Copyright 2017, Sarah Hartwell

It’s a beautiful old house and Bob felt himself lucky to get it. Right now he’s living here alone, but as soon as contracts are finalised on old home his girlfriend and their children will move in here. A lot of their stuff is already here ahead of the move. I think it’s the lack of other people that’s unnerving Bob. He imagines noises and shadows so he’s called in a paranormal investigation team.

I’m up on the landing with Tanya, leaning over the bannister and watching the guys set up their electronic toys. Tanya reckons herself to be a medium, but frankly she’s as psychic as a brick. I’ve always thought of mediums as long-haired women in floaty clothes, but Tanya has a buzz-cut and wears dungarees over a check shirt. Right now she’s concentrating on spirit voices. I nudge her, but she’s too deep in what she likes to call a trance to notice. If I’m perfectly honest, the only voices Tanya has ever heard are the ones in her head and she could get medication for those.

Since Tanya is away with the fairies, I lean on the bannister and watch the boys set up their toys in the room downstairs. Ambrose is setting up something he calls a Rem pod EMF Detector. It’s a sort of super-sensitive theramin that detects electromagnetic emissions – such as those being pumped out by Bob’s leaky microwave. Strong electromagnetic fields can affect the human brain and cause a feeling of uneasiness, and even hallucinations, and the dodgy microwave oven is the real reason Bob thinks his kitchen is haunted.

Josh has something he calls a ghost box to pick up EVP – electronic voice phenomena. He asks questions and this gizmo picks up voices that human ears can’t detect. It is so sensitive it also picks up the sound of air currents in the room and traffic two street away. Humans look for patterns in sounds and interpret the noises as words.

“If there’s a spirit here, please give us a sign,” Josh says.

The microphone of the ghost box picks up his breathing and plays it back to him, much amplified, as “here.”

The Rem pod picks up a random fluctuation in the earth’s magnetic field and bleeps.

All of this works much better in darkness when the human mind is more susceptible which is why the investigation is done at night. Ambrose takes some random photos with his digital SLR camera. It flashes a few times. He immediately views the images.

“Orbs,” he calls out, “I’ve got orbs.”

Now I’m interested so I leave Tanya – who is either deep in a trance or has fallen asleep and who probably wouldn’t notice if I yelled in her ear – and trot downstairs to take a look. Ambrose and Bob are discussing the orbs. Apparently there are lots of spirit energies present. The camera has captured its own flash on dust particles – basically the house could do with a good vacuuming – and sometimes it captures internal reflections. One image shows a reddish glow in the corner. This is deemed to be a portal. In fact it’s the orange glow of the camera’s range-finder. And the reflected veiled head on the washing machine is the distorted reflection of the camera flash from the concave door and the metal drum.

“There are definitely spirits here,” said Josh.

I can vouch for that. I’ve seen him sneak a little Dutch courage from the Jack Daniels miniature in his pocket, then scoff a couple of breath mints to cover up the smell. So far his ghost box has apparently said “here” and “alone.” Or maybe it was “beer” and “stoned.”

Me? As you can probably tell by now, I’m the sceptic.

Sudden draughts? The windowsills need caulking. Doors opening and closing? It’s called the vacuum effect. The sense of someone sitting on the bed at night? The duvet is settling. People are good at seeing and hearing what they expect to see and hear. It’s called pareidolia, by the way. It’s a psychological, rather than psychic, phenomenon that causes some folks to interpret vague or random images or sounds as something meaningful. Electronic voice phenomenon? That’s auditory pareidolia.

I spend much of the night observing the investigation. According to Tanya she has helped the spirits of two children pass over; apparently they died of diphtheria in the building that used to stand on this ground before this one was built. I’ve checked the history of the area and this was open farmland before the houses were built. The boys have got some “good evidence,” but are sure there is nothing harmful here, though Bob might want to replace his microwave.

As a sceptical observer, I’ve seen plenty of evidence of people seeing patterns in random draughts and motes of dust, but if it brings Bob peace of mind to have a team of investigators tell him there are no evil entities here then so be it. Personally I feel this house needs a bit of DIY and a family in here to bring it to life again and fill it with everyday noises. It used to be a vibrant family home, but then everyone moved away. I should know. I lived here for about sixty years until the day the paramedics carried me out and the neighbours murmured about it being such a shame I’d lived alone for so many years. I’ve been sort of keeping an eye on the place while it was empty. Soon the investigators will pack up their gadgets and leave and Bob will be reassured that his family can move in safely. The house will come to life again and I will take my leave.

Spirits? Of course we exist. There are more things in heaven and Earth, than are dreamt of by scientific philosophy. But when it comes to all these investigators and their toys – like I said, I’m a sceptic.


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