Every one of us has a ghost story.
We've heard them all before: a benevolent duwende slash imaginary friend someone had growing up; a pretty probinsyana househelp falling in love with a handsome engkanto; old ladies terrorizing a spooky house’s occupants; old floating nuns and priests freaking the shit out of impressionable school children.
But not all of us have our own ghost story.
We suppose that’s good enough a premise as any to camp out at a friend’s house one chilly weeknight in October, lighting candles and nervously smoking cigarettes, waiting for something, anything, interesting to happen. Hey, we’re journalists—we love making stories.
Setting the mood: candles were our primary source of light
But we don’t make stories up. So we enlisted the help of experts in the paranormal field to prove that we don’t (and after what happened, literally can't) make this shit up. We craft a plan worthy of those ghost-busting shows on cable TV and brought in the big guns.
'We enlisted the help of experts in the paranormal field to prove that we don't (and after what happened, literally can't) make this shit up'
Stargazer is one of the country’s well known psychics, having shown her capabilities in many a crime show and Halloween special over the years. We decide to let her have her run of the house with our cameras in tow first, then ask for backup from Mysterium Philippines, a group of paranormal investigators using technology to explain the paranormal, to do their thing as well.
The deal is we want to see if both approaches—one pure psychic skill, the other scientifically enhanced—will come up with the same story.
Which brings us to that aforementioned chilly night in October. One of FHM’s suki makeup artists bravely volunteered her family home in Quezon City, detailing how many relatives and kasambahay have reported psychic occurrences in their abode. She tells us how they hear voices, have body doubles walking about, and just how freaking weird their house feels. She tells us about the mysterious lady everyone can hear crying from the basement. A basement. If that’s not horror flick material, we don’t know what is.
The house was creepy, even during the daytime...
On our convoy to the scene, Stargazer tells us not to divulge anything about the house. She knows what she’s doing, she says, and we’re to let her do her thing. When we get there, the house does not disappoint in giving off freaky horror-movie vibes: a huge garden, an eerily blue swimming pool, gnarled trees, and a huge house made of stone, housing heavy wooden furniture. Religious statues with their fluorescent-lit candles smile gently down at us, while a stray cat somewhere in the property grates on my nerves with its incessant mewling.
Mysterium, manned by Anton, busily sets up their equipment while the rest of us stand around uncertainly, unsure of where to park our asses in this house that obviously has something off about it. Stargazer clucks her tongue (much to my mounting dismay) and asks to use the bathroom
Ang babae sa basement, Mich, 10:00 p.m.
Stargazer emerges from the loo and calmly takes me, her designated FHM staffer for the night, aside.
“Alam ko na kung ano hinahanap natin. Nakita ko na siya. May babae sa basement. “
The owner of the house raises her eyebrows alarmingly.
“Yun nga po ang sabi nilang andito,” I reply, probably not as calmly.
We assemble a team to accompany Stargazer, who looks like she could be anyone’s funky tita, down to the basement. With me are FHM.com.ph web producer Ron Jay, our game-for-anything photographer Paul, our makeup artist’s teenage nephew Carlo, and Men’s Health staffwriter Lamar Roque, one of our buddies who tagged along just for kicks. I stick a candle in his hand and tell him to be useful.
In a stern but calm voice, Stargazer gives us one rule: “Stick with me, and say whatever you may be feeling at the moment.”
Stargazer preps the rest of the team
We all agree, a little uncertainly, because until this point we had no idea what an extrasensory experience was like. I call my partner-in-crime Anton over for a last powwow, telling him we’re ready to go first. Feeling way in over my head, the six of us descend the stairs into the basement.
Right away the cold hits us. And eerie silence. The sounds of chatter and the smells of just-delivered pizza recedes into nothing as the basement door creaks closed. With just the one candle in Lamar’s hand, we survey the main area of the basement. There are five doors surrounding us, four opening into empty, uninhabited (by humans, anyway) rooms. The fifth door leads into the open laundry area and the swimming pool.
'I quickly realize that ghost hunting is not flashy, noisy business. It is not sudden bangs and clangs and demonic voices telling us to get out. It is just darkness and silence and the breathing of people beside you'
I quickly realize that ghost hunting is not flashy, noisy business. It isn’t Shaggy and Scooby comically running from room to room, being chased by a floating white sheet. It is not sudden bangs and clangs and demonic voices telling us to get out. It is just darkness and silence and the breathing of people beside you, and the odd sensation that you’re underwater and completely cut off—probably a worse feeling than being shocked out of your skull. We’ve only been down five minutes and I wonder how the second group will react to this dank surreal-ness, as Stargazer pokes around the rooms.
Occult investigation, Anton, 10 p.m.
Though most individuals are easily gripped by fear, there are those whose hold on logic is unfazed by the follies of folklore. Others want hard evidence, if not a decent scientific explanation, before jumping to ghoulish conclusions. The Scooby Doo gang had Velma, the Ghostbusters had Egon Spengler, and Fox Mulder had Dana Scully, people who assess the situation by looking at the rational rather than supernatural.
