Raphael’s Hand

I wrote this story as a partial requirement for a class back in college. I’m not exactly too proud of it, with its movie cliches, awkward storytelling and common plot, but you can judge yourself. Haha.

–o–

“Sir? Is that you? Come in, come in. Please excuse the mess.”

Francis waved his hand and ushered a tall man in a black suit into his room. It was 1984, and like any other freelance, unorthodox scientist in the Philippines, his room consisted nothing more than a roll-away bed, a black and white TV with big black knobs on one side of its face, and a long table that took most of the remaining space. Beside the table, an uninteresting stool; on the table itself, the poor man’s life work. After a quick scan, the tall man smiled at Francis and sat on the stool. The man was carrying a black briefcase, and after a moment’s hesitation of whether he should place the case beside his seat or on his lap, the man opted for the latter.

Francis sat on the roll-away bed and shook his guest’s hand with enthusiasm. “Jesus Christ. I thought you will never come!”

The man chuckled. “Are you kidding? Good gracious, Mr. Torres. If what you said on the phone was true – imagine the possibilities! This will revolutionize the entire world, nay, the future of humanity!”

Francis laughed but shook his head at the same time. “The credits are not mine, not at all. I only found it. It was God all along, see? The cure has been right under our noses!”

“I do not believe in God, but off to business, shall we? May I see this cure you have talked on the phone? If it were any scientist who talked to us like you did, we would have scoffed – but it was you, and our records told us that you are an amazing scientist.”

Francis smiled and procured a small vial from the breast pocket of his lab coat. The liquid inside was blue and had almost the same texture as a gel. Francis stared at the vial for a moment, mouth etched into a small smile, before turning it on his guest’s open hand.

“It’s beautiful,” said the man, raising the small vial into the air to check its luminosity. It glimmered like a precious diamond under the pale, yellow light of the fluorescent light. “How, Mr. Torres? How did you ever find this… this thing?”

Francis sat at his bed once again, looked outside the window and racked his mind for the details. “Well, everything started when my professor for my masters, the French biologist de Nauvellite, asked me go with him on his research in one of the remote forests of Davao del Sur. While I was there, I stumbled on this very unusual flower. I called de Nauvellite’s attention, but he said that it was only a field of flower-bearing clovers. Christ! I know de Nauvellite has always thought that I’m kind of daft and stupid, but I’m sure that flower ain’t no clover. It was new, and since de Nauvellite won’t have my protest, I took a few samples and left it at my backpack for the duration of the trip.”

Francis cleared his throat, and continued: “After my expedition with de Nauvellite, I went back here and experimented with the flowers. Really, even though he was bad, I don’t blame de Nauvellite when he said that the damn flower looks like a clover. It does; it might even be a deformed family line of clovers if not for its pink bud. de Nauvellite missed that, and missed his chance entirely!”

The man in the black suit interrupted. “Wait, sir. Where in Davao did you find this flower again?”

“A small glade, a few miles north of Digos, near some abandoned Coke factory.”

The man smiled and twirled his fingers, opting Francis to continue.

“So, there I was, experimenting with the extracts of the limited flowers that I have, when one day, out of the blue, I found something amazing under my microscope. It was the pinkness of the bud all along! The bud is pink because the entire flower is packed with siccusalba!”

The tall man took another glance at the small vial on his hands. “Siccusalba. You found a rich source of siccusalba.”

Francis struck a fist on his bed. “Right! Of course, it took a long time to get a pure form of the chemical with only myself, but I did able to make one sample eventually. You’re holding it now.”

The tall man looked behind him and pointed his long finger at a small pile of dry flowers lying idly at one end of the table. “Are those the flowers?”

Francis stood up and checked the crushed flowers on the table. “Yes. They’re beautiful, aren’t they? I’m going to name them Raphael’s Hand if the committee will give me the chance.”

“Did you tell anyone about this?”

“Never! I know the business around this kind of things. That’s why I made sure to call you guys first.”

At this, The tall man opened his briefcase and removed an object underneath a small pile of papers.

It was a revolver.

“W-What’s with the gun?” Francis asked, stammering.

Siccusalba. Do you know that you are not the first man to discover that flower?” the tall man asked. He was not looking at Francis. He was looking at his gun.

Francis stepped back again and felt the wall on his back. He tried to look for an escape route. There was none. The tall man blocked the path toward both door and window.

“Hey,” the man said, and this time, he turned his head back at Francis. His cold stare was far from the warm pleasantry that he showed earlier. “I’m asking you a question. Do you know?”

The scientist replied with a reluctant shake of his head.

“Ah-ha.” The tall man stood up and shook his own head. “Of course. You know why?”

Another shake of the head from the other party.

“You never heard of it because she was killed.”

