”The Terrible Old Man” is a very short short story (less than 1200 words) by H. P. Lovecraft, written on January 28, 1920, and first published in the Tryout, an amateur press publication, in July 1921. It is notable as the first story to make use of Lovecraft's imaginary New England setting, introducing the fictional town of Kingsport.
A strange old man, ”so old that no one can remember when he was young, and so taciturn that few know his real name,” lives alone in an ancient house on Water Street in the town of Kingsport. Even among the locals, few know the details of the old man's life, but it is believed that he once captained East Indian clipper ships in his youth and accumulated great riches throughout his life. Those who had visited the property had seen bizarre collections of stones in the front yard and observed the old man carrying on conversations with mysterious bottles on his table, which make ”certain definite vibrations as if in answer.” Most locals take care to avoid the man and his house.
The story focuses on Angelo Ricci, Joe Czanek and Manuel Silva, three robbers who learn about the old man's supposed hoard of treasure and resolve to take it. Both Ricci and Silva go inside to ”interview” the old man about the treasure, while Czanek waits outside in the getaway car. After waiting impatiently for a long time, Czanek is startled by an outburst of horrific screaming from the house, but assumes that his colleagues have been too rough with the old man during their interrogation. However, the gate of the house opens, revealing the old man ”smiling hideously” at him. For the first time, Czanek takes note of the man's unsettling yellow eyes.
The mutilated bodies of the three robbers are later found by the seaside, ”horribly slashed as with many cutlasses, and horribly mangled as by the tread of many cruel boot-heels.” The people of Kingsport talk about the discovery, as well as about the abandoned car and the screams heard in the night, but the old man shows no interest in their gossip.