Paranormal investigation is full of hidden dangers, but while you might be tempted to imagine diabolical spirits and ancient curses, our biggest threats have less to do with the supernatural and more to do with decrepit houses, darkened rooms, and dangerous people. In fact, one of my scariest ghost hunting experiences doesn’t involve invisible creatures from the other side, but monsters of a more human variety: meth cooks.
Back in 2002, Ghost Hunters, Inc. – my high school paranormal investigation team – was at the height of its activity. It seemed like every weekend we were sneaking out in the middle of the night to go to some scary location hidden away on some rarely-traveled dirt road. Cursed churches, mountain-top ghost towns, and haunted cemeteries were regular adventures, but one of the most memorable happened inside an abandoned building we’d nicknamed the “Murder House”. We gave it this name because of some tenuously-connected homicide nearby, but mostly because we were 16 and it sounded badass. It was a house that, ironically enough, almost resulted in our deaths.
Located in the ass end of the middle of Nowhere, Bradford County, the ramshackle house was definitely not in livable condition, and it looked like it had been cleared out in a hurry. Magazines from the last decade were spread out on tables, rotting furniture collected dust in the living room, even spoiled condiments still sat in the powerless fridge. If humanity were to suddenly disappear, this is what any rural home would look like ten years later.
Myself and three of my fellow adventure-seekers, Nick, Bill, and Brandon, had come to Murder House after scoping it out for weeks. Rumors of the building’s alleged ghosts had spread through our high school over the last year after a kid in wood shop discovered the haunted house while searching for a secret place to make time with his girlfriend. After pulling into Murder House’s overgrown driveway, the couple noticed shadowy figures peering at them from broken, second-story windows. Needless to say, they got the hell out of there.
After making our way through an unlocked back door, we started our investigation the same we started all of them when we were sixteen: walking around the place yelling “check this out!” These days, they call that “taking a baseline reading”, but we were really just acclimating ourselves to our surroundings. We’d all fallen through enough flimsy floorboards or run into enough wild animals to know the importance of knowing the building before whipping out our ghost hunting equipment.
Within five minutes of our entrance to the abandoned building, we began to hear some mysterious scuffling on the second floor. Not ones to take a hint, we decided to go check out what kind of poltergeist was making the racket. As we crept up the creaky stairs, the noises only got more frantic, like pots and pans banging together.
By the time we’d reached the top of the stairs, nervous and shaky but too hopped up on Mt. Dew Code Red and peer pressure to care, we had pinpointed the noises. They were coming from a room at the end of the hallway. It was the only room on the second floor with the door closed.
Then, they suddenly stopped.
We turned to one another, keeping one eye on the closed door, and had a whispered argument about how to proceed. Between the four of us, opinions were pretty split between forging ahead and running the hell away, but I argued that if we turned tail now, we’d kick ourselves for it when we regrouped at school the following Monday. It must have been a convincing enough argument, because we found ourselves suddenly scrambling for makeshift weapons.
Nick grabbed a giant curtain rod, Bill scrounged a shovel, and I pulled out the can of pepper spray I had stashed in the event that I met any wild-eyed crazies on my 2AM paper route. Just as we prepared to turn the handle, our defensive weapons ready for whatever was rattling the chains on the other side of the door, Brandon snapped this image:
After mustering up the courage to poke, dig, mace, and photograph the ghost haunting the Murder House, we flung open the door, only to discover what looked like a mad scientist’s lab. Copper tubing snaked from backyard grills to gasoline cans, and the room reeked of cat piss. Ratty sleeping bags were torn open on the floor, as if they were exited in a hurry.
As we tried to make sense of what we were seeing, Nick began waving his hands wildly to catch our attention, his bloodshot eyes bugging out of his head. He tiptoed close and whispered:
“Guys.. holy shit.. there are.. PEOPLE.. in the WALLS!”
As we stood among the makeshift lab, frozen in fear, Nick slowly pointed to the peeling floral wallpaper beside us and motioned for us to listen. From behind the wall, we could hear muffled whispers.
We didn’t stick around long enough to find out what they were saying. In mere seconds, we had vacated the house and were already speeding down the dirt road back home, discussing what in the ever loving fuck we had just witnessed. Were there mad scientists living in the middle of the Bradford County wilderness? A satanic cult caught in the middle of some arcane ritual? Was it truly a Murder House?
We got our answer a few weeks later, when the newspapers reported that the abandoned building we had dubbed The Murder House had burned down, the result of a meth lab explosion.
We were oblivious to our hometown’s nationally-recognized methamphetamine epidemic, and had unwittingly broken into backwoods lab and forced the cooks to hide in the walls. For all we knew, the whispering we heard was them realizing that we were not, in fact, the authorities, but a bunch of teenagers looking for ghosts. Curtain rods and shovels were no match for the guns which Bradford County methamphetamine chemists no doubt carried, so once again, our predisposition for fear had saved our lives.
Yes, paranormal investigation can be dangerous, but rarely for the reasons you might be inclined to think. No matter how terrifying the ghost, frightening the Bigfoot, or mysterious the flying saucer, the living will always be scarier.