Category Archives: Afterlife

THE PROOF-OF-AFTERLIFE PLANT (My Excursion to the Other Side)

Iboga treePlants are analogous to the internet and hammers inasmuch as they can be used for good or evil. They can feed, they can cure, they can poison. And in at least one case, purportedly, they can pull back the curtain between the material and the spiritual worlds. We learn such a thing from a religion peculiar to a handful of tribes in western central Africa, particularly in Gabon. The religion is called Bwiti, and its practice involves a ceremony centered on the ingestion of a certain root bark. In Bwiti culture, male children as young as eight are inducted into manhood after embarking on something of a vision quest in which tribal shamans spoon-feed the initiates the root of the Tabernanthe Iboga tree. Tribal ceremonyTradition tells us this ceremony dates back centuries. Practitioners believe that the right amount of bark swallowed over a measured length of time will send the initiate to the world of the deceased, where he can speak not only to his ancestors, but sometimes to God. Iboga has been referred to as the proof-of-afterlife plant, and for some that appellation is more than hyperbole.

This ceremony is not generally open to outsiders, but the right amount of money can buy just about anything. Over the past few years, Westerners from several countries have visited the jungles of Africa to experience the Iboga ritual. Additionally, enterprising parties around the world have opened up Ibogaine clinics (Ibogaine being the alkaloid derived from the root bark) where the adventurous can go to seek out spiritual healing. Like its more well-known South American cousin Ayahuasca, Iboga is one of the so-called healing plants. One Iboga clinic may be overseen by a doctor, another may be staffed by a shaman who administers the dose and acts as a material Virgil to the customer’s Dante. It depends on what the client is looking for. The stories one finds on the internet about Ibogaine experiences fascinate.spirit guide At some point during the trip, the pilgrim invariably meets a spirit guide—an other-worldly rather than a material Virgil—who reveals the secret entities and motivations crouching in the shadows of a person’s psyche. The spirit guide, who takes different forms for different people, often answers the initiate’s questions along the way. In reading these accounts, you will frequently be warned that this is no pleasure cruise, that it’s not for the faint-hearted. Ibogaine forces one to face his weaknesses and his failures as a human being. It exposes his most hidden thoughts and behaviors. The point behind it all seems to be an epiphany that perhaps will set a person on the right track. It has been discovered that a certain percentage of Ibogaine adventurers are Afterlife 2offered the chance during the experience to leave their physical bodies permanently for apparently idyllic shores. The official count of eleven Ibogaine-associated deaths may have something to do with that offer, but, of course, we’ll never know. I can’t speak for others who have been inexorably drawn to the mystical properties of the root bark, but I can speak for myself.

The circumstances around my drift into the Iboga-fueled unknown are necessarily confidential, but I can spill the rest of it. The details are bizarre, and to some they will be unbelievable, which I can understand. I would say reserve judgment until you’ve tried it yourself, but I would also not recommend it to anybody. It is, just as they say, not for the faint of heart. Ibogaine came into my possession because it was meant to, and I took it when “King Iboga” wanted me to take it, or so I was informed, and I have a hard time believing otherwise. Dosage is everything. The Bwiti shamans make certain their subjects swallow a sufficient amount by asking questions and judging by the subjects’ answers whether more is needed. The larger the dose, the more intense the experience. Research and/or expert counseling is a must with Iboga.Afterlife 1

More than an hour had passed after swallowing the elixir (at approx. 7:00 PM) when I noticed what I call the ambient drone. This hum, or buzz, or whatever you might call itI’m sure it’s always there; we just don’t hear it in the sensible world. At least not under normal circumstances. It had been getting louder the whole time, but only now did it catch my attention. My vision began to grow distorted to where it became difficult to focus on any one object. At this point, a prevailing sense of uneasiness fast-forwarded into something more akin to fear. Something—no, someone would better describe the sensation—was now in control of whatever was about to happen to me. This someone had been expecting me. That’s how it felt. Soon I was getting a look into another aspect of physical existence, where every object contained living, moving patterns and bright colors. acid trip 1I plopped down on a mattress and let myself be consumed, not that I had a choice anymore. I studied the events going on around me, the constant movement, the sailing and assailing colors. I noticed that when my gaze shifted from the floor to the ceiling, an apparition of sorts moved from the ceiling to the floor, and vice versa. When my eyes moved right to left, the thing went left to right. This kept me occupied for some time, although it was only a handshake to let me know I was in the right place.

