Halloween Ghost Hunting – A Memoir
Guest Post by Billy Russell
I remember the specific date of the evening in which I went ghost hunting. It was November 1st, 2003. I remember the year because I was a senior in high school and had not graduated yet. I remember the date because I was trying to sound cool to my Mexican friend Xavier “Chito” Topete by asking him, “Isn’t today Day of the Dead?”
“Yeah, in Mexico.” He told me. I thought the Day of the Dead was a magical, worldwide time after Halloween when you might actually see the souls of the dearly departed manifesting themselves visually. Chito didn’t seem concerned. “It’s mostly a party thing.”
There were four of us:
Chito – The guy with the tools. He said he’d read something somewhere about being able to see ghosts by using night vision goggles. If they were there, sometimes you’d be able to see them with the goggles if you couldn’t see them with the naked eye. I think he just wanted to bring them along because he’d spent a lot of money on them and coincidentally “read” something “somewhere” that justified his purchase.
Robert - The guy who did the research. Where we were headed, apparently, used to be a Pony Express outpost way back in the day. It was abandoned now, on someone’s property, and it was a source of much negative energy. He reported to us a story of how some other kids our age had made the 2-3 mile hike off the highway to get to the house and when they got there, doorways shifted in front of their eyes and floorboards swelled and bloated malignantly to coincide with the ominous, audible whispering warning, “Get OUT!” It sounded too scary to pass up for a 17 year old, so we went.
Kevin – The guy with the car. Hearing the stories we heard and relaying them back to Kevin made it easy to wrangle up a ride. I remember he blasted the Ghostbusters theme from his stereo shortly before we arrived. It set the mood pretty well.
Me – The guy who… I didn’t serve much of a purpose, really.
The backstory never seemed to make much sense to me and I’m not sure which parts of the haunted house’s history were real, which were outright fabrications and which were mere embellishments of something that used to be true. What we knew was that this house had been abandoned for as long as anyone could remember and that, according to numerous sources, it used to be used for storing mail as a Pony Express outpost. Aguanga, CA is pretty much in the middle of nowhere without much to it, so it always seemed unlikely that such an important part of history would have taken place there.
It was located on a plot of land these guys had bought up and made a farm out of. We had to park off of the highway and make our way about 2 or 3 miles on foot. Apparently, whenever someone went inside, they’d see something unspeakably scary: Ghosts of children, a terrifying voice yelling at them to get out, and a close friend of ours told us the tale of the floor that bubbled and swelled and knocked him down… but that reminded me more of that “The Haunting” remake in 1999 than reality.
I never found out what Evil Thing happened to make the house a cursed object. Perhaps, sometimes, evil just exists and it doesn’t require provocation. The Anza-Aguanga area I grew up just seemed to be that way. Scary beasts apparently lived on the Cahuilla Indian Reservation, a UFO by the name of Goldie was seen by 80% of all citizens and was the subject of an episode of the TV show “Sightings”, and for a town with such a small population, the death toll seemed a bit high. Just adding one more urban legend to the list didn’t seem to be out of the question and I accepted this haunted house and truth and eagerly awaited the night we went to go see it: Halloween Night… well, it was past midnight, so November 1st, but that sounds much less dramatic.
After Kevin had parked the car and we jammed out to Ray Parker Jr. for 3 ½ minutes, we were off. Chito wanted to bring his ghillie suit just in case the people who owned the property scanned it late at night, they’d just see an out-of-place bush instead of a teenager hoping to see some ghosts. He decided to against it because unless all three of us looked like bushes, it wouldn’t be the same. We all wore camouflage though, so there’d be at least some semblance of solidarity.
We four all took turns with the night vision goggles on our hike. When I put them on, I just about had a heart attack because, right away, I saw a pair of eyes in the darkness staring directly at me. It was the first thing I saw once they went over my eyes and secured in place. Eyes. In the vast darkness of the night in the country. I felt suddenly queasy, like I’d bought much more than I bargained for… but then I realized that it was just a coyote and I suddenly felt very silly of how scared I got. I realized I probably wouldn’t do well under pressure if we ever actually saw a spirit or ghost.
