Sunday, November 30, 2008

Dead Ringers

September 12th 2008 4:23pm. A Metrolink commuter train with 225 aboard slams into Union Pacific freight train on winding route in Chatsworth. It left 24 people dead and almost 150 injured.

On of those who died in that horrible accident was Charles Peck.

Medical examination of his body showed that he had died quickly after the collision, almost instantaneously.

But for hours after his death, his family received a total of 35 calls from his cell phone.

At 9:08PM nearly five hours after the crash, Peck’s fiancé Andrea Katz received one of those calls. But when she answered, all she heard was static. Despite hearing nothing from the other side she told him to hang on and that help was on the way.

Whenever they tried to call him back all the calls were routed to the voicemail.

When the rescue efforts stopped at the scene and the rescue workers turned to the grim task of recovery another call came from his phone and the search crews decided to trace it. They found it had come from the first train, so they went back to scour the rubble in hopes of finding him alive. The last phone call came from Charles Peck’s phone at 3:28AM, almost an hour before they found his lifeless body.

This story made national news when it happened and has now become very well known. A few weeks earlier I myself had a close shave with death and had been in the hospital for a week with Cardiology issues. While I was there a case management services person had visited me and offered help with getting my affairs in order in case the unexpected might happen. I don’t remember how we came to the topic of the paranormal but she eventually stayed a while and told me some amazing stories. She used to be a caregiver at a hospice and had experienced amazing things. There are extraordinary paranormal happenings that occur at the end of life of terminal patients.

Although the stress that had put me in the hospital to begin with was not pleasant, I knew God had brought me there for a reason.

This I am sure was one of them.

In the last few months of research that I have made in the area of the supernatural and the end of life I have been astonished, amazed and comforted. I am gathering these astonishing stories together in a book which I am tentatively calling, “Ushered through the Veil”. One of the most frequent phenomena that occurs at the end of life with terminal patients is the same occurrence that happened to the family and fiancé of Charles Peck.

Phone calls from the dead.

Sometimes like in the case of Peck, the family receives a phone call from the phone of the deceased. It could come from a cell or a landline in the deceased’s uninhabited home. Other times just before the terminally ill patient dies they receive a phone call from a long departed loved one. In many instances the numbers had even been disconnected. But they still appeared on caller id.

Every time the living picks up the phone all they hear on the other end is static. There have been instances of those who receive the calls recording them only to find voices in the recording that were not perceptible to the human ear at the time.

Here are two of the tales that I have received, one of each type.

Mark Prebost had lived a good long life and had outlives most of his family and friends. Tragically he had outlived many of his children as well in reaching the ripe old age of 93.

When he was diagnosed with prostate cancer he took it with a grain of salt. He would often say he lived longer than he would ever have thought, but still he would miss his family. He especially loved the parties.

The disease ravaged the elderly man and the pain was severe and constant. His elderly daughter and her children took care of him in his home, rotating the times they stayed with him until the cancer that had spread through his body finally took his life one cold October day. The daughter was relieved since her elderly father had gone through so much pain in the last few months, and even though she did not believe in an afterlife she comforted herself with the fact he was no longer suffering.

His funeral was sparse since he had few friends and relatives left alive. And after the funeral those who did attend went to the daughter’s house for a memorial service and dinner. As the night wore on they kept getting phone calls with dead air. Finally the daughter noticed the caller ID. The calls were coming from her father’s house. There was no one there, she had the keys. They received a few more calls during the evening and she let the answering machine pick them up.

The next day out of curiosity she reviewed the final two phone calls that the machine had recorded. She heard on the tape the faint voice of her father saying, “It’s ok Margie, I’m ok” and “Your Momma is with me, all is good”

Like so many EVPs the speech is faint and hard to hear. But Marge was sure of what she heard. Her father was saying goodbye and letting her know that he still existed in some form. A form that was safe, happy and with the wife that he had loved and lost so many years ago.

It did not look good for Lisa. The teenager had gone through years of treatment but the anguish of the chemotherapy seemed to be all for naught. The leukemia had finally overwhelmed her body and she was in the last days of her short young life.

Her father sat in vigil beside her, holding her hand and wiping her brow as she sweat while the final battle raged within her fragile body.

