"All a skeptic is is someone who hasn't had an experience yet."
When I first began conducting sessions, I imagined that I would be doing a LOT of spooky stuff involving disgruntled demons in basements, extraterrestrial abductions and visits to cemeteries in the middle of the night. Turns out that some of those situations do come up on occasion, but not nearly as often as the mundane issues surrounding relationships, money and health. My initial fantasies of being a famous ghost hunter starring in her own wildly popular television show were dashed a long time ago mostly because of two significant issues:
1. Fear of being possessed by hobgoblins looking to hitch a ride around town in my body
2. Horrible on-camera presence due to the unfortunate tendency for stress-related blotchy redness on my face and throat and appearing to be roughly the size of a silverback gorilla.
There have been some fascinating paranormal events and eerie encounters over the past ten years. Of the times I have been contacted to deal with unruly entities roaming around various houses and places of business, about ninety percent of situations turn out to be nothing more than electromagnetic fields (EMF), air in the pipes, faulty construction, noisy neighbors and/or overactive imaginations. But the other ten percent truly defy all logical explanation.
Evidence: Client is awakened frequently between 3:00-3:30 a.m. by loud thudding sound coming from undetermined location in the house. Assuming it is a restless ghoul meandering the halls, she lies awake for hours with the light on so that no entity can assault her in bed (it's a common belief that ghosts only wreak havoc in the dark and mostly in bedrooms. Turn on the lights while brandishing a Bible and they flee like cockroaches, supposedly).
Debunk: Morbidly obese Labradoodle named Scotty prefers early morning hours to lick his balls on the wooden floor of the dining room, his hefty tail thumping in such a way as to resemble footsteps.
Evidence: Client arrives for session dressed in Civil War-era attire. She has been watching Somewhere in Time repeatedly for the past month and has convinced herself that, with my help, she can transport herself back to 1863 to meet up with a certain Lieutenant in South Carolina with whom she feels she has unfinished karmic/romantic business. When I question her about her expectations, she tearfully divulges that she had a reading with another psychic who told her that she needed to reunite with her One True Love...who exists inconveniently in another time/place/dimension.
Debunk: Never having launched anyone through an interdimensional wormhole before (but thoroughly impressed by her costume), I go along with her request and do some light hypnosis and past life regression as she reclines on the couch. At the end of the hour, she sits up looking at first disoriented and then shocked at the realization that she is still in 21st century California. As she stands up to leave, she realizes that she is wearing shoes from Macy's which (of course!) makes time travel back to the 1800s impossible.
Evidence: Client living in rural area sheepishly reports that she has had two recent encounters with extraterrestrials while walking her dog at midnight. According to her, the aliens have somehow altered her libido which was pretty much dead before the first event but now has come roaring back to life, much to her elderly husband's surprise. She notes that there are strange markings on her inner thighs and she is craving fried okra which must surely mean she has been probed and/or implanted with foreign DNA by creatures from another galaxy.
Debunk: Paranoid doomsday-prepper neighbor has invested in a flying drone camera which he uses to survey neighborhood activities after dark. Drone has an exceptionally bright light and hovers over moving objects as it transmits images to neighbor's computer. No explanation for libido surge or desire for fried foods, but "markings" on inner thighs turn out to be mosquito bites.
Evidence: Client is convinced that her house is being haunted by a malicious spirit. She details highly unusual events such as coming into her kitchen first thing in the morning to discover all of the cabinet doors standing open. Another morning she finds that the stove burners are on and the refrigerator door is ajar. Personal belongings, food and cash are going missing even though she lives alone. Her first panicky thought is that her dead father is terrorizing her as payback for not coming to see him before he died (she can smell cigarette smoke in the house occasionally and for sure that must be his ghostly calling card). She wants to know if an exorcism should be performed on the house and if that will prevent dear old Dad from murdering her in her sleep.
Debunk: Neighbor observes young man sneaking into basement window late one night. Turns out that methy homeless dude has been systematically ransacking various houses in the area for months. Police take care of the exorcism for free.
I receive a message from a very distressed woman asking me to call her back as soon as possible. I return her call that evening and she asks me why I keep calling her cell phone and hanging up. I have never met this woman before and have been in sessions all day, so I assure her that I was not playing games with her phone. She asks me my name and I tell her. She asks if I know her sister "Sandy", and I tell her that I have many clients, and am not sure if I know her or not.
We do this wary back-and-forth thing for another few minutes and just as I'm getting annoyed and ready to be done with the conversation, she tells me that the cell phone number my land line is calling repeatedly belongs to her sister who passed away the day before from unknown causes.
Now I'm interested.
I tell her that I provide sessions of intuitive guidance and frequently speak with people about their loved ones who have passed over. We make an appointment for a session the next day. That night, I dream that a young woman is sitting across the table from me showing me hypodermic needles and looking very sad. Even though clients frequently ask me to alert them if I should dream about them, I don't usually receive information this way. My dreams are more along the lines of me being the only waitress in a restaurant full of angry people yelling their orders at me, but I don't have any way to write it all down. Plus I'm wearing the hideous yellow satin dress I made for my senior prom and the zipper has busted out of the back so my underwear is showing.
"Ann" arrives for her session looking very skeptical, as though I planned this elaborate charade in order to capture a new client against her will. She shows me the cell phone in question and indeed, my land line was busy making frenzied calls to Sandy's phone the day after her death. I show her my appointment book and she sees that I was in sessions the entire time, but is still not understanding why all of this is happening. I tell Ann about my dream, but she shakes her head and says that her sister was a preschool teacher who loved life and never did drugs of any kind.