To psych ourselves for the inevitable when we reached the house, we told each other the scariest, truest paranormal stories we knew. Chito told us a chilling one that still, to this DAY, haunts my dreams about a man in Mexico in the cornfields who had the legs of a goat.
We finally arrived. The hike wasn’t bad but I was still a bit winded because we kept having to hit the deck each time we thought we heard a twig snap and assumed it was the owners of the land and farm, who’d either yell at us, call the cops, or pepper us with rocksalt from a shotgun–or possibly a combination of all three scenarios. Robert put his hand on the door handle and stood in front of us. I could tell he had prepared a monologue, something fun and good, something that would make Bela Lugosi proud. He theatrically opened the door but before one single word could come out of his mouth, a dove flew out and attacked his face. The Bird of Peace dived right in, flapped its wings at him violently and disappeared. So, instead of the spooktacular monologue he’d wanted to say, all he could manage was, “Holy shit!”
We stepped inside. The house was god only knows how old, but it looked like it was at least from the 1930′s… I still doubted the Pony Express story, but it didn’t seem too outlandish, either. Not anymore, anyway. There was a living room which connected to the other rooms in the house, of which it appeared there were only a small dining area/kitchen and a bedroom.
The bedroom’s door had been yanked out, it was gone. The windows had all been smashed to pieces. But the spooky part was that every opening, where the door had gone, and where the windows had once been, was now sealed off with barbed wire. Someone had taken a roll of barbed wire, punctured holes in the wall and fed the wire through those in zig-zaggy patterns so that there was no way in without cutting your skin to ribbons. The logical part of my brain figured it was to keep stupid kids like us out of there and to keep animals out, too, but why just that one room? Why not the whole house? I suppose it’s possible that the whole house HAD been outfitted that way but kids had cut the wire to get in, everywhere except that one bedroom. Or maybe there’s an ancient evil who lives in the room and the barbed wire keeps it inside because it has sensitive skin.
It was one of those old houses where every step on the floor made the boards creak and groan like some miserable soul longing to be alive once again. I counted the seconds until a clammy hand with dead skin and blue veins would clasp over my mouth so that I wouldn’t be able to scream. And that’s when the inevitable happened: I had to pee. Having seen more than one horror movie, I knew that if I had gone outside by myself, and being the only one of the four who didn’t bring anything to the table, I’d meet a horrible fate by some godless creature. So, I held it. I held it until I couldn’t hold it anymore, but I still didn’t dare step foot outside. While my friends and I stood in a circle discussing scary sounds and “What was that?!” I turned my back on them and peed where I stood, on the floor. Almost immediately, my friends heard the sound and assumed it was an evil thing or soul with unfinished business emerging into the physical world. “Do you hear that?” “I can’t see anything!” Once it was discovered that it was just me being a coward with terrible social skills, the fear dissolved immediately.
We spent our time recording sounds and taking turns looking through the night vision goggles, but never did see what we’d set out for. (The scary sounds we heard always ended up being innocuous; the demonic growl that made me question my sanity ended up being one of my friends eating chips too loudly.) Probably because we were idiotic teenagers and why would the proof of life after death or inter-dimensional existence waste its time on someone so dumb and ill-equipped to handle the severity of something so tremendous?
Having nothing to show for our evening–no pictures, no sounds, no stories, no nothin’–we stole a pumpkin on our trek back to the car. At least we had a trophy. Because trespassing on private property just isn’t enough of a crime, I guess, so you gotta add theft to that roster, too. All’s fair on Halloween Night… well, the morning of November 1st, but seriously that just doesn’t sound as cool.
It was an outrageously fun evening and one of many that I had spent with my friends hoping to see actual, first-hand proof of what I’d heard countless stories of while living in Anza. Stay tuned for my “Goldie” story.