Crone Calls

Crone Calls

Pictonaut short story challenge for September 2013.

So, here’s what I do. First I prepare myself. Takes some time but you’ve got to take that time. Helps me get in the mood, y’know? You gotta enter the spirit of the thing. You can’t half-arse it. Otherwise, what’s the point, eh?

Normally I’ll take a bath. It’s rare I don’t. A really, really long bath, mind – a proper good soak. Does good to clear my head and get focused, ‘on game’ as it were. Helps me get into character. I make sure I prune up real good but even if the scaly wrinklyness doesn’t last it don’t matter. It’s all psychological, y’see? It’s all about feeling it.

I get out the bath and then it’s the cosmetic touches. A bit of extra makeup carefully applied and I give my eyes bags if I feel they need it. The eyes are crucial, see. It’s all about the eyes. I got these fantastical contact lenses – supernatural bright blue they are. Proper ghostly, vivid watery things. I give ’em an icy stare and it gives ’em the chills. No fail, never. There’s no ignoring them bright blue pretties. That’s what fixes ’em and gets ’em in my power. Oh, when that happens it’s precious…

Anyhow, a few more things to do with my body – the superficial stuff. No jewellery or anything – would ruin the illusion. All that’s off and I use make-up, as I say, to make myself look pasty, real pale. I do what I can to make them creases stand out. I’m a white raisin, like. I’ve got some nifty tricks for mottles and blotches but most of the time I can’t be doin’ with the extra hassle so I tend to leave off. I do worry about overkill sometimes but I keep comin’ back to the thought that as old as possible is ideal. I’ve got to be really, really old and they’ve got to think it so I make myself feel and look that old. I’ve tried peeing on my hands to make ’em look even more weathered but t’ain’t too pleasant. It’s good that winter’s comin’. Long walks in the wind and blasted cold will chap me up a bit and get me looking just perfect.

I keep my hair silvery white so that’s alright, just in case they see it, y’know? Most times they don’t ’cause of the cloak. I found it in a skip, funnily enough. True story. Remember the old monastery that used to be back down Hagsnatch way? The one they demolished? Aye, that one. Found it lying around there on top o’ pile of old junk. It’s the ideal thing and exactly what I needed. I cleaned it, of course, but I made sure it looks a bit shabby – shabby enough to seem authentic. Honestly, when I stick it on I look like summat crawled out the Middle Ages. Antique old boots as well though no one ever notices beneath that cloak. They’re too distracted by the eyes anyroad.

Looking it is one thing but you gotta act it as well. I move real slow. Think frail, feeble. Like I’m proper ancient, right? Seriously, sometimes I’ve got to play make-pretend with backstories a bit to get in that frame of mind. Imagine them feet have traversed the wilderness. Imagine these eyes have witnessed all them ‘orrors. Imagine that – get this – your knackered old hips and back have carried broods of devilspawn and squeezed ’em out on blasted heaths in the bleak midwinter. Honestly, I’m not joking. Act like you’ve actually performed weirdness like that and they buy it all the more. You’ve got to persuade ’em so first convince yourself.

Yes, I am that crone and, aye, I am older than old and I’ve done and seen such stuff that sensible folk dare not speak or conceive of it. It ain’t that hard really. I tell ya, it’s actually a whole lot of fun when you get into it.

So then I’m and about. I try and keep away from city centres, busy areas and all that. Too conspicuous. Keep it low-key. I don’t have a proper scheme or plan when it comes to targets. I make sure I move around and vary things up. I can’t do the same places over and over or the game’d be up. I see where takes my fancy – usually take a look at some maps – and then after noting down a few names from the phone book I make my way to wherever the whim has swept me. I don’t need any further research or owt – just the last name will do and that’s the golden key that opens it up them doors. Get their family name and you’ve got the connection. You’ve got the bait to hook ’em, as it were.

I always make sure I’ve got a lot of residences ready to hit – about a dozen will do – ’cause a wasted trip with only a few encounters ain’t worth it. Sometimes places I’ve picked out aren’t do-able for whatever reason so it’s good to have others to hand. I tend to stick to houses. Once I did a man at a village post office and gave a butcher the creeps summat rotten. Oh, and there was that time when I got a vicarage when a Mother’s Union meeting was underway. Ah, that was blimmin’ hilarious! An extraordinary case, though. Worked out a cracker but, heck, I can’t go being that bold all the time. Anyway, I got ’em good at the vicarage but, by the by, it’s best off with houses and that’s what I do mainly. Get ’em at the door, one-on-one and intimate. Just them and me. It’s dangerous and difficult trying to work a group of people. Hitting someone on their own doorstep really makes an impact.

