May 082014
 

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Wendy texted me about a month ago because she saw a Groupon for some Pittsburgh ghost walk thing. She bought it and then told me I was going, because that is how my friendship with Wendy works: she fills my non-existent planner. We needed two other people for our group, and our friend Evonne was an immediate yes because paranormal is her thang. Finally, I was able to coerce Jeannie, which even Wendy was shocked when I presented her with Jeannie’s positive confirmation. Jeannie is a hater of all things that Wendy and I would possibly like, so we thought for sure her RSVP would be a “Fuck no.” But instead I got a reluctant “Fine.” I’ll take it!

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Evonne picked me up and we were the first to arrive at the Omni William Penn downtown, which is haunted itself, but we were only just meeting the tour group out front because I guess the Omni doesn’t appreciate ragtag amateur ghost hunters scurrying through their fancy hallways.

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That didn’t stop Evonne and me from utilizing their facilities,  though. PRE-GHOST TOUR THING SELFIE, WHADDUP UNWASHED HAIR. Then we went  back outside to try our best to not look like street walkers while waiting for Jeannie and Wendy to show up. Finally, I pointed to a small group of people standing next to the hotel entrance and said that they looked like they could be part of our tour. My clue was that one of the ladies was wearing tennis shoes, “like she’s prepared to do some walking,” I explained to Evonne. I’m a SLEUTH. We walked past them slowly, not at all suspiciously, and heard one of them say, “tour.”

And that is how we were acquainted with our tour guide, Andrew, with whom I felt an immediate kinship even though I fail at guiding people and have no clue what landmarks to point out when I’m showing visiting friends around. I found myself SMALL-TALKING with him and again I will ask you, my five Internet friends, WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON WITH ME? I think I might be outgrowing my surly, stand-offish years, god help us.

There’s this building I randomly stumbled upon last week when I was lost during one of my breaks at work, and the most I got out was, “I don’t know. I was walking down that Strawberry thing and then it was like bam, this brick apartment-looking this with a courtyard—-”

“The Harvard Yale Princeton Club,” Andrew answered without needing to know one detail more. “It’s actually right there,” he said, turning slightly and pointing down the street. I felt like the biggest Pittsburgh fraud ever. How have I lived here my whole life and worked in town for 4 years yet know so little? I guess because I just don’t give a shit.

Still waiting for Jeannie and Wendy, Andrew gave Evonne and me a brief run-down of what the tour was going to involve, which was mostly walking in a giant loop around part of the city and then concluding in the cemetery.

“Ironically, I just found out like two weeks ago that there’s a cemetery down here,” I word-vomited at Andrew and Evonne. “One of my co-workers was like, ‘What do you do on your break everyday, go sit in the cemetery?’ and I said I totally would if there WAS a cemetery down here! And that’s when I found out that I’m a dumbass.” I mean, I knew already I was a dumbass. But everyday I need a reminder. I honest-to-god walk past the cemetery EVERY DAY on my way to work and had no idea it was there.

Finally, our entire group was accounted for. In addition to the Wendy Party of 4, there was a family of 6: an older couple, their two daughters, and the daughters’ husbands (or husband and boyfriend, who knows, who cares). Because I can’t help but judge people instantaneously, I thought for sure the younger daughter was going to get on my nerves, but she was surprisingly quiet and inoffensive.

Andrew briefly introduced himself and gave us the condensed version of his credentials. He has a degree in art history, architecture and Pittsburgh history and is currently working on his Masters in parapsychology so I felt pretty confidently that we were in good hands. Also: HIS HOUSE IS HAUNTED.

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When the tour officially commenced, I asked Jeannie if she was scared. “Should I be?” she asked dourly. God, Jeannie! I won’t go into extreme detail about the things we learned, mostly because I already forgot or was just straight not paying attention at times, but basically we would walk a block and then stop while Andrew told us about what Pittsburgh was like in the 18-somethings, with some actual accounts of ghost sightings thrown in here and there. One of the husbands was an extreme skeptic so Andrew made sure to explain that there were actual police reports backing up some of the weird shit people have seen in the Courthouse and the old jail. Or something like that.

We crossed lots of streets. I was glad that I had an entire entourage to buffet me because even though I might have recently boasted about suddenly being really good at crossing the street, I stepped out in front of a bus last week during my break at work, but my friend Natalie was thankfully there to pull me back onto the curb. I guess I just get overzealous sometimes, I don’t know.

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“This building here used to be a brothel,” Andrew informed us, giving us some back-story about steel workers while I was hoping for something more brothelly. “And now it’s a law firm, as you can see.”

“So, people are STILL getting screwed in there,” one of the husbands said, and it even made me laugh kind of.

“Let’s hope there aren’t any lawyers in our group!” Andrew laughed.

“Oh, just two of us,” Jeannie chimed in sweetly, and we all laughed harder. (I don’t think Wendy heard though.)

Jeannie did seem genuinely stoked about getting to walk through a part of town that she never really goes to, so I made sure to make a mental note of that in case she tried to say later that it wasn’t worth her precious time.

We were on this one street where you could see things across the river and Andrew was like, “Do you guys see that big black shape in front of the Hard Rock sign?” and everyone was like “duh…what now?” but I knew what he was talking about!

“You mean that furnace thingie?” I asked and he was like, “Yeah sure” because I guess “furnace thingie” isn’t the right name for it. But the point is that back during the steel workin’ days, those things were filled with molten steel and if a person were to fall into it, their body would actually vaporize and then the steel workers would have to shave off a layer from the top to present to the widow so the family would have something to bury. Anyway, there was a particular story he was telling us about this happening to some dude and afterward I whispered to him, “Wait…I’ve climbed into that thing before. Am I OK?”

“Oh, you’re fine! That story happened in a different one, down there,” he said, waving down the river.

OK. I hope he wasn’t patronizing me. SOMETIMES IT’S HARD TO TELL.

Anyway, Andrew told us that he has actually come across some of those death tainted slabs of steel at estate sales and has had to tell the owners that they need to bury that shit post haste. Now I want to go looking for some!

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The further we delved into our historical walk, the more annoying the other daughter got. For instance, we were reminded a number of times that they were here for her stupid birthday. And then when Andrew mentioned the date 1978 in one of his stories, she butt in to dramatically inform all of us that OMG THAT WAS THE YEAR SHE WAS BORN. Can you even believe it?! What does it MEAN!? 

I think it means all 35-year-olds on the tour need to think about shutting the fuck up.

A few minutes, we were standing on a corner near an SUV at a red light. Andrew was annoyed because he wasn’t able to talk to us over top of the SUV’s thumping bass line.

“It’s Wiz Khalifa!” the annoying broad screamed. At first I thought she meant the music, but then she said, “Because he’s from here, you know?” and then I realized that no, she was just being an asshole, because of course a random black guy driving an SUV with tinted windows would be Wiz Khalifa. God, STFU so hard! It was starting to feel like I was walking around with my 20-year-old self.

Dear Friends From 14 Years Ago,

I am so fucking sorry.

Love,

Slightly-Toned-Down Erin

By the end of the tour, we had almost made a full loop back to the start, but first we had to stop at the cemetery. Andrew and I walked together and he asked me if I was OK.  I had briefly explained to him earlier in the tour that while I’ve never actually been slimed or seen an apparition, I do spend a lot of time in various cemeteries and sometimes even the ones that are like home to me leave me feeling a bit uneasy and paranoid. There have been times when I’ve rolled up, gotten out of my car, felt that old familiar skin-prickle and then promptly turned around and left. There’s one cemetery in particular that I just don’t even bother going to alone anymore, where I have actually shivered and felt cold on 90 degree summer days. I’m not sure if I necessarily believe 100% that anything will ever happen to me, but I also know that I don’t want to tempt fate or fuck with any dead shit.

Especially after Andrew told us that one time he didn’t close the circle or something and someone was pushed down the church steps.

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It was a little after 10PM when we got to the church that I pass every single day on the way to work. There were several homeless people all set up for the night and it was kind of awkward. Like, “Hey, I know you just fluffed your cardboard slat, but we’re going to tromp all over it right now and stand in a circle. Sweet dreams.” I don’t know, I felt like maybe we shouldn’t have been there at all. I’m sorry, homeless church dwellers :(

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Some of us took a moment to take some pictures of the church. Birthday Bitch held up her phone at my group and, I’m not fucking joking, bragged about what an unbelievable picture she had just taken and that, “I can totally text it to all you, you’re welcome!” So Evonne held up her own phone and showed BB that she had basically gotten the same shot, which was similar to my own (above).

There’s one in every group, isn’t there?

Since I was Andrew’s favorite, I got to hold his hand when we did the circle thing. And Jeannie was to my right so I was sincerely grateful that I didn’t have to hold hands with anyone from the other group because I just didn’t have that kind of humanity left in me at that point in the night.

There weren’t enough dowsing rods for everyone, so Andrew asked for volunteers. I started to raise my hand but Birthday Bitch cried, “ME ME ME IT’S MY BIRTHDAY!” and practically cut off Andrew’s hands for them. He gave me a set next, one pair each for Evonne and Wendy, and then BB’s husband.

“This would be a good time to take pictures,” Andrew suggested. You know, the whole orb thing.

“Jeannie, will you take pictures for me?” I whispered, since I was too busy intently holding my rods.

She sighed and brought out her phone.

At this point, Andrew started asking general questions, like, “Is anything with us tonight?” I was hoping that George Washington’s BFF, who is buried in that cemetery OMG, was there. BB’s husband’s rods started to cross, and mine completely went haywire, turning all the way back around onto themselves until they were pointing over my shoulders.

“Hmm,” Andrew said. “Tell it to let it go.” So BB’s husband started singing that dreaded song from Frozen which made his whole dumb family crack up.

“WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO HIM WHEN I’M THE ONE WHO BELIEVES!?” BB cried, until her rods eventually started to cross too, prompting her to BABY TALK the spirits. It was grotesque.

I think she was really started to wear on Andrew, and he gradually lost control of the situation. There were so much commotion among their own private group that no one was really listening when Andrew was trying to ask questions, but when everyone’s rods veered over to my direction, you best believe attention was had.

“WHY ARE THEY ALL POINTING AT HER?!” BB screeched. “IT’S MY BIRTHDAY!”

Yes, we know. We’re not calling you Birthday Bitch for nothing! God.

I was just starting to feel like maybe I was possessed and all of these rods were quietly jabbing their accusations at me, when it started to rain.

“Jeannie,” I whispered. “Can you put my hood up for me?”

She sighed again. BUT SHE DID IT.

The rain kept falling progressively harder and ended up killing the circle. So Andrew said. I think he was totally frustrated with Birthday Bitch at that point and just wanted to wrap it up. It was just as well, because all I could think about was the homeless people who had nowhere else to go and I know, me and my stupid bleeding heart, but I hate seeing a person down like that. I already felt like an asshole standing right next to them and certainly would have felt like the world’s biggest douchebag if we got to the point where we started asking the spirits questions.

Andrew said a prayer to close the circle, and we all walked back to the Omni in small clumps, Jeannie and I with Andrew.

“I’m so sorry about that,” he apologized. “Once he started singing that Disney song, it was pretty much over.”

We understood.

“Do you want me to show you the Harvard Yale Princeton Club?” he asked, and of course I wanted to and surprisingly No Fun Jeannie said she wanted to come along as well. So after the other group parted ways with us (Wendy and Evonne had already made it back to the Omni without us; what if we had been overpowered by cemetery spirits? THEY DON’T KNOW WHAT WAS HAPPENING WHILE THEY WALKED SUPER FAST AHEAD OF THE GROUP!), Andrew busted out his ghost hunting flashlight and I’m sure we didn’t look suspicious at all, poking around the dark courtyard of some prestigious club while Jeannie nervously hung back by the gate. I was glad that she was there though because some of my common senses started to trickle in after the fact and I figured it probably wasn’t the brightest idea to go traipsing around in the dark with a stranger. So, thanks for chaperoning, Jeannie!

