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Authors: Sallie Bissell

Tags: #suspense, #myth, #North Carolina, #music, #ghost, #ghosts, #mystery, #cabin, #murder, #college students

Music of Ghosts

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Music of Ghosts: A Novel of Suspense
© 2013 by Sallie Bissell.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any matter whatsoever, including Internet usage, without written permission from Midnight Ink, except in the form of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

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Any unauthorized usage of the text without express written permission of the publisher is a violation of the author's copyright and is illegal and punishable by law.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

First e-book edition © 2013

E-book ISBN: 9780738736303

First Edition

First Printing, 2013

Book format by Bob Gaul

Cover design by Lisa Novak

Cover photo
Alex Stoddard

Editing by Nicole Nugent

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For Carter Bissell, my fair-haired boy.


Never had Lisa wanted
to go to the haunted house. Saturdays they usually went clubbing in Asheville or hiked up to some hidden away waterfall. But Chris Givens had talked up the infamous Fiddlesticks cabin all week, ultimately persuading them that an overnight in a haunted house would be a nice break from cleaning up bird shit. “I'll take my camcorder,” he told her, as they banded a fierce little sparrow hawk. “If we get any cool video, we can sell it to one of those ghost buster shows on TV.”

“But Nick wants us at the sports park ceremony,” Lisa replied. “He's going to fly Sequoia.”

“Not til noon the next day,” said Chris. “You'll be back in plenty of time to help Nick with that eagle.”

So now she stood, along with the other five interns of Pisgah Raptor Rescue Center, breathless and sweaty in front of a small, dilapidated cabin that huddled at the end of a twisting, pine-shrouded path. With broken windows and mildewed chink, the structure looked more sad than haunted; a beaten place where light and energy had packed up one day and never returned. Though Lisa did not believe in ghosts, something about the place made her shudder.

“So what's the story up here?” asked Ryan Quarles, a blonde, broad-shouldered sophomore from Duke.

“This is where the Fiddlesticks murders happened.” Chris pulled a video camera from his backpack. “Let's go check it out before it gets dark.”

Givens climbed up on the rotting porch and beckoned them forward. As he pointed his camera at them, they made their way up the disintegrating steps. Though Lisa longed to stay outside in the last slivers of daylight, she took a deep breath and climbed up to the rickety porch. She was the daughter of a governor, a prideful man. She dare not let anyone think she was scared.

With Chris filming away, she lifted her chin and stepped over the threshold. Immediately a chilly dankness raised goose flesh on her arms, reminding her of mold and mildew and the pale, disgusting little toadstools that grew beneath fallen logs. As her eyes adjusted to the near darkness, she fully expected to see pentagrams carved on the walls, the bones of small animals offered up in sacrifice. Instead, she saw the detritus of expeditions much like their own. Beer cans and cigarette butts littered the floor while the walls bore the names and initials of the countless couples who'd come before them. In the dimness she saw that someone had spray painted “Class of '77” on the ceiling; someone else had written “I love KISS” over the small fireplace. As stupid and lame as the ancient graffiti was, she found it comforting. The six of them were just part of a stream of people who'd spent the night here and then gone on with the rest of their lives.

“What a place,” said Ryan. He surveyed the living room, stopping in one corner to lift a dust-covered beer bottle. “When did you last see a Schlitz beer?”

“Never heard of it.” Rachel Sykes gaped at the graffiti on the ceiling. “But I think my mother graduated from high school in '77.”

They were staring at all the old tags when suddenly, Chris lowered his camera and cocked his head toward a dark room to the right. “Did you guys hear that?”

“Hear what?” Rachel frowned.

“That noise,” he whispered. “It sounded like someone groaned.”

They turned and listened. All they heard was silence.

“I think you're imagining things.” A rising senior at Carolina, Abby Turner was their self-appointed skeptic.

“No, I'm not,” said Chris. “I heard something. Come on!”

Lisa followed as he led them into what turned out to be an old kitchen. Small and dirty, it had a rusty old-fashioned pump that once spewed water into a chipped iron sink. More beer cans littered the room, and their feet crunched desiccated animal turds and moth cocoons as they walked across a cracked linoleum floor. Though they heard no more groans, Lisa wondered if anybody else felt the oppressive coldness, or smelled that sick toadstool stink.

“So tell us.” Tony Blackman ducked under a scrim of dusty cobwebs that drooped from the ceiling. “What were the Fiddlesticks murders?”