Just as the ambient drone had crept up on me, so too did the sound of my heartbeat. It was so loud and so fast I thought I’d overdone things. (It turns out that this sensitive awareness of your beating heart is normal.) I felt it pumping against my ribs. I repositioned myself, trying to make it go away, which worked, thank goodness, as it was scaring the hell out of me. As long as I lay a certain way, I was shielded from the pounding. I lost my motor skills to the degree that I couldn’t walk. I could barely pick anything up with my hands, my depth perception being so distorted. I eventually found comfort with my eyes closed, where in the darkness a veritable performance was underway in my honor. For about three hours I lay still watching images morph into other images, a cosmic parade of color and artistry. Acid trip 2It’s really impossible to describe it with any accuracy, but boredom was never an issue. And then, when I was distracted and not expecting it, an abrupt interruption halted the show.

Burning Hell

It was like: I’m here! No warning, no announcement of any kind. I knew right away without any inkling of doubt that I was in the presence of the one they called the spirit guide. So much had been going on that I’d forgotten about him. The presence in my case did have a maleness about it. I was never to have a sense of friend or foe regarding its (his) manner, just an air of: This is how it is. He was invisible to me, but I didn’t need to see him. Spirit guide 2His existence bore down on me. I immediately found myself in a dark room, and on one wall was a brightly-illuminated poster. It looked like the cover of the “Let It Be” album, but instead of seeing the faces of John, Paul, George, and Ringo, four different aspects of my face filled up the squares. And they were none too pretty. I was older and wrinkled. I studied the picture before looking away. When I looked back, it was still there. I don’t know how long I stood trapped in that room, but I eventually left and was taken up to fly over a timeline that covered the years of my life. I would descend randomly at a certain year, where I’d view a scene from my past, beginning with my childhood. None of the scenes were anything I’d remembered in real life, but when I saw them, everything came flooding back to me. I would rise up and descend again over another year and watch another episode. I couldn’tmurder victim tell that there was a point to the particular remembrances, more that the spirit guide was showing me what he was capable of. There was one, though, that was troubling. When I was eight, a friend of mine’s mother shot and killed his dad in the house next door. I must have blocked that recollection from my mind over the years, but now I remembered it all as if I’d never forgot it. And the murder motif would return before my journey was finished.

The Firmament

I later stood in utter blackness when a luminous arm stretched out in front of me. I could only see the arm and not the body attached to it. The sleeve of a white robe covered it, and in its hand was a burning yellow orb. The arm rolled this flaming sphere into the darkness like a bowling ball. It struck a mass of what looked like rock, which exploded into pieces. solar systemSome of those pieces went spinning until they too became spheres and began orbiting the fiery ball, which, I realized, was the sun. I was watching the planets form into our solar system. My attention was drawn to one particular planet, a planet that changed from gray to dark blue. I saw the white of waves on it. And then masses of land began to pop up in the water. Trees with green leaves sprang up on the land. In daylight, objects that I can only describe as organic white cylinders were dropped from the sky onto the Earth. One by one and rapidly, the cylinders opened up to show their empty interiors. Into the vacuous spaces went beating hearts, full circulatory systems, and all the organs—until skeletons encased the whole mess.Afterlife body The cylinders closed, and then sprouted limbs and heads. They moved forward, as if on a conveyor, to be clothed in some form of battle attire before they were sent off to fight. A voice posed the question: what is in their minds that they would create humans to kill each other? And then I saw the globe. From Europe, millions of warriors crossed the Atlantic to fight and conquer the inhabitants of North America. And then in the Middle East, warriors in black hoods rose up in their millions before spreading out to conquer Europe. The victors then crossed the Atlantic and started a war against the North Americans—the former Europeans—while I watched. Blood and limbs and organs were flung everywhere.

The whole scene vanished, though, and I was staring at something like an IMAX movie. A swan drifted about on the calm surface of a lake. Autumn leaves dropped gently into the water around it. swanThis was the opposite of what I’d just had to watch. A narrator said: They call it nature’s way. What do they mean—nature’s way? Is nature a mindless happenstance, an accident? Or is nature a living, sentient being? Does it impose its will?

