We had turned out all the lights. The nearly-full moon shone through the windows along the back wall, and once our eyes adjusted, we could make out each other’s silhouettes against the silver shimmer. We had tried, unsuccessfully, to get the child spirits to play with us. The hosts had said that the little girl might climb into your lap or pull the ball (conspicuously placed on the couch) out of your hand. Someone was taking flash photos outside, creating an eerie lightning effect. We hunkered into our jackets, the cold of the basement sinking deeper in our bones with each minute. This was where all the activity was to be. The basement was the hot-ticket item of this location.
Todd, our experienced hunter and the one with all the equipment, giggled. Melissa called out to the spirits to go toward the light on her EMF. Todd giggled again.
“Last time I spent this much time in the dark with this many women, there was a spinning bottle involved…”
I laughed from deep in my belly, the tension broken…
This was it. My first ghost hunt. Never again would I have a first ghost hunt. I had connected with the Association of Paranormal Study back in September, walking into an education tent on a lark at an outdoor festival. I was immediately impressed by their leader, Alex Matsuo, who personifies my favorite blend of true open-mindedness with a healthy dose of skepticism. She professes her mission to be to debunk the shysters but also find solid proof of paranormal experiences. She put me in the mind of Houdini in the day, and she earned my respect.
So here I stood, in the driveway of a gorgeous, stately building outside of Statesville NC, with some of my besties, Alison and Helen. Alison is a medium, so I knew I could never ghost hunt without her. Alex and the home’s owner, Tim, provided a brief introduction, while Alex’s medium toured the structure alone. This is said to be home to 70 ghosts and considered the most “active” site in North Carolina. The property had been a hospital, a supper club (read, Speakeasy), a detox facility, and a nursing home in its relatively short lifetime.
From the parking area, a walkway led roughly downhill, through a heavily landscaped entry area, and into a shady and welcoming garden near the building itself. The minute I’d stepped out of the car, I’d felt a presence down by the house and snapped an iPhone pic of the garden. My inner debate started immediately -- was it a presence, or just my anticipation? The feeling left me quickly enough, and I wandered a bit. You will not be the least bit surprised to hear I found the colony of feral cats taking residence in the greenhouse and snapped some pix.
Alison approached me and leaned in to whisper -- “There’s something here.” She gestured with her chin to the field behind the greenhouse. “It’s curious but guarded. It’s hanging back.”
Some people attend ghost hunts to gather evidence of the paranormal, and they come with cameras and recorders and all sorts of electrical detection devices in hopes of getting sounds, voices, and images documented. Alison, Helen, and I agreed on the way to the location that we were really only interested in our personal experiences. We were not trying to gather evidence or electronically document our experience.
Several of our group -- we were 17, including Alex -- were unloading equipment and making plans to set up. We created three teams and set location plans -- my team upstairs, a team in the basement, and one outside. We would later switch so everyone got to experience all three locations. In a couple weeks, we will gather to review the electronic records and consider the evidence.
During the tour of the house, Doug, one of the owners, told us that the house appears to attract ghosts, since some of the spirits who linger have no history with the house itself. He cited a car accident a few miles away and said the driver now haunts this these grounds. Alex’s medium caught up with the group and said she got the impression of a child in the upper front room, noting that the wardrobe there had particular energy. Doug confirmed -- Emily was a child who came with the wardrobe that was given to them by a friend. She was known to hide in it and open the door when she wanted to play.
During the tour I became aware of someone watching us from the end of the hallway. I realized, as I tuned in, that the presence felt like it was outside, or at least in the window itself. The sense I got was curiosity, but mild. Like, “oh let’s see what the people are doing now.” When I moved closer to the window, it dissipated. I looked hard out into the evening light, hoping to catch a movement, a shadow, some visual confirmation. But nada.
I moved close to Alison. “Your friend from outside is watching us,” I said. “And you’re right -- guarded. Moved off as soon as I got close.” In that moment, I got goosebumps all over and felt a shiver down my core. “Oooh,” I laughed to Alison. “I’m getting tingly all over!” I made jazz hands to demonstrate as I moved back to the larger group, now heading to the basement.
The basement is set up for a party, with several tables in a row, chairs all around. Doug made reference to Halloween and Christmas events, with meals served during ghost stories. He pointed to the marks on the floors where walls had been and described the earlier lay-out of the home.
