What Pegman Saw – Scratches in Wax

“What Pegman saw” is a weekly challenge based on Google Streetview. Using the location provided, you must write a piece of flash fiction of no more than 150 words. You can read the rules here. You can find today’s location on this page,  from where you can also get the Inlinkz code. This week’s prompt is Bran Castle, Romania.

WPS - Scratches in Wax 181027

Scratches in Wax

The whole village watched as old man Razvan sang into Bela’s apparatus, where a metal stylus ploughed a furrow into a wax cylinder. Razvan’s beautiful granddaughter, Mariutza, fixed her amber eyes on Bela as he monitored the cylinder intently, blowing away tiny wax flakes.

When the song ended, Bela adjusted his equipment. He smiled at Mariuza.

“Now listen,” he said, and wound the handle of the recording equipment. Razvan jumped to hear his own voice singing to him. Mariuza’s eyes sparkled with delight.

Toma scowled. Mariuza was his betrothed.

“Witchcraft,” he murmured, and then out loud, “Witchcraft!”

Bela drew out a newspaper.

“See,” he said, “my machine is advertised here. It’s not sorcery.”

The village elder scanned the sheet and nodded.

“It’s true,” he pronounced.

Bela breathed a sigh of relief. He absolutely must collect the traditional music of Romania before it was swallowed up by the twentieth century.


I’ve ventured into historical fiction this week. While there’s more fiction than history, the truth at the core of the story is that Bela Bartok (one of the greatest composers of the 20th century) was a passionate collector of folk music. He travelled extensively in Hungary and Romania in the early 20th century with a wax cylinder sound recorder. Here is a link to one of the recordings he collected.

Bartok recording

15 thoughts on “What Pegman Saw – Scratches in Wax

  1. Well, of course my mind was wandering towards Dracula and when you mentioned Bela, I assumed Lugosi! I love those Bartok recordings scratched into wax – they’re like ghosts whistling in your ears. Enjoyed your wander into historical fiction too – a lovely image, of those rural people hearing a recording for the first time. It must have been extraordinary for them. Great story, Penny

    Liked by 2 people

  2. How interesting! Though I have heard of the composer, I was not aware of his field work with his recording device.

    I love how you interjected the jealousy of the young woman’s boyfriend, and at the same time alluded to the superstitions such village dwellers might have.

    Nice work!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Andi
      Thank you for reading and for your thoughtful and insightful comments. I’m delighted that you liked the jealousy and superstition; thank you so much for saying so, because feedback of that sort encourages me to keep trying to make my stories as many-layered as I can.
      With very best wishes

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Excellent historical fiction, Penny. Though yours was not a Halloween story, I found it haunting nonetheless, especially when I listened to the music.

    PS Conjuring the recording device was some heavy lifting for a writer. You pulled it off beautifully.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Dear Karen
      Thank you for reading and for your encouraging comments. I was particularly pleased that you liked my description of the recording device. As with so much of writing, it’s identifying the crucial details that give the image life. In this case I think it is the tiny wax flakes that give the scene its verisimilitude.
      I agree with you about the haunting nature of the music. Bela Bartok arranged the first piece on the recording for various instruments, including piano. My piano teacher introduced me to Bartok when I was twelve, and I very soon found myself learning this piece!
      With very best wishes

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m so grateful to people who used early recording devices to capture audio and photos of “everyday” things like folk music and traditions, not just “important” things like rulers and famous people. And yes, I imagine that such technology would seem bizarre and suspicious to people who’d never seen anything like it!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Dear Joy
    Thank you for reading and for your interesting comments. I agree with you; recordings of everyday things are of far more lasting interest than the affairs of rulers and famous people.
    With very best wishes


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