What's it like to be a paranormal investigator, really?
I watch so many paranormal TV shows, mostly to write reviews. So few of them are in any sense realistic. They don't depict what it is really like to be an investigator. Even going on a ghost tour or paying to follow a group around on a guest investigation does not give a person the sense of what it is like. I thought, maybe, others might like to know. People write about their evidence and their personal experiences of encountering the paranormal. I haven't seen anything much written about what it's actually like to do what I do. So, here goes.
I will get the obvious over with first. I am not going to talk about what you need to be like, what you need to know or what you need to be able to do. That has been written about and written about ad-nauseam. I'd rather simply take you on a walk in my shoes from beginning to end.
I get a text. It's from the lead investigator, spelling out the time and place of the next investigation. He tells me a few things about what is going on at the location.
I usually arrange to ride with someone. I don't like to drive to places to which I have never been. It's scary. So I begin my preparations for the investigation. Usually I get plenty of notice. However, sometimes not so much; a day this time. I put my camera battery on the charger in the morning. I stop at the drug store and purchase a pack of AA and AAA batteries. I get home and put them into the two flash lights and make sure they are working. I have had so many flashlights die on me in the middle of an investigation that I go prepared for that. I test my recorder to make sure that is working properly. I load my bag with my equipment and one bottle of water or soda, and a chocolate candy bar for energy if needed, and it's always needed. I shower, no scent, and dress in a simple pair of jeans and black t-shirt, with a hoodie with pockets. I need as many pockets as possible to carry everything and leave my hands free to catch myself when I get dizzy or have to climb crazy stairs. It seems that on every investigation there are always stairs to someone's basement or attic that are narrow, unbelievably steep and, of course, no hand rail. You have to step up or down carefully or you will fall into a black hole. I hate those stairs. They are always there in every house.
I am ready, so I gather all of my belongings, take one last inventory, and wait for my ride to arrive. I tried to nap but I never can. I start to get butterflies in my stomach every night before an investigation. As I wait for my teammate to arrive I am anxious, nervous, excited and feeling a little bit sick. This is how I am before every investigation. It's the anticipation of what might happen, because some really crazy shit has happened before. This night could be one of those nights.
The drive to the house is long. There is always a stop along the way for junk food. I think P.I.'s eat the worst diet ever. We live on tiny bottles of energy drink, Doritos, Sierra Mist, and candy bars. My team mate always stops at McD's for double cheese burgers..three of them.
There is discussion on the way to fill us in on more of the details of what the clients are experiencing. We discuss various things we would like to try tonight. Ideas are tossed around; various methods of debunking, things we think we can explain, what trigger objects we can use. There is always a conversation about the clients..are they credible? crazy? Is there possible alcohol or drug use? Teenagers in the house? Pets?
We arrive and park as close to the front door as we can get. The group is arriving. Everyone gets out of their cars but only the two lead investigators go in first to talk to the clients. We wait outside, freezing our asses off, some of us smoking..not me. It has always amazed me how many investigators smoke. It's nerves...stress.
The team members come out of the house and we are instructed as to where to set up. The back of the SUV is opened and it is stuffed to the gills with technology. Everyone grabs what they can and heads into the house. It looks like a reverse home invasion burglary. Everyone is in dark clothes carrying expensive electronics, only we are headed into the house instead of out.
We meet the clients. Typically, clients are all unique individuals. There is no typical client. Male, female, couples, gay couples, married, living together, families with kids. Dogs, cats, birds. Old, young, rich, not so rich, big fancy three story mansions, little track houses, one bedroom walk ups. Messy, super neat, gorgeous decor, hideous art, weird things we don't want to examine too closely.
The clients are usually friendly, open, and a bit nervous. They give us a tour of their home, explaining where they have experienced things unexplained. They start to relax and get into the story telling. We all listen patiently, nodding with understanding and sympathetic looks, making eye contact and smiling encouragement. They will often prepare food for us, bake cookies, have coffee brewing, even offer us a meal. It is wonderful how hospitable people can be. They appreciate what we are doing free of charge. Eventually, the tour ends and we begin our setting up.
As soon as all of the equipment is in the house, instructions are given to us as to where to run wires and set up cameras. This is grunt work. It's physically difficult and exhausting. You have to run up and down stairs, run wires, tape wires to the floor, carry heavy equipment, and set up cameras. You also have to have an understanding of the equipment...how to set out a tripod, how to hook the wires into the camera properly, etc.
My least favorite part is being sent into a part of the house by myself to set up a camera. Here I am in a reportedly haunted location..alone. All alone. I have a walkie talkie strapped to my belt in case but it's creepy. The worst? Basements. I HATE being asked to set up in a cold dark basement alone. Please, not me...anyone else but me. I rush it, always feeling that someone is watching me from some dark corner. I hear things. I hurry. When I am finished I run up the stairs and back into civilization. Even though I am not afraid of ghosts I have always hated being alone in the dark. As long as someone is with me, I am fine. Alone..not so much.
When the group finishes setting up we all meet back at command central for instructions and information. The lead investigators have the job of pairing us up into teams. If you have been with a group for a while you usually know who you will be paired with.
Investigators are, by a vast majority, men. That's fine with me. I have never been treated with anything less than respect and I have always enjoyed who I am working with. However, at times, it is a testosterone party. Men tend to be louder and more aggressive in their style than women, but not always. They like to provoke and shout more. I'm the quiet, listening type. I use my senses to the utmost.
