When the Devil originally went down to Georgia and challenged Johnny to a fiddling contest, he never expected to lose. Johnny, however, never expected to come into contact with a golden fiddle, much less one gifted to him by the Devil. He’d been around the block a few times; he knew not to mess with golden artifacts given to him by Catholic symbols of sin. It was practically step one in being confirmed. So, Johnny left it on the ground. He played “Fire on the Mountain” – on his own fiddle – all the way back home, and died there decades later, soul very much intact.
Meanwhile, the golden fiddle continued to gather dirt and dust. It ended up underneath the soil, then underneath a misplaced tree; eventually, it was under a Chick-fil-A, as magical golden fiddles in Georgia were wont to do. The magical golden fiddle had no idea what its powers or abilities were. It was a fiddle. It remained under the dirt and roots and religious chicken sandwiches until that very Chick-fil-A caught on fire due to a decidedly unmagical and metal-silver fryer burning up the place. When the Chick-fil-A was bulldozed and the pavement underneath torn up, the shredded foundations revealed the very tip of the golden fiddle.
“Now, hold up, there!” Reg called, jumping from his lawn chair. As the overseer of the site, he had his very own lawn chair, gifted to him by his mother and with a golden Reginald painted on the top in ornate puff paint. He hopped down into the ravine left behind by the ashes of the Chick-fil-A and his own company’s diggers and burrowed with his nails to unearth the mystery under the dirt. He had a bit of a deja-vu trip to the one and only time he had seen Jurassic Park as he lifted the golden fiddle out of the dirt.
“Whatcha got there, Reg?” Dan called down. Reg held the golden fiddle high above his head, feeling warmed just by its very presence. It seemed to glow. Reg looked it over with the patience and attention he felt it deserved.
“Banjo, I think!” Reg finally told him. Dan offered him a hand to help him back up to ground level. His team of workers gathered around him to see the banjo-cum-fiddle as he brushed the magical years of normal dirt off it.
“Naw,” Howie said, near the back of the group. “That ain’t no banjo, Mr. Reg. That there’s a fiddle.”
“Is that solid gold, Mr. Reg?” Barbara Ann asked. Reg skimmed his fingertip over one of the strings, still in perfect condition.
“I dunno,” he told her. He flipped the fiddle over in his hands. “Back says ‘Johnny.’” He looked up at the crowd. “Anyone know a Johnny?”
“I’m Johnny,” three voices called back. They all stepped forward, but none of them recognized the banjo (possibly a fiddle) as belonging to them. Candy hopped up out of the Chick-fil-A canyon and handed over a golden stick.
“Found the bow, Mr. Reg,” Candy said, handing it over. Reg held it high, then set it to the fiddle. Clouds gathered overhead abruptly, casting them all in darkness, and Reg frowned at the sky. The moment the bow fell away from the fiddle, the sky cleared again, sun blasting down. Testing his theory, he held the bow up again, and, sure as shit, back came the clouds. He dropped the bow; the sun returned.
“Well, fellas,” Reg said, examining the golden fiddle. “We can control the weather. What should we do with it?”
“I think we ought to take the day off,” Barbara Ann said. “If we make it rain, sir, pardon my sayin’ so, but I don’t rightly think we’d have to stay, and I’d sure like to get home and catch that rerun of Shawshank.”
Reg’s team was made up of a good kind of people, the sort of people Reg liked getting drinks with, allowing time off for, and, now and then, giving magic rain to. With a shrug, Reg set the bow to the fiddle once more, the clouds gathering yet again and sending the construction site into pitch-blackness. He played one screeching note on the fiddle and the rain started pouring down, sure enough, but it didn’t hit any of them. Indeed, a circle of dry air had formed around them, keeping them untouched by the torrent. Reg pulled back and frowned at the rain.
“Well, I’ll be damned,” he said, and lightning struck the ground beside him. When he jumped back to get out of the way, he stumbled into a body far larger than his own. He stepped back. “Pardon me, sir.”
“No trouble,” said the much larger man. Upon Reg’s closer inspection, he turned out not to be so much of a man at all, but actually was a demon or devil of some sort. Reg glanced down at his feet and found the cloven hooves he had come to expect. His skin was of a nice red tint, like a good cherry might have, and his horns were fairly obvious on top of his head.
“You some sort of devil?” Reg asked. The cherry man-beast glowered at him.
“I am the Devil,” he said, and Reg took off his construction helmet.
“My apologies,” Reg said, because he knew that you don’t piss off the Devil. It was practically step two in being confirmed. “May I ask what you’re doing here, Mr. Devil?”
The Devil pointed at the fiddle. “You’ve found my fiddle and played it. In doing so, Reginald Alma Hanberry, you have challenged me to a fiddling contest.”
“I hate to disagree with you, Mr. Devil, but I’ve done no such thing,” Reg said. The Devil hesitated, then pointed again at the fiddle.
“You did play a note on this fiddle, yes?”
“I sure did,” Reg said.
“And was it an F?”
“I don’t know, sir. I’m awful sorry,” Reg said.
“Then you’ve challenged me.”
Reg shook his head. “I’m sorry, but I haven’t challenged you. This may be your fiddle, and I may have played a note on it, and that note may have been an F, but one thing I surely didn’t do was challenge the Devil to a fiddling contest.”
“You don’t have to do it with the intention of challenging me,” the Devil informed him. “It’s just the rule of the fiddle.”
“That hardly seems fair,” Barbara Ann called. Candy nodded.
“Babs’ got a point, Mr. Devil,” Howie said. “That there fiddle was under the Chick-fil-A. How’d we even know the damn thing’s yours? Pardon my Godly French.”
