STEVE VOLK tries to recreate a British author's paranormal awakening--and succeeds in failing.
And this time we hear ... nothing at all.
"EVP No. 7," says Gentile, starting over, "3:09 a.m."
By now I've grown relatively comfortable. Perhaps an hour earlier we heard a couple people come in downstairs, so I have some sense of the tremendous racket people make just walking here. And I've heard enough gentle scratching from the same area, along with a couple of creaks coming from the windows, to know what noises are common.
So when Gentile asks, "Did you fall down the stairs and die here?" and a pair of loud thuds sounds from the direction of the fallen stairwell, I become a bowl of creamy Jell-O pudding.
"Don't move," says Gentile.
Then another thud, heavy and real and different from any of the noises I heard earlier, sounds a little closer to us.
In the weeks to come I'll analyze the electric fright that assails me, the deathly sickness in my chest, before I'm finally prepared to admit what scared me so much was the prospect of a world in which Lou Gentile might be right--the prospect of encountering something I can't explain or trace to its source.
Skeptics say the religious need their faith and believers need the paranormal because the finality of death is too hard to face. But standing here in the dark with these sounds seemingly advancing toward me, I need a rational, materialist universe--and I need it now.
"Do you know this place is going to be torn down?" asks Gentile, pressing on with his questions. "Do you know that?"
By now the bangings have stopped at three. I'm frozen still, waiting for Gentile to stop and run through the playback. When he does, we hear the noises from the stairwell and Gentile cautioning me not to move. But other than that we get the usual senseless sounds.
I heard something, all right, but nothing a skeptic couldn't dismiss as (a remarkable) coincidence--nothing that'll force me to alter the framework of my world. And I feel both strangely disappointed and incredibly relieved.
Gentile himself seems unimpressed. After walking back off Byberry's grounds we drive to a nearby Wawa in almost total silence. "Well," he says, digging a fork into a late-night container of macaroni and cheese. "That was interesting."
|The end: Gentile snapped this photo of Byberry's abandoned morgue many years ago.|
The South Philadelphians said an old man haunted them, walking from bedroom to bedroom at night and shaking their beds to keep them from falling asleep.
The family in Central Pennsylvania reported a variety of experiences--from the voices of a disembodied woman and child to a shadowy figure that appeared at the foot of their bed and woke them.
The man in North Jersey had lost his mother recently. He'd also lost his father not long before that. Though he claimed weird noises had sounded in the house in the past, he said the phenomenon had increased after his parents' deaths. His son by a previous marriage and his girlfriend both agreed.
In that house Gentile pulled out his audio recorder and started asking questions, then decided to let everyone else in the room take a turn. When the man who lost his parents got his opportunity, he strode forward, knelt down in the darkness and asked the only question he could: "Are you my father?"
Gentile's recorder captured no response.
The families seemed rational. None of them wanted publicity. They wanted only answers. And once or twice, they got some.
PW's Taste of Philly 2014
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