By Danny Hardwick
The ‘WaveShack’ on Hollow Stone Road had been around for as long as anyone could remember. No living memory could recall when it first became a radio studio or what it was before. Pictures show that - At least on the outside - it hadn’t changed much in the years since either.
No. Other than a lick of paint and the odd renovation, it remained a familiar and often comforting, permanent shape of the low-lying Hollow Stone Road landscape. Other businesses had opened, thrived and fallen but the ‘Waveshack’ remained, timeless in its necessity and almost ‘stubborn’ next to the more modern buildings that it had continually ‘outlived’. The owner was affectionately known as, ‘Old Bill’. Though nobody could guess just HOW old. He was always an instantly recognisable figure in the surrounding area.
Well… At least his voice was.
He ran the studio himself and thus was the stalwart presenter of the Oranshire Waveshack Radio Channel or the OWRC. These days, though people could be forgiven for neglecting their radios, he was still just as well known. He lived where he worked, above the shop in a small, one-room apartment. His routine was like clockwork between the sun rising and setting each & every day. Starting from the minute he began his broadcast at 7am on the dot, every morning…Right down to the time he arrived in the Red Road Tavern for a solitary & singular pint of ale, reading the newspaper before retiring for the evening.
If someone knew Bill’s last name, it had long since been ‘retired’ from use in idle chat.
He didn’t have close friends nor any family as far as anyone was aware – though he was once married. Locals would often exchange pleasantries with him but he was rarely seen to be holding a conversation for very long. Bill made brief appearances at various birthdays, weddings and funerals but it was reasonable to assume, most of these events were attended by the majority of the local community anyway, such was the deficit of its social calendar. He employed only one person to assist him and each of them had left after a few years. Nobody had ever been fired from their position helping to run the record shop at the front of the studio, they all just ‘moved on’ in their own time.
Bill would simply hire someone else shortly after and continue on as normal. He didn’t need to advertise this job opportunity, as by lunchtime, it was common knowledge. Sometimes, that very same evening, one of the regulars at the Red Road Tavern would approach Bill at his table to suggest their son, daughter or grandchild for the position.
They would gush that ‘So & So’ was;
"Very Interested in Media and what not."
"Was looking for work close to home." Or quite simply,
"Needed to get out, off their arse and bring some money in."
Sure enough, the day after, there would be either a letter through his door or a call and
the following morning, a young man or woman would be nervously stood outside the ‘Waveshack’, waiting to start their new job.
By all accounts, it wasn’t a difficult one.
Despite Bill running the studio almost independently, there was still plenty to do, even if the shop had very few customers throughout the day. It mainly consisted of running errands about the town, taking deliveries of records, sorting stock and the general upkeep of the shop. It was true, the days could merge into one another but it was easy work for fair pay. Most never had a bad word to say about it, but neither did they take away a plethora of memories or nostalgic anecdotes from their employment. As time went on and people discovered other means of accessing their news and entertainment, the number of listeners to the OWRC waned.
Then came the Torvare War.
‘Old Bill’s’ radio broadcast suddenly became compulsive listening. It was certainly the first place that people turned to when looking for a more open account of events than the Government was providing. Bill kept things pretty neutral at the beginning, reporting dutifully as the war raged on. He started out unbiased, quoting both the local and regional news outlets and the ‘Official’ Government announcements, before he began to offer his own opinion on proceedings.
The war finished almost as suddenly as it had begun but its impact on the smaller communities within Cantadenia could not be overstated. Even in homes where nobody had been killed in the fighting, the different political allegiances tore families apart.
Fuelled by the continuing tension as the divided nation was re shaped, the ‘Waveshack’ became the unofficial Anti-UDA station.
It wasn’t long before the wrong people came knocking. And hard.
‘Old Bill’ was never seen again. Some say he was taken away as ‘collateral compensation’ by the Anti-UDA Freedom fighters. Others concluded he was executed by the UDA themselves, far enough away for his body never to be stumbled upon. The ‘Waveshack’ was quickly ransacked and thus boarded up soon afterwards. However, in the months leading up to 'The Draft’, the UDA received intel that it was being used to broadcast Pro-Feathers propaganda and sure enough, one early morning, an explosion rocked the street awake as a bomb went off in the shop.
No living memory could recall when it first became a radio studio or what it was before.
It wasn’t sufficient to destroy the building, but enough to kill several senior ‘Feathers’ who had - the UDA had learnt - been using it as a base of operations. It was inexplicable then, how Bill’s broadcasts suddenly began to filter through on various frequencies, fizzing into life on radios & TVs, even if they were turned off or in some cases… unplugged. The broadcasts weren’t live, the studio’s equipment had long since been removed and the torched and damaged building wouldn’t have been able to power them, even IF they were still present and in working order. But neither were they old recordings, Bill very rarely did them, if any still existed. Which was the strangest thing of all, as some of them were very specific. Tailored almost, to whomever was listening.
