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The House on Canaday Street

I've said it before, and it bears repeating: it took a while for me to find my voice. I was digging through some old writing of mine, and it was a complete cringe-fest. I rolled my eyes and tsked at my twenty-something-year-old self, but somewhere deep within, I was proud that I'd tried. I've always wanted to be a good writer, and I think my problem was that I started out trying to be a great writer. I didn't see it then, but it's so clear to me as I look back at what I've done.

It's what I thought when I came across this gem. This is me at 24 or 25, writing about a childhood experience. It's in its rawest form, unchanged from how I found it despite my burning urge to fix everything Grammarly says is wrong with it. I won't blame you if you cringe.

The House on Canaday Street

The summer I turned four years old, my family discovered a dead man living in our attic. He didn't breathe or live in a sense comprehensible to most, but he maintained a most ostensible presence in our lives that year, that summer in 1989 when very many things seemed to go wrong. To say that he was a ghost seems silly, and I will always refuse to describe his existence as such. Things that summer were not so silly, and the misfortunes that befell my family back then reveal themselves today in physical reminders—the scars and scrapes—that this dead man somehow lived in our home. As it was for us and for others after us, his reality had never been in question, both then and now, now that thirty-something years have passed.

Beckley was my home in those days. A small West Virginian city directly off Highway 77, Beckley was a web of streets comprising steep rises and falls in both geography and disposition; even in the summer the city seemed stave off the season's jovial light only to give life to depression. We would treasure the midday heat as an opportunity to go to the community pool at New River Park, only to find that a small child had drowned that day and that the pool would be closed for a while. On the select days when children refrained from drowning, it would rain, or at least drizzle. But it was my home, this city, and in it, I took relative comfort along with my older brother and our parents, who bought the house with the dead man. In their defense, they didn't know he was dead, or that he still lived there.

Back then I was just a child living in a time when, given the right circumstances, I could easily retreat into my imagination. The truths of the young are always in question, though my very sanity has never been doubtable. I was then, as I am now, mature, honest, and, to a degree, cynical. I was four years old, and I encountered an entity that still lives through the anecdotes of others and myself. I am sane. I am sound.... and this did happen.

My daddy took a position working in the coal mines several hours north of the city, where he would often spend late nights or not return home at all. As our neighborhood’s property values decreased and its crime rate increased, my daddy received an offer to purchase a three-story home in a safer neighborhood, one within walking distance from my grandmomma's house. That the house was being offered for a subtle nineteen thousand dollars was not particularly revealing at that point, but we would soon discover that the nature of frugality can lead to costs higher than we could ever perceive possible.

The house rested on a corner lot at the intersection of Canaday Street and Hartley Avenue, a steep inclining road that ran along the left side of the house and leveled as it neared Canaday. The residence was old and worn, but not unprepossessing. The body of the house was a darkened white with a light-green mold seeping at its top and corners. Dark brown shutters lining the six forward-facing windows matched the worn shingles that lay defeated on the slanted roof. Attached to the back of the house was a glass structure that served as a storage shed for the lawn tools that we would never come to own. A covered porch lined the front of the house, providing a shaded perch from which we could sit and watch misery unfold. Nowhere on its grand exterior did the dwelling give utterance to any threat. In fact, it was quite welcoming.

The inside was equally undisturbed, and it behaved like most houses did. It invited you in. It offered you a place to rest if you were tired. It offered you a place to host if you felt social. If you were the adults in the family, it offered three skeleton keys that gave access to the four bedrooms, kitchen, and dining room; and if you were a four-year-old child, it offered you a rich playground where memories could be made. When the weather was nice my brother—who was three years older—and I would run amuck outdoors, often mingling with my cousins and running through our scattered lawns, getting fussed at by uncles, aunts, parents, and one granny. When it rained or when the park pool closed, we would dare hide-and-seek in our house, where the only spaces that were off limits were the master bedroom on the first floor, and the basement, which was automatically out of bounds for any child who didn't want to be eaten by monsters. But that was in the daytime. At night, when people are the most vulnerable, things were much different.

