Dear reader, if you’ve ever been on a paranormal investigation, you’ll know what an EVP is. (Electronic Voice Phenomenon if you don’t.) I used to carry a micro-cassette recorder with me whenever I went out “hunting”, and then I’d spend hours sifting over the mostly silent recordings, hoping to catch something undeniably ghostly. One night, I did.
I was living in a tiny house in the Port Arthur side of Thunder Bay, not too far from the Cascade River. The house was not particularly interesting except for the amethyst popping up in the gravel in the driveway, but I had a really hard time going into the basement to do laundry. It wasn’t a mystery; the basement was creepy.
A huge old octopus style furnace sat in the centre of the concrete floor, its tentacles stretching out to each of the five rooms above. It was blackened from years of use and covered in cobwebs because I wouldn’t go near it. On the front wall there was a heavy iron door on a pully that opened into an old coal chute that was still stocked. A set of stone steps ran up from the back wall to a creaky wooden slat storm door on rusty hinges. If we’d lasted into the winter in this place, I’m sure the basement would have been filled with snow.
These things all added to the creepy atmosphere in the basement, but they weren’t the source of it. There were two smaller rooms down there that I could never explain. One may have been used for storage at some point, but what we found inside of it suggested otherwise.
It seemed to have been dug out after the house was built. The walls were made of field stone, not cinder block like the rest of the foundation. The door was stuck shut when we moved in, but we pried it open out of curiousity. Inside was one small shelf, and a child sized wooden table with one small chair. I still get goosebumps, remembering the stale whoosh of air that came rushing out of that room as if it had been trapped in there for ages.
But even that was not the source of the uneasy feeling in the basement of that old house in Thunder Bay.
The other room that opened off the main basement had a shorter wooden door with peeling white paint and an old brass knob. The bottom of the door had rotted from moisture, black mold rising along its boards. This door was locked.
While I lived in Thunder Bay I wrote and led ghost walks in both sides of the city. They became popular and it wasn’t long before I became good friends with a couple that came out for every walk. They loved paranormal investigation as much as I did, and they knew the city! One night while we were experimenting with divining rods on top of a natural energy vortex near Boulevard Lake (they just spun in opposite circles, they wouldn’t do anything else in that spot!), we decided to go back to my house and finally check out my basement.
We entered from inside the house, using the rickety stairs that ran down to the basement from my kitchen. I had never been down there in total darkness before. A bit of light came in through the single casement window, but the feeling of dread was amplified by the stillness that the dark seemed to emanate.
My friends were drawn to the old coal chute and wanted to open it for a look inside. The door screeched as it was pulled up along the wall just enough for them to shine a flashlight inside, a deafening sound in the relative silence of the house. They put one of their recorders inside the chute and let the door fall back into place with a heavy clang of metal against metal. I realized my hands were over my ears when they laughed and came back to where I was standing, just outside of the rotting locked door. They stopped abruptly, smiles morphing into looks of shock.
“What is that?”, my friend whispered, pointing over my shoulder to the cement steps leading up to the backyard exit.
I whirled around to see what looked like the tail end of a curling wisp of fog exiting the now open door at the top of the steps. I ran up and out into the yard, but there was no sign of fog or anything else. My friend was behind me, explaining what she had seen: a large mass of white fog rising out of the cement floor and drifting up to the exit.
Thoroughly shaken but also excited, we returned to the basement examine the spot in the floor that she was talking about and to retrieve their recorder from the coal chute. I asked them who had opened the door at the top of the stairs knowing very well that they hadn’t done it; they’d been in front of me the whole time we’d been down there. I also knew the door hadn’t been opened from the inside of the house because the hook and eye latch that kept it closed was on the outside of the house. I doubted that a neighbor had done it. It was 11pm and the seniors on one side of us had been in bed for hours. The neighbor on the other side of us had died on the same day that we’d moved in. (She was found several days later, but that’s another story)
Shrugging it off, we turned our attention to that small locked door. I’d been telling them about my basement for weeks, and that I’d felt like the bad energy was coming from the locked room. I’d already asked our landlord for the key to it, but she didn’t have one and wasn’t in any hurry to replace the lock.
