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Is Evil Real? An Exorcism In America

The recent disclosure of a series of exorcisms performed on the children of the Ammons family in Indiana have a lot of people not only scratching their heads, but considering the reality of true evil. I’m well aware that many people are also rolling their eyes in disbelief. I mean, the stories of what happened to that poor family are pretty hard to wrap your head around. It makes The Exorcist look like an ABC family movie. But what if it’s true?

The possessed children in this case were ages 7, 9 and 12. Witnesses that included police, doctors, nurses and representatives of the Department of Child Protective Services all saw things that defied their versions of reality. The kids reportedly levitated, walked backwards up a wall and onto the ceiling, spoke in strange, terrifying voices and even had their facial features change. Ministers were called to the scene, as well as a host of medical professionals. They all found the mother and children to be of sound minds. There was no history of abuse. They were a normal family, until the demons took hold of the helpless children.

The Ammons house where the possessions of the 3 children took place.

The Ammons house where the possessions of the 3 children took place.

There are over 800 pages of documentation outlining the horror the Ammons family faced. Professionals with upstanding reputations have put it all on the line in confirming the impossible things they saw. Pictures of the house and family reveal disturbing images of shadow people, leering faces and unexplainable objects.

So what is this? A hoax? Hysteria? Mass delusion? A desperate cry for attention? Any one of these options brings comfort to the masses. We can let the story fade within the ebb and flow of the news cycle and go about our lives, unencumbered by big questions with even bigger consequences.

Exorcisms are real. That’s an undeniable fact. Just this month, Pope Francis announced that the Vatican is training a host of new exorcists to combat a rise in Satanic worship in Italy and Spain. I remember a couple of years ago when there was a similar call for trained exorcists in America. My family knew a monsignor who had been specially qualified to perform the rites of exorcism, and had been called to duty several times. He was reluctant to speak of them, simply reassuring us that evil was real, as real as the computer you’re reading this blog on, as real as love and happiness, life and death.

The big question is, does evil live in the heart and soul of man, or is it a dark presence outside of man, a demonic force waiting patiently for our weaker moments so it can take root? Worse still, is it both? In our every increasing secular society, people prefer to think the former. Evil is a character trait, an emotion, a  momentary lapse in moral judgement. Devout Christians and a host of other religions will tell you it’s the latter, that demons do exist.

Whatever wellspring that spawns evil, the very concept chills us to the bone. Movies about demonic possession have been frightening people for decades. From The Exorcist to The Omen, Rosemary’s Baby, Paranormal Activity, The Last Exorcism, we are both attracted to and repelled by the notion. Like moths to an inviting flame, we can’t stay away, yet we’re terrified to stare too deeply into the fire.

I see movies and books about exorcism and possession as a kind of exorcism in itself. The more we fictionalize it, the less real it becomes, which, in turn, robs the concept of its power over us. The Ammons case, with all of its supporting evidence, has the ability to demolish the walls we build to keep out the evil things out while reassuring us that our bad decisions have no long-lasting consequences.

Or we can tell ourselves that they’re crazy, or liars, or fame seekers. Or better yet, just let the story fade away.

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For people interested in learning more about exorcisms and the church’s stand on the practice, there’s a very good book I can recommend called American Exorcism by Michael W. Cuneo.

To read about the incredible Ammons possessions, check out articles in USA Today, The NY Daily News, and NewsCom

The Ghosts Of Eastern State Penitentiary & The Scariest Places In The World

I’ve been saving this post for Halloween, and for good reason. Halloween, or better still, Samhain, is the time when the dead truly walk among us. Who doesn’t love a ghost story? Arguably, the best part of John Carpenter’s classic, The Fog, is the very beginning when John Houseman tells ‘one more story‘ on the beach just before midnight.

Even better are the true tales of hauntings and wayward spirits.

Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia is on just about every paranormal enthusiast’s bucket list, including my own. Ghosts aside, the enormous, crumbling prison is a living piece of history, some of those aspects carrying on through time. It’s been featured on many of the ParaTV shows, and my own daughter, the future Monster Woman, Ivy Shea, has been there twice – on school trips of all things!

The first time she went several years ago, she said it was just an old, empty building and she didn’t think it was scary at all. Pretty brave for an 11 year old. This year, they went back to Philly and once again walked the haunted halls. Ivy said the vibe this time around was very, very different. The atmosphere was heavy and it felt like they were being watched everywhere they went. She snapped pictures constantly. Two of them are interesting.

This first one shows Al Capone’s cell. If you look at the left arm of the chair, you can make out a face. Is it just the pattern of the paint on the wall? A case of Pareidoliathe mind’s way of putting a face to seemingly random shapes? Or is it the lingering image of an inmate long, long gone, at least from this world? I don’t pretend to know. It is fascinating to me how many views one can take on a simple, single image.

Take a look a the armchair at the rear of the cell and decide for yourself.

Take a look a the armchair at the rear of the cell and decide for yourself.

The second picture was taken down one of the empty wings of the prison. The area was roped off. Ivy was at the front of the line and snapped a couple of pictures. She saw nothing at the time but a long, lighted, empty hall. When we looked at the pictures later, we discovered a large, black mass a the bottom of the picture. It appears to be in the distance, as the light on the far wall shines past it. Again, I don’t know what this is other than highly interesting. No one was in that wing. No one was in front of her. Yet there is a black mass. Strange.

ESP Shadow

I wish I could spin a spine tingling tale about poor Ivy coming face-to-face with the wraith of an executed prisoner, but I can’t. The rich, haunted history of the penitentiary and these and other photos from hundreds of visitors will have to suffice.

Speaking of haunted places, Priority One Jets just posted a list of 7 Terrifying Haunted Attractions. Naturally, Eastern State Penitentiary is on the list. If you’re looking to really get your scare on this Halloween, you need to pick your favorite from the list and just go. The catacombs in Paris is tops on my list. Honestly, if  and when I do go to France, that and a few of Hemingway’s favorite writing/drinking spots may be the only places I check out. Who needs to see that tower thingy and those museums?

My question is, what famous haunted spots have you been to? Were you one of the lucky few to see and/or hear something that can’t be explained? Come sit by the fire. There’s time for one more story….

I Ain’t Afraid o’ No Ghost

You are all in for a treat today. Jack Campisi, my fellow Monster Man, has a little something to say about ghosts. I hope this is the start of many guest posts to come. Read on, and remember not to cross his stream….

There is something about a good ghost movie that scares you like no other kind of film. The suspense, tension and inherent creepiness really separate them from the rest of the horror genre. On the latest episode of the Monster Men video podcast, Hunter and I discuss some of the best and worst ghost and haunted house movies of all time. As a kid, there are all kinds of things to be afraid of, like vampires, zombies, demons, hockey-masked killing machines and so on. So why, out of all the vile creatures the pantheon of the paranormal, do ghosts hold such a special place in our hearts?

Monster Men post

Maybe it’s because we can’t always see them, so they can sneak up on us pretty easily. Or perhaps it’s because they visit us at night when we are sleeping and vulnerable. I think it’s because out of all the things that go bump in the night, ghosts are the only ones that we still kind of believe in even after we grow up.

Think about it, as a little kid you believe in ghosts along with the monsters in your closet, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny and everything else. As you get older, you start to realize that there are no such things as vampires or zombies, but when you hear a strange noise in your house or a door closes on it’s own, you still might suspect a ghost is to blame. Plus, the current landscape of TV does nothing but encourage you believe in ghosts with an endless array of paranormal investigation and medium shows that feature a whole host of adults who not only believe in ghosts, but also have their own TV shows about them.

