My brother Zachary talks night and day about the Holy Spirit. Zachary’s in college now, and I miss him when he’s gone. He used to invent dolphin songs and tell me how Jupiter plays ring toss with its rings. But something’s changed about Zachary. I don’t understand what.
I want Zachary to like me, so I try to listen. If he gets sick of the Holy Spirit, maybe he’ll show our dog Tucker how to balance biscuits on her nose. He taught her to bring the bathroom wastebasket to the garage on garbage day. I thought that was brilliant.
Last Saturday Zachary sat in our kitchen messing up a plate. He spread chunky peanut butter on a rolled-up lettuce leaf, speared it with a fork and said, “The Holy Spirit is everywhere.” Then he drank a mug of limeade mixed with cinnamon. “Wherever you go, the Spirit of Jesus goes with you and helps you,” he said, swallowing. “Even if you think the Spirit’s nowhere around.” Zachary sprinkled grated cheese on a fresh pretzel, broke the pretzel in two, dunked one half in fig jam, and handed me the other half. “Hunt carefully, Nick, and you’ll find it.” Zachary says this every time I see him.
Yesterday, after Zachary drank a whole pitcher of cinnamon limeade through a straw, I decided to test his advice. Dropping an orange skinny-tip felt pen and a set of super-ultra-long shoelaces into my backpack, I opened the front door. Six zebras galloped past, barking at Tucker, who barked in return. A seventh zebra stood calmly beside the garage, munching dandelions. I climbed onto his back. He swiveled his head and blinked at me, then trotted toward the river.
“Get your ice-cold acorns here!” yelled a raspy voice. A man dressed like a scarecrow balanced a tub of acorns on his head as he hiked along the riverside. “You!” he hollered. “How about some acorns for your journey?”
“I don’t need any acorns, thanks,” I replied. “But I do want to find the Holy Spirit. Have you seen it?”
The man shrugged his shoulders, unbalancing himself. His tub toppled to the ground, scattering the acorns. Immediately Zebra started eating them. “My acorns!” the man moaned. “I spent all week collecting them!” I hopped down from Zebra’s back and hurriedly picked up acorns, tossing them into the tub. We rescued most of the acorns before Zebra ate them. “Here,” the man said, handing me fistfuls of icy acorns, “take these as a gift from me. As for the Holy Spirit, I’m sure it’s around here somewhere.” He loped away along the riverbank as I dumped the acorns into my backpack. Placing my hands on Zebra’s muzzle, I gently opened his mouth and stared down his throat, looking for the Spirit of God. I saw a wide tongue, pieces of acorn, and lots of teeth.
We waded through the shallow water, Zebra and I, till we reached a footbridge. Zebra stepped onto the bridge to cross. “I suggest you wait!” called a weary voice from the middle of the bridge. “You can’t get by me, and I’m stuck. I’ve been here two months, and I’m nearly out of soap.” The woman in the golden chariot sighed. The chariot’s wheels looked smooth and round. I wondered why they wouldn’t turn.
“What’s wrong?” I asked the woman.
She waved a gigantic rubber band at me. “The rubber band fell off the propeller. I can’t wind it up anymore.”
Sliding from Zebra’s back, I grasped the chariot propeller and pushed clockwise. It spun loosely. The wheels didn’t budge. “Do you want us to tow you to a repair shop?” I asked. “You could buy a new rubber band there.”
“That would be lovely,” she replied. I turned Zebra around, climbed onto him, and sat backward, facing the chariot. Pulling the super-ultra-long shoelaces from my backpack, I held one end of each lace in my hands and flung the other ends toward the woman. She caught them and held tight.
“Go, Zebra,” I said, and Zebra leaned forward. The golden chariot began to roll. We towed it off the bridge and through the woods to the chariot repair shop. In the shop window hung a row of gigantic rubber bands.
The woman smiled. “Surely one of them will fit. Maybe I can even buy soap here. Thank you for the lift.”
“You’re welcome,” I answered, giving her the shoelaces. “By the way, I’m trying to find the Holy Spirit. Do you know where it lives?”
“Actually, it seems to follow me everywhere,” she answered.
“That’s what Zachary says. Do you mind if I check for it under your chariot?”
She shrugged. “Go ahead, but I doubt you need to look that far.”
