(dedicated to Mang CV)
“Hi, are you waiting for the Film 100 class?” The voice was unmistakably coming from a girl—a bit husky, syrupy– but because the sun was bright behind the tall girl sporting a backpack, the one who was spoken to squinted and merely managed to squeak a soft “yeah” to the silhouette.
The girl who was sitting down looked timid, but Ms. Silhouette plopped herself beside her on the plastic bench and put down her backpack.
“It’s 1:00, right? 1:00- 4:00, it says right here in the registrar form,” the tall, quite muscular girl with a tan face, said. Her name is Tiffany and she is what she looks: her khaki shorts, white cotton top, a black and green Nike Air shoes and a huge Mountaineering backpack all say go-getter. Tiffany was early for the class and she could have spent more time hanging out with her org mates in UP Mountaineers. But this was her first elective in Film at the College of Mass Communication and, being an outdoorsy girl with big, spindly hands, she needed help to pass this class. Ms. Timid, she presumed, was a Film major, and a likely candidate. Besides, Tifanny was friendly, and, being an upperclassman, she has shed her timid phase and believed her charm and easygoing manner can win even the most introverted personalities.
“You’re a Film Major right,” Tiffany asked. The girl’s fashion sense screamed Film major: an all black get-up, boots, and a Pentax camera flung around her neck.
“Yes, I’m a freshman.”
“I’m Tiffany, an Art Studies major, third year. You are?”
“Tess, my name’s Tess.”
An awkward silence hung in the space between the two girls. Both glanced at the dark, closed Film department, the staff and professors presumably having their lunch. The photography class that day will be held in the film lab, which was located down the hallway near the department.
Tess, a transferee from Miriam decided she will make an effort this time to make friends. If not friends, well, maybe, a classmate or two she can be friendly to. So she sucked in air and opened her mouth in an effort to be friendly to her confident seatmate.
“Actually, I’m new here. I transferred from Miriam and this is my first major class.”
“That’s great! And I heard Photography’s such a fun class. It’s the digital age, but there’s something romantic about taking photos and developing them the old way.”
Tess almost said something about how she’s been using a film camera since high school, but of course never had experience developing the photos manually herself. But she stopped. If she told this piece of information, then Tiffany would expect great photos from her and Tess wasn’t sure if she was any good.
Thankfully, Tiffany talked again.
“Of course, I can’t help but feel nervous too, as much as I’m excited. I may look tough, but I’m a pussy when it comes to ghosts.”
“There’s a ghost in the dark room?” Tess finally looked Tiffany directly in the eye.
“Oh, you haven’t heard of it? Everyone knows about it, even students in other colleges.” Tiffany fished out a tumbler from her backpack and drank water before she proceeded.
“Well I hope this won’t discourage you from taking the course. This is, after all, just a tall story.”
“Oh, I’m not really scared of ghosts. I don’t believe in ghosts actually. But the idea of them is interesting. I idolize a lot of horror movie directors.”
“Well, the story goes that this girl named Shiela was a freshie Film major. Like you. She meets a ghost in the dark room and they become friends. But something goes horribly wrong in the film lab that she got confined in a hospital. Traumatized, she couldn’t speak for days. And she eventually left school.”
“What happened to Shiela?”
“Oh wait I should’ve started with the back story first, sorry. Okay, so even before Shiela took the class, the dark room has always had its ghost named Mark.”
“Mark? That’s quite a generic, harmless sounding name for a ghost right?”
“Right. But that’s his real name. Mark was a film major too, although this was decades ago, in the 1980s. Back when FIlm was just a new course.”
Tess nodded, signaling for Tiffany to go on.
“Legend has it that Mark was a promising student. While other students took photos of a mantataho, a beggar, a sampaguita girl — you know, poverty socially-oriented journalism tack, Mark took artistic ones. A shadow on a seat facing a window, which you would mistake for the ceiling. A moth stuck in a doorway. A tear on an old woman’s face you’d think was a mirror at first glance. He’s damn good. Mark was so hard-working and into Photography, that he’d even book the dark room outside of class. Some days, Mang CV, he’s the technician, would leave Mark the key to lock up. He was that obsessed!”
