In the San Fernando Valley, Dark Spirits abound. : Things That Go Bump

I write this column past midnight in a house as quiet as a grave. A wind that moments before had whispered secrets through the moonless canyon has grown suddenly still, like a child halting in mid-play to listen for a noise beyond range, abruptly aware of a presence.

Something stirs. I stop writing. Do I hear footsteps on the stairs? I strain to identify the hushed footfall, every sense focused on the effort.

As I listen, the quality of light in the room changes almost imperceptibly. A shadow falls across a far wall, splashes against the woodwork then floats toward me as I turn, muscles tensed, and a voice from beyond my door says . . . .

"Are you still up?"

"Great God!" I say to my wife. "Don't do that!"

"Don't do what?"

Then she notices the book on my desk and nods knowingly.

"Aha," she says, "the night of the living dead, is it?"

Well, sort of.

I've been engaged in what you might call a ghostly effort. It began with the book my wife mentioned, Robert Curran's "The Haunted," which purports to be the story of a Pennsylvania family whose home is infested by demons.

I am a sucker for any book having to do with Dark Spirits, no matter how bad it might be, and this one, my friend, is no winner. But it did set me on a train of thought and, pursuing it, I came up with related situations in the San Fernando Valley, where Dark Spirits abound.

First, I found a newspaper story about Charles Moses of Burbank, who is a ghost hunter, and I began tracking him down. Actually, I started out looking not for Moses but for Jesus. Let me explain.

Two weeks ago, a lighted cross suddenly appeared on the bathroom window of a house in Pacoima, leading its occupants to conclude that it was a sign from God. Why the bathroom, I don't know. That's just the way God is.

At any rate, I felt that if I were going to have anything to do with demons, it might be a good idea to seek providential support first. Atheism flies out the window when the devil walks in the door.

Unfortunately, I couldn't find the house, and I also couldn't find anyone in the area who spoke English, which, despite my ethnic surname, is the only language I know, so I abandoned the effort. God, for reasons of his own, did not want me in his bathroom.

Moses, however, was available. A parapsychologist, he has been hunting ghosts for three decades and one of them was in Topanga Canyon about a mile from my own house, where I am the only presence from beyond.

The Topanga haunting involved a woman in black who could glide through walls, but I'm not all that certain it was a ghost. There are still leftovers from the canyon's free-floating hippie era who, strung out on mescaline, believe they can do the same thing.

Moses said he wasn't certain either because he never saw the apparition. When I asked if he believed there actually was a ghost, he said it didn't matter whether or not he believed it. They believed it.

In another case, a little girl told him that her cat talked dirty while they were together in the basement. "I spent an hour with the cat in the basement," Moses said, "but I couldn't get it to say a word."

"That's too bad," I said, thinking what a great column a dirty cat would make.

"You'd better believe it," Moses said.

His best haunting involved the house of a TV network executive, which doesn't surprise me a bit. I've met a few of these people, and they have a habit of disappearing overnight, never to be heard of again. It's a spooky business.

Doors opened and closed in the house, mirrors on the wall trembled like writers pitching a series pilot, a clock floated SLO MO to the floor, and a ghostly presence rolled a ball down a hall to play fetch with the family dog.

That's not all.

At a dinner party, the host was pouring wine when something grabbed his wrist and forced him to stop. I wondered if it were only a guest warning that a musky Cabernet should never be served with fish, but Moses said no.

On one occasion at the house, spirit hands gave him a playful shove. "A colleague who had gone with me also felt a push," Moses said, "and in neither case was anyone near us."

At that point, Moses said aloud to the spirits: "We would kindly appreciate it if you would leave because you are frightening these people and we would all like to get on with our lives."

The television executive hasn't been bothered since and ended up in independent production with a three-movie, on-the-air deal.

Well, actually, I made up the part about the deal, but the rest, according to Moses, is true. I can see you're skeptical, and I was too until I got home that night and a dry vodka martini with two olives mysteriously floated into my hand and a spectral voice said Drink .

Talk about scary.

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