Who ya gonna call? Well, me, apparently.
June 1, 2010 3:15 PM   Subscribe

A friend of mine has got a ghost. Phenomena include noises from nearby rooms, whispering from under the bed, feelings of pure irrational terror, cold breezes, nightmares, and distinct footsteps. His dog freaks out at these occurrences, and his girlfriend has experienced some of them while sleeping over.

He's asked for my help.

I'm not convinced that ghosts exist, but I'm not convinced they don't, either. But I do want to help my friend out; he's pretty freaked. I'd appreciate advice on how to deal with the situation, whether you believe in this sort of thing or not.
posted by MrVisible to Grab Bag (43 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Any chance there could be a gas or carbon monoxide leak in his house? There was a Halloween episode of This American Life several years ago that included a story about a family who moved into a house that they thought was haunted -- the phenomena included pretty much everything you describe, as I recall -- and it turned out to be hallucinations brought on by a leak of some sort.
posted by scody at 3:21 PM on June 1, 2010 [8 favorites]

Salt the corners and call a shrink.
posted by cmoj at 3:21 PM on June 1, 2010 [7 favorites]

Considering TAPS has never (that I've seen) managed to record anything even close to supernatural phenomena, maybe you can try to capture something on audio or video?
posted by xingcat at 3:22 PM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Carbon monoxide poisoning? Get his heating/hot water/other gas appliances checked if he's got them.
posted by andraste at 3:23 PM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

FWIW, my husband suspected a benign ghost in his old house. One day he loudly declared to the ghost that he was going to take good care of the house, and that the ghost need not worry. He never heard anything again after that.

We are normal, rational people who don't usually subscribe to paranormal stuff, etc.
posted by wwartorff at 3:24 PM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Here's the TAL episode; it's the story in the prologue. (The whole episode is pretty great, incidentally.)
posted by scody at 3:25 PM on June 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

Metafilter doesnt do ghosts, so I dont know that you'll get the best answer here. If they are getting nightmares and feelings of terror then it is not a benign entity. He needs to call a priest or one of those new agey ladies that is experienced in hauntings to cleanse the home.
posted by MXJ1983 at 3:27 PM on June 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: That rather depends on what you want to do. You could try to get rid of the ghost (which, since they don't exist, will be either easy or impossible) or convince your friend that the ghost doesn't exist and it's just the usual noises you get in an old (?) house with a racoon in the attic (my guess, btw, is that the dog might be freaking out as a reaction to your friend's behavior or just because they hear a squirrel three blocks away. Half the things my cats see and hear seem to come from alternate dimensions. No one thinks that a dog barking at nothing is wierd when it's a nice sunny day, it only become creepy when it's dark and windy).

If your friend is really freaked (and I can't believe I'm suggesting this. Bad skeptic), suggest that he hire an exorcist or some other psychic woo-woo master who will wander around the house, chant a lot, burn something smelly, and declare the place clean of all evil influences. That might suffice to convince your friend that all future noises are, in fact, just wierd noises and not malign spirits. Of course, this might just reinforce the belief that there is a ghost.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 3:27 PM on June 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

Interesting about the Carbon Monoxide poisoning...I'd not heard of that. I'd thought perhaps infrasound. Maybe there is some forced air fan or some such?
posted by Wink Ricketts at 3:36 PM on June 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

I see you are in Tucson. If you want I can go over to your friend's house and scare the ghosts away. It will involve dancing and glitter. 100% serious.
posted by nestor_makhno at 3:54 PM on June 1, 2010 [53 favorites]

Best answer: Years ago, a friend of mine was doing summer stock with Shakespeare & Co. in Lenox, MA. She was living in one of the older buildings on the property. And she had a ghost.

She didn't believe in ghosts. But there were noises, and cold breezes, and the feeling of someone's hands around her throat. (It was summer, and carbon monoxide poisoning wasn't a possibility, what with the furnace being off and windows being open.)

A friend of hers suggested placing three glasses of water - ordinary tap water - in the shape of a triangle in any room where she felt she "should", and to burn some sage. She did this, and the ghost-y feelings stopped.
posted by rtha at 3:56 PM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Mod note: few comments removed, you know the drill, be helpful or S T F U.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:00 PM on June 1, 2010 [19 favorites]

Best answer: Let someone else do the hard work. Get some skeptics from the local university to come in and investigate. Let a newspaper write an article about it.

