Thursday, September 4, 2014

My First Paranormal Experience, At Last!

I have to preface this by saying, I don’t have a clue how the whole thing works. Do ghosts exist and if so, what is a “ghost” exactly, anyway? A psychical impression, like a photograph, emotional residue? Leftover “energy?” A disembodied soul? A manifestation of telekinetic abilities? Folks who claim to be experienced in the paranormal would answer (d) All of the Above. Or more accurately, any one of the above. I don’t know. I do know that I’ve never had a “paranormal” experience, a brush with the “supernatural.” I’ve gone into the Lowry House (“The Historic Lowry House,” to use its proper title, in Huntsville, Alabama, now serving as home base for all my theatrical endeavors) a whole lotta times and never seen, heard or felt anything I couldn’t readily explain away. Old houses creak, and the imagination’s a purdy powerful thang. Yes, there was that time with the burglar alarm, when it kept going off for no apparent reason. But you could rationalize that away as a case of faulty wiring. And yes, I have watched the video the group of paranormal explorers filmed when they spent the night a year or so ago, heard the very audible CRASH! So loud that it shook the camera on its tripod, a sound for which the explorers could find no source, finding nothing amiss anywhere in the House. But c’mon, you can’t say for certain that it had its source in the supernatural. Just because you can’t readily think of a simple, logical explanation doesn’t mean there isn’t one. An unusually large bat, for example, losing its sense of radar-guided direction and slamming into the outside wall. See, I just came up with a possible plausible explanation that doesn’t involve the paranormal. It’s easy to do. I do it all the time.

I am blessed or cursed, depending on how one looks at it, with a divided mind. I am a natural skeptic. I also very much want to believe in the supernatural. What a dull, lifeless world we would live in without it. A world without magic, without mystery, and as Albert Einstein once said, the mysterious is the grandest thing a human being can encounter. It makes life worth the living. On the other hand, or other mind, if you will, that other half of my brain is always seeking to explain things away in innocuous terms, always resorting to Occam’s Razor, the dictate that “the simplest explanation is usually the correct explanation.” Or, as my college Psychology professor would have said, “Don’t believe anything without concrete proof!” Half the brain demands proof, the other half is content to enjoy the mystery. That’s my lot. So no, I cannot in honesty say that I’ve experienced anything beyond the norm, which is what “paranormal” means. Or at least I couldn’t say that before yesterday. Now? I’m not so sure.

I’d gone into the House a lot, spent countless hours there and never seen, heard nor felt anything peculiar, even knowing the location to be widely reputed as “haunted.” I also know there are a whole lotta people who HAVE seen, heard or felt things unusual, things lacking a simple explanation, people whose opinions I trust, people I trust, and people whose accounts I have no reason to doubt. I was jealous. I wanted to have one of those experiences myself. You see, those folks who claim to be susceptible to feelings, “sensitive” to such things, to use the word they use, who have said that the House IS inhabited by residents that we can’t see but who are present nonetheless (among them my own lovely wifey), those folks have told me there is nothing sinister or “negative” about the spirits or the energy at the House. Knowing the story of the most widely known and frequently seen ghost, Ms. Anne (Scroll down a little for that full story in a previous post.), I know there’s no reason to expect her to behave in anything other than a proper and respectable manner. There are even stories of her, or one of the other spirits that may reside there in the House, going out of their way to help someone, acting as something of a guardian angel. Thus believing there is nothing “evil” at all about what goes on in the House, I wanted to experience it for myself.

And now I think I have.

Here’s the play-by-play: Yesterday I was serving as docent for the day. I was in the House alone, waiting in case someone dropped by for a tour (the House is open to the public 5 days a week, free of charge, as an historical site). I was upstairs in the office, working on the computer. I’d left the office door open both because the AC in the room has been going in and out and so that I could hear if anybody came in at the front door. As I said, the air wasn’t working properly and it was rather warm in the room. As I hadn’t gotten my full 7 hours of sleep the night before, combining that with the heat and my sitting still at the computer, I started to get really sleepy. I wanted very much to take a “power nap.” There’s a couch right outside the office door, so I went out there instead of remaining in the office. I wanted to be able to hear if anybody came in through the door downstairs, and my subconscious, on alert for just such a sound, would awaken me, I knew. I left the office door open, too, to let the air circulate. In no time at all I was dozing.

A sound awakened me. But not the sound of the front door opening or the doorbell ringing. I listened. “What is that?” I wondered, then shrugged and went back to sleep. Old houses make noises, right? And the AC had been acting wonky. Two perfectly explainable explanations for the noise. I dozed for a few minutes more. The noise awoke me once again.