Her mother had passed a few years earlier in a horrific car crash. In those last days her father sat by powerless as Lisa cried out for her mother. He tried to comfort her but it seemed that his presence, even though ever caring, was not enough.

As the father sat with her on her last night with a nurse by her side the phone rang. He left Lisa a lone with the nurse for a few moments to answer it, but on the other side there was a large amount of static. He thought for a second that through the static he had heard a woman’s voice say something but it was indiscernible. After he turned the phone off he checked the caller ID to see who it was that had called.

The answer stopped him in his tracks.

The phone number was that of his house five years ago. The number had long been disconnected, right after the death of his wife. He tried to call back but got the familiar robotic woman’s voice advising him that the number was indeed no longer in service.

Immediately he was called back into the room by the nurse. His daughter was passing. She died within a few minutes of the mysterious phone call.

A phone call that he still believes was made by his long deceased wife. And upon reflection he is sure the faint words he had heard through the static had said, “She will be safe with me”.

Until Next Time,

Pastor Swope

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Profile of a Haunted Church

St. Paul’s United Church of Christ in Erie Pennsylvania was formed in the mid 1800’s.

When it was founded, it was a local neighborhood church welcoming German Immigrants with familiar old country worship. Today though it stands in the middle of inner city Erie where the neighborhood has more businesses than homes. Its once dominant steeple is now almost blocked out by the taller buildings that have been built around it since its stones were laid. Since the mid 19th Century a multitude have been born, baptized and buried under the church’s auspices. Over the centuries thousands of people have worshiped there and called this their spiritual home.

It seems that perhaps although some members have left the mortal coil of life, they have never really left the church.

I started attending the church earlier this year in an attempt to perhaps once again serve in a Denominational Church somewhere in the future. I felt immediately at home. The congregation although small is a warm and welcoming group of diverse individuals who look at a person’s heart with compassion and care. They are at once both open minded and doctrinally conservative. It is a rare mix that is truly a blessing.

After attending a few services I noticed that I had an old coworker Craig who was on the church board, we worked together at Med Stat ambulance years ago and after the strange happenings there we both had shared our similar views on the paranormal. I knew God had led me to the right church.

After catching up on old times and old friends Craig told me something very interesting, he would love to have a paranormal group to investigate our church because over the years many people have heard and experienced some unexplainable things. In fact his sister was the church secretary and had spent many an hour alone in the building and has had first hand experiences on many occasions.

Craig’s sister Cheryl Pierce started working at the church in 2001. It did not take long for her to begin having odd experiences. Over the years she thinks she has identified two different entities that haunt the church.

One is that of a little girl. Often Cheryl will hear the giggles of a little girl when she is alone in the church. And the giggles sounded very familiar.

Katie was an 11 year old girl who loved to help in the nursery. In fact she absolutely adored Cheryl’s son Ben when he was a toddler. She would always pay him special attention and hold him. Was very active in the church and its choir and was an ever present source of light and kindness. In 1994 she was coming back from church camp with the pastor and she had forgotten to wear her seat belt. The pastor accidentally dropped something and the van veered off the road and into a tree. Katie was killed instantly.

The disembodied giggles that Cheryl hears throughout the church is in Katie’s voice.

And they still think she is watching over Ben. One night while in the church office, Ben felt a tap on his shoulder.

There was no one there.

Katie is not the only spirit that likes to hang around the church. There is the spirit of an elderly woman also.

Ruth was a pillar of the church. Whenever it was open, she was there, helping out in some way. She too worked in the nursery and absolutely adored children. She always wore high heels and had a distinct perfume that was very pungent. You would always know when Ruth was coming down the hall; her high heels would clack down the hallway from one room to another as she assisted in the nursery and the Sunday School rooms.

Ruth’s footsteps can still be heard walking down the hallways of St. Paul’s Church to this day. You hear the footsteps coming and going, and doors opening and closing on their own violation. And every once in a while you will get a whiff of that strong and unique perfume that she wore all those years ago. No one wears it anymore.

I was very intrigued with the whole prospect of the church being haunted and happened to have lunch one afternoon with local paranormal author Stephanie Wincik. She had just written a new book on local paranormal teams called "Reaching Through the Veil: Ghost Hunting in Erie County"

She was still in daily contact with the groups she profiled and asked one of them if they cared to investigate. Erie County Paranormal set an appointment for November 1st of this year.

