It returned every night for months and frightened the middle-aged reporter, aspiring novelist blessed and cursed with an uncanny imagination. The haunting dream swept across his unconscious psyche and implanted the eerie seeds of terror in his battered flesh, the pounding and thumping of his heart, the crushing blows of death, profuse sweating mixed with the stench of a thunderous storm of evil.
He wandered in a vast labyrinthine Garden of Paranoia. Although he appeared to be alone in this bleak dreamscape, he believed that someone or something had followed him into this alien place. He turned around, but saw no one; behind and around him, above and below, nothing. Yet his frenzied eyes continued to dart and flit across the infinite garden. He found nothing sinister lurking in the shadowy landscape.
Then the surreal scene changed in a fluid phantasmagoria, and he found himself in the center of the garden at the foot of a mammoth ladder ascending to the heavens.
As he began to climb the mysterious ladder, he heard the ghostly shrieks below him. He didn’t look down, but rushed upward toward salvation, he believed. He climbed higher and higher until he saw the noose dangling above a circular platform at the top of the ladder, suspended from nothing but the sky.
The scene changed again—the noose tightened around his neck. A deathly hangman gazed into his dark vulnerable eyes.
“You’ve run out of time,” he announced.
The writer’s heart began to thump, thump, thump louder and louder. He tried to scream but in an out-of-body experience, he witnessed his own death. When he saw his corpse hanging above the platform, he woke up.
His suffocating dream consumed him at night. But during the day, he was a highly skilled reporter, a luminary in the field of journalism. He chased compelling stories and persevered until he discovered the truth. His prize-winning stories brought him notoriety. And his success helped him find a literary agent, who promised to sell his book, The Garden of Paranoia, to a major publisher.
Recently, he pursued an antediluvian dream, an exclusive interview with a literary genius who had written a best-selling novel and several books of short stories that had captured the zeitgeist of the time. The author had become a recluse and had stopped publishing his stories more than fifty years ago. The hungry reporter craved an interview with this strange man of secrets. Then, unexpectedly, the man’s former agent contacted him and arranged a meeting at an undisclosed place some time in the following week. The meeting would occur in New York. A limousine would appear in front of the reporter’s home in the middle of the night. The agent would call the reporter at his home an hour before the arrival of the limousine. Once inside the car, the reporter would be blindfolded and tied up until reaching the unknown destination.
The reporter agreed to the terms of the interview. Each night, he waited eagerly for the call. The night before the anticipated interview, the horrific dream that had haunted him for months did not return.
The limousine arrived at 2 A.M. The lanky driver with dark sunglasses blindfolded the writer, tied his hands behind his back, and drove off. He drove for several hours. When he removed the reporter’s blindfolds and untied him, the writer saw a mansion surrounded by a vast labyrinthine garden.
The reporter followed the driver into the breathtaking house. Once inside, the driver informed the writer that the butler would arrive soon. He would give him instructions. The driver left.
While he waited, the writer sat down on a black leather chair near the bottom of a spiral staircase. Soon, he fell into a deep sleep. But the dark, repetitive dream did not return. The butler woke him up.
“Sorry to disturb you,” the man who looked like Bela Lugosi said.
“No problem,” the writer said.
“Good. Unfortunately, the elevator to the top floor is temporarily out of order.”
“You must climb the stairs until you reach the top. Then you will turn to your immediate left and walk approximately 10 feet. He’ll be waiting for you in the dark room. The door will be ajar. You will not turn on the lights. You will wait for his instructions.”
“Do you understand?”
The butler sauntered off and vanished.
He began to climb the dimly lit stairs. Soon, he reached the first floor. He continued to ascend the stairs and rested briefly on the 3rd floor landing. But he pressured himself to hurry up, for the famous recluse was waiting for him. So he rushed up the never-ending stairs, constantly increasing his pace, forcing himself to try harder.
He reached the 4th, 5th, and 6th floors. He looked upward, but couldn’t see the top floor. The stairs had become darker. And he was out of breath. He rested for almost 30 seconds, then he climbed the spiraling stairs again.
But now, he clambered up the endless steps. Breathing heavily, he struggled to reach the 7th, 8th, and 9th floors. The pitch-black stairs revealed nothing when he looked upward. Yet his weary body begged him to stop.
He listened to the incessant thumping and pounding of his heart. His heartbeats accelerated like a runaway train without a motorman. He lost control of his breathing. And someone or something began to crush his chest. An unbearable pain assaulted him as he struggled to breathe.
Then he heard a disembodied voice on a loud speaker shrieking in the pitch-black darkness. The ominous voice seemed to come from a distant place above.
“You’ve run out of time,” the sinister voice announced.
“No!” he cried out, although his quivering lips barely moved. In his mind, he heard his voice shriek, “Wait. Please wait.”
He watched himself rise and rush up the stairs, passing an infinite number of floors in search of destiny. But he had already collapsed on the 9th floor. Sprawled out on the cold landing, he saw, perhaps, a dangling noose, a hangman, and death itself, disguised as a shadowy recluse wearing a black mask of nothingness.
In the end, he wandered in the Garden of Paranoia inside a haunting dream, struggling to find an exit from the life-threatening labyrinth that imprisoned him. The lethal maze encircled him and it became a noose around his neck.
editor's note: Dreams move us forward, away from memories; they keep us going. Dreams kill us. Even if they do give us life and lush gardens to write about, they also provide us with private, swirling hells. - Tyler Malone