“Are you troubled by strange noises in the middle of the night?
“Do you experience feelings of dread in your basement or attic?
“Have you or your family ever seen a spook, specter or ghost?
“If the answer is ‘yes,’ then don’t wait another minute. Pick up the phone and call the professionals …”
There will be tears tonight. There will be voices in the cemetery — a child’s laughter, a whispered threat.
On a cool, damp night in Longview, paranormal investigator Misty Richardson says she will not fear the spirits whom she will encounter during research of a local burial ground.
“Me, what I believe is that I have the Lord with me,” she says. “We say a prayer and feel that He protects us. Some of them do try to possess you, so you have to do it with a clear head. If you act relaxed and peaceful, you don’t have anything to worry about.”
If you give in to panic, on the other hand, you become vulnerable. You must not panic.
Otherwise, “something can actually attach to you, and you can take it home,” she says. “It’s very, very rare, but it has happened.”
Richardson knows. She’s one of a handful of local investigators who form Above & Beyond Paranormal, a research team that is registered and open for business in Gregg County.
“We’re here to prove there is life after death here,” Richardson said. “Basically, we ghost hunt. Anybody that allows us to either go in their homes or cemeteries, we’ll go in overnight. We’ll investigate by pictures, videos, voice recordings. It’s actually pretty neat.”
They ain’t afraid of no ghosts. But tonight that’s about to change.
Around 45 percent of Americans believe in ghosts.
Tourism operators offer nighttime “ghost walks” through historical streets and buildings. Taking their cues from TV shows such as “Ghost Hunters,” groups have formed to investigate paranormal activity in Gilmer, Jefferson and other nearby towns.
On a ghost walk not too long ago in Jefferson, Richardson and colleague David Langley say they recorded a little boy’s voice, though no child was nearby. The recording was among a handful of intriguing finds.
“Behind the Jefferson Hotel, I have a picture I caught where it looks like a human lady, but you can see right through her,” Richardson says. “The dress she has on, I can’t pinpoint what year, but it’s not of this century. It’s long, real dusty and dark gray. She has her hair up in an older bun that people used to have their hair in, and a pearl necklace.”
IN THE CEMETERY
Langley has received a tip about a cemetery where groundskeepers have been hearing voices and feeling ghostly pats on their backs for years. A security guard once saw a shadow of a man carrying a lantern.
A week before tonight, the Above & Beyond crew had conducted a test investigation in the cemetery. “You’d be amazed,” Richardson says. “There was a lot more activity than we ever imagined. We were nervous when we went out there, so we stayed close together, which was probably the biggest thing not to do, but we had to get familiar with it. After we’re familiar with it, then we can actually hit it.”
During the investigation, Langley — a little fellow who wears an earnest expression and a black goatee — says he was extra-careful to lock his car doors, but that didn’t stop at least one intruder.
“I come back and my door’s wide open,” he says. “It’s just wide open.”
And that wasn’t all.
“As we were leaving the cemetery, we decided to make a drive around there and our headlights kept going off and on,” Richardson says. “It was awesome. I looked, and David’s hands were nowhere near the light switch.”
PRAYING FOR SAFEKEEPING
The time has come for Above & Beyond’s next investigation. The team forms a circle beside the mausoleum and locks hands. Richardson recites the protection prayer.
“It just basically protects you from any type of evil entities or anything that can harm you,” Richardson explains. “We don’t believe it will come from a cemetery, but we like to be protected.”
Richardson is a blustery woman with short locks of hair that curl around her ears. Other team members include Megan Mathis and Melissa Sallee, who is Richardson’s sister. Sallee has a knack for deciphering voice-like sounds that emerge from the static noise of audio recordings.
“Melissa has really good ears,” Richardson says. “She’s one of the best on audio.”
Another team member, Steven Valentine, 19, wears a ponytail and a green military-style jacket. He is the “sensitive” — the person who is expected to serve as medium if a ghost is willing to communicate.
“We had another guy who was a sensitive” at the previous investigation, Langley says. “He got real spooked, so we had to find us another one.”
After the prayer, Langley unlocks the mausoleum with a borrowed key. Bouquets of flowers line the walls, and shadows crisscross the vaulted ceilings. The air is quiet and still.
The investigators set up video cameras and audio recorders and lock the door behind them. A week earlier, the recordings had been fruitful.
“You hear a lot of bumps as if these doors are slamming shut,” Richardson says, “simple noises you wouldn’t think would come from here.” Also, “there was a woman humming, then saying words.”
