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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.

…zzzilzzzeazzz…

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.

…zzzzonfirmedzzzz…

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.

…zzzdeathzzzzzundredzzz…

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

…zzzzzincesszzzz…

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.

…gzzzlazzz…

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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Part Three: The Truth Will Out

The rest of the night passed with an air of tension between the men in the bedroom. Crispin couldn’t rest and would sit, brow furrowed for an hour at a time before springing up and pacing about the rooms at a furious pace. Gathercole would pore over his notes and tinker with his machines, offering sighs of frustration at each new failure to bring the aerials back to life. Hodgson, for his part, sulked, curled around himself in the very centre of his bed. Even though the radio-pentacle was defunct, he clung to the idea that it could protect him. It was as though he thought extending the slightest part of his body over the side of the bed would spell his doom.

It wasn’t until the sun rose that the sense of pressure and malevolence lifted – at least slightly. Crispin made fresh coffee. That and a bar of chocolate each had to compensate for the total lack of sleep. They were into their second cup of silent, brooding coffee before Hodgson dared show his face, slinking like a whipped cur into the messy kitchen and refusing both coffee and Cadbury’s on the grounds of an upset stomach.

Gathercole’s temperate nature had been stretched to its limit from the events of the night. His light features were oppressed by a stormy expression and he snapped, loud enough to make Hodgson start and knock a filthy saucer to the floor, breaking into shards.

Gathercole paid the crockery no mind.

“Mr Hodgson, you were not truthful with us. That manifestation was even more powerful than you had intimated and it was utterly fixated upon you, even to the risk of its own dissipation. You know this fiend, and it knows you. This is personal. If I am to save your life and bring an end to this apparition, I need the truth.”

Hodgson still seemed reticent, his lips tightened and lost colour, his tongue moved against his cheek as though considering his options, however few they might be. This went on more than a mere moment, far too long. His fingers twisting a golden ring around and around on his finger.

Crispin’s fist slammed down on the table, interrupting the wait and sending another saucer spilling to the ground to join its shattered brother. “For God’s sake, man! That horrific thing, that shadow, that fiend, will kill you and drag you down to hell! How can this even be a choice!”

Hodgson sprang back from his seat, spilling the chair, almost stumbling on a shard of crockery. Still wordless he pointed, mute, at the floor beneath the table.

Gathercole frowned a moment, but then a slow realisation stole across his face like an over-cautious thief.

“Of course,” he muttered. “I’m such an idiot, always fixated upon the supernatural, blind to the mundane. Here! Crispin! Help me!”

There’s was a shrieking grind as he shoved the breakfast table to the side, the rug gathered in a tangle and shifting with it, sending up a small cloud of grime and dust. Beneath the rug, there were bare boards, darkened and damp. Through the gaps in the planks, there issued a most frightful stench.

“God above,” Crispin thrust his sleeve over his mouth and nose at the reek. “It stinks like a trench.”

Gathercole rammed a filthy carving fork into the gap between the planks and levered, almost falling over when it lifted far more quickly than he had anticipated. The wood was damp, the nails were bent and had obviously already been pulled once before – recently.

“Fuck,” Crispin barked and darted to the already full sink, retching and vomiting into what little space remained.

Gathercole nodded, staring into space beneath the floor and nodded, very deliberately. “Yes, quite.” He drew his handkerchief from his top pocket and, folding it over itself, tied it in the manner of a bandit, its lavender scent guarding him some against the stench.

Hodgson – for his part – cowered in the corner of the dank kitchen, whimpering like a cornered fox.

Beneath the floor, there was the bloated, putrefying corpse of a woman. At least that was what Gathercole assumed, from the clothing and jewellery that was there arrayed. An attempt had been made to hide the very presence of a woman about the house. Every portrait, every piece of womanly attire, had also been stuffed beneath the floor. Perfume bottles had been emptied and deposited with the corpse in a doomed attempt to mask the stink.

“I should have known,” Gathercole muttered to himself as he leaned over the hole in the floor and investigated with his silver pen, poking at the liquefying flesh of the body. “A man of your age, your former station, it would beggar belief that you were a bachelor. The ring, of course, the size of the apartments, the feminine anger of the spectre that pursues you.”

“Have a care, she was a woman, a person. She deserves respect,” Crispin wiped at his mouth but could barely stand from his shock and horror. The same man who stood firm against the fury of the spirit brought low by a rotting corpse.

“The best respect that I know to show her is bringing this bounder to justice. An act that will also discharge our duty to the bounder in question by providing the spirit what it wants.” Gathercole stood up and edged around the hole, moving to where Hodgson was cowering.

With precise, cold anger, Gathercole struck him once, hard, across the face.

“How could you! A woman man! Your wife, presumably!” He gave the man another strike, sending him sprawling and blubbering across the floor.

“Doris, her name was Doris!” Hodgson babbled. “My wife! My God, I didn’t mean to. Married seven years and every day, from the first, complaint after complaint, pricking holes in my every triumph, crowing my every failure! I snapped once. I could not take another harsh word, and I snapped! The paperweight, my God, her head broke like an eggshell and…”

He was cut off, Gathercole had made a fist of his hand and applied it with liberal strength to the man’s mouth, sending him sprawling afresh.

“I will hear no excuse or justification from you, coward! What is a harsh word to you? Nothing! Gnat bites! Gallons of blood have been spilt for flag and country, against men just as devoted to ending their opponent, and you slaughter a helpless woman with a sharp tongue? You disgust me, sir. Where the devil is my pistol?” He cast about, but fortunately for Hodgson, the iron still lay on the floor in the bedroom.

Crispin laid hands upon Gathercole and wrestled him away, wrenching open the door, loaned strength by concern for his friend, and all but dragged him out by the ear into the road. “Pull yourself together, man!”

“He’s a damned murderer Crispin!” Gathercole hissed and spat the words, pacing back and forth in rapid agitation. “He deserves whatever fate that poor woman’s spectre has in mind for him!”

“No doubt,” Crispin offered, quietly. “But let him face the justice of man before he faces the justice of God, by God. You are no judge William, no jury, and certainly no executioner.”

Gathercole stopped short then, and for the briefest of moments that cold anger and fierce intellect gave way to the heart. “You’re right Crispin, you’re always right on these matters.”

“Should I get that in writing William?” Crispin smiled and shook his head slightly, then laying his hands upon Gathercole’s shoulders, placed a soft and lingering kiss against his lips.

Gathercole drew back at that. “Crispin, someone might see us, by God.”

Crispin smiled and gave a slight, cavalier laugh. “Ah, let them. Though perhaps you are right. We are a dishevelled pair after a night with ghosts and a morning with corpses.”

“There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked. We will get no rest yet if we do wish to save this murderer’s skin.”

“You know it is the right thing,” Crispin affirmed quietly, drawing his hands back from Gathercole’s shoulders.

“That it is,” Gathercole’s face was contorted in fierce concentration. “We shall have to take the motor-car, visit H. Curry’s and a garage. We need replacement radio parts, and batteries – so we can be independent of the house’s power.”

“I’ll fetch the car,” Crispin turned away and touched his own lips with his fingers. Things were back upon their proper course.

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