What I do is hobble up and knock. Really laboured arm movements, ’cause these limbs are weary after all these centuries, right? Knockers are fine but never, never ring a doorbell. It doesn’t seem genuine and the believability factor is crucial. First moment they need to believe in you. If you don’t believe in you you’ve lost right from the off. See what I mean about truly, totally taking on the persona?

They’ll answer, eventually. Usually dismissive. Most folk don’t like people coming up to their door. No one does it these days anyway – just parcel delivery and the odd Jehovah’s Witnesses for most folk. But then there’s me and most people get a bit disturbed when they open their door to find a cracked old crone looking ’em in the eye.

Oh, looking ’em in the eye is what makes them keep that door open. You can shrug off an old biddy but them blue eyes ensnare ’em. I’m all decrepit, small and humble before their house but I keep eye contact. Remember who I am. I am that crone and I’ve got powerful magic in my old bones and a dark message to despatch. I’m not just gonna be shooed away. You don’t shoo a crone.

Whether they’re rude and abusive or whether they give me that time of day I remain the same – friendly and genial, like. They ask me what I want and I croak out quiet yet clear statements. I make everything sound profound and grave though coat it with a touch of warmth, the kind you’d expect from kindly folk in their extreme dotage. I use their surname. That’s the shocking gambit. Say I’m looking for the descendants of a made-up ancestor from the 17th century.

They’ve never heard of ’em. C’mon, does anyone actually know their family from the 17th century? I play on their doubt and ignorance and sympathise. Oh, my poor child, if only you knew. Heh, this is where it gets really fun. Oh, so beautifully wicked. Now I begin to regale ’em with the grim tales- in grave whispering tones and achy laboured movements, of course. Oh, if only you knew what your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather or grandmother did way back when! Oh, they were ever so terrible to my kindred peoples! I gauge how upset they’re getting and adjust accordingly. You’ve got to think on your feet and adapt to exploit the situation as it unfurls.

I’ve got a few stock stories – most of ’em end up in the burning of my own relatives. If I call on a mother on maternity leave or a young family I always mention the murder of children. If I get an air of superstition, faith and they seem to be especially gullible I’ll murmur about curses. I want to give ’em the willies and most of the time I can manage that. If not, I leave ’em with guilt – guilt for what their cruel forebears did ages and ages ago. Oh, they were so intolerant and puritanical in the past! Oh, the persecution! Oh, the torture and torment and tragedy! Honestly, I’ve had people get down before me and apologise for the wrongs done by people that never existed. I can fake tears as well – it’s a handy trick to have up my sleeve and all.

Even if I don’t get guilt – ’cause some folk are ever so arrogant – I get ’em doubting, even if it’s only for a instance. The worst thing you can do for someone is make ’em feel bad about their blood. Here’s an old lady – older than the oldest person they know – in front of their house and she knows their name and she’s got bad stuff to say about the ancestors they weren’t aware of. These people they’ve descended from did the most inhumane things imaginable – and I don’t tone it down, either. I get proper gory and graphic. Hellfire and damnation – proper archaic barbarism and hints of black magic if it looks like it’ll scare ’em. Oh, the witch hunts they led! The murders and tortures they performed! The fear and pain they forced on the poor and innocent! “Is this what I’ve come from?” they ask themselves. “Is this history written into my blood and deep down inside my DNA?”

If I can upset and unnerve ’em like that for just a moment then it’s worth it. Most efforts I’m successful and get ’em in my confidence. There’s only one or two per trip that are total failures on all fronts but no matter. All the hits make it worth it – especially the jackpots where they buy into all of it and have something of a breakdown on their own doorstep.

It’s a laugh. Keeps me active, gives me a sense of purpose and achievement, y’know? I like the power. I love the whole performance – a performance that affects people. In a way I’m doing ’em a service, making ’em think about morals and their family and suchlike. Oh, and it makes them think about belief. It makes ’em believe again…

Y’see, people are actually incredibly willing to believe – even more willing to believe the very worst. All you’ve got to do is put on a bit of a show and people will believe anything…

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  1. Pictonaut Short Story Challenge: ‘Crone Calls’… | ENTER... JAMES CLAYTON

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