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  • J.R. Packard

The Man Who Grows Carrots on His Roof

I remember the days when I was once a reporter. The dull and boring days were always the same: interviewing criminal witnesses, filming housefires and crashes, writing the top-selling, most eye-catching articles, and so on. That all changed the day I met the man

In the latter days of last spring, an article by a competing journalist was published in our small town of Franklin. It detailed how a group of homeless children (about a dozen or so) living on the streets were taken to an orphanage. Three days later, (presumably) a few minutes past midnight, they all mysteriously vanished. Naturally, a great deal of confusion overshadowed the town and everyone was quick to point fingers. Honestly, how could someone steal a dozen kids without being caught? Many suspected the children simply ran away and didn’t like their newfound home, but that too, didn’t make much sense, as a security guard maintained the entrance and CCTV cameras littered the humble building. They simply disappeared without a trace.

Now, at the time there was an extremely eccentric and strange man living not far from the orphanage–far odder than anyone in the town (perhaps even the whole state). Named “Rudolf Von Gustrow”, he had a reputation for being a recluse and private man–hardly ever going into town, and when so, kept his mouth completely shut. I, your meek and honest narrator, was told to interview Mr. Gustrow. Many suspected he had something to do with it and my colleagues were itching at the bit for a scoop about him and his activities. It was understood that he was already questioned by the police, yet gave them almost no information to go off of and he told them nothing about himself, job, or routines. My editor was adamant and fierce that I would come back with a well-detailed story. So, the following day, I made my way with a tape recorder and brand-new camera.

His house, the largest of any in the town, rested upon a large hill overlooking the valley. Part of what made him well-known and what defined him as a peculiar man was the fact that carrots were planted on his rooftop; not necessarily a normal thing to do. As I made my way up, a very dense fog suddenly encapsulated me and I felt lost, if not for a stone path which I could follow. The mist became darker and thicker as I slowly trembled, despite not catching a glimpse of it below.

Once I had finally broken through the cloud cover, I found the extremely large home basking in the sun. That was not even an iota of what was strange. I saw floating trees about the premises. Floating trees! I could not for one second believe my eyes, and assumed I must’ve gotten so disoriented hiking up that I was hallucinating. The wind, also, extremely strange and mystical; it blew strong and ripped the leaves off of the magical trees, seemingly blowing in all directions at once. Needless to say, I was awestruck.

As I approached the deck, I heard large construction noises coming from within: drills, electric saws, banging–you get the point. Upon knocking, in no more than five seconds, the man answered the door to my surprise. He opened it only slightly, about two inches, and asked who I was. I explained who I was, that I didn’t wish to bother him, and that a good deal of townsfolk were curious about his person and what he did to get so rich.

He said nothing, pondering for a moment, when I tried to make conversation about the trees. He said how they were nothing special and acted completely oblivious to the fact that I was amazed by their nature. He was confused why I’d even question why trees could float. Anyways, he shortly happily invited me in.

I entered what was apparently the living room, yet was small, worn, dilapidated, and old-fashioned. It was not expected for such an elaborate home. He wore very meek clothes–nothing special for a rich man. Atop his head was an abnormally long black top hat. With closer inspection, there was a small bean seed taped on the top of it. When asked about the seed, he told me it was a metaphor. Quite bizarre, I thought. Upon inquiring about it, he went on to say that in order to work, a man must have a proper hat; one that makes him look professional, and show that he’s serious, suave, and composed. Fair enough, I thought. He said that if his hat ever touched the ground/a desk or such–that is, he took it off–the seed would sprout and the hat would be ruined. He’d never be able to use it again, and, because he wasn’t finished working, he couldn’t afford to let the stalk grow. Of course, he completely lost me with that supposed “metaphor”, yet I continued to humor him. 

He explained that the tree/stalk was the embodiment of imagination–it sprouted from a thought, a soul (the seed). So, at the moment, he had the imagination from his own soul; yet, if something were to happen to him, his imagination would live on through the magical soul of the seed. That, in turn, would sprout a tree of “opportunity and work”.

