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The Hunting Party.

8/23/08

The four of us had taken our leisurely positions just outside the Main Street Grille and Brewery, my flashlight serving as the makeshift doorstop for the front door. I sat on the steps of the wooden porch, breathing cigarette smoke as I flipped through the random pictures I had taken on the digital camera Mitch had lent me. Eyes hungry to see a translucent orb, a white mist, a mysterious figure. Looking for something, anything, but trying to keep my emotions in balance.

If I suspended expectation, I reminded myself, I couldn’t be let down. It was best to approach with a controlled curiosity, a cautious hope, and I knew that. It was the same reason I was not at all disappointed with how the evening had gone so far, that we hadn’t seen a full-body apparition or a physical object moved, untouched. I was glad Mitch seemed to echo this unspoken sentiment of mine, too. He had gone even further, really, at least verbally proclaiming as much, telling the owner of the place before we had began our ”ghost hunting” that evening that he prefers to go into these situations with the attitude that there’s nothing to it. With an effort of debunking it all as a natural phenomenon, so he can rule out all the knowns, dodge false positives. Still, I felt that he was more than slightly disappointed with the way the night had gone so far, and it was a vibe I caught from him even before we stepped outside the old mill-turned-brewery-and-grille.

Before we had come on the porch, each of our two-man teams had simultaneously been prowling the three levels of the place — or four, if you’re counting that creepy-looking crawl space. There were six of us in all. The first team was Mitch’s brother-in-law and some young-looking guy who’s name I never caught. Mitch’s brother-in-law seemed like a cool guy, fully capable of taking Mitch’s ”So, I’m fucking your sister” comments. On the drive there they talked over the hand-held walkie talkies, seeming more like blood brothers who had grown up with one another than brothers merely through marriage.

As for his partner, the young guy, he was clean-cut, healthy-looking, reasonably-strong, not too skinny and not too fat. Nice, evenly-trimmed hair. The kind of guy that a guy like me holds a secret hate for, but only because he probably has a hot girlfriend he’s banging every night. Throughout the evening, at least from the standpoint of my limited contact with him, he seemed almost two-dimensional, nearly invisible to the eye. A stand in. Like one of the red shirted guys off of Star Trek; the ones that always go down to the planet with the main characters and since you’ve never seen the guy before you know you’ll never see him again. He’s never coming back. That he’s good as gone. No doubt, if this had been a horror flick or a supernatural thriller he would have been the first one to get eaten by the monster, infected with the alien virus, killed by the psychopath. I wish him no ill-will, of course; he seemed rather polite and level-headed. I just couldn’t escape that outlook on him in this context. Needless to say, he survived. Hope I didn’t ruin it for you.

The third two-man team was an odd and interesting pairing. One of the guys was a plump, pasty, baby-faced fellow, looking a bit like a more serious version of the Pillsbury Doughboy clad in street cloths. By behavior alone, you might have considered him the Egon Spengler of the group, only rather than clutching the mythical PK Meter he held the super-expensive thermal camera he had borrowed from the Fire Department where he was employed. Him and I said little to each other, but he seemed to be a nice enough guy. Lurking in the midst of the general populace he might have seemed rather reserved, but him, and almost anyone short of a chronically shy mute, looked downright extroverted next to me. Out of all of us, though, he seemed to be the most wary, the most skeptical, not willing to lean either way regardless. When you got down to it, he was a bit curious, but just a pace away from indifference. That’s what I got from him, anyway. I did find it strange and more than slightly ironic that Mitch teamed him up with the guy I will call Twitch.

Twitch was a friendly though rather wild-eyed guy who had what seemed to me to have a rather child-like naivette. He seemed to go into all this with uncritical certitude; convinced there was something to it. His certainty developed at least in part, I’m sure, due to his disposition coupled with two experiences of his — one took place here in the mill, the other in the nearby Historical Society building. Before becoming a police officer, he had worked in the mill. There had been a break-in one night or some ordeal that made it necessary for him to spent the night in the place alone. Though he freely confessed to having seen nothing, he was adamant about the weird noises he had heard all night long.