“Mang CV, he still works here?”
“Oh yes, we will meet him later. He owns the first half of the class: a tour of the film lab and a short orientation. Then we meet Professor Amoranto. Anyway, where was I? Ahh, Mark and his staying up late to develop photos. So Mang CV lends Mark his spare key and the next morning, Mang CV goes to work and discovers the film lab open. Mark didn’t lock up. You want to know what the most chilling part is?”
“Mark killed himself.”
“When Mang CV opened the door, the lab was wet. The lab has three partitions, see. The first partition is where the sinks, the black boxes and where photos are hung to dry. Beside it is a stock room—where Mang CV keeps the mop, broom, old stocks, but which students can also use to roll the film in the can, in case all the blackboxes are being used. The last room, where a dark curtain hung, is the real dark room where photos are developed.”
“You mean it was flooded?”
“No, but it was wet with chemicals and water and stuff. The stock room was open and that’s where Mang CV discovers the body.”
“Yes. His dead body. But what’s really really puzzling is that there are no signs it was a suicide. He didn’t slash his wrist, or hang himself. His wet body was just splayed on the floor and he was lifeless.”
“So what was the reason for his death?”
“Heart attack. He died of heart attack.”
“But he must have been 17 or 18 years old like me. That’s too young to have a heart condition.”
“But what did his parents say, maybe he did have a heart condition and maybe he was carrying a huge container of chemicals, slipped and died.”
“Whatever, it still doesn’t change the fact that he died inside the dark room. After that, students were freaking out, girls especially. They say that while they’re rolling the film into the spiral metal thingie, cold clammy hands would touch their legs. Mark was quite the naughty ghost. But, other than that, he was harmless. They say Mang CV would often talk to Mark as he’s cleaning up, imploring him not to give him the spooks. Mang CV prayed and prayed that Mark will finally go to where the light is. Maybe he almost did, but then Shiela took photography class.”
“Don’t tell me, Mark fell in love with her?”
“Oh no dear, this is not a love story. This is a pure scream-inducing horror story. And this is where things get scarier. I mean, the Mark ghost story was just a story, a legend that gets talked about in sleepovers for fun. I would never have believed it if not for Shiela. That’s how I know it’s true or a has semblance of truth.”
“You know Shiela personally?”
“No, She studied here 6 years ago and I was only in high school then. But some of my org mates in UPM who are over-staying know her personally. Said it really did happen. Shiela went—“ Tifanny circled her finger on the right side of her head—“cuckoo.”
Tiffany lowered her voice, as two students passed them to go the restroom.
“Shiela’s class was finally going to develop their first roll of film. The blackboxes were full. Five students were having a hard time rolling their film reels and others more were lined up. Students have always avoided the stock room, because that room’s the one haunted. But Shiela—she’s from Masbate and according to my orgmates, she’s very brave, the headstrong type—went inside the stock room anyway. Alone.”
“And cold clammy hands touched her legs,” Tess tried to finish for Tiffany,
“No, on the contrary, Mark helped her. It’s very difficult to roll the film especially if it’s your first time. Shiela thought he was her classmate who happened to be inside the room when she stepped in. Mark striked a friendly conversation and even rolled her film for her.”
“So Shiela didn’t know about the ghost story?”
“Well, they say she did, but that moment, she forgot all about it and assumed the guy inside was a classmate, probably an upperclassman she rarely saw in lectures.”
“So besides developing photos, she developed a friendship with the dark room ghost? Interesting,” Tess said.
“In Film 100, each class holds an exhibit and a photo contest by the end of the semester. Shiela won the top prize. Apparently, Mark helped him. All this time, in the stock room, Mark held private lessons with Shiela. He shared his tricks with her.”