Andrew finally returned us back to Wendy and Evonne and then we didn’t tip him because we’re all assholes who don’t carry cash. I felt so bad about it that I contacted the person in charge of the ghost walk company on Monday and told them  how fantastic Andrew is and how we felt like cheap motherfuckers for not tipping him except that I said “jerks” instead of “motherfuckers” because I’m trying to be more classy in my correspondence with people.

But let’s be real: if I had any spare cash, it would have gone into the hands of the homeless people first. God, I’m so terrible, I know!

My overall opinion of the tour is that it was a fun way to spend a Saturday night. I enjoyed walking around town at night and learning more about my city so that maybe now I’ll be able to tell my out-of-town friends things when they’re here instead of shrugging like I have a tic. But as far as the ghost-portion goes, I would recommend going on actual ghost hunts with local paranormal groups* because we didn’t really get to much investigating on this one.

*(When I went to an abandoned school with a local ghost hunting group in 2011, that was the real deal and I was legit scared. It was a really interesting experience, to say the least.)

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After parting ways with Andrew, the four of us capped off the night with food and drinks at the Omni and it was good, you guys. It was so good that I somehow got drunk off two glasses of wine and then proceeded to puke my head off the next morning. Regurgitated wine or spirit expulsion: we may never know.

****

On Monday, A-ron asked me what I did over the weekend.

“Jeannie didn’t tell you?” I asked, acting appalled. (Musical side note: “Act Appalled” is one of my all-time favorite Circa Survive songs.) “I don’t know why she’s so embarrassed!”

“I guarantee you that she loved it and probably went home and journaled about it,” A-ron reassured me.

Now I want to do shit to make her think her office is haunted.

 

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Jul 052013
 

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One long lady.

Hey! You! Tired of reading this yet? Don’t worry, I’m tired of writing it! But I’m almost done. Probably just two more posts to go. WE WILL GET THROUGH THIS TOGETHER!

We departed New Hampshire on the mornning of June 24th, making our way back into Massachusetts way behind schedule, but Professional Driver Henry reminded me that if we had left the hotel as early as I wanted, we’d have been stuck in the rush hour commute to Boston. I was not happy about this wrench in my plans.

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We arrived in Salem sometime after 11:00 I think and immediately stopped at the Witch Museum. I felt that it was really imperative for Chooch to suffer through the hour-long presentation with other strangers, most of which happened to be French tourists and required translator headphones. The woman I was sitting next to was using a pair and I would occasionally hear parts of it when the French narrator would raise his voice to put emphasis on all of the ACTION that was unraveling.

Henry and I spent an entire day in Salem back in 2002 and being there this time around made me realize that my memory either sucks or I purposely blacked a lot out because Henry and I used to fight so much back then. Because I didn’t remember SHIT about anything we saw in Salem. Henry kept saying, “Yeah, don’t you remember…” and my response every time was, “Nope.”

I did, however, remember the glowing red circle in the middle of the museum floor, commemorating all of the names of the victims during the Salem witch trials, because I had a really terrible coughing fit while everyone was gathered around, trying to learn about some witch shit. At least they changed it so now everyone gets to sit down. I mean, if I’m paying to get into this so-called museum, the least you could do is give my fat ass a bench.

<Insert lesson witches here.>

Ironically, the second half of the tour was led by some old broad who was having a coughing fit. There was also a crying baby. And rude French women. And here I was worried about Chooch acting inappropriately.

Afterward, Henry had to go feed the meter and instructed us to walk to the visitor’s center on our own. We made it about five feet before coming to an alley, at which point I clotheslined Chooch and said, “WAIT. Let’s hide from daddy.”

So we stood just inside the mouth of the alley, giggling like evil assholes, doing pee jigs, waiting for Henry to round the corner so we could jump out and make an even bigger spectacle. (There were already old people across the street watching us nervously.)

“It’s taking him so long!” Chooch sighed.

“Yeah, I don’t remember the car being that far away,” I agreed, starting to get agitated.

“I’ll go check it out,” Chooch declared seriously, like the appointed superhero for Fathers We Want To Scare But Are Missing. Meanwhile, I dialed Henry’s number.

“Where are you?!” I screamed when Henry casually answered, not at all sounding like a parent who just left his peeps alone in a strange city in 100 degree heat.

“Just walking down the sidewalk, behind some people acting like assholes.” And I turned to find him walking toward us from the direction we were supposed to have walked before getting sidetracked by something more devious. So then I had to go and retrieve Chooch, who was still trying to contort his body around the corner of the building like a human periscope. I hate when Henry thwarts us.

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He pretty much didn’t walk with us for the rest of the day.

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Stopped at some café and got an iced maple latte fuck yes!  And Chooch got a strawberry smoothie because that’s his “thing,” apparently. Who cares what Henry got. Something boring.

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Stopped at Count Orlok’s Nightmare Gallery to ogle some of horror movie favorites, and then hit up the cemetery, natch.

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I mean, it would be weird if we went on vacation and didn’t visit a cemetery, right?

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Chooch was mad because there were approximately 87 different haunted attractions that he wanted to check out, but we didn’t have time. Kept trying to tell him that we’ll probably be going back in October, but he was beginning to reach the Dickhead Precipice.

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Someone littered their empty coffee cup in the cemetery and I was so pissed off about it. You don’t leave your trash in a cemetery, especially not one so old and historical! So I quietly gulped and picked it up and then proceeded to be stuck carrying it for an entire 4 blocks before finally coming across a garbage can, I was so fucking pissed off.

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“Don’t you have enough pictures of your kid in a cemetery?” asked everyone who has ever read this blog, even once.

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Town Hall, I guess.

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Seriously, look at how far ahead of us Henry stays! God, I’m offended.

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I deemed it imperative to find the post office before we left so I could finally get stamps for my postcards since the Fireside Inn LIED about having stamps! (Actually, they did, but they were supposedly “locked in the manager’s office” and he wasn’t in yet. I guess they have a stamp theft problem in Nashua.) Not surprisingly, Salem’s post office was all big and grand. Exactly how all post offices should be, and not tiny cement shoeboxes full of defeat and deadened eyes like the one in my dumb town. While Henry stood in line for stamps, Chooch and I took that as our cue to clamor up the marble stairs and check out the creepy upstairs, which was basically just a hallway lined with therapist offices and art studios. And a locked bathroom door, which sucked because I was really afraid Chooch wasn’t going to make it.

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And then we reached the point of the day known in some regions as “Erin and Chooch are Hungry and Now Everyone Must Suffer.” Henry frantically tried to find somewhere suitable for us to eat. Just kidding. Henry is never frantic. Always calm and monotone. Except for that time a camel began devouring my hand. For some reason, Henry responded to that in a frantic manner. Maybe because he cares?? No. Probably because he didn’t want his hand jobs to suffer.

Anyway, we ended up a pub called the Witch’s Brew. Of course it was called the Witch’s Brew.

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I don’t think our waitress liked us. Either that or she actually was really struggling to understand our WEIRD PENNSYLVANIAN dialect. Each one of us had to repeat ourselves to her twice and, after a simple surveillance of her interacting with other tables, I don’t think she had a hearing problem.

Chooch especially was getting pissed off at her not understanding him. Poor kid was just trying to order chocolate milk and she reacted like he asked to suck it from her teat.

“What??” she asked him in a voice that Alyson would have had a field day with.

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I feel the same way, Chooch.

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And then Henry confiscated our knives!!

Three hours later than I had planned, we were finally on our way to Boston to spend the day with our friends Matt and Kristen (after Henry literally drive in circles around Salem for a good 30 minutes before getting stuck in some random mid-day traffic). It was about an hour’s drive, and I used it wisely — by convincing Chooch that Matt is a witch.

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Jul 012013
 

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I’m going to veer off schedule here for a  minute and share the pictures from our tour of the Lizzie Borden house in Fall River, MA. After an entertaining breakfast at AlMac’s Diner where I had Portuguese bolo and will consequently never be satisfied with a regular old English Muffin ever again, we stopped here on our last full day of vacation. Chooch was pretty fucking stoked to say the least. The kid has grown up in a house where serial killer greeting cards are made, what do you expect?

Henry and I stayed over night here back in 2002, but it was worth the return trip for us, too. Mostly to experience it all over again with Chooch, who knows the legendary story and has watched countless YouTube videos about the house. However, when we walked into the gift shop to pay for a tour, the tour guide behind the register looked a little skeptical at these two assholes toting a 7-year-old child to a murder house.

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But then Chooch sprawled out on the couch in the waiting area, mimicking the crime scene photo of dead Andrew Borden, and the tour guide widenened her eyes a bit. “Do you wanna help me out when we get in the house?” At first she suggested that he play the role of Abby Borden, but Chooch quickly said, “No. I want to be the dead dad.”

“How old is he?” one of the three old people in our group asked. I could tell that they too were leery of taking an hour long tour with some brat, but I’d like to think they were pleasantly surprised by the tour’s end.

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I mean, come on guys. You know I’m the first person to call my kid out for being a dick. But he was actually super well-behaved and genuinely enrapt in touring the house. I was so proud of my gruesome little brat!

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Floral patterns suit him.

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The house has changed owners since we were last there. To be honest, I don’t rememeber much of the original tour we got in 2002, other than being a served a plate of cheese and Oreos to snack on while watching some made-for-TV movie about Lizzie Borden, so a lot of what I saw on this day was basically brand new to me. I also feel that the guide we had this time was more knowledgeable.

(Side Note: The guide we had in 2002 was also the summer caretaker and ended up being the only other person sleeping in the house with us that night. He was pretty creepy, but affable at the same time. I posted a picture of him on my blog a few years ago and someone commented, informing me that he had perished in a house fire. So sad! I mentioned this to our tour guide last week—I shamefully can’t remember her name but she was really wonderful—and she said that when the new owners bought the Borden house, they had a really hard time getting him to leave.)

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The house was replicated as best as possible, considering they only had black and white photos to go on.

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In the dining room, we learned that this is where Abby Borden’s autopsy was done. The guide had pictures of their mutilated bodies and said to me, “It’s up to you if you want your son to see these.”

I asked Chooch if he wanted to see, and he shrugged and said, “Yeah, sure.”

I found out later that I probably should have asked him if he knew what “autopsy” meant first.

While the guide was demonstrating ironing handkerchiefs (one of Lizzie’s alleged alibis), Chooch was chomping at the bit to go into the next room because he recognized the couch immediately. You’d have thought he waited all his life for this one short moment of impersonating some dead dude with a crushed skull and dangling eyeball.

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Chooch’s Shining Moment.

The old people on the tour with us laughed uncomfortably during his performance.

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We were all clustered in the foyer listening about Andrew Borden’s final moments on Earth; I was standing at the foot of the steps — the top of which was where Abby Borden’s dead body was first spotted prostrate on the other side of the bed in the guest room–with my back to the front door when the mailman began shoving circulars and bills through the mailslot. The new gray hairs I must have amassed in that moment has got to be a staggering number.

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Chooch volunteered me to play the butchered Abby Borden, which required me to sprawl ass-up on the floor while Chooch giggled devilishly. Thank god there are no pictures. My ass is much wider than the last time I was photographed in this pose.

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This lady knows her shit! We definitely got our money’s worth.

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Borden spirits all up in Henry’s shit!

J/K. I was just really bored in the car. Best use of a bokeh app!

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In the corner of the guest room, the actual dress Elizabeth Montgomery wore in the final scene of the Lizzie Borden movie in the 80s is on display. When the guide mentioned Elizabeth’s name, Chooch put his hand up to his mouth and whispered, “Witch!” to me, giving me this faux-serious look. At first I couldn’t figure out why he said that, but then I remembered that the day before, we took him to the Salem Witch Museum and there was a wall of photos of famous witches throughout history, and of course “Bewitched” was one of them. The guide we had that day pointed out each picture and gave a brief explanation, and I guess that little jerk was actually paying attention (because I know I barely was).  Yay for money not wasted for once!