Kneeling beside the chariot, I peeked underneath. I found a piece of rubber band melted to an axle and a puddle of soapsuds on the ground.
Zebra and I trotted back to the footbridge and crossed the river. Beyond a grove of trees, triangular red, blue, and yellow flags flapped in the breeze. A sleek metal track curved high into the air above the flags, then twisted back down. Carts filled with people shrieked across the track. A roller coaster, my favorite ride!
We galloped full speed and soon reached the carnival. It spread from a sunny field to the far hills, east and west, broad enough for hundreds of rides. Tilt-a-whirls and merry-go-rounds, umbrellas and spiders, trapezes and scramblers and fifteen roller coasters, plus houses of mirrors and houses of horrors and booths selling cotton candy and caramel corn: I saw them all at once. Bouncing down from Zebra, I raced to the nearest roller coaster.
“Ticket, please,” the young man said.
I stopped. “Ticket? I don’t have a ticket.”
He pointed to the nearby ticket booth. I dragged my heels. I hadn’t brought even a penny. I squinted at the ticket booth, then jumped when I read the window sign: Tickets—One Cold Acorn Each.
Yanking all my acorns—still cold—from my backpack, I plopped them onto the ticket counter. The ticket taker brushed them into a bowl and handed me a string of tickets nine feet long. I jammed them into my pockets and scurried toward the rides.
I rode every roller coaster twice and every other ride once. By then I felt dizzy, but after a candy apple I wanted to ride again. I dug into my pockets. The tickets were spent.
Trudging toward Zebra, I spied a large painted poster: Help Wanted—Salary Five Cold Acorns Per Drawing—Please See Manager. Next to the sign stood a lady. Long white bandages covered both of her arms from fingertips to elbows.
“Where can I find the manager?” I asked her.
“I’m the manager,” answered the lady. “Do you wish to apply for the job?”
“I think so,” I said. “What kind of work do you need? Why does the sign say Five Acorns Per Drawing?”
“Drawing is terribly difficult just now,” she explained, holding up her injured hands. “I completely wore my fingers out winding cotton candy around paper cones. I need someone to draw the children.”
“Which children?” I asked.
She continued. “Sometimes children who visit the carnival are scared of the rides. When I see a frightened child, I draw a little picture of that child riding a ride and laughing. I give the child the picture to keep. Then the child feels less afraid. Soon the child is riding and laughing, like in the picture. I want you to look for frightened boys and girls and draw their pictures.”
I agreed. “Alright.”
“Ah, but we have a problem,” the manager said. “All my pens ran out of ink. Do you have a pen on you? We have lots of paper.” From my backpack I pulled the orange skinny-tip felt pen. “Wonderful!” she exclaimed, clapping her bandaged hands together.
For hours I strolled among the rides, drawing every frightened child. In the pictures, the children on the rides laughed and waved their arms. The faces in the pictures all looked the same because I’m bad at drawing faces, but all the girls and boys recognized themselves. I let them keep the pictures, and the children took them on the rides. The manager gave me two hundred eighty-five cold acorns.
Again, I traded acorns for tickets, and again I rode and rode till my tickets ran out. The manager’s bandaged hands still hurt, so I drew another batch of children and earned two hundred acorns more. Some children had lost their tickets, so I gave them half of mine. I rode rides till my head swirled, then drew pictures till my orange skinny-tip felt pen dried up.
On my way to collect my acorns, I remembered: I’d visited the carnival for a reason. What was it? I sat down with an ice cream cone to think. The Holy Spirit—I wanted to find the Holy Spirit.
“I’m sorry,” I told the manager, “but I must leave.”
She bent her arms and wiggled her fingers. “Look, no bandages! My hands feel so much stronger. I could never have rested them without your help. Thank you!”
“I’m glad you’re better,” I replied, “because I almost forgot to look for the Holy Spirit, and I need to go.”
The manager raised her eyebrows. “The Spirit of Christ? I’d say it’s right here. In fact, it’s here in double doses since you took the drawing job. And today we got a new supply of pens. So, I’m off now to draw some children.” She jogged toward the Ferris wheel, and I headed back toward Zebra. But first I climbed an empty teacup ride. I circled all the teacups, hunting in each one for the Holy Spirit. I found a box of peanuts, a paper cone, and one cold acorn.