“How sweet of him,” Tess remarked.
“Oh, but let me tell you something he did that wasn’t sweet.”
“Wait, before I get into that, I’ll tell you what happened to Shiela and how Mang CV saved her.”
“Hmm…and the story thickens.”
“Shiela booked the lab for her personal project. Just like Mark. Shiela was alone. Mang CV goes back to check up on her, only to slip on the wet floor, and there, in the stock room, Shiela was on her fours, her fingers clawing on the floor as something behind, something strong and evil was pulling her into the room and shutting the door. Shiela was trying to hold on to the floor, but Mark pulled her further until her face and hands were the only thing standing in the door’s way. Mang CV takes action just in time and he grabs Shiela’s hand, and pushes her away from the door. Until Mark let go and the door to stock room banged shut.”
“Wow, that is quite a story. So Mark was probably lonely and wanted Shiela for a companion.”
“Oh, no, no, no, Tess. I told you, this is a top-grade horror story, like Insidious or Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. Seriously, this can be a Yam Laranas Based from a True story feature film.”
“Not Shake Rattle and Roll?” Tiffany and Tess suddenly burst into laughter, as some of their classmates arrived and sat down on the plastic benches. The light in the Film department was turned on. It was almost time for class.
“Story has it that Shiela made a test print for her new batch of photos. And when she dipped the photo paper in the chemical, the image that emerged slowly was a black formless cloud with eyes, nose and lips and behind it was Mark’s image, mouth open, as if he was saying something. You see, Mark was warning her, protecting her from this evil sinister creature in the dark who wanted to take her like he took Mark.”
The college secretary Ate Forts opened the glass door and the students started coming in.
For the first time, since Tiffany started telling her the ghost story, Tess felt chills down her spine. But she wanted to know what happened to Shiela.
“After that, did Shiela recover? That must have been traumatic.”
“Yes, she did, but she went away. Studied abroad. But she has never used a camera again. And, some say, she’s scared of having her photo taken.”
“Poor girl,” Tess exclaimed. She really pitied Shiela. She was, after all, a promising photographer. And to let go of your dreams, just like that. Tess wished she didn’t give up.
“Tiffany, what was inside the stock room?”
“No one knows for sure. Probably an evil spirit or demon.”
“Is it still there?”
“After the incident, the College had a priest bless the place. But eventually they closed up the stock room. There’s no door there anymore.”
“And there hasn’t been—evil things happening since?”
Mang CV opens the glass door and calls them.
“Hi, are you part of Film 100? The tour’s about to start,” Mang CV says with a smile.
Tiffany and Tess stood up and walked toward the department.
Tiffany answered Tess, “No, there hasn’t been any bad incident. Lucky for us no? But still, you can’t help but be a bit scared. It is, after all, a dark room.”
“That’s true,” Tess answered.
Inside the laboratory, Mang CV was showing them the black boxes. He held a film can and a used film roll. He advised them to practice spooling film around the spiral during their spare time.
“Naku, it’s very hard. Most students end up scratching the film. If the sprockets are not in place properly, the images get blotched up and your whole roll will be gone. So practice makes perfect, as they say, okay?”
One student raises his hand.
“I’m clumsy. Can I ask a friend to spool it for me?”
Mang CV moves closer to the thin guy wearing thick glasses.
“Oh yes, that’s allowed here. But be careful, be sure that a real classmate, a real living person.”
“Sorry? I don’t—,“ the confused guy asked. But Mang CV was already discussing the chemicals.
Some students claim they hear fingernails scratching inside the walls of the locked up, now doorless stock room. One student even claimed she heard a film camera clicking.
But whatever lurks inside the room is just biding its time, waiting for another talented, interesting soul to make it thirsty again. After all, the creature has its ways with water and water – is one of the things needed to form the photos. Now, if only, it could find a better place in one of the trays, where it can drown a soul into the four corners of a picture.