Posted in Features, Top Features

The voice in the box

Some things are better left unexplained

Image Credits: Chris Ho

Most people know not to mess around with Ouija boards, but no one ever said anything about a ghost box.

While we are all rational students of academia and most likely to err on the side of reason and science, I cannot express to you how real this was for me at the time. It is a story that tests the limits of my understanding of reality and still remains in a shroud of mystery that is hard to explain.

I had just begun a job working as a bartender for a nightclub, which I will leave unnamed.

My second shift I was ordered to weigh the bottles before the shift, in order to track liquor consumption. One bottle in particular had inexplicably flown off the scale as I went to grab more to toss on. I flinched from the sound, already a bit on edge from the unfamiliar large, silent, and dark room I seemed to be inhabiting, solitary.

I was perplexed about how this bottle managed to fall to the ground. But I was more worried about missing liquor before the shift even started, which would look bad on my behalf.

Explaining the loss to Michael, my manager, was easier than I thought. He gave me a knowing look and quickly brushed it off. So did I — relieved.

Months later, close to Halloween: Janelle, a server I had come to grow fond of, brought in a device called a ‘ghost box’ in the spirit of the season.

A ghost box is a device that allows voices of spirits to manipulate a radio channel sweep, thus providing a means of direct contact. Think of it as a new and improved Ouija board, except with voices in real time.

Rumours spread amongst staff about a suicide a number of years ago, where a girl hung herself in the basement bathroom after a shift. Creeping down the stairs, Janelle and I went to see if there was any validity to the story and to test out this ghost box she bought off the internet.

The bathroom hadn’t been renovated and it was still sporting ‘70s decor, with dark mahogany panels and brown patterned wallpaper in pristine condition. “I wonder if the basement is left unused because of the suicide?” Janelle asked, instantly making me feel uneasy.

This observation bolstered an unusual energy within me, which urged me to quickly leave the bathroom. We settled for playing with the ghost box in the stock room, which felt safer under its sobering fluorescent lighting.

For the first 10 minutes, there was just static.

“Is anyone there?” We took turns asking it, but the channels just kept flipping through.

I decided to get bold: “Why did you kill yourself?”

Like a metronome, the box continued to flick through channels with nothing out of the ordinary occurring. “This thing doesn’t work Janelle. You got duped!”

“Hi.” If someone would have told me it was just a regular person on the end of the line, I would have believed them.

Our slivered eyes turned to full moons with shock. It actually worked. Or was it a fluke? Or a simple explanation of pareidolia of the ears? “Ask it a question!” I practically demanded Janelle.

“What is your name?” she asked, hovering over the box in anticipation.

For a few moments it continued to flip through.

“George.” We couldn’t believe the responses we were getting.

“How did you die?” I blurted out. I’ve never been one for small talk.

The gap of silence in between lasted forever. I was beginning to question the logic of this phenomenon.

“Lead.” It paused. “Poison.” It was nearly impossible to make out, however the thought that it could be real spurred me on and these puzzling words made it more provoking.

“Did he say lead poisoning?” I asked quizzically.

“Food.” George blurted out.

“In food, he said; he was poisoned in his food!” I repeated as I was starting to get swept up in the excitement.  

“Red” the voice came from the machine again. It was coming at a much more rapid pace than before. “Blanket. Down.”

These words were all highly subjective, but the way the voice came through didn’t seem like natural stops on the radio scan. The voice remained the same pitch and tone the entire time and it carried through on various channel switches.

Was the ghost describing the contents of my own room to me?

“In the mirror.” His voice became difficult to make out after that. We had to listen very closely to understand it. “Mask.” It continued to muffle.

It became clear again and uttered, “Michael”, our manager’s name. Things were getting personal. Or were they? Michael is a pretty common name.

Then we heard three distinct knocks on the door. Feeling relatively creeped out, we were paralyzed, frozen in place.

“Oh fuck, it’s probably just Micheal.” Janelle quickly turned the box off and hid it in her purse. We snapped into work mode, picking up various bottles to take up to the bar, which was our regular routine at the end of the day.

“We better hurry up and get these up there, I’m sure he wants to lock up soon,” Janelle reasoned. “And maybe tell him the spirit knows his name.” We nervously giggled together as we packed up, suddenly ultra aware of our surroundings.

After completing our last task, we went to the manager’s office. Michael was still in the midst of completing the nightly cash out. “You’re not itching to get out of here right away?” I asked, mildly confused.

“No, I still have a bit left here to do. You guys can leave if you like.” Michael motioned for us to go ahead.

“So, you didn’t knock to tell us to hurry up?” I asked incredulously.

Michael gave us a strange look, as though he didn’t know what we were talking about. “No”, he spoke slowly. Janelle went silent, her body language indicating she was eager to get out of the building. I laughed, “Sure, sure.” He had to be fucking with us.

We exited the office, but I ducked my head back in. I needed to get some leverage on him so he would admit he did it —that he knew what we had been up to the whole time and that he just had to mess with us.

“You know,” I paused, then spoke very clearly, “it said your name.”

When I finally got home that night, it was close to 4 a.m. Normally, I would jump into bed without much delay, but still feeling a little creeped out, I turned on my lights to my bedroom and tried to get a feeling of normalcy back.

My red duvet cover became glaringly obvious. The mirror on the other side of the wall became menacing. The Venetian mask my parents brought home for me from Italy suddenly stood out. Had George described the contents of my room?

I suddenly laughed at how stupid I was being. I turned off the lights, got into bed, and opened my laptop for some Netflix action, to hopefully get my mind off things, and fall asleep.

I was nearly dozed off, plunging into the subconscious of dreams, when I heard a knock on my door. I completely snapped upright, any remnants of sleep gone. Did it really happen? Or was it in the beginning of a dream? Maybe my computer was too loud for my roommate. “Yeah?” I called out. No answer.

Suddenly, I burst out of bed and aggressively opened my door. Nothing but a pitch-black hallway was in front of me. My heart was pounding. I was terrified. I felt my stomach sink. It felt like I had touched my fingers into an unseen dimension, and now the inhabitants of that dimension knew me and would always know me. I made a mistake using that ghost box.

That night, I ended up watching the happiest TV shows I could possibly find with all the lights on, rigidly sitting on my living room couch — one eye and one ear always focused on the hall behind me. I had to wait for the sun to come up to feel safe enough to sleep.

Sometimes there’s one coincidence too many, and it can leave you feeling like you have made a grave mistake playing with the afterlife. Feeling unsettled and unsafe in your own home is a very real feeling. While many don’t believe in ghosts, they also have not been scientifically refuted, and that’s enough to keep me wondering.

So, my advice to you — whether you believe in the ghosts or not — is to stay away from Ouija boards and ghosts box, and keep your communication to the living, not the restless spirits that are long dead.