Alex: Hey, can I talk to you for a minute?
Hapless Passerby: Um ... sure?
Alex: Do you believe in ghosts?
Hapless Passerby: I guess. I mean, I never really thought about it, but ... hey, is that a microphone?
Alex: What about goblins? Poltergeists? Demons?
Hapless Passerby: What are you on about?
Alex: Do you believe in UFOs, astral projections, mental telepathy, ESP, clairvoyance, spirit photography, telekinetic movement, full trance mediums, the Loch Ness monster and the theory of Atlantis?
Hapless Passerby: I'm not trying to become a ghostbuster!
Alex: What about life after death? Reincarnation? The immortality of the human soul?
Hapless Passerby: I ... don't know?
Alex: IS DEATH THE END OR JUST A GATEWAY TO SOMETHING ELSE?
Hapless Passerby: Please don't hurt me.
Nic: Hi Alex! I have a great idea for a spinoff to our well-known, much beloved, totally real, but somehow not available on-line podcast, Pacific Northwest Stories!
Alex: Great! I've been hoping to interview interesting people, visit fascinating places, and tell amazing stories from our little corner of the world!
Nic: So what I'm thinking is, let's take all of your journalistic experience, personal integrity, and skepticism, totally throw those away, and do a show about a guy who travels the country telling people that Ghost Facers isn't real!
Alex: I don't know that there's enough material for a full season there.
Nic: Tell you what, if it turns out nobody cares about shadowy demons allegedly haunting a paternal lineage, we can also do an episode about geocaching!
Alex: In a 2013 government poll, 64% of Americans believe in life after death, 45% believe in ghosts, 43% believe that ghosts can interact with the living, 40% believe that The Ring was a documentary, 32% mumbled something about UFOs, and an astonishing 15% of Americans believe that a tall, shadowy not-man can terrorize a family, stalking the generations through the paternal lineage. I honestly don't even know why they bothered to ask that, but stats are stats.
Alex: Hi guys! Thanks for being on my pocast, which is like radio for the internet, and which will totally be about not the paranormal starting next episode! But for now, what can you tell me about ghosts?
Raymond Savorksey: Well to start with, you have three basic forms of hauntings: residual energy, intelligent hauntings, and inhuman hauntings.
Emily DuMont: I believe you meant to say orbs and mists, full body apparitions, and demonic presences.
Dirk Abrusey: I believe you meant to say bullshit, there are so many different kinds of hauntings that I've had to create an entire TV series to cover them all. Watch Demon Hunters Friday nights at 3am, only on WTF TV!
Alex: So is there anything you guys do agree on?
Dirk Abrusey: Sure! We all hate Richard Strand!
Emily DuMont: He is just the worst.
Raymond Savorksey: What an asshole.
Dirk Abrusey: Also, you can buy my ghost hunting kit at WalMart! For just $19.99, you too can--
Alex: Right, thanks for your time.
Alex: That name kept coming up. Richard Strand. A militant skeptic. A ghost hunter who doesn't believe in ghosts. A debunker who never actually debunks anything, but just balls up his fists and shouts "Occam's Razor" over and over again until everyone agrees with him, just to get him to shut up.
I knew that I needed to find Richard Strand, and harass him into becoming the centerpoint of my investigation. Of course, he refused to return my calls, so I'll just have to play some clips I found on YouTube.
Richard Strand: The Wilson case doesn't prove or disprove anything. It's literally just a guy who claims he didn't want to sleep with that prostitute, but the Ghost of Pimps Past took possession of his body and forced him into his illicit affair.
Gullable Gale: But you didn't disprove that it was a ghost!
Richard Strand: I also didn't disprove that you died your hair that horrible shade of orange, but I'm pretty sure everyone here knows that's what happened.
Barry Believer: Have you ever investigated a claim you couldn't debunk?
Richard Strand: I have no idea what you are talking about, and am most certainly not keeping a collection of unsolved paranormal cases in a series of black VHS cassette boxes, carefully hiding them from the public because they offer implicit evidence that the truth is more mysterious than it seems, and also because I have a dark and mysterious past.
Barry Believer: What about the Sagamore?
Alex: At this point, the lights went out. I know, that's a pretty shocking coincidence, but it's less surprising when you know that Strand gestured to his intern and had her cut the power.
Emily DuMont: As you can see, I am a well-regarded self-published author, with more than twenty-five titles available on Kindle Select, including such seminal works as Felt up by the Phantom, Punished by the Poltergeist, and Molested by Malevolence. I also have a collection of Lovecraftian works, such as Tickled by His Tentacles and Dick from the Deep.
Alex: Do you have any, you know, scholarly work on the paranormal?
Emily DuMont: I mean, I guess we can go "investigate" a "haunted" "asylum" if you want.
Alex: Why do you keep making air quotes?
Emily DuMont: I don't "know" what you "mean".
