"The Day The Old Man Knocked"

by jeff campagna

It was mid-summer. I was sixteen, maybe seventeen and I remember, for as many years as I could, my family had been poor without even a savings account to fill up. My father was a farmer. And whether he was a miserable one, or one that mother nature just chose to spite, I doubt I will ever find out. My mother was a kind soul, still is for that matter, and would take up many a part-time occupation in order to pay the odd bill which needed paying. But, as my father wouldn't care to admit without a few shots of booze, her full-time job was keeping him on this side of sanity. My younger brother was born three years after me but had died early in life, from what is still a heart wrenching mystery. As you may have guessed, we lived on a farm and it was modest and always smelled of the outside, no matter how tight we shut our windows. The walls were thin and in the middle of summer, as it was then, I could strain to hear the sounds of insects congregating by our front porch light. The house was surrounded by fields, some corn and some wheat - all large enough to get lost in if not careful. This summer was supposed to be a good crop, but as of then, mid-summer, it wasn't looking that way. I can remember a time when we would have meat for dinner and sometimes even some custard for dessert, probably I was five or six. Now it's more breads, oats and stews, almost all of which made from potatoes. How my mother would concoct as many different items out of potatoes I shall one day hope to find out. I would sometimes ponder, as we sat around our quiet creaking dinner table, what if my mother had more indulgent ingredients to work with, would she would create meals fit for kings and queens - the God's even. During the summers I would take up the clarinet, as it was my mother's favorite instrument. My father couldn't stand the sound of it. When I would begin to play he'd storm out, onto the porch and hit rocks into the field with a small wooden log he lathed into a bat. I knew though, from time to time he would let it show, that he still contained a certain pride that I set my mind on something. Since my brother's passing my family had stopped going to Sunday Service at The Sanctuarium. I was raised inside the faith but my family would let it slip away. I had always found theology of great interest. I had heard of many other belief systems in other far off countries, though they could have all been made up, I would never know. Much of the world was speculation in those early years. All I knew for certain, and even then it wasn't guaranteed, was that we had Four Gods over us. Two of which were Good and Powerful and the other two were Evil and equally as Powerful but all Four, be them Good or Evil, were to be equally respected. There was Reenol who was the Good of the Two Creators, the other being the Evil one; Qwansii. They were to always be at war, not only with each other, but within us as well. They created us, when, it is not written, to be different levels of Good and Evil. No one man or woman was the same amount of the combination. They, like other Theologies I hear, gave us Ultimate Freedom. That Freedom they bestowed on us would lead to a ramped over population of the Nine Worlds they held. With over population came religious sectioning and defecting which bred non-believers which, in turn, lead to a false sense of land ownership then ultimately leading to wars over territory and mass eliminations. As we believe entirely in reincarnation, the mass eliminations, occurring many centuries ago up until now, led to an over abundance of rising souls thus putting a strain on the cosmic economy. At that point Reenol and Qwansii were in need of aid to properly process the dead, thus creating, sub-rosa, Two more divine beings, one of Good and one of Evil, Thust and Bruginar respectively. Needless to say we were a society of fundamentalists and we were to live by the rules laid out in front of us by the Four Gods. It was the elder's contention that the virulent powers of The Two Evils, or so they were deemed, was and always would be perfectly balanced by the profound virtues of The Two Lights. This is the substratum which I was raised on, until Keb's death of course, and was taught not to question it. When Keb passed it wasn't as though I was to stop believing, it was more that I was to stop practicing. And so I would only practice at night, before sleep, in my room where I once slept with Keb. His open crib was across from my bed, lying on either would be analogous of lying on the dirt path between the fields, but I'm am sure his body would have adapted as mine did long ago. I would pray to The Four Gods whilst kneeling on his open crib. I wouldn't dare pray for things as trivial as good crops, grades or karma, no! I would reason with them, question their logic and trains of thought. Not in a vengeful way but in a curious one. I knew, even at a young age, to pray out of greed was to pull at the arms of your parents constantly begging and bothering.

