| Jr. Fiction |

Tale of Treeo: Chapter 3

“We don’t really know where we’re going,” Nellie says in a stage whisper. Eli pokes her side. “Ow!”


Eli: We had to see the treehouse again. But we couldn’t retrace our steps from Friday, even when we rode around all afternoon on our bikes.
Nellie: Then we found our way out of the woods to this creepy, broken-down house that I’m pretty sure is haunted.
Squizzle: Forget ghosts! There was a cat in that shed that chased me up a tree! If not for the little boy who threw a ball at it, I’d be cat dinner right now!


AT first, Eli is sure the boy is going to scream, or run inside, or call the police and get them in trouble for trespassing. He can only stand there, rooted to the ground and staring at the kid, which he thinks might be making it worse.

But Nellie is the one who’s good with people, and she moves forward smoothly. “I’m Nellie, and this is Eli. We were lost in the woods,” she says. “This is still Lionstone, right? We live up on Bay Court, near the other end of the woods.”

“Oh.” The boy relaxes around Nellie. Everyone does. She’s so full of smiles and energy that kids of every age love her. And this boy can’t be much younger than their own little brother, Kivi. His clothes are a little too big, making him look smaller than he probably is. “My name’s Shlomo.”

“And you live here?” Nellie’s eyes flicker over the house again, the abandoned shed and the broken windows. Eli knows that she’s thinking what he is — that this house is too broken-down for anyone to live in.

Shlomo bobs his head. “We just moved in last week. There’s still a lot to fix up, but we had to move out of our old apartment in a hurry. Abba says that it’ll be a while before everything is done.” He brightens. “Can I come exploring with you? I have a bike, too.”

“Oh.” Eli exchanges a glance with Nellie and says gently, “You’ll need permission. And I don’t think you can go all the way to where we’re going.”

“We don’t really know where we’re going,” Nellie says in a stage whisper. Eli pokes her side. “Ow!”

“That’s okay. I’m just going to ask Ima first.” Shlomo drops his bat and charges inside, calling at the top of his lungs, “IMA!”

Nellie grins after him. “He’s so cute. Way cuter than Kivi. Think we can really bring him into the woods with us?”

“Not very far. We don’t want him to get lost. And his bike probably isn’t as good for riding in the woods as ours are if he just moved in here.” Eli wonders about the bike. It doesn’t look like Shlomo’s parents could afford anything too versatile.

Sure enough, Shlomo darts out of his house and into the shed to emerge with a small bike, the chain hanging off as he wheels it out. “My mother says that I can only go on the path with you,” he says, pointing at a trail to the left of his house. “It’s fun there, though! It leads all the way to water.”

“Water?” Eli perks up. “Is there a waterfall?”

Shlomo shrugs his little shoulders. “If you pick it up, I guess it’d fall. Come on!” He climbs onto his bike. It’s so tiny that his knees are up to his chest, and he has to pedal extra hard to make it to the trail.

Eli and Nellie follow suit. Squizzle runs in front of them again, racing down the path and then back to them, standing on his hind legs and urging them on. But it’s slow going with Shlomo, whose bike keeps getting stuck on rocks and dirt.

“Your bikes are so cool,” Shlomo sighs, hooking his chain back into place. “I want a bike like that one day. Ima says that maybe I can save up my Chanukah and birthday money this year and get a new secondhand bike that doesn’t keep breaking.” He pedals a little more, almost at the same spot as Eli, then his bike hits a root in the path and tilts, knocking him off.

He’s small enough that he barely hits the ground before he scrambles back up. Eli feels a wave of compassion for the boy, and he stops riding for a minute. “You know what?” he says, giving Nellie a significant look. “I think I’d actually rather walk down this path.”

“But you love biking,” Nellie says, missing his look altogether. “You once told me that if you could replace your feet with wheels, you would.”

Eli kicks her ankle. “Nellie, you’re so silly,” he says loudly. “I much prefer walking in the woods, especially when we have company.” He gives her another look.

“Oh! Yep, me too!” Nellie says enthusiastically, climbing off her bike and giving it a solid kick for good measure. “What a pain in the neck. Biking is the worst.”