Then it was time to get settled in our assigned spots, and my group headed upstairs. Melissa, one of the APS Meet-Up members and assigned to our group, set up recording equipment in the center hallway. Todd had already set his equipment in the basement, hoping to record activity in the most promising area. I checked each upstairs room briefly, spotted the wardrobe, door closed, that had been the focus of discussion earlier. I avoided the room where Doug said the mental patient had been locked in, and chose instead the room of the married couple. It was not known to have a lot of activity, but I was ok with that. I am actually not very sensitive to these things and not likely to draw their energies toward me. I assumed Alison would feel whoever was up here.
But Alison couldn’t settle. I heard her pacing the rooms, stepping as quietly as possible on the old wooden floors. “It’s playing with me,” she said. “It calls me into a room, but as soon as I go there, it leaves, and pulls me into another.”
I joined her in the hallway. In my eagerness to hear something in the married couple’s room, I heard every slight sound, felt movement where there was none, looked hard for shadows that weren’t there. Knowing I was tainting my own experience, I decided to join Alison instead. She was nonplussed, speaking matter-of-factly about this energy she felt moving around these upstairs rooms. I leaned into the wardrobe/Emily room.
I leaned back out. “Did you open the wardrobe, Al?” I tried to ask it casually but I felt the blood drain from my face as I said it. I felt Melissa tense as she listened for Alison’s answer.
Alison had not opened the wardrobe. And it was definitely closed when she had checked earlier. I searched my memory. I had seen it closed when we came upstairs.
And now it was definitely open.
Alison went straight to it. She closed the wardrobe and then walked around, bounced in front of it, shifted her weight from foot to foot. Was there anything in our movements that could have led to the door opening? It didn’t even tremble. Later I would go to open that same wardrobe, and no. It nestled tight in the wooden frame and I actually had to work to get it open. Truly it could not have swung open on its own.
Later when Alex joined us, we would tell her of the wardrobe. She suggested, among other things, that we sing “Ring Around the Rosie” to try and coax Emily out to play with us.
Believe me when I tell you that the sound of “Ring Around the Rosie” floating through a haunted house in the pitch black dark is one of the creepiest things I’ve ever heard, even as I was one of the people singing.
We had a freaky moment when we heard distinct footsteps after singing a verse. The sound of someone walking right in front of us was almost undeniable, even though it made no sense. I watched the faces around me as we all struggled to understand what we were hearing. The same thing happened several times, with us singing, stopping, and then hearing footsteps. The rational brain sought an explanation. The excited 12-year-old inside me screamed, “Footsteps!! Footsteps!!”
Ultimately, a buzzing bug popped out of the chandelier and made the footsteps sound against the wall as it tried to find its exit. The rational brain recognized the misplaced sound immediately. The 12-year-old inside me was disappointed. Debunked!
The larger group took a quick break in the kitchen before going to our second locations. We were advised not to discuss what we’d seen or felt so as not to taint the experience of others. Indeed, when I publish this blog, I will caution my fellow hunters to not read it until they’ve had a chance to review their recordings.
For logistical reasons not worth describing, Alison preceded our little posse into the basement. She had a chance to get a feel for it alone before we traipsed down. Once there, we agreed to turn off all the lights and sat in pitch blackness, the moonlight from the back windows enough to make out the basics. Some of the equipment let off light, and Todd placed a flashlight against a riser to minimize the light but provide some visual context in the space.
Alison called me to the back of the basement, near where the moonlight came in. An exterior door between the windows led to the back yard. “Do you feel anything?” she asked. I am very prepared to tell Alison that I am not feeling anything. She is a skilled medium, and I am not. We have spent plenty of time together when she feels the presence of beings, and I do not. I am not shy about this. At all.
So, when she asked, as I made my way to the back of the room, whether I felt anything, I said “No.” She was about two steps ahead of me, and I had about four more steps to go before reaching the back section of the room, behind the stairs.
As I came closer to Alison, arriving at the corner where she was standing, just moments before stepping fully into the space between the back door and what would be the door of a closet set under the stairs… in the split second it took me to answer in the negative, and then take about a step or two more… I was overcome. My throat felt tight, I felt a horrific pressure on my chest. I felt as though I was struggling to breathe, but I really wasn’t. Instinctively I reached both hands to me throat, my fingers splayed across my collar bones. I inhaled deeply. My throat felt completely closed. My chest felt like I had been pressed between something so my lungs couldn’t fill with air. My whole body tingled like it had upstairs, but it was awful. This went on for at least three breaths.
“Alison! What is that???” I was horrified. I had not felt anything like it. My hands tore at my throat. “What’s causing that???”
“It’s coming from the closet,” was her only answer.
The horrific sensation started to fade, leaving me with a general sense of malaise. Alison and I stared at the closet door, debating what to do. Alison knew we needed to open it, but both of us were horrified by what might be back there. What the fuck? The feeling of dread and anxiety I felt bubbling up was all me. I did NOT want to feel that choking feeling again.
