A strange mist [photo by Paul Benninghoff]


A true ghost story

I was six months into ghost hunting when I was invited to go on a hunt at a well-known location that reportedly was haunted. The legend behind this abandoned road was well-researched, although no facts had been uncovered supporting the rumors. Paranormal activity reportedly has been experienced, although it, too, did not correlate with the supposed reason as to why the location was haunted.

I started ghost hunting not to find ghosts or evidence of the paranormal, but to get inspiration for writing topics. Ghost hunting offered the opportunity to hear some cool stories and visit historical locations. I was neither a believer nor a nonbeliever in the paranormal. The ghost hunts opened my mind to the possibility that supernatural phenomena actually exist.

Preparations were made before the hunt. Organizers contacted the caretakers of the property to obtain their permission for the investigation and notified town and county police of our intentions and the day and time. About eight of us rendezvoused at a nearby convenience store to load up on batteries, film, audio tape and coffee. From there, we carpooled to the site.

The place was an old abandoned road. The area consists of marshland with sandhills and parts that are heavily wooded. We entered the forest via an old railroad crossing. The road was nothing more than a narrow strip of pavement covered with brush. You don't have to venture far before the thicket blacks out all signs of civilization.

We weren't there long before the police showed up. Our cars attracted the attention of people living nearby. We exited the woods, showed our identification and contacted the dispatcher who confirmed we had permission to be there. This is a common occurrence, especially during ghost hunts outdoors. We often lose an hour or so talking with the police, sharing and swapping paranormal experiences and stories.

We returned to the forest. There was a definite change in the atmosphere. The darkness felt amplified and the road more claustrophobic. The trees seemed to be closing in. The air was thick and heavy. Everything felt more more palpable.

Along the trail, we stopped and tried to record electronic voice phenomenon, or EVP, in which disembodied voices can be caught with a recording device. At one point, a noise emanated from the woods to the north. We pointed our flashlights in that direction and searched for the source. More noise. It sounded like something moving through the bushes. It ended with a big thump, like a large branch or log rolling over.

The thicket is full of deer and other wildlife. Nothing about our experience could be labeled as outright paranormal. Unnerving as it was, we couldn't verify the cause of the sound. However, what my recorder picked up could be evidence of the paranormal.

It was late when I got home. The house was silent. I sat at the computer and downloaded my photos. I played my EVP recordings. There was the usual chatter among the ghost hunters, questions ghost  hunters ask to elicit answers from a paranormal presence and the native sounds of the forest.

"I heard something on the other side of the things," one of the ghost hunters said, commenting on the noise in the woods.

Then, barely audible, a whisper followed. I rewound the recording, turned up the volume and listened intently.

"Oh, great," it whispered.

The voice sounded distant, out of place and out of time. I marked the time of the whisper in my notes and continued to play the recording. The members discussed the noises. One hunter said perhaps there was the sound of keys "jingling in his pocket." And another whisper!

I rewound and listened.

"... needs help." I turned it up and listened again. "[Garbled] ... needs help." I rewound, slowed down the playback and listened a third time. "Chastity needs help."

The voices I caught were male. Since half of the members on the hunt that night were women, that eliminated half of our group as the source. The voices didn't match any of the male members, though I still needed to rule out that possibility. Lastly, no one by the name of Chastity was there that night. I was invited back a week later to the same location. I didn’t hesitate to accept. I had questions that needed answering.

We met at the same convenience store. In the parking lot, I played my recording. Everyone agreed: The voice didn't match any of the members, and no one remembered whispering those words. No one knew anyone by the name of Chastity. The members double-checked their recordings, but they did not catch any whispers. There was a consensus: My recording was a valid EVP.