The event that happened next was the most critical—and the most terrifying—of the whole experience. It answered any question I had as to the existence of an afterlife. All I had to do was think afterward about what had happened, what clue I’d been given, what I’d really learned. If you came across a muskrat skeleton in a trap on a river bank, you’d know without a doubt that a living muskrat had got caught and died there. What I was shown next said as much about the afterlife as a trap and skeleton does about a muskrat. At least in my opinion. It was just a matter of processing the information

Not for the first time I stood in a lightless room. Beginning just above floor level, about three feet by three feet, was a window into…somewhere. I didn’t know—a parallel universe, I supposed. The window’s top was roughly as high as my waist. windowAs one would feel the cold while passing by a freezer with an open door, I felt an emotion emanating into my space from the open window, an emotion that I had never felt. There was a frequency to it, some sort of vibration that engulfed my entire body; my ears clogged as if I were rapidly changing altitudes. The sensation was intolerable, and it caused me to step away from it. I was bothered that it seemed so horrible, and I was propelled back into it by the need to assure myself that I could take it if I had to. If I had to? I stepped toward the window again, and a magnetic power or a vacuum tried to pull me into it. I was sure that if I didn’t break away I’d be trapped in that other world, enduring this miserable feeling maybe forever. Some emotions are positive, some are negative, and negative emotions such as sadness can reach levels of severity that can make a person despondent or suicidal. Anger, greed, and envy can make a person kill. This emotion was beyond all that, something that could only exist in another world. Sometimes love-sickness or homesickness can be forms of torture. Again, this emotion was beyond that. I couldn’t bear the limitless, infinite dread that was consuming me like fire, and I wrenched away, retreating until I felt safe. Inside the window, flashes of lightning illuminated the scene every few seconds. lightning 1A man dressed in the clothing of the late 50s or early 60s, trench coat and fedora, stood behind a car of the same era with an eight or nine-year-old boy. He pulled out a knife and stabbed the child in the stomach. In the next flash of lightning, one man shot another in the front yard of an old house. Every time the lightning flashed, I saw a murder. And the words “Murder Street” appeared in the window at one point. One more time I tried to endure that infernal feeling—again, I had to know that I could—and one more time a force locked onto me when I got too close, drawing me in. Over the following days I wondered why I was being shown such a scene, and more importantly, made to experience such an emotion. Was this the fate of those who took the lives of others? scary houseWas it murderers’ hell? Then why would I need to know about it? Taking a life is not in my nature. I am bothered by it as I write.

The spirit-guide portion of the journey lasted three or four hours, during which I was shown things about myself that were disturbing, including the existence of cancer. Communication was managed through imagery, telepathy, and narration both written and spoken. When he—the spirit guide—was finished with me, he told me so. I hurriedly asked a question: What can I do? I then saw a beating heart as if looking through a chest.My heart I soon grasped that it was my chest and my heart. It pumped harder and harder, until it exploded. Bloody pieces splattered against the lens through which I watched. And with that, the guide was gone as quickly as he’d appeared, and his cryptic message of exploding hearts was lost on me.

But the journey was far from over. The time was somewhere around three in the morning, and the visual production was as intense as ever. I lay shaking, trying to sort it all out. I didn’t know whether my eyes had been open or closed throughout the previous hours. It seemed as if they’d been open, and that I’d existed in two worlds at once. The corollaries of lucidity had remained in place throughout the night: I knew who and where I was, and I knew exactly what I was doing the whole time. Yet, I had been in another dimension, as if I’d left my body. Now, as I lay there, I was seeing events every time I closed my eyes. Usually in black and white. I saw the boots of marching soldiers ticking across a gridiron in perfect time. I blinked into another scene, where factory machinery was stamping out product—in perfect time.clockwork I blinked again, and I watched children on a playground, jump ropes striking the surface at their feet as if keeping time. With each blink, a new scene presented itself: traffic stopping and going in time, train wheels turning, drums beating, engines cranking, synapses firing, hearts thumping, everything in time. I was being shown a world that carried on in a particular rhythm, as if being managed accordingly. This went on until the sky was light outside, when the visions began to change.