If this info is up to date, you're just in time:
The monthly meeting of the Skeptics of Tucson are held on the first Wednesday of the Month at the Denny's on Speedway, near Alvernon at 7PM. Many show up early for dinner and conversation prior to the official meeting.
I guarantee someone (probably everyone) there will be interested in this.
posted by pracowity at 4:00 PM on June 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

Okay, call the pastor of a local charismatic or pentecostal church and ask him to come pray thru the house. If it's paranormal it will leave, if it isn't then there's a natural explanation.

Heck, if he lives near me I'LL go do it.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:12 PM on June 1, 2010

Best answer: It depends what you/he want.

Do you want to be convinced that ghosts, as a physical presentation of paranormal phenomena, don't exist? Then you get the local skeptics in to take video & audio recordings, measure temperatures and air quality/flow, survey E-M fields, and find nothing out of the ordinary.

Or do you want to be convinced that the ghosts have been calmed down / shushed away? Then you get the local psychic new-agey woo-woo masters in to murmur and mumble, wave a variety of sweet and not-so-sweet herbs around, and tell the ghosts that your friend is an OK guy who shouldn't be troubled, lest he acts out of terror and has their arses exorcised into oblivion.

Personally, I'd go the second route - but that's because I'm quite happy to indulge the totally irrational side of my psyche, and accept that "being scientific and right" is sometimes much less important than appeasing that side while being wrong.
posted by Pinback at 4:22 PM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Regardless of whether ritualistic actions really effect the ghost or the person themselves, I would do them anyway, they often 'work'. Such as prayer worked for me. I was religious at the time of my 'ghosting', years ago, yet now I am now a complete non-believer + atheist. I have trouble reconciling what my experience of hearing/feeling a ghost really was. Although I don't believe in God / ghosts now, boy is it hard to explain that away.
posted by uni verse at 4:24 PM on June 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

Serious down to the studs renovation work on the house. Though this could make it worse.

If that's not on the agenda, catholic or eastern orthodox exorcism/house blessing. Network to find someone for whom this is SOP.

(Just from curiosity, why do you care if responders believe or not?)
posted by IndigoJones at 4:42 PM on June 1, 2010

Best answer: I'd second the carbon monoxide testing, just because you're better safe then sorry. It seems illogical that we should be more scared of ghosts than a completely odorless and colorless gas that appears commonly in homes and can kill, but we are.

I also am going to tell you what my uncle did to de-creepy his old apartment. I don't think that he believed the apartment was haunted, but both he and my aunt felt distantly uneasy inside. The previous occupant, a very old woman, had lived there for decades, and when she met my aunt and uncle she told them several vague and paranoid stories about the neighbors and the building. My aunt and uncle hoped the creepy feeling would go away, but it didn't.

What they decided to do was to have a small welcoming ceremony for themselves. They went to each room the the apartment, blessed it with holy water, burned a small candle, and said a short prayer. Then they considered themselves welcome to their new home, and their feelings of creepiness went away.

My uncle is a very logical, smart, and mostly secular person, but he maintains that ceremonies are important to us as humans. Like wwartorff, rtha, and uni verse have mentioned, perhaps what you need is a small ritual action that will make your friend and his girlfriend feel more comfortable. If ghosts exist, and this is a ghost, then this might make him go away. If ghost don't exist, or this isn't a ghost, then it will at least give your friend some confidence, and you can proceed to look further for rational explanations.

But for gosh sakes, get a carbon monoxide detector.
posted by Hoenikker at 4:49 PM on June 1, 2010 [9 favorites]

My dining room table was made from reclaimed wood by a guy who died while making it. At night when the house is very quiet and I'm sitting in the living room sometimes I hear it creaking as if someone is working on it. It freaked me out for the longest time especially given the history of the table. Then one day I noticed that the screws holding the legs to the table were loose and the noise was just the natural expansion and contraction of an old piece of wood that is loosely joined. All I really need to do is tighten the wing nuts and the ghost disappears. It kinda bummed me out to find a rational explanation because I kinda liked the idea of a ghost intent on finishing a table he started right before he shuffled off the mortal coil.