Alex: The Black Tapes is brought to you by Audible.com. Sign up now and get a free audio book with your trial membership. We strongly recommend against Emily Dumont's Felt up by the Phantom. Reading it is bad enough, but listening to her gasp out lurid descriptions of spectral insemination is just too much to bear.
Emily DuMont: Okay, here we are at the infamous Mantino Psychiatric Hospital, centerpoint of a series of shocking paranormal visitations!
Alex: This is a shopping mall.
Emily DuMont: Well sure it's a shopping mall now, but it was totally an insane asylum fifty years ago! It's like how they built a condo on top of that indian burial ground in Poltergeist!
Alex: Okay, there's a lot to unpack there. First, Poltergeist is fiction. Second, you can't call them indians any more. Third, you promised my a creepy abandoned mental hospital, and this is a credit union.
Emily DuMont: And these interest rates are ~~~spoooooky!~~~
Emily DuMont: Okay, if you watch this tape you'll understand why we're here. Behold, a perfectly normal door in a perfectly normal building, when suddenly ...
Alex: The wind blows it open?
Emily DuMont: I believe you mean "a clearly supernatural entity manifests in our physical world and uses its terrible psychic power to work its will upon our reality!"
Alex: I mean, the door moved like three inches.
Emily DuMont: Three terrible inches!
Donny the Camera Dude: Hey guys, you'll never believe this, but I totally had a psychic vision while I was unloading the van!
Emily DuMont: How interesting, I also had a clairvoyant revelation! A vision of a girl--
Donny the Camera Dude: Guy!
Emily DuMont: Guy, in a hospital gown--
Donny the Camera Dude: Scrubs!
Emily DuMont: Scrubs, who was ... menacing?
Donny the Camera Dude: Very menacing, yes.
Emily DuMont: Very menacing, and totally scary, and definite proof of the supernatural!
Donny the Camera Dude: I mean, what are the odds that we would have the exact same vision at the exact same time?
Emily DuMont: Okay Mr. Ghost, we have come to hear your story and help you pass on to afterlife bliss! We can communicate through these two flashlights! When you want to say "yes," turn the red flashlight on, and when you want to say "no," turn on the blue flashlight! Okay?
[Blue flashlight turns on]
Emily DuMont: Right, just like I said, blue for yes, red for no! Now, are you the ghost of a former doctor, cursed to haunt these grounds as atonement for the terrible crimes you perpetrated against the defenseless patients?
[Red flashlight turns on]
Emily DuMont: See! He said yes!
[Terrifying supernatural ruckus]
Emily DuMont: Oh no! We have angered the spirit with our carelessness! We are all doomed!
Nic: Sorry guys, I tripped over all this expensive special effects equipment because you insisted on turning the lights off.
Emily DuMont: The spirits are very sensitive to ambiance.
Alex: Hi Jenna! I've been leaving countless voicemails, emails, physical letters, and dead animals nailed to the institute door, but Richard Strand refuses to contact me! As Strand's publisher, is there anything you can do to hook us up?
Jenna Yates: Hook you up? It's a bit early to be shipping you, isn't it?
Alex: I don't think so.
Richard Strand: Okay, wow. Like, I admire a certain persistence, and my own disinclination to take no for an answer has served me well in my mission to debunk the paranormal. However, I am somewhat concerned that your thirty-seven voicemails, each more hysterical than the last, points not to a dogged professionalism but instead to a certain manic entitlement that will, if I allow you into my life, result in my deepest secrets being revealed to the world, unwarranted scrutiny being turned upon my family, and danger befalling all those that I love.
Alex: So you'll agree to an interview?
Richard Strand: If it will make you shut up, yes.
Alex: Richard Strand is a tall, good looking man with a wry smile and piercing blue eyes. He carries himself with the confidence of a man that knows, without question or doubt, that he is in control of whatever situation he finds himself. His charisma is undeniable, his magnetism inescapable. I felt myself drawn toward him, as if an actual physical force was pulling me in, compelling me to--
Nic: Alex? What have we said about fangirling over the interviewees?
Alex: Look Nic, my mother bothers me ever goddamned Sunday about settling down and finally giving her grandchildren, and when a handsome, well-to-do intellectual walks into your life, even for a brief moment, you do whatever you have to do in order to--
Alex: Right, journalism.
Alex: So I hear that you're offering a one million dollar prize for proof of the supernatural?
Richard Strand: Yes, the
James Randi Foundation Strand Institute offers this prize in order to draw out the hucksters, charlatans, snake oil peddlers, fortune tellers, stock market brokers, and other frauds who claim unknowable power but are really only out to steal money from the gullible.
Alex: So you're saying, categorically, that there's no such thing as ghosts?
Richard Strand: There are no such things as ghosts, goblins, shades, apparitions, haunts, leprechauns, faeries, banshees, past lives, psychic revelations, ley lines, angels, demons, or deities.
Alex: What about unicorns? I love unicorns.
Richard Strand: I'm beginning to regret this interview.
Alex: That's going to be a theme.
