| Jr. Serial |

Tale of Treeo: Chapter 5

He had planned to join Nellie later to hunt for Treeo, but that didn’t look like it was happening. Nellie hadn’t even started yet

Eli: It was really fun raking leaves and we made money for Shlomo’s bike! Can’t wait to do it again tomorrow.
Nellie: Hold on. I’m not raking ANY more leaves. It was BORING. I much rather make a bake sale with my friends while you rake.
Squizzle: And Nellie, can you try to figure out how you found a piece of a treehouse vine in the ground so we can get back there?!


“Wait, this said one teaspoon of salt! Who put a tablespoon in?”

“Who dropped flour all over the floor?”

“Everyone out of the way! Hot stuff coming through!”

Nellie’s friends burst out of the house just as Eli walks in, leaves still stuck in his hair and his muscles subtly aching from the hours spent raking. This afternoon, he’d earned forty dollars raking two backyards – definitely a lot more than Nellie. It was just him this time, which is why it took much longer, but he enjoyed the rhythm of raking himself and the occasional curious bird that stopped by to watch him.

As he enters the chaotic kitchen, Eli takes in the scene with a mixture of amusement and admiration. Nellie is in her element, flour on her nose, trying to juggle everything at once. She mixes a bowl of chocolate brownie batter with one hand, and with another, presses a finger into thumbprint cookies. Miri and Lebee are outside, setting up a table, and even Eli’s older sister, Rikki, has come downstairs to help with the oven and offer the open cookbooks a critical eye. “Chocolate chip blondies are way too nerdy,” she says, tossing her long ponytail. “No one’s going to buy them. Make them into chip sticks. Trust me, it’s what people want.”

He had planned to join Nellie later to hunt for Treeo, but that didn’t look like it was happening. Nellie hadn’t even started yet.

Eli walks over to the fridge to get himself a cup of water just as Rikki turns on the mixer. Flour bursts from it, flying through the air and hitting Eli in the face. Nellie laughs so hard from Eli’s new winter look that she slips off her chair. “Sorry!” she says. “It happened to me, too. I don’t know how Mommy bakes with that without making a mess.”

Eli rolls his eyes playfully. “There’s something called a flour guard, you know,” he reminds her, still laughing from the scene.

Their conversation is suddenly interrupted by a commotion at the door. “Lebee, wait, you brought out the raw brownies, not the baked ones!” Nellie says as she nearly trips over herself rushing to stop her friend from ruining more brownies. Eli finishes his drink quickly and leaves the room, ducking away from the flurry of pans and cookbooks and shouts.

He finds Kivi in the dining room, his face full of something that looks suspiciously like batter. “Hey, Kivi. Do you want to come out to explore the woods with me?” He wants to find Treeo, and if Nellie’s busy baking with her friends, maybe Kivi would come with him. It won’t be the same, but at least he’ll be able to make some progress.

But Kivi shakes his head. “Nuh-uh. I want to eat cookies.”

“You mean bake cookies.”

“I know what I said.” Kivi offers him a chocolatey grin and scurries back to the kitchen.

Eli sighs. He’d been excited to go exploring and finally find Treeo. It had made him rake faster and finish sooner, but now, he’s stalled again. Tatty is out, so he can’t learn with him, and his homework is all done. He could bike by himself, search for Treeo on his own, but he knows that Nellie will be disappointed to miss out on it.

Instead, he wanders outside to Zaidy Zee’s workshop. Zaidy Zee is Mommy’s father, and he’s been living with them since Eli had been Kivi’s age. He’s converted the garage into a workshop, and he likes to sit out there most afternoons, building bookcases for the shul and little toys for Kivi.

Today, he’s sanding down a rocking horse. “It’s for the Pinsky’s toddler,” he explains, brushing sawdust from his gray beard. “Her birthday is next week. What do you think?”

Eli admires the craftsmanship. Zaidy Zee’s projects are always ornately decorated, and the rocking horse is no exception. He’s carved a face into it that looks so lifelike, Eli might have thought that it was professionally made if it weren’t still unpainted. “It looks great. We used to have one of those, too, right?”

“Oh, yes. You used to spend hours rocking back and forth on it.” Zaidy Zee smiles down at him. “Would you like to help with the sanding?”