I had a room of my own on the east end of the second floor, but I never slept in it. I would instead sleep with my big brother in his room down the hall. The two of us upstairs and our momma and daddy downstairs, the house and all of us would drift to sleep. After being in the house on Canaday Street for less than a week, these restful nights began to flee, making room for what we would soon discover to be our nightly horrific routine.

“TJ, what was that?” My voice shook, but I was four so it was allowed. We were both lying in his bed, and it was dark, darker than a cave bear’s asshole.

“I don't know,” he replied. He heard it too. I’m not crazy. I’m scared. I’m still scared. The soft creaking sounded in the distance, coming from the direction of the closet. The weakening floorboards sounded subtle haunts, the ebb and flow of an unseen tide.

“T,” don’t cry don’t cry don’t, “do you still hear that?”

TJ sat up in the dark. “Yeah, I hear it.”

Well do something!! “Well do something then.”

There was nothing to do but run. We fell over each other down the stairs, wincing in pain, rushing to alarm Momma and Daddy that there was something upstairs, something real. Every night we would run, and every night we would tell Momma and Daddy that there was something in the closet. Every night for a week we heard the same noise and told the same story, and every night we were sent back to the room, fearful and not foolish; something was there. Sometimes we would hear a scratching coming from inside the closet, and we would run downstairs and sleep in the living room, afraid of getting sent back to the room if we woke Momma and Daddy.

We began sleeping during the daylight hours, catching short naps and being thankful that we didn’t have school. In the day there were no noises, but they never left for good. Every night, every night, when everything else slept, this dead man stirred awake and scratched at a space somewhere in the closet. Scratched and waited. What was he waiting for?

One day in early July my parents decided that there might have been some validity in our childish claims that the something in our house held malevolent intentions, and they decided to sleep in my brother’s room to satisfy their curiosity and their children. Were their beloved children crazy? The night came, and TJ and I were put to bed in my seldom-used bedroom while my parents sought rest in the Dead Man’s Foyer.

And it wasn’t just the imaginings of a four- and seven-year-old. After hearing the dark scratches and the weighty footsteps for several minutes and wondering what it could possibly be, my momma took TJ and me downstairs while my daddy retrieved his .45 pistol, and we all piled into the master bedroom. Rest did not come easy, as everything was confirmed: our house was possibly haunted. The next morning when the house woke up, TJ and I were sent to my cousin Edward’s house to play while my parents investigated the noise in the closet.

Lightly armed with a flashlight, bat, and pistol, Momma and Daddy opened TJ’s closet and stripped all the clothes from the rusted wire hangers. Along the back wall of the closet there was a white door about four feet high, with a hole where the doorknob would have been. Along the outer rectangle of the doorframe, several nails were inserted and bent toward the door to prevent it from being opened.

“I’ll hold the gun, you get the nails,” Daddy said.

Momma shook her head.

“Okay, then you hold the gun and I’ll get the nail.”

Momma shook her head again.

“Fine! I’ll do both.”

Daddy sat the gun on the closet floor just long enough to remove the nails, and with weapon and flashlight in hand, my daddy gave my momma the signal to open the door.

A room.


Mason jar, half-filled with water.

There was nothing else. Nothing living, at least. Nothing dead, either. Atop the mattress lay two sets of sheets, and along the floorboards sat caked layers of dust. Sunlight shone through a paned window, shining light on nothing that could make that awful noise that we heard every night. My momma would come to tell us that the room was cold despite the summer heat, and I would come to believe her. I would not dare investigate the matter myself; I was four, and easy to kill.

