The Fern in the Forest

By Elie Lichtschein


The shriek broke through the stilled quiet. I nearly had a heart attack. I snapped open my eyes and was shocked to see Avrumi emerge from between two trees, his beard and face sparkling with moisture. A towel was draped around his shoulders and his clothes looked damp, like he had just put them on after having gone for a long swim.   

"Hey, Babel!" he shouted when he spotted me, and ran over, pulling me around and around in an impromptu dance. Other than the scragglers, I had probably spoken to this guy least of everyone else in the yeshiva and was shocked to the soles of my feet. Which was probably why I let him swing me around in that dance for longer than I was comfortable with. As we spun, my mind whirled with questions. Why were his clothing wet? Why was he singing? Where was he coming from? Why the heck were we dancing together like this?

"Ya nay nay nay nay nay nay," he sang as he twirled us, and in spite of myself, I had a flashback to the oneg and again noticed his voice. His strong voice, the voice of a leader. "There's a great mikvah over there," he said, bringing the dance to a close and jerking his head in the direction of the two trees from which he had emerged. "Check it out." He turned and walked back toward the path to the yeshiva. And then he was gone, and with him the shattered peace of the woodland.

What. Just. Happened.

I rubbed my forehead and closed my eyes. So it had been Avrumi. He was the screamer. I could have guessed.

Overwhelmed by a surge of curiosity, I walked between the two trees, in the direction he had pointed. A rough path led down to what looked like a little brook. There were still markings of wet soil around it from when Avrumi had gotten out of the makeshift bath. A mikvah, he had called it. The baths of gathered rainwater used for purification.

I stopped against a tree to rest for a moment. I stood there, holding onto a rigid tree branch, for a few minutes, looking at the not-particularly-inviting pool beneath me and thinking thoughts of holy men in holy forests.

Elie Lichtschein is a New York-based writer and musician. He recently completed an MFA in creative writing for children, and is working on his debut novel, a mysti-fantasy  adventure story about mystical birds, glowing green beards, and worlds within books. This blog post is an excerpt from his young adult novel, The Fern in the Forest.