Not knowing where to go from there, we chat for a bit longer and Ann leaves, promising to call me when the results from the autopsy and toxicology report come in. A few weeks later, Ann sends me an email detailing the findings of her sister's death due to heroin overdose.
There really is no explanation for that bizarre series of events, and I wonder frequently why any of it was necessary if the reason for Sandy's death would have come out eventually, anyway.
About a year after this incident, I have another dream in which Sandy tells me adamantly that Ann needs to meet one of my male clients. I try like hell to shake the dream and ignore the request because it sounds so ridiculous to cheerfully call both of these people out of the blue and try to explain that a dead sister is pulling matchmaking strings from the spirit world.
I finally worked up the courage to introduce them to one another at a local coffee shop by the name of "Sandy's" (seemed appropriate given the circumstances). They got married about six months later.
As a rule, most people like to know what to expect. There is something comforting in the unchanging routine of our daily lives as we pretend that we have everything under tight control. If we want excitement, we leave our safe environments to bungee jump off of skyscrapers or have affairs with married Senators or sell off all of our belongings, grow some dreadlocks and join Greenpeace in the ongoing war with the Japanese whaling industry.
When spine-tingling events begin happening on our home turf, we tend to get a bit skittish.
In the very early days of conducting sessions (back when I was still entertaining fantasies about starring in my own television show), a new client asks if I would come to her condo to investigate the paranormal events which have been taking place for over a year. She reports that she and her mother are being greatly affected by the "dark energy" and negative forces she feels are conspiring against them. My first thought is that I am about to assume the role of the hapless priest who gets swarmed by flies in The Amityville Horror. Should I pack some holy water and a rosary? Should I bring some assistance or at the very least, a camera crew? Nah. Let's just step into a stranger's haunted house with absolutely zero knowledge of how to deal with demonic forces and see what happens!
I am greeted at the door by a disheveled woman who looks like she's been on a rough two-week cocaine bender. I instantly regret my jaunty, self-assured agreement to take part in this nightmare, and for a brief moment, I consider pretending to be a Jehovah's Witness, force-feeding copies of The Watchtower to people unlucky enough to be home during the day.
"Rosalee" invites me in to a living room which looks about as welcoming as Saddam Hussein's spider hole and smells like a nauseating stew of old bacon grease, Vanilla Febreeze and dirty ass cracks. I am introduced to a depressed Pit Bull named Mother Teresa curled up on a plaid couch. She barely raises her head to acknowledge me; the look in her sunken eyes conveying that there is no longer any hope for her, but I should leave while I still can, and by the way, what the fuck do I think I'm going to accomplish here?
From a shadowy corner of the room a voice growls, "I...know...you..." and my insides turn to liquid at the notion that the apocalypse has officially begun. It turns out to be Rosalee's ancient mother hunched over in a wicker rocking chair looking a lot like the Crypt Keeper but by now I am so spooked, her appearance is not as amusing to me as it normally would be.
Rosalee and I converse for a moment and she tells me about the back bedroom where strange things happen. Indeed, the atmosphere in the condo is one of sustained menace and I feel as though I am being suffocated by a tar-soaked blanket as we walk down the short hallway to the room in question. Every so often, Rosalee's mother eerily intones from the rocking chair, "I...know...you...." which adds plenty of extra spice to the ordeal.
Shit gets real in the Doom Room:
~Greeted by stench of rotting meat upon entering room. As we stand just inside the door, the curtains begin to blow around, even though the window is closed.
~Rosalee dissolves into tears which does nothing for the growing sense of panic I'm feeling. As I reach out to hold her hand, the closet door begins to rattle as though someone is trying to get out. Rosalee bolts from the room and I resist the urge to do the same.
~Now that it's just me and Satan's little helper squaring off, the energy in the room seems to stand still and observe me, speculating about my intentions (the DVR in my mind pulls up the scene in Ghostbusters when Gozer orders the guys to "choose the form of the Destructor" and Ray thinks of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man). From the other room, I hear Mother Crypt Keeper continuing her declaration, "I...know...you..." and I envision myself forcefully stuffing a filthy sock in her mouth and sealing it with duct tape. Now where did that thought come from? I do have a mischievous streak, but binding and gagging senile old ladies is not usually at the top of my to-do list.
~I look to the left and catch a reflection of myself in a floor-length mirror. I stifle a scream, not because of anything paranormal, but because my sweater makes me look like a pastel walrus. As I'm making a vow to throw the sweater away if I get home, I see a reflection of a man standing behind me and nearly lose my shit right there on the spot. Whirling around with heart pounding, of course there is nothing there. When I turn back to the mirror the man is gone.
~Not knowing what else to do, I close my eyes and call in every angel and saint I can think of in a loud, trembling voice. Seconds later, the mirror crashes to the floor and I hear Rosalee shriek from the other room.
~My heart is hammering louder and faster than I've ever experienced, but I manage to hear the name "Donald" in my right ear. Assuming that this is the name of the ghostly dude in the mirror, I shout his name into the room, commanding him to leave. Moments later, I receive a firm push on my right shoulder and that's it for me. Twyla Tharp would have been impressed by the new interpretive dance steps I invent in my terrified haste to exit the room. I let Rosalee know that this thing is way out of my league and offer to help her find someone else to take care of this stubborn spook.
~Mother Teresa looks up from the couch with an expression that says, "see? I told you it was fucked up" and we all jump as the bedroom door slams shut.
~Quite a bit older and unfortunately wiser, I never offer to do house clearings of this nature again. When I call Rosalee a week later to check in with her, the recording tells me that the number is out of order.
"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."
~Shakespeare Hamlet Act 1