Magpie Tales 224 – The Custom of the sea

Always wanted to read Narrative…Gordon Pym of Nantucket, not just because I’m a big EA Poe fan, but also due to the fact that it seems to be a very intense novel, produced at a time when so much of the English language was being pushed to it’s limits…and it still is! This piece is a reflection of a man who has lost his way in a world of spiritual certainty…


He could never look himself in the eye again.

Immaculate, unlike his soul, Art maintained more facade than candour and prayed daily to the God that had left him for strength, sustenance – spiritual sustenance, that is; nothing else – and forgiveness. Of the other Trinity, he held little regard now, bereft as he was of their cloying sanctities and meaningless platitudes – not through choice, however; circumstance alone.

He sighed.

The sound was ghostly within the room, within the stillness, its sibilant vibration seemingly at odds with the Damascus of light that streamed from the window, and the echoes of it’s utterance lingered eerily at the corners of his hearing, mingling with the other sounds that crowded there for his attention. He hated them, loathing their incessant tinnitus whine within his skull, and he wished that the discipline that had failed him when drawing lots could have been reinstated inside of his soul, such as it was, so that he could grasp with both hands that sweet relief from the torments that haunted his every movement.

Art breathed in and held his breath, holding the life in his lungs for as long as he possibly could before any tinge of red blossomed on his cheeks. When it did arrive – inevitably – he fought hard to keep the colours from deepening within him, forcing his sparkling vision to clear and the complexion of his face to remain unsullied and calm, despite the burning pain within his lungs and the hammering frenzy of his heart.

With ultimate control, breath was inhaled and barely a murmur escaped his lips. Art repeated this three more times, as was his daily custom, and each time he forced his controlled breathing to continue further than the last until, dizzy headed and starburst eyed, he would concentrate on the light from the window and by sheer force of mental exuberance, will himself back into a calmer state, thoughts of the sigh gone. Satisfied he could hold his breath for longer once more, Art turned his attention elsewhere.

The outside world bustled away before him, framed in the window, pirouetting itself in vulgar displays of colour, of sound and of life. The beauties with their parasols, gaily making their way along the roads, beau’s in hand and rose scent behind them, burned his eyes with their honesty and shamed him with his own dishonest thoughts. The street sellers cries, raucous and joyous with fiscal promise made him dewy-eyed at the memories of his voyage, and the devastating price he paid for the return ticket home.

Unbidden, memory crashed upon him, and he found the gay ladies becoming gray horses, champing at an ocean bit, swamping the life raft he was in, sweeping all three companions into the frozen ocean, away into the depths…The darkness. The hunger. The crew. The men. The drawing of the lots, of the blade, of the throat…cooking…oh God, the cooking!

Art turned away from the window and steadied a shaky hand upon the frame, his one eye catching sight of the missing fingers there that were a reminder of the choices that had been made in desperations name, and he cursed once more the God that had left him and had forced him to wander the world as a half eaten outcast. His stomach suddenly retched at the taste that sprang into his mouth and he cursed once more the saliva that dripped from his lips in want of forbidden food once more.

Such was the custom of the sea…


NB If you are unsure as to what Custom of the Sea refers to, follow the link:


Friday Fictioneers 13th June 2014, Room with a last view…

Greetings! Below is my entry for this weeks Friday Fictioneers, courtesy of the ever amazing Go there. be nice!


PHOTO PROMPT Copyright-Ted Strutz

So many rooms.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Drip.

Houses.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Drip.

Alleys and gardens.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Dripdrip.

So beautiful, all that open-space that changes and then gets built on.                                                                                                                                                         Dripdripdrip.

You’d like that. You always did, telling me every day how we needed to get out before they developed the hell out of our area. Talk talk, tell TELL!!


Tongues are useful like that though, don’t you think? For talking with. Hey, amazing how pink they are too when you hold them up to the light? Seriously, look at that colour.


It’s almost as vivid as that other pink thing I’ve got hooked up over there…

Audiophile III

Almost immediately, the sound isolation was total. The padding cupped his ears, gently sealing themselves around his hairline and ears, leaving no opportunity for stray noise to enter and ruin the music.

It was an eerie, discomforting feeling at first: there was a detached sensation to all his movements, as if he was not physically present and was merely watching his hands and body performing. The background noises of the room had faded away into almost nothing, as if they belonged elsewhere. A few moments later, it felt natural, though a little strange if he dwelt on it too much.

