Updated November 13, 2020 - 4:23 pm
The most demanding of spirits wears a dress.
She lies just beyond the strip of kosher salt snaking across the doorway.
Staysha Randall cradles her in her arms, the haunted doll with auburn hair and eyes that gleam like knife blades.
“This is Katie. She’s caused the most poltergeist activity,” Randall observes from a room next to the garage of her Henderson home, a sort of mini-museum of curios that Randall and her husband, Ron, have collected over the years, from human skulls to antique mirrors, many of which they believe to be possessed.
Cans of Coca-Cola, pieces of fruit, playing cards and other assorted trinkets line the lip of a black table across from Randall on a Thursday afternoon.
They have been requested by the spirits who inhabit the items surrounding her, Randall says.
“If I can give it to them I will — as long as it doesn’t involve harming someone,” she explains of the offerings. “They’ve asked for my cats before, and they’ve asked for my blood. I’m all like, ‘Yeah, not going to happen. Would you like a lemon?’ ”
Katie tends to ask for — and receive — the most gifts.
“People call her the spoiled demon,” Randall notes.
Who are these people?
The growing legions of fans that Randall has accrued since joining video-sharing app TikTok in June.
A big following
A sort of paranormal social media influencer — a 21st century job title if ever there was one — Randall is a burgeoning viral star for her livestreamed ghost hunts and numerous videos, which have over 33 million views and earned her nearly 500,000 followers on TikTok in just four months.
She’s an exuberant, high-energy presence, a woman full of life and preoccupied with the dead at once, her voice as bright as her deep-red hair, made welcoming by a Midwestern accent that betrays her Ohio roots. Randall finds the mirth in malevolence, the self-anointed “Walking Halloween costume” starring in heavily watched clips where she waxes poetic about her transorbital lobotomy kit, occasionally dresses as a killer clown and attempts to communicate with the dead, all while sharing the stray dad joke — if dad was an undertaker (“What’s something you can say to both your rotisserie chicken and to your crush? I like you better without skin”).
Yeah, Randall is well aware that plenty of eyes are rolling among those who argue that ghost stories are merely that — stories.
“I get brushed off by skeptics all the time,” she says. “They’re like, ‘Don’t worry, you’re crazy. It’s not anything real. Your eyes are just playing tricks on you.’ I’ve dealt with that my whole life.”
But she also knows that she’s not alone in her belief in the paranormal — her ever-growing following underscores as much.
“I think a lot of people have experienced the paranormal or want to experience the paranormal, more than we talk about. It’s kind of a taboo subject, almost,” she says earlier from her backyard, her pool surrounded by plastic flamingo skeletons. “A lot of people suppress that. They get afraid to share their experiences.
“I’m here on TikTok and I’m saying, ‘Paranormal experiences are real, and if you don’t believe me, watch it live. You can see it.’ ”
Before puberty, there were poltergeists.
Randall says she was 12 when she saw her first full-body apparition.
It was at her mother’s fiance’s house in a Cleveland suburb.
She didn’t like staying in the guest room because of the strange noises she’d encounter there, noises that she couldn’t explain. “You would hear things that sounded like bowling balls dropping,” she recalls.
And so she went to bed on the couch.
That’s when she heard the sound of pages flipping.
“I thought it was her fiance,” Randall remembers. “I rolled over and there’s a man in 1920s-, 1930s-period wear, 40 years old, just kind of sitting there and looking at me. I was like, ‘Ahhhh! This is a ghost!’
“It’s just like you see in the movies. They’re translucent,” she continues. “But it was really, really, creepy. That moment stuck with me.”
When she was a teenager, Randall moved to Las Vegas to live with her father.
As an adult, she worked in haunted house attractions and as a dog groomer before landing a job at Zak Bagans’ Haunted Museum a few years back.
Along the way, she tried her hand at pro wrestling — it’s where she met her husband; popular Vegas wrestler Sinn Bodhi was the “flower girl” at their wedding — and set a Guinness World Record for getting the most piercings in a single session (3,100).
Through it all, the otherworldly encounters continued, Randall says.
“I was noticing the paranormal was around me all the time,” she recalls, “so I’m like, ‘Let’s learn about ghosts. Let’s learn how to find ghosts. Why am I afraid of them? They’re not actually hurting me; they’re just scaring me because they’re there.’