There was a knock on the door, which was odd for lunch time - or any time for that matter. We were so out of the way that not even mail was delivered to our house. You could go two or three weeks without even seeing another man, woman or child. No sounds other than nature. The land was bereft of any life outside of the faun and flora created by The Four Gods. Never-the-less, the knocking persisted. I remember trying to recall the last time I had heard the sound and I failed to produce a memory. We sat at the creaky dinner table over bowls of luke-warm stew. It was the most we had ever looked up at each other from the bowls during our austere meal time, but, no matter how long we looked at each other, or how long we considered the seldom nature of what was upon us, the knocking would persist but never grow louder or more eager. I can so vividly recount how awkwardly my father placed his spoon down once he decided that he would answer the knocking. It was as if he had never, in his long and tiresome life, put his utensil down before actually finishing a meal. But alas, the spoon went down and my father got up and to the front door he walked. His footsteps were slow but rhythmic. The feeling of foreign tension was ineffable and almost profound in retrospect. I heard the door open and a raspy voice, strange to me, forced out an introduction. "G'day Sir" it said "I have lost my way and am in need of food and shelter. If I wouldn't be imposing you think I cou-". My father was quick to cut him off "Where did you come from old man?". At this point I knew only three things for sure; one, it was a man, two, he was old and three, my father had never seen him before. "Came from the rail station" the old man answered "Walked down the main road when my train got in at nine this morn. Seems the main road has nothing main about it" he went on to explain. My mother and I sat at the table, both of us pretending we weren't eavesdropping. She would continue to slurp her stew, but quieter than usual is how I knew. I could almost hear my father thinking, pondering as to the nature of this old man's existence and why our house he chose to knock on. "You have nowhere else to go?" my father quipped. "No Sir. I'm not from these lands." the old man said with a kind tone. My father opened the door wider, which was obvious from it's rusty cry. The old man's footsteps were subtle and sounded barefoot which fell victim to the loud sound of my father's boots, however I could tell both sets were headed for the dining room. Before I knew it, the old man was standing before me, my father by his side. He was a sight, one I will not soon forget. He stood a foot or two shorter than my father, and was at least half as thin in the frame, but still, he emitted a large and powerful ora. "This here is my son Hoss and his mother Deirdre" my father introduced. "It's a joy to meet you both" the old man returned. "And what's your name old man?" my father questioned. "Oh, that's not important. I will be out of your hair long before my name is ever needed for anything. I am fine with being called Old Man" the old man assured. My mother motioned for the Old Man to have a seat at the table, where Keb's seat would have been had he graduated from his high chair. "I'm sorry Old Man but we have only warm oat stew and dandelions to eat." warned my father. Though he didn't say it, the Old Man didn't mind as he dug right in from the pot in the middle of the table. He ate with conviction and would rarely look up, but, when he did, his altruistic smile would say the pardons he did not. The next hour, or so it seemed, was silent but not empty. After lunch we made our way to the family room for tea. Tea, however, was simply hot water and the left over weeds from lunch, but, still, it was nice for we had company. My father would give the Old Man a set of his clothes to replace the tattered rags he wore and the man would shamelessly change into them before us. As the sun set the conversation persisted. My parents and the Old Man spoke of many things. Hardships, farming, religion, the Townsfolk and Keb were among the graced topics. Just about the time I could hear the buzz of the insects hovering around our front porch light my mother got the notion that it would be nice if I played my clarinet for the Old Man. I could see the idea on her face minutes before she mentioned it. And so, when she finally did, I didn't argue for I knew I wouldn't win. I fetched my woodwind from beneath my bed and played for the Old Man. Though I was out of tune and time in nearly every song I attempted the Old Man seemed to enjoy every note. Interestingly enough, for the first time since I began practicing the instrument, my father remained seated in the living room and almost seemed to find enjoyment in my playing which I found in enjoyment in in return. I forget how long I played but I do remember my fingers cramping as they had never done before. Eventually the old man, I speculate from an exhausting journey, fell asleep in the very chair he sat in. My father would often fall asleep in that same chair after smoking a short cigar or having the odd shot of whiskey, so I could comprehend it's welcoming comfort. My mother and father thought it time for bed, seeing as the guest had preempted us, so we made our way to our rooms for the night.