He slipped the vinyl onto the turntable, lowering the needle slowly with pinpoint precision. This was vital: the record would only come alive with proper respect and care, and any bump or twitch on his part would destroy the illusion of total immersion. The ritual preparations he went through every time he brought out vinyl amused Neil no end, but there was no denying that the results of his almost obsessive cleaning paid dividends when the music came through, and – all jokes aside –  the pair of them lost many an evening, pleasantly drunk and gloriously lost in sound due to his ritualistic preparation.

Tonight was to be no exception.

The lager was ready, the albums were set up and, already, the staccato tones of Barrett’s guitar punched clearly into Daniels head. The sound was so clear, so crisp! The vocals, buried gently in the back of the mix, reverberated inside of his skull and he could hear the breaths taken between each line. Every breath! It was as if he was standing in the recording studio. Incredible!

Taking another sip Daniel let his mind drift briefly from the music back into the shop, smiling to himself as he remembered how clever he was to spot the assistants hint that this pair of ‘phones existed. ‘Acceptable‘ – cheeky bugger. Like ‘acceptable’ music should ever be played in his flat? No bloody way. The best or nothing less. Simple as that. Happiness was warm vinyl, forget the gun. He smiled and leaned back into the chair.

The second track floated in, drifting across the back of his skull. He felt the gentle pulse of the guitar increase in presence, not volume as he expected, but actual physical presence inside his head. The chords, descending chromatically, cycled around one another, the delay between each engulfing his thoughts and swamping them into a literal wall of sound. It wasn’t that it felt as if his body vibrated with the sound, more that it became increasingly sympathetic to it, more open.

Daniel shook the nearly empty can, drained it, and opened a second, feeling a little light headed, slightly disconnected. Should have had more to eat you idiot! Day old pizza reheat and stale garlic bread do not a meal make. Ah well, the lager’s got calories in it, so that’ll have to do. He took a swig and let the last of the album wash over him as the lager worked it’s golden magic inside of him.

He paused, letting the final echoes of melody and lyric vanish into silence. 

Wow. He was almost breathless.

Never before had the lyrics hit home so hard, so intensely! It was as if he was really, truly feeling Barrets’ vocals as his own pain.  ‘Achin’ head, gold is lead’ was so appropriate: the quality of sound reproduction was…well, off the scale, and the feeling it produced inside… Daniel whistled in appreciation, impressed.

He slid out a single this time, wanting to give himself a break from the psychedelic rock of the last track.  A gentle voice was needed this time. How would the headphones cope with a close, breathy vocal? He wiped the vinyl down, tenderly removing every last trace of static, before slipping the needle on the record.

Closing his eyes, he allowed the alcohol and the music to take him away. The drums began, each beat crystal clear, punctuating the keyboards warm textures. ‘We were working secretly, for the military…

Goosebumps exploded along his arms, the closeness of the voice sending shivers along his nerves. My God! How chilling does her voice sound? It…it.. Jesus, it hurts!

He glanced down to hands, realising that, for some reason, he was holding the can so tightly it had been crushed in his grasp, spilling luke warm liquid all over his lap. Swearing, he moved to grab a nearby T-shirt – thanks Neil! – when he stopped and felt his world begin to crumble.

In front of him, the headphones box was almost transparent, the dark green wood disappearing in and out of sight in time with the music, pulsing in a sickly, stomach churning way. He felt queasy and reached for the arm of the chair to steady himself, only to find that it was warm and sticky, covered in yet more lager. Bloody hell, what mess have I made? Neil’ll go ballistic, stupid aluminium cans…

The box continued to pulse, warm ripples of air spreading out, distorting Daniel’s vision. It was as if the box was heating up, warping the air like a heat haze, twisting the silver inlay in and around itself. The more he watched, the more the box seemed to be turning inside out; the rear of it becoming the front, the bottom sliding liquidly into the sides and the lid disappearing altogether into the air. The silver inlay writhed, serpentine in intensity, forming a myriad of strange shapes and symbols in the air that looked geometric in one glance, then Arabic in another, then mathematical, then musical…

Still the song continued inside his head, its chorus tearing goosebumps from his arms and flesh, the fear and pain in the words tearing into his head like knives, paring his brain from the bone. What the hell was going on?

Sickening with fear, he found his legs collapsing underneath him. The armchair caught him, supported his body, even as his mind threatened to leave it. 

He lifted his hand from the arm rest to pull the headphones from his head. Somehow, they were causing this. They were making him trip out, hallucinate. Bastard bloody sales assistant! I’ll give you acceptable, right up your arse mate!  He reached for them, part of his brain planning to create merry hell in the shop just as soon as he’d tidied up the mess and figured out what was going on.