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Actual books that belonged to Lizzie. Check out “With Edged Tools.” LOL right!?

Chooch was really into all the vintage cat figures he spotted throughout the house, and also the creepy trunk of toys that the owner keeps in one of the attic bedroom that is supposedly haunted by random children. Chooch said that’s the room he wants to sleep in when we go back and I was like, “That’s cool, bro. But have fun staying up there by yourself.”

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Haunted or not, there is something to be said about standing in a house where one of the most sensationalized double-murders in this country’s history were carried out.  I was definitely on edge the entire time while Henry just looked bored (or probably confused because the only way he understands anything is if the cast of Criminal Minds is acting it out on TV for him). Chooch would get fidgety here and there, but thankfully he didn’t do anything overtly dickish to draw attention to himself. For the most part, he honestly seemed like he was interested in what the tour guide was saying, officially making “7” my favorite Chooch age thus far.

When I went back to the gift shop afterward to buy souvenirs, the guide admitted to me that she was a little worried when she saw us walk in with Chooch, and how pleasantly surprised she was at how he conducted himself. I’m so glad she told me that, because as a parent, I’m sure there are times when I think my kid is acting normal but everyone else is thinking, “TAKE THAT BASTARD BACK TO THE ZOO, MY GOD!” My fear is that we’re going to take him somewhere like this and he’s going to break something or cause a general scene by throwing a tantrum out of boredom.

I remember the time when I was a kid, just a little bit older than him, on vacation with my grandparents in Europe. I think we had stopped in Assisi, Italy and, right befor walking into a shop filled to the brim with breakables, my grandma gripped me by the upper arm and hissed, “DO NOT TOUCH ANYTHING!”

Aaaaand guess who knocked over an entire display of glass figurines with her purse? GOOD OLD GRANDMA JEAN.

Meanwhile, as the guide was praising my kid’s good behavior, Chooch was in the process of pissing on his shorts in the customer rest room. So, you win some, you lose some.

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Can’t leave Fall River without paying our respects at the cemetery!

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Stoked for Lizzie!

I really was pleased with how we were able to sneak in educational bullshit on our vacation without it feeling like 5 days of war memorials and dry history lectures. I can’t wait for Chooch to go back to second grade and tell everyone about the shit he did, haha.

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Dec 052012
 

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My friend Evonne and I went out to the Quaker Cemetery in Perryopolis Sunday evening. One of the many cool things about Evonne is that she is sensitive to things like spirits, but she doesn’t exploit it like some cheap fortune teller. She has an arsenal of stories to tell about this subject too.

Anyway, I had been wanting to revisit this place for awhile, and Evonne had never been, so we braved the cold rain and the 45 minute drive. I was a complete chicken shit the whole time — would you LOOK at that building!? — but Evonne was all, “No, I’m not feeling anything here.”

Although she did admit that her head hurt every time we went inside the stone building. THAT MUST MEAN SOMETHING!

We went back to her car and did a quick session with the Psychic Circle, which informed that there were in fact spirits in that location, they were evil (but not demons), but that we were safe. Evonne asked the Circle if we would get to experience there that night, and it said no.

She asked me if I wanted to go back in one last time before we left, but the Circle pretty much answered that for me. Evil spirits? No thanks!

Oh my god, it was so gloomy there that night. And of course, now I’m sick.

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Nov 162012
 

Apparently, whoever lived in this cell was well-behaved enough to be given his own TV, what the hell?

After getting a load of the maximum security North Hall digs, the cells in the “moderately bad guy” hall almost looked livable. According to Wiki, “[t]he fate of the prison was sealed in a 1986 ruling by the West Virginia Supreme Court which stated that the 5 x 7-foot  cells were cruel and unusual punishment.” Nine years later, the prison peaced out when all the inmates were moved to a larger facility in a nearby town.

Volunteers got to be locked inside the cells. Of course, Chooch was all over this. I only wish they’d have kept him longer.

The guide told us that on one of her tours, a man was taking pictures of his wife and daughter in one of the cells, but every time he looked at the pictures on his camera, the cell was empty. The guide said she saw the pictures herself and could confirm that his wife and daughter were not appearing in the photos. A girl in our tour group lunged for that cell immediately after hearing the story, but the phenomenon must be particular because she showed up in all of the pictures.

Ghost shit never happens when I’m around!

Another outdoor area where the general population criminals could exercise and, I don’t know, mill about? Lay on their backs and look at the clouds?

There’s a chapel out there, and a bathroom, the wall of which had to be knocked down after an inmate was killed in there.

Entrance to the Sugar Shack. This was an area in the basement where the inmates could go during inclement weather, but they entered at their own risk. They were completely unsupervised down there, and even though there’s no record of anyone actually dying, it’s still considered the most haunted area of the prison, due to all of the violence and suffering that occurred in there. We didn’t get to go inside during our tour, which means I’m going to have to go back and take one of the ghost hunt tours, so if anyone wants to join me, holla atcha girl.

Old Sparky! I think he speaks for himself.

The museum room was fascinating. I think I want to decorate my future invisible house with prisoner art work. I mean, I already have a small collection thanks to my death row pen pal’s penchant for abstract water coloring.

(I shouldn’t be concerned that he painted a nude of me, right?)

Next possible Christmas card in the series…

Chooch seemed particularly interested in the weapon wall. Go figure.

My favorite part of Moundsville is its connection with Charles Manson. Manson grew up in this area, and his mom was even imprisoned there when Manson was a kid. So he wrote a letter to the warden, asking for permission to be transferred so he could be closer to his childhood home. He also thought he would be treated better there.

The warden’s response was a simple yet effective, “It’d be a cold day in Hell.”

Can you imagine how different Moundsville’s history would be if Manson’s wish was granted? He would have taken control of that prison right off the Aryan Nation and god only knows what would have happened next.

Anyway, I pointed to Manson’s picture and asked Chooch if he recognized him. He looked at me like I was a dummy and said, “Um, yeah. He’s the guy on your cards.”

That night, Chooch watched some of Manson’s interviews on my phone. It was a really awesome bonding moment for us. Thank you, Moundsville!

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Nov 132012
 

The warden and his family used to occupy the top floor of this section, and supposedly the ghost of some broad is sometimes spotted in one of the windows. (OUR GUIDE HERSELF HAS EVEN SEEN IT, WHAAAAT.)

For only being the beginning of November, it sure was fucking nipply up in that pen. I never knew this, though it seems pretty obvious, but there was no heat or A/C for the inmates in this prison. They roasted like pigs in their tiny cells during the summer and turned into frozen predator pops in the winter. However, a new cafeteria was built shortly before the prison closed for good. It was part of a deal that the Governor struck with the inmates during the last hostage-situation riot that took place there in the 80s: the new cafeteria would be the only room in the prison with heat and air conditioning. Danny Lehman, president of the bike gang the Avengers and the inmate responsible for striking the deal, was murdered in the North Hall by the Aryan Nation before ever getting to see his cafeteria completed.

Our guide talked about Danny Lehman A LOT. I think she had a crush on him.

(I looked up his picture. He was pretty OK looking.)

The new cafeteria has some pretty sweet paintings upon its cinder blocked walls. They were all painted by the same inmate, who was color blind (shout out to my color-stupid brother!) so he had another inmate mix the paint for him and included his name on the paintings, too. Sounds kind of un-prisonly to me.

Who knew jail birds could be fair.

The guide let us explore the kitchen area without her, so that tells me either there is nothing to note in that area, or the paranormal perils are so plentiful that the guides are like, “Y’all go on ahead and poke around in there if you want while I stand out here close to the exit.”

Anyone who knows me knows that I have this condition where I need to write my name everywhere, on everything, all of the time. Restaurant place mats. Scratch paper at work. In Henry’s underwear. On sidewalks in chalk. Under the mattresses of the people I stalk. I think it’s called megalomania. Solipsism. Egocentrism.

Maybe a pretty perfume of all three, with notes of narcissism.

You best believe I dirtied my finger in that prison grit to leave behind my name.

If I was a tattoo artist, I’d sign my name to everyone’s motherfucking skin.

Bitch, try and stop me.

View of the yard through the cafeteria window. Apparently, nothing of note ever happened in the new cafeteria, but they had emergency tear gas running up through the rafters just in case shit got cray.

Tried to get Chooch to eat this.

We got to check out the yard after poking around the cafeteria.

All the way back in that corner was a tiny bullpen set up for the inmates who were in protective custody, mostly murderers and rapists of children.

Attention: Parents of Young Kids! If you’re not ready to broach such heavy topics, perhaps a tour of a penitentiary can wait a few more years.

The words “rape” and “rapist” were slung around so much during this tour that it’s a fucking miracle Chooch didn’t raise his hand and ask what the fuck it means.

Hopefully this doesn’t mean he already knows.

The blue building is where some of the inmates got to make $15 a month making license plates. Some of them would smuggle parts of the machines out, like tiny screws and stuff, and then throw them over the fence at the maximum security inmates out in the bullpen playing basketball with each others heads. Then those guys would do ungodly things to be able to sneak their newly acquired weapon-making contraband past the guards. Some would even cut their arms and slip this shit in there, oh my fucking god.

But I guess at that point in your life, what’s a little prick, right?

Ninety-four men were executed in Moundsville. Eighty-five of those were hanged from 1899-1949, and the other nine were electrocuted after one of the inmates constructed an electric chair for the prison. (He then had to be put in protective custody. Duh.)

Hangings were viewed by a public bleacher section until 1931, when the rope decapitated its victim. Can you imagine dressing little Susie in her Sunday’s best and sitting on bleachers eating Cracker Jacks while some fucker was lynched in front of you?

Actually, I kind of can.

And that fucker is Henry.

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Nov 122012
 

Chooch has been obsessed with prisons thanks to season 3 of The Walking Dead, so I thought it would be fun to take him to the old State Pen in Moundsville, WV last weekend for a tour. Henry acted all put-out about it, but you know he was in there flexing his fake muscles during the tour, fantasizing about being a prison guard.

This was one of the bloodiest prisons in America, and all those paranormal shows have had episodes revolving around it. The prison itself offers ghost tours, which is what I really wanted to do but figured I would start out with the historical tour so that my 6-year-old doesn’t get too fucked up.

I took a ton of pictures with my phone and camera, so this is going to have to be done in parts.

Entering the North Hall.

North Hall: where the most savage inmates were kept. Chooch is absolutely obsessed with two inmates, Red and Rusty, who were held in this hall. Red was stabbed 37 times by Rusty in 1992.

Even in broad daylight, with a group of about 15, you just couldn’t shake that foreboding sensation. I lingered a few times while taking pictures, and then did a super-frantic scramble back to the group.

I think Chooch sat in every cell.

It’s hard to imagine spending 23 hours a day in that tiny cell. I’m fairly positive I wouldn’t last a night. Especially not without my PHONE, god forbid.

I have a pen pal on death row in Florida. It makes me wonder what his cell is like. I don’t think I ever asked him in the 10 years we’ve corresponded!

If Henry was a prison guard, he’d be the first son of a bitch to get shanked in a cafeteria riot and you know it. And let’s not even think about his fate as an actual inmate. Can you imagine how fast he’d wind up as some hick biker’s Mary?

Actually, he’s probably felt like an inmate for the last eleven years now that I think about it.

Part of this door was turned into a shiv after an inmate patiently worked on it with a cigarette lighter. (Seems kind of stupid to me that they were once allowed to have lighters on them, but hey — what do I know.)  Inmates are the worst kinds of MacGyvers.

Ha-ha-ha, glory hole! (Glory triangle?) Apparently, two North Hall inmates were pretty intimate with each other. This was my favorite part!

Can you imagine all the Jonny Craig graffiti I’d have in my jail cell?