I put my hand on the knob and jiggled it, demonstrating its locked state for them when they asked if I was sure it was locked. Of course it was. I’d tried it a few times since moving in. So had the landlord.
Except that it wasn’t.
That old brass knob turned easily in my hand and the door swung open.
My friend pointed his flashlight inside and sucked in his breath.
The floor was hard packed dirt, but the walls were the same cinder block as the rest of the house. It was uneven, rising in lumps in the centre of the room as if a hole had been refilled. As if something had been buried there and the displaced soil had been packed back on top of it. Something that had required a hole approximately 6 feet long and 2 feet wide. Something that had been kept secret behind a rusty old lock on a rotting door. The only thing in that room was a dirty old shovel leaning up against the wall.
None of us would go inside. We couldn’t have, even if we’d wanted to. An invisible wall was pushing us back, away from the room, from that hole.
I had no idea what to think.
A few minutes passed before we spoke. We decided to leave my recorder in the doorway to the mysterious room and go upstairs to sit with a drink. We discussed what could be under the dirt, given the size and shape of the patched hole. None of us had any plausible explanation for how either of the locked doors had opened, or what that fog mass had been. We listened to their recording from inside the coal chute, but all we heard was our own muffled conversation and the distant thumping of our feet when we’d run up the back steps and out into the yard.
We gave my recorder about 15 minutes, and then went back down to retrieve it as a group. No one was willing to go downstairs on their own even with the lights on. My friend bravely reached his arm inside the room to pull the door closed, and we ran back up to the living room.
We listened to several minutes of recorded silence, anxiously waiting to hear something, anything from the other side. I was about to get up to refill drinks when the recorder turned itself off. I picked it up and turned it over; the tape had not run to its end, and I knew it was only a few minutes into a 15 minute recording. I pressed play again, and it ran for a moment before stopping once more. It did this several times before I decided to rewind it a bit, thinking that maybe the tape was wound too tightly. I backed it up to where it had been playing just as I’d asked my friends if they wanted another drink.
And there it was.
It was like a long, slow exhalation, a woman’s voice, pleading.
I could feel my blood running cold down my arms, goosebumps rising all over my body. I rewound it and pressed play again.
It was real. My friends were hearing it, too. We played it back a few more times, and each time the tape stopped itself at same spot. Was there really a spirit trapped in that horrible room in my basement? Had she jammed the tape so that we would rewind it to the point where I’d spoken over her the first time we were listening to it? Was there someone buried in my basement?
So, what does one do when they find an odd, lumpy dirt floor in a locked room in their basement when the only call to alarm is an EVP? I certainly wasn’t going to call the police, they’d think I was crazy!
I settled on asking my landlord if she knew the history of the house the next time I saw her, but I never did see her again. I moved out of that house a few weeks later, hopping on a WestJet plane with my two young children and the clothes on our backs, and headed for my mom’s house back in Hamilton.
The reason I left didn’t have anything to do with the mystery in my basement. Or did it? From the day we’d moved in, the day our next-door neighbor had died, my husband and I fought over everything. Money was tight, promises were broken, and after 2 months of constant battle I couldn’t do it anymore. He packed up the house and followed us back to Hamilton a month later where we reconciled. It was like a massive weight had been removed from our relationship. We stayed together for another 9 years after that crazy summer in Thunder Bay. Was the negativity in that house responsible for our deteriorating relationship?
The tape with that EVP is now long gone, lost in one of my many moves since 2003, but I can still hear her whispering voice asking for help, pleading for it.
I wonder if she’s still in that basement, waiting to be released from the hole that I’m now sure she was buried in. When I left that house for the last time I checked the rotting door to “her room”, and it had returned to its locked state. It was vibrating with negative energy. If I knew then what I do now, maybe I could have helped her. But I didn’t. It’s a regret I’ll always live with.
I’ll tell you one thing, though. If I ever find myself living in a creepy old house with a mysterious room in the basement again, I’ll invite you over to help me dig up the body.