“It says ‘Johnny’ on the back,” Dan said. “Is your name Johnny, Mr. Devil?”
“No,” the Devil said. The crowd murmured. “Now, hold on, hear me out. Many years ago, on this very swath of land, I challenged a young fiddler named Johnny to a fiddling contest. The bet was his soul.”
“Oh, that’s a risky bet,” Howie said. “I wouldn’t bet my soul on a fiddle.”
“So, this was Johnny’s fiddle?” Reg asked.
“I’d bet my soul on that fiddle,” Candy said.
“The bet was his soul,” the Devil repeated firmly, “and I lost the bet. He was a better fiddler than I, and so he won my golden fiddle. However, it seems that he did not take his prize with him.”
“Now, that’s a damn shame,” Reg said, forgetting his to excuse his own Godly French. “Who’d leave this behind? At least try to hock it.”
“I’d’ve hocked it by now if I were you, Reg,” Howie said. Reg motioned towards the Devil with the bow of the fiddle.
“I can’t rightly do that with the Devil right there claimin’ it’s his, now, can I, Howie?” Reg asked, and Howie shrugged. Johnny put a hand on Howie’s shoulder. A different Johnny stepped forward.
“So, Reg owes you his soul?” Johnny asked. The third Johnny leaned around to look at the Devil’s face. Reg felt a little bad for arguing with him; he was pretty sure not arguing with the Devil might be step three in being confirmed. On the other hand, though, he did want to keep his soul.
“Reginald owes me his soul if he loses our bet,” the Devil said.
“But we ain’t made no bet,” Reg reminded him. The Devil’s fists clenched.
“You made the challenge by playing the fiddle.”
“But I ain’t-”
“Reginald,” the Devil thundered. “Do you dare question the word of the Devil?”
“I suppose not,” Reg said. The Devil raised his hand to the air, and a silver fiddle appeared in his skillet-sized palm. He lifted the fingers of his other hand and a bow materialized between them. “Who goes first, then?”
“You do,” the Devil said, likely having learned his lesson from letting Johnny go second all those years ago. Reg shrugged and stepped back, lifting the bow to the fiddle.
“Here goes nothing, boys,” said Reg, and he scraped on one string. The Devil clamped his hands over his ears.
“Jesus Christ, Reginald, what the Hell was that?” the Devil demanded. Barbara Ann tittered behind her hand.
“Y’all don’t like my fiddle playin’?” Reg asked, seeming a little crestfallen. Dan pat him on the back.
“Now, Reg, it wasn’t so bad,” Dan told him. Howie nodded. “I think you just need some practice, is all.”
“Can he have some time to practice?” Candy asked. The whole construction team looked up at the Devil, waiting for an answer.
“I honestly don’t think all the time in the world would help,” the Devil told them.
“And how much time is that?” asked Johnny, seizing on an opportunity. The Devil ignored him.
“Since you stopped playing, I get to play now,” the Devil said, seeming awfully sure of himself. Reg stepped out of the way of his tremendous and pointed elbow to allow him the space to play. He moved his bow to the fiddle and immediately snapped the strings. The whole team fell silent.
“Wow,” Howie whispered.
“You have got to be fucking kidding me,” the Devil spat. He threw his fiddle and bow to the ground, where they turned to gold. “Fine. Fine. You win, Reginald.”
“Really?” Reg asked. Dan picked up the Devil’s second golden fiddle and second golden bow. The strings had repaired themselves mid-transformation. “Even though it didn’t sound so good?”
“Technically, you won, because I didn’t even get to make a bad note,” the Devil said, “but I still did touch my bow to the fiddle.”
“Seems like a really specific rule for a soul-bet fiddle-contest,” Candy said. The Devil turned to her.
“Do you want me to take Reginald’s soul?” he asked. She shook her head.
“How about yours, then?”
“Then zip it,” he said. He turned back to Reg and bowed his head. “Congratulations, Reginald. You have defeated me in this, our great fiddle contest. You get to keep your soul and my second golden fiddle.” He raised his hands and the rain stopped; the clouds cleared, letting the sun shine through again. The Devil seemed much shorter in the light.
“Well, thanks, you old son of a bitch,” Reg said. He let Dan stack the second golden fiddle on top of the first. “Can I sell ‘em?”
“I don’t care,” the Devil said, and vanished with a crack and a cloud of sulfur. Barbara Ann waved her hands to disperse the smoke.
“Well, congrats, Reg,” Dan said. Howie punched Reg on the arm.
“What’re you gonna do with the fiddles?” Johnny asked. Reg looked the fiddles and the bows over. He thought absently that beating the Devil in a fiddle contest was never taught to him before his confirmation.
“Well,” said Reg, “I reckon I’ll hock one, but I’ll keep the other.”
“Why’d you wanna keep one?” Candy asked. Reg shrugged.
“If I ever accidentally play one again,” Reg said, “I guess I better know how to play. It should work alright if I use a regular bow, that’s how I figure it. I’d rather not go to Hell if I can help it, thanks.”
And so the golden fiddle and its twin fell into the possession of Reginald Alma Hanberry, construction manager and first of his name, until the twin fiddle fell into the hands of the pawn shop down the road and the possession of Charles John Daniels, who melted it and its bow down to make a bunch of gold jewelry to sell in his shop. Reg spent the rest of his days attempting to play the fiddle, but he only ever succeeded in learning the tuba after his retirement down the street from a brand-new Chick-fil-A. He shed his mortal coil with his soul intact, so it was the rumor around that Georgia town for years to come that the Devil feared Reg’s violin playing. In reality, it was only that the Devil had run out of golden fiddles, and thought best to ignore Reg’s final escapades.