Louisiana ghost story about two childhood friends who make a mutual promise that must be kept – even beyond the grave!
Deep in the hot steamy backwoods of Lost Creek, Louisiana, there once lived two young boys named Tom and Clay. They were the best of friends – so much so that they each made a solemn promise to be the best man at the other’s wedding when they grew up. They cut open the palms of their hands with hunting knives and shook hands on it, sealing their promise in blood.
As they got older, the two friends became very different men. Tom was a soft-spoken and humble fella who was quite content working his family’s small livestock ranch. But Clay was a hothead who frequented the local tavern almost every night. “That temper of yours is gonna get you in trouble one day,” Tom constantly warned his friend. And sure enough, his warning came true. Clay got in a barroom brawl one night over a gambling debt, and was promptly shot dead.
Tom spent many months grieving for Clay, and visited his grave every week at the tiny local cemetery a few miles outside of town. But Tom knew he eventually had to get on with his life, and so he did. A year later, he met a young woman named Isabelle, whose family had just moved into the area. After a six-month courtship, the two decided to get married.
It was then that Tom remembered the promise he’d made to Clay when they were kids. Since Clay was dead, he obviously couldn’t be the best man. But Tom felt he should show respect for their friendship and at least ask him, no matter if he was alive or dead. Besides, Tom was kind of a superstitious fella. And he figured with a temper like Clay had, he might just come back as a ghost and make his life miserable if he didn’t!
So one night, Tom walked down the long dusty road to Lost Creek Cemetery, lantern in hand. He opened the rusted cemetery gate with a loud CREAK and walked past the crumbling tombstones to Clay’s barren grave. He took a deep breath, then told Clay about his wedding plans. “Remember that promise we made when we was kids?” asked Tom. “Well, it’d be great if you could be my best man. But since you’re dead and all…”
Before Tom could finish this sentence, he felt the ground start to shake underneath his feet. It got louder and louder, and lightning crashed across the sky.A giant sinkhole opened up where Clay’s grave used to be. Then Tom’s blood ran cold as he saw Clay’s corpse rise slowly out of the earth, a big grin on his face, looking no different than the day they buried him.
“‘Bout time you came ’round here and asked me!” Clay said. “I thought you’d never make it!”
Tom could barely speak. “But…but you’ve been dead all this time! How come you don’t look any different?”
“They don’t let folks in Heaven who’ve made promises they don’t keep.” Clay answered. “So I’ve been lyin’ here this whole time. And I’d be much obliged if you’d let me keep my promise and be the best man at your wedding!”
Well, Tom figured he had no choice but to help his friend out. So he brought him back to town. Needless to say, the townspeople were quite scared when Clay – who they’d put in the ground not more than a year ago – came back looking no worse for wear. But once they saw he was the same old Clay, they gradually started to accept him again, even if he was dead.
Tom’s wedding day finally came, and there was quite a party at the local dance hall afterwards. Local fiddlers kept the guests dancing until the wee hours of the morning. Much beer and Cajun sausage was consumed by all. And as the party wound down, and Tom enjoyed another slow waltz with his new bride, he felt Clay tap him on the shoulder.
“It’s time for me to go,” said Clay. “Could you walk me back to the graveyard? That way we can say goodbye – for good this time.”
Tom noticed that Clay had a new look on his face – a peaceful, content look he’d never seen before. Tom looked at his bride, who nodded her approval with a smile and gave him a kiss on the cheek. “I’ll be right back, I promise,” Tom said to Isabelle.
With that, Tom walked with Clay down the cemetery road. They walked in silence most of the time, Clay looking up at the bright stars with a grin on his face. When they reached the rusted cemetery gate, Clay opened it wide with a loud creak. But this time, there weren’t any old, crumbling tombstones on the other side. Instead, Tom’s jaw dropped as he saw a sparkling gold path leading through a beautiful forest of multicolored fruit trees. Songbirds sang the most beautiful songs Tom had ever heard.
“Is this Heaven?” Tom asked his friend.
“Must be,” Clay answered, “But you can’t go there. It ain’t your time. Besides, you have a new bride waitin’ for you back in town.”
