Alabama ghost story about a tired farm widow who visits the local witch a good night’s sleep – big mistake.
Sleepyhead – Audio Story
When I was a kid back home in South Alabama, whenever I would get real rambunctious and wouldn’t go to bed, all my folks had to do was tuck me in and tell me about Ol’ Sleepyhead – that crazy old woman who could never fall asleep. That story could always make me go straight to sleep the minute the lights were turned out.
The story goes like this – many years ago, there used to be this old couple named Flowers who lived on a huge farm outside of town. Mr. Flowers was a very prosperous farmer; with bountiful fields and lots of livestock. Even in the driest months, the old man still found a way to make lots of money off his land. And the more successful he got, the more his farm grew.
Well, you know what they say about having lots of things – the more stuff you got, the more you have to take care of. Well, Mrs. Flowers found that out the hard way. One hot summer afternoon, her husband had a sudden heart attack while working out in the fields. He died shortly thereafter, leaving the entire farm in his wife’s care. The couple had no children, and Mrs. Flowers didn’t know the first thing about farming – she had always left farm business to her husband. Now she was all alone.
Mrs. Flowers did her best to take care of everything, but soon it became too much to bear. The house became cluttered and dirty, the fields dry and weed-infested, and the livestock grew malnourished and skinny. What’s worse, she became so consumed with what needed to be done that she couldn’t sleep at night. She’d toss and turn, making mental lists of what needed to be done each day, and what bills needed to be paid.
Mrs. Flowers tried everything to fall asleep. She’d take a hot bath, read the most boring book she could find, then count sheep in her head. And though she normally frowned on drinking, she’d occasionally crack open her husband’s whiskey and make a hot toddy before bedtime – but nothing worked. She became constantly tired and listless, having very little energy to do her daily chores. Her skin turned pale, and her eyes were puffy and bloodshot. It got to the point where she was nervous about going to bed at all. For each morning, the crowing of the rooster and the piercing beams of sunlight coming through her bedroom window signaled the end of yet another sleepless night. Friends who called on her were shocked at her appearance, and whispered to one another that she looked like walking death.
So in desperation, Mrs. Flowers decided to pay a visit to a local conjure woman who lived in an old shack at the edge of the swamp. Perhaps she could come up with some sort of spell or potion that would help her sleep. Most folks were scared to go near her, thinking she was an evil witch. But poor, tired Mrs. Flowers felt that all her other options had run out.
One afternoon, Mrs. Flowers rode down the long, boggy road toward the conjure woman’s house. The dark, mossy trees seemed to envelop her as she rode deeper and deeper into the swamp. Black clouds of flies buzzed around her face, and poisonous snakes slid to and fro beside her wagon wheels. How could anyone live in this awful place, she thought to herself.
After what seemed like hours, she reached the ramshackle cabin. The yard was barren and filled with all sorts of rusted junk. Sickly-looking chickens fluttered about, desperately pecking at whatever crumbs they could find. Looking at her eerie surroundings, she thought to herself that maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.
Nonetheless, Mrs. Flowers climbed off the wagon and hesitantly knocked on the grimy front door. There was no immediate sound from the house, and Mrs. Flowers, actually relieved that no one was home, turned to leave. But then the door slowly creaked open on its rusted hinges. Mrs. Flowers slowly turned around – and there, standing in the darkened doorway, was the conjure woman. She was an old hag with long, stringy hair that looked as if it were made of spider webs, long, dirty fingernails, and a giant wart on her chin. She recognized Mrs. Flowers immediately, grinned widely – revealing five or six rotten, yellow teeth – and hissed, “How nice to see you. Please come in.”
She led Mrs. Flowers into a dark musty room and motioned for her to sit in a dirty, overstuffed chair in the corner. Mrs. Flowers then told the conjure woman about her sleeping problem and how she would do anything for just one night of good, sound sleep. The hag nodded and disappeared into the kitchen. She then returned with a dark vial filled with a syrupy-looking substance. “This will do the trick – it’s made of cherry wine and the wings of hibernating bats. It will surely put you to sleep – the soundest sleep you’ve ever had. No one and no thing will be able to wake you until you are fully rested.”
Mrs. Flowers thought about this for a moment, then took the vial. “Thank you so much,” she said to the hag. “How much do I owe you?”
The conjure woman grinned and waved her off. “It’s my pleasure,” she hissed. “Just enjoy your sleep.”
