Posts Tagged ‘antique’

Smoke curled from the long ash of the Dunhill, twisting its way across the room like a fragment of grey silk until it met the draft from the cracked window, which finally shattered it. The cigarette sat, ignored, in Gathercole’s mouth as he hunched over the spilt guts of several radios. His hands moved from the Ersa soldering iron to the screwdriver, taking the radios apart and putting them back together time and again. Every now and again, he would stop, reference his scattered notes, and make the tiniest of additional adjustments.

Besides the valves, wires, copper spools and flexible solder, the table was littered with a bewildering array of minerals and chemicals, each in its own, little folded paper cup and labelled in Gathercole’s hurried scrawl. There was silicon, germanium, crystalline tin, iron pyrites, sulphur, red selenium, oxide of uranium and even a single, red-cast diamond. This last piece stuck in place with a gob of spirit-gum, just in case. Finally, there were a few little fragments of rock crystal, carefully marked ‘dig site’.

Gathercole finally remembered the cigarette and stubbed it out amongst its fallen brothers in his beaten-copper ashtray, and continued his work. One after another, he was testing the radios with different substances. Replacing one crystal with another, painstakingly tuning the radio and it’s power level, referencing his notebooks, making notes and taking it all apart again.

Crispin’s head appeared through the square entry to the attic, hair tousled, eyes bruised and watery, a childish pout upon his lips.

“William, chap, is there the slightest possibility you could cease all this infernal radio screeching. I have the most beastly hangover.”

Gathercole carefully set the Ersa to one side, ensuring the nib was not in contact with the table.

“I’m inspired, Crispin. I have to pursue this line of thought to its end, or I shan’t be able to rest.”

Crispin clambered up the ladder the rest of the way into the attic. “I shan’t be able to rest until you stop. What the bloody hell are you doing anyway?”

“Since you ask…”

Crispin groaned, too late in realising his mistake, and sat – in his pyjamas – on an old valise to endure the lecture.

“… I’m sure you’re aware that until recently radios used crystals as a rectifier.”

“I did not know that. Nor do I know what a rectifier is.”

“Well, for your sake we can consider it to be a sort of translator. Radio waves are translated by the rectifier, typically galena crystals, into a signal that can be resolved as sound. Valves and amplifiers have made them outdated, which means I picked up these old radios and their headsets rather cheaply.”

“Hurrah,” Crispin absently patted his pyjama pockets in a futile quest for a cigarette. “Lend me a Dunhill, would you?”

Gathercole obliged. “Well, there’s no reason why other semi-conducting crystals shouldn’t be used. We use galena for convenience. I hypothesise that certain types of crystal may be better suited to tuning into the energistic vibrations of the spirit plane and, thereby, translating them into sound.”

His lighter flicked and Crispin sat back, taking a long drag on the cigarette. “Hence all the shrieking, the very cries of the damned.”

“If only,” Gathercole sighed wistfully. “Alas, it only seems to be interference. No tones or voices, no signals from the beyond as yet. Despite amplifying the signal using the more modern technology and despite focussing on the signal range that seems to trouble the spirits the most when we use the radio pentacle.”

“Perhaps,” Crispin opined. “Perhaps the spirits don’t like that frequency, which is why they react so badly to it. In which case, they would hardly be transmitting at that frequency, right? We find middle C with C sharp above rather jarring and unpleasant, and so we don’t play it in our musical combinations. Unless one is deliberately perverse of course.”

Gathercole considered that for a moment. “You may well be right, in which case, I need to re-test all these samples.”

As Gathercole turned back to the radios and they began to shriek again, Crispin retreated back down the ladder. “I’m going to the bloody pub for a late breakfast and the hair of the dog, I intend to stay there until I’m sure you’ve wound up this infernal racket.”

Gathercole vaguely waved, not really paying attention.

Hours of hard work, breathing in the fumes from the soldering iron, fingers raw from the pricking ends and twisting coils of wire, Gathercole finally thought he heard something. Was it simply ringing from straining to hear anything? He was fixated upon even the slightest sound to the degree that his own heartbeat and the shifting joint of his jaw had already given him false alarms.

His hand moved, almost imperceptibly, on the dials. He clutched the headphones tighter to his head, closed his eyes and held his breath.

No, there was something, a voice, the faintest and most indistinct hint of a voice, buzzing and alien, but definitely forming syllables. Was it English or some other language? John Dee’s language of the angels, or something more esoteric? What would they speak in hell? English? German? Both?

He frowned furiously, eyes screwed tightly shut as he tinkered, gingerly amplifying the signal, turning up the power through his ersatz spiderweb of wiring.