As Hunter and I went through our list of ghost movies, a few of them stood out for me as particularly memorable or impactful. The one that comes to mind first is Poltergeist. Steven Spielberg’s entry into the haunted house genre brought ghosts into the modern world, set in a brand new housing development rather than a creepy old mansion. It also used state of the art special effects to go where no ghost movie had gone before. But for me, the thing that put Poltergeist over the top was the clown scene. poltergeist-clown-3

Throughout the movie, the son in the family is constantly leery of the creepy clown doll that sits by his bed. Then one night all hell breaks loose! The clown comes to life and attacks him. While he is pulled under his bed by this horrific harlequin, his mother is tossed around her bedroom by another entity, making her unable to come to his rescue. As a person who had a healthy fear of clowns when I was little, Spielberg had certainly struck a nerve with this scene. One of my childhood fears was being played out on the screen in front of me.

Then something amazing happens. The kid gets mad… and he fights back!

As a child, it had never occurred to me that I could fight back against a ghost. I’m telling you, as little Robbie Freeling punched that damn clown in the movie, I swung along with him, cheering his every blow. It was awesome and a bit cathartic.

That scene made me think of another great concept brought up in Ghostbusters, which is one of my favorite movies of all time, and not just because it’s hilarious. In Ghostbusters, three scientists figure out a way to capture and imprison ghosts. I really think the idea of capturing ghosts is brilliant. It easily could have been the premise of a serious movie and it works perfectly here. Again, it is a case of the people fighting back, which up until this time was something that was usually only possible with the help of a psychic or some other type of shaman or mystic.

As I watch some of these paranormal TV shows, and I see these “investigators” attempt to clear a house of a malevolent presence, I think that there must be an easier way. Rather than reciting all of those incantations, or burning incense, why not just set a boom box in the middle of the house and just start cranking the Ghostbusters theme over and over again?

It seems to me that the more you say “I ain’t afraid o’ no ghost!” the less power these phantoms have over you… whether they are real or imagined. And if you sing it, it works even better.

I don’t know for sure, but that’s the best advice I can give you. After all, I am not a paranormal investigator; I’m just a guy who loves scary movies.

And hates clowns.

What are some of your favorite ghost movies? What are your favorite moments? And which ones still haunt you today? Check out the latest episode of Monster Men and then tell us what you think. I’ve shared my story, now it’s your turn.

Your Horror-Paranormal Round-Up for March

Today marks the start of something new for me. Every couple of months, I’m going to post a hodge-podge of places to go and people to see on the internet, all of them horror and paranormal related. These are the locations, people  and achievements that have captured my imagination and gratitude. They are wellsprings of inspiration, information, entertainment and mental edification. Find something that interests you and give them a lookey-loo…

Congratulations goes out to Robert Rumery on the publication of his first comic, The Grove, from WhatTheFlux Comics. If you know me, you know I’m a horror comic junkie. Nice job, Robert. I can’t wait to get my grubby little hands on it.

The Grove

Looking for great horror books at steep discounts…or even free? Author, editor and all around cool dude in a loose mood, Brian James Freeman has started eHorror Bargains, your one-stop-shop for the best in horror. All of your horror deals are right here. Stop by and load up your e-reader!

Book Reviews. I have 2 places where you can go to get tons of book reviews (and if you’re an author, query them to have your book spotlighted). The first is Oh, for the HOOK of a BOOK. Super reviewer Erin covers multiple genres as well as author interviews. She is the hardest working book reviewer out there today and a lot of writerly types owe her our gratitude.

Another mega-review site is Matt Molgaard’s Horror Novel Reviews. Matt and his team do an excellent job of reviewing not only new horror works, but classics and older hidden gems. If you need to stock up your horror library, this is the place to go. Then head to eHorror Bargains and see if you can get some of them without busting your budget.

Bigfoot. You know I can’t help myself from throwing something about the hairy fella in here. Huge thanks to Scott Albright who brought this post to my attention (actually, it’s as large as a novella) about Bigfoot and why no one has found their bones or bodies. Author Robert Lindsay did some yeoman’s work putting this together. Must read for all you squatchers!