Eli takes some sandpaper and tries to mimic Zaidy Zee’s movements. There is something comforting to the repetitive movements, up-down-up-down-up-down until he isn’t thinking about anything but the light brown wood in front of him. Eventually, though, a shriek cracks through the air, jolting him from his reverie.

“Miri, don’t! The cookies can still be saved!” Nellie’s voice rings out from the house. She’s definitely not going to have time to search the woods with him today.

When he looks up, Zaidy Zee is watching him. “Nellie is baking up a storm in there,” he observes.

“Yeah. We’re trying to raise money for…well, Nellie’s still working on her project. I figured she’d be done by now.” The disappointment is still bitter in his mouth. He tries to shrug like it doesn’t matter. “I mean, it’s fine. But I so badly want to go explo— whatever. It doesn’t matter.”

Zaidy Zee lays a piece of wood down on a table, tracing lines onto it with pencil. “It sounds like it does,” he says gently. “There’s nothing wrong with feeling upset.”

“I’m not upset,” he says, but he isn’t sure if that’s true. Maybe they’d be exploring together by now, finally climbing through their new treehouse.

By the time he’s done sanding his horse, he can hear Nellie calling out. “Bake sale! Delicious brownies and cookies for only fifty cents each!”

Eli peeks out of the garage, watching as kids from the neighborhood trickle out of their houses, excitement lighting up their faces. They hold their dollar bills tight, and flock around Nellie’s table. It’s a busy scene: Nellie and her friends hand out cookies, schmooze with the kids, and keep an eye out for Kivi who’s trying to snatch some cookies for himself.

It looks like the bake sale is going be exactly the success that Nellie had promised it would be.

Wanting a break from the noise, Eli slips out of the garage and into the backyard. It’s quieter here, surrounded only by the rustle of the trees. He peers through the woods again, as though the trees might part and reveal the treehouse in the distance, but there’s no sign of the brook or the treehouse, just closely knit tree trunks and the orange-red colors of autumn.

He spots Squizzle, a thumbprint cookie trapped between his teeth as he scampers along the side of the house and into the backyard. “Hey, you didn’t pay for that!” Eli reproves Squizzle. But Squizzle doesn’t seem bothered and just takes another big bite. Eli can’t help but smile; maybe Nellie’s right and Squizzle really does like bothering her.

But Squizzle runs next to him, rubbing up against his leg. Eli’s glad that the squirrel seems to like him at least. “What have you been up to?” he asks Squizzle softly. “Any sign of that treehouse?”

Squizzle chitters glumly, then shoots up, lightning-quick, and hurtles into the woods. “Squizzle?” Eli follows after him, bewildered at his sudden energy. “What’s going on?”

Squizzle winds through the woods and then stops, climbing up a tree to perch above a knot on the trunk and wait. It’s close enough to home that Eli can see the white paneling of his house through the trees, but he doesn’t remember seeing this tree before. The knot is strange, forming around a gap in the trunk, and Eli squints at it. He isn’t sure if he’s imagining it, but is there something in the trunk?

He sticks his fingers into the gap, partially expecting to get bitten by a chipmunk or a spider. But the tips of his fingers brush against something thin and paperlike, and he tugs it free of the gap in the tree. It’s not quite paper — it’s thicker and softer — but there are markings on it, jotted down in ink.

He stares at it, his mouth wide open. There are trees drawn in carefully, and a few winding sets of lines that look like paths through the trees. Little squares appear along the bottom of it in ink, in a neat row as though they’re houses on a block, and that’s what tips him off nearly as much as the curved quarter-loop at the top corner of the page, colored in carefully as though it is something important.

This is a map. And that quarter-loop at the top of the page…that must be Treeo. This is the way to the missing treehouse. It must be! And he and Nellie can finally —

He hears Nellie’s voice from a distance, shouting about the bake sale in tandem with her friends, and he hesitates. Does Nellie even care about the treehouse right now? She’d all but ignored him the last time that he’d mentioned it, and she’s so busy with her bake sale and her plans that she hasn’t brought up their search even once.

No, he decides. Nellie doesn’t need to know about this map just yet.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha Treeo, Issue 984)

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