Ronibats.PH Stories of a Filipino neurosurgeon, teacher, and writer

The Darkroom


You’re five minutes late my friend. I thought it was clear from our conversation yesterday that you have to be here seven p.m. sharp? You replied with a “Seven on the dot? No prob!” didn’t you? In fact, all I have to do is press this button and your voice will be heard throughout this room uttering the very words I’ve just said.

No, I do not wish to hear your excuses. You have already wasted how many? Six? Seven minutes? I do not want to waste any more. I am paying you to do something for me tonight; the sooner it is through, the better. Besides, whenever I ask somebody to do something, there is one rule he has to religiously obey: shut up.

You are not to speak unless I ask you to, and think twice – hell, even thrice – before popping a question about your task. I do not feel the need to justify my actions before you. Do exactly as I say and you will be rewarded. Handsomely, if I may add.

Now stop standing there, leave your umbrella by the door (it’s a good thing you brought one; every news program has just predicted this heavy rain would last overnight) and make yourself comfortable in my couch. Have a cup of coffee if you wish; the pot is on the bookshelves. Watch the dog though. Anubis is an angel, but he won’t hesitate to take a piece of your butt should you disturb his sleep.

What did you want to be when you were a child? Ahh, a lawyer. Quite generic, don’t you think? Almost every kid in kindergarten dreams of being a doctor, a nurse or a lawyer. Then, they grow up, their picture perfect images of the world change, and so do their dreams.

What has this got to do with your task? Everything, my friend. You are here because of somebody’s dreams.  Mine.

Stop fidgeting! The tapping of your wet shoe against the wooden floor sends painful jolts to my damaged molar. Relax. The task is quite simple, trust me; it will be to your advantage if you enjoy yourself while at it.

After my instructions, you are to leave this room immediately. Turn right and walk down the corridor. On either wall, you will see my collection of paintings of renowned body parts: Albert Einstein’s brain, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s hand, Rob Thomas’ voice box and a few others given to me as presents. Find the watercolor painting of someone’s heart. It is the last one on the left side, just before the staircase leading to the second floor. Turn it 15 degrees counterclockwise then take it off the wall; a secret passage to my basement will be revealed to you.

You must descend through a ladder fixed on the corridor wall. I’m afraid you will have to grope your way in the dark until you reach one of the rooms; I forgot to ask you to bring a flashlight. But don’t worry. Last time I checked, there were no rats. Be kind enough to let me know if you meet a couple though.

You will land on a corridor identical to the one on this floor. There are two rooms down there, each facing the other. There are security locks but I will open all doors and deactivate all sensors from here. The basement is equipped with 24-hour cameras; I will be monitoring every second of your task. One wrong move, our deal is off.

I want you to find the room directly below this one first. I call it the Darkroom. It is my private prison. Three cells, each four by four square meters, side by side occupy half the room’s floor area. There is a lone light bulb at the center of the ceiling, not so much for the prisoners but for their visitor. Visitor, because it is just I most of the time.

During summers, I have absolutely no problem with the Darkroom. I can spend whole days down there reading the latest Stephen King novel and I won’t mind at all. Unfortunately, on rainy nights like this, the Darkroom reeks of a smell that reminds me of dead cats infested with maggots. I often wonder if it is the smell of the earth seeping through the room’s walls, or the other way around, the room’s rottenness trying to escape through the dark walls and into the earth.

The Darkroom is fully occupied right now. Its three residents are the subjects of your task.

The creature in cell A, leftmost, has a hydrocephalic head. He loves to dream your dreams. He steals your dreams and replaces them with his own. Somehow, he does not realize that he is not you and you are not he, that the way he lives his life has got absolutely nothing to do with how you must live yours. He smiles a lot, and when he does so, he salivates, with the corners of his lips reaching both ears, enough to reveal his yellow pointed teeth. The most dangerous thing about him is that you never know what he wants from you until it is too late for you to turn back.

The creature in cell B has hands and feet thrice as large as an ordinary human being’s. Unlike the one in cell A, he lets you dream your dreams. In fact, the bigger your dream, the better. However, the moment he tricks you into showing him what it is, he delights in taking out his machine gun and murdering your dream to pieces. Of course, he doesn’t always have to do that. At times, he prefers ripping your dream with his feet-long fingernails. He will even spit and fart at the scraps before handing them back to you. He claims to know all the facts about your dream, and though he has a habit of sugarcoating his dream forecasts, everything comes down to one word: impossible.

Finally, the creature in cell C is the one with the long crooked nose and bloodshot eyes the size of chicken eggs. There is not much to say about him except that his hobby is comparing dreams. He holds them up at eye level, smells them with his mucus-dripping nose, pretends to scrutinize every aspect but discards them all anyway. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you who, according to him, has the best dream.

When I first met these creatures, I thought they were human beings, but eventually, I realized that anybody cruel enough to mess with somebody else’s dream does not deserve to be called such.

My friend, what they do not understand is that sometimes, dreams are all people have.

As to how many years they have lived in my basement, I have lost count. There had been days when I would go down there, just to watch them watch me; I would stare into their eyes and they would stare into mine. I don’t know why I loved doing that, but I’d like to think a part of me wanted to tell them one thing over and over: they were wrong about my dreams.

Tonight, once you’re down there, I will unlock all of the cells.

There are three handcuffs on the center table, take them if you want, although I doubt if you would need them. They do not know you; they will not do you any harm. One by one, take each of the creatures out of the Darkroom and into the opposite room, the Lightroom.

The Lightroom has walls just as black as the Darkroom’s, and though it is twice as large as the latter, it also has a solitary light bulb. I simply need a name to distinguish the two.

The Lightroom is full of all kinds of torture devices and equipment known to man. In there, you’ll find classic items as the electrocuting box you’ve probably seen in numerous spy movies; hilarious objects as the helmet that forces the left side of your body to do the Macarena while the right side is dancing to Asereje; and ruthless inventions as the one that attaches your limbs to all four points of an X, stretching your appendages in the four cardinal directions until you say the magic words your torturer wants to hear.

My favorite is the one I tagged the Reverse Blender. It resembles an inverted kitchen blender, hence the name, although I must say there is more to it than shaking creatures for refreshment. You hang upside down by means of a strap that attaches your right foot to the rotating blade; you thus oscillate at a speed desired by the person on the control panel. An electrode is attached to your temples, discharging periodic electric impulses while finger-like projections tickle the area around your belly. The blender’s inventor recommends forced intake of a laxative to make you defecate at yourself throughout the process, but I think that is a bit too much, right?

Wipe that grin off your face. You are not touching anything in the Lightroom. These creatures have done nothing to you, so you are doing nothing to them. Nothing.

I want you to take these creatures to the Lightroom because in one of its ceiling corners, the one farthest from the door and almost directly above the Reverse Blender, there is a trapdoor.

Lead them to the trapdoor.

It is an emergency exit out of this house.

One by one, I want you to set them free.

About the author

Ron Baticulon

Ronibats is a pediatric neurosurgeon, teacher, and writer. In 2018, he won a Palanca award for the title essay of his first book, "Some Days You Can't Save Them All," published by The University of the Philippines Press. You can follow him on Twitter @ronibats.

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Ronibats.PH Stories of a Filipino neurosurgeon, teacher, and writer