All Saints Day.

Some of the old saints showed up.

Just after 10:00 at night a flurry of activity happened. They caught it all an tape here:

It's a little hard to see some of the action, but watching the tapes firsthand were very astonishing. Camera 1 shows a shadow creature flying across the chapel door. Camera 2 shows a shadow figure of a woman come into the room, stand for about 28 seconds then it turns around and leaves. Camera 3 shows an orb fly from the ceiling. All within a few minutes of each other. I enhanced the video a bit:

Camera 1: Shadow being crosses the door

Camera 2: Shadow being of what looks to be an old woman enters room and turns to leave.

They also found many EVPs such as a little girl saying "It's ok to die", high heeled footsteps from nowhere, and doors opening and closing. They also had an intelligent response when they asked for one.

You can find their evidence here:

I found it quite fascinating, they plan on coming back to do further investigating.

But they were not the only ones to catch high strangeness in the church building. The week following the investigation there were pictures taken during the service for our upcoming Church Directory. One was taken during the Pastor's children's message that was quite startling. Here it is:

There are various orbs in the photo. One over the Pastor's head, one on the boy's shoulder next to the altar and finally the large one hovering at eye level with a smiling face. Its as if another child was attending the service. Perhaps it was Katie?

If it is a spot of dust, it has an awfully great sense of humor.

The strange happenings still occur at St. Paul's United Church of Christ in Erie. While God's Spirit is being poured out on his people, the spirits of some of His people still linger in the place they loved to call their second home.

Until Next Time,

Pastor Swope
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Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Spirits that Follow

After I published the story of Rachel the waitress and the hauntings that followed her throughout her life, I received a lot of e-mail from others with similar experiences. One of the most dramatic of these was from Jan, who like Rachel had been haunted all her life.

Jan seems to have been born a 'sensitive'. From early childhood Jan would interact with entities on a daily basis. She recounted to me that

"My most vivid childhood memories evolve, not around my family or school, but are of the entities I was entertained by at night in a room I shared with my older brother and baby sister."

Every night in the old house that she lived in as a child entities would appear in her bedroom. She was the only one to witness them, if she tried to wake her brother to verify what she was seeing, the beings would disappear into the ether from which they came.

The entities were not the normal specters that haunt any building with a history, these seemed to delight in entertaining the little girl. Every night they would appear and preform for her. She recounts that it was like having a vaudeville show being staged in her bedroom every night. The entities would clown around, dance on the floor and in mid air, shape shift and other bizarre acts just for Jan's amusement. The little girl was so enthralled by the spectral spectacle that she would giggle and quietly applaud their acrobatic antics. She often tried to tell her parents what was happening in her room every evening but they just dismissed it as an overactive childhood imagination.

But Jan knew what she was seeing. She was awake and lucid.

When she was in the 3rd grade her family moved from that old house into a bigger one to accommodate the growing family. The spectral spectacular followed her there. They continued to entertain her in the new house just as in the last. They were attached to her.

But there was something else that dwelt in this house that was not so affable.

One evening when Jan was in the 4th grade her family was sitting in the living room watching television together. Since she was the youngest she would have to go to bed before her older brother and sister. So when her father told her it was bedtime she went alone out of the room and walked up the stairs to her bedroom. As she looked up the stairs she was startled by the appearance of a figure at the top of the stairs.

It was Jesus Christ reaching out to her with outstretched arms.

He wanted her to come to him up the stairs and be embraced.

Fear filled her as she slowly backed away from the steps.

Never before had she experienced fear with her paranormal experiences, but now at a time that one would think would be filled with peace and comfort, all she felt was fear and dread. She turned and ran back to her father.

Jan's family was not 'religious', they did hold to the general faith of Christianity like most Americans and visited church on Christmas and Easter. But they really were not the religious sort. So the fear at the vision of Jesus at the stairs was confusing.

After she ran back to the family room she jumped next to her father and in a trembling voice she told him what she had just seen. He pondered it all for a moment and seeing his daughter's real anxiety he allowed her to stay up for a while so she could ascend the stairs with the rest of the family.

The incident was a turning point in her life and she had no more paranormal experiences until she had children herself.