I couldn’t help but presume the man was some sort of loon or schizophrenic, but how was I to discount and discredit the floating trees outside? Something was more than it seemed.

He composed me a cup of tea which I enjoyed. It smelled strongly of mint, yet tasted exactly like apple pie for some reason. At this point, I tried to begin the interview and turned the recorder on. He quickly shut me down and told me he’d answer any of my questions but that they could not be recorded or heard by anyone else. Naturally, I was discouraged. There was no way I could remember all the things he’d tell me and I needed the device; but no matter, I needed answers, so I agreed and flicked the switch off.

My first prerogative was to ask what he mysteriously did for a living and how he spent his time.

“Well, that’s surely easy to answer.” He said. “I build rooms, you see?”

When asked why he built more rooms in a house which was already far beyond his means, he told me that “each room is not just a room–not how others would define them”. He went on, saying that they’re more special than I could imagine and they were without numbers to count.

A little freaked out by the man, yet curious, I asked if I may see one. He told me it was impossible to just see one, as they were all so magnificent in their own ways.

“In fact,” he said, “even one single room cannot fully be grasped. It’s endless, infinitely large, and cannot be fully seen with mere human eyes.”.

At this point, I was beginning to question the Mr. Von Gustrow’s sanity. I felt him mentally unstable and likely a basket-case. Still, I continued to question him, wanting to see just how crazy he really was. I knew it’d at least make a compelling and interesting story.

“Why do you need so many rooms?” I inquired.

“Well, Stuart, I don’t think of them as rooms per se, but rather they compose the idea of “room” in of itself.”

I was confused (making it apparent), so he continued.

“One must have room in their mind for experience and wisdom; such room should never be limited or finite.” He explained. “Each physical additional room is a room for opportunity and potential–I cannot dream of ever halting the expansion of opportunity.”

“Opportunity?” I asked.

“Indeed. Each room seems to have a different theme of sorts, a different element to it. It makes me excited every time I create a new one, as I do not know what I’m going to put in there or discover; I therefore have no final goal set for myself. I hope to keep making infinite rooms and filling them with endless possibilities of items or sceneries. I’m not one to force change, you understand. I simply wish to inspire endless goals for people to create as much empty space for opportunity as I may.”

“But are the rooms not empty?” I asked. “How on Earth can you ever hope to fill infinitely large rooms?”

“You think in terms of boring physical reality, Stuart. My rooms are filled with imagination. Certainly you must be privy to that; you are a writer, after all. With that imagination, you could do many wonderful things. You could change the world through your stories.”.

I corrected him and said how I was simply a journalist/reporter and not a fiction writer. Rudolf did not outright say it, but I could instantly tell that he was not fond of me saying that or interested in non-fiction. He talked about the tenets of writing and using imagination for a short while; how it stretches and expands the mind, while something like dreaded journalism bored one’s faculties based one the known, uneventful world.

Somewhat insulted, I decided to change the subject and ask him point blank if he knew anything about the lost children. He went on a fairly long muse about what it means to be lost–that sometimes it’s better to be lost in a fantasy (such as a book or movie) than it is to be grounded in reality. I told them that they certainly weren’t there and that I didn’t want them to be lost, but only safe and sound.

Finally, directly after I said that, he asked if I wanted to see some of the rooms–exactly what I’d been anticipating. He told me that if I wished to see them, I’d have to relinquish any notion of reality, open my mind, and stretch my imagination. Rolling my eyes inside my brain, I agreed.

The second he opened the door, I was blinded by a huge array of white light coming through. Once my eyes adjusted, I was presented with a huge (and I mean huge!) palace-like room that was without limit. It stretched endlessly in all directions and the ceiling swirled up to the heavens. There were infinite hallways within hallways of an unnumbered length, and against those hallways were (lo and behold) countless rooms. My breath was blown away and I could not utterly fathom what I was seeing. The man truly was right, and I felt stupid to doubt him.

“How is this possible?” I asked.

“Nothing is impossible in the mind.” He rebutted. “One can think thoughts of whatever they wish, no matter how ‘unreal’ or absurd they seem”.

