The Ghost of James Bell in Print


Collage: A Journal of Creative Expression is a semi-annual publication published by MTSU’s University Honors College. The award-winning publication features literary works such as essays, fiction, non-fiction, poetry and song lyrics as well as visual submissions in photography, art, and fashion. Students’ works are submitted blindly (no name attached) and selected by the University Honors College committee.

I was excited to learn that my song “The Ghost of James Bell” was selected for publication. Recently, I got a chance to perform the song acoustically at the 2016 Collage Celebration. I want to offer my humble gratitude to the University Honors College committee for this opportunity.

Special thanks to my fiction writing professor extraordinaire Dr. Jennifer Kates.


Ghost-Collage“The Ghost of James Bell” is one of my most requested songs, and this honor is especially requiting because a famous hillbilly songwriter once told me that the song wasn’t any good. Justice will be done!


The Ghost of James Bell

One late night down in Georgia
It was dark and wet and cold
I was driving my old pickup
Down a backwoods country road
When up ahead in the distance
What is was I couldn’t tell
Then I soon remembered
The story of old James Bell

They said James came home one evening
With whiskey on his breath
He shot his lovely wife Marie
And with the same gun he met his death
The law found them that morning
In a bloody crimson stain
The sheriff said what has happened here
Ya’ll can see is very plain

He said I stand for justice
Some folks just won’t run
He said I stand for justice
Justice will be done

Some folks never knew it
Some folks couldn’t tell
What had really happened
On that night of living hell
But twenty years ago today
When I was just thirteen
A little boy had seen it all
And that little boy was me

You see James came home that evening
Marie was lying on the floor
The sheriff had his way with her
Then he aimed his forty-four
I watched him as he shot James down
Like no one would ever know
As I’m driving down this road tonight
The truth is still untold

When I drove by the sheriff’s house
I swerved off of the road
There was someone by the mailbox
In a ragged overcoat
I got out and walked up closer
Though I was scared as hell
And there he was before me
The ghost of old James Bell

He must have walked right through me
As he staggered up the drive
I got back in my truck
Just glad to be alive
James knocked on the sheriff’s door
With a pick-axe by his side
You could hear the screams a mile away
As I drove off through the night

He said I stand for justice
Some folks just won’t run
He said I stand for justice
Justice will be done

The morning paper came
The headlines there it read
The sheriff had been murdered
They found him lying on his steps
They said he died a vicious death
No suspect could be found
No one had seen a single thing
No one had heard a sound

I leaned back in my chair
I felt a bit relieved
I could put the past behind me
Forget what I had seen
I put down the morning paper
But as I began to leave
I couldn’t help but notice
The blood stains on my sleeve

He said I stand for justice
Some folks just won’t run
He said I stand for justice
Justice will be done

—Dean Hall