We got acquainted with the Mysterium Philippines team, paranormal investigators and all-around new age thrill-seekers of the unknown. Led by their founder Robert Rubin, they pride themselves on using the process of occult investigation in their expeditions, what Rob describes as “a healthy mix of ritual practices, psychic capabilities, and science.” Aside from being featured on numerous local TV programs, Mysterium offers courses on magic, psychic development, and the tarot.
Mysterium sets up a command center of sorts on the veranda as Mich, Stargazer, and the rest head to the basement. Rob has brought four of his students along for the ride: there’s Jojo and Brenda, the two female psychically intuitive females of the group, and Doji and Randolph, the tech supervisors. Like an extraction team from any action movie, each has a designation, a specialty, a role in the group.
Basic ghost hunting tech
First, they set up a laptop with a ghost box, a device used for creepy two-way spirit communication. The other tools in their armory are actually very simple and pragmatic: a digital camera, a digital voice recorder for electronic voice phenomena (EVP), which is basically any unusual audio recording that serves as a response from spiritual presence, an electromagnetic field meter (EMF), and some flashlights. They use these equipments, explains Rob, to corroborate the psychic findings of the “sensitive” individuals of their team.
While Stargazer’s team is down in the basement, we scan the vicinity. As we reach the garden, something sends the EMF reader through the roof. Team Mysterium says there are elementals and stray spirits roaming the area. At around 10 p.m., Doji gets a voice on the ghost box. He asks us to listen and we hear the faint cry of a woman or possibly a baby shrieking. This immediately sends shivers down my spine because we haven’t even begun and already the spiritual activity seems vigorous.
All of a sudden, Carlo, one of the house’s residents, who joined the first group, suddenly comes running upstairs, screaming.
She's very sad, Mich 10:15 p.m.-10:45 p.m.
The air is damp and heavy, like it had just rained. An odd cold seeps in, despite the absence of windows. Stargazer remains still and calm throughout, moving from room to room. We follow her like a herd of sheep, meekly bleating that we feel cold, we feel dizzy, we feel trapped, we feel heavy, like she told us to. Even our usually goofball photog Paul is subdued, intently snapping shots at random.
Despite the atmosphere of creepiness, Stargazer makes me feel not the least bit terrified. Maybe I’m braver than I think. Maybe I’ve acclimatized to the eerie cold and shrieking silence and my brain has begun rationalizing what I were feeling (siyempre –ber months na, malamig talaga, siyempre tahimik, kami lang andito).
Suddenly Stargazer stops dead in one of the smaller rooms. I enter behind her and an alien sensation of wanting to simultaneously retch and fall asleep engulfs us.
“She’s here,” Stargazer announces.
She’s a slight woman, she reports. Shoulder length hair. Very, very sad—and oddly enough, I feel it. I’m near tears myself, an alien sensation that hits me in the gut. We leave the room for the time being, with the consensus that something is undeniably there.
Over the next 30 minutes, Stargazer talks and walks us through the rest of the subterranean rooms.
"Marami rito," she remarks offhandedly. I feel a cold, ticklish sensation in a small storeroom. A male elemental this time, Stargazer shares, "at ikaw ang gusto," referring to me. I feel unthreatened by this, uhm, attachment but leave the room nonetheless.
The air was thick, and the feeling heavy
We head back into the room where we first encountered the female spirit. Almost immediately and right beside me, I hear Lamar choke a little and sense his body go cold. He winces, again and again and complains of an ache in his stomach.
"Ang bigat," he says, shoulders hunched, sweat beading on his brow, breathing heavily.
The rest of us exchange half-freaked, half-curious glances. Ron Jay trains his camera on Lamar’s face. If a pretty rational, chill guy, not prone to histrionics at all, is feeling something paranormal, surely there’s something there.
Without missing a beat, Stargazer instructs us that she’ll be needing a certain bag from her car. I ask Carlo to run up and get it for us.
Peeking in, Anton, 10:30 p.m.
“Hindi kayo maniniwala. Yung multo nakapatong doon sa isang kasama namin,” Carlo says, before he rushes to the Stargazer’s car to get a kit. For what use, we really don’t know.
The fear, not of ghosts, but of worry suddenly takes over as I realize that Mich, or one of her companions might be in actual trouble. I decide to go down by myself and check on them. I head down to the basement, making sure not to be noisy. Pausing before hitting the foot of the stairs, I take a peek between the railings and I’m shocked to see Lamar sitting on one of the chairs, only a candle illuminating the whole room. He looks dazed and bewildered, like he’s seen a ghost. The others are hunched over him in a circle, sort of like in prayer. As Mich tries to hold Lamar’s shoulder, I hear Stargazer telling her off.
'I take a peek between the railings and I'm shocked to see Lamar sitting on one of the chairs, only a candle illuminating the whole room. He looks dazed and bewildered, like he's seen a ghost. The others are hunched over him in a circle, sort of like in prayer'
“Huwag, nagseselos!” she says in a stern voice.
Not so much afraid but weirdly entranced by what I’ve just witnessed, I head back up to prepare for our turn in the basement.
An exorcism of sorts, Mich, 10:45 p.m.-11 p.m.
