There we stood, at the dark heart of a block of rooms that hadn't been occupied regularly in more than half a century, listening once more for the sound.
Shhhh! someone from the group implored.
There it was again, a muffled but nonetheless identifiable voice emanating from behind us. It was saying something, certainly. But what?
I had traveled once more west of Oklahoma City to the town of El Reno. I would be participating for the second time in a cognitive trial conducted by local paranormal investigation team, GHOULI. This trial, which consisted of a blind experiment requiring participants to note their impressions as they explored a large historic structure, was the smallest of the four held this fall. In retrospect, this may explain why the night was so eventful.
There were only about 15 participants, so we broke up into three small groups. I led four myself through the old opera house-turned-antique store-turned abandoned building. In the silence and the dark, the attendees opened themselves up to their surroundings and diligently noted their impressions as they explored the accumulated detritus of a century of occupancy.
In time, we made our way to the third floor, where a series of room blocks once served as a boarding house to weary travelers on Route 66 and bootleggers fleeing the law.
We began by just exploring and then worked on coaxing any spirits present to speak so that the various recorders present might have the chance to pick up some phantom words. It wasn't long before we sensed a change in the air as something electric filled the spaces around us. Then the strange occurrences began: footsteps, odd noises, a brush with something unseen in the dark. A voice.
It was soft at first. Someone called for quiet and we all went dead still. We turned off our lights to focus our senses, straining to hear the sound once more.
There it was again! What was that? It was unmistakably the sound of a man talking, but his words seemed indistinct.
The only speck of illumination within the dark chamber came from the tiny LED on the digital recorder. "Can you tell us your name?" Silence. "Is this your home?" More silence. This was to be expected. Later, when the recording is analyzed, the investigators hope to identify the inaudible responses on the audio file. Known as electronic voice phenomenon, this is how many ghost hunters have learned to communicate with these unseen entities.
But what about that voice we just heard at least twice? I checked for myself: no one else was in that block of rooms or even on that floor. I could account for everyone's whereabouts. The next nearest team of investigators was two floors below and I couldn't even hear their voices until I walked down another floor and crossed over to the other side of the building. No forced air vents were ever installed on our floor, so sound couldn't have traveled from them to us in that fashion. No noises penetrated from outside the thick masonry walls. Even if they could, it was nearly midnight in a largely unoccupied historic center of a sleepy town west of Oklahoma City.
No. Even to this skeptic, there was no mistaking that this voice was very close to us - in the room with us.
I'm keeping my exuberance in check. Maybe the voice we heard, muffled as it was, had simply been the distorted echo of someone further down in the building that had managed, through means unknown, to travel upward through the heavily insulated building to manifest mere feet from where we stood. Yet, coming so close on the heels of my encounter at the Overholser Mansion, I can't help but think I had again bore witness to the paranormal. I can only wait eagerly for the EVP analyses from the various recorders present, hoping they will hold the answers I can't yet seem to find.