I could now see through walls, at least in my mind. No matter what went on inside of an apartment building, I could watch it all. In residential neighborhoods, in industrial parks, in office buildings, drama unfolded before me. I rose up above the city and peered into the lives below. I felt I was being shown that some entity was capable of doing exactly this. I was glimpsing what that entity saw. Nothing was hidden. Maybe the implication was that cameras are everywhere, maybe I was being told something else. cameraThis too went on for a considerable length of time, and I realized I was in an uncomfortable place. When I could see the private lives of people—or read their minds—things were not at all too happy. We behave one way in public and another in private, and while we may think we would give in to our voyeuristic tendencies if such powers were given us, we would be punishing ourselves in doing so. There is no pleasure in it. I was being shown two different existences in the same material world. When the private world was exposed, I felt my will to live melt away. Privacy, I seemed to be learning for reasons I can’t yet conceive, is crucial for a society’s survival.

There is much that I understood in what I was shown and much that I’ll probably never decipher. While the experience was harrowing overall, the following day and night were actually pleasant, as if I was being rewarded for all I’d endured. I did not eat, drink, or sleep for two days, but I had no need to. I was as comfortable physically as I’d ever been. My motor skills returned by the first morning.

More than anything else I’ve experienced in life, my introduction to an emotion not included in the emotion spectrum associated with physical existence leaves me convinced of a spiritual realm. I have since reasoned that this emotion must exist in our universe or I could not have felt it then or any other time. One cannot dream up an emotion that isn’t real. And with this revelation I came away satisfied that there has to be another plane—an afterlife. I should also mention the colors; they were unlike anything one sees on this side. They behaved as if they were vibrant, as if they bore the germ of life within. They shone with a brightness that defies description, so here I’ll give up describing them. psychedelic

Iboga journeys (trips is way too mundane here), like Native American vision quests, are unique to the individual. There are similarities that tie them together, however, depending on the dosage, such as the spirit guide. Some who have taken this journey have come away happier or healed of their malady, some have quietly packed up and disappeared. As for me, it’s a mixed bag. Again, I wouldn’t recommend it. Chances are, though, you know something now you didn’t know yesterday, and that’s what I’m here for.                                        

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THERE IS NO GOD

The evidence is in and the debate is over. The Science Channel and physicist Stephen Hawking have laid out proof in one hour of cable programming that there can be no God. Here is how the story goes:

The universe is expanding. As far as I’m aware, everyone agrees with that. I’ve heard no competing theories or offers of evidence to the contrary. So, if the universe is indeed expanding, then we must trace it all back in time—some 14 billion years—to when the expanding began. Just as the universe is infinitely huge today, it was infinitesimally tiny back then—sub-atomic, in fact. We continue to contract, back and back in time, tinier and tinier. Now, keep in mind Einstein calculated that time and space are of one fabric; they are not separate and independent of each other. When the totality of energy and matter was sub-atomic, so was that of time and space. We are told science has proved that the laws of physics do not apply at the sub-atomic level. We are told that energy and matter actually do appear out of nothingness when we explore the nano-world. Before the Big Bang, when all hell broke loose and the universe blew into existence from nothingness, time and space did not exist. Therefore, God (perhaps we can use the little g now) had no time to create anything. WHAM! At the end of the programming hour, the narrator hits us upside the head with this apparent fact. Stephen Hawking adds that he certainly doesn’t wish to offend religious sensibilities, but that we each have one shot at life and that’s it. It’s over when it’s over. It has taken mankind until the 21st century after the birth of Christ to figure it out, but the uncaused first cause has been uncovered. 

If this is true, then I have to wonder if I will lose my incentive. What’s the point? When a loved one dies, most of us are buoyed by the belief, or at least the hope, that we will meet again. If we remove a creator from the picture, it seems that we remove heaven, and we take away any possibility that things will be made right. If we have proved that this life is all there is—that there were no past lives to call our own and that there will be no more shots at doing it better someday, and that there will be no eternity spent in a state of rapture with the spirits of people we know and love—then what difference would it ultimately make if we were Hitler or Stalin or Mother Theresa? Also, when we ponder our own insignificance in the universe, the idea of God being aware of us as individuals is comforting.

Then again, most religions tell us that a preponderance of souls will spend the afterlife burning alive. If we don’t behave in a perfect manner—essentially in ways that are anything but natural to us—we are doomed to unfathomable, and often endless, torment. If there is no creator, then we can breathe a sigh of relief that there will be no more pain. No more sleepless nights of internal grappling over angry or sexual thoughts that are consequential to our humanly existence.