With that, Mrs. Flowers returned home and drank the bitter liquid. She cringed at the disgusting taste, but before she knew it, it became harder and harder to keep her eyes open. She staggered to bed and plunged into a blissful sleep, a content smile creeping across her face.
Meanwhile, back at the swamp cabin, the conjure woman was biding her time. And after a couple of days had passed, she began spreading rumors throughout the community that something funny was going on up at the Flowers farm. Mrs. Flowers hadn’t been seen in days – had she finally succumbed to her poor health? After all, she was looking more and more like walking death each day.
Shortly thereafter, a group of townsfolk paid a visit to the Flowers farm to find out what was going on. They knocked on the door, but got no answer, even though they could see her wagon parked out front. They ran around the house peering into every window; but saw nothing out of the ordinary. Now very concerned, they picked the front door lock and searched the home. They soon found Mrs. Flowers upstairs, lying peacefully on her bed. They tried to rouse her, but to no avail. Her skin was cool to the touch. They listened for a heartbeat, or breathing sounds, but heard nothing. They sadly came to the realization that Mrs. Flowers was dead.
Friends in town cried at news of her death, but felt that maybe now she was finally getting the rest she craved. They laid her body out in the living room and sat up with her overnight, sharing memories of the times they had. The next day, they carried her in a pine box to the old cemetery on the hillside, and laid her in a freshly dug grave beside her husband.
As the pine box was lowered into the grave, Mrs. Flowers slowly woke from her long sleep. You see, the concoction the conjure woman had given her had caused her breathing to become so shallow, and her heart rate so slow, that they were virtually impossible to detect. It also caused her body temperature to fall so low that her skin was cool to the touch. She didn’t know where she was until she heard dirt being shoveled on top of her coffin. She banged frantically on the coffin lid and screamed, “Let me out! I’m not dead! Do you hear me? I’m not dead!”
But her screams were drowned out by the “thud, thud, thud” of the dirt landing on the coffin lid. In no time at all, she was buried alive.
All these events had gone just as the conjure woman had planned. For you see, she had always been jealous of Mr. and Mrs. Flowers, with their plentiful crops and healthy livestock. All she had were just a few skinny chickens. Soon after the funeral was over, she would sneak up to the old farm each night and steal as many chickens, horses and cows as she could handle. By week’s end, she had nearly taken all the livestock from the Flowers’ farm. To celebrate a job well done, she plopped down into a chair, cackled loudly, and took a big swig of her homemade cherry wine. She soon drank herself into a sound sleep.
Later that night, the hag was suddenly awakened by the loud crowing of a rooster. She peered out the window through bloodshot eyes, and noticed there was not a trace of light in the sky. Why was the rooster crowing so early? She rolled over with a grunt and put a pillow over her head, but still the crowing continued, growing louder and louder. Now totally awake, she jumped out of bed and ran out into the yard. “Shut up!” she screamed, chasing the terrified chickens around the yard. But though the loud crowing filled the air, she could not find the rooster.
The same thing happened night after night. The moment she would fall off to sleep, a loud crowing long before dawn would jolt the old hag awake. She would run through the yard screaming, “Where are you, you cursed rooster? When I find you, I’m gonna chop off your head!” But the crows from the mysterious rooster would only grow louder and louder. One night, after nearly two weeks without sleep, the crazed hag took an ax and chopped the heads off every chicken she could find. But the unseen rooster continued to crow.
As months went by without sleep, the hag slowly went insane. She was convinced that the rooster was mocking her, its crows turning into cackling laughter. The hag grabbed her ax and ran screaming into the night, hacking away at anything she could see. As she ran aimlessly, the swamp was filled with a cacophony of unbearable noises, as if all the trees and swamp critters were joining in the mocking symphony.
The hag never returned home again. Months later, some fishermen found her decomposed remains, still dressed in a tattered nightgown, her skeletal hand clutching her ax.Over the years, folks who were brave enough to venture into the swamp at night claimed they saw the old hag’s sleep-deprived ghost running through the trees, swinging her ax wildly into thin air. The children in town named her “Ol’ Sleepyhead,” and she became a local legend. But closer to our time, they drained the swamp and built a new freeway through the area, which brought the haunting to a sudden stop.Was that old rooster really the vengeful ghost of Mrs. Flowers? Guess we’ll never know. But if there’s one thing this story taught me, it’s the importance of a good night’s sleep. Sleep tight!!!
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Sleepyhead – Story Credits
Written and Directed by Craig Dominey
Told by Veronica Byrd
Sound Design by Henry Howard