Family Night Phantoms!


Latter-day Saints are weird.

I mean that in a nice way. After all, my best friend and next-door neighbor, Ben Blanchard, is a Latter-day Saint, and he’s great. Ben has a wild sense of humor, is good at sports, and likes to build model cars and planes, just like me. The rest of his family’s pretty neat too. Mr. Blanchard is a whiz at repairing bikes and go-carts and other mechanical things. Mrs. Blanchard makes scrumptious pies and cakes. Becky’s OK, Joel’s not bad for a baby, and Tom, who’s just younger than Ben, is all right too.

So, they’re a nice family, just a little weird. Like on Mondays. Not long after we moved into the neighborhood, I went over to play at the Blanchard’s one Monday night after dinner.

“I can’t,” Ben said when he came to the door.

“Why not?” I asked.

“Oh, I’m doing stuff with my family,” he said.

“Like what?” I asked.

Ben shuffled a little and looked flustered. “Well, on Mondays we have family night. We sing, have a lesson, play games, and have a treat. It’s churchy.”

“Oh,” I said. “Every Monday?”

“Every Monday.”

I wouldn’t mind the games and treats, but I don’t sing, and a lesson sounds boring. Sometimes Ben tells me about the lessons. Once he went through the whole day at school being real polite and not cracking his usual jokes about the teachers.

“What’s wrong?” I asked as we got on the bus. “Are you sick?”

Ben looked put out. “We had a lesson last night about being kind and thoughtful and had to set goals for the week. I’m trying to be more considerate of my teachers.”

“Oh” was all I could say.

Soon I could tell when Ben had a family-night goal to be considerate, or to say thank you all the time, or to pick up litter, or to get to bed early, or to watch out for his younger brothers. He would act really strange for a week or two, then gradually slip back toward his old ways.

Sometimes the Blanchards went places on Monday nights. The next day I’d ask Ben where his family had gone, and he’d say to visit his aunt or to pick apples for Church welfare or to a widow’s house to weed her garden.

One Monday in November I was helping my dad change the oil in the car when the Blanchards drove off, then came back so quickly that I couldn’t figure out where they could have gone.

“Where’d you go last night?” I asked Ben the next morning.

He got a funny look on his face. “Oh, somewhere,” he answered.

I couldn’t believe it. Ben always told me where they went! “What is this, some kind of secret mission?”

Ben half-laughed, half-choked, “Sort of.” He looked behind him and then leaned toward me and whispered, “Becky made me promise not to tell anyone.”

I spent the next week trying to puzzle out what the Blanchards could have done that Becky wouldn’t want anyone to know about. Had they discovered gold or silver? Were they rehearsing a circus act? Or maybe they were plotting to take over the world!

The next Monday the Blanchards stayed home. I was outside with Dad again, helping him replace the porch light. We were nearly done when a car came up the street. I was instantly alert because we live on a dead-end street, and we hardly ever get strange cars on it. Even more mysterious, this car was creeping along at a snail’s pace. As soon as the car passed our driveway, its headlights blinked off. But the car kept on going and stopped just beyond the Blanchard’s house.

I nudged Dad. “Something fishy’s going on here,” I whispered.

We tiptoed to the hedge that divides our property from the Blanchards’ and watched. A figure got out of the car and crept up the driveway to the Blanchard’s porch. He—or she or it—placed something by their door, pressed the doorbell, and scooted down the driveway.

Dad squeezed through the hedge and grabbed the skulker’s jacket. “What are you doing?” he asked.

I squeezed through the hedge, too, and ran up to the door while Dad marched the boy—we could tell that much now—up the driveway behind me.

By the time Dad got to the door, Ben and the rest of his family were crowding around the door, wide-eyed.

“Do you know this boy?” Dad asked.

“It’s Frank Adams,” Mr. Blanchard told us.

Frank was absolutely crimson. He bent down and picked up a plate of cookies. On top of the cookies was a ghost shape cut out of paper. “I just left these,” he explained weakly.

The Blanchards all whooped with laughter. “He was phantoming us!”

“Huh?” Dad and I stared at each other.

“Can I go?” Frank looked desperately at Dad. “Mom’s in the car and probably thinks I’ve been kidnapped.”

Dad let go of Frank’s jacket. “Sorry. I was just trying to watch out for my neighbors,” he said, shaking his head as Frank rushed down the driveway.

I was dying of curiosity. “What was he doing?”

Becky sighed. “Different families in our ward—our church congregation—have been going around on Mondays and secretly leaving treats on other people’s door-steps. We say that the Family Night Phantom left them.”

Dad and I stared at each other again and raised our eyebrows.

“Better cookies than vandalism,” Dad finally said with a shrug.

“I bet that’s what you were doing last week. Right?” I asked Ben.

He nodded, embarrassed.

As Dad and I walked home, I thought again how weird Latter-day Saints were. Who else would leave cookies and stuff at people’s houses without being seen? Crazy!

The next Monday night our doorbell rang. Mom, Dad, and Tina were all watching TV, so I went to see who was there.

Nobody was there! At first I thought it was somebody’s idea of a dumb joke. Then I looked down. The Blanchards had phantomed us! They’d left a plate of brownies and a silly drawing of a ghost.

Nutty, right? Absolutely nutty. But I must say, the brownies were delicious. Maybe family night phantoms aren’t so weird after all.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Dick Brown