My encounters with ghosts have been few, questionable, and often absurd. The ghost that lived at my apartment on Marmalade Hill in Salt Lake City would turn the oven on when I was away, so I would return to a terribly hot house and would have to open the doors and windows-even in the winter-to restore a suitable temperature. I recall that one night the ghost repeatedly relocated a small nail from the top of the refrigerator to the top of my bedspread. I would no sooner return to my bedroom from the kitchen than I would spot that damn nail right back in the center of the bed. Fists on hips, and a harrumph from my lips I would march over to that nail and put it back on the fridge. This continued until the unseen presence got tired of that game.

These are the sorts of events that present doubts after they've passed. One can easily surmise that I left the oven on myself or that I imagined the nail episode after imbibing one too many gin and tonics. After all, stranger things have happened after I have consumed a few too many sips of gin-ask me about the time I returned from The Green Parrot Pub with the heels missing from not one, but both of my loafers.

I was somewhat prepared for these incidents by an earlier encounter with an otherworldly presence that caused me to question their ghastly motives. Some years ago while serving as a Mormon missionary in the small fishing village of Pichilemu on Chile's central coast, I visited a local drugstore to purchase such minor necessaries as a tube of toothpaste and a coil of mosquito repellent incense. The clerk at that establishment placed these items in a small, semi-opaque, blue plastic bag. (I can see it as though it here dangling from my fingers!) My companion and I returned to the house where we rented a room. The place was filled with pictures of green-faced smirking saints; pitchers of dead baby birds floating in mysterious solution; and a crazy, cackling housemaid named Juanita, who on a nightly basis would turn her chair to face a wall and talk to it for hours on end. This was the mise en scène for that evening's startling event.

My companion was on his knees praying, and I was sitting at the edge of my bed-my prayers were always lots shorter than his long-winded orisons. Bored and listless, I stared at my shoes and waited for him to finish when I heard a strange noise emanating from the dressing table in the corner of the room. It sounded like the rustling of very thin paper, and when I looked to the source of this eerie sound, I beheld my blue plastic bag of toiletries writhing and squirming as though possessed of an unearthly force keen on wriggling! My eyes widened, my jaw slackened, my fingernails created little crescent-shaped impressions on the palms of my trembling hands. "What next" I wondered? As though in answer to my frightful query, the bag began to deflate and conform itself tightly around the items that rested within.

Soon, the bag had twisted itself around all the objects and the rustling stopped. I tip toed to my dressing table and pondered the plastic bound lump. My companion prayed silently through the entire ordeal.

Soon, the bag had twisted itself around all the objects and the rustling stopped. I tip toed to my dressing table and pondered the plastic bound lump. My companion prayed silently through the entire ordeal.

I asked myself "What was that about?" And whenever I recollect that evening, I inevitably ask the same question. Other missionaries who had stayed in that very room had awakened to loud thumping noises coming from within an enormous wooden wardrobe that no one could never wrest open, to bursts of electrical energy in the different corners of the room, to rattling locks, heavy footsteps, and any number of other legitimately spooky instances. I, on the other hand, encountered a possessed piece of plastic.

These and subsequent events have convinced me of a couple of things: 1) do not overestimate ghosts' ability to frighten nor underestimate their penchant for the ridiculous, and 2) it is comforting to know that sometimes the mysterious forces that lurk among us can come up with nothing more impressive than moving a nail around your house or making your plastic bags shimmy. In fact, such activities make ghosts seem like the sorts of folks you might even want to get goofy with over gin and tonics.

From Vol. 23
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