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Tale of Treeo: Chapter 10

Kivi sticks out his lip. “I hope there’s a tornado. And a tsunami”

Eli: Shlomo thought his new bike was awesome! And we were having a great time!
Nellie: Yeah, until we argued again and Eli ran off into the woods without me… I don’t care! I’ll just go home by myself.
Squizzle: Uh-oh, there’s a hurricane coming… is this really the time???


Nellie shivers and wraps her coat tightly around her, attempting to brush her hair out of her face with her shoulder. Where is Eli when she needs him? She took a wrong turn, and it’s getting dark. She just wants to be home already! But at the same time, she’s still mad at him.  He ruined yet another good day.

Maybe this one had been a little bit her fault. She probably shouldn’t have called him nasty, even if that’s how he’s been acting. But she didn’t call him boring! She called his ideas boring!

The wind blows against her face like it’s trying to knock her down, and she feels raindrops as she finally emerges from the woods into her backyard. Kivi is sitting on the floor next to the back door when she comes in. “I’m waiting for the hurricane,” he says.

“We’re not getting an actual hurricane, just the edge of it. It’s not going to be very exciting.”

Kivi sticks out his lip. “I hope there’s a tornado. And a tsunami.”

“Those… aren’t the same things.” Nellie shakes her head, giving up on trying to talk sense into Kivi. “Look, have you seen Eli?”

“Yup. Maybe we’ll lose power,” Kivi says hopefully. Nellie notices that he’s holding a flashlight on his lap. “Tatty says that we have to be prepared.”

“Uh-huh,” Nellie says, distracted. She heads upstairs, pausing outside the room that Eli and Kivi share. The door is shut tightly, and Nellie knocks on it. “It’s me.”

Eli doesn’t open it. Nellie sighs. “Look,” she says. “Maybe Zaidy Zee was right. Maybe we do need to talk out this stuff. It’s just that whenever we start talking, we also start yelling. I kind of count on you to be the reasonable one, you know?”

Eli refuses to answer. Nellie chews on her bottom lip. “It’s just that you’ve been so mad at me lately. Every single thing I say seems to set you off. And I don’t know why. I miss us doing things together. I wish you’d just tell me why you keep snapping at me. And I wish you’d listen to me sometimes, too,” she feels obligated to add. “It feels like sometimes I’ve got to do things exactly your way no matter what. Can’t I be the one with good ideas sometimes?”

Nothing. Nellie sighs. Maybe Eli isn’t ready to talk yet.

The storm is beginning to pick up outside. Nellie can hear the wind howling through the trees in the woods and the pounding of the rain against the roof. Zaidy Zee calls out from downstairs, “Eli? Nellie? Are you two back?”

“We’re here!” Nellie calls to him, wandering toward the staircase. The rain keeps falling without stop, like a thousand little feet are stomping against the roof. When she peers out the big window in the living room, there are sheets of water falling down past the glass, making it impossible to see.

Kivi says from the door, his flashlight on, “I’m going out to the porch to watch.”

“Be careful! It’s windy!” Nellie hurries after him, helping him open the door. It’s like pushing against a force much stronger than them, and the door slams closed again the moment  they slip outside. The wind is harsh and rough, spraying them with rain, and it batters them until Nellie grabs Kivi’s arm and yanks him inside.

There is a flash of movement — something small and brown racing in with them — and Nellie yelps when she realizes exactly what it is. “Not the squirrel!”

Sure enough, Squizzle has gotten inside, and Nellie calls, “Eli, get rid of your squirrel!”

“It’s wet outside,” Kivi says, tilting his head to watch Squizzle race up the side of the china closet.

Nellie gets a broom. “He’s an animal. He can handle the rain!” She waves the broom at Squizzle and misses, and she’s almost positive that his responding chitter is mocking. “He doesn’t belong inside!”

Squizzle darts down the side of the china closet, jumps onto a bookcase, and then runs along the side of it toward the table where the Shabbos candles sit. Nellie swings her broom at him and knocks the glass cup off the top of one of the candles. “You’re a terrible pet,” she says, narrowing her eyes at Squizzle. “Can’t you just stay outside and eat acorns like a normal squirrel?”

Kivi sits down on the couch with a package of pretzels and watches her. Squizzle finds a package of chocolate-covered raisins on the table, takes a bite of one, and then overturns the entire thing, sending raisins everywhere. “Good thing you’re already holding the broom,” Kivi says, munching on his pretzels.

Squizzle snorts. Nellie glares at them both. “Get out,” she orders Squizzle.

Squizzle jumps down, races across the floor, and runs toward the door. “Good! Finally, you’re listening,” Nellie says, pushing the door open for him. The wind lets out a high-pitched howl. Squizzle shakes his head back and forth like he’s trying to say something.

Nellie tries to use her broom to push him out the door. Instead, Squizzle races up the handle of the broom and then leaps onto the top of Nellie’s head. “Argh!” Nellie bats madly at her head, struggling to push him off. It just makes him hold on tighter, his little fingers digging into Nellie’s head.

“Everything all right up there?” Zaidy Zee calls from the basement.

“It’s fine!” Kivi calls back brightly. “Nellie is playing with a squirrel!”

“There is no playing going on! This thing is a monster!” Nellie says, and Zaidy Zee laughs like she’s made a joke and doesn’t come upstairs to help her.

Where is Eli? Squizzle jumps from Nellie’s head to the top of the fridge, where he knocks over an entire set of alef-beis magnets that Mommy keeps up there, out of the way. They clatter across the kitchen floor, and Kivi says, “Uh-oh. You’re gonna have to clean that up, too.”

Squizzle returns to the front door, chittering insistently, and Nellie stabs a finger at him. “Uh-uh. I’m not falling for your tricks this time.” Her hair is a wreck, half of it pulled out of its ponytail by tiny squirrel claws, and she is not going anywhere near Squizzle again. “You stay right there and don’t move.”

Squizzle chirps reproachfully at her.

Nellie groans. “That squirrel is the worst. I can’t believe that Eli didn’t come down to help me with him.”

Kivi bites down on another pretzel. “Eli’s not home.”

Nellie stares at him, dread beginning to creep through her. “What do you mean, Eli’s not home? You told me that Eli was home when I got inside. You said—”

“I said I saw Eli. I did. He went out with you to bring that bike to Shlomo Kaufman from my class.” Kivi swallows his last pretzel, then tips the bag to pour out the leftover crumbs and salt into his mouth. “Next time, you guys should buy me a new bike. I always get Eli’s old stuff.”

“Forget the bike,” Nellie says, her heartbeat quickening. “You didn’t see Eli come back in?”

Kivi shrugs. “Maybe he did. You were talking to him upstairs.”

Nellie had been talking, yes, but that had been… “Did you hear him answer?”

She doesn’t wait for a response. Outside, the wind is shrieking and the rain pours down in heavy sheets. The forest is soaked and so is anyone inside of it, and Squizzle still waits by the door and makes that urgent noise like he’s trying to tell Nellie something.

She races upstairs, takes the steps two at a time, and throws open the door to Eli’s room. For a moment, she’s sure that she’ll find him inside, sullen and mad and refusing to look at her. For a moment, she’s positive that he’ll be sitting on the top of the bunkbed with a book, annoyed at her for barging into his room.

But his bed is empty. The room is quiet. There’s no sign that he’s been back since he’d left for school this morning.

Eli is still outside, lost in the woods in the middle of a hurricane.


(Originally featured in Treeo, Issue 989)

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