Zil? Eaz? He was missing something, some crucial element. Could the spirits hear him? Past experience appeared to suggest that the abnatural world could perceive the natural one, without special equipment or capabilities. There was no harm in trying.

“Spirits! Can you hear me?” He called out, in a slightly faltering voice.


Confirmed! Clear as day.

“Do you have any messages for me?” Again he strained to listen, held his breath and closed his eyes so tight that patterns of phosphenes strobed across his vision.


“Hundreds of deaths? Are you trying to warn me of something, ghost? Are you playing a trick on me? Who will die? How many?”


A princess? Perhaps Princess Elizabeth, barely more than a year old. Who or what could threaten royalty in such a way, let alone hundreds of deaths? Gathercole’s mind raced, scattershot, trying to imagine such a tragedy. Irish republicans perhaps, or some bomb-flinging anarchist. More likely, however, was the idea that the spirits were lying to him. Every witch-book and grimoire he had ever perused would suggest so, as would the very Bible itself.

There was a sudden creak, far louder than the radio signal, and Gathercole started, twisting his head towards the source. Crispin’s head, combed and neat this time, already smoking, stuck up through the attic’s hole.

“By Jove, are you still at it? Did you even have luncheon?”

Gathercole took off his headset. “No, I got lost in the work, but I am hungry now you mention it. I shall come down for some tea and something to eat in a moment. I want you to listen to this though, I think I’ve had a result.”

Gathercole proffered the headset and, with some reluctance, Crispin climbed the rest of the way in. He swayed – a little drunkenly – over to the table and put on the headset to listen.

Gathercole watched Crispin’s expression as he concentrated on the sound. At first, he simply looked annoyed. After a time there was a look of surprise, and then a more serious visage of concentration – eyes closed, holding the headset on with both hands.

Things continued in this vein for some time. Gathercole searched Crispin’s face for any sign, any recognition, any confirmation of what he had heard.

Crispin’s eyebrows shot up for a second time, but then – perplexingly – his mouth turned into a rather smug-looking smile. He listened still, for an agonisingly long moment and then slowly took the headphones off again.

“Do you hear it?” Gathercole was practically vibrating in anticipation, but Crispin wasn’t giving anything away.

“I need to show you something. Come downstairs. I’ll make you something to eat, you needn’t bother doing it yourself.”

Gathercole frowned but did as he was bidden, following Crispin down the creaky ladder and back into the more civilised parts of the house, away from the dust and electronic detritus, blinking into the light. Crispin led him, gently, into the kitchen and turned on the radio, busying himself at the stove with some bacon as Gathercole stood, at a loose end, beside the table.

“What are you showing me?” Gathercole frowned, twisting left and right and twisting his lips to one side of his face in consternation.

Crispin pressed his finger to his lips and then pointed to the radio, as bacon began to sizzle in the pan.

It was a news bulletin on the BBC, the usual dull goings-on in the world. Crispin was addicted to current affairs, forever burying his head in a newspaper or sat near the radio. He always had the worries of the world buzzing in his ear. Gathercole, for his part, found it far too distracting from his studies and experiments. He only showed interest in the worlds of science and the abnormal. The mundane progress of laws, or the threat of another war, that was unbearable.

Gathercole frowned as he listened, and then swore as it became clear.

“…Terrible news from Brazil. The liner the SS Principessa Mafalda, out of Italy, suffered a catastrophic mechanical failure and sank, with the loss of some three-hundred souls…”

“Ah. Bugger,” Gathercole growled, now the hazy words from the radio made sense. Not spirits from beyond, but the BBC signal breaking through his slapdash improvisations and reconstructions. “Not everything can be supernatural, I suppose, failures are still results, and useful ones.”

“I know your pride stings William, you’re still the only spiritualist I know who isn’t a liar and a fraud. Here,” he set the little plate down on the table. “Bacon sandwich, no crusts.”

“Let me just go and turn everything off. Any chance of a cup of coffee?”

“Every chance.”

Gathercole trudged up back up the stairs and wearily clambered up the ladder, drifting around the room as he half-heartedly tidied up and closed the window.

“It’s getting cold!” Came a shout from below.

Gathercole stopped by the radio which was still humming and crackling, emitting the occasional noise. He held the earphones up one last time and gave the dial a slow turn.


Half a word, ‘glass’ perhaps, then hideous piping, distorted and alien through the tangled mess of his Frankenstein’s wireless. He switched it off with a slight chuckle.

“Doesn’t do to become too persuaded of one’s own genius,” he murmured to himself, and then realised that he really was hungry after all.

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