I couldn’t understand, because most thoughts could never affect the real, Earthly world. He said, “Of course they can! That’s why I admire writers. They put their thoughts on paper, and that paper affects other’s thoughts, and people act according to such thoughts. I, however, am not a writer. I show people thoughts through my house and my rooms. Would you like to peer into a room?”.

“Yes!” instantly leaked out of my mouth.

When he opened just one of countless, I could not fathom ever trying to describe what I saw in human words. It was like a dream. It was me! Or, rather, it was a scene with me in it. It was a potential life of mine, but far grander. I was a famous journalist of the New York Times, very rich, applauded, and with many friends.

Again, all I could mutter was, “How is this possible?”.

He simply and calmly asked how thoughts are possible. He asked how it was possible for me to pursue my dreams if I could not imagine said dreams myself or them coming true. Finally, he then brought up the subject of the orphans.

“What do you think their dreams would be?” He asked. “Surely, being children, they must have larger, more extravagant dreams than adults. What do you think their rooms would look like? Rooms of pure happiness, joy, imagination, and opportunity?”

Then, he shut the door, and opened it once again. That time, the room had changed completely to another world. One of the orphans was in it! He was a small, ten-year-old boy, playing with his ideal friends. They were in a very sunny park, his ideal family was with him, and everything was magical–trees floated, the animals could talk, etc. They all laughed on the playground while their parents sat and happily watched them. It was beautiful.

Amazed, I quickly rushed to the next room and saw another orphan. She was at an infinitely long table with her family, with every kind of food possible. Her parents were loving and caring, laughing as they conversed. 

It was then that I realized it was he that stole them, but I wasn’t angry.

“Do you think they would ever truly be happy in that orphanage, or find faux-parents or friends that loved them as much as these?” He asked.

I then asked him what his room would look like. We opened a door, and it was another complete copy of the white hallways we were in. There was nothing at all different. I told him I didn’t understand, and he responded, “Dreams cannot be measured with a simple playground or elegant macaroni and cheese. My dream is an endless dream of endless opportunities: an infinite, ineffable house where imagination can be experienced.”.

Seeing how happy they all were, I promised Mr. Gustrow that I wouldn’t tell anyone of his secret, and that I’d simply write a story that he was a prominent investor. I thought about pointing out some of the magic, but I’d leave out the orphans. He appreciated the imagination but informed me that he didn’t want to be known and would just have liked me to say that he didn’t answer the door; after all, the mysterious intrigue of himself sparked imagination in the town, and of course he enjoyed that.

Without words, I thanked him, and shortly left, telling him I’d perhaps return. When I got home, I sat at my typewriter the next night, thinking what I’d say for the article or flat-out refuse to write it all together. Then, before I could type a word, I got a call from the newsroom that Rudolf had been arrested temporarily as a minor suspect in the case. There was only circumstantial evidence and no actual proof so I was confident nothing would come out of it.

I decided to immediately go to the jail to see him. I was stopped by the detective, but once I explained that I was a journalist, he let me in. When asked about Rudolf, the detective said how strange he was–that while asking him to remove his silly hat, for instance, Rudolf said he couldn’t because he “wasn’t done with his work.”. I saw him sleeping in his cell so I decided to return the following morning. A guard and I went again to his cell only to find that he had disappeared. As the officers frantically searched the grounds, I saw that all that was left was his hat left on the floor. The smallest of trees sprouted from the top of the hat where the seed was. Miny and faint, with a simple baby stem and single leaf.

Indeed, I realized that his imagination had (and still does) lived on. I decided that, since he was gone, I’d write the article about all the wonders I saw (save the orphans). When I got to the newsroom, I found everyone laughing hysterically at my story. They all conjectured that I was either making stuff up or had gone insane. The editor then immediately stormed in, furious at me, since the objective was to write about the old man, and not some outlandish fiction. Right then and there, mad that people were without the imagination to consider such things, I decided to quit. I knew that if I could not report the truth–regardless of how far and imaginative the narrative went against public opinion–then they did not deserve the story. 

To this day, I awake each morning, recounting my experience. The man showed me a new reality, in a way, and made me once again a child. I will forever remember that imagination and reality are no different.

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