These are all things we think about when contemplating the absence of a supreme, omnipotent being. Atheists have already accepted that what we see is what we get, and they seem to get along all right. If humanity has proved there is no God, then the other 90% of us can learn from the Atheists. We can learn how to remain motivated to live our lives as fully as possible. We can learn why we should be good people and listen to our consciences rather than trouncing on our fellow humans to get our way. Maybe consciences themselves are programmed into us with the recently-discovered God gene as a tool for perpetuating our existence as a species.

But it seems to me that Stephen Hawking is missing something—or dismissing something. Has he proved that there can be no alternate planes of existence?—dimensions, such as at the sub-atomic level, where our known laws of physics do not apply? Is it not a leap of faith to believe that energy and matter can and do appear out of nothing? Is it not possible that this so-called nothingness is really another dimension that remains undetectable by scientific instrumentation and calculation? At the level where neutrinos gambol about, why is it more likely that matter forms out of nothing than it is that portals exist between our material plane and another, unseen realm? Why is it more likely that matter and energy form from nothing than it is that they enter our world through one of these thresholds?

Friends and family have confided in me stories that point to just such a possibility—stories of being clinically dead and traveling to alternate realms, of leaving the body or being visited, even harassed, by other-worldly entities, ghosts, I mean. Spirits of deceased family members have come to convey that things would be all right. I’ve lost count of such confidences. The inexplicable bombards our earthly existence now as it has for ages. I could shrug these things off and assign them to over-active imaginations had I not had such experiences myself. As far as God and Heaven and the Devil and Hell, I don’t know, but I’m ever convinced something else is out there. 

And now scientists themselves have admitted to a belief in the invisible—or what some might call faith. It is pure faith on the part of science to conclude that infinity is formed from zero. The Science Channel motto is “Question everything.” And so we should. I’ve seen more evidence of a spiritual plane than I have that nothingness creates. It has been said that every atom passes through all possible histories, or, in other words: Alexander the Great died at birth and the Moors defeated Charles Martel while your uncle watched from an oak tree. Every alternate history has transpired and will continue to do so. This could be true, as could reincarnation, as could one parallel universe, as could a multi-verse, as could string theory and the theory that the Big Bang was really a Big Collision that happens over and over. It seems to me there is a greater chance that any of these are true than that nothingness produces something.

Something comes from nothing. Another way of saying that would be, “We have no idea where matter and energy and time and space originate, but we’re too tired to go any farther.”

OUTRIDERS AND PREMONITIONS

Throughout the year of 1811, even while a massive earthquake was making the Mississippi River run backwards, the inhabitants of Europe and Russia could step out of their homes at night to see a comet illuminating the heavens. To peasants, gentry, and aristocracy alike, the comet was an omen. Something extraordinary was in the works, the population was largely convinced–an event of historic gravity. Some witnesses recorded feelings of absolute terror, many refusing even to look up again until the thing was gone. Not everyone was as superstitious as to tremble at a natural occurrence; but those who were so disposed, as it would turn out, were justified in their anxieties, whether the epic events to come were attributable to coincidence or not.

In that same year, Napoleon Bonaparte’s valet, Constant, awoke one night to the sound of screams emanating from his master’s adjacent bedchamber. The valet found the Conqueror of Europe tossing in his bed, babbling unintelligibly, his sheets on the floor. After shaking the sweat-drenched Napoleon awake, Constant learned his boss had been dreaming that a bear was tearing his heart out. Napoleon brought that dream up in conversation several times over the ensuing months, attempting to decode its meaning as it might pertain to his present circumstances. The very fact that he thought a dream was in need of decoding suggests at least to a degree that he was assigning it supernatural properties.

At around three in the morning on the 23rd of June, 1812, Napoleon was galloping along the left bank of the Niemen River, reconnoitering the opposite shore. In his company was the largest army ever assembled in European history, poised to cross the river into Russian territory. As the emperor rode through the darkness, a hare jumped out of the weeds and through the legs of his horse, which shied and threw its rider. Witnessing this event were Napoleon’s two most trusted aides, Generals Berthier and Calaincourt. The former commented to the latter that the ancient Romans would have understood this as the bad omen it was, and refused to cross the river. Calaincourt wrote that at any other time Napoleon would have cursed and blamed the horse, the hare, and Calaincourt, but that this time he scrambled back onto his mount and acted like nothing had happened. Calaincourt went on to observe that his boss seemed uncharacteristically pensive and uneasy after the tumble, as if he likewise took it all as a sign of pending doom.