Ghosts & The Supernatural. The definitive place to get everything you need about the world of the paranormal is Jeff Belanger’s Ghost Village. This is the Bible for everyone interested in what lies beyond the veil. You can also sign up for their free monthly newsletter.

Books. I’m super excited that my book release partner on April 2nd is the uber-talented Jonathan Janz. His new book, The Darkest Lullaby, comes out the same day as my Sinister Entity. Here’s a link to a review of his book. He has one of the coolest cover in the Samhain library.

thedarkestlullaby_v2

Podcasts. My newest podcast addiciotn is Darkness Radio, a radio show broadcast out of the Twin Cities. You can listen to their archives online or through iTunes. These guys have a damn good time talking about the world of the strange and the unexplained. Love their take on things.

OK, that about does it for this month. I hope you stop by some or all of these great places and supoprt them. If there are hot spots you think I should know about, send them to me and I’ll include them in future posts.

Happy hauntings!

Stranded : Syfy’s Latest Scare Fest

I never thought the Syfy channel would become the mecca for ParaTV, but thanks to the runaway success of Ghost Hunters, the network churns out new ghost-themed shows quicker than Willy Wonka on meth. The latest entry is STRANDED, a new take on the old theme, created by Destination Truth’s own Josh Gates. Now, Josh is by far my favorite para-celebrity because he doesn’t take things too seriously, but serious enough to put his life on the line while searching for the uknown. I swear that man is going to at least lose a limb while schlepping through the jungle looking for dinosaurs or an Africanized Bigfoot. It’s also produced by Jason Blum, of Paranormal Activity and Sinister (by far the scariest movie of 2012) fame.

stranded_premiere_superbanner_990x450

The premise of Stranded is simple. Take a handful of real people and drop them in one of America’s most haunted locations for 5 days. Arm them with cameras and some basic ghost hunting equipment and let the good times roll. No camera crews or Syfy production folks to get in the way. The best part is, no matter how scared they get, they can’t leave.

I mentioned in my previous post on Ghost Mine that I liked the idea of making folks investigate a haunted location for more than the obligatory night. That way we all get a better feel for the place, and allow enough time to stumble upon some real scares.

In the first episode, three twenty-somethings (exes Sarah and Sean and their non-believing friend, Xand) are dropped off on Star Island off the cost of New Hampshire. Their mission : to stay at the haunted Oceanic Hotel and find out if spirits really do roam the halls. The hotel has been shut up for the oncoming winter, ala The Shining. Anyone care to place wagers on whether Xand changes her tune about the paranormal?

stranded

When they arrive at the empty hotel on the first night, a book is left behind explaining the haunted history of the  hotel. Ghost Hunters fans should remember when Jason, Grant and the team investigated the hotel a few years back. The trio spend the next 5 days living in the dark in the shuttered hotel, jumping at noises and filling up hours of night vision recordings.

Kudos to Sean for coming up with the creepiest method for ghost hunting – ever! It seems the spirit of a little girl likes to open and close the doors of the hotel rooms on the 4th floor. Sean decides to raid the nursery (a kind of prop for tourists to get their chills) and tie little nooses around their necks, with the other end on the door knobs. If any door is openened, they’ll know because the doll will be out of place. What we’re left with is a long, dark hallyway filled with strangled dolls on either side. They should have renamed it Hangman’s Hall.

They do get a disembodied voice giggling and there are odd sounds every night. It’s just enough to put them on edge, which, as a viewer, is where we want them. It ain’t fun until the skeptic cries, and in that sense, Stranded doesn’t disappoint.

The first episode was interesting, but I’m hoping it can crank things up in future episodes. Personally, I’d like to see them bring in some older, more grounded people who are less prone to suggestion. The trio in the first episode were on edge the  moment they stepped onto the dock. I wish they hadn’t been given any info on the stories of the hotel. It colors their perception of things. Better to let them discover the paranormal for themselves. Use graphics to clue the viewers into the history.

For those of you who saw it, what did you think? Para-good, or para-bad?

