“It’s just... strange that there are no cars anywhere. We must be in a totally different place than where we started."
We’re out!” Elchanan whooped, high-fiving Avi. “We’re out of the forest!”
Avi mustered up a smile, but he couldn’t bring himself to join Elchanan’s excitement until they were actually back home — or at least on the way. True, they’d left the forest — but where were they now?
He examined their surroundings. They were standing on a grassy bank beside a wide, winding, empty road. Across from them were miles and miles of fields. It looked like they were in the middle of the country.
“This isn’t the highway where we started,” he said. “Honestly, I don’t think we’re much better off than we were before. At least inside the forest, the search party’s looking for us...”
“Inside the forest, there are also armed criminals who wanted to kill us,” Elchanan reminded him. “Let’s follow the road. We’ll have to get to a town eventually. Or a car will pass us by, and we can phone for help.”
Avi looked up and down the road. There was no sign of any cars, people, or houses as far as his eye could see. He sank to the ground in exhaustion. “Let’s just... rest… for a few minutes,” he said.
Elchanan looked concerned. “Are you okay? Maybe have a drink or something.”
“Finished my water,” Avi said briefly. He rested his head in his hands. Now that he thought about it, he was thirsty. And hungry, too.
“You finished your water? Here, I have a couple spare bottles, take,” Elchanan said, crouching down beside him. “And maybe we should eat something... good thing we kept those backpacks on us.”
Food. That was a good idea. Avi reached for his bag and rummaged through it. He pulled out a squashed foil container half-filled with crinkle cookies. Elchanan had a few granola bars and an oversized package of potato chips.
“Not too bad for breakfast,” Elchanan said.
They ate slowly. Avi was in no rush to start walking for miles again, and even Elchanan seemed to be feeling the aftereffects of the past 24 hours. When they finished, he stood up and stretched, wincing a little.
“We just need to find a phone,” he said. “If we could only get to a town...”
Avi shaded his eyes and peered in all directions. “If we could find a signpost, it would tell us the name of the nearest town,” he said. “Could that be one over there?”
“I think so,” Elchanan said, after a moment’s consideration.
The road remained deserted as Avi and Elchanan set off again.
“At least it’s easier walking here than in the forest,” Elchanan said.
“Yeah,” Avi said half-heartedly. “It’s just… strange that there are no cars anywhere. We must be in a totally different place than where we started. When my father drove us to the forest, it was on a regular highway.”
“Well, I’m sure we’ll find people at some point,” Elchanan said.
It took a while until they reached the signpost. By then Avi felt so tired, he was barely putting one foot in front of the other.
“See, there’s some sort of town not too far away,” Elchanan said, reading the sign.
“Three miles? You must be joking!” Avi said in disbelief. “That’s not far for a car. For us to walk… again…”
But there was no choice other than to keep plodding on. Avi finished the water. He hoped he’d hold out until they reached the town.
“I see a house,” Elchanan sang out, after what felt like several hours. “And… yes, that’s the town!”
Avi quickened his step. A town — finally! People, a phone, a store to buy more drinks, maybe a fruit. “Not much of a town,” he remarked. “It looks more like a little village to me. And we’re right in the middle of the country, this is a really out-of-the-way place.”
“Who cares? We’ll call and they’ll come get us,” Elchanan said, charging down the road and onto the first paved street of houses. “Do you think we should just knock on someone’s door…?”
“No,” Avi said. “Let’s find a store or something.”
They wandered down a few blocks until they hit what must have been the village’s main street. They passed a small grocery, a store that smelled strongly of fish, a pub with darkened windows and a crooked sign, and a housewares store. Only one or two people seemed to be around, and they looked at the boys curiously as they passed. We must really be a sight, Avi thought ruefully. There was mud and twigs and remnants of the forest all over their clothes and sneakers. Elchanan’s face was scratched and there were a few stray leaves in his hair. He guessed he didn’t look much better.
“Which one?” Elchanan asked, waving his hand in the direction of the stores.
Avi shrugged. “No difference to me.”
Elchanan hesitated a minute, then pushed open the door of the housewares store. It was hot and musty inside. The windows were so crammed with items on display, hardly any light could filter in. A man of about seventy, bald except for tufts of white hair, with thick eyebrows, sat behind the desk — if it could be called a desk at all. A better description, Avi decided, was a small slab of wood topped with an old-fashioned cash register and calculator. The store — and its owner — looked like they hadn’t changed in fifty years.
“Where do you boys come from?” the man snapped, sounding deeply suspicious at seeing strangers in his territory.
“We came from the forest — up the road,” Elchanan said. “We got lost in there, and we want to call our parents…”
The man frowned, bushy eyebrows drawing together. “You boys? Alone in that forest? I don’t believe that. Where are your parents? And how did you get here?”
“We walked,” Avi said. “We’ve been walking for hours… can we just please use your phone? And if you could tell us where we are, we’ll let our parents know where to come get us…”
“You don’t know where you are?” The store owner repeated, mockingly. “How did you get here, then?”
“We went to the forest, for a hike, and we got lost,” Elchanan explained. “And then we came out on the road up there, and we walked here…”
“When, exactly, did you get lost in the forest?”
“Yesterday,” Avi said. The man seemed so hostile; he didn’t bother offering any further explanations. He cast a glance at Elchanan, then added, “If you’d rather we don’t use your phone, would you please direct us to the police station?”
The man stood up suddenly, face contorting in anger. “I knew it!” he said. “You want to make a fool out of all of us here, getting the police involved and making me look like an idiot. You don’t come into my store to tell me tall tales and waste my time. Thought it would be funny, didn’t you? Thought you’d have a good laugh, making all of us here run around in circles by pretending to be lost? Well, you’re not going to! I don’t believe a word!”
“But — but it’s true,” Elchanan stammered. “We did get lost and we really don’t know where we are… please, you have to believe us!”
“Listen here,” the man said, leaning across the desk threateningly. Avi took an involuntary step backwards. “This may be a small village without very much going on, but that doesn’t mean that I, or Officer Brown, have time to waste on troublemakers like you. Get out!”
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 887)
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