The door to this cell had to be cut to accommodate an inmate in a wheelchair. On the day he was being transferred to a new facility, he got up out of his wheelchair and walked out.

 

The Wheel House — a large iron-barred revolving door in the Administration Building used to transport prisoners from one area to another. This is basically what Chooch looked like during the whole tour – he never stopped moving. For a change though, he wasn’t being too annoying. He was just super stimulated and interested in everything the guide was saying.

Still, I was thankful that our guide seemed like a kid person. Chooch kept ditching us to walk with her.

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Oct 262012
 

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Babes!!!

When we first arrived at the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum last Sunday evening, we only bought tickets for the haunted house and the flashlight tour of the morgue. “Most people come back and buy tickets for the second tour after they’re done with the first,” the ticket booth lady told us. And sure enough, once the flashlight tour was over, Seri and I exchanged knowing looks;  it was pretty clear we needed to take the other tour, too. God are we suckers.

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I really liked that older couple up there in that picture! They were also in our group inside the haunted house and the old man was gracious enough to hang back after Seri and I got disoriented inside the foggy maze and I screamed, “PLEASE DON’T LEAVE US, WE’RE LO-HAWHAWHAWHAW-SSSST!” Andthen his wife-person handed us glossy advertisements for the joint after the wheelchaired ticket taker refused to relinquish the ticket stubs for the second flashlight tour. (I really thought I could fool him the second time around.)

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We stayed inside the main building for this one, which would eventually land us in the Experimental Therapy ward. My Boyfriend In A Hoodie unfortunately did not join us for this tour. The Camera-Happy Couple did, though. Thank god.

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The nurses would pass the patients cigarettes through this hole. If I were Henry, I would take me back to that place and pass me an engagement ring through that.

Henry would never think of something that romantic.

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This picture accurately depicts what the world looks like to me without my Big Green Glasses. I took this picture because our guide told us that another guide had a tour up there (it was a ghost-hunting tour), and there was distinct activity coming from beyond those doors. When the guide suggested they check it out, the whole tour retreated to the stairwell and left her up there alone. WTF!? What a lame fucking group.

So our guide got us all amped for that, only to continue walking in the opposite direction! What the hell!?

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One of the experimental therapy exam rooms! In addition to the standard shock therapy practices, this asylum also got all up in some eye sockets by administering trans-orbital lobotomies. I was totally into this part of the tour.

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I was dawdling at the rear of the group in an effort to get a picture of this lonely wheelchair that would have such a great home with me, when a loud, staccato cry rang out in the next room where most of the group was.

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There were two stairwells and numerous doors in this area; the sound seemed to have come from the left, away from our group, perhaps either from the stairwells or back in one of the other rooms. It was totally obvious that everyone heard it, people were shifting around nervously, but not one person said a thing about it. Not even the guide. So I chalked it up to someone coughing or a squeaking shoe, but later Seri backed up my original thoughts by swearing, “No, I heard it too. Everyone heard it. It totally sounded like a bark!”

Clearly, we need to go back there.

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Right after that, we entered another section of the floor, where our guide told us a story about some poor man whose whorebitch wife admitted him to the hospital for alcoholism, where he met his untimely demise in the men’s room after some asshole who actually deserved to be there stabbed him 17 times. The guy was able to drag himself to the nearby nurses station before bleeding out on the floor.

Of course, Camera-Happy Couple had a field day posing candidly for each other by the latrines.

(Who am I kidding? I probably would have done the same if I wasn’t terrified of my picture being taken because I’m the fattest fatty who ever fatted.)

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 Looks cozy to me.

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 This was an area that was renovated in an attempt to capture the original feel. 20121025-101444.jpg

 Adding a portrait of angry soldier-types make even the chilliest abodes seem homier.  It’s good that they tried to cheer up the patients through art.

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 Supposedly, some people have taken pictures of this mirror and have spotted other faces in the reflection. I got really excited at first because it looks like there is a face with glowing eyes in the righthand of the picture below, but I think that’s probably just Seri.

Her eyes are always glowing with fire and brimstone.

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And that concludes our tour of the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum.

When Seri dropped me off at home, it was past midnight. I poked my head through the passenger side door and said in a sing-song voice, “Hopefully we didn’t bring anything back with us. You know, like ghosts.” I let that sink in for a second, and then sang out, “Goodnight!” as Seri’s face filled with horror.

She loves when I do that to her late at night when she has to drive home alone. I’m a good friend!

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Oct 252012
 

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I absolutely could not be happier with the way this Halloween season has been chugging along. I’ve gone to a ton of haunts, from hayrides to trails to church basements, and those are stories reserved for my haunted house journals. However! Seri and I went to one in a lunatic asylum in Weston, WV on Sunday, and then took an optional flashlight tour of the premises afterward, because we figured why not? I mean, our adventures are scary enough (some kind of fucked up shit always happens to us, even when we’re just hanging out at the high school track) but who doesn’t need a little paranormal immersion in their lives. The haunted house portion was a lot of fun—we came out laughing, albeit nervously—but the flashlight tour was definitely creepier. Here are some pictures. And by some I mean so many that I will need to divide them amongst  two posts so as not to break the Internet.

The Morgue Tour

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There was a guy in a wheelchair taking our tickets. He wouldn’t let me keep the stub as a souvenir!

It was like this:

“But—”

“No.”

“But—”

“Sorry.”

There was an old lady behind us who made a big fuss about it too. I heard her throw down the word “scrapbooking” at one point. Yeah, she went there.

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FA LA LA LA LAAAAAWHEELCHAIRS!!!!!!!!

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The morgue tour was super creepy from the get-go because we had to walk outside behind the main building to get to the building the morgue was in. On the way, our guide (a tiny but no-nonsense lady who I’m sure I could have made cross in .0005 seconds flat if I wasn’t so distracted by all the broken glass and the desire to push Seri into a big mud puddle) pointed her flashlight to an area behind the building where there supposedly was once an APPLE TREE THAT SOME PATIENT HUNG HIMSELF ON! You guys, you KNOW how much I love apples and suicide! I mean…apples!

P.S. There’s totally someone looking out of that bottom window.

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The hallway where the morgue is located.

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Casket! Some imbecilic dumbass had the audacity to call it a coffin, which made our guide flip her shit. I can’t remember her name, but I’m REALLY wanting to call her Sally. She constantly used the word “setting” instead of “sitting.” Who’s the imbecile now.

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Morgue curtains!

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Morgue-y morgueness!

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Morgue cleansing corner!

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There was one young guy in our tour that I am positive I made a connection with even though he was there with his girlfriend, whom he even mistook me for at one point! And she was way less fat than me, so I took that as a compliment. Sorry, non-fat Erin lookalike. You can write about how insulted you were another day, because right now it’s my time to shine.

So yeah, this guy. He was like 20. But when we were outside waiting for the tour to start, some broad came over and scolding several of us for commingling on the steps when we should have been standing inside the queue. So there were like 6 of us who had to duck under the queue, just as my new boyfriend and his group of people were entering the line from the back.

“I swear we’re not cutting!” I pleaded, and they all said they knew, but when my new boyfriend got closer, he jokingly sneered, “Line jumper!” at me. I took this to mean he wanted to have all of the sex with me against a haunted hospital urinal.

During the tour, he and I were always the last ones in the group, lingering about and taking pictures. Seri claims she didn’t notice, but I think that’s just because she doesn’t want to choke to death on GUILT  the next time she sees Henry.

Anyway, he was wearing a hoodie and a hat. It was too dark to ever really see his face.

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The haunted house portion of the asylum, while scary in its own right, was a little disappointing because instead of really utilyzing the natural creepy state of the space, they had most of it covered up

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I don’t know what this is.

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Random carriage.

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I kept turning around and taking pictures of the halls behind us. Mostly because I was too scared to keep my back turned on it.

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When we were still outside in line, there was a couple standing with us. Maybe they were in their early 30s too, it was hard to tell, but they seemed extremely unoffensive. Until the tour started and the girl-part of the couple went from quiet and mature to obnoxious asshole before the guide even started pointing shit out. We weren’t even out of the lobby yet and it was already photo bomb city. These mothers were in my way in every fucking room, acting all posey-posey for each others cameras in front of the morgue sink, a broken window, an exit sign. THEY WERE GODDAMN EVERYWHERE I WANTED TO TAKE A PICTURE. I could have pointed my camera at Seri’s ass, and that girl would have had a sudden urge to have HER picture taken there, too. And she kept posing like she was at the fucking beach. And she was wearing stupid boots.

And she was just a stupid twat, OK?

I can also tell you that she is a big Heath Ledger fan, because maybe I have big eavesdropping ears and probably not because she told me herself.

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There’s one room that’s haunted by a little girl named Lily. Numerous paranormal groups have witnessed her playing with toys and balls in there, but I was too busy wondering how I could steal her baby doll without my soul becoming demon dinner.

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I really want to point out that those streaks are probably spirits! But I don’t feel like being a douche today.

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Balls.

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My boyfriend and I had another cute little encounter by this door. I did my cute little “You have no idea that I’m really a Black fucking Widow” giggle.

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I feel like maybe I missed out on a lot of the historical facts of the morgue tour because I was too busy fixating on my lust for the guy in the hoodie and my hatred for the Photo Bomb Couple of the Year.

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Dec 052011
 

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I took Andrea to the Southside today to walk off our Pamela’s breakfast, over which I learned that she is morbidly terrified of old people and begged me to not invite some liver-spotted lone diner to join us at our table. I tried to get her to walk in vomit, because those are the types of things I do to my friends. And yet she still bought me the most amazing Sidney Crosby t-shirt of all time.

We had plans to meet Wendy at the Beehive for coffee at noon, and thank god we got there before she did because I almost had to move some guy’s crutches to sit down, but then I said, “I’ll just let Wendy sit here” and took the seat next to Andrea. When Wendy arrived, she tried to sit down and then realized the legs of her chair were entwined with crutches and had to reposition them against the wall, which caused the owner of the auxiliary legs to whip his head around and glare at her.

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Meanwhile, Andrea was being aurally raped by the  man and woman behind us who were telling each other about their respective spouses and how unhappy they were. Between them, the Crutch Guy and yesterday’s Eat n Park breakfast buffet disappointment*, I think she was on the verge of writing off Pittsburgh for good.

(*Andrea said she only got the buffet because Henry got the buffet, so she figured it must be OK. “Yeah, but I can eat crappy food,” Henry retorted. He hates taking the blame for anything, which must make life stressful for him when you figure everything is his fault. Anyway, if that were the case, I suppose we can expect Andrea to start wearing non-descript t-shirts and stuffing her pockets with individually-wrapped prunes as well.)

20111205-163222.jpg I kept trying to see what Crutch Guy was doing on the computer. Probably some sort of workman’s comp fraud.

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HE WALKED TO THE COUNTER WITHOUT HIS CRUTCHES. WHAT A FUCKING FAKE. He left before we did, but not without giving each one of us a scrutinizing once-over. And then he barely put any weight on the crutches as he walked out. I was so appalled by this and kept saying so, but Andrea and Wendy continued to talk over me because he was old news by then.

Then we followed Wendy out to her part of town because she wanted to take us to a haunted cemetery called Hankey Church in Plum. We ditched my car along the way and rode with her (which was like a dream come true for Andrea because it meant a reprieve from the constant loop of Dance Gavin Dance in my car), but before we got there, I totally started to have a whiny, low blood-sugar meltdown and said, “I either need an apple or a cookie, like now.”

“Well, you can’t eat an unsliced apple, so I guess we need to get you a cookie,” Andrea deduced, because she has been reading up on the Keeping Erin Alive and Tempered handbook. Wendy pulled over at the first grocery store we came upon and Andrea bought me a Snickerdoodle and a Reese’s Pieces cookie. Then she bought two lame thumbprints for herself and Wendy.

At the checkout, the middle-aged cashier asked, “Oh, did you just get out of school?”