If you want to help your friend spend a night or two in the house and document all the sounds and help him figure out what they are.
posted by any major dude at 4:52 PM on June 1, 2010 [5 favorites]

If these symptoms are happening while he's trying to sleep, he probably has a sleep disorder. I have experienced all of these symptoms due to a combination of sleep problems. When I was a kid, my sleep issues led me to believe my room was haunted. Read up a little on the folklore of sleep paralysis to see the supernatural connection.

Over the years, I've figured out certain conditions, like sleeping on my back or upright in a chair, have a really high chance of triggering an episode. Being aware of them has helped immensely. I still have the occasional night terror or sleep paralysis episode, which takes me some time to calm down from, despite knowing I'm absolutely safe and sound.

As for the other witnesses: The dog is probably responding to his master's mood and random weird noises that houses just happen to make. The girlfriend is probably misinterpreting things due to the power of suggestion (I've been in some houses where the AC sounded like whispering, for example).
posted by Wossname at 4:59 PM on June 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I'm open to all answers whether the respondents believe or not. I've got no investment in the existence or non-existence of ghosts whatsoever. I'm in the same boat as uni verse; I'm agnostic, leaning towards the atheist, but I've seen some things I can't explain. I readily admit I don't know the answers, but sometimes the questions become unavoidable.

At the moment, I'm thinking I'll take a multi-pronged approach. I'll definitely bring over a carbon monoxide detector and some nightlights this evening; perhaps a technological approach will banish whatever it is. I'll also talk to my friend about whether he wants to try a banishment, or perhaps contact the local paranormal investigators who apparently live for this stuff, to see if his situation might contribute to our store of knowledge on the subject.

I'll also suggest possible religious intervention.

For tonight, carbon monoxide detectors, nightlights, and Pinback's suggestion of having a nice calm semi-ritual talk with the ghost, possibly involving sage, with a subtle undertone of 'behave, or be exorcised back to wherever you came from' to it.

My big concern here is, of course, my friend's state of mind.

More suggestions are welcome; I'll be keeping track of this, and I'll try to keep it updated.
posted by MrVisible at 5:14 PM on June 1, 2010

Best answer: behave, or be exorcised back to wherever you came from' to it.

I-am-not-a-ghostbuster, but I'd recommend politeness.
posted by Hoenikker at 5:22 PM on June 1, 2010 [4 favorites]

[If I were a dog I would freak out too if they started imagining things around me...]

Speaking as one who grew up in a newly-built large and very creaky house, and who later in life has been living alone for several years in another house in a very calm rural setting:

typically, a combination of unrelated things creates several sounds at irregular times, whereupon the human mind fails to establish any pattern other than a false-consistent creepiness. Your friend, his girlfriend and his dog need to break that mental circle and re-introduce some house-owner rationality.

Find that plank in the nearby room which creaks or sounds like footsteps when the humidity drops from 50% to 40% (or whatever). Smoke out the rats under the floor in the bedroom (or tell them to stop playing Scrabble at night). Check for cracks along the plinths (or wherever else in the house), and treat them in some manner to eliminate cold breezes. Put a humidifier in the room with the harpsichord. Check for expanding and contracting hot water pipes, window panes and other changing-temperature-exposed matter around the building (including the roof). Accept that wooden beams always creak, that the water cooker in the kitchen says "click" 15 minutes after use and that some spring in the old CD player says "ploink" at unexpected moments. Btw., the glass cover of the ceiling lamp in the hall makes soft rhythmic "plinks" when switched on for a while. Etc. Rational and thorough troubleshooting will take care of the nightmares and the irrational terror. If not, it's time to tackle the bats in the belfry.
posted by Namlit at 5:23 PM on June 1, 2010

I'm open to all answers whether the respondents believe or not.

I'm glad to hear you say that, since now I can answer. There are no such things as ghosts or spirits. Really, they don't exist. If they did exist, someone somewhere at some point would have been able to provide evidence. So the question, as pointed out above, is what do you hope to accomplish? Do you simply want your friend to feel better? If so, engaging in some kind of woo-woo nonsense to "cleanse" the area might do the trick. On the other hand, playing to that sort of superstition might just reinforce the possibility of it occurring in his mind. Which would be counterproductive.

I would suggest recording the footsteps and whispering. If it is actually happening you should be able to record it and use the audio recording to identify the source of the noise. I guarantee you that there is a rational explanation for any sounds, assuming the sounds aren't all in his head in the first place. This approach has the advantage of not risking reinforcing wacky beliefs and of actually identifying the source of any noises, etc.

