Dawn's son had complained about spirits before, but she began taking it seriously when he actually saw something — and when he got sick.
Dawn (not her real name) had been having inexplicable experiences herself: cold spots in the house, disembodied knocks, and a few nights where the dog, after waking her up to go outside, refused to cross the threshold of the living room.
Then her 15-year-old boy claimed he saw two human-sized shadow figures, one white and one black, next to his bed. He heard one say, "Doctor, help."
That was about three weeks ago, and since then, he had been throwing up every morning.
Dawn took him to a doctor, but everything checked out. Dawn's estranged mother practices black magic, and she began to wonder if that might be to blame.
"It feels really weird to talk about it," she says. "This is not a normal conversation a mother and son would have. But we just want peace. We just need to know if this is for real."
Which is why, on a recent Saturday night, Will Ventling and two other investigators from the Twin Cities Paranormal Society showed up at the door of Dawn's Brooklyn Park duplex. For the next five hours, they would try to find some answers.
They brought five suitcases into the house and started unpacking, rolling out extension cords, video cameras, an eight-channel DVR, audio recorders, and an LCD monitor. They set up infrared light enhancers, electro-magnetic field readers, geophone sensors to pick up on ground movement. They even have a piece of equipment nicknamed the "spirit box," which scans through radio stations.
While rigging the house, Ventling debriefed his team on preliminary interviews with Dawn and her son. After about 45 minutes of prep, they split into pairs and headed into the two bedrooms.
After five minutes of silence, the investigators began posing questions to the air, addressing any lingering spirits. Ventling says these questions never get audible answers. But sometimes, when he goes back and listens to the recordings, he can pick up voices at different frequencies. (On a recent case, for instance, an investigator burped. When Ventling played back the moment, the burp is followed by a small, girlish giggle.)
Between questions, there was the sound of cars going by, of wind, of a door rattling occasionally. But there were also a few harder-to-explain noises. Twice, the team heard a squeaking — almost a whistle — that seemed to be coming from inside the house. "Was that you?" they called to each other between rooms.
One of the investigators had done a historical report on the property, and Ventling started naming people who once owned the land or the house, which was built in 1978.
"If you're still here, can you let us know?" he asked. "Bang on the walls? You can use our energy, or touch us, if you need to."
Ventling took out a thermometer and started bargaining with the spirit.
"Can you make the temperature go down to 70 degrees even?" he asked. "We're not trying to get you to do circus tricks, we just want to know if you're here."
He stared at the small green screen in his hand. It read 71.5, and as he watched, the numbers began dropping. It stopped at 70.5. Not quite there, but still, a full degree of difference in a few seconds.
"One of the dangers of doing this is that you can get something attached to you," Ventling warned. "I would suggest you get in your car and say, as hokey as it sounds, something like, 'You are not allowed to follow me. You don't belong with me.'"
After a recent investigation, Ventling forgot this final step, and he's fairly sure something came home with him.
Ventling himself grew up in an "active" house and is curious about the paranormal. But over the years, his reasons for volunteering for TCPS have changed.
"It used to be 'ghost hunting is fun,' and now it's really helping the client," Ventling says. "You can see how agitated she is, how in need she is. Hopefully we capture some audio, some video, some things to make her feel better."
The night crept toward 1 a.m., and the investigation was about ready to wrap up. Then the squeaking, whistling noise returned. It was longer this time, a full four or five seconds.
"It sounded to me like that came from right here," Ventling said, gesturing to the space between him and the son's closet. "Well, let's listen to it again."
Ventling rewound his handheld video camera.
"What the hell?" he said.
The image was pixelated, the sound static. The camera malfunctioned at the exact moment of the whistle.
Puzzled, Ventling rewound his audio recorder too. The same spot — those five seconds — was missing. You could hear talking before and after, but right when the whistling happened, the recorder cut to static.
"I don't know what that was," Ventling said.
It could have been a coincidence. But after we took down the cameras, removed the painter's tape, and walked back to our cars, I found myself pausing with the key in the ignition.
"Spirit," I said, "you may not follow me home."
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