Andrea was completely perplexed by this, and as we walked to the car Wendy kept trying to assure her it was because she looks so young and she should be happy, but by this point I was going into apoplectic shock and they mostly sounded like Charlie Brown’s teacher; all I could think about was eating the fuck out of one or all cookies.

“I guess because adults don’t come in and just buy four cookies,” Andrea laughed. “I should have bought a pregnancy test, too.” And then there was even more convivial chitchat between those two and why the fuck was no one handing me a goddamn cookie?

I finally got my cookies. I ate both of them so fast that I can’t even remember if I liked them. But I felt instantly better.

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Hankey Church is a tiny cemetery semi-enclosed by a white picket fence, but not the kind that makes you dream of planting petunias and playing catch with your freckled kid, mostly because there are old, slanted tombstones beyond it, but also because who dreams of having a freckled kid?

Various supernatural websites  claim there has been reported activity there. “Weightlessness and loss of balance” was listed on one site as being common experiences in the vicinity, and Andrea did actually fall immediately after getting out of Wendy’s car. Oh my god, it was fucking outstanding; the slowest descent I have ever seen in real life. In fact, it was so stupid how she went down that I actually for a second thought it was a staged pratfall, that she felt bad for hating so terribly on Jonny Craig and all of his ginger brethren, that she was all, “Hey, look at me, ginger gods! Lucille Ball shoutout!”

But then I realized that she had stepped into a slight divet in the ground and I started laughing. Just stood there laughing while she was in this sad, pathetically infantile crawl position on the damp grass.

She was fine, you guys. Don’t worry. Totally not as bad as when she bit it on roller skates the last time she was here.

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20111205-163326.jpg Her head’s chipped like mine.

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I didn’t really feel any weird sensations while we were there, but the creaking noises the trees were making was seriously disturbing me. It sounded like all of these invisible doors were opening down the hill from the cemetery and I whimpered a little.

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One source says this headstone is the center for all of the paranormal activity, but my totally accurate EVP iphone app was not picking anything up.

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Another source says it’s the vacant lot across from the cemetery, which was once the site of the Hankey Church, which burnt to the ground after the pastor was hanged from a tree out front.

Yet another source says, “There was never a church there, you dumbshits, and that cemetery is a peaceful place with the occasional BJ and date rape.”

However, when Wendy and I were still poking around the cemetery (we found two CD-Rs labeled as some strange Baptist sermons, tucked in a tree),  Andrea was sitting on a large rock across the street. Her back was toward the vacant field and she said she felt legitimately creeped out sitting there, like something was behind her but she was afraid to turn around.

She probably took a lot of amazing spirits back to her hotel room. And they’re probably still laughing about when she fell in a half-inch hole in the ground.

20111205-163410.jpg In either case, my Toms were fucked after trudging around that sodden field.

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20111205-163435.jpg Driving away from the cemetery, I said, “Hey Andrea, remember when you fell and I didn’t help you up?”

“You’re a dick,” she mumbled from the backseat, quietly masterminding a plan to make me a special batch of acid-based eyeshadow.

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Feb 102011
 

Most of my Saturday was filled ghosts. Talk of ghosts. Pictures of ghosts. EVPs of ghosts.

My friend Wendy from work had expressed interest in meeting my friend Evonne, who has had a boatload of paranormal experiences. It runs in her family. So the three of us met Saturday afternoon and had one of the most intense, goosebump-springing conversations I’ve ever had in the back of a Starbucks. At one point, I found myself crying a little. It was overall a really positive meet-up and I left there feeling very calm. Plus, I hadn’t seen Evonne since last July, when she stopped by during Blogathon to ply me with a green tea frappucino and zombie hand sanitizer. (Which never fails to cause a commotion when I use it at work because of the lingering bouquet of marshmallow it sends wafting through the air. That stuff is the shit.) We’re planning on meeting up again soon to work with the Psychic Circle (think Ouija Board but way more positive) in Evonne’s haunted house.

Later that night, I had an after-investigation meet up with the ghost hunting group to go over evidence that was culled a few weeks prior from Broughton Elementary. I was really excited to see everyone again and have more awesomeness to rub in Henry’s face. When I was leaving the house that night, he said something to the effect of, “Have fun with your new lame friends.” BECAUSE HE IS JEALOUS.

Everyone from the investigation, minus Tiny, was at Panera in Monroeville, prepared with laptops to display their blown-up photos of orbs and spectral images and digital recorders containing their EVP treasures. George’s girlfriend Kim (the one who refused to go back to the school after feeling the murder in the parking lot) was also there, along with another member of the group–Dwayne–who missed the investigation because he was drunk at the Steelers game and met some chick to go home with. (Seriously, that’s what he told George.) In order to differentiate this new Kim from my friend Kim, I will refer to the new one as George’s Kim, even though that’s practically setting the women’s movement back fifty years. Oh wellz0rz.

It became apparent to me within the first few minutes that George’s Kim is the brawn behind G&K Paranormal. She’s outspoken, organized and no-nonsense. I was sort of scared of her.

While we waited for Kim, Chris and Jimmy Wenger (who were wining and dining at Olive Garden without me because I had my ringer off all day like a dummy), George passed around his camera so we could all see the image he captured from the bottom of the steps by the gym. At the top, there was  clearly a face peering in through the window of the doors to the second floor hallway. It was eerie enough to make me scrunch my shoulders.

“What does that look like to everyone?” George asked.

“Honestly, it looks like an alien. Like ET,” I laughed, and Joel said that he agreed.

But George’s Kim, along with some others, pointed out that it looked like a miner, and when I looked at it again I could totally see it and got even more freaked out. What I thought was an unusually large ET-cranium actually appeared to be the outline of a hardhat. And miners were killed there, you know!

Once everyone arrived, the first order of business seemed to be staging a coup on the group’s founding organizer, Lynn, who was not at the meeting or the investigation. Chris said that whenever she did attend a meeting, she never spoke and was severely lacking in leadership skills. I have not met Lynn yet, but was still fascinated and highly entertained by the dissent happening right in front of me. I sipped my coffee and sat back.

“I’d like to get her to a meeting so we can be direct with her, rather than make it seem like we’re talking behind her back,” George’s Kim suggested. I liked this suggestion, because that meant CONFRONTATION.

“Well, we don’t want to come at her with torches lit,” Chris said, causing me to flash him a look and say, “Yeah we do. I want that very much.”

“You would,” he sighed.

I want to witness a hostile takeover! I want it to come to blows, like a real barroom brawl. I saw that Lynn RSVPd for the next meeting and I am so amped.

“I think the core of our group is really beginning to gel,” Chris added to the discussion, and I found myself wanting to hug everyone. I have friends now, you guys!

Rather than merge our group with G&K Paranormal, it was decided that we will remain our own entity, with George and Kim’s continued guidance. Then a long and boring treasury discussion went on, and I sat there thinking, “Holy fuck. Things are getting legit. I AM A PART OF A REAL LIFE CLUB, YOU GUYS.” Yes, even in my head, I talk to you guys.

“Erin can be our reporter,” Jimmy Wenger tossed in, causing everyone to look at me. Yeah, and what a reporter I’d be!

“No, he’s just kidding,” I said, waving it off and feeling  my face getting red. Then I turned around and called him a dork for doing that. But then he said he liked my cicada ring, Chiodos tattoo and yellow-striped flats, so he’s back to being awesome in my book.

George uses his fingers as an abacus while Jimmy Wenger, who has a Buzz Lightyear zipper pull on his backpack, looks on.

Finally, Brittany pulled out her recorder and we all listened to the EVP she picked up when she was in one of the classrooms with Nick and Lynette. In the recording, we could hear Nick talking, but behind his voice was definitely the cadence of a child, either singing or chanting. It was fucking chilling, even for a Panera Bread meeting room, with hot coffee in my belly. She played it back, over and over, and none of us could come up with any logical explanation. The rest of the groups were nowhere near that room when they were in it, and obviously none of us sound like a child. (Right now, Henry is sitting somewhere with that smug look on his face, saying, “ORLY? You don’t sound like a child??”)

Christine had picked up quite a few EVPs herself, and most if not all seemed to originate either from the upstairs classrooms or the hallway. In one recording, you can hear someone whisper “I’m sorry.” She confirmed that it was when she, Tiny and myself were exiting one of the rooms. She played it back several times, and Chris even pulled out his headphones so we could have a better listen, and I was relieved to discover that it was not actually me saying it like I had anticipated. But then my relief turned to fear as I realized that some dead person was whispering their apologies to us while we were walking in the dark. WHAT WERE THEY SORRY FOR? Oh my god, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. Did they do something to me? Is that why I’ve been spouting off recalcitrant obscenities and bleeding from my eyes ever since that night?

Another EVP presented us with someone whispering “This way,” also from the hallway. It  might have been the creepiest one of them all, with the way the whisper dragged itself out.

There was one from the room where something was finishing Tiny’s succession of knocks on the desk. I excitedly told her that I had captured the same audio when I was recording from my point and shoot camera and as usual, she seemed unimpressed with me. I will win this broad over yet.

Looking at ghostly images. That’s Dwayne in the background. He kind of has an accent.

George’s Kim checking out Christine’s EVPs using Chris’s bigshot headphones.

I’ve been checking around online and there are some other paranormal investigation teams who have EVPs from that school and they are chockful of the sounds of children. It makes me feel like the giggle I heard in that first floor classroom was real.I also found this one recording of an investigator commenting on how some of the rooms have been vandalized and desecrated by kids breaking and entering (hi, Blake). You can hear this faint and gruff voice of a man saying, “Little bastards” right as the investigator mentions it. (Some of the EVPs on that site were really questionable, but that one was almost crystal clear.) A janitor died in that school. JUST SAYIN’.

Anyway, I feel like I’m learning a lot from these people. Plus, Joel is really big into photography so I’m hoping to learn some shit from him about that, too, instead of just bumbling through life completely ignorant to f-stop and aperature.

Before the meeting officially ended, George asked, “Well, would anyone like to have t-shirts made?”

His words had barely made contact with the atmosphere before I found myself lurching forward and shouting, “YES!” Everyone looked at me, and George said, “Ok…” with a laugh.

Fuck yeah, I want a motherfucking t-shirt. I want everyone to know about the awesome club I’m in. It better have my fucking name on it, too.

Then I went home and started word-vomiting on Henry because I was just so overwhelmed by the evidence. He listened, but his lips were twisted in that haughty tight-lined smile of his.

“I feel like it was the missing piece in my life,” I said about ghost-hunting, and my unsupportive, myopic boyfriend tried to stifle a laugh.

***

Last night, I watched “Death of a Ghost Hunter” and I pretty much can say with full certainty that I am scared forever. There was this weird religious helmet in it that I am now obsessed with.

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Jan 312011
 

It was around 2:00AM by the time we finished with the last EVP sessions. George wanted everyone to split up for one more round; Kim and I found ourselves back with Jimmy Wenger. I don’t know why, call it a cop-out, but I was adamant on making the gym our last destination. It was the only room where I didn’t feel scared and after our adventures with George, I was kind of looking to end the night on a note that didn’t include phantom faces leering through windows, mischievous laughter and inexplicable piano plunking.

But as we all crowded outside the door of Base, gathering our bearings and adjusting our headlamps, Kim suggested we ride the coattails of Christine and Tiny, who were about to ascend the staircase to the second floor classrooms. Her reasoning was that they had been having shit happen to them all night, so maybe we would reap the rewards of being in their presence. This was exactly why I didn’t want to go with them! Which is pointless, considering I was there that night to have an experience. My inner chicken-shit was not on board with this at all, but Jimmy agreed to join them so there I was, being dragged along like I was on my way to get a root canal.

“Get fucked,” I whispered to the Shadowman Room and his equally-eerie neighbor across the hall. I was relieved when Christine and Tiny kept walking to the other end of the hall. We would be starting out in the Little Girl’s room again.