Shlomo looks puzzled but relieved. “I bet it’s more fun with a good bike,” he says dreamily. He reaches out to touch Eli’s bike, running his hand along the shiny metal of the handlebars, and Eli feels terribly sad for him.

“You know what?” Eli says suddenly. “I think we might have my old bike in our garage. I bet we could bring it to you. It’d fit you perfectly.” He smiles widely at Shlomo, who gapes at him as though all of his dreams have just come true. Nellie blinks at him in confusion. Eli ignores her for now. “It might take us a little while to come back here, but I’ll bring it the next time. Now, where’s this water?”

“It’s down this way!” Shlomo races ahead now that he isn’t trapped on his bike, and Eli and Nellie take off after him. “Hey,” Shlomo calls back. “I think that squirrel I saved thinks that we’re friends now. He’s right up ahead, too — careful, you’ll get wet!” he says reprovingly.

Eli’s heartbeat quickens. Treeo could be right ahead, hiding in plain sight in the middle of the woods. They’re so close. The water must be the brook, it has to be—

But when he rounds the bend and finds Shlomo’s water instead, his heart sinks with disappointment. It isn’t the brook at all. It’s just a wet, swampy bit of land, a muddy patch with a trickle of water running through it before disappearing underground. There’s no link to the brook or the lake.

Shlomo looks up at them expectantly. “This is really great, Shlomo,” Eli says.

“The best,” Nellie agrees kindly. “I bet all kinds of animals live here.”

“There are some mosquitoes,” Shlomo offers. “I haven’t really seen anything else.” The only one who looks happy to be there is Squizzle, who is drinking the trickle of water with enthusiasm. Shlomo says, “Anyway, this is the path! Isn’t it cool?”

“So cool,” the twins chorus, and they sit near the patch with Shlomo for a little while, listening to him chatter. Soon, someone calls his name and Shlomo heads back home, picking up his bike along the way and leaving Eli and Nellie alone again.

As soon as he’s gone, Nellie twists to scowl at Eli. “You promised Shlomo your old bike. But Kivi has it! You can’t take it away from him.”

Eli grins. He’d already thought about that, and he has a plan. “I have a way better idea,” he says. “Shlomo needs a bike, right? So we should buy him a brand new one.”

Nellie squints at him. “Are we robbing a bank?”

“No, Nellie,” Eli says, giving her a gentle nudge with his elbow. “We’re going to raise the money to pay for it.”

Finally, understanding dawns in Nellie’s eyes. “Just like we raised money for Chai Lifeline this past summer,” she says, and her voice rises with excitement. “We made way more than it would cost for a bike.”

Eli considers it. “I don’t know if a lemonade stand is going to be that popular in the fall,” he says slowly. “But I bet we can rake people’s yards. We could make a lot of money doing that after school, and we’ll tell them it’s for tzedakah, too.”

“Right! We’re fast rakers, Tatty always says so.” Nellie rubs her hands together. “I bet we could raise the money in just a week or two.” She contemplates. “And we can do other stuff, too! My friends love bake sales. And Sunday morning, when you’re at yeshivah, maybe I could do a babysitting camp in the backyard—”

Eli shifts, a little uneasy with those ideas. He’s not interested in Nellie’s friends getting involved. “Let’s just start with raking leaves,” he says. “We’ll still need some time to find Treeo.”

“Sure,” Nellie says, distracted. “How much do you think a new bike costs? A hundred dollars? Two hundred? Do you think we can charge twenty dollars a backyard?” She’s busy with calculations, chattering about them without another mention of the treehouse, and Eli wonders if she’s forgotten about it again. Nellie loves exploring, but she’s so easily distracted.

And as they ride through the woods, Nellie making plans for two-for-one deals and borrowing Tatty’s leaf blower — as if they’ll ever be allowed — Eli keeps an eye out for the treehouse or the brook. He can’t see much through the thick wall of trees, and he’s close to wondering if he’d imagined all of it — when he spots it.

On the ground in front of them, half-buried in the dirt, is one of those small, lavender-tinged globes that he’d seen hanging in the treehouse.

To be continued…


(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 982)

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