The nightmare thing and feelings of terror are a red herring. Anyone who is freaked out about their place being haunted and hearing odd noises and such is going to have nightmares and instances of sourceless fear. Hell, I can get nightmares and feelings of fear if I go to sleep too soon after watching a scary movie and I know full well such things don't exist. So if you solve the mystery of the sounds, the nightmares and fear will naturally work themselves out.

All of which assumes your friend isn't hallucinating, of course. Checking carbon monoxide levels is a good thing to try. If these events continue, though, you have to consider the possibility of mental illness. But I doubt that conversation would go well...
posted by Justinian at 5:34 PM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Some other things to consider besides carbon monoxide: stray voltage or low frequency noise caused by resonance in duct work or in rooms.
posted by cosmicbandito at 5:51 PM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Noises, supernatural or otherwise, are not something to worry much about, but nightmares and feelings of terror should be addressed, as they are physically and psychologically damaging to the people who are experiencing them. So it's good that your friend is reaching out, and that you want to help him deal with what's happening.

As it happens, I am a believer in ghosts. For a long time I was uncertain, but encountering a classically paranormal physical manifestation in a very old house in England convinced me that there is consciousness after death that can do a number on the living. My ghost tried to drive me mad and push me down the stairs, and while I was able to fight it off psychically, I still ended up bruised from the stair incident. In other words: be careful.

Of course, first you should test for gas leaks. But if there's nothing poisonous in the air, and the weirdness continues, there are ways of handling it. As for bringing in exorcists, new age practitioners or holy water, what's to say the spirit is or was a believer of whatever belief system is being practiced? This is really a matter between your friend and whatever's in the house (or is it an apartment--can he move if it gets bad?), so the best option is to do things that will make your friend feel safer and better.

If your friend is able to adjust his state of mind so he's not frightened, that would help. These things seem to feed on unease, so simply not reacting or saying "hi, I know you're here" might help pot down the frequency and violence of the encounters. Weird noises are just noises, and you can choose to be scared, annoyed, amused or simply to ignore them.

Good luck! and please update the thread with your experiences.
posted by Scram at 5:55 PM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

suggest that he hire an exorcist or some other psychic woo-woo master who will wander around the house, chant a lot, burn something smelly, and declare the place clean of all evil influences.

I know where this is coming from, but don't do that. A lot of those people are very dishonest. Go to a trusted religious person to take care of it if you suggest that route.

Also, maybe just suggest he moves from the house. If it's that irritating, there's no reason to stay there. If he can learn to live with it, then he needs to start taking those steps. I mean, I'm all for a good ghost-busting or scientific explanation, but you have to evaluate whether it's worth the effort.
posted by jabberjaw at 5:58 PM on June 1, 2010

Your friend has paranoia. His dog and his girlfriend are getting cues from him. He is deluded, and should get professional help.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 6:09 PM on June 1, 2010

My mom swears that we had a ghost, and she could not sit in our family room alone after dark, until we got a dog. She read somewhere that filling your house with living things (animals, plants) will show the spirits, who may not know they're no longer alive, that they are dead. That or our dog scared it away.

(I heard some noises myself that I never explained. Once was footsteps. The other, my mom and I *both* heard someone that sounded like me call out "Mom!" but it wasn't me.)

Because of a video game (King's Quest 4, in which an obsidian scarab protects you from zombies), I used to carry a polished obsidian rock or necklace any time I went into a cemetery. It made me feel better and it did no harm. A friend and I went on a ghost hunt, for fun, with the Indiana Ghost Trackers. We both had EMF sensors. The leader started asking questions at an interesting-looking grave. After each question (and only then), my friend's EMF reader spiked to 10 for a few seconds, then back down to 0. Mine didn't move. I was wearing my obsidian necklace. I can't explain that. (It was the only ghost hunt I've ever been on, not because I'm scared, just because I never happened to go again.)
posted by IndigoRain at 6:10 PM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Where there are cold breezes, there are air leaks. Where there are air leaks, there are (a) vermin (b) the possibility of the leaky space operating as an contra-contra-contra-bass ocarina, generating sounds way below the range of human hearing (you can often experience a less infra version of this kind of sound by driving with just one of your rear windows part way down). Infrasound can cause apparently spontaneous feelings of terror as well as making dogs freak out. Air leaks can also cause differential thermal expansion and contraction, and the creaking and cracking that this causes will often sound almost identical to footsteps.