The recurrence of paranormal activity came when her oldest child, her son, was 5 years old.

They had just moved into an old renovated farmhouse, in fact it was their very first day in the new home. The large farm in Kansas had seen dozens of occupants over the years, and it seems some may have lingered on through the centuries.

Jan was on the phone with a friend when her son came down to let her know that there was a 'spirit' upstairs playing with his three year old sister.

She was halfway up the stairs before the phone hit the floor.

As the door to the bedroom flew open and Jan quickly entered, she found the room in a state of complete normalcy. The three year old girl was sitting in the middle of the floor playing like any toddler would.

But Jan was still frightened for her child so she quickly gathered her up in her arms and took her downstairs near to the kitchen so she could be closer to her. Frustrated and worried, she asked her son to describe what he had seen occur in the upstairs bedroom to make him think that his little sister was playing with a 'spirit'. She was very surprised that he even knew the word. She had not spoken to her children about her past experiences and they did not attend church, so where he came up with the term made the situation more disturbing than it already was.

The little boy pushed himself up to the breakfast bar and started to tell his mother what he had seen. He told her that he had seen a man floating in the air next to his sister with his toes pointing down like he was hung there. He wore dusty clothes and had a book in his hand. He also wore some sort of necklace. Jan gave her son a pencil and paper and asked him to draw what exactly the necklace looked like.

It was a cross.

Within a few days other paranormal strangeness began manifest themselves to other members of the family. Jan came back one afternoon of shopping in the local town and as she drove up the driveway she saw a man sweeping or raking in the barn. This in and of itself was not an odd happenstance since her husband would often employ farmhands to do chores around the yard. But her husband had not mentioned to her about the hiring on of a new man so she was curious as to who this person was. So after she parked the car she went over to the barn to introduce herself.

There was no one there.

She searched the barn and surrounding area completely to no avail.

Her husband had not hired another hand that fit the description of whom she had seen.

Not long after this odd experience her children began to tell her that after she had put them to bed an old woman would visit them in their room and also tuck them in at night. Then as if to confirm her children's sightings she was walking through the house one afternoon when she came into the kitchen and saw an old woman standing at the main window just gazing out into the clouds.

She soon faded into nothingness.

Then there was the time they had all left the property to do some errands and when they had come home the front door was unable to be opened. The problem turned out to be the children's heavy wooden rocking horse had somehow become wedged into door so they were unable to open it. Nothing else in the house was duisturbed, there was no sign of a break in. And no one inside would have been able to have wedged it into the front door and leave the house as it was.

It seems something did not want them to come in the door, for one reason or another.

After all of these strange and unusual experiences Jan began to do an investigation as to the history of the old farm house.

It turns out that that the house and its property had long ago been a gift to a newly married couple passed on from the bride's father. The groom was a preacher of a small church that had once occupied an area just down the road. He helped supplement the meager salary from the small church by farming the land. The church no longer existed when Jan and her family moved in because just three years prior to their purchase of the property The Army Corps of Engineers had put a lake in the hollow where the church had once stood. Jan relates that:

"I inquired around the area as to the history of this old farm house. I found out that it had been built on a site that was a gift to a newly married couple, from the woman’s father. The man she married was a farmer/preacher. He had been the pastor at a small church, which had once been just down the road and back in a field, which was now covered by water. The Corps of Engineers had put in a lake about three years before we bought the house. "

And Jan noticed that the phantom of the lady was staring out the window at a particular tree. It was the very tree that they had planted in her sons honor after he died in battle.

It seems the preacher/farmer and his wife still liked to look after the young children that dwell in their old farmhouse.

These experiences happened long ago.

Jan's children are now grown.

She has moved on to another life and has remarried and lives in Ireland.

But the paranormal still follows her to this day.

While renting a small cottage on the West coast of the island she had some very odd experiences that for one reason or another usually occurred at dawn.

One morning she woke up to see a hooded figure that looked like a medieval monk. He was short, not more than five feet tall and was gazing into the sky and chatting, as if exclaiming about the weather. But Jan heard no sound. She wished to raise her husband from his sleep so he too could observe this startling vision, but she had learned from experience that in doing so the vision might quickly vanish. So she just lay there in bed and observed the entity as it slowly faded into the past.

