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Hearing Voices

by Troy Blackford

Surprise, surprise. The number of EVP’s... Sorry. I forgot I was talking to sane people. Make that “Electronic Voice Phenomena,” which are supposedly ghostly voices captured on audio recordings. My paranormal investigation team found that on an average night the number of EVP’s skyrocketed once we invested in a ‘spirit box.’

Whoever thought of that little baby was a genius. A spirit box is nothing more than an AM/FM radio that constantly switches between stations, producing a static-y backdrop of cut-off voices and phrases.

Shockingly, my team and I manage to find phantom fragments of words in the mishmash of truncated broadcasts all the time. It has sure made our weekly ‘investigations’ a lot more exciting. Take it from me: standing around in people’s homes in total darkness, asking questions of the thin air for six hours straight doesn’t always make for the fast-paced thrill ride of a hobby paranormal investigation is cracked up to be. The promise of spending another two days ‘reviewing’ the uneventful footage and blank recordings doesn’t exactly make up for it, either.

The ‘spirit box’ was a godsend, ensuring that my team of paranormal researchers always had something to get excited about the next day. We would ask an empty, pitch-black room “Where were you from, originally?” and instead of hearing silence on the recording we were almost certain to hear a blip of meaningless talking to get excited about, which we could pretend was an answer. Hell, maybe a voice would clearly respond “Cleveland,” and never mind the fact that the device might have been cycling through a sportscast about the Cleveland Browns at the time.

Let’s put it this way — for whatever reason, the spirit box cost almost three hundred dollars. Our ragtag bunch can’t exactly afford to question the ‘evidence’ we get with it.

That’s Paranormal Investigation tip #346, by the way. Self-importantly call everything you collect ‘evidence,’ even if it’s just a grainy six-hour tape of an empty room shot in Paris Hilton-style night vision. That way, even when the ‘research team’ spends a grand total of twenty-four man hours ‘on site’ with your ‘instruments’ in ‘pursuit of the truth’ and comes up with ‘bupkiss,’ you can still remark wisely to the others: “Now it’s time to review the evidence.”

Evidence of what? Usually, of nothing more than our own willingness to spend our free time standing around in other people’s empty houses, or in abandoned buildings, or in supposedly haunted historical landmarks.

When we first started the group, we all agreed that we would instantly discount and ignore any signs of ‘orb’ activity. These little balls of light were universally known to be nothing more than bugs or dust that reflected the infrared light of the night vision cameras. Our team was above the silliness of getting excited about bugs and dust.

That, of course, changed over the first few months of our ‘investigations.’ Sure, maybe we all knew it was just a bug or some dust floating by the camera — but how could that be when it seems to move under its own power?

Bugs move under their own power, but you start to forget this, the same way you forget that the ‘spirit box’ is just a radio set to really fast ‘scan.’ You start to want to forget this.

After all, which is more fun — realizing that you chose the wrong hobby and invested thousands of dollars into useless audiovisual equipment, or engaging in a slippery slope of self-delusion? I’m no student of human nature, but I’d be willing to guess which is an easier option for most people.

One good question: why didn’t we just become insect investigators? There always seemed to be at least a couple good shots of bugs flying by, though dust was certainly more common. Or, perhaps more rational still, why didn’t we all just go do karaoke or something instead of persisting in our ‘investigations?’

There are two easy answers to that question. One is that we were all sort of co-dependent on this idea that we had started a paranormal investigation group. I think if just one of us had come out and said “Hey, guys. Let’s just play some Wii Sports and forget all this ever happened,” the others would have been like “Thank God! I’ve been so bored for so long!” It was basically a game of chicken, though: nobody wanted to be the one who fessed up first, so none of us did.

The other answer was even weirder. We did plenty of ‘investigations’ of creepy abandoned buildings and landmarks as I have said — even travelling across state lines a few times to check out famous (among ghost hunter circles) sites such as the Waverly Hills Sanatorium, a place where the veil between worlds is thin and hundreds of cursed children lurk for eternity, ceaselessly roaming the halls seeking justice for their short, disease-ridden lives. Or where, you know, this enterprising couple bought a creepy old building in order to charge paranormal ‘teams’ nightly fees to investigate.

Depends on your outlook, I guess.

The bulk of our investigations, however, take place in people’s homes. These people contact us, seeking ‘help.’ Once you have a reputation for helping people who are haunted by ghosts, and the calls and e-mails keep coming in, it takes a pretty hardened person to respond to these genuinely distressed people with “Yeah, we kind of think that ghost stuff is malarkey now. Sorry.”

Doesn’t make much sense, does it? People supposedly brave enough to face down the most frightening entities of which humankind’s fertile imagination can conceive are nonetheless afraid of hurting people’s feelings. But there you have it.

And it’s not as though we really can help either. Even the ghost-hunter teams on TV say they will help, but what can they do? They walk through a place, collect their ‘evidence,’ and then tell the disturbed homeowners, ‘We’re always here if you need us. Just give us a call if anything happens.’ How is that an improvement? I mean, I know I sound pretty jaded, but if that’s help with a paranormal problem, then I’m an oncologist.

Maybe I’m being too harsh. One thing I’ve learned from taking a number of these distress calls and e-mails begging for help with a haunted house is that these problems are more psychological than they are paranormal. And nonjudgmental reassurance probably is more helpful to these people than I’m letting on.

Still, if we had known that all our group would really spend most of our time doing was patting middle-aged people on the back — usually nut jobs with too many cats and too few teeth — and saying, “There, there,” we all probably would have taken up golf or knitting or something.

