The Mischief of the Old Man
Updated: Aug 10, 2022
In a time before the seaways were charted, there was a cheerful town settled along a road that served to connect trade routes. It was lush with life and the people thrived. But that was long ago before other paths were made.
Merchants and traders no longer traveled to the cheerful town. Visitors became more rare than new moons. The town was now known as Forgotten. It was home to the dreary, those left behind by the rest of the world. The land became barren, with no more life than a few fields of grain. The people of Forgotten lost their way and the town faded into desolation.
One day, at Summer’s end, an old man made a visit to Forgotten. With a bushy brow and a crooked smile, he dressed in a long tunic, worn and dirty. Sat atop his donkey, he rode down the neglected track to a hill overlooking the land. There he fashioned a stake to tie his companion and when his camp was made, he sat motionless, facing the settlement with eyes soft, still holding his smile ever so crooked.
It was a rare occurrence to have an outsider in the town Forgotten. Naturally, the people took an interest in the strange man. They watched as he drew from his bag a spindle and a pouch of fiber. He began spinning the pieces into thread. There he sat, fiddling with thread for many days. So many days, that the presence of the man, along with his donkey and his camp, became like the rest of the town. Forgotten.
This is precisely what the old man was waiting for, that his being there would be ignored. He went right to work, conducting his affairs in routine. And because he had watched and come to know the activity of the people, he managed to do his work in secret. He worked when no one was looking and sat and fiddled with thread when they were.
Most of the man’s time was spent outside the town, where the people seldom ventured. To those who may have caught a glimpse of him, his affairs remained in appearance to be of a mysterious nature: he made visits to the nearby forest, drew lines in the sand, and wandered into the town during the cover of night, carrying a trowel.
On a mild day, after the first fall harvest, when the storehouse was half-filled and the large door shut, the old man sat in the center of the town next to his donkey. The man motioned to a small boy. The boy moved close. The man whispered in the boy’s ear. Then off the boy ran.
The boy returned later that day with a large key. In return, the man pulled an apple from his tunic and handed it to the boy. Next, the old man held the key near his donkey’s mouth. The donkey lipped the key, shook his head, tilted back, and swallowed. The boy gasped and remained there frozen in horror. The old man chuckled and walked away, leaving a curious bag where he sat. The boy picked up the bag and peered inside. It was filled to the top with odd stones of various color and size. The boy hung the bag over his shoulder and returned home. The old man moved his camp into the forest, and there he waited.
The next day, a commotion erupted in the town. It had been discovered that the storehouse key was stolen. Unable to open the large storehouse door, the people worried how they would survive the winter with half rations. The boy came forward and told them all about the old man, the donkey, and the key. He also revealed the strange bag of stones. An argument began about the stones, and whether or not they were stones at all. After some time, it was decided that they were not rocks or stones or pebbles, and probably not magic beans. They were seeds. The people thought: What good would a bag of seeds be without fields to plant them? They became angry.
They went looking for the old man on his hilltop, but there they saw that he had gone. What they found instead, just over the hill, were rich fields prepared for planting. They were amazed and had no explanation for the fields. Nonetheless, they got busy planting seeds and hung onto hope that it would produce enough for their needs.
Weeks later, just before the last harvest of the fall, the old man returned. He sent his donkey alone into town. The man returned to his sitting and his thread and watched as the donkey walked to the center of town. The donkey spit out the storehouse key and went back to camp. The key was found later that day. The people of Forgotten filled the storehouse with more varieties of food and in larger quantities than ever in the town’s history. They were full and happy through winter.
Spring season came with vigorous new life. Unfamiliar little trees could be found throughout the town and on the hills around. The trees had undoubtedly been there all Fall and Winter, but no one took notice, because, at that time, the trees appeared as no more than sticks in the ground. And no one takes notice of sticks in the ground. However, now the little trees could not be ignored. Everything was budding with young leaves and it was inexplicable.
The man stood tall at the edge of Forgotten, wearing a new, bright green tunic. One made from fabric of his own patient spinning. He watched as the people of the town rejoiced at their renewed life, a town made vibrant once again. The people gathered in the town center for celebration. There they said, “Look what we have done! We have saved ourselves!”
The man loaded his things onto the donkey. They began walking side-by-side away from Forgotten. He looked upon the town once more, gave a crooked smile, and was never seen again.