Chapter 48

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The secret to the ghost box, just as it is for most of Zandra's props, is in the ambiguity of its "revelations." It's on the risky side, though, which is why she doesn't use it often. Unlike crystal balls and Ouija boards, Zandra lacks suggestive controls to guide her clients into an answer. The words the ghost box sporadically spits out are completely beyond her influence.

The tradeoff is a more meaningful effect, because the client can hear words in response to questions. Clients offer better information to Zandra in response, because they feel like the conversation is really happening. Who would want to blow a chance to talk to a dead loved one by lying? 

In reality, the ghost box's words are the product of two things. The first is the it scans radio frequencies. It only scans what's available over public airwaves made available by the same stations anyone with a radio off the shelf can pick up. This gives the ghost box plenty of random chatter to work with, from pop music to talk radio.

The second is the way it isolates those words. By rapidly running through frequencies, the audio the ghost box picks up becomes garbled. However, not all audio is the same. One or two words will inevitably stick out against everything else. There's nothing paranormal about this at all. An old analog radio can accomplish the same thing. Quickly twist the tuning dial back and forth. Behold the entirely mundane words that suddenly pop up out of the noise.

This is why Zandra never uses the ghost box "cold," as she might with other props. The client must be primed first. Without her psychic window dressing, the words are revealed for what they are: sound bites from radio stations. But with the right preparation and a skilled approach, they become sound bites from beyond the grave.

It helps that the words rarely come out whole. They're more like glorified syllables. "Eh," "ah," "fer," "be," "nah," "sss" and others allow the client or Zandra to fill in the blanks. "An-fer" could be interpreted as "never," "Jennifer" or "answer" to suit the situation. It allows clients to hear what they want to hear. Or, with a little help, they'll hear what Zandra wants them to hear.

The first stage is to allow the client to lead the conversation. This establishes another layer of trust. But first, some ground rules.

"Remember, child, that James can only talk in snippets and pieces of words," Zandra says to Diana as the ghost box gets to work. Herman leans over from behind the couch to watch and, hopefully, keep quiet. "If you have a question, ask so that he may reply simply. Feel free to get specific if you need to, but remember that yes and no questions are best."

Zandra's trapdoor – and she never initiates a reading without one – is in the interpretation. Cat got the ghost's tongue? You're asking the wrong questions. Answers don't make sense? No, your questions don't make any sense. Conversation is irrelevant? Either a different spirit is now coming through or the channel between this world and the next is starting to close.

Don't ever blame the ghosts for being too stupid to answer questions correctly. It's always the client's fault. And sure as hell don't let them blame the psychic. The psychic is the only one who can do this right, you moron, so step aside and let the pro do her job.

"James, is that really you?" Diana says in the direction of the ghost box on Zandra's lap.

How cliché.

This yes-or-no question is the perfect way to break in a ghost box session. It focuses the questioner to listen for the words "yes" or "no." Even if they never actually pop up, the brain will find a way to make it happen. That's just how it works, as Zandra discovered over and over in these ghost box sessions.

If only people knew how often their brains deceived them, they'd rip the gray matter right out of their skulls. For all of its magnificence and complexity, the brain is lazy. It takes all sorts of shortcuts to build a shoddy picture of reality. If it showed what's actually happening, people's worlds would turn upside down. Literally. They'd see the world upside down, because that's how the eyes deliver sight into the brain. The brain then flips the image so that it's correct. Everyone lives upside down. They just don't know it.

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