To this day I remember the prayer I recited that night. "Dear Four. I know that it is said that you operate in mysterious ways too complex and profound for us mortals to comprehend. But, it is my wish, my desire to one day have a better understanding of the duties which stand before you every day, every year, every century. I find comfort in the fact that Keb's physical death was one of necessity and The Two Evils deemed it important, for reasons I will never know. I do know, almost for certain, that there were actual reasons though. Why you have sent this Old Man to us I don't know. Why you would let a man so lacking of mental capacity and physical ability to wander the plains I don't know either. What I do know is, that between The Two Lights and The Two Evils, there is reason and sense enough to avoid nihilistic actions and keep in line with the original concept. And for that, but not only that, I thank you."

I arose first the next morning, as was not usual. I opened my door for I presumed that my parents were still sleeping, and crept down the narrow crowding hallway towards the main rooms. I had expected to feel a presence as I approached the main room, as I knew the Old Man fell asleep on the chair. As I neared, a presence I felt but not one that I had anticipated. What the differences were at the time I couldn't remember. As I turned the corner, where the paint had begun peeling off the walls a few years ago, I saw no man on the chair, but, nor was the chair empty either. Perched upon it was a leather sac, one that I had not seen the man come in with. I crept slowly towards the foreign sac, careful not to step on the planks which I knew let out loud creaks. I got to the chair and looked down into the open satchel to find what I had least expected, even with the already stated strangeness of the situation. It was shocking and something that I had never seen the likes of. I slowly crept backwards, all the way back down the narrow crowding hallway to my parents bedroom door. I knocked. I could hear them muster about shortly before my mother pulled the door open just as I was about to knock once more. "What is it?" she rasped. "The Old Man has gone and left something in his place." I countered. My parents followed me to the chair where the Old Man once slept. The sac was still there, and I remember hoping that what I saw inside of it was as well. My father was the first to get to the chair and look down into the bag. His hands reached in and I could hear the clinging and clanging of it's contents. The morning light came in through the window, in a rectangular fashion, and shone a light into the sack, reflecting a warm golden glow of my fathers hard leathered face. I recall him looking back at my mother, who must have had a view of it's contents, with an expression I had never seen, but, judging from my mother's reaction to it, she had a long long time ago. They both smiled as my father cupped his hands together and removed a collection of the contents. The sound of gold coins hitting the worn wooden planks of our farmhouse will be forever ingrained in my memory, as much of that night and subsequent day have been.

There was a knock at the door. Again, we looked at one another in confusion, but this time with a whole different set of underlying experience so newly learned. My father once again walked to the door and opened it, this time revealing Bishop Withers from The Sanctuarium, someone we had not seen in years for reasons stated already. From the look on Bishop Wither's face, his visit was as confusing to him and as it was to us. He would go on to explain that he was sent a cosmic message from the powers of Good and Evil that rewards had been bestowed upon us from the likes of Reenol who had taken human form to test our charity and Ultimate Good Will. As I heard the words leave his mouth I was hit with the most obvious recollection of all; as filthy, unkempt and inhumane as the Old Man was he didn't possess the repulsive odor that one would expect a man in his state to emit. In fact, with the exception of his appearance he was the most pleasant of men. There is little I know outside of what I have told. The notion that The Four existed is something I knew and didn't speculate. The notion that One of The Four would one day visit us is one I speculated but didn't know until that day.

written under the influence by