The Terrible Old Man

Oh, hello! How is it going? It’s been ages!

Me? I’m fine, just chilling at the bar and hoping to relieve my stress from an eventful week.

Is that right? You’ve decided to live in this little town for good? That’s great! This is a pretty peaceful place and everybody’s really friendly. Just… don’t let yourself be scared by the gossips and stories of the townsfolk, okay?

Hmm? What kind of stories you ask? I suppose I could tell you the most popular one.

Yeah, it’s fine, don’t be shy. Come and sit down beside me. Here, I’ll even pour you some liquor.

Are you ready?

All right. Let’s start with the basic story. Have you ever heard of the terrible old man?

No? What a shame. Adults and children alike are fond of listening to this tale. Here, here let me start. Just sit back and listen and you will remember this tale forever.

Now, you see, this story has been around for some time; about ten years since it has started to spread.

Ten years ago, a group of five young boys were playing and minding their own business when they’ve stumbled upon the decrepit wooden house at the far edge of town. The house seemed as if nobody had lived there for several decades and was oozing of something that made everyone scramble away at the sight of it. Like every scary story, the young ones had decided to test each other’s courage by daring one another to go inside the house. Tom, the oldest, started to taunt the youngest, Jim. The three other kids, being the kids they were, joined in as well until Jim’s ego couldn’t take it anymore and he wanted to prove himself to them.

Jim raised his chin up as if the task was easier than stealing a candy from a baby. He said that he’s already a big boy and that he could do what the older ones were afraid of doing themselves.

With a final speech of supposed bravery and claim of superiority, Jim found his little feet walking towards the wooden door as if it was the most mundane task he could ever do. His pale, slim arms reached for the dusty doorknob, gulped upon the realization of his mistake as he squinted both of his eyes, and nervously turned the knob with the expectation of a hideous monster or a ghost from the depths of hell lunging at him to eat him and take his soul.

The old door creaked open revealing a set of furnitures that showed signs of being forgotten; the carpet was covered in a lot of dust it looked the color dark grey, the mirror at the far distance facing the door was blurred and cracked, and as Jim scanned the area he also saw a rocking chair slowly moving back and forth and lastly the table’s rough legs decorated with spiderwebs.

Wait. What was it that Jim saw? You think it may be a ghost? A monster? Your mother-in-law? Look—behind you!

Hahaha! Got you there. It never fails to make me laugh every time I do that. My apologies, I can’t stop myself.

Yes, yes. I won’t do it again. Here, I’ll continue the story.

Jim’s emerald eyes darted towards the rocking chair as his breathing halted. He didn’t know what to expect and if he would like to see what’s causing the movement. His sudden pause caused the four other children to taunt him with the typical ‘scaredy cat’, ‘all talk’ and even the term ‘baby’. Jim, being the prideful one, stomped his feet and walked inside.

Quickly he noticed how hard it was for him to breathe inside. He didn’t know if it were the dusts or the molds or the lack of open windows. Perhaps it was everything. Feeling himself about to chicken out while thinking that the taunting and insulting would be better compared to what he was currently facing, the door slammed close.

The child’s head jerked towards the source of the sound. That’s it for Jim. He thought that it was the last straw.

As he was about to scream for help and yell for the others to get him out of the haunted place, he sensed movement from behind him. Footsteps. Light, quiet footsteps.

Jim didn’t want to look; he might see his worst nightmare. Still, he felt whatever it was inching closer and closer with each second so he walked towards the door and pounded his fists. Before he was able to start shouting he heard an old, ominous voice.

‘What are you doing here, young man?’

The kid was obviously paralyzed. Should he look? Should he run? Should he scream? Will whatever it was that spoke hurt him if he did?

Snapping him out of his confused thoughts, a bony hand with slender fingers and long, sharp nails grabbed him by the shoulder. He couldn’t scream. He couldn’t run. All he could do was to look. With what seemed like forever, he turned behind him to see what the creature was and suffice to say, it is enough to give him nightmares.

