazer looked at the clock. It was 10:14 a.m.
“Boys, I haven’t heard updates in nearly an hour,” he said. “I’m going to call Mr. Kreiser.”
“How many hours have we been walking?” Avi asked Elchanan. He had a watch, but the mere act of lifting his hand and pushing back his sleeve to check it seemed too burdensome as they trudged through the forest, one step after another after another —
“Not very many,” Elchanan tossed back. “It’s only, what, 10:14 in the morning? We came down from the tree maybe an hour ago.”
Only an hour? Avi’s legs felt like they’d been walking for many, many days.
“Just think — this time yesterday we were still at school,” he said.
“I wonder what they’re doing now,” Elchanan mused.
“Well, not fighting.” Avi felt a pang. “They’re probably worried sick about us.”
He thought about his classmates, and his heart lurched. What he wouldn’t give to be back there — with all of them, his friends, Elchanan’s, and yes, Elchanan himself, even if he’d hog the basketball court every single day.
And his parents — with all Ma’s overprotectiveness and Ta’s checking up on him in school — if only he could see Ta again, right now—
“Avi!” Elchanan said suddenly, coming to a halt a few steps ahead. “Come — look!”
“The search party?” Avi said, scrambling to catch up, his heart quickening.
“Not the search party,” Elchanan said, voice betraying a carefully controlled excitement. “But — I see a road. We’re coming to the edge of the forest.”
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 886)
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