Alison and I were fairly frozen in our fear and ambivalence when Melissa walked up. I don’t think she was aware of our inner struggles, as she slid aside the closet lock and opened the door, shining her flashlight in abruptly.
A saw, some kerosene, a few buckets of desiccant.
I could sort the current feeling of being creeped out as completely natural. I felt no source for the anxiety except my own fear of opening the creepiest closet ever. Alison shone her flashlight around, and we noticed wiring overhead. It was ancient wiring, hanging precariously down from the ceiling in long loops. In several places, the wires were cut and exposed, dangling over head in knotted bunches of copper wire.
Alison suggested the sensation could be coming from raw electricity in the air. I doubted those ancient exposed wires were live. But we couldn’t actually know.
As we settled back in the main part of the room and tried to engage the spirits we were told were there, Alison told me she had been drawn back to the closet, but then couldn’t communicate with what was there or reconcile the negative feelings. She agreed it was intense and negative.
We wandered back there again. This time, prepared, the sensation wasn’t nearly as bad. We stood in it a few minutes, trying to understand it. We didn’t open the closet, but discussed it openly. It felt stagnant. I decided, rather quickly, honestly, that it was residual energy. Something awful had happened here. Was someone hanged? Crushed? Whatever it was, it had no movement, no life now.
Alison said later she had considered sitting with the energy, trying to reconcile it in some way. But she realized she would not be able to. There would be no good to come of it. She realized, as I had, that the energy was stagnant. No efforts would resolve it, and it had no current life.
This was markedly different from what we both felt upstairs and outside, with that energy having an emotional component and movement.
We stayed in the basement quite a bit longer. We tried singing “Row row row your boat” to entice the child spirits there to play. Todd and Melissa played with the ball as well.
I sat quietly on the couch hoping to get the child to crawl into my lap. I longed for a truly physical sensation -- someone pulling at my clothes or touching my hair. But I never got it.
On the couch, and later as I was describing to Todd about the hand photographed on the banister, I felt the same tingling sensation and core shiver I’d felt earlier. Perhaps something was down here with us after all.
During all this, Todd joked about spin the bottle, and we all laughed about how the creepy closet would make the WORST game of “Seven minutes in Heaven” EVER.
It felt good to laugh. I was worried we were disturbing the other hunters but I couldn’t help it. The intensity of it all was too much. I needed the levity.
This was not even the end of our adventure. The large group took a longer break and we shared cupcakes in celebration of a hunter’s birthday. We sang happy birthday which made me realize that at three separate songs in one evening, I had sung more that night than ever in my life.
Our group was then “stationed” outside, and we wandered the generous property by moonlight.
Absolutely STUNNING, the ancient trees and gorgeous landscape were lit beautifully by the ghostly, pale moonlight. Only a few constellations were visible against the dazzling moonlight, but I spent quite a bit of this last part of the night looking up.
I lost track of Alison, who was wandering the fields, following the call of a spirit. I felt a strong tug to my right but frankly, didn’t have the energy to traipse through the grass alone. I walked the little driveway and happened into Alison, who, it turned out, was following the same sensation, but from the other angle. “It’s gone now,” she said, and described again how it would call her and then disappear. We walked together down toward where I’d been pulled a few moments before, and I felt again the now-familiar tingle and wash of sensation across my skin. “There it is again,” Alison said, perfectly timed with my chill.
We tracked it a few moments longer and ultimately gave up. “It’s playing with us,” was our conclusion.
We headed back to the house when I realized Todd was not with us. He had gone down the gravel drive in the opposite direction. I headed after him, calling over my shoulder, “This is horror movie shit right here,” I said as I broke away from the group to wander the gravel driveway alone in the middle of the night. My little band of hunters shouted playfully behind me, “Don’t do it!! Don’t leave the group!”
I quickly found Todd and we all met back at the grounds. I got talking to Alex for a while, and soon enough the whole event was over.
In the end, Alison and I decided the stories of the multiple hauntings were misguided. (Cuz we are the ones who decide -- haha!). The energy in the basement, we agreed, was residual, with no life of its own. The other spirit was one coalesced being of some sort -- curious, stand-offish, amused by our presence, if anything. Although also fairly bored. It had a little fun with us but mostly didn’t care.
As for all the other stories, and the 70 ghosts or whatever -- well, that wasn’t what we felt. We may feel differently after the investigation evidence is pulled together, but for us, at least, it was just one.
Did you love this as much as I did?
Check out the Association of Paranormal Study here: http://associationofparanormalstudy.com/