“To overcome my fears, I started doing paranormal investigations as a teenager, sought out these haunted locations,” she continues. “If I knew I was putting myself in that situation, I was a little more brave about it.”
A sudden crash interrupts the livestream.
You don’t see the thing that made the noise, at first, just the fear it elicits — it’s as visible on Randall’s face as her suddenly wide eyes.
“That was terrifying,” she says into the camera, fumbling to turn on the light in the dark room next to her garage.
“That just flew off of that table,” she says of the spirit box on the floor, a piece of paranormal investigative equipment intended to enable communication with ghosts.
“Please be safe”
Viewers respond, their messages scrolling rapidly across the screen in hyperventilating bursts.
This is what fans of Randall’s TikTok appearances tune in for, these kind of strange, creepy, it-came-out-of-nowhere moments.
You can watch a video of the livestream and attempt to dissect what just happened, as it’s open to interpretation in the shadow-strewn setting.
And that’s part of the fun for Randall’s legion of followers.
In a year full of instability and tumult thanks to the pandemic, Randall’s livestreams can have a timely feel to them, acting as a cathartic pressure valve of sorts in mining one’s fears, but also as a means of staring down the uncertainty of these times by confronting the uncertainty of the unknown, of what does — or doesn’t — happen upon death.
Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that the coronavirus itself is indirectly responsible for Randall’s TikTok presence.
When COVID-19 spread, Randall, who is at high risk for the virus, had to confine herself to her home.
“After quarantine hit, there wasn’t a lot of interaction with me and the public,” she says. “I used to see hundreds of people a day at my job and I’m a very social person. I was getting a little bit down, so my husband suggested, ‘Hey, go on TikTok. I think you’d love it.’ ”
Randall took to TikTok quickly, now posting videos almost daily. On most Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays she hosts ghost hunts starting at 6:30 p.m., which usually run three to five hours and normally take place at the house, though she will take the occasional trip to a cemetery.
Randall believes that a big part of the appeal of her livestreams is that — unlike pre-taped ghost hunting shows — everything takes place in real time.
“I love watching paranormal investigation shows, but it’s not in the moment,” she says. “You can question, ‘Did that really happen? Did I only hear that voice because they played those words on the screen?’ With this, you’re seeing it live, and I think a lot of people are accepting of the fact that what they are seeing is actually happening.”
“I really hope my neighbors don’t call the cops on me.”
Aztec death whistle in hand, Randall is about to make what might be the most horrifying/annoying sound you’ve ever heard.
“This is such a bad thing to do in a residential area,” she says from her backyard in a TikTok video from July.
She blows into the skull-shaped artifact, which emits a shriek suggestive of a banshee being fed feet-first into a wood chipper.
This is was an early focus of Randall’s TikTok videos, with her sharing things from the collection of macabre and haunted items that she and her husband have compiled. Sometimes she’d go to antique shops with ghost hunter gear like an electromagnetic field reader, which detects changes in electromagnetic fields ostensibly caused by paranormal activity, to try to find haunted items, which are then confined to a room next to her garage.
Randall’s ghost hunting livestreams tend to revolve around these items, which she attempts to communicate with on camera using word bank apps on her phone, motion-sensing lights and other devices.
At times, things can get tense, Randall says.
“It can get a little scary in there when they throw stuff and they kind of have a little tantrum,” she says, “but the entities in there we feel are under control.”
When asked why she thinks she has been able to have paranormal encounters while others haven’t, Randall doesn’t claim to have any special powers.
“I think we’re all kind of born with the ability to experience it, to see it,” she says of the supernatural. “That’s why children have imaginary friends. Are they really imaginary, or are they seeing entities? Are they able to communicate that way? Society says, ‘No, no, don’t say you see people, because that’s considered crazy.’
“If an adult sees a (ghost), then we’re crazy, we’ll get thrown into a loony bin,” she continues. “When I became an adult, I kind of looked at everyone and was like, ‘Maybe I shouldn’t tell everybody that I see dead people.’ ”
Until now, of course.
Hey, it’s been a strange year.
Wouldn’t it be kind of fitting, then, for Randall to help make the abnormal the new normal?
“It’s very liberating to be able to share this with people,” Randall says. “A lot of people who discover my TikTok feel very liberated as well. I get thank-yous all the time, (and) ‘I’m allowed to be weird now because you’re so weird,” she adds. “ ‘Thank you for making it normal to be weird.’ ”