Daniel stopped and stared at his hand, horror overwhelming annoyance.

The song seemed to be stuck, the same lyric repeating over and over: ‘…could kill someone…could kill someone…’ The voice was demonic now; cacophonous, rabid. The ferocity of the vocal slicing into his skull, tearing flesh strips from inside and peeling them, line by line, from his mind.

A sharp tear sprang into his eye as he felt something sane split inside his head: Where was his hand?


Ah, poor old Daniel! I wonder what might happen next to the poor chap. (Well, I don’t really wonder, as I know, but you get the idea!) It’s been a while since I’ve written in a horror style, so all concrit well recieved!)

Be seeing you!


Audiophile II

The assistant was halfway to the counter when the curiosity of ages got the better of Daniel and he found himself restraining the man with a gentle, but insistent, hand. “Uh, hold on a moment. Listen – heh!- that pair there, keep them back for me for a moment and tell me about that other pair?”

“Other pair?”

Daniel felt the purist inside him begin to boil over. ‘Other pair!’ Really? Did he want to play silly buggers? Why drop the carrot and not expect someone to nibble at it? The opportunity to have even better sound quality couldn’t be passed up! How many years had he spent chasing down speakers, cabling, tweeters, woofers…the list was almost endless! Copies of ‘What Hi-Fi’ were indexed neatly in his garage, and his front room was a shrine to separates and vinyl.

“Yes, the other pair. You said ‘acceptable’ a moment ago. ‘Acceptable’ sound.” Unconsciously, he felt his desire welling up and indignation gradually creeping in, blotting out common sense. If truth be told, common sense, Daniel and audio quality were not often friends found in the same company, and now was the proof of this.

There was a moments pause, and Daniel could see the assistants eyes flicker to the back of the shop for an instant. The air changed between them, the moment becoming more than an exchange of money, more intimate. The moment stretched infinitesimally, then:

A small cough broke the silence, eye contact confirmed it: there was another pair…

“You paid how bloody much for those headphones? Seriously? For that antique -”
“Classic, mate, classic cans. Fluid tweeters man, fluid! In headphones – unheard of!” The excitement in his voice continued to rise as he explained his purchase to Neil, his flatmate, “Old school fabric wiring as well – check the twisting on these beauties!”

Neil shook his head and took the headphones, surprising himself with the fact that he actually cared enough to investigate them. Friends, they had known each other since secondary school and if it hadn’t been for Daniel saving his neck a couple of times, Neil would have found himself sleeping on the pavement with ex-girlfriend bruising on his arm. Moving in together had been a good, cost effective measure at the back end of the eighties, and the pair of them managed to keep a bearable distance from one another whenever circumstance dictated it. Tonight was one of those moments.

He tugged on his jacket, turning the ‘classic antique’ around in his hands. There was no doubt about it, the craftsmanship was stunning. The headband was made of polished wood, curved and laminated into several layers, and in between each layer of wood was a minuscule thread of what seemed to be copper or bronze. The cans themselves were a deep black resin, pleasant to the touch, and the perfect shape for ears. Even the padding was impressive: seemed to be some sort of soft leather that warmed up with a touch and became malleable. They even came with an engraved carry-case. Classy pair of ‘phones.

“Well, there’s no knocking the build quality on these I’ll give you that. But, seriously mate, that’s two months wages gone on just a set of ‘phones….”
“Not just ‘phones, ultimate phones mate, Ultimate! I’m hitting vinyl tonight and then CD to finish it off. I’m all set with a 12 pack. No messing around – aural pleasure will be mine, Sir!” The pair of them collapsed into laughter, re-living countless evening’s with too much alcohol and not enough luck with the ladies.

By the time they had calmed down, Neil’s Taxi had turned up and was busy honking it’s horn in the street. A quick high-five, a grab of house-keys, and Neil was bounding down the stairs, leaving Daniel alone with his new purchase.

He pulled the lager out of the fridge and settled himself down next to the amp and turntable, cracking the can and having a quick sip before looking at the headphones and carry care once more.

He placed the carry-case in front of him, centring it in front of his knees, his hands resting on the carved wooden top. The wood was stained a dark green, almost black colour, and the silver inlay stood out proudly, the criss-crossed lines twisting and snaking around the case.
Daniel felt good; he had a great evening planned. A decent pair of headphones, classic Floyd albums on the turntable to start with, and enough lager to let the music take over.