The vibe was immediately different, being with these two. They both made themselves comfortable, each choosing a desk to sit in while getting acclimated with their surroundings, while I continued on with my now-signature EVP stance –  up against a wall with a rigid spine, nervously suckling a strand of hair.

Right away, Christine asked us to kill our headlamps, preferring to work in a pitch black environment. It was so dark that I could no longer even make out the nebulous mist of my breath. Almost immediately, my ears began to pick up the slack for the paycheck my eyes no longer had to earn, and my head was beginning to fill with ringing and static noise.

The EVP session started; Christine and Tiny had a more relaxed, conversational way of communicating with the dead. Their questions piggy-backed each other and didn’t come off sounding disjointed like when I chimed in. They had environmentally-centric queries, such as, “Were you a student here? Who was your favorite teacher? Were you a teacher? Can you write your name on the board for us?” They weren’t  shy about asking the spirits to do things for us, such as completing the series of knocks that Tiny made on the desk in which he sat.

Nothing happened.

He rapped his knuckles on the desk a second time, and both he and Christine asked, “Did you hear that?” Jimmy, Kim and I did not. But those two evidently heard  answering knocks coming from the coat rack behind me. I took several giant steps into the center of the room.

“Thank you,” Tiny called out to whomever (whatever) had supposedly completed his parlor trick.

“I didn’t hear anything, did you?” Kim whispered to me. She sounded annoyed, and I didn’t blame her. Not being able to pick up on everything was frustrating.

“We’re going to the next room now,” Christine called out, and at first I thought she was talking to the rest of us and was immediately irritated by her patronizing tone. “You can follow us if you want, we’d like to talk to you some more,” she added, and I realized she was still talking to some dead person. The thought of some evil school kid drifting around the school with us made me  feel weary and about 10 degrees colder.

The room across the hall was the computer room. “This is where I heard the piano!” I excitedly reminded Christine and Tiny, neither of whom responded. Being the jejune newbie was really hindering my credibility.

Sitting cross-legged in the middle of the empty floor, Christine once again asked for all lights to be turned off.  Jimmy would light up the room with an occasional camera flash, and Kim was talking in loud whispers; Christine’s bristling irritation was nearly palpable. No one had ever set any ground rules but it was clear that Christine had her own firmly planted preferences and Kim wasn’t having it.

“I’m going to the gym,” Kim said, standing in front of me. “Do you want to come?”

I did. But at the same time, I kind of wanted to see what was going to happen with Christine’s game of Duck Duck Goose. So I stayed. Jimmy tried to get Kim to stay too, by reminding her that we weren’t supposed to go off on our own, but she said, “I’m not scared!” and pretty soon she was far enough down the hall that I could no longer hear the swishing of her snow pants.

I peed in my pants a little on her behalf.

Meanwhile, Christine was still trying to lure a ghost into playing Duck Duck Goose with her. I was standing there, knees knocking together, listening to her do that while Tiny tried to tempt a ghost to have its picture taken, and my mind was ready to explode.

I was standing in the dark.

With perfect strangers.

In a haunted school that felt like a freezer.

My nose was so cold, a stream of snot could have been bubbling out of it and I wouldn’t have known.

My fear of the dark had taken on tangible fists and was pummeling away at my psyche.

It only got worse a few minutes later when we heard Kim and her snow pants sloshing back down the hall, and Jimmy poked his head out of the door to talk to her. They exchanged muffled words and the next thing I knew, Jimmy had joined her, closing the door behind him, shutting me in a room with my crippling paranoia and two people who were oblivious to my presence.

“Is everyone gone now?” I heard Christine ask Tiny.

“No,” I stammered. “I’m still here. Me, Erin.” I wondered if they were disappointed that they were still going to have to drag around my dead weight.

Tiny heard something from the back of the room, a voice? I don’t know, no one ever really told me. So what did Christine do? SHE FUCKING SCOOTED CLOSER TO THE BACK OF THE ROOM. I’m standing there, ripping my nails nearly all the way off their beds, hand reaching for the doorknob, ready to bolt, and this broad is moving closer to the source of the noise.

“Come on, come play with me!” she kept taunting in a sing-song voice. Are you fucking kidding me? I tried to imagine being a ghost and watching this play out. I imagine it would be hard not to say, “Yeah, I’ll play with you. Duck, duck, duck, duck GOOSE, bitch!” as I slam her on the head with a sledgehammer. But that’s just me. I have a feeling I might make an angry ghost.

You might be shocked to find out, but no one took her up on her Duck Duck Goose offer. Maybe because that game is fucking lame? Just a thought.

During the EVP prepping back at Base, George told us to make sure we verbalize for the tape recorder if we accidentally make a noise, such as coughing, bumping something, stepping on something. Even if our stomachs growled, we were told to state for the recording that it was indeed our stomach growling.

I had to do this at least 12 times. It was a little embarrassing.

“That was just my stomach again. Sorry guys,” I said sheepishly for the eight time, prompting Christine to assure me that she used to have that same problem but had since learned to fill up before embarking on a ghost hunt. I ate a sandwich before I left home, and it was pretty amazing that I was even able to get that down my gullet, what with the waves of emotion my nerves had crashing against my stomach lining. Jimmy Wenger’s glazed donut and a few handful of barbeque chips were the only vegetarian options down in Base, and I had ravished some of those in the beginning of the night, but as the groups got smaller and the rooms grew blacker, food was pretty much the last thing on my mind.

Apparently my stomach thought otherwise.

“OK, we’re going to be leaving this room now. Do you want to come with us? Show us around some more?” she suggested.

(Oh god, please don’t.)

With my arms wrapping myself into a big, walking hug, I followed them reluctantly to a classroom in the middle of the hall.

The door wouldn’t open.

“It feels like it’s being pulled back from the inside,” Christine said to Tiny, who took the knob and tried for himself.

“It’s not catching on anything,” he pointed out, and meanwhile, I’m inching back. I don’t know about you guys, but that seemed like a pretty good GET THE FUCK OUT warning to me.

The door was eventually wrenched open and the two ghost soldiers marched right over the threshold while I opted for a more timid, dainty tiptoe.

There was a toy truck on the floor; small and wooden. Christine sat down in front of it and launched her pleas for play while Tiny chose to squeeze his decidedly non-tiny body behind a desk.

Me? Oh I just stood near the door as usual.

I was colder than ever in this room. Maybe because it was nearly 3AM by now? Maybe that room had some broken windows? Maybe my own cowardice was causing my blood to coalesce into icicles? I really didn’t want to consider that it was because I had spirits swirling around my torso, blowing on my hair, looking for an opening to enter me and fuck my world up.

And the next thing I know, I’m hearing Christine say, “Erin has a kid. I bet she would like to play with this truck with you.”

There was an awkward silence, which I chose to fill with the even more awkward addition of, “Yeah, I have a four-year-old. We play trucks all the time.” (THIS IS A LIE. We do not play trucks. We do, however, play Zombies out in the front yard, but hello, I’m not suggesting THAT game to a fucking ghost kid.)

I stood there, squinting through the darkness at this stupid toy truck which just sat there, immobile. An overwhelming sense of pity (for myself) washed over me. I wanted very badly to open that door and leave. I was cold, the coldest I had been all night, and it was painfully uncomfortable. My toes burned in those goddamned uninsulated galoshes, my lower back ached from standing erect with trepidation for the last five hours. I couldn’t stop thinking about the comfort and safety of my home, my home that had heat and electricity and (hopefully) no spirits waiting inside cubbies to jack my world up. I don’t know if it was exhaustion, my sense of sight being stolen from me, or if there was honestly something inhuman in that room, but I felt awful. Just completely horrible, uncomfortable, completely oppressed, like the atmosphere of this particular room was heavy enough to crush my chest. I sensed things all around me; whether there was really something haunting that classroom or not, I’m not the one to verify that. I was honestly seeing shit though–wispy shadows? I’m not sure what it was. It could have been my eyes struggling to adjust to their new unlit surroundings, maybe overcompensating by creating images that weren’t really there? I don’t know, but I was fucking frightened. I felt unsafe and I wished Henry was there with me, so you know something inside my brain was awry.

You know in The Blair Witch Project, they start out all happy-go-lucky? Full of jokes and excitement? And then as their time in the woods lengthens, and shit starts happening, they sort of just break? Get all whimpery and paranoid? Oh, could I relate. Turning off the lights and hearing these phantom noises had me on the Autobahn to a psychological snap. My eyes started to well and I panicked because I didn’t want my tears to cause my contacts to freeze. I already couldn’t see!

But I stayed in that room. Mostly because I didn’t want these hardcore ghost chasers to think I was some spineless weakling (even though that’s exactly what I am).

Tiny launched into his knocking experiment again, and this time I fucking heard it. The answering knocks, more like taps, came directly from my left, where a metal cabinet sat in the corner.

“Thank you,” Tiny called out. I was glad that he brought his manners to the ghost conference.

“Is there something you want out of that cabinet?” Christine probed. “Do you want Erin to open it for you?”

DO NOT BRING ERIN INTO THIS. I backed away with such zest that I nearly lost my balance.

Meanwhile, Tiny had picked up some sort of scent, so Christine and I joined him in the middle of the room.

They both decided it smelled like burning wood, but all I could glean from the air was the stench of industrial cleansers.

It seemed like hours had passed since Jimmy and Kim had left, hours since we all left Base in one group. I wasn’t sure how much I could handle. Actually, I was sure, and it was this: not even one more second in another darkened room. So as we left the room, shutting the door behind us, I cleared my throat and asked, “Is it OK if I go back down to Base?” Once they made sure I knew how to get back (it literally involved walking down one flight of steps; even someone as directionally incompetent as myself would have a hard time getting lost), I left them behind as I did a ridiculous shuffle-run down the hall, past the Shadowman Room (I refused to look at the door), down the short flight of steps and then ripped open the door to Base.

Brittany and Lynnette, who had opted to stay back for that round, looked up in alarm.

“I COULDN’T DO IT ANYMORE I WAS TOO SCARED OMG AREN’T YOU GUYS SCARED?” I squealed, planting myself in a chair under the kerosene lamp. They didn’t seem very scared, and said that they hadn’t seen anything on the monitor either.

I wasn’t back for more than a few minutes before the other groups returned. Christine and Tiny were the last to come back, staying upstairs for a good fifteen minutes longer.

Lynnette and Brittany mentioned to the group that they would be leaving soon. I looked at my phone and saw that it was nearly 3AM. I grabbed onto their coattails and said that I would be bowing out as well. George said all that was left was a walk around the premises and the playground, and one last free-for-all around the inside of the school. I already made it way longer than Henry’s guesstimation and if we’re being honest, I wasn’t sure that on a purely emotional level, I could handle much more.

So I was firm in my decision to leave.

But first, I was entertained by Chris and Kim bickering over who is the biggest skeptic (they are constantly making me laugh!) and then, at George’s insistence, we all posed for a group photo.

l. to r.: Joel, Nick, Lynette, Tiny, Chris, Christine, me, Brittany, Jimmy, George

Kim is worse than me when it comes to pictures (and unrightfully so!) and purposely used Christine’s head to shield her face. I still don’t know who was giving me bunny ears–Kim or Jimmy. Jerks, both of them!

It was a good group of people and I was happy to meet them all. I hope that they didn’t think I was an idiot or too wussy to be a part of their group, though. I did take it seriously, even if it might have been difficult to see that through my veil of fear.

By 3AM, I was on my way home with the heat blasting, after having Kim and Chris walk me up the snowy lane to my car. (I half-expected it to not be there.) I called Henry and woke him up, making him talk to me while I drove the mostly desolate streets, too afraid to be alone in the car.  He didn’t seem very interested in any of my experiences, only that I had left his flashlight at the site.

“Don’t worry!” I begged. “Kim and Chris are still there! They’ll get it for you!”