”Like this,” he said, turning around and pointing to the floorboards beneath our feet, which creaked and squeaked as we made our way. He told us this shortly before opening the door to the basement, where a light bulb in the stairwell went out before his eyes. I didn’t see it burn out just then myself, however, only that it was burnt out. ”Someone doesn’t want us here,” he said less than half-jokingly, laughing nervously under his breath and we proceeded down.

The other experience of his occurred after he had become a police officer, when he had gone to inspect the Historical Society building one night when an alarm, a motion detector, was tripped on the second floor. “Not the first floor,'”he would say on both occasions he told the swift story that evening, ‘”the second floor.” His penchant for the dramatic was pretty evident, I think; he spoke of things the way you would when telling a ghost story around the campfire to children.

As the four of us were outside, a cop car drove around, said something none of us could hear, and then drove around again, parking beside the building. Two of the group, both Mitch and Twitch, were police officers themselves, so the feeling of paranoia that seems to be a programmed response to officers of the law didn’t hit too hard. Two cops emerged from the car, one which Mitch seemed to know well and who’s name rung a bell; I’m almost sure he’s mentioned him to me a few times. This was Lane, who looked a bit like a buff version of Riker off of Star Trek (and no, I’m not a fucking Trekkie).

With him was some incredibly young-looking officer who made the whole, ”There’s a rational explanation for everything,” remark after discussion arose regarding apparently paranormal experiences. I assumed the kid was some rookie Lane was meant to wean in; though he didn’t seem inexperienced, he did give off that aura of feeling awkward, feeling like he didn’t entirely belong. He buried it in his trying-to-be-a-badass posture, which was almost convincing, but still had that faint air of the contrived. That kind of alpha male body language seemed more authentic in Lane and Mitch. But fake it till you make it, I guess.

As for Lane, he carried a portable coffee mug and, though a smoker, wasn’t nearly the chimney I was. He smoked maybe one or two for the hour I saw him, whereas I sucked down maybe three or four. He had that deep, controlled voice that made me think he would make a good speaker. I couldn’t imagine him stuttering, slurring, or pausing and reversing to rephrase. He was calm and comfortable with himself. Out of the two of them, Lane was the only one to shake my hand and look me dead in the eye. Granted, Mitch had introduced him and I and had not done so with the kid, so I suppose that could be the reason. Still, it seemed as though Lane would’ve shaken my hand given the chance anyway. He was a peculiar fellow; there was something about the guy I just immediately liked, I must admit. He displayed that perfect balance of the humble and confident; he never seemed arrogant, nor did he seem willing to make himself look smaller than he was. His mind wasn’t closed, but it wasn’t so damned open all his brains fell out and splattered on the concrete sidewalk beneath his feet, either.

When Twitch told his story to Lane — “Not the first floor; the second floor,” — which was his second telling, Lane gave him a mildly dismissive but nonetheless sympathetic shrug. He explained how depending on the settings, such motion detectors could pick up mice, even a calm breath of wind vibrating a spiderweb. In other words, while there could be something to it, an alarm being tripped on the second floor and not the first didn’t necessarily constitute something unusual. Without boasting or trying to one-up him, Lane’s experience, by comparison, held quite a bit more water. He had gotten a call at the same damned place. The front door had this old lock — he gave a good description of it, gave its name, but I can’t recall it exactly. Suffice it to say you had to turn the lock quite a bit; in other words, it had to be very purposeful. There was no accidentally locking this door. And while he would lock and unlock doors as he went from room to room, he didn’t bother with the front door lock. Regardless, when he returned, having found no prowler, he found it locked. That was pretty hard to explain away.

Even more difficult to explain away was Mitch’s experience inside the Historical building, which initially stirred his interest. Of all of them, at least by virtue of the stories I’d heard from them, Mitch had perhaps the most qualification to believe — and yet at the same time he was the strictest and most resistant to accept something unusual. He was cautious. It was at his direction that we were now taking half-hour shifts during which four of us would stay outside while the two others had full and free reign inside the place.

Mitch was right, of course; going in shifts like this would decrease the potentiality of false indications of a ghostly presence. The creaking floorboards as the six of us crept around the three levels were a bit difficult to separate from any truly potential unknown. It was hard enough with the whirring of the machines, the sound of them clicking on and off, and even the sound of the rushing water in the back of the place. As Mitch and I had sat in the dining room earlier, we watched moving lights and shadows as cars passed by on the street outside and he noted, after he put some thought into it, how such effects could produce illusions.