So yes, go the smudging with sage, but do it outside while there's somebody inside sniffing about for it. Strongly scented smoke is very very useful for tracking down air leaks.
posted by flabdablet at 6:13 PM on June 1, 2010 [5 favorites]

Oh, and along the lines of what Justinian said, make sure your friend isn't watching Ghost Whisperer and Medium every Friday night. Those shows give me pretty gnarly dreams.

On the off chance your friend does have some kind of mental illness, please don't get him involved with the local pentecostal/charismatic church. Some of these churches may suggest demons are attacking your friend either because he is not saved or because he is saved but isn't "right with God" and this may make things a lot worse. I was a hell of a lot more scared of demons than I would have been of ghosts, and spent much of my religious years with severe anxiety attacks. Also, some of them suggest mentally ill people stop taking their medications which is not a good idea.
posted by IndigoRain at 6:17 PM on June 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

1. I second hypnogogic sleep problems. Year after year, nobody ever wants to believe in these problematic sleep issues opting for believing their vivid dreams/nightmares, despite written indications of this phenomena dating back a thousand years.

2. Is your friend kind of woo-woo by nature in other ways? In that case, hypnogogic issues aside, nothing but dramatic magic ritualism will solve this problem (but not likely the overall woo-woo personality problem -- one of my sisters, for example, could find a ghost in a one-year-old freshly developed house on all the empirical basis of the house being cold in winter. The solution must involve histrionic production of the greatest magnitude. Something like Max Von Sydow with holy water and a bit of Busby Berkeley).

3. Assuming there is some kind of ghost thing happening, just out of curiosity, is your friend a teenager? Is the ghost problem with a child of your friend who is a teenager? I seem to recall poltergeists are often linked to adolescent presence (who often probably manifest the problems themselves).

4. Big emotional stressors the last couple of years for your friend? Deaths in the family? Loss of jobs? Financial problems? On this front, psychotherapy might be good.
posted by CarsonDyle at 6:18 PM on June 1, 2010

I was a hell of a lot more scared of demons than I would have been of ghosts

As long as whatever it is gets evicted, who cares what label you slap on it?

But if it's a concern and your friend would rather have, say, a Catholic priest, I think it would be just about as well.

But if your friend had lived near me, I would have simply prayed thru the place and told the offending critter to leave. If you get the right person, that's all that would happen anyway.

My daughter used to see and hear disturbing things in our former home. We told her since she was the one seeing it she was the one who got to kick it out. We coached her on what to do and whatever it was left immediately.

(Look, i know that many of you don't believe in anything paranormal. On the chance that these happenings are psychosomatic, it would not HURT to have someone pray thru the house and at the very least it could bring some peace. I don't think at all that your friend has any mental issues at all-shoot, quite a few folks in the women's dorm at the art school I once attended had experiences with a "ghost" and they were all perfectly normal people. I had issues at the time and I never saw or heard a danged thing.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:04 PM on June 1, 2010

In both of our houses my wife was convinced we had visitors in our house. Not ghosts but rats/mice. It certainly sounded like we did at times and it was hard to convince her otherwise. In the first place there was a tree overhanging two sides of the master bedroom. The squirrels would jump from one tree, run across the roof over our bedroom, then jump to the second tree, always in the same direction. The echos of the footsteps in the attic would sometimes sound like whispers or scratching in the upper walls or a scuttling across the rafters, although there was nothing actually inside the house.

The second house we had flexible plastic ducts inside more rigid ducts in our attic that raised and lowered about 1/4 inch when the AC kicked on and off. We moved in in January but didn't notice the noises until the spring (around this time) because our heating unit didn't blow as hard as the AC. The noises were different in each room and because they followed the ducts the noises moved in a linear motion. When we ruled out rodents we jokingly called the noises our ghost until we found the correlation with the AC compressor powering on and off.