He saw an old figure wearing a black robe—a male probably nearing 80. The man’s back was hunched and his long, unkempt white hair and beard adorned his sagging face. His grey eyebrows were drawn together ever so slightly and his peircing light brown eyes stared at Jim directly. The young child couldn’t put his finger on what emotion the other was wearing but he hoped it wasn’t anger or a smile out of malice.

‘Are you lost?’

The old man cocked his head on the side while retaining the nerve-wrecking stare towards the other.

Before tiny Jim could respond, the door was opened by the other four kids who were waiting for him to return. Upon opening, their faces grew pale as their fragile bodies trembled with fear and uncertainty. They didn’t know what to do.

Should they scream? Should they run?

Both they did.

They run screaming their heads off towards the center of town as if there were no tomorrow. They left poor little Jim inside the house with the terrible old man. They didn’t think if the man would kill him. They didn’t suppose the man would eat him. All that had happened was they were entirely blinded by fear, fueled by adrenaline and all they could do was flee to safety.

The boys came rushing to the elders; alerting the townspeople and pleading the grownups to save young little Jim.

They, upon hearing the stories and cries of the children, marched straight to the house only to find it empty with the child nowhere to be seen. Deciding that it would be best if they destroyed the place to eradicate the fear, they set the decrepit abode to flames as the fire kissed and caressed the woods to ashes.

Three days later, Jim’s mother was found dead and the little boy, still lost and nowhere to be seen.

People said that the old man’s revenge had caused the death of Jim’s mother. They say after the event, some of the people could see the old man walking pass their houses or staring at them at a distance.

They said that the terrible old man had casted a curse upon the inhabitants of the town and that everyone’s bound to feel his wrath.

At least, that’s how the tale goes.

Come on, cheers.

However, there are a lot of details missing from the tale. Tell you what, here’s what really happened.

The terrible old man had asked the little blond if he were lost and seeing the child’s friends run and clamber away as they trip on the muddy grass, he stepped back a bit to not frighten the child anymore. He soothed the child as if he were Jim’s own grandfather and he muttered apologies of how he didn’t want to scare them with his wrinkled head hung low as if all the burdens in the world was placed upon it.

He was used to people being frightened at the sight of him but still, he felt sorry for making them feel it. He knew how scary his home must have looked to the townsfolk, but he was old and he had no money to fix the his humble abode. All he had was some penny enough to get him by.

It turns out, the dirty interior was not kept tidy due to his depression since the death of his lovely wife about two years before the encounter. He couldn’t bear to leave the place since all his treasured memories he had with his wife and sons happened within it.

It was his only source of hope and salvation from his dark, cruel world.

His sons left him and had cut all forms of contact with him. He was all alone and for years, the terrible old man has succumbed to the whispers of sadness and so he ceased to go outside of his house. He wasn’t a social butterfly to start with and his wife didn’t fancy chattering with the other townsfolk so there, they lived, hidden from prying eyes.

Why did the sons leave him, you ask?

The sons weren’t able to understand that all those years their father was somewhere faraway, he was working for their future. He deeply missed them, and if he were given a chance, he’d like to stay with them instead. However, life was tough and he needed to work to another country. They never got to bond together and so they grew to hate him.

Now as he brought Jim back to the child’s home while telling his life story, that was the time when the townspeople burned the old man’s house to the ground with glee.

They destroyed his last hope in life just because of their petty fear.

The look on his face when he heard of what had happened from the chattering townsfolk outside was a mix of utter despair, anger, and hopelessness while the tears flowed like a river. His heart was crushed and his soul was damned. He looked as though he wanted to die, there and then… and he probably would have killed himself if it weren’t for what happened.

Hmm? Why did Jim’s mother die?

Well, his mother was already ill. It was about time her body gives up. It’s all a matter of coincidence. The night when Jim returned home, his mother collapsed to the ground. For three days, the terrible old man took care of Jim’s mother until she breathed her last. After she died, the terrible old man took in the boy and moved to another town—away from the judgmental neighbors.

It isn’t so bad, is it?

How do I know all this?

Let’s just say if I weren’t as prideful then, I wouldn’t have known anything about the terrible old man who wasn’t even terrible at all.

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