As we approached Halloween, we invited readers to share a few ghost stories. This story, “The Master Fiddler,” is submitted by Azalea Bolton, wife of local story J.A. Bolton of Rockingham. According to J.A. Bolton, his wife heard the story and put her own twist on it. — Editor
Many years ago in the mountains of North Carolina there lived a girl named Nellie. Life was really tough in those days because there were only two ways to make a living — farming that hard, rocky soil or making moonshine.
Nellie’s family had always farmed since they did have unusually rich, fertile soil around their little mountain cabin. Things had really taken a turn for the worse for Nellie back during the winter when her entire family got sick with a fever and died. The only thing that had kept Nellie going since that time was playing her daddy’s old fiddle. He had taught her to play all the old mountain tunes and she had spent the rest of the winter practicing so she could enter the fiddler’s contest at the little town down the mountain called Pleasantville.
Nellie had big dreams of winning the title of Master Fiddler at the Pleasantville Fiddler’s Contest so she could then earn money playing at events all around the area and beyond. The biggest problem with her plan was she needed a new fiddle before she could stand a chance of winning. Her daddy’s fiddle was so old it was practically falling apart. Nellie decided she would start trying to find one the very next day because the contest was only two weeks away.
The next day Nellie walked to Pleasantville and started asking around about a new fiddle. She wasted several days following up on leads with no success. Finally she heard about a man who might have one for sale in a little town a few miles away called Devil’s Ridge. Nellie got up early the next morning and filled up a burlap sack with cabbage and potatoes out of her cellar so she would having something to trade for a fiddle. Then she set off down the mountain carrying her burlap sack. She walked through Pleasantville and on past a cemetery until finally she saw a sign which pointed up the mountain towards Devil’s Ridge.
She walked on until she reached a little area that had a few cabins on both sides of the dirt road. She went up to the first cabin and knocked but there was no answer. She knocked on all of the remaining cabin doors with no success until finally when she knocked on the the last door she heard a man’s voice say, “Come in.”
She slowly opened the door and peeped inside. She saw a tall man standing there behind a table which had a beautiful case lying on it. The man said, “I have just what you’re looking for inside this case.” Of course, Nellie is thinking, “How do you know what I’m looking for?”
The man then opened up the case and Nellie saw the most beautiful fiddle she had ever seen lying inside. The man said, “Give it a try.” Nellie reached in and took out the fiddle and bow and played “Fire on the Mountain.” She knew immediately that she just had to have the fiddle no matter how much the man wanted for it. She laid it back down in the case and reached down beside of her and picked up the burlap sack. She quickly said, “I brought some of the best cabbage and potatoes in these mountains to trade for the fiddle.”
The man shook his head and said, “I don’t want your food. The price for the fiddle is: The head of the one you love the most. Payment is due in full at midnight on the night of the Pleasantville Fiddler’s Contest. Do you agree to those conditions?”
Nellie didn’t even think twice about it. She just said, “Yes,” and picked up the fiddle case and the burlap sack and hurried out the door. She didn’t even slow down until she got to Pleasantville. She went into the General Store there and sold her cabbage and potatoes. When she got home she hid the money away in a safe place. When the day of the fiddler’s contest arrived Nellie dressed in her best dress; got the money out of its hiding place; picked up her fiddle and walked to the schoolhouse at Pleasantville. She took the money and paid her entry fee. Then she sat down to wait and enjoy the music.
When Nellie’s name was finally called she took out her fiddle and began to play. First, she played really fast and everyone clapped along. Then she played a waltz and everyone felt like dancing along. Finally, she played a sad song and it was so sad that everyone cried along. When she finished playing there was complete silence. Then everyone stood up and gave her a standing ovation. Later, when Nellie was crowned as the Master Fiddler, everyone stood up again and applauded their local hero.
When Nellie got home she was so tired she just sat right down in the old rocking chair that faced the door. She was still sitting there dozing when she heard the clock on the mantle striking: 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5 – 6 – 7 – 8 – 9 – 10 – 11 – 12. Just as the clock struck twelve, Nellie heard a man’s voice call out, “Nellie, I’m here for my payment.”
The next morning Nellie’s neighbor came by to congratulate Nellie on her big win. He walked up on the porch and yelled out, “Nellie, are you home?” When she didn’t answer he raised his hand to knock and the door just opened right up. C-R-E-A-K. He just stood right there in the doorway and stared into the room. Nellie was still sitting right there in the old rocking chair. She was still dressed in her Sunday best. In her lap lay the money she had won the night before. In one hand she held her brand new fiddle. In the other hand she held her Master Fiddler’s trophy. The only thing missing was: HER HEAD !!!!!!!!!!
— This story was edited by Staff Writer Dawn M. Kurry. She can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 15, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.