Six months from that moment, this imperial force of some 500,000 men was no more. Twenty-thousand humans at best, half-insane, more than half-frostbitten, beaten, bloody, bruised and starving, would drag themselves back across that river with whatever clothing and limbs remained on their bodies. In the wake of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia was a type of devastation theretofore unfamiliar to historians. Countless villages had been removed from the maps, and hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children lay dead. More still were homeless or crippled.

Eye witness accounts of the invasion and exodus are replete with examples of spot-on prophecies of individual mortality. Under such circumstances, the accurate prognostication of one’s own death connotes no great feat of magic. However, many individuals involved handed over their personal belongings to comrades with great urgency, with assurances that they would not see another tomorrow and pleas that the trustee deliver those trinkets to a mother or sister. Geographical features, particularly rivers, were commonly cited as places presumably-doomed persons were sure they would never reach. We have no way of knowing how often such divinations were wrong, but journal-recordings of those that were correct are numerous.

All this puts me in mind of a similar episode in my own pages, when a friend wanted to show me where his burial plot was situated. At the time, I had more pressing concerns and I told him so. I said I’d go another day. But he was insistent. He wanted me to go with him right now. I couldn’t understand what the hurry was, but I relented and went along to look at his future gravesite. He was dead a few days later, suddenly, unexpectedly.

I cover these occurrences of presentiment in “Beyond the Berezina,” because they were a part of the true story. And because they spark interest in all but the most devoutly atheistic among us. None of the above proves anything, true, but it doesn’t hurt, either. I have had several déjà vu experiences over the years, and like most people familiar with the phenomenon, I had no idea what caused that bizarre feeling of having been through it all before. That is until I had a certain dream that I continued to remember long after the fact. One day the scene I remembered from that dream happened—it played out in real life just as if I were watching a film for the second time. And accompanying my repeat viewing was that cool déjà vu sensation. So, while I don’t know how I’ve already seen something, I know that I have. I pretty much feel like I was let in on a little secret with that one.

Again, I can’t prove anything—not about déjà vu, not about accurate premonitions. But neither can science prove anything in those areas, and science has made some desperate attempts at accounting for déjà vu. One thing is certain, though: those feelings—those forebodings—exist, and they have to come from somewhere. The nature of that source, unfortunately, is something we’ll never know. Never being relative, of course, to our material existence.

MY GHOST STORY

For the past fifteen years I’ve been taping a certain radio show on Halloween night. People call in from all over North America to tell the world about their ghostly encounters, and I’ll generally listen to the recordings the next day. For whatever reason, the stories intrigue me. People with highly creative minds write these imaginative tales and then line up to give a stunning performance on the air waves. Except I don’t really believe that’s what’s going on. For the most part, the narrators, I am sure, are being honest. Whether the story is true or not, they at least believe what they’re saying. And now, the count of celebrities who have outed themselves on Biography Channel’s “Celebrity Ghost Stories” is around two-hundred.

At some point, an observer has to ask himself just what he believes. Could it be that all these famous faces are part of a big conspiracy to put one over on the public, in whose good graces they need to be for their careers? Anything’s possible, but I can’t see any real benefit in doing that. Money? I doubt the Biography Channel could afford to pay these people enough to get them on board of a lie and still turn a profit. These celebrities, too, are taking a risk that pouring their hearts out will come back to haunt them, so to speak. Are they all being square with us? No. I think Marilyn Manson for one was lying through his teeth about his brush with the supernatural–and I’m a fan–but I believe Alice Cooper was sincere, even though a scary story fits ever-so-conveniently with his onstage persona. Brett Michaels and Vince Neil are two more rockers I think were honest in portraying it as they saw it. I don’t see a man–Neil in this instance–stooping so low as to use the death of his little girl as part of a prank. That’d be beyond the sociopathic.