Another possibility of the footsteps as others suggested are the studs adjusting from the winter to summer configuration. In older houses you are going to hear a little knocking from time to time. The dog is also likely misinterpreting these noises as guests, or picking up on your friend's tension.
posted by Yorrick at 8:59 PM on June 1, 2010

it would not HURT to have someone pray thru the house

Except for the part about reinforcing BELIEF IN MAGIC. Damn it, people! There aren't free-floating apparitions hanging out under this guy's bed! The Indian burial ground his house is probably built on isn't sending ghost warriors to make his dog chase its tail! Let's try Occam's razor with a very unlikely scenario: Which is more likely? That a FOX crew is tunneling under hos house to drum up ratings from people looking for ghost hunting tips, or that humans have egos independent of life that, once freed from the mortal coil exist to fuck with dogs and blow on people's necks? Come on.

I kinda like the idea of having him record what he's hearing as a way to find where it's coming from, show that it's not actually happening, or get a good feel for his level of delusion if he refused to accept that he couldn't prove it to be a ghost.
posted by cmoj at 9:14 PM on June 1, 2010 [5 favorites]

Just one more vote for getting a carbon monoxide detector anyway, because sooner or later it will be code. They're now required in my state for any home with an attached garage or gas-fueled heating equipment.
posted by dhartung at 10:23 PM on June 1, 2010

Response by poster: I stopped by earlier, and brought him a carbon monoxide detector. He had a window in his bedroom that he'd broken a while earlier, so I helped him fix that (cutting the heck out of my finger in the process), hoping that fixing it would reduce external noises and breeze problems somewhat.

I advised him to have a polite conversation with the ghost (while acknowledging it may be no such thing), to try and work out a way of coexisting peacefully. I recommended a meditation exercise/visualization where he could practice visualizing his house as a safe place, surrounded by positive energy. I left him with some sage to burn in case he felt the need to do some purification. And I gave him a pouch of cool protective stones (tiger eye, red jasper and black onyx, for those of you who care) which have protective properties, at least according to the proprietress of the local mystical cafe.

I advised him to try to record the noises the next time he heard them. For the record, his house has concrete floors, and he and his girlfriend, both awake at the time, heard someone stomp across the living room simultaneously at one point.

Whatever this thing is, or isn't, I'm hoping I left him with enough tools and options that he feels less afraid, and more in control of the situation.
posted by MrVisible at 12:00 AM on June 2, 2010 [3 favorites]

Just some additional data-points here: soon after I moved into my current flat, I began to feel restless, afraid and cold and all that, and wake in the middle of the night. The feeling persisted for many many months, and somewhere along the line, I decided to get scientific about it; started noting down the exact time I used to wake up. The few notes I made were always between 330AM and 4AM.

When I told this to friends and colleagues here in Singapore, they told me the answer was obvious to them; 4AM is, according to Chinese beliefs, the hour when the gates of hell (or whatever) open up and the ghosts take a stroll through Earth (I'm sure someone will clarify the details of this myth). So it was obvious to them that I was being haunted.

Then there was this one night when I happened to spend at the beach in Sentosa; because the patrol boats blew their horns every few minutes, and because there was so much happening on the beach, we simply couldn't sleep. In due course, I began to experience those exact symptoms once again; that restlessness, the stillness in air and so on. But there was also something else that was happening; the tide, which was growing until about then, also began to recede.

The alternate explanation, then, was as follows: sea-breezes. It was not immediately obvious in built-up Singapore, but I live very close to the Straits of Malacca. At the height at which my flat is, my bedroom is one of the first obstructions to the winds blowing in from the sea. With two windows on opposite sides, my bedroom has some extensive cross-ventilation, resulting in me somehow perceiving when the land-breeze stopped. Because I had been observing those symptoms rather closely, there was a sub-conscious narrative that began to develop; I began to associate fear and breathlessness with the stillness in air when the direction of the breeze changed. Not saying that sea-breezes are linked to tides, merely that I came up with this explanation while observing the receding tides.

I sleep much more fitfully now, in fact, given busy schedules and I've stopped noticing this lately.

