Kindred Spirits

Pete Haviland hunted ghosts. He found friends.

Driving down the road, Pete Haviland sees ghosts of dead dogs. Once he drove his car into a field, swerving to miss a brown chow that wasn't there when he got out to check. When he shivers, his girlfriend knows he's seen something. What bothers him is when he sees deer that his passengers don't.

What bothers Carolyn Phinny is when her boyfriend's ghosts appear indoors. Pete woke her up a month ago when he saw the ghost of his dead grandfather standing at the foot of his bed.

"He checks up on me," Pete says. They're driving down a dark road to a cemetery outside town. Pete's the lead investigator for Lone Star Spirits, a group that tries to verify the existence of ghosts. He's taking deep breaths and trying to clear his mind, open it up for the hunt.

"It always weirds her out," Pete says, "so I don't tell her too much."
"Are you serious?" Carolyn asks. "There's stuff going on you don't tell me about?""Just at sites."

"Don't you think you need to tell me about it?"
"You're not in harm's way, baby. What am I supposed to say? 'There's a black shape standing beside you'? That'd freak you out."

"No," she says. "It'd just give me the shivvies."
"Baby, I love you. But the first time we ever see anything, I'll have to have a collar on you."

Pete's never scared of the ghosts he sees. He wasn't scared of his grandfather when he was alive; why be scared now? Pete goes hunting with his group nearly every weekend. But other times the ghosts just show up.

"You don't have to try to find them," Pete says. "Sometimes they'll find you."

"My husband's a total nonbeliever," says Terri Higgins, sitting down to dinner. "He thinks we're a bunch of kooks." He asks if she's got fresh underwear when she leaves for a hunt with Lone Star Spirits. She tells him that he collects coins and she seeks ghosts -- it's her hobby, accept it. He tells her she's crazy.

The best part of being in Lone Star Spirits, Terri says, is meeting people who understand and see the same unseeable things. Tonight, she's having dinner with two other Lone Star officers at the Old Spaghetti Warehouse. None of them look like kooks. Terri, a short, curly-haired blonde, is a legal secretary. Pete, who does inventory management, is here without Carolyn. And Katie Phillips, the group's founder, is an accountant with chestnut hair so long she can almost sit on it. They look normal. Their jobs are normal. But together, they happily explain the paranormal.

"Most people accept death," Pete says. "When the light comes, they go. But when their death is sudden and tragic, there's a lot of emotion there and a lot of quickness, and you don't know that you're dead. You'll just be walking around like you always did and not understanding."

"Ghosts are just people without bodies," Katie says. Imagine you're in a room and no one's paying attention to you; no one's listening to you. People look right at you but they don't see you. You talk to them, and they don't listen. It's pretty frustrating.

Almost as frustrating as knowing ghosts are there and not having anyone believe you. Before the group members met, they each knew they had some special psychic talent for sensing and seeing ghosts. But when no one believed them, they started doubting themselves.

Pete was ghost hunting at the Alamo last summer when he heard that Katie was starting a group. Terri saw her posting on the Internet. The group bonded immediately when they met on Halloween at the supposedly haunted Spring Cafe. Someone set a compass on the table (paranormal activity is usually magnetic), and the needle didn't shoot north.

"There was activity," Pete says.
Lone Star Spirits now claims eight members and about five "floaters" -- that is, people who don't go ghost hunting regularly. The group's mainstays, the four officers, all love Scooby Doo because the cartoon investigators solve mysteries involving ghosts. Pete leaves messages on the other officers' machines every day, calls them up at work, sings to them and makes them laugh. They're best friends.

They aren't exorcists -- they don't get rid of a ghost -- they just tell you whether it's there. One of their favorite spots is a field full of unmarked slave graves. A developer built houses over the cemetery. When the first family moved in, Pete says, toilets flushed all day long. Birds, snakes and black shadows attacked the family. The angry ghosts project pain into people's minds. The neighbors put in a pool and dug up a pair of bodies.

On Lone Star's first investigation, Pete made eye contact with a black shadow. The back of his neck hurt so badly he had to go sit in the car.

"You couldn't see the eyes," Katie says, "but you could feel them on you." She knew better than to look into them.

They chose the Old Spaghetti Warehouse for dinner tonight because it's supposed to be haunted. The story is that the building was a pharmaceutical warehouse whose owner died when the elevator cable snapped.

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