Short story – The old man in the woods


Once it happened that a lone traveler was wandering deep in the forests. Far away from the nearest human settlement he stumbled upon a small, ramshackle hut.

The traveler became curious. At first the cabin looked abandoned. “Who could possible live here?” the traveler thought.

He couldn’t resist, and decided to take a closer look. The traveler walked over to the house and knocked on the door. To his surprise, someone opened the door.

The traveler saw an old man and said, “Good day, sir. I’m sorry if I disturb you, but I couldn’t resist knocking on your door.”

The old man looked at the traveler with his sharp look and said, “Go gather the scrogglings,” and then closed the door.

The traveler was dumbfounded. He didn’t understand what the old man meant. He knocked on the door again. Again the old man opened the door, looked at the traveler with his sharp look and said, “Go gather the scrogglings,” and pulled the door shut.

What a mysterious man,” the traveler thought. He became even more intrigued.

Once more he knocked on the door, and once more the old man opened. This time the traveler opened his mouth before the old man got to say anything. “Go gather the scrogglings!” the traveler spluttered.

The old man looked at the traveler, but this time he didn’t say anything. He kept on looking at the traveler with his fierce eyes. The traveler was starting to feel uneasy.

“May I come in?” asked the traveler.

The old man looked at the traveler for a long while. Then he moved aside to let the uninvited visitor into his small cottage.

The traveler looked around the hut and couldn’t help but notice the numerous beautiful paintings on the walls of the shack that otherwise seemed rather rudimentary.

“Did you make these?” asked the traveler.

The old man didn’t answer.

“Are you living here all by yourself?” asked the traveler.

Still no answer.

The traveler was becoming more and more suspicious about the old man. Why would he stay in the middle of the forest all alone? What was he doing here?

Maybe he is one of those enlightened masters who live in absolute solitude,” the traveler thought to himself.

“Are you one of those enlightened masters?” asked the traveler.

The old man suddenly burst into a vociferous laughter.

“Are you one of those fools who ask too many questions?” asked the old man.

The traveler now felt even more disturbed. He thought about leaving the cottage, but he was too much interested. He wanted to know what the old man was doing in the woods. He wanted to know what the old man knew.

“Yes, I’m just a fool,” answered the traveler. “Can you help me become more wise?”

The old man grabbed a broom that was resting against the wall and swung a blow towards the traveler. The traveler managed to parry the swing with his arms. Nonetheless it hurt like hell.

“Why did you do that?” asked the traveler.

“I am testing your wisdom,” said the old man. “How could I help you unless I knew from where to start?”

Then the old man swung again. Again the traveler got his arms in front of the hit.

“That hurts!” shouted the traveler.

Once more the old man swung his broom. This time the traveler grabbed ahold of the broom. The old man released his hold of the broom, grabbed a bowl of water from the table and tossed the water at the traveler.

Now all wet, the traveler asked, “What is wrong with you?!”

Again the old man bursted into a belly laugh.

“What is so funny?” asked the traveler, trying desperately to make sense of the old man.

The old man looked at the traveler and said, “Your confusion is funny.”

“I’m not confused,” said the traveler with a slight sense of irritation. “You are behaving like a child, and you are telling me I am confused.”

“But I am like a child. How can I not behave like one?”

“A child couldn’t survive alone in the woods,” said the traveler. “If you were stupid you would already have starved to death.”

All of a sudden the old man took a wooden spoon and threw it at the traveler. It hit him right in the forehead.

“Stop that!” shouted the traveler.

“Who said a child is stupid?” asked the old man.

The traveler remained silent for a moment. “This man is crazy,” he thought.

Then he asked, “What are you doing in the forest? Are you an enlightened master? I have heard stories of men like you. They say that the enlightened masters behave in odd ways. Some say that they might appear to be quite mad.”

“What do you want?” asked the old man.

“I want to know everything about you!” said the traveler.

“I am just an old man living in a small house in the woods. Why would you be interested in such a man?”

“I have never met an enlightened master before. In fact I have never met anyone who has met one.”

The old man’s face turned grim. “Then you should continue your search.” He walked over to the door and opened it in a gesture to wish the visitor goodbye.

“Please, good sir, before I leave, tell me one thing; do you think there is hope for man?”

The old man shut the door and said, “What good is in hope? What good is in wishing for better times? Hope is nothing but a false promise.”

“But if there is no hope, how can we live?” asked the traveler.

“If there is hope, there is no life,” said the old man.

The traveler did not understand the old man. Nonetheless, he went on asking.

“But when one is fearful, what else is there than hope for something better to come?”

“Hope is nothing but fear in disguise. Both are worthless.”

The old man walked back to the door and opened it to bid farewell to the visitor.

“Please, tell me one more thing; what is the meaning of life?”

The old man took the broom and smashed the traveler in the head.

“What is the meaning of an old man hitting you with a broom?” asked the old man.