Zebra leaned sleepily against the gate. I mounted him, and we headed cross-country through the forest. Twice we paused at hollow trees so I could search inside. One tree held a family of squirrels, the other a hive of bees. I began to wonder: if I found the Spirit of God, would I know it?
Up ahead I saw a clearing, wide and green. Wildflowers of all colors filled the field. A herd of animals, large and striped, wandered about the clearing, eating grass. Zebra wriggled. His hooves began to prance. The other zebras eyed us, alert.
When we reached them, they sniffed Zebra. They touched noses with him and brushed his sides with theirs. Their bodies pressed against my legs, so I eased down from Zebra’s back and stepped between the zebras to the field’s edge. From there I watched. Zebra roamed among the other zebras, chewing grass. He shook his mane when they shook theirs. He nuzzled them face-to-face and ear-to-ear.
“Zebra,” I called. “Time to go. Come with me.” Zebra raised his head from the wildflowers, gazed at me, returned to eating. I tried again. “Zebra! We have to keep going.” He broke from the herd and ambled toward me. I patted his neck and started to climb on. He pulled away.
I said, “Zebra, we need to find the Holy Spirit.” I could tell he wanted to stay. If I left him, he’d be happy with the zebras. I’d miss him, though, and I might not find the Spirit or my house. If I forced him to go with me, I’d at least get home, but Zebra might not find his friends again.
The other zebras brayed. One by one they left the flowered field, following their leader into the woods. Zebra looked at them and then at me. I laid my fingers on his muzzle, and he rubbed against my palms. “Go,” I told him. He turned and trotted off to join the zebras. Just once he twirled his head and blinked at me. I nodded in return. For a moment I spied his stripes between the trees. A moment later I stood alone. I glanced around the clearing in case the Spirit of God hid there. I saw wildflowers and green grass.
For a long time, I rambled in the forest, unsure which way to go. The tree trunks grew close together, with wavy weeds and prickery shrubs wedged in-between. Then suddenly I reached a narrow dirt road. I looked left and right, but saw no car, no dog, nobody, just the road. I closed my eyes and spun around twice. I opened my eyes and walked the way I faced. My shoes left footprints on the dirt.
Not far ahead, a girl about my age sat cross-legged on the ground. Above her jeans she wore a yellow t-shirt and orange suspenders. In her hand she held a magnifying glass. “Hey!” I hollered. “Hi!”
She sprang up. “Did they send you for me?”
“I don’t understand,” I answered. “No one sent me. I’m just lost.”
“Me, too,” she said. “I thought maybe Grandpa asked you to come.”
“No,” I told her. “I wish someone would find me, too. Where do you live?”
“In the village, but I don’t know where it is. I’m on a caterpillar hunt. I got so busy hunting that I forgot to stay on the path. I tried to figure out my way home, but I can’t. This forest is so big.”
“Do you eat caterpillars?” I asked.
“No, of course not.” She looked surprised. “I don’t even take them home. I just stare at them close-up with my magnifying glass. Maybe if we keep together, we’ll find someone. My name’s Jerrine.”
“I’m Nick,” I said. “Let’s go.”
We walked awhile, talking. The road continued up a hill, then down, round a curve and past an empty barn. “How did you get lost?” asked Jerrine.
“I’m hunting, like you,” I replied, “looking for the Holy Spirit. I’ve tried so many places, but I can’t find the Spirit at all.”
“I thought the Holy Spirit was everywhere,” she said.
“Zachary says so,” I replied, “but I’m not sure. The people I meet tell me it’s with them or nearby. They’re all very nice, and sometimes I help them or they help me. We fix problems or decide what to do. We work together, and when it’s time to leave we say goodbye. But I don’t know what shape or size or color the Spirit is, and now I’m lost.”
“Isn’t the Spirit a bird?” Jerrine asked. “A dove?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. I have doves in my backyard. They eat birdseed.”
The dirt road curved again. We heard water rushing. Through the trees we saw the river, flowing fast. “Look!” Jerrine cried, pointing. “The river’s going that way! We can follow it along the beach and get home. Rivers always go to villages.”
The river’s edge looked rough and rocky. I didn’t see a boat or bridge or people. “I don’t think we should follow the river,” I said. “It might go nowhere. We should stay on this road. We’ll reach a town sooner.”
