Charlotte Shepherd is standing in the second-floor offices of the Odvod Publishing House. She’s holding an electromagnetic monitor in her hand, and, despite the occasional slight blip, it’s dead.
She and her mom, Bonnie Milner, aren’t concerned about the blips. We have WiFi in our office and many computers. They could easily be the culprits for small electromagnetic pulses.
Charlotte calls out, in a voice that can be heard through all three floors of the 1925 abode that houses this magazine and a marketing firm: “If you are here, please identify yourself.”
Then, Bonnie: “We have some people here who just want to know what’s going on and who you are.”
Then, not less than a second later, our doorbell rings.
Our front and back doors are locked. It’s after hours. And, there is no one at the door. But Charlotte hears shuffling, like someone is walking inside.
Our paranormal investigation has just become very interesting.
before we go any further, i want this to be clear. I am a pretty solid skeptic.
Sure, I’ve visited the Integratron in the California Desert, a place built by George Van Tassel after he claimed the designs for the building were downloaded into his brain by aliens. I’ve watched my share of shows on The History Channel about haunted houses. And, I absolutely love horror movies. I am enthralled by stories of aliens and the paranormal, but that doesn’t mean I am what you’d call a true believer.
I haven’t believed in God since I was a Catholic-school teen. And I see The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy —Douglas Adams’s space opera that mocks those who look for spirituality and meaning in everyday events — as my life guide. I mean, it’s as good as any, right?
I’ve worked at the Edify offices since 2011. My office is on the main floor, near the back door. Our art department runs alongside the rear wall. Our editorial department takes up a large chunk of the main floor, along with a boardroom and a front entrance. On our second floor, we have a meeting room, our publisher’s office and a common working area. Our third floor, basically a section of the attic, contains a couple of offices.
I’ve never seen a ghost in our office. I’ve never felt like I’ve been watched. I’ve never felt the temperature drop.
But others have. I’ve had coworkers tell me about faucets turning on. About hearing footsteps on creaky stairs. And, a co-worker, on a night when she was the last person out of the building, says she was in our parking lot, turned around and saw a figure of a woman looking back at her from an upper-floor window.
So, in search of a good story — after all, this is the October issue — I contacted Ghost Hunt Alberta, which has performed investigations throughout this province, as well as in British Columbia and Montana. Once I laid out the story of the home — including the fact that a previous owner of the property, before our magazine moved in, died suddenly — the appointment was set.
I was going to be in the room for an actual paranormal investigation. I thought about movies like Insidious and Poltergeist. I imagined pentagrams being carved into walls. I imagined a gateway to hell being opened in our basement. And I thought, how can this not be awesome?
when bonnie and charlotte arrive, they tell me that the wide majority of hauntings aren’t malicious. So, there goes my gateway-to-hell theory.
“Less than 10 per cent of hauntings are what I’d call negative,” says Bonnie. “And, of those, less than one per cent are what I’d call evil or malicious. It works like this: If they’re an asshole in life, they’re going to be an asshole in death.” Many times, hauntings are loved ones, maybe a relative, like a grandmother who wants to watch her grandkids grow up.
“Most times, it’s a family member trying to reach out.”
She says that they’ve facilitated “warm hugs” between a spirit and a living family member. Most ghosts, like most people, are, well, harmless. Bonnie says her own grandmother’s spirit remained in their family for 18 years after her passing.
She comes armed with a yellow tool box, and unpacks items one by one, laying them out on our boardroom table. There’s a temperature gauge, a couple of electromagnetic field detectors, an infrared camera, thermal camera and, of course, a flashlight. But, best of all, is an old phone loaded with an EVP (electronic voice phenomenon recorder).
It’s an app that pulls phonetics out of a bed of chaotic noise. What does that mean? Think of it as an amplifier for the voices of ghosts. Bonnie tells me she’s still not 100 per cent sold on the trustworthiness of this device, but continues to use it because it seems to have worked in the past, allowing the living and the dead to converse with each other.
She has it connected to a speaker she’s placed on the table.
But, before we even try to talk to a ghost, we need to find out if one lives in the house. And that means walking through the many levels, seeing if there are any blips or beeps on the EMF detectors, and simply calling out and asking the ghost to make itself known. At this point, it is like when kids are told “It’s probably more scared of you than you are of it.”
At least that’s what I tell myself.
We go up to the third floor, and there’s nothing. Second floor? No spikes. No sounds outside of the usual creaks of a settling house. After hours, when your senses are focused, you really gain an appreciation for the pops and creaks and squeaks that a house makes. You notice the ticking of a clock. The drip from a faucet.
Bonnie explains this is why most ghost sightings happen at night. It’s not because ghosts aren’t active in the day-time, it’s because our senses are heightened at night. We don’t have as many distractions. If we get up in the middle of the night to pee, we’re walking in a dark hallway, focused on our goal. And that’s when we notice things that might be out of place.
Bonnie says ghosts are far more common than we think. Most of us live with them, and we don’t even notice. She says that she has yet to do a hotel investigation that hasn’t resulted in a positive. You won’t find that on TripAdvisor.
“We’ve had people say, ‘I don’t know how this hotel is haunted, it’s less than 10 years old,’” and then Bonnie laughs. She asks me, do I ever think about how many people go in and out of a hotel in a year? Do I think about how many people, just through the law of averages, must die in a hotel in a given year? After all, a hotel is a small town, basically. And some ghosts attach themselves to places that they loved. Why not attach yourself to the place where you spent your dream vacation?
Again, Bonnie says most ghosts are benevolent, so no need to scramble to Expedia to cancel that booking.