The crew splits up to snap photos of the cemetery grounds.
In the half-light of street lamps, rows of headstones cast sidelong shadows across the lawn. The only sounds are the crunch of fine gravel underfoot, unseen crickets and the shutter clicks of the group’s digital cameras.
It feels almost like trespassing. You can’t live in Longview for many years without knowing someone who is interred here, at Rosewood Park Cemetery and Mausoleum. A former colleague of mine, a photographer named Obie LeBlanc, is entombed in the mausoleum. When a flashlight beam catches his marker, it gives me pause.
“We’re not here to dishonor anyone,” Richardson insists. “We’re not here to upset anybody. I hope it doesn’t.”
The Above & Beyond investigators are not deterred by critics. “We have faith in what we do,” Richardson says. “We’re just normal parents, family people who just have an idea of outside life.
“We’re going to prove something.”
A LITTLE GIRL
The ghost of a little girl plays beside a fountain in this cemetery, according to Richardson. She spoke to the girl during the previous investigation, using an audio recorder to capture their conversation.
“Do you like hide and seek?” Richardson recalls asking the girl. Later, when she replayed the recording, “you hear a little girl’s voice saying ‘no.’ ”
Langley heard the voice as well. “It seemed like she was crying about something,” he says.
This time, Richardson and Langley are more prepared. They have brought a gift for the girl.
TALKING TO A GHOST
As they walk toward the little girl’s fountain, Langley and Richardson snap picture after digital picture. Camera flashes pierce the darkness, illuminating the headstones. Many of their photos capture “orbs,” which they say are tiny balls of paranormal energy. A few photos capture colored mists: some green, others red.
“Ooh, did you see that?” Langley asks. “Sometimes, if you watch off in the distance, a light will go on and off — like a big ball of fire. Woosh! Woosh!”
Though he has only been snapping photos for a few minutes, Langley’s camera begins to lose power.
“One thing about digital cameras — spirits drain your batteries. Brand-new batteries,” he says, digging around for backups in his camera bag.
A third investigator, Megan Mathis, joins the pair. They approach the pool of water where the young ghost is said to play. Richardson calls out to her.
“Is there a girl here who’d like to speak with us tonight?” she asks. “Can you tell us your name?
“Are you the little girl who comes here and plays around?
“If you can hear us and would like to communicate with us, could you make a little noise for us?
Richardson’s voice echoes across the fountain. She places a miniature volleyball on the pavement a few steps from the water’s edge, and she backs away slowly.
“We brought a ball out here for us to play a game. Can you move the ball for us? Let us know you’re here? Just kind of give it a little kick? We’re not here to frighten you. Nobody’s here to hurt you, sweetie. I have kids, and they love to play ball. Can you play with us? Can you?
“If you want to let us know you’re here by kicking the ball toward me?”
Moonlight shimmers on the pool.
Richardson walks to the volleyball, sits on the ground and pushes it. The ball rolls away, then arcs back. Ever so slowly, it circles around to her direction and comes to rest in a gap between two slabs of concrete.
“Thank you!” Richardson says. “Can you make it move a little more? Thank you, sweetie. Kick it. Come on. Can you bring it to me?”
All eyes fix expectantly on the ball. It doesn’t move.
“Are you still sad?” Richardson asks.
The investigators decide to leave the ball beside the pool and investigate elsewhere for a spell. They watch for movements in the shadows, ready to chase them down.
“If we see something really big we run after it,” Richardson says. “Really run. And we’re smokers. We don’t like to run.”
Langley thumbs through the photos on his BlackBerry. They reveal strange apparitions. One appears to be a face. “You can see the same thing, and I didn’t even tell you,” he says. A native of Picayune, Miss., Langley says he moved to Longview after his home was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. He’s the receiving manager at a local department store.
“The last time we come out we snapped a thousand pictures,” he says. It’s a hobby. “You know a lot of people who like to build model cars and watch TV and eat dinner in front of the TV, and that’s what they like to do? This is what we like to do.”
Walking along a roadway, they reach a dark area of the cemetery where, during the previous investigation, they had recorded voices of a man and girl. A man’s voice had whispered, “Run! Run! They’re coming,” Langley recalls. “Before that, a little ‘hehehehehe’ just as pretty as she could laugh. I look at it as him telling her we were coming.”
“We chased it but couldn’t find it,” Richardson says. “I want to check on that ball. Where is it? I’m lost.”