At this point, I’m convinced that the whole world of ‘spectral vortexes,’ and ‘free repeaters,’ and ‘full-body demonic presences’ is just an illusion. I half-wonder if the concept isn’t made up and secretly promoted by the companies that manufacture the night-vision infrared illuminators. I’m sure their sales have quadrupled since the first hit TV show featuring ghost-hunting.

My girlfriend said to me once, “Do you think your team could ever investigate the mysterious water droplets that appear on the floor in front of the toilet whenever you use the bathroom?” That sounds about right to me.

* * *

“Oh, my God,” said Randall. He had collected EVPs before, but never anything more than a few murmured words, an indistinct sentence at best. “This has to be some kind of hoax.” He turned to Felicia. “Are you doing this?”

She shook her head vigorously. The familiar voice just rattled onwards and onwards.

* * *

You know what really bugs me about these ‘investigations?’ No matter how hard you try to keep things fresh — either with new gadgets like the spirit box, or different techniques such as automatic writing — the ‘cases’ all start to blend in to one another after a while. The houses, buildings, forests — they all start to look the same. Take this place, for example. It feels as though our team has been in this stupid building forever. The damn place is creepy, I’ll give you that. Half of why it seems so scary, I’m convinced, is because the stonework is so crumbly.

It used to be an asylum. They used to have more places like that back in the day, all of them filled to overflowing with crazy people or sick people or poor people or disgusting combinations of the three. Charming reminders of how much more we notice human suffering these days.

I don’t know if mental health treatments are getting better, or what, but you don’t see so many new asylums. Then again, I guess me and my team only look for the old, ruined ones as a matter of principle.

* * *

“Randall, this has to be fake. Someone has to be piping this in from the outside.”

Randall was adamant. “It’s not coming from outside. I’ve tried everything I could to isolate the audio in this room.”

“This is just too intense,” Felicia said, stunned. “It has to be someone who knows what happened to Darius, somebody playing a prank on us.”

“A person would have to be an insensitive prick to joke about this.”

Felicia bit her lip. She and Randall had been in a paranormal investigation group for eight years, and even they didn’t think what they were getting on their audio feed was possible.

* * *

I swear, this investigation seems like it has been going on for months. It hasn’t all been uneventful, though. I actually think I’m picking up something — without the spirit box, even. I think I can hear faint voices coming from the corner or the ceiling or something, just below a clear level of perception. Heck, if this had happened back when I started investigating, I’d probably get all excited... probably think I was hearing ghosts or something.

Now, I’ve got too much practice debunking things. Nothing is even remotely inexplicable, if you start trying to understand it. It’s a real shame. It’s always dust, or bugs, or radio stations. My advice is this: If you want to enjoy the mystery of life, don’t go looking for it.

It is weird though — it really does sound almost like there are voices in here. I’m trying to use my audio recorder, but the batteries are dead. Funny, the one time I think I can hear ghosts, there’s no juice in this thing.

* * *

“Is it picking up on the recording?” Felicia was breathless, tangling and untangling her fingers.

Randall nodded.

“Then we’ll be able to check the voice against our old recordings, see if it’s really Darius.”

Randall shook his head. “It’s him, Felicia. It’s him.”

* * *

You know, some ‘investigators’ honestly claim dead batteries are proof of paranormal activity. Isn’t that a riot? What else counts as paranormal, I wonder? What if your phone battery is more charged up than you thought it was? Is that a ghost, too?

Speaking of which, my phone hasn’t worked for a while. I can’t seem to dial anything anymore. You know how when you have a dream and you keep trying to send e-mail, but you can’t type anything? How nothing with screens or buttons works the way it should? That’s how my stuff is acting right now.

Most likely, I’m not getting any signal in this crumbly old asylum. You think it could be all the stone and cement blocking it, or what?

I wish to God that my audio recorder would work, though. I keep hearing those voices. They sound sort of familiar, but I can’t place them.

I keep trying to find the other members of my team, but I don’t know if they are all out for a smoke break or what. They don’t seem to be anywhere in the building. Felicia and Randall are always going off to take little breaks. I think they’re even more bored with these investigations than I am. You know, the voices almost remind me of them. But I know those two aren’t in the building, because I’ve been trying to find them. And I’m telling you, these voices are coming from right here in the room, however faint they might sound.

Still, as sick of paranormal ‘research’ as I’ve gotten over the years, and the more certain I’ve grown that there’s nothing for us to find in supposedly haunted places such this one, I have to admit that there is something about this particular asylum that speaks to me, if that’s the right expression. Especially this room, crumbly and dangerous though it seems. There’s even a pile of rocks in the corner where the ceiling must have caved in.

You’d think I’d be scared about how dangerous it seems to be here. But I’ll tell you something. I’ve looked around the whole place, and for some reason I like this room most of all. I don’t know if it’s the voices, or what.

* * *

Savannah, GA — Three years after the accidental death of their paranormal investigative teammate Darius Appenheimer in a ceiling collapse at the historic Powderhorn Asylum, Randall Clementine and Felicia Borgia have decided to come back to finish the investigation they began with Darius on that fateful night.

“Hal (ed’s note: Rickerts, the building’s new owner) has been really busy and put a lot of money into making his building safe for visitors, and we know that finishing this investigation is what Darius would have wanted,” Borgia said, audibly suppressing tears.

“I don’t know what we’ll find when we go in there tomorrow night,” Clementine added, “if we even find anything. But it’s the search that matters. That’s what Darius always said, and this is what he would have wanted.”

* * *

I’m pretty sure I’ll just stay here for the rest of the investigation. It just feels right somehow. I know that sounds stupid, sitting in this condemned old building when the roof could cave in on me any second, but it it’s true.

It feels — God, this is creepy-sounding even to my jaded ears, and that’s not easy — but this room feels like home.

Copyright © 2013 by Troy Blackford

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