Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The old hag at the castle gate.

If I had seen her anywhere other than at the door leading into a 16th Century castle, would she have looked quite as strange? Was it the back drop of crenellated battlements that gave her a ghost like quality or would she have unnerved me anyway?

Her hair was long and limp, hanging about her face like a nicotine stained net-curtain. It was so greasy I believed I could smell it, although I was several meters away.

Her hands were gnarled and corrugated with veins. They shook as she lit her cigarette. Her nails were  curled and grey like the fossils known as Devils Toenail.  They had not been cut or filed in many years. She was a female Fu Manchu.

She was sitting on the step, this old woman, her head bowed low to concentrate on setting fag to flame. The day was bright and clear and the spring sun warmed my back and yet she still looked icy cold.

I could not slip by and reach the gate unnoticed and so I said "Hello."

She raised her head and her eyes met mine. They were deep set, and dark as a the corner of a grave. She stared at me, not speaking, and I felt that she could read my mind.

Her back was bowed by age, her skeleton ruined by the sucking in of smoke. Her shoulders were hunched high and round and her head seemed to waver on the end of her neck, like a hungry vulcher seeking carrion.

But it was a face that gave me coldest chills. I could not believe that skin of any age could bear so many lines. Every inch in was marked, like inky letters of an unknown language scratched onto ancient parchment. This was no development of character but a sign of advanced and severe decay.

I toured the tower, seeing her out of the corner of my eye at every turn in stairs and behind each heavy  door.

When I emerged into the light of a dazzling afternoon, the old woman had gone.

(Inspired by a woman I saw at Bolsover Castle, Bolsover Derbyshire, England March 24th 2011


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