It is only fair that I end this narrative with another observation we made on that fateful night in Sentosa. Somewhere in the night, we saw someone walk from the shore towards the campsite shelter; this caused some alarm because we were the only people in that campsite area when we set ourselves up. He was glowing white in the moonlight; when we woke up in the morning, we found no footprints in the sand.
posted by the cydonian at 4:09 AM on June 2, 2010 [4 favorites]

"At JREF, we offer a one-million-dollar prize to anyone who can show, under proper observing conditions, evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event." I am not a believer in ghosts but if I had the chance to be proven wrong (something I am a deep believer in) I'd go for the million dollars. At worst, no ghost. At best, a million dollars and an unprecidented scientific achievement. Hope that helps!
posted by eccnineten at 5:10 AM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

just to throw this out - i lived, for one year, in a house that i am convinced was haunted. i've never been a believer in supernatural before, and i've never lived in a house before or since that exhibited similar characteristics. many of the creepy things i experienced were also experienced by friends housesitting, who several times described the same, very particular and completely random phenomenon i experienced, without my breathing a word about them to anyone beforehand.

i freely admit this sounds completely unlikely to most people, and if you think i'm full of it, fair enough. for the record, i have zero belief in the healing power of crystals, positive visualization, alien abductions, past lives, and christianity in general. but a year of living in this house convinced me that there probably is some sort of natural phenomenon that our beliefs about "ghosts" are based upon, that in some way or another "ghosts" are probably real, and there was *definitely* one living in my house. we more or less left each other alone (i mostly stuck to floors one and two, it mostly stuck to the unused 3rd floor) but our paths crossed every once in a while. and while i never felt like the ghost was out to get me, it was creepy living there, and eventually i moved - despite the cool house and cheap rent. i suppose it could all have just been the power of suggestion, but some of the stories from my time there would be hard (not impossible, but hard) to explain.

i have no idea how to help your friend out - personally, i eventually just moved to somewhere that wasn't haunted.
posted by messiahwannabe at 7:13 AM on June 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

I need to emphasize the sleep disorder suggestion above. Everything you describe can be very real symptoms of sleep paralysis or restless leg syndrome (which is very real and very life threatening). A good first step would be the Mayo Clinic website for info. Sleep disorders can lead to cardiac arrest. While you are ruling out carbon monoxide, you should really rule out a disease that can kill. The girlfriend's experiences might be her hearing him. The dog would clearly be reacting to humans acting whack.
posted by spicynuts at 8:25 AM on June 2, 2010

For the record, his house has concrete floors, and he and his girlfriend, both awake at the time, heard someone stomp across the living room simultaneously at one point.

Background: I don't believe in ghosts. I don't believe in hauntings.

Our house has concrete floors. It's built on a concrete slab with a crawlspace underneath. We have lived there fore about a year.

Every once in a while (4 or 5 times a week, every week), after the kids are asleep in bed, we hear one of them running down the hall, but no child appears. They're still in bed. It's a loud stomping down the hall sound. My wife and I hear it at the same time, every time. I have a recording studio in my home office, and the "running down the hall" footsteps show up on recordings. It freaks us out.

So, here's what the sound is in our house: Our house was built at the same time as our neighbors on the right and left. All three are built on a single, interconnected concrete slab, each of which has a crawlspace. When one of the neighbors runs their washing machine or dryer or pulls their car into the garage, it vibrates the whole slab under all three houses. It sounds like footsteps coming down the hall - exactly like footsteps. We don't notice it during the day, because we are walking around.

I hate it and it makes me glad that we rented the house instead of buying and that we're moving in a few days.

We met the people who are moving in next, having bought the home from our landlord. We didn't tell them about the "ghost."
posted by The World Famous at 11:13 AM on June 2, 2010 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: I heard from my friend this morning that both he and the dog slept soundly and peacefully last night. He had a talk with the ghost, and tried calmly coming to terms. There was a knocking sound in the middle of the conversation, but he quickly identified it as oranges dropping off the tree outside onto his roof.

I think that splitting the difference between the rational skeptical approach (getting a carbon monoxide alarm, fixing the window, talking about possible causes) and the mystical approach (talking with the ghost, having spells and talismans for protection) has helped. Whether it was an improvement to his state of mind, or the ghost reacting to his improved state of mind, it seems to have worked.

I really appreciate all the feedback that everyone has given in this thread. It made it possible to come up with a thorough plan that covered a wide range of possibilities, and I think it helped enormously. At the least, he knows he has a friend he can count on when things get weird. And I know I have an internet full of awesome people with intelligent and creative suggestions.

I'll update this if anything else occurs, but I hope things quiet down from here.
posted by MrVisible at 12:14 PM on June 2, 2010 [5 favorites]

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