I’ll be staying tuned. Hey, Syf, feel free to drop me off any place you’d like. Let’s see how a horror author holds up in a haunted house.

Ghost Mine : Syfy Strikes Gold

Let me start off by saying that I fully understand that all paranormal TV shows are entertainment. Some slant more to the entertainment side than others, but I’m not fooled into thinking everything I see on my television screen is a pure scientific approach to exploring the supernatural. The fact that there are no real scientists conducting experiments is enough to dispel that myth.

Syfy’s Ghost Mine has become, by far, the single best paranormal show on the air in very little time. Why it works so well is pretty simple and I’m sure other production companies will be working hard to imitate them.

We all like to be scared from time to time. If we didn’t, there wouldn’t be any amusement parks, and for real kicks, we’d watch reruns of Matlock. Even without the threat of ghosts lurking in the dark, an abandoned mine is scary as hell. It plays on our fear of the dark, claustrophobia and, well, you can die pretty easily in there. Mines are about as safe as Congress is effecient.

Ghost Mine

Ghost Mine focuses on a hearty band of miners looking for gold in the long abandoned Crescent Mine in the hills of Oregon. The mine itself has a rich history of the unexplained. They are joined by 2 paranormal investigators, the intense and gadget-loving Patrick Doyle and his partner, Kristen Lumen, a red haired beauty among the rough and tumble men. She can certanily hold her own and has to fight against the tide of supersitions about having women in a mine. It seems that other mining teams have bailed out on the Crescent Mine because of the supposed spirits that drift in and out of the tunnels.

What makes this work has nothing to do with the paranormal. It has everything to do with the miners themselves who make up one of the most interesting casts of characters on TV today. From the grizzled veterans Papa Smurf and Grey Beard (everyone has nicknames they’ve earned from years working in mines) to the fast talking Bucket and a pair of “Greenhorns” who are down on their luck and hoping to save their family’s finances. you can’t turn away. Just learning how these guys go about securing the mine and how much work goes into extracting gold is enough to hook me. Just think Axe Men with ghosts.

This is the first show that doesn’t zip in to a location and haul ass out the moment they think they’ve caught an EVP. We get to really explore the mine with them, and become emotionally invested in the miners.

Add in shadows that appear against laser grids, creepy voices and cabins being struck with the force to knock things off the walls, and you have must-see Para TV.

I admit to feeling my own walls closing in when Patrick and Kristen walk deep into the grave-black mines, searching for the heart of the haunting. The evidence they catch is compelling, but nothing can stop men with gold fever. The spirits in the mine, disturbed by the blasting, have also dispersed out of the mine, haunting the miner’s wives and children in a nearby B&B. Everyone’s on edge, including the viewers.

Ghost Mine is both informative and eerie. I’d be happy watching an episode dedicated only to mining as much as I would one centered on the ghost hunters.

As an added bonus, we get hints that the Masons might have something to do with the restless spirits. Conspiracy nuts, don your foil hats and strap yourselves in!

I’m a horror writer, and I’d be happy as a pig in you-know-what if I came up with a plot and characters this fascinating. So I’m not going to worry whether everything or not is real. I’m enjoying the ride.

The only negative is that the show has a very short run. Note to SyFy, feel free to cancel The Haunted Collector, find a new mine and get cracking on a full season.

If you’ve watched Ghost Mine, I’d love to know your thoughts about the show. Where would you rank it in the pantheon of modern Para TV?

New Appearances and Signings

I know it’s still summer, but horror season is fast approaching. I just added 4 new events where you can find me either hawking my wares or talking about the paranormal. Check out the latest on the Signings & Appearances tab. And if you know of an event or location that you would like me to come to, let me know.

The Whaley House – The Most Haunted House in America

I recently had to go to San Diego on business and being the paranormal addict that I am, I made sure to carve out some time to visit some haunted spots around the city. I originally booked a ghost tour so I could get more bang for my buck, but on the day I was supposed to go, they cancelled the tour. Ghost deprivation didn’t sit well with me, and as I stormed off to find a place to eat, I stumbled upon one of San Diego’s most famous haunted locations : The Whaley House!