Only a few weeks after this happening she once again awoke to to see an entity near her. However this one was leaning close over her in bed as she came to consciousness. She jumped and screamed which also startled the being and it leaped to the other side of the bed. Her scream woke her husband who tried to comfort her. He looked about as she seemed to be looking past him at something behind. She saw the creature, although he did not. It was a woman in glowing white garb and close cropped hair. The entity seemed saddened that she had caused such a commotion, and she passed through the bedroom door.

In her letter Jan explains what she experienced and the historical and cultural context of its significance:

"Around this part of Ireland they refer to any paranormal being as a “fairy”. These are not the Disney fairies. They can be anything from one of the “little people”, to a ghost. My husband, a very religious man, is frightened of these things and doesn’t like to talk of them. My brother-in-law claims to have seen several during his life. I was telling him about the spirits I had seen in the cottage, which is just over the road from where he lives. He told me that it didn’t surprise him at all as there was a “fairy fort” behind a stone wall, in the brush and scrub that lie just behind the cottage. A “fairy fort” is an ancient circle of stone. People don’t really know what they were built for or who actually built them. So, they have been associated with the fairies for ages. They were supposed to have occupied them and populated this land before the advent of the Irish. My brother-in-law said that they would visit that cottage because they would consider it to be on their ground. The cottage had not been occupied for some time although it wasn’t very old."

She also relates that:

"We have moved now to our new house and I haven’t seen anything unusual here. The new house is built on land that was in my Husband’s family. It is adjacent to a field that’s Irish name means, “field of the fairies”. That makes me wonder how long I will enjoy this peace."

Throughout her life Jan and her family have experienced the unexplained.

She is not alone.

We live in a world that is full of wonder and the unexplained.

Sometimes it is frightening, sometimes it is comforting.

But whatever the feeling at the time, it is a reassurance that we live in a world that is at times not only beyond our mortal comprehension, but that gives us hope that what we touch, feel and experience is not all that is.

There is more to life than a physical world.

Until Next Time,

Pastor Swope

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

It Was Just a Little Thing

The Arnone’s had just moved into their new house in a quiet suburban neighborhood near Cleveland, Ohio when they started to notice some strange things that were not revealed by the previous occupants that had sold them the building.

Although the majority of the neighborhood was built in the housing boom of the late fifties and early sixties, their house was one of the original homes on the block. It was renovated and expanded over the years, but the square frame of the old house in the center of the home was still pretty much as it was when originally built. There was still an old coal chute in the front corner of the house and the outside hatch now sat in the den.

The first thing they noticed was the noise coming from the basement every night.

In the wee hours of the morning, just as they switched off the late night talk shows they could hear it coming up from the duct work. It sounded like a party was taking place in the large dark cellar. They could hear people’s voices in muffled conversations and strange music playing in the background. There were also distinct sounds of ice dropping into glasses and the glasses being clinked together as if in a toast.

But whenever the husband ventured down in the basement he heard nothing, and the sounds ceased to waft up through the heating system. After this happened a few times, he made a joke that perhaps he was not invited to the party.

However, it seems that his wife was invited.

One Saturday morning while she folded the laundry fresh from the dryer she smelled cigar smoke in the air, and since nobody in the house smoke, she walked around the dark basement to see where the strong smell was coming from. As she rounded an old cement support pillar she saw the man sitting in the middle of the air. He was in his late fifties and in a dark suit. He casually sat there like he was in a bar after a hard days work and interacted with objects that were not there anymore. His cigar flipped ashes at chest level into nowhere and with the other hand he pulled a drink from the long gone table top and gave a quick sip before putting it back into time and space. He hung there in mid air for a good ten seconds as she stood there speechlessly observing him, and then he began to fade. Still going about his leisurely business he vanished into nothingness.

It did not frighten her in any way, seeing the specter from the past in the air before her. To the contrary it made her more curious as to what exactly was going on in the house.

So the next time the mysterious party sounds wafted up from the basement, the wife decided to go downstairs instead.

The noises did not stop. She saw nothing like she had the week before when she saw the spectral bar patron. But the noise of a party was all around her. But even though the noise was quite loud and each individual noise was quite distinct, she still could not make out what the voices were saying. The noises seemed to ebb and flow and then fade away after a few minutes. She did not know what to make of it, it did sound like she was standing in the middle of a party. But there was one thing she did get out of the experience that she grounded it in reality. She recognized the music that was playing in the background. It was "Bei Mir Bist Du Shön" by the Andrews Sisters.

