Those in the field knew it as “electronic voice phenomenon,” sounds captured on electronic recording devices unexplainable by conventional means–words spoken in an empty room or sentences uttered by an unseen participant in a conversation. As a ghost hunter, he used the phenomenon to track the spirits of the departed. He had once even recorded organ music in a room devoid of an organ.
In the February of 2006, he found himself in New Orleans. The city had always teemed with the paranormal. Practically every street corner had at least one dark, old house that creaked and swayed in the wind and could only be held together through supernatural intervention, and almost everyone had a story of encountering the unexplained, but after Hurricane Katrina the number of incidents skyrocketed. Such outbreaks, he knew, could be triggered by concentrated human suffering.
In the preceding weeks, there had been strange happenings among the giant stone mausoleums and gardens of St. Louis Cemetery. A night watchman saw a man and a woman, both fancily dressed, walking together along a path. When he called to them, they stopped and looked at him, and vanished. A group of noisy teenagers who snuck in one night got the scare of their lives when a hand reached through the wall of a vault and grabbed for one of them. A homeless man was admitted to the hospital babbling about being attacked in the cemetery by a man with a sword, only to have the blade swipe through him without leaving a mark.
Many of his ghost-hunting colleagues used state-of-the-art equipment–ultra-sensitive microphones and computers that could parse out individual sources of sound. He preferred using an old-fashioned tape recorder with a blank cassette tape. He felt that it was a superior means of capturing the nuances of the human voice, and the lack of manipulation made the proof harder to refute.
The first night, he climbed over the wall of the cemetery, and he placed the tape recorder on the ground among a grouping of stone sepulchers, near where most of the sightings had been. He pressed “record,” and he left it.
When he came to retrieve it the next day, though, he found that the cassette tape had not recorded anything. It was as if someone had pressed “stop” immediately after he left the recorder. He tested it several times to make sure that it was functioning. When he had convinced himself that it was, he decided to try again that night. The same thing happened, and the next night as well. On the fourth night, he decided to stay in the cemetery and watch the recorder.
After he pressed “record,” he crouched down behind an ornate monument a small distance away. He waited. How long, he couldn’t tell.
The stillness was almost overwhelming as he sat there in the city of the dead, within a city itself half-abandoned. Above the stone mausoleums that surrounded him, marked with names such as Thibodeaux, LaFarge, and Bellefontaine, loomed statutes of angels and saints, blackened with age and weather until they looked less like protectors and more like ill omens. Above them, the sprawling branches of ancient oak trees blotted out the circular progression of the stars across the black sky.
He was getting cold, and just when he was about to give up, he felt the tap on his shoulder. He turned around to see a man dressed in a Confederate army uniform, with a rather nasty red gash running from just above his right eye to somewhere underneath his hat.
“Excuse me sir,” the ghost said clearly, “What is that odd little box you keep leavin’ by my tomb every night?”