Jerrine disagreed. “No, let’s follow the river. As long as we go downstream, we’ll find help.”
I shook my head. “Maybe the village is upstream, the other way. We should take the road.”
“No! Do you see any tracks on this road? No one travels this way, Nick. We’re alone.”
“Well, I don’t see anybody on the river either!” We folded our arms and glared at each other.
Finally, I said, “I have an idea. We’ll follow the river for one hour. If we don’t reach help in one hour, we’ll come back here and take the road.”
Jerrine took a deep breath. “Alright.”
We scrambled along the riverside, over rocks and sticks and gullies. We bruised our knees and scraped our hands. I let more than an hour pass before I stopped and looked Jerrine in the eyes. “I know,” she said. “There’s no one here.”
We turned around. An hour later, we sat to rest on the dirt road exactly where we’d begun. We picked raspberries from a bush and ate them. Then we started down the road, away from the river. After another hour’s walk, our legs ached and our tongues stuck in our throats. I wondered what we’d do if the road led to a mountain or a desert.
“Tracks!” Jerrine yelled. “Look at the dirt! Crane tracks!”
I frowned. “There’s no railroad here.”
She giggled. “Not train tracks. Crane tracks. You know—crane, a big, tall bird.”
“Oh.” Prints peppered the dirt road, prints a hundred times too large for any bird. “Jerrine, they’re huge. They can’t be bird tracks.”
“They’re Abigail’s tracks,” said Jerrine. “She must have landed on this road and laid her eggs in the bushes. Postman will have to find them.”
“What?” None of it made sense. “Who’s Abigail?”
“Abigail helps Postman deliver the mail. We must be near the village. Let’s run!”
So, we ran. Soon we came to houses and shops and a soccer field with rows of bleachers along each side. Crowds of people filled the bleachers, but no one played soccer. Instead, everyone stared up at the sky. An old man in overalls hurried to us from across the field. “Jerrine!” he cried. “You scared me! I searched and searched for you!” He hugged her tightly.
“Sorry, Grandpa. I got lost hunting caterpillars. Nick and I met on the dirt road, and we followed it here. Nick said the road would bring us home.”
Grandpa patted my shoulder. “Thank you, Nick. Now where exactly do you live?”
“473 Uppandown Lane,” I told him, “but I’m lost, too.”
“Never heard of Uppandown Lane.” Grandpa scratched his head. “In what village?”
“Village? Mallow Town.”
“Never heard of Mallow Town,” Grandpa replied. “When Postman comes, he’ll know. Postman can find anything.”
“Anything?” I asked. “Can he find the Holy Spirit? I’ve looked everyplace.”
Grandpa nodded. “That’s easy. God’s Spirit is here. And while we’re waiting for Postman, would you like some maple pie? I baked it myself. Then maybe you can spend the night. Tomorrow I’ll go caterpillar hunting with you and Jerrine, and we’ll take a map.”
“Thank you,” I said, “but I really want to go home. When will Postman get here?”
Grandpa scanned the sky. “Here he comes now.” The crowds in the bleachers rose to their feet and cheered, waving wildly at the clouds. A tiny speck drifted high above the earth. As we watched, the speck grew closer and took the shape of a bird with long, outstretched, sapphire wings. I’d never seen a bird so enormous. Atop its snowy back sat a man, his legs swinging in the air. The crowd screamed, “Now! Now! Jump!”
“Someone’s riding that bird!” I exclaimed.
Grandpa laughed. “Yes, of course. It’s Postman. Abigail’s a bit too high, but she’ll circle and lose some height, and then he’ll jump.”
“Off the bird? He’ll fall! He’ll die!” I looked around for an ambulance.
Grandpa guffawed. “No, he won’t die. He’s got a parachute. You watch. He’ll land smack in the middle of the field, and Abigail will land right next to him.”
“Abigail’s the bird?” I asked.
“A marvelous bird,” said Grandpa. “A crane.”
“Why’s she so big?”
“Both of her parents were tall. They played in the national bird league for years. Won lots of trophies. Abigail and Postman deliver all our mail here, sun or sleet.”
“They fly to every house?”
“Yes, but they don’t land,” Grandpa said. “At every house, Abigail swoops low, and Postman pulls a packet of mail from his pouch and tosses the packet onto the front porch. He ties the packets with string so nothing slips away.”
