It’s a lot like it is on TV. I hoped it would be. Only, in real life, no one glows green. That happens from the night-vision cameras they use. The cameras make everyone look like phosphorescent, sea-foam demons. In real life, you can’t see shit. It’s total blackness.
That makes it scarier than on TV, for sure. When you’re on your couch, munching on Doritos and watching these ghost hunting shows from a safe distance, you know you aren’t going to run into some long-dead, pissed-off Native American Warrior spirit. You know you can’t accidentally get possessed by an ancient devil with a biblical name. You’re safe on your couch; entertained.
But out here, wandering around a graveyard from some historic battle, in the dark, you just don’t know what you’re going to run into.
There are eight ghost hunters (excluding the camera guys). Six are nationally known for their cable TV show, and then there is me and an older woman named Shea. In the glow of headlights from the equipment van, Shea looks scared, pale—like she’s already just seen a ghost. She pulls a loose fitting floral sweater tight to her body even though it’s mid-summer and the rest of us are in shorts and tee-shirts.
Shea and I are new to ghost hunting — winners of an online photo caption contest. My caption was: Meatloaf for dinner again? You’re killin’ me! You can imagine the accompanying photo yourself. Honestly, I’m surprised I won.
Shea’s wasn’t much better. Hers read: A little slice of heaven — to die for. I told her I liked it to be polite. I figured they must not have had many entries.
We all split off in pairs followed by a cameraman. I’m with Eric, a regular on the show. He explains all the gear, the night-vision camera, the audio recorder for EVPs.
“You know what that stands for, right, Fritzy?” he asks.
I watch their show every week and know all about the ghost hunting gear and I shout, “Electronic Voice Phenomenon.”
My outburst disrupts the soft chirp of summer crickets, and for a second, everything goes completely silent. “For recording voices you can’t hear live.”
“Right,” Eric says. “You can whisper. We don’t want to scare off any ghosts.”
I nod, embarrassed to make such a rookie mistake, and I hope they edit it out for the show.
The crickets resume.
We wander through the cemetery, Eric and I, asking questions to the empty dark space around us. “Would anyone like to talk to us? What is your name? How did you die?” No one replies. I’m not discouraged though. I know we’ll have to scour the audio recordings to hear the answers to our questions.
Towards the back of the cemetery is a pond. Here, the long low croak of frogs joins in the cricket chorus. A misty fog hovers low to ground, and the closer we get to the water, the thicker the fog gets. The mosquitos are thicker here too — they buzz like mini-chainsaws up close to my ears. I wave them away but they return within seconds and with a renewed ferocity. I think about my couch and wonder if watching a ghost hunt on TV isn’t just a little bit better than the real thing.
We settle in and ask more questions. “How old are you? Where did you come from? Do you miss being alive?” I’ve never heard Eric ask that before and I quietly say, “Nice one.”
We sit in silence for a few moments before, somewhere in the darkness, leaves rustle and twigs snap.
“Did you hear that?” I whisper excitedly. Eric covers his lips with one pudgy index finger.
A shadowy figure emerges, black against the silver mist, like a human-shaped cutout in the gloom. It moves slowly, along the edge of the pond, appearing to glide in the swirling fog.
We stay low, holding our breath. Every sound is magnified by my fear — the distant splash of a frog leaping into the pond, the vague creak of a tree branch — but nothing sounds louder to me than my heart, thumping rapidly in my chest. The hair on my arms and down the back of my neck prickles.
The figure disappears in a thick patch of fog and after thirty seconds we think it’s gone for good until it reappears just in front of us.
“Oh shit!” I mutter, and immediately cringe thinking that they’ll have to bleep that out.
The slight figure, wispy in the shifting fog, goes rigid.
I want to bolt back to the van but the cameraman is just over my shoulder reminding me that my cowardice would be immortalized in prime time. Instead, with a sudden burst of courage, I shout, “What’s your name?”
The dark figure shrieks a high-pitched wail before collapsing in a heap.
“What the hell?” shouts Eric, turning on a flashlight.
In the soft glow of yellow light, Shea is on her knees, eyes wide and clutching her chest through the floral sweater. She takes one last gasp before falling face first into the soft, moss-covered ground.
The other ghost hunting teams emerge from the darkness. “What’s going on? Is everyone alright?” they shout, no longer concerned about scaring spirits.
“I think she’s dead,” Eric says in a panic. “Someone call 9-1-1.”
My fear is replaced by disappointment — wondering if now they’ll even air this episode, rendering my TV debut, my ghost hunt premiere, as cadaverous as Shea.
But as the crew kneels over her lifeless body, I stand back thinking of the show’s producers reveling in the media frenzy and the ratings bonanza. I think of the reunion show — year after year — returning to hunt for Shea’s ghost. And of course they’d invite me to join that hunt, they’d expect to hear her eerie and diaphanous voice on my audio recorder. After all, I scared her to death.
Andrew King is a photographer, corporate filmmaker, and amateur guitar player. He lives and works in the Philadelphia area but so often gets a case of wanderlust that you might find him anywhere.