My Blood-Curdling Pokémon Go Ghost-Hunting Adventure

I ventured into the Williamsburg night in a desperate quest for ghost-type Pokémon. But I wasn't prepared for what happened next.

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Jul 12 2016, 5:46pm

Image by the author

There is nothing more demoralizing than failing to catch a Rattata. The purple rat is more rodent than Pokémon, and springs out of the digital dirt with as much frequency as real rats lunge from the garbage. They're lucky to have Pokéballs thrown at them at all.

Those were my thoughts immediately after a CP43 Rattata burst free from my Pokéball this morning. I was upset, but I could have been on edge due to the strange experience I'd had the night before.

It all started when my colleague Gabby and I began training to become Pokémon masters. We'd both spent hours tracking the pocket monsters across different terrain, but neither of us had yet sought out the most mysterious and elusive of the Pokémon. Just as water types splashed into our balls by the East River, so too, we hoped, would ghost Pokémon materialize in the dark of night. After all, the nocturnals, fairies, psychics, and ghosts are said to emerge when the moon rises.

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Around 10 PM Gabby texted me. "Are you going out now?" she asked. "I think I have to come back by 11."

"Wow" was all I could muster in return. How could she set a time cap on our ghost hunting? But soon we were both outside in the heart of Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

During the day, the average Williamsburg pedestrian will witness a ceaseless torrent of Pokémon trainers. Bros who bellow and slap each other's backs when a Pokémon pops into view; pop-punk boyfriend–girlfriend duos giggling about their latest catch; businessmen in billowing dress shirts and backpacks, just like their avatars in Pokémon Go.

At night, this isn't so—there are other hunters. They are odd, travel in small groups, and rarely speak. Most have glasses and wear nondescript clothes.

About halfway to the spot where Gabby and I were set to meet, I encountered a Zubat. Who can deny bats are spooky? I happily threw my Pokéball to capture it, unshakeable in my faith that this Zubat was the harbinger of paranormal Pokémon to come.

Strange things soon began to happen. As my Pokéball flew from my finger, the Zubat disappeared as if it were never there. An error message flashed on my screen; a cold chill went down my spine. I had not yet seen a ghost-type Pokémon, but I felt their presence.

A few minutes later I received a text from Gabby, saying that the Pokémon Go servers were down. She couldn't log on. If that were true—if the servers were inactive—then how was I playing the game? Gabby decided to come meet me anyway. But when I saw her walking by, and called out to her, she kept walking as if she couldn't hear me.

Just as I was preparing to accept that my sanity had been stolen by ghost Pokémon, I called out again. Gabby looked up from her screen. "Sorry," she laughed. "I was catching a Rattata." The servers appeared to be active again.

Photo by Tana Teel via Stocksy

That is when we saw it. In the distance, several blocks from where we stood, there was what looked to be an erupting volcano of pink flower petals. Of course, we knew that a downpour of petals at a Pokéstop signified that some other player had activated a Pokémon lure at that location. We'd traveled blocks to benefit from those lures before; they attract Pokémon. But this time was different.

There were three Pokéstops in a triangle, and each had the lure module activated, meaning they were a hotbed for Pokémon activity. But it was late—who had done this? The triangle itself was a school, a church, and a plot of grass—not an apartment building where Pokémon trainers could activate the lure from their beds. They had to have traveled to that spot. Had we found other ghost hunters?

As we raced through the darkness Gabby gasped and froze in her tracks. She'd encountered Scyther, a flying green insect Pokémon with scythes for hands. Weirdly, though she had many skillful throws, the creature evaded her.

Desperate to acquire this new monster but terrified it would flee before she did, Gabby panicked. I offered to help, and I successfully captured the beast in a ball, but then, inexplicably, it froze on the screen. I thought I'd lost Gabby to insanity then. When she restarted the app, the Scyther wasn't in her possession. What had happened to it?

What was happening to us?

When we arrived at the lure-activated Pokéstop triangle, there were small groups of strange people on every corner of the intersection. They didn't speak or look in our direction, but their faces were illuminated by their phones. Suddenly Pokémon appeared all around us. None were ghosts.

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We soon realized we'd arrived at the Bermuda Triangle of Pokémon Go. At one point, the lures all deactivated on my app, while Gabby's kept pouring petals. After a relaunch, the lures came back, but strange things kept happening. As we reclined on a cement step, a tall man appeared out of nowhere.

"There is a Gastly who lives near here," he said. Gabby and I looked at each other; the blood drained from our faces. Who was this oracle, and how did he know we sought the cloudy orb Gastly, a classic ghost Pokémon?

We told the man we were interested in meeting the ghost, and he said we could find it "down that street." But when I asked which street, he said he had to continue on his journey. "I have all these Pokémon already," the stranger whispered, gesturing to the empty sidewalk.

Gabby and I set off down the nearest side street to find Gastly. But either we'd picked the wrong street, or the ghost was toying with our minds—we didn't find him.

When we looked up from our phones, we realized we were in the shadow of an old abandoned building. I'd seen it before and always thought it looked like an asylum. Surely psychic, fairy, and ghost type Pokémon would inhabit such a place. Perhaps we were being driven mad by Gastly, but we decided to sneak inside.

Gabby was behind me, swiping through her Pokédex. As I stepped closer toward the madhouse her finger lingered on Haunter, Gastly's evolved form. "Oh. I already have a ghost Pokémon," she said, and went home.