“Then why is he going to jump?”
“Today’s a holiday,” replied Grandpa. “On holidays, Postman likes to parachute. It’s his second-favorite hobby.”
“Parachuting Day. It comes once a week.”
“What’s his first-favorite hobby?”
“Collecting eggs,” Grandpa answered. “Abigail lays her eggs all over the place, on roofs and bushes and roads. Postman gathers up the eggs and sends them to a hatchery to hatch into baby cranes. Postman taught me all I know about finding things.”
“Is that how you found the Holy Spirit?” I asked.
“No,” he said, “it’s how I hunt caterpillars with Jerrine. The Holy Spirit doesn’t hide.”
The crowds in the bleachers screamed louder. Way above them, Abigail rounded the soccer field and dipped sideways. Spreading his arms, Postman slid from Abigail’s back and tumbled toward the ground. Seconds later, a puffy sheet of yellow popped from his shoulders and sprang open, billowing in the wind. Postman, dangling from his parachute, floated down. His feet landed firmly on the grass. The people clapped.
Not far behind, Abigail flapped her sapphire wings. Gliding over the bleachers, she lowered her snowy body to the earth, two steps from Postman’s parachute. The people cheered.
Grandpa hooked his arm through mine and steered me to the center of the field. “Greetings, Postman. Excellent jump. You and Abigail do fine work. And I wish to ask a favor.”
Postman, stuffing his parachute into a bag, paused to look at us. “Absolutely,” he said.
Grandpa introduced me. “Nick is lost. Home is 473 Uppandown Lane, in Mallow Town. Can you help?”
“Let’s trade,” Postman said. He handed Grandpa his parachute bag. Grandpa handed him a shiny silver tin, which Postman tucked into his jacket pocket. “Climb on,” Postman said to me. He laced his fingers together to make a sling. I started to put my foot in the sling but changed my mind.
“Wait! I need one minute.” Sprinting to the edge of the soccer field, I ducked beneath the bleachers. I checked left and right, low and high. The Spirit of Jesus doesn’t hide, I reminded myself. But I just saw empty popcorn boxes.
Returning to Postman, I placed my foot in his laced fingers. He boosted me onto Abigail’s back, hopped up behind me, and whispered, “Hold on, Nick.”
Abigail spread her wings. She stretched her neck forward, tilted her wingtips, ran three strides, and launched. Quickly we rose above the bleachers, above the trees, above a flock of birds.
“Relax,” Postman said. “I won’t let you fall.”
My muscles loosened. I peered over Abigail’s side at the houses growing tinier beneath us. Ahead I saw forests and clearings and villages and beyond them the river. I heard no noise—not cars, not wind, just silence. I decided Abigail, Postman, and I must be the only people in the world.
“Our postman drives a truck and sticks our letters in the mailbox,” I said, my voice the only sound. “He never drops packets from the sky onto our front porch. I wish you delivered our mail.”
“Mallow Town’s not on my route,” Postman answered. “I’ve seen it in the distance though. Spotted a herd of zebras running through there once. How did you end up in Jerrine’s village?”
“I wanted to find the Holy Spirit,” I replied. “I’ve looked everywhere.”
“Sounds fairly simple to me,” Postman said.
“Jerrine thinks the Spirit’s a dove. Could it be a crane instead? Is Abigail the Spirit?”
“Abigail’s a creature, like us,” he answered. “Where did you look, Nick?”
So, I told Postman how Zebra and I had traveled and searched. I told him where we went and what we did and why Zebra stayed behind and how I met Jerrine. I told him everything. “But I never found the Holy Spirit. I guess Zachary was mistaken.”
Postman stroked Abigail’s sapphire wings. “Well, let’s ruminate,” he said.
“Think,” he replied. “Let’s think.”
Postman began. “The Holy Spirit helps you help other people, right?”
I remembered scooping ice-cold acorns off the forest floor for the scarecrow man.
“And,” he said, “the Holy Spirit helps you solve problems, yes?”
I remembered holding the ends of shoelaces while Zebra towed the golden chariot to the repair shop.
“Also,” Postman said, “the Spirit of Christ leads you to people who need you.”
I remembered the carnival manager with injured, bandaged hands.
“And shows you how to serve those people.”
The children loved the rides after I drew pictures of them laughing.
