African-American ghost story from Louisiana about a poor widow who wants to get on her with her life – if only her husband would stay dead!
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I Don’t Feel Dead Yet! – Audio Story
One morning, in a small shack deep within a Louisiana swamp, Sister Jones woke with a start. She looked at her husband who was sleeping soundly beside her. She was a bit uneasy, for she had dreamed of a beautiful wedding, and she had been taught since the time she was little that to dream of marriage was a sure sign of death. Sister Jones lay there and wondered who was going to be the one to pass from this earthly life to the next – she or her husband, Cephus.
Well, about a week later, she got her answer. Her husband, who had been suffering with the consumption, took a turn for the worst and slipped from this life into the spirit world. Now, the widow Jones was sad to see her husband go, but she should have seen it coming, for she had been warned by the dream.
Sister Jones immediately covered all of the mirrors in the house soon after her husband Cephus died, ’cause everyone in town knew that, if you didn’t, the image of the dead would remain in the mirrors. Now, Sister Jones loved her husband, but she didn’t want his image hanging around in those mirrors.
The next day, Sister Jones buried her husband. Afterwards, she and the mourners came back to the house and were just sitting around talking about how they were going to miss poor ol’ Cephus, stubborn though he was, when the front door swung open. A cold breeze filled the entire room – and in walked Cephus! He walked up to the mourners and said, “Y’all talkin’ ’bout me?”
He then pulled up his favorite rocking chair and sat down right between his widow and the lead mourner and said, “What’s all this about? Y’all act like somebody’s dead. Who’s dead?”
Well, needless to say, by this time all the mourners had jumped up and run clean out of the house. But the widow, who was also very frightened, managed to blurt out, “N…now Cephus, y…you know you is dead! So why are you s…sittin’ here in the living room and not in the g…graveyard?”
“Dead?” said Cephus. “How come you say I’m dead? I sho’ don’t feel dead!”
The widow was quite confused by now, and she simply told him, “Y…you may not feel dead, Cephus, b…but you look dead as can be. You b…better get back in the grave where you belong!”
Now, even though Cephus was dead, he was still very stubborn. He said, “No! I ain’t going back to any grave until I FEEL DEAD!” He then moved closer to the fire and tried to warm his cold hands and feet, all the while giving the room an icy chill. And from sundown to sunup, day after day, that’s all he did – sit by the fire, rockin’ back and forth.
After a few weeks of Brother Cephus just sitting around, things started to get bad in the household. Cephus’s skin turned a funny gray color, and it looked real dusty. Every time he’d move, his joints creaked and cracked. And as the days wore on, he’d creak and crack more and more.
The widow Jones, who hadn’t received any company since her husband’s untimely return, began to wonder just how long this corpse would last. Their insurance company refused to pay the insurance because Cephus declared to everyone that he wasn’t dead. To make matters worse, the undertaker threatened to take back the coffin if Cephus refused to lie in it!
Now, the widow Jones needed that insurance money awfully bad, and what’s more, she was getting really tired of her dead husband sitting around the house, creakin’ and crackin’. She tried to convince Cephus time and time again to get back in the grave. But each time, he’d protest, “Leave me alone woman! I ain’t going back to no burying ground ’til I’m dead – and I DON’T FEEL DEAD YET!”
Widow Jones just knew that something had to be done.
Well, Cephus had been sitting around the house for about a month before, one night, the best fiddler in town built up enough nerve to go by and visit the widow Jones. After all, she hadn’t had any company since Cephus came back.
The fiddler came in and sat on one side of the fire and Cephus, in his favorite rocking chair, sat on the other – cracking, creaking and still trying to warm his cold hands and feet. They exchanged glances and made small talk – as small as a human and a corpse could make. But after a few minutes of this, it was very obvious that the two men were rather uncomfortable.
By and by, Cephus blurted out, “All this sittin’ around is boring. Let’s the three of us do something fun. How ’bout some music, Brother Fiddler? Let’s dance an’ limber up our joints a bit!”
Still trying to get used to the fact that he was sitting and talking with a corpse, the fiddler got out his fiddle and started to play. When Cephus heard that music, he jumped up, shook himself about, and he started buck dancing around the room. “Now that’s more like it!” he hollered as he skipped and pranced about, his old rotten bones creaking and cracking even louder than before. For a dead man, he sure could dance!
In fact, he danced so hard that a piece of his arm flew loose and fell on the floor. Not believing his eyes, the fiddler stopped playing and said, “Good golly, look at that!”
The widow Jones grinned at the sight, an idea coming to her head. “Play faster!” she demanded.
The fiddler played faster, and Cephus danced faster. He danced so fast that pieces of bone went flying everywhere!
Now, by this time, the po’ fiddler was so scared he didn’t know what to do. “W…w…what should I do now?” he pleaded to the widow. The widow kept hollerin’, “Faster! Faster! Keep playing faster!” The fiddler, too frightened to do other than what he was told, played faster. Cephus danced faster, and the fiddler played faster still. Cephus danced faster, bones droppin’ all the time, until all at once Cephus crumbled to the floor in a big heap of bones.
There lay the bones of Cephus, still as they could be – except for his big ol’ bald head! Why, it kept dancin’ all by itself, just-a-grinnin’ up at the fiddler! That head was bouncing all over the floor just-a-dancin’ and a-grinnin’!
The widow hollered, “Play faster, Fiddler! Play faster!”
Well, the fiddler wasn’t hearing none of that. He said, “I’m sorry, Sister Jones, but I gotta go run and get me some rosin for my bow. I’ll be right back.” Well, I’ll have you know, that fiddler ran out of that front door in a flash, and he hasn’t been seen since.
When the fiddlin’ stopped, Cephus’s bald head grinned up at his wife and said, “What happened to the music? I wanna dance some more!”
The widow simply looked at the head and said, “The music has stopped, Cephus, and so have you. You’ve danced yourself into a big heap of bones, and now it’s time for you to go back to the graveyard.”
Cephus’s big ol’ eyes looked around, and he noticed that he didn’t have a body. So he sighed a big sigh and said, “Okay, wife. I guess I do feel dead now. Go on and take me to the graveyard.”
So the widow Jones gathered up all the bones and took them back to the graveyard. But she was careful to lay those bones all crisscrossed-like, so Cephus could never jump up and dance some more. After that, Cephus didn’t get up outta that grave no more.
And, it’s sad to say, the po’ widow Jones remained a widow for the rest of her life. Most folks think it was that dancin’ head that kept all the men away!
– THE END –
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I Don’t Feel Dead Yet! – Story Credits
Adapted from the African-American folktale “Dead Aaron.” Collected by John Bennett from his book Doctor to the Dead, published by the University of South Carolina Press. Used with permission of the publisher.
Story photography by Jon Kownacki. Title image courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Adaptation written by Veronica Byrd and Craig Dominey
Story told by Veronica Byrd.
Recorded and Engineered by Henry Howard