Another issue crept up, and came to my attention for the first time, when Mitch and I were interrupted during our first round on the ground level of the place by Twitch and Egon, who wanted Mitch to check out something in the basement. We followed them down and we all paused at the bottom of the steps.

“Do you feel that?” Twitch asked hauntingly. There was agreement all around, and I had to admit a creepy feeling. “Somethings here,” Twitch went on.

Before we started, before Twitch had even guided us on our tour, the boss hovered around the group a bit. He had a mustache and seemed to have that way of carrying himself that existed somewhere in the realm between the laid back and the strict, professional type. Before he went home for the night he told us of his own personal experience. He had been alone, walking down the steps to the basement when he felt an unmistakable presence. As he continued walking, he tried to shake it off, to no avail. Eventually it came on so strong he was stricken with terror. He felt sure something was there and bolted up the steps, feeling as though something unseen was chasing him.

So now, as we all seemed to feel something comparable, we spread out a bit and looked around. Taking pictures, asking questions with our microcassette recorder in hand. That’s when Mitch brought up the issue, which was the issue of electromagnetism. More than once downstairs I’d heard Mitch or Egon say something akin to, “Damn, I wish we had an EMF Detector.” Someone else raised the question; had the case been otherwise, I would have inevitably asked about it. I knew they were talking about an electromagnetic field detector, but I was lost otherwise.

According to Mitch, the presence of electromagnetism can have an odd effect on the human nervous system, resulting in sensations we might, for the sake of argument, wrap up under the umbrella term “the creeps.” Down in the basement, he pointed to the wires hanging down from the ceiling, implying that there might be more conventional factors to blame for the sense of an unknown presence that we all more or less shared.

As far as I can determine, the four of us all felt that feeling at the base of the steps, but when Mitch and I journeyed down there the second time alone I, in the least, no longer felt it in that location. Even the first time, while we were all down there, for awhile something seemed off in the environment and then it just, well, went away. Now, this could mean that a disembodied entity had been hanging around at first and then meandered about elsewhere, but it could also mean that nearby wires or machines that had initially been on had later clicked off, thereby eliminating the eerie atmosphere. I also wasn’t blind to the fact that the expectation of sensing something (provided in part by ever-dramatic Twitch) could have alone produced the initial effect and when the expectation died, so did the creepy sensation.

If it had something to do with electromagnetism, however, I still wasn’t sure how the detector would help us determine it one way or the other. I mean, it could tell us there were EM fields present, but not necessarily their source. So I looked a bit online after the hunting party and found that there are some EMF detectors available that screen out man-made sources of electromagnetism, thereby allowing paranormal investigators the ability to determine whether or not “the creeps” are a true unknown. Damned if I know how the thing can tell the difference, but that’s how its advertised.

Still, we all certainly shared the hope of finding something suggesting the unusual, the unconventional. Mitch and I let the tiny microcassette recorder run, with us, mostly him, asking questions to any hypothetical spirits that might be wandering about as we ourselves meandered from room to room. How old are you? What’s your name? Do you know you’re dead? How did you die? Why do you like this place? Does it bother you we’re here?

And really, out of all of them the only question that made me wince was, Do you know that you’re dead? It might be goofy, but I thought if someone was wandering about here, long since departed, there were two likely responses to that question. One, they did know they were dead and would be angry at the needless reminder as well as at the suggestion that they lacked sufficient awareness to grasp a hold of that fact. They would interpret the question as the act of us talking down to them, in other words. The other possibility is that they didn’t know, or that they were at least in denial of the fact they were dead. In that case I felt this question would either frighten or enrage them, perhaps both in one, foul swoop. Either possibility, I felt certain, wouldn’t make them any more inclined to communicate with us.

Regardless, I must confess that I did feel presences, though I wouldn’t be so bold as to proclaim there was anything more to this than my overactive imagination. On both occasions that Mitch and I visited the kitchen I felt certain something was there. I also felt this in the basement, though only on the first time Mitch and I went down there when the team in the basement wanted Mitch to check out something. Three times between both places I somehow felt we might get a substantial EVP on the recorder. I suppose that time, and Mitch’s initial review of the evidence, will tell.

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