Undercover: The Grapeshot X-Files

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Words || Max Lewis 

As someone who’s a pretty major skeptic in basically every aspect of my life – from trusting people’s stories to believing I’m a lovable human being – I’m weirdly interested in the paranormal.

I’ve never had a spooky experience in my life; at most I’ve been creeped out by several rooms in my Mum’s house when she moved in, like the bedroom that had a lock on the outside, or the garage that had sharp wooden canes (the whipping kind) hanging on a wall.
But I digress; like a lot of people, I’ve spent hours fighting off depression by binge-watching Buzzfeed Unsolved. I began wondering if there were any haunted locations in our humble city I could peruse in a similar fashion. Despite being a little afraid of the dark (thanks childhood nightmares!) the idea of going to a haunted location and getting my bones eaten by a ghost was just too tempting. And, to be fair, some of the gadgets they use look cool as shit. Gathering my courage and my brownest pair of big boy pants, I set off on a paranormal adventure I wouldn’t soon forget, meeting friends, lovers and demons along the way.

Ok, so maybe not. After contacting like 10 organisations ranging from “I’m an old dude named Steve and I’ll cure your ghosts”, to weird websites with grainy JPEGs of cemeteries or girls in white dresses with waist-long black hair covering their face and long diatribes about “worlds beyond ours”, I had little luck. I even tried contacting a paranormal investigator on Gumtree who offered a “free” investigation to do a sweep of my place, under the guise that my roommate and I were being attacked by spirits – to no avail. Eventually, a woman by the name of Peta from Australian Paranormal Phenomenon Investigators (APPI) got back to me, offering a free ticket to a ghostly tour of an old heritage town in Smithfield. My duo of personal demons I like to call ‘Failure & Anxiety’ looming over me, I decided it was better than nothing and went for it.

I expected a shitshow of failed actors costumed in period garb shouting at me as soon as I arrived, but was thankful to see a bunch of regular ass people (mid 20s to early 40s), chatting and laughing as they got their gear ready. Peta, the founder of APPI, was a surprisingly level-headed individual, admitting she’s a “skeptical believer”. This was par for the course with all of the employees; one fellow I chatted with a fair bit (who I’ll call Spooky Greg) regaled me with stories of various encounters he’d had, yet admitted he too was a skeptic – “I’m an architect, so I try to be pretty logical.”

Peta tells me that they don’t get too many nutbars for clients either. The range tends to be grieving people looking for confirmation their loved one might be hanging around, skeptics like myself and Peta, and horror junkies looking to get their spook on; the latter make up most of what Peta calls the “repeat offenders”.

“This isn’t a tour, but a ghost hunt,” Peta tells me. With the guidance of the investigators, we’d be employing a variety of methods to unearth spooky activity, such as; the Ghost Box, a radio that switches between stations every fifth of a second or so, potentially allowing ghosts to speak; ‘table tipping’, a Victorian practice which is essentially a binary Ouija board wherein a spirit will tip a small table to communicate; and finally some more spiritual techniques practised by the resident Wiccan. Our hunting ground was the Fairfield City Museum & Gallery, part of which is heritage buildings lifted directly from ye-olde Fairfield and laid out to look like a small town.

First up was the Ghost Box. Stuffed inside an old general store, some guests and I hung out with Spooky Greg to try and get our talk on with spirits. The idea is that, due to the speed at which the box skips across stations, you shouldn’t be able to hear complete sentences or words over one syllable – so if you do it’s definitely ghosts. The first session was more lively, with one guest believing he heard his name called. Weirdly, a particular four letter word starting with ‘S’ used to demean women cropped up several times on the ghost box in here and on one in a different building. It’s unlikely you’d hear that word on radio (especially that frequently) but then again it’s also weird to think a ghost would be throwing that word around so much. Much to the guests’ chagrin, the second session later at night yielded nothing concrete from the Ghost Box.

I was dubious about table tipping; since the experiment relies on guests placing their fingertips on the edge of the table much like the pointer of a Ouija board, I thought there was potential for misleading shenanigans. The first session was nothing but me and two other guests sitting in a pitch black room asking the table questions like “Are you a man or a woman?” and feeling nothing but shame.

The second session was a little more lively; at one point we all felt the table lift up on one leg after about fifteen minutes of asking it questions, but given there were about seven of us around it, I wouldn’t take it to the bank.

The Wicca table was pretty crowded to I didn’t get to engage with it too much, but I did have (what I believed was) a tarot card give me a cookie-cutter answer to my deep question about my life goals. I saw some people throwing dice with letters on each side and looking for recurring letters or phrases; the ones I saw frequently were ‘ran’ and, weirdly, that same great four letter word from the Ghost Box – the spirits must have been the ‘nice guys’ of their day.

At the end of both sessions we got free reign to explore, so I took the opportunity to venture into buildings like a schoolhouse to sit alone in complete darkness, essentially letting the ghosts come to me. Apart from accidentally scaring a group of women as my misshapen form emerged from the darkness, nothing happened. I even turned off the lights while peeing in the bathroom to let the ghosts get me at my most vulnerable, but that too failed.

According to Spooky Greg, that’s pretty common in this locale; “It’s way too cramped in here to really get any results. Places like the Parramatta Jail are so much better because you get the chance to be isolated”. Being in the middle of suburbia and next to a highway didn’t help either. I definitely got the sense the investigators weren’t in their element, so in the spook department the night was a let-down. That being said, it definitely piqued my interest in paranormal investigating; it was relieving to know that not everyone in the biz is a 100% ‘I fucked a ghost and now I have a ghost wife’ level nutbar. Most are just in it for the fun. In the end, I’m no closer to proving that ghosts exist, but I do have a potential job opportunity following in the footsteps of Spooky Greg when my career prospects dry up so, y’know, swings and roundabouts.

 

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