Fiddlesticks was the best fiddler in North Carolina,” said Chris, doing a slow pan of the room. “Years ago, he had a steady gig down in Jackson County, every Saturday night.”

“How many years ago?” asked Abby.

“Back in the 1950s,” Chris replied. “One Saturday in March they had a big wind storm, and the dance ended early. Fiddlesticks got in his truck to come home, but a tree had blown across the road, so he had to park and walk. Usually, his wife left a candle on in the window for him, but that night, everything was dark. Scared that something had happened to her, he hurried to the cabin and opened the front door.”

“Let me guess,” said Abby. “He found the devil inside, waiting to have a fiddle contest with him.”

“He found his wife inside,” Chris said somberly. “Naked in front of the fireplace, screwing another man.”

“Whoa, dude!” said Tony.

Chris continued. “Anyway, Fiddlesticks went crazy—pulled out the straight razor he kept in his boot. Cut off the man's balls, slit his wife's throat. Then he sat down and played his fiddle while they bled to death.”

Chris returned to the living room and pointed at some dark splotches on the floor. “Those are bloodstains. They say Fiddlesticks haunts the place—that some nights you can still hear the fiddle music. And the screaming.”

For a moment they all stood staring at the floor. Lisa wished more than ever she'd stayed home. Though her father had always admonished her to be brave, a dark thing she could not name lurked here. It held its breath and listened while they talked, watched them through the cracks in the wall.

“I'm going back outside,” she told Chris. “I'm really cold.”

Chris turned his camera on her. “Awwww, is the governor's daughter scared?” he asked, clucking like a chicken.

“No,” she said. “Just cold.”

“I'll come with you,” said Rachel. “This house is gross.”

The two girls walked back outside, shrugging out of their backpacks and huddling together on a fallen log beside an old fire pit. “Maybe we should build a fire,” suggested Rachel. “Gather sticks and kindling.”

Lisa cupped her hands and held them to her mouth, trying to generate some heat. “Let me get my hands warm first.”

“Good idea,” said Rachel. “It's about fifty degrees colder on top of this mountain.” Blowing on her own hands, she noticed Lisa's fingers. “Hey, you didn't lose your mom's ring, did you?”

“No, I left it in my room. I was afraid something might happen to it up here.”

Rachel looked at her, her pretty brown eyes concerned. “You seriously are not enjoying this, are you?”

Shaking her head, Lisa turned the collar of her jacket close around her neck. “I hate the forest at night. I hate camping. I hate Chris running around claiming to hear noises nobody else hears. But most of all, I hate that house.”

Rachel frowned. “You think it's haunted?”

“I don't know what it is,” said Lisa, watching as the setting sun made the jagged windows glow bright orange. “I'll just be glad when this night is over.”

An hour later they sat around a sputtering pine-knot fire, built by Ryan and Tony. They'd eaten the sandwiches they'd packed back at the dorm, now Chris was filming them as they passed around a saltshaker and a bottle of Cuervo Gold. Though Lisa usually didn't drink, she swallowed the fiery liquid eagerly, hoping it would turn the night benign. Ever since the sun went down, Chris had kept them on edge, hearing noises, seeing shadows, claiming to feel spots of cold clammy air. At first the tequila made it all seem absurd and funny, but then the talk returned to what had gone on at the cabin.

“Hey, Chris,” said Ryan. “What finally happened to this Fiddlesticks character?”

“Nobody knows,” Chris replied, his face reflecting the glow of the fire. “He just walked into the woods and disappeared.”

“Oh, please.” Abby rolled her eyes. “Don't you think it's odd that nobody ever knows what happened to the person who did the killing?”

“That's not the point, Abby,” said Rachel. “My anthropology professor said that ghost stories sprout up when someone breeches accepted behavior. They function like warnings about what not to do.”

“But why does the maniacal killer always vanish?” Ryan took a swig of tequila and passed the bottle to Lisa. “I mean, didn't the cops investigate? Did they ever catch this guy?”

Chris shrugged. “Artie claims he's still hanging around. Says he's sees him sometimes at the bird barn, staring out from the woods.”

“Just like that guy over there?” asked Tony softly, pointing to the dark pines that clustered on the other side of the clearing.

They all turned, looked. A shadowy figure seemed to be standing there, staring at them.