There was and still is, little that was known about the ‘ghosts in the machine’. Inanimate objects and appliances that have ‘soul’. But even then, it seemed impossible that so many of them could ‘come to life’ with the voice of a man, who many believed to be dead. That’s when the questions began to be asked. First quietly, among trusted ears…Then more openly. It was if nobody really believed the stories, but it was exciting to add fuel to the thoughts. Thoughts that soon became more than just ‘over-the-garden fence’ gossip and ‘wet-lipped’ bar talk. Thoughts that solidified into facts – However unbelievable they may be. All it took, was to ask the right people. With no relatives to question, the closest people to Bill that remained were the assistants he’d hired over the years. One by one, they were tracked down and contacted. Surprisingly, several refused to talk point-blank, which further added credit to the claims. Others had moved far away and wanted little to do with strange goings on in the area they used to live in. A few had passed away in the war and the troubles afterwards but (as it turned out) the oldest was still alive. James Buckle was 60 years old. He had moved out of the area to Wisseldon shortly after leaving the ‘Waveshack’, taking his family with him.
Mr Buckle hadn’t been back to Hollow Stone Road in over 40 years and was understandably shocked to hear ‘Old Bill’ had only recently disappeared. What he said in response to this surprising news, made the hairs on everyone’s necks stand tall.
"I thought he’d be long gone, he was at least 60 himself when I was there…It can’t surely be the same guy?"
A meeting was instantly set up at the Red Road Tavern with James Buckle and any other former employees of the ‘WaveShack’ – Those that were willing to talk. The pub was soon just as crowded as it had been in its hay-day. It was all organised by half-a-dozen, small council members and they sat next to their guests in a close circle, eager to ask their questions on behalf of the community. However, that said community was already well represented it seemed, with at least one person present from each & every household on the street. All were keen to know first-hand, just exactly what was going on. Aside from Mr Buckle, there were only 2 other former assistants to ‘Old Bill’. One man and one woman. The man was in his forties and had travelled from neighbouring Heathenthorpe. A former UDA officer, he was nervously clutching a glass of Rootland in his one remaining hand. The woman was still in her twenties and must have been one of the last to work at the ‘Waveshack’ before it was shut down. She was also, it was thought, to be the last person to see ‘Old Bill’ alive, her hallowed expression revealing perhaps, those memories had not lived with her well in the years since.
It was quickly surmised that nobody knew much about the old man, not even the three who had been in such close working proximity to him on a daily basis. He wasn’t much for small talk and as worldly as he may have seemed, barely talked about his past. ‘Old Bill’ had been married but she had long since passed away. Mr Buckle recalled how Bill often spoken about her as if she as very much alive, upstairs in their little flat, preparing supper for when they closed in the evening.
"But he was always a little… absent. Not absent-minded, though he often forgot things I asked him moments afterward."
The landlord, who had served Bill at the same time, every day for as long as he could remember agreed.
"Yes, I’d often find him lost in his thoughts, as if he wasn’t all there…But he knew perfectly well where he was."
Everyone said more or less the same about him, until Captain Eddie Tarkwell found the courage to tell his story. One part in particular, brought a noticeable chill to the room. The former UDA officer started out as a promising broadcaster himself, before being reduced to the cowering weed of a man that now sat hunched and sullen, drawing hard stares from many who could be justified in loathing the man.
You see, Captain Tarkwell had been responsible for more than his fair share of violent resolutions around Oranshire, leading up to and during the Draft… he was hoping his accepted presence at the meeting was an opportunity to redeem himself in some small way. As a young man, Eddie was obsessed with music but unfortunately, his interest far outweighed his talent. Soon after he finished school, the opportunity arose to work at the ‘Waveshack’ and he jumped at the chance. Eddie was eager to show ‘Old Bill’ how committed he was and often went above and beyond to prove it. It wasn’t until he approached the subject of perhaps going on air himself, that the usually placid Bill snapped.
"No, no… that won’t be necessary."
And that was that. The ever ambitious, young man was not put off for long and inevitably, he soon left to join a rival radio station in Heathenthorpe. This - according to Tarkwell - somewhat irked ‘Old Bill’, who began to regularly call out his former employee live on air (Though nobody else could remember this ever happening). When he went to confront the old man, something happened that put a sharp halt to Eddie’s Broadcasting career.
"I went straight through the shop, right into the studio where he was – luckily – in the middle of playing a record… I told him to ‘cut it out’… that there was ‘no need to be so petty."
Tarkwell paused for a second, and sipped some of the Rootland.