Imagine my surprise when I saw the sign outside the old storefront. Here I was in Old Town (the best place on earth for great Mexican food), a stranger in a strange land with no ghostly tour van to take me around, and I just happen to find what is probably one of the top ten haunted locations in the country. Tacos could wait.

Now, I’m not going to go into the whole history of the Whaley House. You can get that right here. But briefly, it was built in 1857 when San Diego was a fledgling western town by Thomas Whaley. During it’s time, the old brick house was a mercantile, courthouse, playhouse, and site of public gallows as well the spot where criminal Yankee Jim Robinson was caught and hanged, with Thomas Whaley in attendance. And we can’t leave out that one of his daughter’s committed suicide on the property. It’s a location rife with sadness, extreme hopes and joy, bitter justice and broken dreams.

The ghosts that reportedly inhabit the house are numerous and even extend to dogs and cats. So, who are these unsettled spirits that roam the creaking floors? Let’s take a tour.

When you first walk in, you see the old mercantile counter, complete with antique goods. On the counter you’ll find 2 books. One that outlines the history of the house and the Whaley family, and another that contains photos of supposed ghosts that have been taken by visitors over the years. More on that later.

Right next to it is the old courthouse. This is where a woman in white has been seen, as well as ethereal Native Americans and Confederate soldiers. Mind you, when I went, it was a sunny day and the house felt as benign as a house can be, but I could feel the weight of history around me. Any place with a rich past has a capacity to become a beacon for lost souls.

Next, I went upstairs. There have been numerous reports of visitors feeling like they’re being choked when they are on the ninth step. Could this be the presence of Yankee Jim, making sure folks feel the pain he experienced as he took his last breath? I will admit, the staircase was pretty eerie, even during the day.

 At the top of the stairs was the old playhouse, still set up like it’s ready for the next show to go on. The man who was responsible for creating this area died right after the first show. I was told by one of the docents that furniture on the stage has been moved, with chairs being swapped out and lecterns moving off the stage entirely. A young, new docent was in the room reading while I was in the theater and I asked her if she ever saw or heard anything odd. Just a couple of months into her employment, she said she hadn’t…yet. I got the feeling she wouldn’t mind a little otherwordly show to open on the stage.

Next, I explored the various bedrooms where the spirits of the Whaley family, from Thomas to his wife, Anna, their children and a host of other unidentified wraiths have been seen. Many of the rooms have a plastic barrier that keeps people from going inside. That also means reflections off the surface can produce odd, but entirely natural phenomena. Notice the little dolls. For some reason, old toys give me the willies.

Then I came upon the parlor where Anna seems to spend a great deal of her time. This was one room that wasn’t blocked out, though you couldn’t walk inside. I can easily picture Anna sitting at the piano, playing a sad tune, mourning the loss of her children.

Exiting the house, I had to photograph the upstairs window where many people have seen a man staring out at them, and not always with a smile on his face. Many believe this is old Thomas, probably wondering why all these folks are tramping around his house.

Now, I will say that as a museum, The Whaley House is a must see. The historical society has done a good job keeping it in shape and the self guided tour was set up perfectly. You can take two minutes or two hours. It all depends on you. And it’s only a few bucks. You can’t beat that. You buy your tickets in the store right next door where you can pick up some Whaley House merchandise when you’re done.

I did speak to one of the more experienced docents and she was wonderful enough to go through the ghost photo book I mentioned earlier. She pointed out photos that were obviously nothing more than tricks of the light or camera lens, and others that were truly unexplained. She even took me to the spots in the house where the pictures were taken so I could get a clearer perspective and see how things could be misinterpreted or beyond doubt. I can’t thank her enough for the extra TLC.