Then he laid in bed and smirked while I spastically told him more of the night’s details. He of course had an explanation for everything.

***

The next afternoon, we were on our way to the roller rink and I had to endure Henry’s endless castigation on the subject of Flashlight.

“That goddamn flashlight could be in the same place for YEARS, and the moment the lights go out, it’s gone,” he fumed. “Everything was fine until my kids and YOU entered the picture,” he added, casting an accusatory glance upon my soul.

It’s just a flashlight.

“And of course you’d leave it there!” he continued, flashlight maniac that he is. “I never should have expected anything else from you!”

But Kim and Chris met us at the rink, and Henry was reunited with his precious fucking flashlight. Never mind the fact that his girlfriend had spent the entire night risking her life inside of a HAUNTED SCHOOL.  Let’s ignore that and have a fucking Welcome Home party for a goddamn battery-operated torch.

***

After rehashing the events over and over again since that  night, I believe that I was offered enough proof at Broughton Elementary to believe that there is definitely some shit out there. Just writing these recaps, in an empty house in broad daylight, has been enough to raise the hair on the back of my neck and fill me with that dreaded sensation of being watched. I’ve screamed outright on several occasions while lost in typing-mode, always because of something stupid – a beeping car, my phone ringing, one of the cats slowly pushing open the basement door. I’m worried of the impact this might have on my cemetery walks, if I’ll be too sufficiently freaked out to go there on my own now. I hope not.

Would I do it again? I think I would. Only, with my own flashlight.

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Jan 282011
 

[Part 1] [Part 2] [Video] [Part 3] [Video]

Kim and I wound up with George for the second round of EVPs.

“Great, this is like being with the boss,” Kim complained in my ear, trouble-maker that she is.  I was nervous because I could only imagine how potentially intense it would be, standing next to an expert like George while he conducted his EVP session. I had an image of him standing in the middle of the room with his arms spread open like Jesus Christ, summoning the spirits out from the floor boards, naturally ending with one of them using his insides like a Holiday Inn and spitting their disembodied voice out through his mouth.

I really hoped that wasn’t going to happen.

Chris, who was still reeling from being rejected for Jimmy Wenger, purposely ditched us in favor of Christine and Joel. When I found out they were going to the boiler room, I was suddenly pretty happy to be going to the second floor classrooms with George. Tiny and Jimmy stayed back in Base for this round. I believe Nick, Brittany and Lynnette went to the gym.

We started out at the far end of the hall, in a classroom to the left of the staircase leading to the gym. This was the room everyone in the know kept calling the Little Girl’s Room, but I was too scared to ask why.

“Do you smell that?” George asked when we crossed the threshold. I smelled nothing more than the musty scent of a rotting school and a bouquet of my own fear and anxiety. But Kim said she smelled something, like lavender or lilac, and George seemed pleased with her answer. Apparently, he and Tiny had been detecting wafts of old perfume in one spot of that room all day.

I pulled in a deep drag of stale air through my nose and wasn’t rewarded with anything other than the need to sneeze.

In that room, I saw the name of one of Blake’s friends written on the chalkboard, verifying that the Blake-centric graffiti I had seen earlier  definitely belonged to Henry’s son. I momentarily felt a little relieved at the notion of Blake being there and making it out of the school alive. Maybe I would, too.

We lined up in front of the row of windows, which now seems like a dumb idea—I could have been grabbed and pulled through!—and began recording our session. My brief sense of relief dissipated.

Spewing out questions to a roomful of nothing is about as awkward and idiotic as it sounds. I realize this. But every time George would open up the floor to me, my pulse would quicken and I would get a terrible sensation of stage fright. I didn’t want any spirit motherfuckers making fun of me, you know? But my questions were so lame. “Hi, how are you?” [Dead.] “What’s your name?” [Your mother.] “Friend me on Facebook?” [Decline.] Presumably speaking with the dead in an abandoned school at 1:00 in the morning is pretty terrifying.

The whole point of recording EVPs is not that we expect to hear a spirit answer us right then and there, but hopefully something will be able to be detected on the recording later. I hoped that whomever I was communicating with didn’t turn out to be some asshole.

Suddenly, something echoed down the hall.

George and Kim thought it sounded like a cough. I was certain it was a laugh. No one else was assigned the upstairs classrooms with us, but George made a note to ask the others later if any of them had coughed. (Or laughed, goddammit! It was fucking laughter!) We heard it a second time before crossing the hallway to the computer room to fire off another round of questions.

“Does anyone hear that?” George asked. I was already standing stalk-still, which had become my signature ghost-hunting stance, but George asking that made me clench and tense up even more, all of my muscles ensconced in imaginary braces.

Kim and I shook our heads. All I heard was my heavy breathing and the rustling of fabric as I shoved my hands deeper inside the pockets of Henry’s Faygo jacket, searching for warmth.

“Here,” George said, removing his headphones. “Put these on.” They were attached to some sort of parabolic amplifier, which George held in his hand.

Headphones clamped against my frozen ears, I strained to hear something, anything, but all I could pick out was the sound of dirt and broken glass crunching under my feet as I shifted my weight to curb the pee sensations that this creepy moment was stirring up inside me.

I frowned, was shaking my head and lifting my hand to remove the headphones, when I heard it.

“Wait,” I whispered, pressing the headphones harder against my ears. It was coming from the right side, it seemed. A high-pitched, but extremely faint sound, like a child singing a word, a falsetto “ahhhh.” I heard it two more times before removing the headset and passing it over to Kim.

“You heard it too?” George whispered excitedly. “The piano?”

“I thought it was a voice,” I started, explaining to him what it sounded like to me. But then I considered this piano theory, and realized that it could have definitely been the sound of a lone key plunking in very slow, random succession. The more I thought about it, the more it sounded like a piano. I remembered what had happened to George’s girlfriend, when she had heard the piano playing so loud in her head that she had to leave the school.

“There’s no piano in this building,” George pointed out, and I was really ready to leave that room.

Kim didn’t hear it and was pretty pissed about that, but I reminded her that she smelled the perfume and I didn’t. My hearing is way more sensitive than my sense of smell. I’m usually the last one to notice if someone in the room farted. But my hearing is so tweaked that it drives Henry nuts. I can detect the most faintest of bass lines coming from my neighbor’s side of the house and I will go on a rampage because other people’s bass goes right through me. Hate it! Can’t stand it! Love it at a concert, though. And in songs, I will pick out the most random sounds that most people might not even notice, and force Henry to listen over and over to my “favorite” part. Half the time, he has no idea what he’s listening for in the split-second sample I’ve given him. Then there are times when we’re on the couch watching TV, and I’ll point to the ceiling and say, “Ooh, my jam’s on!” and Henry’s like, “How the fuck can you hear the bedroom radio?”

Even so, it took me needing headphones and a parabolic amplifier to hear that piano note.

I remembered this one afternoon last year when I was over Alisha’s with our friend Evonne, attempting to use the Psychic Circle (similar to the Ouija board, but used for good, positive spiritual contact). Alisha and Evonne had many experiences with the Psychic Circle, but with me there that day, nothing was happening. “Are you nervous, Erin?” Evonne asked. I showed her that my hand was shaking a little bit, and she said that it was possible my anxiety was affecting the Circle, and that we would have to try it another time.

I wondered if my fear and nervousness was closing me off to bigger experiences in the school. I tried to calm down, which was futile. You try getting your knees to stop knocking when you’re standing in a dark classroom, trying to get a ghost to tell you their favorite color.

There were several classrooms on the second room that George pointedly skipped. He seemed to know which ones held hot spots and didn’t waste any time on the rest. “This is the Shadowman Room,” George said, leading us into the classroom at the far end of the hall, above Base. This was the part of the hall where we heard the laughter. (Not coughing!)

I asked why it was called the Shadowman Room, and immediately regretted not waiting until later, when we weren’t standing in the middle of it.

“Because we keep seeing a large shadow drifting in and out of this room,” George answered nonchalantly, like it was no big thing. (My fucking phone just rang and I had a full-body convulsion; now my cat Don is laughing at me.)

“I feel like it’s way colder in this room. I’m the coldest I’ve been all night,” I shared with George and Kim. The ghosts born from my breath made up for the ghosts that weren’t showing up in my photos.

We heard something in this room. All of us heard it, a sound like movement from the back corner. I took two giant steps to my right, positioning myself for a quick escape. Then, a sound like rustling came from the front of the room, by the door. George’s camera had inexplicably died while we were up there, so he asked me to snap a picture in that general area. I did, but along with all the other photos I took that night, nothing spectacular showed up on it. Just some trash bags and “BLAKE.” And part of George’s parabolic amplifier. (I just like typing that as much as possible because it makes me feel like I’m smart.)

I couldn’t wait to peace out of this room. Standing in there made me feel awful, real uneasy and tense, like anticipating your drunk dad to come home raging from the bar.

The last room we covered with George was the classroom directly across the hall. I wasn’t too happy about this, because where did the Shadowman go when he left his room? PROBABLY STRAIGHT TO THIS ROOM.

“My friend Erin is here with me, and she is really wanting to experience something. Can you show yourself to her?” George called out to the empty room as I sucked in my breath. Don’t go bringing me into this, buddy.

We heard that noise again, the one I swear was mischievous laughter but George and Kim insist was coughing? That noise. Only this time, Kim thought it sounded like a growl. Fucking outstanding!

George asked me if I wanted to say anything. After Kim basically insinuated that the Hounds of Hell had joined us? No, not really.

“I’m afraid of making them mad,” I admitted, biting a hole through my lip.

Hesitating a little, George said, “You won’t make them mad.” OH OK BUT I’VE SEEN AMITYVILLE HORROR! Besides, I’m not so naive that I believe all ghosts are floating around, turning somersaults in the air and falling in love with Christina Ricci.

So I flat out asked, “Are you angry that we’re here?” and was immediately grateful when the windows didn’t blow out and the floor didn’t rumble.

However, it was a little disconcerting when George spoke into the recorder, “Check the tape for face looking in the door at [insert time].”

“You…you saw a face looking in the door?” I asked. Kim didn’t seem fazed by this, but by then, I was standing in half Eagle pose, trying to plug the impending pee that wanted to trickle down my legs.

“Yeah, right through that window,” George answered matter-of-factly, pointing at the door to the classroom.

FUCKING AWESOME.

Satisfied with the session, George deemed it was time to head back to Base. I couldn’t run down those steps fast enough. Those last two rooms left my nerves sizzling and hissing like live wires.

Warming up under the kerosene lamp after Round Two.

Back in Base, Chris, Christine and Joel told us of their activity-laden time in the boiler room. Chris felt something tug at his jacket; Christine felt something press up against her back, as though she were leaning against a wall; and all three of them saw something float past them and drift off up the steps. It was at that point I decided I had developed a life-threatening allergy to the boiler room and ain’t no way, no how, anyone was going to drag my ass down there.

“I heard the piano!” I offered excitedly, but no one really seemed all that impressed.

George walked over and stuck his camera in my face. “Look,” he said, pointing to the symbol on the screen depicting a fully-charged battery. “I knew that battery was fresh, but it just completely died up there in that room.”

Warmth of the kerosene lamp be damned, I felt a chill percolate all the way down to my toes.

[Ed.Note: I honestly cried at one point while writing this. I need to stop doing this when I'm home alone!]

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Jan 272011
 

I’m sure I’m going to regret posting this because I sound so fucking sniveling and lame in it, but here is a short video I captured using my camera in the teachers’ lounge.  There is no supernatural activity that I can detect, but there is Jimmy Wenger attempting to order a pizza, Kim trying to decipher and analyze poorly-spelled messages on a chalkboard, and me practically whimpering in the background, trying not to crap my pants even though absolutely fuck-all happened in that room. I didn’t even get any of the actual EVP session on this. I think Kim was recording that part. (I hope so, anyway! God, I’m not very good at this at all.)

