* * *
Dovid’l, the littlest, felt it first. He began to stagger as he walked, arousing slight annoyance in Kalonymous as he tried to urge him forward. His little face turned whiter than it already was, and then a sickly shade of green.
“Dovid’l?” said Kalonymous. “What’s the matter with you?”
“I don’t feel well,” the boy sobbed. “My stomach hurts!”
“I told you not to eat so many mushrooms!” Kalonymous scolded. “Now look what’s happened.”
“I was hungry!” Before he could get any more words out, the entire contents of his tiny stomach flew out of his mouth.
“Okay,” said Kalonymous, resigned. “Let’s stop and rest for a while until you feel better.” He held the boy’s hand as they perched on the side of the road, but Dovid’l began to writhe in pain.
“My stomach! It hurts! It hurts!”
Kalonymous grew deeply concerned. He would never forgive himself if something happened to Dovid’l. He placed the boy’s head gently in his lap and placed his hands on Dovid’l’s forehead. “Shh,” he crooned, wishing, for the thousandth time, that they were with their mother. She’d know exactly what to do, and they never would have eaten the mushrooms in the first place! He almost wept with frustration over his inability to care properly for his brothers.
Before he knew it, Hershel had a similar reaction, and Kalonymous knew he would be next. If they all became ill, they couldn’t very well lay on the side of the road. He tugged Dovid’l’s prone body further off the side of the road and behind a signpost impaled in the ground that provided a little bit of cover.
Kalonymous’s pain was so strong that he wondered how the other two could bear it as well as they had. It felt like someone was taking a hammer to his stomach and pounding without cease. It may have been the most pain Kalonymous ever felt, including the time he’d cut himself with his mother’s sharp kitchen knife and nearly lost his finger. His mother had acted quickly and efficiently, and his finger was as good as new. What would she have done now?
Kalonymous did not know. All he could think about now was the pain. The three of them lay stretched out behind the signpost, and a passerby, seeing the three little bodies all in a row, could have easily mistaken them for corpses if not for the wails and moans they emitted from time to time.
Kalonymous wondered vaguely if they would die. He knew the word but wasn’t perfectly certain what dying entailed. He felt a little dead, but he could still feel pain, he could see and hear, so probably he wasn’t dead. Hershel and Dovid’l did look dead; he would prod them from time to time to make sure they were still alive. Kalonymous felt too awful to be frightened, and he felt angry that, after all they had done to stay alive, they could be felled by a tiny little button growing by the side of a road.
It could be that a night passed. Kalonymous’s eyes kept closing and opening, and he wasn’t sure when he was asleep and when he was awake — it was all a blur, and he felt so very alone. He hadn’t realized until then how much of a comfort the company of his brothers was for him; he had believed that he was there to care for them and did not expect to receive anything in return. As he gazed at their still faces, he realized it was them who gave him the strength to go on. He could not fail them now.
There was nothing he could do until they woke up. After they all felt strong enough, they would continue on their way. He had to stop this mindless travelling and figure out what to do. They needed real food, they needed shelter, and they needed safety. Looking around, all he saw was trees, road, grey sky and stones. Where were all the cars and all the people? How had they ended up all alone like this?
It took a full day and night, and by the following morning they were all on their feet again, more or less. They were weak and shaky, and even more hungry and thirsty than they’d been before they’d eaten the dreaded mushrooms. They walked slowly, taking tiny steps, afraid to use up all their strength at once because they knew they had nothing to replenish it with.
Suddenly they heard a rustling, and the first thing they thought was that the dogs had returned. Fear ripped through them so powerfully that they began to scream. Even Kalonymous could not keep calm — the memory of the dogs chasing them relived itself over and over in his mind.
“No! No!” they cried, running blindly in the opposite direction of the sounds they’d heard. They ran out of strength moments later, and fell to the ground, one after the other, trying to crawl away but simply unable to.
“Help! Help us!” Unable to continue and unable to escape, they screamed until their voices grew raw and then quit. They were crying so hard they could barely breathe.
Two tall men walked over to where the boys lay.
“I didn’t know I was so terrifying,” said one to the other.
“It’s your face,” was the answer. “It scared them half to death.”
To be continued . . .