So, are there ghosts? I don’t know. I’ve never seen any kind of apparition. I’ve never seen objects move, drawers open, doors slam, or any such thing. That said, an incident happened when I was about sixteen that I can’t imagine forgetting, an event that would suggest maybe there is something to the existence of a spiritual realm. In any event, it defies reasonable explanation as far as I can lay it out.

It took place at an abandoned house off a gravel road out in the country, where my friends and I had hid before from the law while swilling beer. We would park our rides behind the two-story building and hang out for an hour or two on a weekend night, usually in early spring before the weeds grew too thick. Here we were free to crank up the car stereo as loudly as we liked; no residences were in earshot of our little night haven. The few times we had gathered outside of that house, though, we had not discussed entering it. Of course it would only be a matter of time until a lull in the conversation inspired one of us to throw out the dare.

The house had been built long before the advent of rural electrification, and the last person to live there—an old doctor, I later learned—had refused to modernize when he had the choice. On this particular night the group of us (we were five in number) crept up the porch steps, across the threshold, and into the ancient living room. The scent of decaying newspaper, plaster, and wood pounced on us immediately. The beams of our two flashlights lighted up black, cylindrical ductwork from an era when central heating almost always involved cordwood. Tattered and yellowed paper and crumbling adhesive covered the walls. The floor planks, bare and loose, creaked under our shifting weight. We found no inside toilet, and drew the collective conclusion that the outhouse must have disintegrated many years ago. The empty lower floor gave us nothing much to see, which left the upper story for exploration. That’s where we really wanted to go anyway.

The steps ascended to a hallway that accessed the T-shaped structure’s three bedrooms—east, west, and north. We split up into two groups to avoid crowding. The bedrooms, to our disappointment, were as bankrupt of interesting objects as the rooms below. More empty space, more piles of broken plaster and shreds of wallpaper. The windows were latched as they had probably been for a decade or more. After checking the bedroom closets and coming up empty, we decided to make a beer run.

The methods we used to acquire alcohol at sixteen and seventeen years of age usually involved bribing a store clerk. Suffice to say we were stocked up and back at our drinking grounds fairly quickly, no more than thirty minutes later. I suppose it was out of boredom that we decided to drink our beer sitting on the floor of one of the bedrooms. Again we entered the house and climbed the stairs single file. The lead man and the rear guard held the flashlights as I tripped along, as I recall it, in one of the middle positions. We chose the west room for our party, it having the best view out of the three. We stumbled into the hall, turned left behind the man up front, and watched the light land on a closed bedroom door. One of us had apparently shut it on the way out, and nothing about that was remarkable until the alpha of the moment turned the ivory-white knob and pushed. The knob turned freely but the door didn’t budge. “What the…hey! This thing’s been nailed shut.” As those words sank in, the speaker pushed harder and added, “From the inside.” The guy behind me reached over to the middle door and, turning the knob, could not open it. At the same time, the man in back was pushing on the east door. “They’re all like that,” he said. By then the gravity of it hit us, and we bolted. The scene reminded me of the Three Stooges trying to get through a doorway together. We pushed and shoved and squeezed down the stairs and out of the house. Without any kind of discussion, the bunch of us beat a retreat into the car just in time not to get left behind by the driver.

The atmosphere inside the vehicle was all silence and pregnant with the teenage version of “Let us never speak of this.” I can only account for myself, and I was running the incident through my mind, trying to decipher how it all could have happened. I’m sure everyone else was doing the same thing. I saw those knobs turn far enough to withdraw the latch. I saw shoulders trying to force the doors open. Whether or not the assessment that the doors had been nailed shut was accurate or not, I didn’t know. Neither did I recall if those doors had exterior keyholes; don’t think so. At the very least, someone had been watching us from one of the empty fields that surrounded the property—someone sitting in the dirt late on a chilly night with a key to the interior doors of a house that had been vacant for years. That person apparently had no key to the front door, though. Or maybe someone with a turn-of-the-century room key happened to drive by in that half-hour span and decided to run in and lock the empty upper-story rooms but not the house.

All these years have passed and I still don’t know what to think about that. Nor do I know what to think about dozens of celebrities lining up to tell their stories of other-worldly visitations. It occurs to me that of the five of us bailing from that house that night, I’m now the only one who doesn’t know what’s on the other side. I guess we learn the answers soon enough.