They leave the road and head onto the grass among the headstones. Langley arrives at the volleyball first.
“Still in the same spot?” Richardson asks him.
She calls out to the darkness: “You don’t want to play tonight?”
A commotion of voices startles the investigators.
Crew members Megan Mathis and Melissa Sallee rush by. They are steadying Steven Valentine, who wobbles on his feet. Valentine rubs his forehead and murmurs something about pain.
“He’s very sensitive, like a medium,” Langley says. “Something happened, and they’re fixing to take him off.”
Valentine rubs his forehead and paces the floor of the darkened mausoleum. He is clearly shaken by his first night on an Above & Beyond Paranormal investigation.
“I was just walking by, and all of a sudden I just started crying,” he says. “You guys probably think I’m crazy.”
It’s approaching midnight, and Above & Beyond continues to research the mausoleum and adjoining cemetery. While walking among the headstones, Valentine says he felt something — or someone — touch him.
“I asked for proof, even if it was pain,” he says. “And he gave it to me all right. I didn’t even know the half of it. It was only a small dose. I didn’t even believe in stuff like this.”
The hurt is hard to describe, he says, but it’s not a physical sensation. “It was more like a lifetime in a flash, you know?”
Investigators Megan Mathis and Melissa “Missy” Sallee have guided Valentine to the mausoleum, where earlier in the night they had set up their audio recorders and video cameras.
“The silence of this place kills me,” says Sallee. “It’s the most peaceful place ever. There’s nothing scary about this place.” The quiet, she says, is deafening — so deafening that she must step outside. “The silence was hurting my ears. I couldn’t take it anymore.”
Valentine is still dazed by whatever touched him in the cemetery. It also spoke to him, he says.
“For some reason I picked up a name, and I had no idea who it was. Diane or Diana. Missy told me that was her mother. People always told me I was a good listener, but I didn’t know I was that good of a listener.”
Sallee thinks the spirit touched her as well.
“It felt like something was pushing my body into the ground,” she says.
The crew pauses for a smoke break in front of the cemetery. Joined by Langley and Richardson, they play audio of the static noise they’ve recorded inside the mausoleum.
“No, I didn’t like the way that sounded,” Richardson says.
A hoarse whisper can be heard among the static.
“Something, ‘they are coming,’ ” she deciphers.
“I heard the ‘K’ word,” Sallee replies.
“Kill?” asks Langley. “Yeah, I did too. I need a lighter.”
Valentine sits on the curb, staring into the night.
“Leave that girl alone,” he says.
“That girl you keep bothering. Leave that girl alone.”
“I ain’t bothering her,” Richardson responds.
Valentine is quiet for a while, then mutters to no one in particular, “I think we disturbed a lot of people by being here.”
Embers from their cigarettes dot the darkness.
“Well, do y’all want to call it a night?” Langley asks.
“No,” Sallee answers. “I’m going back over there.”
A SPIRITUAL SESSION
Because Valentine is the “sensitive,” Richardson and Sallee hope to communicate through him with their deceased mother. The three walk away to hold a private session.
“Do you want to go catch that other area?” Langley asks. “Because I’ve got a feeling they’ll be down there a while.”
He and Mathis circle through the burial ground, snapping photos, until they come upon their fellow crew members at the rear of the cemetery. The session has concluded, and the trio are now wiping tears from their eyes as they wander by. Seeing his friends in this sad state, Langley’s eyes dampen with empathy for them.
She realizes they are walking through the very place where she and Valentine were touched by a ghost earlier in the night. “I said we wouldn’t come back down here,” Sallee says. “I think we better leave.”
“Melissa,” Richardson tells her sister, “we walk this walk together.”
They clasp hands and step forward.
“I don’t know about y’all, but I have got to get away from the back of the cemetery,” Sallee says. “I’ve got to.
“Do you get the feeling we’re not wanted out here anymore?”
“I got that feeling a long time ago,” Mathis responds.
The crew cuts through the grass, a shortcut. Something rustles in the shadows. From nowhere, a tapping sound is getting louder. It’s all around them — ticking, ticking.
The lawn sprinklers kick on, spraying two of the investigators.
The team members head back to their cars, dampened but not dispirited. They now possess hours of photos, video and audio recordings to parse during the coming week. Finding new courage as she walks away from the cemetery, Sallee makes an announcement: she has yet to be convinced that paranormal activity exists.
“I’m not saying there’s not anything, but it has to be proven to me more than once,” she says. “I still leave a skeptic, but it will be all right.”