Richard Strand: These white VHS cases are my collection of solved investigations. Each one contains digital and physical evidence pointing to very clear, perfectly natural sources for every single incident that has been brought to my attention.
Alex: And what about those black tapes over there? The ones hidden in the corner, behind a curtain, closed off with a rope and hung with a sign that says "nothing to se here, please move along"?
Richard Strand: Hey look at the time got to be going somewhere important to be supernatural claims to debunk lies to be unraveled and science to be scienced Ruby will give you a signed photograph thanks for your time talk to you never bye bye!
Alex: Hey Dr. Strand, the publicity photo we took of you got lost in the mail, and I'd really like to take the opportunity to sneak back into your office and examine those tapes that you were so quick to hide!
Richard Strand: Since you are the first woman that has spoken to me since my wi-- nevermind-- I would love to entertain you, offer you tea, and then drive you away by my constant harping about the sad state of critical thought in America.
Alex: Great! Lets start by looking at the footage from my investigation at the Mantino State Mental Hospital!
Richard Strand: Oh, you mean the investigation carried out by amateur porno publisher Emily DuMont? Did you know that the cell phone towers located just a thousand feet from that location would have rendered Donny's EMF readings completely unreliable, and that is even if he had remembered to turn the device on, which he did not? And did you know that the "self closing door" is actually a handicapped accessible entryway, as mandated by state building codes? And that the owner of that facility has mysteriously owned five other so-called haunted houses? And that your red and blue blinking lights are in fact a standard trick used by so-called clairvoyants at so-called seances, and can be easily reproduced using any cheap flashlight?
Alex: So no ghosts?
Richard Strand: No ghosts.
Alex: But what about--
Richard Strand: Tell you what. You do a google search for "creepy old doctor," show the photo to Emily DuMont, tell her he used to work at the Mantino hospital, and ask her if he's the subject of her vision. If she says no, she's still full of shit, but at least she knows about iStockPhoto. But if she says yes, you'll know she's playing you.
Alex: This is a fantastic idea, both because it could lead to a dramatic segment and because I love deception!
Alex: Hi Emily! This creepy old doctor was the head physician at Mantino Mental Hospital! Is he the guy you saw in your vision?
Emily DuMont: Why yes, yes it is.
Donny the Camera Dude: Hey cool, where did you find a photo of the creepy old doctor I totally saw in my totally real psychic vision?
Alex: ... The plot thickens.
Richard Strand: The Word of the Day is "apophenia," which is the tendency of humans to make up bullshit to explain that which their tiny little brains can't grasp.
Alex: Isn't that kind of condescending?
Richard Strand: That's going to be a theme.
Alex: So, about those black tapes?
Richard Strand: Okay, before we get into this, I need to reiterate that there has never been any solid proof of the supernatural. I also need to state that the burned of proof lies with the party making the extraordinary claim. To whit, if I told you that the sky is blue, it would require no real evidence on my part, because it's a generally accepted fact. However, if I told you the sky was full of Martian spacecraft who have come to subjugate us to Kilowog the Unkind, I would need to supply some proof.
Richard Strand: Now, with that being said, these black tapes are cases that we do not yet have the technology to debunk, or that simply cannot be investigated, due to their age, or location, or the terrible death of everyone involved, a curse which follows them down through the generations, visiting disaster upon every third son. Do you understand?
Alex: Yes. You're saying that those black tapes contain incontrovertible proof of the supernatural, which you are keeping under wraps because it would destroy your evil atheist agenda.
Richard Strand: Yeah, see, that right there? That's why I didn't want to show these to you.
Alex: Hey, let's pop this tape in the old cassette player and see what happens!
Richard Strand: I don't ... oh, fine.
Richard Strand: Okay, you see that vaguely-person shaped smudge in the background there? Behind that kid on the scooter? That's supposedly a "demon."
Alex: ...That's slightly less impressive than your reluctance to air this tape led me to expect.
Richard Strand: And in this tape, you see that shadow on the wall, behind the groom? That's also supposedly a "demon."
Alex: Okay ... so is there anything else? Any reason anyone would think that these two shadows are somehow supernatural?
Richard Strand: Just one. The boy in the first tape and the man in the second tape are ... the same person. Robert Torres.
Alex: Holy shit! That means ... absolutely nothing.
Richard Strand: So you're willing to admit that the supernatural is nothing more than a collective overactive imagination, hyperactive agency detection, and other mistakes in perception and logic?
Alex: I mean, I've got a whole season to fill, and this is way more interesting than the Geocaching idiot I interviewed yesterday, so ... nope. I'm going full Mulder on this one.
Alex: The Black Tapes Podcast is a production of Pacific Northwest Stories, in association with the National Radio Alliance and Minnow Beats Whale. Join us next time, when I harass a man driven to the brink by what he assumes to be a demonic haunting, question the love and integrity of a frazzled mother, and surreptitiously record a minor without his parent's knowledge. I'm Alex Regan, and we'll be back in two weeks.