We’re about a half-hour into the investigation, and I am both relieved and… frustrated? There is nothing here. I am wasting their time. Phew.
And then Charlotte and Bonnie simply ask the spirit to show itself.
And the doorbell rings.
I get a bit of a tingle, like when you get to the climax of an awesome horror film. Like the amazing swimming pool scene in the Swedish classic, Let the Right One In. (Read the book, see the movie. Do it this Halloween.)
charlotte says that, in 100 years, paranormal research will be found in school textbooks. She expects that it will soon be embraced as real science.
But, for now, the psychiatric profession has a lot to say about people who see ghosts. What triggers them. Why they have visions. Why they have repeated encounters.
Famed Brazilian psychiatrist Ricardo de Oliveira Souza wrote a paper on paranormal encounters in the journal, Frontiers in Psychiatry. He stated that people who believe they encounter ghosts can suffer greatly.
“Our cases demonstrate that the persistence of fears of ghosts may lead to social and familial impairments as well as to financial losses,” he wrote.
Fear of the dark, childhood trauma and fear of being alone can all trigger the feelings that we’re being watched.
“[Phobia of the supernatural, or PS] is typically elicited by staying alone indoors at night. In these situations, anxiety is associated with Anwesenheit or ‘the idea of a presence,’ that is, the vivid impression that some immaterial being who cannot be apprehended by the ordinary senses is hover-ing around… When they had to sleep alone for whatever reason, the simple mention of words related to death or the afterlife, such as ‘graveyard,’ ‘burial,’ ‘satanic cult,’ evoked concerns about anxiety and bad sleep in the ensuing nights. The silence of the wee hours added to the dread, every ambient noise increasing the fear. PS abates almost instantly if they have someone at their side. In some cases, a pet may have a soothing effect as well; turning the lights on, watching television, or going out may likewise attenuate the symptoms.”
imagine hearing a parliament of Siri voices through a speaker. Now, imagine that all of these different Siris were speaking from the ninth level of the underworld. This gives you an idea of how the EVP sounds.
Bonnie has turned it on, and the yellow meters and dis-plays look like they’re out of a retro sci-fi film. We are back on the main floor. Bonnie says because the front doorbell rang, the boardroom is a good place to interact with the spirit without making it feel cornered.
The EVP has been criticized by even some in the paranormal, ahem, industry. Because it spits out phonetics, it can be argued that the listener hears what he or she wants to hear.
The speaker rumbles, and it’s gobbledygook. Charlotte and Bonnie call out, telling the ghost that it can use the EVP to make sounds, syllables, words. They tell me that ghosts have been cheeky and introduced themselves with a “boo!” And that ghosts have told the humans to please be quiet, that it’s their turn to talk, now. They have heard multiple ghosts bicker with each other.
Charlotte asks the ghost if it wants to tell us his or her name.
And then… through the sonic mud, what sounds like “Eve.”
And then, “Help.” (After the audiotape of the event was sent out for verification, it was determined that the word could have been “health” or ”wealth,” too.)
Is that my ears playing tricks on me? Am I hearing what I want to hear? Are those years and years of horror movies manifesting themselves?
And then, “Help. Eve.” Or is that Steve?
Wait, is the ghost talking to me? I have interviewed world leaders, rock stars and famous athletes. But, a ghost?
“Are you talking to Steve?” asks Bonnie.
Was that a “yes” coming from the speaker?
We each ask questions. When did you die? Are there more than one of you? Do you know where you are? We ask for a name again, and get maybe a “Harry” in response.
I ask if a spirit rang the doorbell. While we don’t hear it in the boardroom, one of the mics picks up what sounds like a faucet quickly being opened and then shut. And, there’s a spike on the EMF meter, but, with all the interference in the house, it isn’t the stuff of verification for a ghost hunter. The EVP returns with a “bells.”
We think we can hear “listen to us.” (Great, there’s more than one.)
According to the transcript, at one point there seems to be a discussion going on. “Let me talk to them, listen to talk talk. Who said this, Bonnie? Steve, is that Steve? I understand him.” And then a command to stop talking.
We think we can hear it say “Steve good.” And “tick, tock, stop.” Again, “tick, tock stop.” We have a clock upstairs that ticks very loudly. Do they want us to take it down? Does it bother them?
Bonnie says most ghosts miss food. She says she’s heard ghosts lamenting that they can no longer eat chocolate, bacon or pizza. Some miss drinking a cold beer or a shot of whiskey. Ghosts don’t seem to be the healthiest of eaters. I can’t blame them. If I was dead I’d be asking for non-stop Old Fashioneds, barbecued meat and cigarettes. And the funny thing is, I don’t smoke. But I would if I was dead. I’d ask for filterless Eastern European cigarettes.
She says that talking about food can often draw the spirits out.
We talk about restaurants in town. Bonnie and Charlotte have come in from Calgary, so I make recommendations. I mention chocolate. And the speaker roars to life. Like a thousand voices at once.
“Do you want chocolate?” Charlotte asks.
Was that a yes? Did it say hurry? Did it say “vite?” Can it speak French?
I promise to bring chocolate the next morning.
The following day, I think about what I saw. I’m really not sure what to think. The verdict soon arrives from the investigators: “Our conclusion of this preliminary investigation is that we have enough evidence to say that the building may have para-normal activity. It is inconclusive at this time as to how many spirits or if it is a residual energy or spirit energy or combination of the two. We feel this requires further investigation.”
I stop at the gas station before heading into work. I buy a Hershey’s bar and a Dairy Milk. My wife packed some Hershey’s Kisses for me to take to the office.
There is now a tray of chocolates by my desk. There’s another one upstairs.
Because you can never be sure.