Now for some odds and ends. If you book in advance, you can do a nighttime paranormal investigation. I wished I knew about that, but there’s always next time. As I was taking pictures, I noticed what I thought was a phantom face in this one –  Can’t you see it in within the upper right of the front facing wheel? Well, it turns out it was the sun reflecting off the mercantile counter, through the spokes and onto the wall. It only took 10 seconds to figure it out, but I wonder how many people would declare it a ghost photo without a second thought.

So, although I didn’t encounter anyone from the other side, I can cross this off my paranormal bucket list.  Like I said, book ahead of time and see if you can get into one of the night investigations.

I’ll leave you with this, possibly the creepiest thing I saw the entire day. Here’s a Whaley family member photo that will haunt you well into the night. Pleasant dreams!

OK, I came, I saw, but I didn’t experience anything particularly spooky or paranormal. I know that tons of people have been there during the day and night. Have you? Has anyone had a ‘ghostly’ moment at the Whaley House? Come on and give us goosebumps!

In the mood for all things ghostly and horrific? Check out Evil Eternal and Forest of Shadows and get your goosebumps on.

Dinner with Ghost Hunters

It’s been a while since I posted an original story here on the old blog and chain. This one is for my sister and brother-in-law, right down to the Cowboys jersey. This is a little flash fiction piece I call “Dinner With Ghost Hunters”. Hope you enjoy it. Please comment away!

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It had long been a rule of Tom’s not to go to dinner parties hosted by people he either didn’t know or didn’t like. He gripped the steering wheel a little too hard on the ride to the Gundersons, angry at Carolyn for ignoring one of his cardinal rules.

As they pulled into the driveway, he said, “Okay, call me when you’re done and I’ll pick you up.”

Carolyn playfully slapped his arm, ignoring his discomfort. “At least you’ll get a free meal out of it.”

“Yeah, at what cost?”

Tom was so busy fuming about the night ahead that he didn’t notice the parked van until he walked smack into the rear double doors.

“What the?”

Carolyn was already at the front door, pinwheeling one hand to urge him forward. He joined her side, a tad woozy and holding his nose. Carolyn paid him no mind.

Missy Gunderson answered the door wearing a Dallas Cowboys jersey and denim shorts. Hank Gunderson came up behind her smiling in his blue Giants jersey.

“Hey guys, come on in!,” Missy said. “We were hoping you could stay after dinner and watch the game. Hank just got one of those huge plasma TVs and is dying to show it off to someone.”

Casual dress? Plasma TV? Football?

Maybe I’ve been wrong about all of this, Tom thought.

After a round of introductions, Hank led them to the dining room for cocktails. As they walked past the living room, Tom noticed three men and one woman sitting in front of a folding table loaded with small monitors and computers. The quartet never looked their way.

“Don’t mind them,” Hank said to Tom. “They’ve been here for a week and we barely even notice them anymore.”

“Who are they?” Tom asked. Carolyn shot him a cautionary look. Don’t pry her eyes pleaded.

Missy laughed and said, “You’re not gonna believe this, but they’re from that TV show, Ghost Trackers. Hank thinks this house is haunted, so one night after watching the show he sent them an email and, well, here they are. I was dead set against it but they paid us some money, so Tom gets his TV and I get my new laptop.”

“And most importantly, I get some answers,” Hank added.

“Sounds exciting,” Carolyn said.

Missy leaned towards Tom and Carolyn and said, “Trust me, it’s pretty boring stuff. They do a lot of walking around and looking at monitors. I don’t know how they stay awake.”

Hank walked in carrying a tray of margaritas and they settled into the dining room. And true to Hank’s word, they soon forgot about the Ghost Trackers team in the next room. Tom quietly admitted to himself that he actually liked the Gundersons.

Two pleasant hours and one delicious steak dinner later, Tom was startled by the sound of high pitched beeping coming from the living room. That was followed by the shuffling of feet and excited conversation.

“What’s going on?” Tom said.

Hank peered into the living room, his arm frozen in place, drink halfway to his lips. “I have no idea.”

One of the team members rushed into the dining room and turned off the lights. “Get a camera in here!” he shouted.