Stargazer stares over Lamar’s shoulder and ushers him to sit down. The collective arm hairs of everyone in the room stand on end as she openly addresses something unseen: “Bitiwan mo siya,” before explaining to the group “Nakakapit kasi sa kanya.”
She pulls out a crystal-studded wand and some oil from the bag Carlo came huffing and puffing in with. She starts praying and dabbing at Lamar’s forehead, throat, and stomach. We all withdraw, completely out of our depth.
I try to reach out and pat Lamar’s shoulder reassuringly, but my hand stiffens a couple of inches away from his shoulder. A kind of static electric shock runs up my arm, and I can’t touch him for more than a couple of seconds.
Stargazer warns me: “Nagseselos siya. Huwag mo munang hawakan.”
Lamar sits there, retching, apparently in the grip of something dangerous, while Stargazer urges the female spirit to let him go. She later whispers to me that the spirit had him in a chokehold and wouldn’t give him up—and her eyes were embers glowing red.
Waking the dead
She succeeds in tearing the spirit away from Lamar. He stands, apparently fully recovered. Stargazer instructs us to wait at the threshold of the room and tries to establish communication with the female spirit. She takes charge, throwing questions at the empty walls: Are you female? Are you here? What’s your name? Silence. Softer, and with more motherly compassion, she queries:
“Pinatay ka ba?”
Five of us freeze as we hear the equally soft, mournful keen. Short and muffled, but nonetheless unmistakable—it’s the despairing cry of a woman.
On the verge of crying myself (and unashamed to admit it), Stargazer persists: Is your name Amy? Amelia? Another short cry that seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere at the same time replies, seemingly in the affirmative.
In another room, I hear a cabinet door creak, open or closed, I can’t tell. Stargazer glances at us, her face sympathetic and pained. It’s time to ascend up the basement stairs again—we’ve experienced enough.
Feeling infinitely weary, with a stomach that felt like I just lost a bout with diarrhea, I make my way back to the windy veranda. The air here is cool, but without the achingly pervasive dampness. The darkness here, for it is 11 p.m. by now, is gentle and not at all dominantly threatening.
We finally have our own ghost story to tell—but can we trust our senses?
There was no panic, no shock, nothing spook-tacular. It was just the cold that seemed to emanate from my very bones, and the heavy darkness that settled in our stomachs, and the eerie certainty that there was something, someone, there, in her immeasurable sadness and desperation, waiting.
Dark descent, Anton, 11:30 p.m.
Mysterium leader Rob instructs us that we will be heading down the basement in two waves. He explains that he, Jojo, Ron Jay, and Paul will accompany us for the first round. Before even heading down the same way Stargazer’s group has passed, the EMF reader lights up, making alarming noise that wracks our nerves.
Rob looks excited and Jojo is already beginning to sense some presence. Staring down the shadowy staircase, we put on a brave face and begin our descent into the darkness.
The basement is quiet, creepily so.
Except for the EMF reader and Rob’s instructions, things are static and you can feel it in the air. The basement is a claustrophobic’s nightmare. Things are definitely trapped down here. What they are, we hope to find out.
In pursuit of paranomral activity
Jojo immediately senses there’s a spirit moving about and we stop in one room to ask questions. Rob instructs Jojo to do her thing.
“Sino ka? Ano’ng pangalan mo? Masaya ka ba na narito kami? Ano ang nangyari sa’yo,” she asks as Rob records the whole thing on the digital recorder, hoping to pick up any EVP. And as she fires off her questions, the candle I’m holding starts to flicker.
We move on to the next room where the EMF meter starts to go off again as a pungent sulfuric smell filled the air. Oddly enough the temperature in the basement fluctuates from hot to cold in just mere distances.
Jojo tells us there is a lady with short hair. She is crying, and not at peace. The sudden observation blankets the crew in a cold nervousness. And just like that the hair in our arms begins to rise.
None of us can see her, nor do we really feel her presence. But something strange is brewing. The collective energy of the group is shaky and tense.
Rob says it’s time to go back up and rest.
He then sends the next batch of Mysterium members, namely Brenda, Randolph, and Doji to confirm the supernatural state of the basement and prior findings of the first batch. And after a second trip with Brenda, who could barely sustain staying down the basement because of a vomiting reaction she gets during high spirit activity, Mysterium explains its findings to us.
“There’s a lot of energy trapped down there,” says Rob, saying how the Feng Shui, layout, and design of the basement affect the chi or energy flow.
Because of the numerous corners, rooms, and lack of ventilation, stagnant energy (from spirits or otherwise) is unable to move around, hence, they get ensnared in a prison. Rob also adds that the house registers at a constant “one” on their EMF, which isn’t normal. Places without any paranormal activity should be at a zero.
Jojo lends her own insights without having known the prior team’s findings: “There is a water elemental, a tall male figure elemental, and a crying woman with short hair who seems to have died violently.”
The team and Stargazer’s stories seem to match up and the equipment only lends a hand to what we were already told earlier.
Feeling like we had just run a marathon, we packed our things and bid the house goodbye—but not without the EMF reader going off for just one last spook.
We light another cigarette and notice that the cat is still mewling.
This story originally appeared in the November 2012 issue of FHM Philippines