This time I thought I recognized the sound. I said to myself, “That’s what that sounds like.” But it could have been the AC, too, although it had not up to that point made any such racket and it did not for the remainder of the day, the several hours I stayed up at the House. It COULD have been the AC, that skeptical part of my brain said, regardless of what it SOUNDS like. The other half of my mind said, “Uh-uh, partner! I KNOW what that is, and it ain’t no air-conditioner!” I mentally shrugged, content to let the twin halves of my cognitive dissonance duke it out over which side was right and which was wrong. I went back to sleep. I wasn’t at all afraid, although I was pretty sure I DID recognize that sound, and it was definitely NOT the air-conditioner or the House settling. To be fair, though, it was broad daylight, a lovely, sunny day, with golden rays streaming in through the large window upstairs. (I’d put my sunglasses on to better be able to nap; that’s how bright it was.) Had it been late at night and dark, would I have been so bold? I dunno.

I nodded off. Once again the noise awakened me. “Just let me sleep a little longer,” I remember thinking. A couple more minutes passed and I was almost sawing logs again when the telephone rang and I had to get up to answer it. “Fine, I’m up, I’m up!” I grumbled. I answered the phone, conducted a little business, and by then was mostly over my sleepiness.

That’s when I saw it. Laying there on the desk. Exactly what I thought I’d heard. One of those click-top pens. You know the sound they make when you click ‘em with your thumb really fast, click-click, click-click, click-click! Over and over? That’s the sound that had awakened me those different times. To make certain, I picked up the pen and clicked it myself, again and again. Yes. Same sound. Identical sound. IDENTICAL.

Even then, the skeptical part of my brain said, “It could have been the AC, and it only SOUNDED like the pen.” True, I conceded. “Or it could have been something else entirely,” the skeptic said. Also, true, I admitted. “And did you actually SEE the pen moving of its own accord?” it demanded. You know I didn’t, I admitted. “See!” it said in triumph. “But,” the other part of my mind countered, “didn’t that sound you heard, didn’t it sound an awful lot like that pen being clicked?” It sure did, I said. “Didn’t it sound EXACTLY like that?” it said. Yes. It damn sure did. Exactly like that.

I was good and awake at that point. I didn’t get drowsy the rest of the day. I stayed upstairs for the most part, working on the computer, creating the poster for my upcoming play, The Belles of Whitechapel: The Victims of Jack the Ripper Speak.  (Pardon the plug.) The infamous pen lay right there on the desk next to me the entire time. It never made a sound. It didn’t need to. I was awake at that point.

I might be more inclined to dismiss the whole matter—after all, it was a relatively little thing, just a little racket—only—ONLY. Remember those paranormal researchers I mentioned several lines up? The ones who had spent the night at the House? One of them, a cool guy named Scott, who had come into the House as an avowed skeptic, no, more than that, a confirmed DISbeliever, and had left it the next day not so firm in his disbelieving, had decided, early in the wee hours of that morning last year, that he’d had enough of ghost huntin’ and wanted to go to sleep. He’d gone into the office and fallen asleep in a recliner in the secret room. The secret room is where they used to hide the runaway slaves (see previous post about the House’s role as a stopover point on the Underground Railroad). The room that is now the office would have been the master bedroom, and the secret room is hidden behind a door that would have been taken as nothing more than a closet door. The recliner sits just inside the door.  Scott had fallen asleep, only to be awakened a short time later by an unusual sound. He heard it several times through the remainder of the night, went out into the office to look for its source, finding nothing. But he swore the noise was coming from the office. Every time he’d doze off, the noise would repeat itself. The next day he located the source of the sound he’d kept hearing.

A jar of pens and pencils on the desk. When he picked it up and shook it, the noise it made, that was EXACTLY the noise he had heard during the night. He conceded this, and he was a staunch disbeliever. Had been before that night, anyway.

Ah, it was just one of the others messing with him, your inner skeptics are probably saying now. That’s what mine said when I heard the story. Sorry, skeptics. Scott was alone in the House at that point. Out of all the investigators, he was the only one who had actually stayed the ENTIRE night. He was alone. He was adamant on that point. And he’d heard that jar of pens being shaken like a castanet. He was adamant on that point as well. And this coming from a confirmed skeptic.

It would seem that one of the spirits just doesn’t want anybody to fall asleep upstairs.

One of my friends who claims to be “sensitive” told me that one of our spirits at the Lowry House is that of a child. What looks like the outline of a child IS visible in a photograph that was taken in one of the upstairs bedrooms. And a child would be playful. That is the overall impression I got yesterday, one of playfulness. Nothing negative or harmful in any way. Just playful. I dunno.

But I DO know what I heard.

Anyway, that’s my story. My “ghost” story. My “encounter.”

I hope I have more of them.