It was popular in the late 1930s.

The parties came and went during the course of many weeks and then they just stopped. They attempted to record some of the sounds, but almost in a reverse EVP the sounds could not be heard in any recordings.

Was the house haunted or was there some sort of temporal rift or vortex there that allowed sounds and images to pass through the generations?

But even more astonishing than these visual and auditory specters are the incidents that happened in the early spring of their first year at the house.

Frank and Becky had three children, a 13 year old boy, a 9 year old girl and a troublesome 5 year old boy who always got into mischief. In early April while the other children were at school, the young boy came running in the house crying. He said an evil squirrel had attacked him in the back yard and had been throwing stones at him. The mother was perplexed for she had never heard of such a thing, but given the other odd experiences she had gone through she would rule nothing out. She looked him over and saw a small bruise on his back where he said one of the stones had hit him. Then satisfied what he said was true she wanted her son to show him the evil squirrel but the little boy refused to back into the yard, “It has a monster face” he pouted “I don’t want to see it again.”

So the mother ventured alone into the backyard to find the ‘evil’ squirrel, but after searching everywhere she could not find any trace of it. However she did find a disturbing set of footprints in the spring mud by the huge oak that dominated the backyard. They unlike any animal tracks she had ever seen. In fact they looked like little barefoot human feet. And the footprints led to the base of the oak tree. A foreboding sense of dread overwhelmed her as she scanned the trees for any sign of the squirrel and for a split second she thought she saw something crawling in the branches. But the shadow looked like so squirrel she had ever seen. There was a head, body and tail- but the tail whipped about in a manner that seemed more snakelike than like that of a small rodent. Cautiously she made her way back into the house and did not let her little son play outside for a few days.

The next to see the strange animal was the thirteen year old. His bus usually arrived before the girls at about 3 in the afternoon. It left him and a few others off at the bus stop about a block away and he walked the rest of the way home. As he walked next to the low lying hedge next to his backyard he noticed something odd in the backyard.

It was a little fur covered creature that was gathering sticks into a bundle. It ran quickly back and forth gathering up the small twigs and laying them into the pile. It’s fur was brown but it’s tail looked like it had moulted exposing black skin. The thick tail whipped back and forth as the being ran to and fro. That was when the oddness struck the teenage boy. It didn’t run on all fours. It ran like a human being, upright on its hind legs. As he stood there watching it put a few more sticks into the pile, the animal put its hand into its side and pulled out a small cord and quickly bound the sticks together. Then as it turned to run towards the tree it noticed that it was being watched.

The animal stared at the boy and dropping its pile of sticks it slowly began to walk toward the young boy in a steady and meaningful gate. As it slowly drew closer he could make out that it had features that mocked the face of a human, but something was wrong. It was as if an artist blind from birth had attempted to make a sculpture of a human face. There were two eyes, a nose and a mouth but they were just….wrong. And the creature’s skin was totally black like a leather shoe. It was then also that they boy noticed that the fur the creature sported was not its own.

It was a cloak.

A cloak that looked as if it was made from a squirrel hide.

The small creature began to pick up speed and made a run for the boy, and filled with fear even though he towered over the animal the teenager ran as fast as he could for the front door.

That night when the father came home they both went out searching for the little creature once more, but like the mother before they did not see anything but small footprints that looked disturbingly human. And as they turned to go back into the house something hit the teenager in the back.

It was a small rock.

It had come from the direction of the oak tree.

That night at various intervals the house was pelted by small stones until the wee hours of the morning.

The next day determined to find out what it was that lived in the tree and was harassing the family Frank took the ladder over to the tree to investigate it’s limbs. After about 15 minutes of searching he found the hole. It did not look natural, in fact upon close examination you could see the tiny carvings into the dried wood of the tree. It was hidden where a large branch came out from the tree. He would have missed it if it were not for the bones. Dozens of tiny bones from small animals littered the opening to the hole. The hole was dark for it seemed to recede deep into the tree, and he could only see a few inches in. So he went back inside the house to get his flashlight. On his way up the ladder he was about 3/4th of the way up the 40 foot ladder when something pushed it from the top, and Frank came crashing down to the ground. Luckily his wounds were only a broken arm and two ribs. If he did not roll and had fallen on his back he could have been seriously and permanently wounded.