"He was furious… he didn’t say a lot I can repeat in good taste, but… I’d never seen him like that. I began to leave… The thing is, when I looked back to have the final word as it were… he was gone."
He took another, deeper swig of his Whiskey and steeled himself.
"He was right there one minute, still with his headphones round his neck… The next, they were hanging off the back of his chair… and the music had stopped… dead. That’s not the worst of it either. When I got back to my studio in Heathenthorpe, the whole set up was fried, unfixable. It was off when I left, nobody had been in that day… But I knew, I knew somehow, it was him."
It transpired that nearly everyone in the room had heard ‘Old Bill’ in the years since his disappearance. Each person had their own similar story. Local residents had been left sleepless after their radios had burst to life, with the old man talking about events that occurred years ago or quite impossibly, about those happening that very moment and in the coming days. Almost always relating - however insignificantly - to them. The discussion went on for several hours and the drink began to flow ever steadily as more was revealed. Yet the young woman, had not spoken much at all. She had sat and listened, answering enquiries after a short pause, with a quiet reply. Holding a glass of untouched wine in her pale hands, when it was her turn to speak about her experience, she was somehow vague and yet to the point.
Thoughts that solidified into facts – however unbelievable they may be.
She hadn’t been at the ‘WaveShack’ for long and could not recall any conversations they’d had of any discernible interest. The more she talked the quieter she became, people having to lean closer towards her to hear. But the more she retreated within herself, the more interesting she became. The listening crowd started to notice things they had previously overlooked. She was dressed fairly oddly for the occasion and (they realised) the season. The dress she wore was certainly more suited to a summer’s afternoon than late autumn. A light, pale yellow material, embroidered in lace with light red roses. It did nothing for her complexion, which grew paler still. And though her face was partially hidden by long, mousey brown hair… Her plain but pretty features seemed to fade into her skin.
"Mrs Greeves?" someone asked.
It had been several moments since her last words had drifted off into breath, as if she was oblivious to everyone waiting for her to finish her sentence. Eventually, she looked up and around at the faces that surrounded her, each asking themselves the same thing.
"Why don’t I recognise her?"
And then, as if answering their own question, they each came to the same conclusion.
Mrs Greeves? Her husband wasn’t with her – Nor any other family member - So she must surely live locally… close enough to have travelled alone, yet nobody present had seen her before. If she had been the last person to work for Bill, someone there must surely know her? But as all eyes made contact - both with hers and each other - it was plainly obvious. There was no recognition. Who had introduced her then? And by extension, who had invited her? An uncomfortable silence had descended upon the gathering, people at the back fidgeted to get a better look as the whispers and murmurs began. Mrs Greeves looked down at her glass again, as if her attention was more powerfully drawn to the crimson liquid inside. Her head bowed, nobody noticed the question now etched on her brow, as she finally raised the glass to her lips and took a sip. Closing her eyes, she seemed to lose herself in the moment, the start of a smile emerging until she suddenly looked down into her lap and her sullen expression returned. A brave voice spoke up from somewhere near the bar, asking what everyone now had on their minds and lips.
"Who are you?"
It seemed a strange question, given how long she’d been there. Nevertheless, Mrs Greeves raised her head once more, appearing frailer than ever. As she gazed wistfully off towards the corner of the room, a single tear dropped into her lap. The temperature in the room dropped as the dull lights protruding from the walls dimmed low, the uncomfortable silence finally broken by – of all things – a newspaper being noisily unfolded. The crowd’s unease spilled to their mouths, with whispers quickly turning to shouts and exclamations.
"What’s going on?"
"Who’s turning the lights down!?"
"What did she say!?"
"Has someone opened the door…It’s freezing!"
"Who’s she looking at?"
Amongst these outbursts, were the sound of scuffling shoes and chair legs as several of the congregation got to their feet, the unmistakable sound of a wine glass smashing on the ground and a radio screeched into life.
"It is with great pleasure I announce that today is my first as a married man – I want to
give great thanks to Reverend John for his wonderful service and to all those that attended. And of course, to my beautiful new wife, Mrs Kallis Greeves…"
Silence fell quickly upon the room as they stopped to tune into the words. Once the broadcast had fizzled out the lights came up… illumination tenfold in the eyes of everyone still present. Fear gave way to panic as they realised several things at once.
The lights continued to get brighter, several of them shattered as their fuses blew, the energy in the room almost as palpable. Candles were quickly lit and passed around, their glare reflected in the whites of eyes. Mr Buckle, who had been sitting next to Kallis Greeves, stared horrified at her empty chair. Most of her wine was on the floor, soaking into the carpet amongst the broken pieces of glass. But there was a small pool of the liquid resting in the middle of the wooden seat, it was almost as if the wine had passed straight through her.