EL PASO -- For centuries, many people have been intrigued by the thought of an afterlife.
Skeptics, however, have dismissed the notions of restless ghosts and spirits as nonsense.
Recently, spurred by the popular TV shows "Ghost Adventures" and "Ghost Hunters," some viewers have been transfixed by the thought that across the country, there are crews of ghost hunters who claim to catch evidence of hauntings.
I'll be the first to admit that I'm one of those viewers who get chills up and down their spines when ghost voices are caught on audio recordings, or shadowy figures are seen walking across hallways and then disappearing into walls.
Is this all real? Who cares? It's darn good entertainment.
But deep down inside, I want to believe that ghosts exist, if only because someday I want an excuse to come back and scare the pants off of my little brother, if I should die before him.
One day, I called up Henry Flores of the Paso del Norte Paranormal Society. I asked him whether it would be all right if I, a photographer and my friend and co-worker, could join the group on its next ghost investigation. He enthusiastically obliged.
On Sept. 4, we arrived at a furniture warehouse at 1601 Bassett in Central El Paso, an old building that used to house the Portales Milling Warehouse.
Before the actual investigation, Flores told me the building sat in the heart of what used to be Magoffinsville, an area that was destroyed by floods and fire in the late 1800s. The actual building was erected in 1915 on top of what might have been the foundations of homes that had been destroyed. Other theories suggest that the warehouse was built on top of a cemetery.
One of the main areas where spirits supposedly occupy the building after dark is the basement. As Flores and his wife, Veronica, led me and my friend Erica down the wooden stairs, I immediately began to feel as if the air were being sucked out of me. Maybe it was the dust and the heat of the basement, but it was not at all comfortable.
The Floreses immediately led us to a tunnel-like room in the basement. Unlike the rest of the basement, the room had a dirt floor. A cricket chirped from the room's exposed brick walls.
As we made our way to the back of the room, Henry Flores asked us to turn our flashlights off as we looked toward the room's doorway. From there, we could see a boarded-up window, which shadowy shapes seemingly passed in front of.
It could have been our eyes deceiving us as they adjusted to the lack of light, but as I stared toward the window, I saw what appeared to be a man looking in on us.
"Did you see that?" Veronica Flores asked.
I whispered "yes" in response, and immediately turned my flashlight back on. I felt more comfortable that way.
After what seemed like a few minutes, Henry and Veronica Flores led us to a third room in the basement, where they've heard the sounds of a woman crying. Veronica described it as if a mother were crying while her child suffered, and there was nothing she could do about it.
Henry placed a monitor that measures electromagnetic fields in the room. The monitor also supposedly detects whether spirits are near. We stood quietly as Henry and Veronica asked questions.
"Are you here? Are you looking for your children?"
We walked back out into the main room, and Henry placed the monitor on a box in front of us. They began asking questions again, and after a few minutes, the monitor's lights began blinking in response.
There was a child in the room, Veronica said. Then I felt it.
Something had touched me.
I jumped back and began rubbing the back of my upper right arm, just above my elbow. I felt something -- as if someone had brushed icy cold fingertips against me.
"Did you just touch her?" Veronica asked.
The lights blinked in response. Yes.
Was I just touched by a ghost? Could it have been a draft? Was it just my shirt shifting on my arm?
Seconds later, Veronica noticed two blinking lights in the next room. She tried to photograph it, but her camera unexpectedly shut down, as did the video camera placed in the room.
Erica was able to catch a glimpse of the lights through Veronica's viewfinder. Luckily, Erica was recording the incident with her camera.
We made our way upstairs, where I discovered, to my surprise, that we had been in the basement for a full hour.
After a short break, we explored the rest of the warehouse where the ghost of a man is said to help the warehouse employees move boxes. Unfortunately, he must have called it a day, because he wasn't around when we looked for him.
I decided to venture again down to the basement, where a second group of investigators was. I found them in the tunnel room. Apparently, one of the investigators was able to make contact with the spirits of two women, Analise and Marguerite, who were being tortured by the spirit of a man.
Suddenly, I began feeling dizzy. Maybe it was the heat again, but I quickly made my way back up the stairs. Soon afterward, I called it a night.
So, do I believe in ghosts? I want to. A part of me wants to believe that death won't be the permanent end of my existence. Another part of me thinks there is an explanation for everything.
But maybe I just don't need to know.
Adriana M. Chávez may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 546-6117.