| Out of the Woods |

Out of the Woods: Chapter 5  

He hoped she remembered that the trip was overnight. Oh, well. Bracha could always remind her


Small collapsible tent. Three flashlights. Compass, pocket knife, matches.

Elchanan rummaged through his drawers, leaving the pile of folded shirts in an untidy heap at one side. His hand paused at the lock-picking kit Gershon had given him once; what were the chances he’d need to pick a lock on a wilderness survival trip? But still, it could come in handy. You just never knew.

It was a good thing his knapsack was large.

Of course, Rebbi and Mr. Kreiser had promised that they’d be given all the necessary equipment for the trip. But still, Elchanan liked to be prepared. Extra sweater in case it got cold. Sunglasses in case the sun was bright enough to penetrate the thick forest shade. Plenty of water and nosh.

He stuck in a couple extra chocolate bars for his would-be partner in adventure. They’d be doing the challenge in pairs, two boys at each drop-off point, and meeting up somewhere in the middle for the barbecue and overnight. Hopefully he’d get to partner with Meir; that would be fun.

The seams strained as Elchanan wrestled the zipper of his overfull knapsack closed. Finally done, he hefted it over his shoulder and took the stairs two at a time. Today was going to be awesome!

“Elchanan, is that you?” Mommy hurried out of the dining room, pocketbook dangling from her hand. “You have your trip today?” She looked from the bulging knapsack to his sneakers, and smiled. “I guess so. Did you take some nosh? A sandwich? And water, make sure you have plenty of water. Enjoy yourself!”

“Thanks,” Elchanan mumbled. Mommy waved on her way out the door; she must be late for work.

He hoped she remembered that the trip was overnight. Oh, well. Bracha could always remind her.

Avi stared at the neat pile of lunch boxes in alarm. Egg salad, lettuce salad, little containers of crackers with dips, a loaded bagel, a foil container stuffed with cookies…

“They’re gonna be giving us food, you know, at the barbecue,” he tried to protest feebly.

Ma swatted the comment away. “You’re gonna be out all day hiking, Avi, and don’t forget, it might take a while until you get to that central meeting place.” She frowned; that part of the trip had been a sore point, until Avi’s father had intervened by saying that he’d personally spoken to Mr. Kreiser, and the forest was completely secure, monitored at all times, and there would be several guides around if boys would stray from the trail. “Besides, what do you think they’ll serve at this barbecue? A couple hot dogs and s’mores? I don’t want you to go hungry.”

It was no use arguing with Ma. Avi reluctantly gave in, stuffing the salad containers into the furthest corner of his knapsack. Maybe Nachy or Yitz would be his partner, they’d have a good laugh about the salads, and at least Ma’s crinkle cookies were awesome.

Ta was home for breakfast in honor of the occasion. Avi usually loved pancakes, but now everything made him queasy. He hoped Ma wouldn’t notice him leave his orange juice; all he wanted was a cup of water.

Actually, all he wanted was to go back to bed.

It wasn’t like he didn’t like trips. But Avi really, really, didn’t like forests. Or endlessly long hikes with prickly thorns underfoot and tree boughs just waiting to trip him up. He didn’t enjoy trying to find a dry patch of mud to sit on while he ate warm tuna sandwiches with insects buzzing around his ears. And he absolutely hated camping. Who wanted to sleep on the hard ground, with only a thin canvas sheet between them and the elements, when they could be comfortable in a bed instead?

Of course, Elchanan and his gang were acting as though this trip was the best thing invented since space rockets. And Avi’s friends were excited too, so he’d had to play along, pretending to be mildly excited for the trip and a little condescending, too.

“It’s like they’ve never seen trees before,” he’d said yesterday in disgust, when Elchanan and a couple of cronies had broken into loud whoops at Rebbi’s final-instruction speech.

“Avi, if you’re ready to go, I’ll give you a ride,” Ta offered magnanimously, breaking into his thoughts.

Oh, no. If there was anything that could make him even more nervous, this was it.

“It’s okay, I’m fine to walk, you don’t need to go out of your way….” Avi mumbled, but he knew what his father was about to say.

“I’m going to the yeshivah anyway.” Ta smiled and set his glass down on a china coaster. “Did you think I’d miss the opportunity to see my only son off on his graduation trip? Besides, Ma and I will miss you.”

It’s just one night, Avi wanted to say, but he kept quiet. He wasn’t risking any more trouble; the Elchanan fiasco had been bad enough. He’d told Ta something vague, yeah, the fight’s over, we made up, and thankfully, Rebbi had told Ta that things seemed to have calmed down in the class.

He slid into the car, brand-new LeBrons pinching his feet uncomfortably. It seemed like an omen.

The eighth-grade classroom was throbbing with noise and activity.

“Hey, Elchanan, whatcha bringing along, your kitchen sink?” Nachy Gluck teased, but there was an edge to his tone. Nachy was Avi’s friend; the feud, apparently, wasn’t over yet.

Elchanan saw Avi smirk in response, but it was a quick smirk, like his heart wasn’t in it. Was it his imagination, or did Avi look a little pale?

“More useful than your knapsack, is it your little brother’s or something?” he shot back. Okay, it was nasty, but Nachy’s designer bag was too small to be useful, like all he cared about was the brand name. Elchanan’s was the family’s trusty “trip knapsack,” at least ten years old, but it was solid and strong and plain black, and it did the job all the way.

“Boys, are we ready?” Rebbi appeared suddenly, a bag of what looked like scraps of paper in one hand. He didn’t seem to have heard the exchange. “Just find a seat for a minute, Mr. Kreiser is coming in soon. In the meantime, can I have a couple of volunteers to step up and pick this goirel—” here, he shuffled the paper slips inside his bag — “which will tell us who will be partners on our wilderness adventure today?”

Hillel Shapiro and Shmuli Deutsch did the honors. Hillel picked out one name, Shmuli another, and they read them out dramatically. With each name, Rebbi waved the boys to one side, where they lined up, ready for orders.

Elchanan held his breath when Meir’s name was called, but Meir was paired with Effie Marks. Lipman and Perlowitz, Schwartz and Berger… He scanned the classroom, looking at the remaining faces. There weren’t many of his friends left. Who would his partner be?

A horrible feeling assailed him. What if he was stuck with Shaya Goldberg, who walked so slow and lagged behind on every trip? Or Mendy Feld, who was always complaining?

Or, worst of all—

“Elchanan Stark,” Hillel read out. Shmuli unfolded his slip of paper, and his eyes widened. Elchanan’s stomach clenched.

Shmuli looked up, straight at him, and in one heart-dropping moment, he knew exactly who his partner would be.

“Avi Shine.”

to be continued…

(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 867)

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