It took me over a week just to work up the nerve to watch this and the other two videos, because I was so scared. I woke Henry up the other night and forced him to watch this with me.

Afterward, he sneered, “This is what you were afraid to watch? It was like the Three Stooges Look For a Ghost.” Then, with that signature facial hand-drag of his, he mumbled, “I can’t believe I got out of bed for this.”

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Jan 242011
 

“That wasn’t so bad,” I thought, giving myself a psychic pat on the back, after we all returned to Base from the walk-through. A little creepy in the boiler room when Chris heard that erotic sigh in his ear, but overall, nothing I couldn’t handle. This ghost-hunting thing ain’t shit, and I flexed my muscles a little.

While we all stood around, warming up under the kerosene lamp, fidgeting with our cameras and parching palates on plates of steaming sauerkraut, the last two members of the night’s expedition arrived: Joel and his wife Chris, who always goes by Chris and always went by Chris as a child until some kid moved next door to her in grade school and had the nerve to be named Christopher, at which point the nickname ‘Chris’ shifted from her to him and she has clearly been harboring a metric ton of bitterness and resentment ever since and at the risk of her finding this blog and snarling at the sight of all the “Christine”s, I am going to hereby be referring to her solely as just that to differentiate before her and the male Chris.

Around this time, George had to make a run to a near by gas station to get more gasoline for the generator. I took that opportunity to poke around outside the school with Nick and Tiny, later joined by Joel, who found deer tracks that stopped at a drain in the ground. We all stared down at the drain, wondering what happened to the deer, as there were no retreating tracks. It was like the deer just vanished.Later, Chris joined us and was quick to point out that they were rabbit tracks, and that the rabbit probably did quite literally fall down the hole. No one really said anything after that, but I think that silence was really the rest of us NON-SKEPTICS making a secret pact to always believe in vanishing deer.

I caught Tiny shining some sort of laser pointer up at the windows and after assuming my role as Hyper-Inquisitive Newbie, he explained that it was giving him a read of the surface temperature, and that sometimes there would be an inexplicable drop which could mean there was a paranormal presence of some sort skulking around.

“Like this window, here,” Tiny illustrated, marking a second-floor classroom window with a bright infrared blemish. “In one spot, it’s in the 30s, but when I move it down here slightly—” He dragged the dot a few centimeters down. “–it drops to 16.”

I involuntarily shivered. It was a cold January night and I was standing up to my galoshed shins in snow, but this shiver was not born from any natural elements.

***

Twenty minutes later, George had fed the generator and we were all gathered back in Base. I was nervously shoving barbeque chips in my mouth by the handful, unable to eat the meat-laden hot foods set out on the table. Several times I considered lifting the lid on the crock pot and letting the steam bite through the icicles my fingers had become. Everyone was socializing, warming up, checking pictures on the view finders of their cameras when suddenly, all the lights went out.

I froze, feeling a rising scream strangulating up through my voice box.

The lights came back.

“Sorry guys!” George called from the hallway. “That was my fault!”

Everyone laughed. I did too, but it was robotic and the corners of my mouth stayed in a neutral line. In the notepad draped from my neck, I scrawled: “9:ish, generator turned off (George’s fault) but I thought it was ghosts & went numb.”

I ate one of Jimmy Wenger’s donuts after that. I rarely eat donuts, that’s how you know I was stressed.

***

George wrangled everyone’s attention from their personal conversations so that we could finally get the EVP sessions started. I only knew a little about EVPs (electronic voice phenomena) so I was glad when George (and Chris, who jumped in to give the group a little more structure and leadership) took a few minutes to go over the procedure, and were given examples of what to ask the spirits during the EVP recordings.

“Remember, ghosts are people, too,” Chris joked. I went to laugh, but my teeth were chattering too hard.

George wanted us in groups of three. I wondered if anyone heard me gulp. I don’t know why, but I hadn’t considered we wouldn’t be all together as a team for the whole night.

Jimmy quickly claimed me and Kim, after I made the adamant statement declarating that I wasn’t going anywhere without her, and it was determined we would be focusing our EVP experiment in the Special Education annex. Christine, Joel and Tiny took the gym; Nick, Brittany and Lynette chose the upstairs classrooms; while Chris and George stayed back to monitor the DVRs.

“I came here with two pretty girls and end up sitting in Base Camp with George,” Chris whined, and while I couldn’t see his face at that moment, I was sure Jimmy Wenger was gloating. He’s very girl crazy! But I felt infinitely safe and assured that he was in our group. Not much seemed to faze him and I hoped that somewhere under his coat was safely tucked a Proton Pack. I had Henry’s flashlight in my hand, but then I thought better of it, desiring to free up some hand-space in case I needed to push over a book shelf onto the Devil. So I set Henry’s beloved flashlight on the desk by the door, opting to rely on my headlamp and the light Jimmy and Kim were bringing with them.

George handed me a camcorder, but as soon as I got out in the hallway, the battery died. I went back inside to alert him of this small snafu; he  snapped a newly charged battery onto it, saying, “You should be good now, this has a full-charge.”  But as soon as we descended the steps to the first floor, the battery life drained and the camcorder promptly shut off.

THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH GHOSTS, I heard my quaking voice of reason yell at myself. I knew that other people were experiencing spontaneously draining batteries during the course of the night, but that was not something I wanted to entertain right then, as we walked up the small flight of steps to our designated spot in the school. It’s pretty amazing how much safer one feels in a group of nine as opposed to a group of three. I kept trying to stay sandwiched in between Kim and Jimmy, but they were bravely swinging open doors and exploring through the darkness, like it was nothing more than an estate sale.

On the chalkboard behind Jimmy, it says “Leave the kids ALONE!” I like to believe that some teenager hoodlum (i.e. one of Blake’s friends) wrote that to be a dick. And you know, not whoever is haunting the school.

Fucking creepy tea party in the teachers’ lounge.

No matter what camera I used, my pictures just weren’t focusing. (True Story: as I just typed that, a truck went by my house and blew its air horn, causing me to scream GHOST! and splash myself with scalding coffee. I’m a little jumpy. And home alone.) I kept telling myself that it was because it was so cold. Maybe the lenses were rebelling against the temperatures. Henry accused me of having the camera on manual focus, but I can promise you I’m not that dumb, and I even checked to make sure it didn’t get bumped from automatic focus. I eventually just gave up taking pictures, figuring there would be enough from everyone else.

With George’s recorder activated, we began our first EVP session in the lounge, asking standard first date questions, like “Why are you here? Who are you? What happened to you?” It was kind of awkward, speaking these questions into what one could only assume was empty air. It was this moment of dire seriousness for me, and suddenly Jimmy Wenger was on his cell phone, attempting to place an order with someone from the Pizza Company, after getting the number from a magnet he found slapped to the chalkboard.

Unfortunately, he didn’t have an address to supply, so no pizza for us. I didn’t even know I wanted pizza until that happened, and then it was all I could think of, a momentary distraction from the complete and utter unease I felt in that room. The whole EVP thing has me torn. There’s that large part of me that has always wanted some sort of contact with the other side. But then there’s the other part of me that remembers movies like The Gate and what a tremendous suckfest it would be to open the door to your soul to some motherfucker who wants to take up residence inside your carapace, fucking you gratuitously from the inside.

I was sort of in a hurry to get out of the Special Ed area.

While Jimmy roamed around the hallway, conducting his own EVPs,  Kim and I entered Room 112. The first thing we noticed was a copy of a story three girls had written about Snow White, casually strewn across one of the desks. Kim immediately flipped back the cover page and began skimming it.

That’s when I had my first experience that night.

It came from my left, back where a row of recessed closets lined the wall, fluorescent stickers stuck above each individual coat hook, each bearing the name of a student.

Muffled laughter. High-pitched, definitely a giggle from a child. I forced my ear drums to play it back on a loop. I was certain it’s what I thought it was.

“Did you hear that?” I whispered to Kim.

“No, what?” she answered at a regular volume.

“I swear I heard something from back there. Like a whispered laugh.”

We went back there to check it out, like we’d see the laughter in some tangible Ectoplasm’d form, chilling out next to a coat rack. What actually happened was that Kim marched back there with self-assured purpose and bravery, while I was shuffled stupidly and meekly behind her.

Not finding any substantial evidence back there (but again, not really knowing what I was looking for), Kim and I went back to the desk to further examine the Snow White story. It was almost starting to edge out Kim’s obsession with asbestos. (Seriously, she didn’t give a shit about the fact that we were poking our noses around a supposedly haunted school; her main issue was asbestos, inhaling asbestos, falling into a churning vat of asbestos, accidentally clumping asbestos on her hot dog instead of sauerkraut, dying of asbestos. No matter how many times Chris told her that even if there was any asbestos in that school, we weren’t going to be there long enough to have anything happen to us. Even still, the theme of the night was Asbestos, which is a really fun word to say quickly, many times in a row.)

Photo courtesy of Jimmy Wenger.

I pretended to really give a shit about the story. I even said things like, “I really give a shit about this story.” But inside my head, all I could do was freak out about that goddamn laughter. Now, it wasn’t menacing, it wasn’t even mocking. It was just…it was quiet laughter from a kid. I tried to pretend I was in a park, the zoo, a city landfill–anywhere it would be natural to hear the laughter of a child. Not an abandoned school at 11:59PM on a Saturday night.

Finally able to extract Kim from Room 112 and the Snow White story it held, we noticed a door that we missed during the walk-through. On the other side of it was a small space located underneath the steps leading from the second floor to the gym. Kim walked in with authority but then quickly asked Jimmy if he thought there might be asbestos in there. With trepidation, I followed Kim inside, but kept thinking of The People Under the Stairs and also the “little girl” at the top of the steps that George had us say hello to during the walk through. Jimmy attempted to enter the small space after me, but I shouted “No!” And have no one guarding the other side of the door? Not going to happen on this girl’s watch. That’s all I needed, was to have the “little girl” wait for us to all step inside that fucking cob-webbed space only to slam the door and lock it.

So I squeezed past Jimmy and resumed my stance in the hallway, while he went inside to have a look around. I was standing at the base of a short flight of steps which led up the landing at the bottom of the steps from the second floor. At the top of the landing was the gym door, which had two mysterious lights shining through the glass at me. Just I was beginning to panic, the doors opened and Tiny and Joel walked out, laughing and with headlamps blazing.

“God, you guys scared me!” I hissed. Kim, Jimmy and myself walked up the steps and joined them in the gym, where Christine was sitting cross-legged on the floor, staring a tennis ball dangling from a string at the edge of a long table.

“Trying to see if they’ll play with me,” she said with a shrug. “We got it moving a little bit awhile ago.”

I took a nervous perch on the edge of the stage. This was something I hadn’t considered we’d be doing that night – actively seeking to interact with the spirits.

“Come on, I know you wanna play duck duck goose with me,” Christine called out, in a playfully taunting tone. I wondered if she was talking to Joel, if this was some sort of childish foreplay they like to indulge in from time to time. Then I realized she was speaking to the ghosts and I felt even more uncomfortable.

“Would it be bad to take something we found in another room?” Kim asked Christine. “I mean, as long as we put it back later.”

I knew where this was going.

“What do you mean?” Christine asked. “What do you want to take?”

“We found a story on one of the desks.”

“Oh! And you want to read it to the spirits? Yeah, that would be fine. Just remember to put it back.”

I knew the only person Kim was going to be reading that story to was herself, but I  went back with her to grab it anyway. I didn’t feel too sure about it, though.

***

Back in Base, I told Tiny I had heard laughter in one of the rooms.

He didn’t even flinch, nor did he seem very impressed.

“Yeah, you’ll hear things! You’ll definitely hear things. I been here since 3:00 this afternoon and been hearing things all day,” he told me, like it was no big deal at all.

Meanwhile, as Kim read her story, Lynnette had pulled up the school’s address so Jimmy Wenger could finally order his pizza, but The Pizza Company was already closed.

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