Tom knew he had to get back, but he couldn’t tear his eyes away from the beauty on the other side of the gate. “Let me walk with you a bit,” Tom said. “I’ve gotta see what it’s like. I’ll turn back in a few minutes, I swear.”
Well, Clay figured he owed his friend a favor, so he held the gate open for Tom to follow. And as they strolled through the beautiful forests, meadows and beaches of Heaven, Tom thought it was a thousand times more beautiful than the local preacher said it would be. Tears streamed from his eyes at the beauty of the place.
It was then that Tom looked at his watch. He was shocked to see that hours had passed since he left Isabelle back at the dance hall. It had only seemed like a few minutes. He desperately wanted to keep walking, but with every ounce of willpower he had, he tapped Clay on the shoulder and told him it was time for him to go.
“Alright, then,” said Clay with a smile. “Maybe I’ll see you again one day.”
And with those words, the glorious world around them vanished, and Tom found himself back in the dark cemetery. He couldn’t wait to get back to town and tell Isabelle about what awaited them on the other side.
But as he walked through the graveyard, he noticed that something was strange. The tiny old cemetery was now filled with new graves, huge monuments and mausoleums. Tom ran down the long, cemetery road back toward town, but stumbled across a strange city he’d never seen before. Large buildings of glass and steel towered overhead. The townspeople were dressed in odd garments, staring at Tom like he was some sort of strange creature.
Tom figured he was disoriented, and must have taken the wrong road back home. “Where am I?” he asked the passers-by. “You’re in Lost Creek,” they answered with a chuckle. “What’s wrong? You drunk or somethin’?”
Tom was starting to get scared. He asked around for Isabelle, but no one had heard of her. He tried to find the dance hall, but no one had heard of it. He went to every church he could find, banging on the door to find his pastor. But he was nowhere to be found.
Finally, a sympathetic elderly pastor let Tom into his office. Tom frantically told him the story of his wedding, and how he had walked his friend Clay back to the graveyard. Now he couldn’t find Isabelle or the pastor who had married them. The old man laughed and shook his head. “C’mon, son. It isn’t Halloween yet. Besides, I’ve heard that old ghost story a million times.”
“What are you talking about?” said Tom.
The pastor lit his pipe, then told Tom the old tale of the bridegroom who disappeared on his wedding night. It was said that the bridegroom walked back to the cemetery with his dead friend and was never seen again. The bride was so grief stricken that she fell ill and died.
“That’s not possible!” Tom blurted out.
The pastor sighed and grabbed a large, dusty book from the top of his bookshelf. He flipped back the yellowing pages and said, “I’m not saying it’s a true story. But I happen to have the old church records from back then.” He found a wedding ledger and pointed two names out to Tom. “See? Here they are – married 150 years ago this night!”
Tom looked where he was pointing and froze. The names were his and Isabelle’s.
So like Clay before him, poor ol’ Tom had made a promise he didn’t keep. For Tom promised he’d be back for his bride, and never returned. But Tom never believed he’d really been away for 150 years. In fact, they say that Tom’s ghost still haunts the old section of the cemetery in Lost Creek, Louisiana, stranded outside the gates of Heaven. And if you should go there and hear him ask you to help him find his bride, turn around and walk away. ‘Cause you might never come back.
– THE END –
Where Did This Story Come From?
“The Promise” is similar to an old folktale from the British Isles involving two friends who make mutual promises to attend each others’ weddings. In these stories, the troublesome friend commits a crime and is hanged as punishment. So when he later returns from the dead to his friend’s wedding, he has a rope around his neck! From there the story is similar – until the point where the bridegroom returns from Heaven to a changed, modern world and visits the pastor. The pastor gives him food, and after eating it the bridegroom turns into a heap of ashes at his feet.
These stories are examples of tales told throughout the world of visitors from the afterlife who return to Earth to tempt the living to follow them into the next world. The general advice in all these stories is not to go until it’s your time!
Hear another version of this story in a live Moonlit Road Radio Show.
Adapted from Folklore by Craig Dominey
Told by Kodac Harrison
Sound Design by Henry Howard