“Holy shit!” cried Chris. He pointed his camera toward the trees while everyone leapt to their feet. The girls huddled together, frightened. Tony and Ryan grabbed two thick limbs, previously destined for the fire. Everyone held their breath, waiting to see what the figure would do when, suddenly, it turned and dissolved into the woods.

“Come on,” said Tony, holding his limb like a club. “Let's go get him.”

The two boys took off, heading for the trees, Chris following with his camera. “I knew something was wrong with this place,” Lisa whispered.

“It's okay.” Rachel put her arm around her. “It's probably just Tony's idea of a joke. He's been drinking since way before supper.”

“What if it isn't a joke?” asked Abby.

“Then we'll deal with it,” Rachel said firmly. “There are six of us and only one of him.”

Ultimately, they chalked their ghost up to shadows. The three boys scoured the woods for the better part of an hour but came up with nothing. Then they watched Chris's video of the event. From a distance, the shape did look human. But as Chris had run to get closer, he'd lost his focus on it, and the picture became a jerky montage of boys waving branches, running through shadowy trees.

They returned to sit around the fire, but a light rain started, turning the glowing embers into a smoking, sizzling heap.

“Come on,” said Chris, grabbing his gear. “Let's get set up inside the house.”

They followed him, scooping up their backpacks as they hurried inside the house. While he set up his camera on the mantel, everyone unrolled their sleeping bags in the living room—Rachel and Tony together, Abby opting to spread out near the kitchen. Her heart still thumping from seeing the shadow man, Lisa unfolded her bag beneath the front windows, as far away from those bloodstains as she could manage.
Just get through the night
, she told herself.
Get through the night. At first light tomorrow morning, you can head back to the center

“Want some company?” asked a voice behind her. “If we spread our bags out double, we can sleep together. We'll stay warmer that way.”

She turned. Ryan Quarles stood there, sleeping bag in hand. Lisa hadn't planned on a bed companion, but after the dark woods and the bloodstained floor and the shadow man outside, she wasn't going to turn one down. Though Ryan was no Nick, together they could stay warm, and maybe safe from whatever haunted this house.

“Sure.” Gratefully, she unzipped her bag and spread it double, lying down on the side nearest the wall. He unzipped his bag, and laid it on top of her, like a blanket. He pulled off his boots and was lying down beside her when Chris Givens made an announcement.

“Okay, we're rolling,” he said. “This camera's got a wide angle lens, so nobody do anything that you wouldn't want seen on TV.”

“Hi, Mom,” Tony sat up and waved at the camera.

“Also no flashlights, or e-readers, or iPads,” said Chris. “We don't want any electronic interference. And don't say anything that you don't want my EVP recorder to pick up.”

Tony did a fair rendition of the Crypt Keeper laugh. “Good-night everybody!” he said. “Pleasant dreams!”

“You okay?” Ryan asked her as Chris turned off the last flashlight.

“Yeah,” she said, her throat growing thick as she tried to gulp down her fear.

“See you in the morning, then,” said Ryan, rolling over to turn his back to her.

For a long time she lay awake listening, waiting for something to happen. Chris sneezed a couple of times; the rustling from Rachel and Tony's corner indicated if not quiet sex, then at least some vigorous feeling-up. Finally, all the turning and bumping noises faded into sleepy moans and soft snoring.
How good it will be to get home
, she thought. Back to her own bed, back to her little sparrow hawk, back to Nick, the man she loved. As she thought of him, her eyes grew heavy. Soon she began to dream. She was back in their dorm. Nick was knocking on the door, full of sweetness, playing a tune for her on his fiddle. How sweet the music sounded! How lush his notes!

Abruptly, she woke up. For an instant she didn't know where she was, then everything grew clear. Nick wasn't playing any fiddle for her—she was in this cold stink of a cabin, sleeping next to Ryan. Trying to re-enter her dream, she closed her eyes. Suddenly, she heard an odd noise. A high, lilting sound, almost like a birdcall. She cocked her head toward the window. For awhile she heard only silence, then the sound came again. This time it was closer—a high, cascade of notes.

Someone was playing a fiddle, outside, in the trees beyond the house!

It's Chris
, she told herself.
Or Tony. Playing some stupid trick.
But when she sat up to peer around the fireplace, she saw them both in the dim light, Chris beneath the other window, Tony with an arm wrapped across Rachel's shoulder.

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