I'm assigned to a partner and we head upstairs to one of the bedrooms. Lights have been turned off. We are in the dark and we each have a flashlight, recorder, K2 meter, EMF detector, digital camera, and I always carry a pad and pencil to take notes. We go in and I do a sweep of the room with the EMF meter to take a base reading. I get nothing...point 1 or less. The recorder is turned on. I identify myself, my partner, the address, date, time and what room we are in. The recorder is set down, the EMF meter and K2 set down also. I keep my flashlight and camera at the ready. We take seats in the room facing in opposite directions. I'm facing the door, he's facing the window. Our line of sight crosses. Now we can see everything in both directions, 360 degrees. We do not speak. We just do this. We know what to do. Experience can't be beat. We understand the what, the why and the how.
We get quiet and just sit, listen and soak up the room, it's nuances, its feeling, its little noises, scents, shadows, objects, furniture, windows and doors. We stay quiet for a number of minutes. Then I ask the first question to try and elicit an EVP. "Hello. My name is Pam. This is .... What's your name?
This could just as easily have been "Hello, my name is mud, we are here to burn your house down, what do you have to say about that?" I have learned, in over 60 investigations, that the voices on EVPs almost never answer your questions or respond to your statements. They have their own agenda and do whatever they are going to do in their own time. You have NO CONTROL.
I pride myself in my debunking techniques. My mind works a mile a minute to solve the problems by any natural means. I try door latches to see if I can get the door to swing shut or open on it's own. Do the floor boards creak? Are the windows sealed or is air getting in? Are objects on shelves on the edge ready to fall off at the slightest movement? Does the bed squeak or roll easily? What about the windows to the road. Can cars drive by and headlights cast shadows on the walls? What about voices? Are their air vents into the room? Can you hear people talking when they walk by or can you hear voices carry from a distance? Are there animals in the house who can sneak in and out of rooms? Animals have been known to be responsible for moving objects, knocking things off of shelves, opening cabinet doors, you name it. Owners will swear that no, it's not the cat. Until they see Spot on video crawling into the cabinet and back out again. They never knew.
A lot of time is taken in debunking but it is worth the effort. If phenomena can be explained with a natural explanation, then that leaves us with only the unexplained phenomena to deal with.
Our questions continue. We try things that have worked in the past. Trigger objects can illicit a response. I like the flashlight trick. You set your flashlight off, but just barely off. Set it down on the floor or table. Ask to turn it back on again. Unlike TV shows, this rarely works. But once in a rare occasion it will. Tonight it works. After about 35 minutes the flashlight turns on all by itself. We ask to turn it back off and it does. Back on again and it does. This continues for about 10 minutes. Then it stops.
I ignore K2 meters. They can be set off by any frequency of radio wave, etc. They are over used and unreliable. And they can be manipulated and faked. Someone receiving a text message can set it off. It is so easy, too easy.
An hour passes. We've had a successful first hour. All that flashlight activity is documented on video and audio. It's time for a break. We get the break call from the walkie talkies. We head downstairs to join the rest of the group.
Some go outside for a smoke. Some stay in the kitchen eating a snack and drinking soda, sharing the past hour's experiences, but only if the client is not in the room, and he is not. Everyone is getting stuff. We feel the excitement in the room. This place could be the real deal. As we are quietly talking we hear a huge bang! crash! from upstairs. One of the guys runs like hell to see what it was...he comes back down with a shrug...couldn't find any explanation for the crash. Odd. Very odd. I get a tingle up my spine. This could be an interesting night.
The lead investigator decides to change up the teams, so I am paired with him and we head to the basement. It's an old house, over a hundred years old. The basement is dark, damp and creepy. It's close down there. There are lots of boxes, old bicycles, Christmas decorations, dusty chairs. A bare light bulb hangs from the ceiling and there are spider webs criss-crossing it. We decide to remain standing and walk around. I do an EMF sweep. One was already done by the group who was down here earlier, but I am a stickler. I want to know myself how it reads down here. Nothing. Point 1.
We find an old wooden bench so we sit down on it with an odd wooden object between us. It looks like a broom sitting in a stand. The basement is so dark that you cannot see your hand in front of your face. We get quiet and just listen. We start asking questions. After a few minutes my partner starts some mild provoking. It gets an immediate response. The object sitting in between us suddenly swings toward me and whacks me on the arm. I am startled and let out a yell...ouch! Something just hit me! We stand up fast and turn on our flashlights. The object is teeter-tottering back and forth. We stop it. We try and make to fall over but it won't. How strange. We sit back down and after a few minutes it happens again..hits me hard in the arm. We do the same thing...jump up fast and turn our lights on. Nothing. We take pictures, We move to another part of the basement. We ask more questions. A second break is called. We move upstairs. I am both upset and excited. I have never been touched before. It's an investigator's right of passage. But the "touch" was violent and I have a black and blue mark raising on my arm. We share our experiences with the group. After our break we both move upstairs to the bedrooms and settle in. I sit on the bed, my partner remains standing. We conduct another EVP session. We try a lot of different things to elicit a response..the K2 meter is set out. Our recorders are on. I always take a series of pictures with my digital camera all the way around the room.
It's hard to describe what it feels like to be sitting in a room, in the dark, waiting for something to happen, but I will do my best. Your eyes get accustomed to the dark. You begin to see shadows of objects in the room and your vision improves. Your hearing is dull at first. The silence presses in on your ears like a pressure that feels strange. After a while the pressure subsides and my hearing gets very sensitive to every sound. I can hear sounds from outside and from far away. Houses make their own sounds and speak their own language. Ticks, clicks, sighs, bangs, all sorts of sounds. You learn to tell between something that is normal for the house and something that is not. We ask the dark to make a sound so we know they are here with us...a tap or bang on the wall is suggested. After two solid minutes of waiting we hear a small little "tap tap"....
To be continued...