“K-Killed?” Francis repeated.

The tall man noticed the perplexed look on the scientist’s eyes. “You have a question and I think I know what it is. You’re wondering why, aren’t you?”

Francis mustered the courage to speak. “Why? The government, I thought—”

“Well, you thought wrong,” the tall man interrupted, “The government is a business, Mr. Torres. It is one hell of an all-encompassing enterprise. We run profits from everything. It’s just what we are and what we do. Cancer – well, you might as well say that we profit from that too. When people stay in the hospital, we get a cut. It doesn’t matter if it’s private or public, we always get a cut. Pharmaceuticals, however, that’s a totally different ball game. The underlying network of the whole thing is risky. Your drug, well – it’s bad for the business. It’s too… revolutionary. We can’t get a cut from it. We’ll lose some of our profits it that thing goes public. Siccusalba is too easy to replicate if you only know how. Believe me, Mr. Torres, when I say that I’m sorry. It’s just how the world works.”

Francis closed his eyes and knelt in front of the tall man. He was lost for words.

The last thing that Francis saw was the flowers on the table. Raphael’s Hand. He tried to smile but it was too late. A pink flash of light – after that, there was nothing more.

Room 302

Everything started with the earthquake.

We were having our recitation on Criminal Law when the floor and the walls around us began to shake. I did not notice it at first. It was a small tremble, really. I experienced worse. Anyway, Dainah was having her recitation – I think it was about mitigating circumstances, but fat chance, I was not really listening – when our professor told her to stop. Dainah’s face dropped and sat back on her seat.

The professor held one of her fingers up. Don’t worry, the finger told us.

The professor bowed her head as the earthquake continued to roll. We stared dead ahead, on the dirty whiteboard in front of the room. Surprisingly, there were no giggles, no murmur, no relieving sigh as the recitation stopped for a while. There was only silence and a strange feeling of apprehension.

After a minute, the teacher stood up from her desk, confused.

“Jesus Christ,” she whispered to herself, but loud enough for us to hear. Although we can recognize a slight tremble in her voice, that broke the tension. We looked around and talk among ourselves. Some joked about the earthquake. The nerds bowed their heads and read their notes. Dainah asked her seatmate if her answers were right. I overheard her seatmate saying that it was not, that it should have been ‘four’, not ‘three’.

I let out a sigh of relief. I don’t like silence.

The professor clapped her hands, calling our attention. “Okay, guys. Let’s get out. Forget about packing your things. We’ll be returning soon.”

There were some cheers as we stood up from our seats and walked outside the room. It was 7 PM then. Darkness had already set in. The earthquake rolled around us; the tremors weak, steady, intimidating. My seatmate, Mark, timed the entire deal. It had been 8 minutes since the earthquake started.

.

There was no one in the hallway. It was not unusual, considering it was 7pm, but the silent, rolling earthquake was making everything quite eerie.

.

The professor walked toward the classroom next to us – Room 302 – and peeked on the window. I never forgot her next reaction. She stepped back, fell, and crawled away from the door. Her face was deadly white and her eyes were bulging from their sockets. She was shivering and her right hand was doing the sign of the cross over and over again.

We ran toward her.

As they tried to comfort her back to her senses, Mark and I walked toward Room 302 and took a short glance. Mark screamed. I would have too, but I was too frozen with fright that I cannot even open my mouth. We turned around and ran toward the safety of our classmates. I tried to tell them what we saw, but all I could mutter were short indiscernible grunts.

.

They took a look. Of course they took a look.

They screamed as well. We rushed back to our room and locked the door.

.

Room 302 was not empty.

There were some twenty or thirty students sitting on the seats, and the teacher, a woman, was sitting behind the desk. She was holding a small stack of yellow index cards. The scene would have been ordinary, except that all of them were looking at us. They were sitting there, body straight forward, except their heads were directly looking at us at the window.

We screamed not of that. Far from it.

We screamed because all of them do not have any faces. They do not have eyes, or nose, or eyebrows or mouth. They were staring at us with blank brown faces that would be our nightmares for years to come.

.

The earthquake stopped minutes later after we crowded back on our room.

The teacher after Criminal Law would find us, sitting quietly on our seats, praying. Our professor was with us, silent as a rock, her right hand still making the sign of the cross without pause. She would later become recluse and quit teaching months later.

As for the rest of us, we tried to forget what happened. The weird thing was that no one felt the earthquake except us, and there was supposed to be no class on 302 that night. Well, there was one other thing. I did not mention this to my classmates, but when I took a look at that fateful room that night, I noticed something else entirely.

They may be wearing different clothes, but I know, without an inkling of a doubt, that all of the students, including the professor, on that room were us. We were looking at ourselves.