He placed the headphones on his head, lowered the needle to the vinyl and relaxed…


Ever the avid connoisseur of sound, Daniel sighed once more and rubbed the bridge of his nose wearily, disappointed once again at the quality of tone that was being vomited into his ears. Vomited was too good a word to describe the vivisection of his music test collection by this appalling pair of headphones, and he considered making his opinion very clear to the shop assistant.

Before asking to see yet another new pair, he concentrated once more on the sound he was hearing, closing his eyes to focus more clearly on the nuances of the piece and, more importantly, the subtleties that were being left out. He knew the song well, the intricate lines crossing back and forward between one another, the interplay of bass and mid range – Waters was a genius at the mix, and his third album was no exception.The opening track, the ballad, was perfect; not just for mood but also the testing, and it sounded fine enough but there was no warmth inside the mid-range.

“Sorry mate, too sterile. Not enough give inside the ears for my liking. What’s the response range on these? Nudging 25k?” He removed the phones, placing them back into the assistant’s hands, “I’m looking for something that will get right inside my head, you know? Really make me feel the music.”

The assistant nodded and carefully coiled the cable away, slowly removing any kinks or twists that might have developed through careless handling. Removing a further pair from the back shelf, he passed them across to his very specific customer and explained, “This pair will take you down to about an 18 and up to 27k, but I’m not sure they’ll cut it for you. Seems to me that you are after a very wide frequency range and that, as you can imagine, starts to head into bigger numbers. These should work well though, make you feel the music.”

His voice trailed off just enough to drop the hint that there was another pair of headphones available, but it was going to cost a lot more than the £200 Daniel had budgeted for,

Daniel took the proffered pair, and plugged then into the CD unit, checking that the volume was turned down before pressing play.

The headphones sat comfortably on his ears, not pressing into the cartilage too heavily and felt a good weight on his head. The opening of ‘Killer Queen’ began, and he again focused his mind inward to see the music unfold in him. The vocals were warm and clear, contrasting nicely against the bass line and solid mid-punch of May’s guitars. In fact, these seemed to be out-performing the last pair quite nicely. Daniel skipped the disc forward, deliberately choosing a lighter acoustic number to push the high end of the cans. He was not disappointed and found himself smiling as the harmonic overtones began to edge over the higher notes of the guitar. The third track in saw him convinced that this was the pair to go for.

The assistant noticed the change in his customer and nodded as well, motioning to Daniel to remove his headphones, “I’m glad you’ve found these acceptable….”
“Acceptable? That pair are wonderful! The spread between my ears is perfectly balanced and I’m hearing the subtleties of note that I would normally only get on my SBL’s. Not sure there’s going to be much more that can touch this if I’m honest with you.” He reached into a back pocket and pulled out his wallet, pleasantly thick with cash. The assistant nodded once more, and Daniel felt his curiosity being tickled. What if there was a better pair, more nuanced than these?

Hitting the sack now! I guess you might be able to see where this is going…Be seeing you!


Infernal buzzing…

The infernal buzzing came to him nightly, always just before midnight with its witching hour tendencies and half-whispered suggestions of nightmare, and always just as he was on the cusp of sleep, half-awake, half-dreaming, but always terrified and always jangled in his nerves and manner of speech. Incoherent, terrified out of his wits, he tried to stammer out his fright into the night air but always, always, the only sound he produced was a naked, soul-tearing scream.

It invaded his ears at first, whispering, caressing his mind in a dull drone that drifted out of the night and settled across his synapses so gently, with such subtlety that he scarcely registered its arrival in his consciousness. Gradually, oh so gradually the hellish buzzing increased in volume and intensity until it became a cacophony of a thousand thousand wasps and flies and hornets all swarming inside his skull, ever increasing, never ceasing, never dulling in his mind, only twisting his senses around until, inexorably, he would crawl out of bed, eyes wide with fear and red raw with desperation to claw at the window – always the window! – and scream into the cold night air till his lungs felt fit to burst and the agony of sound would cease.

Exhausted, traumatised, tear stained and ears ringing in echo of the hellish noise, he would settle back into bed in sheet clutching desperation to fall asleep, tears trickling down the side of his face, leaving tracks of his agony etched across his face.

This was Mastersons lot; his fate after visiting that accursed castle that dwelt at the top of a haunted wood in the midst of the deepest, most vicious part of Eretreia. And more, his fate was inexorably entwined with that of the castles owner, Madame Isabella de la Renu and her horrid retinue of servants at that nightmarish All Hallows Ball last year…

I’ve found an extended version of this piece which I might try to develop for Mike Davis and the excellent