The incident just reinforced that something had to be done. They had planned on buying dogs before but had put it off because they did not have any idea what kind they wanted. The younger ones wanted small cuddly mutt but Frank and his older son wanted a huskier dog like a German Shepard. The unwanted visitor in the backyard swung the decision toward the men. Instead of buying a puppy the family brought home a full grown Shepard from the rescue shelter. They fenced in the backyard and let him loose.

It took only a few days before the two encountered each other. Becky was doing dishes when she heard the dog barf furiously, then she heard it squeal in pain. As she ran upstairs she saw the dog under the oak tree with its front paws on the tree as if attempting to climb it. It was frantically barking up the tree, and as she came out to it, she saw another stone flung from the tree and hit the dog on the head with a thud. Once again the dog let out a painful yelp but with determination it again took is spot under the tree and defiantly challenged the creature to come down. Becky was afraid that the dog would really get hurt and she dragged it back to the house, all the while the dogs eyes never left the tree. They kept it inside for the night, and only let it out to relieve itself.

But in the middle of the night the family was awoken by a crash.

The family ran down the stairs to see what the commotion was and saw the back screen door had been smashed in and the dog was gone. Turning on the outside lights they went out to the backyard to see the dog tearing something apart near the tree. The attack was savage as if the dog was seeking vengeance for the pain the creature had caused.

There was not much left to really see what the thing was, except for the small thick tail covered in black skin.

They gathered up the remains that they could find and burned it in a burning barrel with some other kindling.

They were never bothered by the little thing again.

Franks teenage son swears the creature looked like a tiny little devil. If it was a supernatural being, it died like any mortal creature.

Perhaps they were mistaken and it was nothing but a real ‘evil’ squirrel.

Or perhaps it was something else, something connected to the strange echoes from the past that manifested itself in the old basement.

The Arnone’s had a few other odd experiences at the house before they moved. Lights turning on in the middle of the night, and there was a time when they heard whispers coming from a closet. But nothing like the party from the 30s in the basement and the little devil in the oak tree.

They now live in a much quieter house.

And they get a lot more sleep.

Until Next Time,

Pastor Swope

Thursday, November 6, 2008

She Never Left Them

Katia was raised in a poor family that resided in a small apartment in what was then Stalingrad. During the late 1980s when the fall of Soviet Communism left many poor families struggling to even put the basic foods on the dinner plate, it was almost impossible for those less fortunate to get medical attention when it was necessary.

Even when illnesses were life threatening only those with wealth or connections received adequate medical care. The ideals of equality no matter the social rank were ripped away by the harsh winds of reality when the USSR collapsed. It was a daily struggle to survive.

Katia was just a few days past her 11th birthday when she began to grow ill. There was a neighborhood doctor but he did little but give her parents the news that the tiny girl was gravely ill. The state run medical facility was packed and it would take weeks to get an appointment. Unfortunately by the time the specialists at the hospital saw her there was little hope, Katia had an aggressive form of Multiple Myeloma and the cancer of her blood claimed her life within two months of the first signs of illness.

They could not afford a burial space so her body was cremated and her ashes were placed in a homemade ceramic urn. The urn was placed in the center of the family room on a mantle next to a photo taken of her in while visiting the circus years before. Although the picture was older, it was the Katia that they remembered, always smiling and eyes sparkling with life. The mantle became a shrine of sorts as her mother would light a candle in the little girls remembrance every Saturday night and let it burn on through the evening into early Sunday morning. It was symbolic of her short life, a life that although was tragically brief her beautiful spirit outshone the darkness which encroached upon her.

It was not long after her death that Katia’s family found odd things happening in and around the family room that caused them consternation and gave rise to hopeful curiosity. First it was her photo. Twice the older picture of the young girl was found face down on the mantle and another picture too its place beside the urn. Although they were different photographs they both were of Katia at an older age. Although her parents loved the photo of her at a younger age, on more than one occasion the young girl had said she did not like it. For some reason she hated seeing pictures of herself smiling a broad smile that showed her teeth. To her family it seemed as if the spirit of the dead girl still hated that old photo and wanted to be remembered closer to the age at which she died.