Though they saw nothing that could make noise behind that secret passage, the sounds continued every night. The Miner’s Union went on strike and my daddy spent a week at the coal mine leaving the family to fend for itself. Momma would call her friend Carmelita to come spend the night and she would drag the mattress off her bed and into the living room where we would all sleep. Using one of the skeleton keys to lock us in the area, she would block out the spirit–at least in theory–while we sat in fortification, listening to the pacing footsteps that would never descend the stairs. It seemed like the most obvious thing to do was leave, and eventually we did, but not until summer was over.

Some time after we opened the secret door that hid the jar, the mattress, and the dead man, we watched my daddy nearly drown during a family outing at Lake Stephens. I remember sitting with Momma and TJ, watching my daddy flail his arms. His head and arms sank below the surface and his screams ceased temporarily. He was tired and defeated.

So tired and so defeated.

A kind stranger heard my daddy’s broken calls and swam to his aid. He was alive…for a while.

And still we heard the noise.

Later that summer while still living in the house on Canaday, I was hit by a truck while riding my bicycle, and again the family watched as a member—this time the youngest—was nearly eliminated. Racing down Hartley’s hill, I looked to my right and smiled at my daddy, who was sitting on the porch idly. He smiled back at me, then his face changed, his posture changed, then he screamed. Throughout all the years of reliving the moments, I have yet to understand why an eighteen-wheeled cargo truck would travel through a residential neighborhood. But it did, and it hit me as hard as any truck could hit a little boy.

Before we moved out of the haunted house, fall had set in, and more accidents befell the Bradley family. The middle finger on my left hand was severed off just below the fingernail. Twice. The first accident was the result of a game of hide-and-seek, and the second severing happened only a few days after the surgeons stitched the finger back together. Pain and suffering came in went, just like the noises. I fell in the tub and split my chin wide open. Some stitches later, I was fine. My dog, usually so friendly, bit my hand nearly off (or so I remember). We were robbed of nearly everything of value. That was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. After that, we moved.

Several months after our family moved out, a “For Sale” sign was erected then later removed from the yard on the corner of Hartley and Canaday. My momma would come to visit the house several months afterwards to find a German woman living alone. She was the wife of a not-so-distant relative, and her husband was a soldier in the army who had sent her to this small town in West Virginia to establish a residence.

“Ma’am, you don’t know me, but my husband is some kin to your husband, he’s a Bradley too, and we stayed in this house. I just want to ask you something,” says my momma, staring at the pale foreigner who stood in the partially opened doorway. “Do you ever…hear…anything in this house?”

The woman’s eyes grew larger and she opened the door to its fullest extent. Her English was flawless, but fear and the feeling of recognition gripped her tongue. “Do you see this room,” she asks, indicating the living room just before the glass door leading to the dining room. On the floor there was a mattress, one identical to one that we spent so many nights upon. She had a pistol sitting on a coffee table that was pressed against the wall. “This is where I stay. I have to sleep in the day; I am so tired. When I cannot take it, I check into the hotel. At night I hear it, and I stay up packing. My husband does not believe me, and I don’t know anyone else here. No, I can not stay here.”

The German lady eventually moved out, and the “For Sale” sign—perhaps the same one as before—was resurrected. The house would never be sold again, despite the sign’s insistence.

The house on Canaday was demolished and a double-wide trailer was wheeled onto the spot where it once stood. As for the man, I do not know for certain if he went with the broken pieces of the home that he once shared with strangers, or if he was fonder of the lot and not the house itself. I have never inquired into the matter, nor will I. When I die, I can only hope that I remain deceased. What in this world are people so attached to that some don’t want to leave? Why is there a portion of the population so receptive to the dealings of the dead? I would never ask anyone to believe that this really happened, or that my family’s tragedies were the result of a spirit that didn’t want us around. That was then, this is now. And I am alive…for a while.

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Karol Harden
Karol Harden
May 25, 2023

Andre, every time I think back to this house it gives me the creeps. Like a scary movie, I wanna scream, but it was so real. Therefore, the only option was to move and that didn’t take long. After all, you can’t fight what you don’t see❤️

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