This night, we trekked deeper into the woods, further than the week before. We reached a spot where the old road crossed an old culvert and decided to conduct an EVP session. I had my recorder in one hand, a camera in the other and my flashlight clipped to my belt. The members spread out, some behind me and a few ahead of me. As I looked at my recorder, out of the corner of my eye I saw someone dash down the road behind a fellow ghost hunter. I looked up to see who it was. No one was running down the road. Even though it was on my periphery, I saw the runner clearly. I remember specifically what the "person" was wearing: a light gray sweatshirt with the hood pulled up. None of the members seemed to notice anything out of the ordinary.

I counted all the members, taking note that they were all present and what they were wearing. I could not account for what I saw. I quickly snapped a picture in the general direction of the "jogger."

I was willing to accept that it was my imagination. I was in the middle of a reportedly haunted forest looking for ghosts. How could that not influence my imagination? Just in case, I spoke to my friends:  "Keep an eye open. I thought I saw something." I left out the details so I wouldn't influence their perceptions.

The rest of the night was uneventful. As we were leaving, in the back of the car I asked if anyone saw anything.

"Yes," one of the members said

"What did you see?" I asked.

"I thought I saw someone running down the road."

My heart sank. "Do you remember what they were wearing?"

“It was a light material, but I couldn’t see their face," he said. "They had their hood pulled up."

"Oh, crap," I thought.

I could easily accept that what I saw was a figment of my imagination. To have another person describe the exact same jogger blew my mind. I told him about my vision and how I didn’t know how to take it.

"Let's say it wasn't a ghost," he said. "For us both to see the same thing means that there must be something going on, perhaps a type of mass hallucination. This is pretty impressive in and of itself."

He was right. For us to see the same thing without verbalizing what we saw meant that some other form of communication had to be taking place. That opens up the possibility of some kind of psychic communication. To chalk it up to chance, well, the numbers would be quite impressive.

At home, I downloaded my recordings and photographs. Nothing appeared in my recordings. One photo stood out: the picture I took after seeing the jogger. In it a large, faint orb floats near one of the members whom I saw the jogger run past. I am not a supporter that orbs are ghosts. Orbs can be produced by many things: dust, water particles in the air, pollen or a reflection from a shiny surface.

However, that was the only orb caught in that location at that time. How many coincidences does it take for something to no longer be a coincidence?

I was lucky enough to be invited back a week later. I still wasn’t a believer in ghosts, but enough had happened to create some doubt. I was shaken. What I thought I believed in felt as if it were coming apart at the seams. I wanted answers. I went back.

It was a quiet night. No unusual events or creepy feelings from the atmosphere. My senses were heightened through it all. I did not want to miss anything. I wasn't disappointed that nothing happened. In fact, I felt a little relieved. I did not know how much more I could take. I was losing sleep playing and replaying the events in my head late at night, trying to make some sense of it all. However, when I got home and went through my recordings and photographs, something popped up. In two of the images, I caught rather unusual mists. Some call it ectoplasm; others call it plasma.

Plasma occurs naturally in nature. It is a collection of charged particles that form something similar to a gas. It is the fourth state of matter.

Think of it this way: Warm up ice, and you get liquid. Warm up liquid, and you get gas. If you heat the gas to extreme temperatures, the electrons get ripped out, and it turns into plasma.

Fire is a type of plasma, and plasma is used in televisions. The path lightning takes is a stream of plasma. In fact, the Aurora Borealis, aka the Northern Lights, is caused by the sun spewing out plasma, or positively charged particles, that interact with our earth's magnetic field. It is not uncommon to get images of this type of "mist" at haunted locations.

I still can't say I believe in ghosts 100 percent, but I definitely believe something inexplicable is interacting with our environment. There is still so much we do not understand. Are these orbs and mists ghosts, or are they byproducts of ghosts? Are they an energy source for ghosts to be able to manifest themselves? Are orbs, mists and ghosts even related?

What I have described in the story above is an example of the phenomena I have witnessed while ghost hunting and investigating the paranormal. The events are true. My interpretations of what it all means are just that: interpretations. You are welcome to come to your own conclusion of what it all may mean, if anything at all.