About a month after she passed her brother and a friend were playing outside in an abandoned lot next to their apartment building. The lot previously held a Stalin era community building that had fallen into disrepair and had collapsed a few years before. Although the Government had cleaned up the lot they were not very efficient, hence there were a few ruins of rebar and concrete walls along with jagged pieces of nondescript metal protruding from the ground. Katia’s brother and his friend were playing soldier in the empty lot late in the afternoon. His friend was hiding somewhere in the ruins and Katia’s brother was climbing the half destroyed walls looking for him. As he scanned the horizon, something caught his attention out of the corner of his eye. There standing in the main window of his family’s apartment he saw his dead sister pressed against the glass and waving her arms frantically. He was startled and for a brief moment he felt it completely natural for his sister often watched the children play in the lot from the window. But then the realization of what he was seeing finally set in and dazed he stepped back from the edge of the ruined wall…just as it collapsed into the sharp metal beneath it. His attention turned from the apparition of his sister to the crumbled wall and pointed metal and when he looked back she had disappeared. His friend came running over after hearing the noise of the tumbling concrete and asked him if he was ok. He just nodded in amazement. For the realization soon overwhelmed him that if he had been standing where he was just a few moments before he could have been grievously hurt, if not killed by a fall into the sharp rusting metal.

His sister had saved his life.

From beyond the grave she had warned him.

Katia’s presence was often sensed by her father as well. Often he would fall asleep on the couch and when she was little she would snuggle up at his side and cover herself with one of his great arms. He would often wake in the middle of the night and find her there cuddled up next to him and he would pick her up and take her to bed. On more than one occasion after her death her father would be woken by the feeling of his arm moving or of a body lying next to him in the middle of the night. On one occasion her presence was so real he could not contain himself and he began to weep uncontrollably at the loss of his dear daughter. And he swears that he felt a little hand upon his cheek wiping away the tears.

It was as if she was telling him that even though she had passed, she was alright. And that she still loved him even into death.

Katia’s ethereal presence soon became a constant and reassuring part of the family life. Every week some odd paranormal experience would only confirm that Katia still resided with the family in their small three bedroom apartment. The events would increase on the holidays that the young girl cherished. On the Christmas following her death the lights on the tree would often turn on by themselves. A little music box that required winding up to play would inexplicably play every night on Christmas week at the time the family would retire to bed.

But the most amazing incident happened almost three years after her death. It was a very cold winter night and many people in the apartments could not afford the normal electric heating. So some improvised. In the small apartments there were fashioned all kinds of heating apparatus. Many had wood burning stoves that were fueled with old rotted pallets and pieces of discarded plywood. Oil burning stoves that were run on less than pure petroleum products.

It was a disaster waiting to happen.

On the second floor, almost directly under Katia’s family one of these makeshift heating appliances was left unattended during the evening and a fire quickly began to ravage the building. Many people lost their lives in the building but Katia’s family all escaped unscathed.

When the fire first started all of the doors in the apartment began to open and close very hard. The family was quickly roused and wondered why there was such a commotion. They of course attributed the phenomena to Katia, but had no idea to the what she was trying to communicate for the smoke had yet to permeate their apartment. But as they all stood in the family room wondering at the phenomena Katia’s father heard a faint but distinct whisper in his ear. “Run Papa!” It was then that they had began to notice the smell of smoke and they quickly ran outside into the hallway to see the smoke beginning to billow up the nearby staircase. They ran to the other side of the building and made their escape in a smoke free stairwell.

Katia had saved her family from certain death. But unfortunately during the confusion in the disaster they left the urn in the blaze.

There was no trace of it in the rubble. And the special phenomena that reassured Katia’s family stopped. Whether or not it was her spirit no longer able to lingering by her earthly remains or the destruction of the apartment that had been her home all her life, the ghost of Katia no longer was a real presence to her family.

They settled into a new apartment and the paranormal experiences did not follow. The family grieved a second time. But they were very grateful. Grateful for their lives, and grateful for a few wonderful moments where they were sure Katia was still with them.

Until Next Time,

Pastor Swope