“And reminds you not to forget God.”
I rode so many rides I almost forgot to look for the Spirit.
“The Holy Spirit tells you when you’re doing wrong.”
I wanted to keep Zebra for myself.
“And teaches you to care about others more than yourself.”
Letting Zebra go free was hard, but he needed other zebras.
“And comforts you when you feel alone or sad.”
I missed Zebra, but then I found Jerrine.
“The Spirit helps you make decisions.”
Jerrine preferred the river. I preferred the road.
“And still be friends.”
I tried her way. She tried mine. We reached the village together.
“The only thing I can think of that you didn’t do” Postman said, “is pray. You’ll find the Spirit more easily if you invite it along.”
Abigail soared past the river and over more forests and towns. The rushing air felt cool on my face. I prayed. I asked the Holy Spirit to go with me.
“By the way,” said Postman, “Jerrine’s grandpa sent this for you. He thought you might want it during the flight.” From his jacket pocket Postman pulled a shiny silver tin. Taking the tin, I pried open the lid. Bugs—the tin held dozens of live, squiggling bugs.
“He sent me bugs?”
“What? Oh, sorry, my mistake. This is a snack for Abigail. I really should label this box.” Postman closed the tin, shoved it back into his pocket, and pulled out a different silver tin. “Try this one.”
I opened the new tin and found a slice of maple pie. I dug some out with my fingers. It was the best pie I’d ever tasted. I asked Postman a question. “Did the Holy Spirit give Grandpa the idea to send me pie?”
“I’m sure of it.”
“Does the Spirit help you find Abigail’s eggs?”
“I’m certain of that, too,” he replied.
“Did the Spirit tell you to fly me home?”
“Oh, yes, definitely.”
“Because you needed a ride,” he said.
Far below us, the forests ended and a town appeared. “Looks like Mallow Town,” said Postman. “Can you direct me to Uppandown Lane?”
“My neighborhood goes from the school to the pond. Uppandown Lane is in the middle. My house has green sides and a red roof.”
Right away Postman spotted it. Abigail curved left and angled slowly down. She eased past the ducks flying over the pond. Stretching her wings, she glided above the rooftops to my front yard, then settled softly down beside the porch.
“End of the line,” Postman said. He jumped to the ground and raised his arms to help me off.
“Thanks for bringing me home,” I told him. “I hope I see you again someday.”
“Thanks for reminding me to think about the Holy Spirit,” he replied. “Sometimes I forget, too. Maybe when your regular postman goes on vacation, I can deliver your mail.”
Postman climbed onto Abigail and waved at me. They rose into the air, higher and farther, till they seemed a sapphire speck. Then they disappeared.
Inside the house, Zachary stood at the kitchen sink chopping lettuce and singing dolphin songs. Tucker stood next to him with a wastebasket in her mouth. On the counter sat an open jar of peanut butter, a pitcher of limeade, and a can of cinnamon.
“Did you know,” Zachary asked, “that Jupiter tosses its rings around Mars to stay in shape?”
I sprinkled cinnamon onto a piece of lettuce, twirled it in peanut butter, and popped it in my mouth.
“Zachary, I found the Holy Spirit,” I said.
“I suspected you would,” he replied, pulling a jar of fig jam from the fridge. “Where’d you find it, Nick?”
“Everyplace,” I answered, “but I didn’t know it at the time. Everybody else knew except me. Postman helped me figure it out. I guess the Spirit told Postman how.”
“No question,” said Zachary.
“I brought you something, Zachary,” I said. Sliding the shiny silver tin from my backpack, I handed it to him. “Sorry about the finger holes. I ate two bites myself. It’s maple pie.”
Zachary lifted the lid, scooped a chunk of pie with his fingers, and swallowed it. “Delectable. The best ever.”
“I think the Holy Spirit gave me the idea of saving it for you,” I said.
“Without a doubt.”
I continued. “The Spirit has a lot of ideas. That’s why I asked it to go with me from now on.”
Zachary nodded. “Excellent plan.”
“The next idea,” I told him, “is to build a sign saying ‘Caution: Crane Crossing’ and plant it on the dirt road near the village, so people will watch out for Abigail’s eggs. Will you help me?”
Zachary licked the pie off his fingers. “Let’s go find some paint,” he said.
"The Hunt" © Suzanne Werkema