The rest of the team followed, one holding a little handheld device that whined nervously, another with something that looked like a radar gun and two with large cameras propped on their shoulders.

“It’s right over there,” the woman shouted, pointing towards the area behind Tom.

“Flash!” someone shouted and a camera flash went off, momentarily blinding everyone.

“What’s over here?” Tom asked. He was promptly shushed by the woman.

“Do you see that mist, just over his head?” one of the cameramen whispered.

Tom jerked his head around but only saw darkness.

“Temperature’s dropping. Down five degrees, seven, ten degrees.”

“EMF is spiking at five. It’s right here, I can feel it.”

“Whoa, did you see that blue light? It just went behind him!”

Tom grabbed Carolyn’s hand and knocked over his chair as he jumped to his feet.

“We’re outta here,” Tom shouted. Again, he was shushed.

“It’s following him. Quick, keep a camera on him.”

Tom and Carolyn made their way through the darkened house while the Gundresona sat in mute shock. He slammed the front door on the cameraman that was hot on his heels, leaving the madness behind them.

“And that’s why I have rules,” he said to Carolyn, and promptly smashed face-first, again, into the front of the Ghost Trackers van.

It’s Not Over When It’s Over

If you’re reading this post, you, my friend, are dying.

I know this isn’t news to you. We’re all aware that the moment we’re born, we’ve begun the process of death. In the comforting light of day, it’s a concept of inevitability that easily rolls off the tongue, just like saying you have to pay your taxes or eat and drink to survive.

But when it’s nighttime, with everyone asleep and it’s just you, the darkened silence and the realization that you only get so many sunny mornings, it becomes the most important and terrifying reality in the world. And what makes it so frightening? It’s simple. Nobody truly knows what happens after you take your last breath. Other than Jesus, no one has ever truly come back from the dead, and he’s not around to interview. Near Death Experiences are too nebulous with too many differing tales of the other side to bring into the mix of hard fact.

Why am I focusing on something that will just make me, and you, uneasy? Because death is the single greatest mystery in the human experience. We all know someone who has died. No one exits stage left without having it touch their life, time and time again.

Pretty scary, right? Now here’s the twist.

I don’t feel we have to be so scared or uncertain at all. I say that because I see proof of an afterlife all the time. Hell, I once had it pay me a personal visit in a cramped hotel room in Barcelona and literally take hold of me.

Show of hands, who reading this has ever seen a ghost? OK, those of you who didn’t raise them, bring them up high if you know someone who says they did. I see a lot of hands.

Ghosts and their accompanying spooky stories didn’t start with Hollywood or Ghost Hunters on TV. They’ve been around for as long as people have been dying. Depending on the polls you read, anywhere from 18% to 40% of people across the globe have seen a ghost.  It makes me wonder why we, as a society, don’t devote more serious study to the phenomena. For my money, if you can prove that they are in fact real and not a subconscious projection of the living, and that they were, at one time, alive and on earth, well, then you’ve just shattered the greatest fear and answered the greatest  question known to man in one fell swoop.

No, we’d rather spend a million dollars in grant money to study the sex life of sea snails and leave the exploration of man’s eternal soul to new age folks and lay groups of people who gather to seek out the paranormal. It makes no sense. I can only assume that even scientists are too afraid to eyeball death.

Sure, I write about ghosts in a fictional way, but that’s my process of exploring the things I’ve experienced in a format that’s familiar to me. Ghost stories scare the piss out of us because they force us to face our own inevitable end, and wonder what made the floorboard creek at the foot of our bed. We’re scared because it’s a great unknown and we’ll have to face it, alone, some day.

I know that my gandparents still exist somewhere, in some form, because of what I’ve seen with an open mind. Death is not the end, but rather the beginning of the rest of our lives. Now let’s cast aside our fear, get serious and prove it to the rest of the world.

~Hunter Shea is the author of the critically acclaimed novel, Forest of Shadows, available in print and e-book.

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