Friday, October 11, 2013


It started when I was 13. I was lying in bed starting to drift off to sleep when I felt a tickle in my right hand. I scratched at it absently but it didn't go away, so I looked down thinking a bug was crawling on me. I turned on the light and shook out my blanket and sheets but they seemed to be clean. I scratched at the spot for a little while before I realized that whatever was bothering me didn't seem to be on my skin, but in it. Like an ant was squirming around inside a blood vessel.

Over the next few weeks the irritation got worse. More and more “ants” seemed to be moving into my hand. I had a hard time concentrating in school (or anywhere) and my handwriting started to deteriorate, kind of like that scene in Awakenings when the boy is scratching his name on a bench and his writing just sort of trails off in a squiggly line.

Eventually I told my parents about it and they brought me to the doctor. He thought it might be a circulation problem or something like restless leg syndrome and gave me a prescription, but it just kept getting worse. More and more of my hand had ants crawling inside it and my ability to use it steadily decreased. We went to a lot of doctors and my dad gave me blessings saying I'd be healed. But nothing seemed to help.

Things really came down one day in church. I lived in a ward with very few young men, so I was passing the sacrament even though I was a teacher. I was holding out the sacrament tray for a girl to take when my hand seized up. It just clamped down around the handle. The girl tried to take the tray but my hand wouldn't let go. She looked up at me confused and tugged a few times. Then she got annoyed and shot me a dirty look, which just about killed me because I had a crush on her.

The whole thing was really awful. After her dad tried to take the tray, I ended up just walking out of the chapel and crying in the sacrament preparation room. My hand started loosening after I dumped the bread into the garbage. From then on, I made sure to only use my left hand to hold the sacrament tray even though the ward’s policy was for us to use our right hand.

There's not a lot to say about the next few years except that my hand continued to get worse, baffling the doctors. The ants crept slowly up my hand and into my wrist and then up my arm. I became kind of a freak with my spastic arm. Girls wouldn't go with me to dances; in gym they called me "the claw." I ended up having to get an arm brace so that I wouldn’t end up accidentally hitting myself or someone else. (You can imagine the flack I caught over that.)

I ended up just barely graduating from high school and getting a job at the local animal shelter where I took care of paperwork. I felt pretty sorry for myself, figuring I was just one more unwanted animal. And the ants just kept inching their way up my arm. Sometimes I would worry about what might happen if they got to my heart.

One day, we got a dog in who had parvo. She was vomiting this bright green goo and would just lie on the floor breathing really quickly. The vet said we had to euthanize her quick so that she didn't infect the other animals. He got everything ready, but the dog was too sick to walk. The vet was an old guy so he asked me to carry her in. 

When I crouched to pick her up, she was limp. But as I took her into my arms, I felt a kind of electric shock that made my right burn and spasm. At the same time, the dog started to writhe and groan. By the time I was on my feet, the dog was struggling hard against my arms and snapping at my face, so I dropped her. She landed on her side with a yelp, scrambled to her feet, and went absolutely crazy.
She crashed into cages, biting at them and trying to get at the animals inside. She jumped at me but was so frenzied that she missed, slamming into the cages behind me.

The vet and I ran out, locked the door behind us, and watched through the window as the dog basically bludgeoned herself to death against the walls and cages. We didn't go in for about half an hour after her final shudder, afraid she might get back up. We just watched her lie on the blood-smeared floor while all the animals yowled.

When things had calmed down a little, I had an amazing realization: my arm seemed to be healed. I could feel it the way I hadn’t been able to in years. I rotated it and flexed my hand a few times before taking off the brace. I'm not afraid to admit that I cried a little when I picked a pencil up off the desk.
Soon I had enrolled in the local community college planning to get good grades and head to the state university. And I did great for a while. I even met a girl that I started falling in love with. I had never been so happy in my life.

But then one day I felt a familiar itch beneath my skin, which absolutely devastated me. I had worked so hard to get my life going again, and this disease, or infestation, or whatever it was, had come back.
I spent a long time going over the day I had been healed, wondering if I could replicate it. On a whim, I dropped by the animal shelter, looked inside, and saw that the attendant was new and therefore wouldn’t know me. So I walked in and told her I was looking for a bosom pal. She led me over to the cages and helped me get this black terrier mutt out of its cage. As I touched the animal, I realized that I was putting both me and the attendant in danger and braced myself. But nothing happened. I gave the dog a vigorous head massage. He loved it. No frenzy. No horrific death. So I tried other dogs and even a few cats, but nothing came of it except some guilt on my part as I slunk out of the shelter without a pet.
My concentration plummeted as my hand became useless. I avoided my girlfriend for fear she would be repulsed by me. I became depressed and almost suicidal.

Then one night, I realized that there was one thing that had made that first dog different; its body had been very close to death. A new plan started coming together in my head, and the next day I walked out of the shelter with a dog.

I really don't want to tell you what I did to prepare that poor animal or how it died. I went home and vomited from disgust and shame. But my right hand was mine again.

It's been about ten years since that day. I have a wife, children, a job, and I teach in Young Men. Every six months or so, a stray or a shelter animal winds up in my trunk and I carry out my cleansing (that’s what I call it). I always thank the animal first and give it a nice meal, but it doesn’t help my conscience any. I consider myself to be pretty vile, destroying so many animal lives to maintain my own. I often wonder how this is affecting my soul. As you can probably imagine, I haven’t talked about this with my bishop—or anyone else. It’s just too bizarre, and I’d probably get thrown in jail. Thanks for helping me get this off my chest.


At first, I wasn't sure that Jared’s story should be on the blog since it didn’t really seem to have a ghostly component that jived with Mormon theology. But a little while ago, I was preparing a Sunday School lesson and read the account of Jesus casting a collection of evil spirits that called themselves Legion out of a wild man and into a nearby herd of pigs that promptly threw themselves into the water and drowned. It seemed like a situation very similar to Jared’s.

The Bible story doesn't say how the wild man had come to be possessed by all those spirits, and I’m unaware of anything the Mormon Church has said about the how possession occurs. If any readers have some sources, I’d love to see them. 

The wild man in the New Testament had very little control over his body and was constantly beating and cutting himself, which sounds similar to Jared’s situation. It almost seems like there is some kind of fissure in Jared’s soul (soul meaning the combination of his spirit and body) that allows spirits to find their way in. Whether they are evil spirits (cast out of heaven in the pre-mortal life), or perhaps just wandering intelligences, is up for debate. In any case, they brought a chaotic element into Jared’s body and slowly “possessed” him.

Jared mentions that his father had given him healing blessings before that seemed to fail. Perhaps the blessings simply needed the last element to become efficacious: the dying animal. I can certainly understand why Jared feels bad about using the deaths of animals to heal himself, but it is true that Jesus did much the same thing, destroying the lives of many pigs to cleanse a possessed man. Whether this would assuage Jared’s conscience, I don’t know. 

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