Josias Wurtele was a landowner in 18th century Canada. He owned over 50,000 acres of land in both Montreal and Quebec and defended his riches with militia until he died of old age in Montreal, bequeathing every cent to his descendants with the only condition that nothing leaves the family; he didn’t want to give anything to charity.
For some reason, someone in Montreal decided that this was the kind of man worth naming a street after. It wasn’t a particularly pretty street, at that. It was rather short, mostly inhabited with poor people and ended with an animal food factory on one side that stank up the neighborhood every summer. Nothing about the street hinted at being any interesting. It was nevertheless the street I lived on, the year I experienced my only paranormal activity. Or so would my child mind believe.
A few explanations are necessary before I start my tale. My mother had separated from my father two years prior to the event and had returned to old friends of her. Those friends were the type of person who end up being talked about in crime documentaries about motorcycles and cocaine. Needless to say, a lot of bearded men in leather would show up at home at any time of the day. And needless to say, my mother would be awake for days in a row, then crash for a day. Rooms were often locked.
We moved to Wurtele street after my mother failed to pay the rent on our previous apartment. That was a recurring scenario; fail to pay for three months, wait until dark, gather everything with biker friends and move to a new neighborhood. Fake references, bounced couple checks, rinse and repeat. In a couple years, we’d moved around five times. In years leading up to my 10th birthday, that number would grow to fifteen. And so we moved to this boring little street where many bikers and girlfriends of bikers then lived. People in front yards drinking beers and watching hockey, dirty kids playing with trash. I was one of these kids, then. My sister was three years old and I was five (you can make the math as to what age my sister was when my father left us).
Surprisingly, we ended up staying a lot longer in that apartment than usual. This was partly due to my mother having found a “legitimate” job at a strip club. Partly because her biker friends made it hard for the landlord to come pick up his checks. We started growing accustomed to the neighborhood and its people, which was a new, strange feeling to have for a kid without a sedentary place of residency. A year and a few months went by and hockey season was starting again. My mother loved to receive. She loved to party.
It’s at one of those parties that a group of her friends ended up in the kitchen, discussing death, ghosts and Satan. I was there that night, as my mother never really tried to impose any sort of curfews. I don’t remember every conversation, though I do remember all of it started because one of the bikers present was actually named Satan, a name chosen by his proud, hippie parents. Conversations of religion and what comes after death surfaced and most likely started my process toward atheism, if only out of hate for my childhood memories. All of this is unimportant, in retrospect. What was interesting, however, was a conversation about the haunting of the apartment we lived in.
I’m paraphrasing here but it went something like this. There was a man who lived here years prior to the biker takeover of the neighborhood. This man was a Jewish launderer for the Montreal Sicilian mob. No names were given other than Daniel. The man had “lost” a stash of jewels and the mob had decided to make him pay by killing him in this very apartment. The bikers went on to describe that Daniel wanted to use the jewels to start a Satanic cult in Montreal and even today, there were inverted crosses in the backyard shed, where he held his ceremonies. They added that the mob took Daniel, choked him with a garbage bag and left his corpse in the shed. They concluded that the shed was still haunted to this day and to avoid it at all cost.
Now this is where the story diverges into two things: what I remember being told happened (and slightly remember seeing myself) and what the adult skeptic mind can interpret. The fact is, I mostly remember being told what had happened to my family and asked to agree when the story was told. I don’t remember much and what I do is very vague.
I don’t believe in ghosts. I don’t believe in the paranormal. I don’t believe in God. It’s important for me to stress that I don’t believe in any of this. This isn’t me trying to convince anyone that what I’ve experienced was real. It most assuredly was not. All I’m showing you is how easy it is to imprint memories in the mind of a child.
Here is what I’m told happened. Some of it I kind of remember.
- Voices and noises at night.
- Finding a Ouija board in a secret passageway between two closets (which I thought was the most badass passage ever).
- One day with my grandmother, the kitchen cupboards started opening and closing by themselves, until she asked Daniel to stop. And it did.
- Often finding our pictures scattered on the floors randomly.
- My sister and our kid neighbor would both talk about seeing Daniel.
- I somehow lost grip of a kitchen knife while in the living room with my mother, which sent it spinning downwards, stab her in the toe, sending blood rushing and staining the ceiling 11 feet above. No other stains and the stab wound ended up being superficial.
- We had a circular wall carpet (a remnant of the seventies). My mother would constantly see Daniel’s face appear on it. She eventually snapped and had to stay at the hospital a couple days (which is why my grandmother was there when the cupboards opened).
Upon my mother’s return, it was decided that we would need to leave as soon as possible. Sadly, that’s not exactly what happened but that’s another story. Let’s simply say that the Director of Youth Protection in Quebec didn’t like what they were hearing and we ended up some place else for a while. Still, we were no longer at that haunted place. We returned to my mother later that year, away from that place. Later, when she would talk about it, she’d say how lucky we were that we escaped the vengeance of Daniel, who hated us simply because of our connections to organized crime. She’d have my sister and I retell of our experiences at 2075 Wurtele.
Normally this is where my story would end. A nice, short explanation of what I’ve lived, a short conclusion typical of horror movies. Like I said, however; I don’t believe in this superstitious nonsense. And I believe it’s exactly this experience that has led me to be the horror-loving skeptic that I am today. So let’s revisit the events with my adult mind, shall we?
First of all, I believe that all of this started because drugs were being stashed in the shed and they didn’t want us snooping around. Make a ghost story, scare the kids away from the shed. Easy plan. Except for the part where my mother really believed in ghosts, was as gullible as people paying to get their future read and took a lot of mind-altering drugs.
- Voices and noises at night: Pretty sure this was to keep us from bursting out of our rooms at night and catch drug deals being made.
- Finding a Ouija board in a secret passageway: This really happened but considering you can buy this at Toy’R'Us, not difficult to obtain and a nice way to cement the story or just to try to mess with us.
- The opening and closing cupboards: It was an old apartment. And turns out there were many earthquakes that year. As to it stopping when my grandmother asked “Daniel”? Correlation doesn’t imply causation. Coincidence. Happenstance.
- Often finding our pictures scattered on the floors randomly: My mother never cleaned up. Ever.
- My sister and our kid neighbor would both talk about seeing Daniel: Kids have imaginary friends. Especially when they want to fit in with the subject discussed.
- The knife and the ceiling stain: Hell, I don’t know. These things happen. I’m not a blood-spatter specialist. Sadly.
- Daniel in the carpet: My mother would suffer from a multitude of these “haunting breakdowns” afterwards, in other places. They most often had to do with drugs. Just saying.
Many years later, when my grandmother was officially our caretaker while my mother was somewhere unknown being “detoxed”, the topic came up. I was eleven or twelve then. I remember asking about Daniel. She said she asked him to stop to humour us because we kept saying it was Daniel opening and closing the cupboards. I asked her if it was really haunted. She said she didn’t know.
One thing she knew, however. In that shed was an old water heating tank. It was rusty and broken in places, like people spend their free time hitting it with objects (like all true rednecks). They arrested someone there a year or so after we left. That water tank was full of cash. Much, much later, after I’d become an adult and my mother more or less calmed down, I asked her about the water heating tank. She didn’t know what I was talking about. “Yeah,” I said. “Mamie (grandma) said the news said it was full of cash!” My mother’s face went white. She really didn’t know!
Still today, I ask myself what would have happened if that story hadn’t started. I might have barged in on something illegal (something that would happen multiple times afterwards anyway) but given my curious nature, we might have been a lot richer, instead of living in a foster home for a while, with my mother at the hospital.