PLAYING WITH DICE
Story by Budjette Tan / Art by Bow Guerrero
(originally published in MANUAL magazine, 2010)
He was the only one in the hospital cafeteria. The lady behind the counter had stepped out to go to the comfort room, leaving him and the day’s special that no one really wanted to order.
Miggy felt small seated at that long, white table. He chose the one near the window, hoping to catch a breeze since the lady turned off the air conditioning. The night air was stuffy, made worse by the antiseptic they used to mop the floor that just seemed to punch him in the nose.
He adjusted his eyeglasses as he flipped open another book. His finger ran down the page, searching for the right magic spell.
He was once caught reading the spellbook in class. And of all the classes to get caught in, it just had to be Religion Class with Ms. Saligumba; who completely freaked out when she saw the dragons and magicians on the cover. She lifted the book up high and slammed it down on the ground and declared Miggy a demon-worshipper in front of the class.
The school principal had to call up his parents. Mom and dad were too busy at work that day, so his lolo came over to see what all the fuss was about. After hearing Ms. Saligumba rant and preach about the incident, lolo made Miggy apologize to his teacher and promise to only read the Bible and other school required books during class hours. Lolo even made him promise that to never bring the spellbook to school again.
Ms. Saligumba smiled like a goblin, satisfied that she was proven right. She was about to stand up and bid them goodbye when lolo said their meeting was not yet finished. Lolo then explained to Ms. Saligumba that the so-called demonic spellbook is actually a rule book to the “Deadly Dragons & Magical Knights” role-playing game.
He further explained that role-playing games can serve as a good education tool to help children expand their imagination, learn teamwork and how to interact with other kids. He then told Ms. Salibumba that he’s played the game with Miggy several times and that at no time were they ever possessed by demons nor have they started to worship the devil. Lolo smiled and told her that maybe she should learn to play some games and not be so serious all the time.
Finally, lolo pointed out that calling his grandchild a Satanist in front of the entire class was not very nice at all and made Ms. Saligumba apologize to Miggy. Remembering the pale look of Ms. Saligumba’s face was enough to make him smile.
Miggy continued to go through the book until he reached the chapter of Healing Spells. In his palm was a 20-sided dice. It felt warm in his hand, like a piece of M&M chocolate. The dice clattered on the plastic surface of the table.
He got a 9.
He tried another spell.
He had been here since last night, since they brought his lolo to the ICU, and ever since then, he had been trying to roll a 20.
If he rolled a 20 then the healing spell would work. According to the rules of the game, he didn’t really have to roll a 20. Sometimes a 15 would do, since his Casting Ability was already at 30+. There are just moments, certain situations, depending on the degree of difficulty, that a 20 is necessary. Like the time he and his party of adventurers were trapped in lava pits of Vulcarion. While battling a fire demon, he had to project a force shield to protect them and cast a healing spell to save their sorceress. That required a 20. And as luck would have it, he rolled a 20.
He’d rather hear the roar of a fire demon than those little beeping sounds in his lolo’s hospital room. He’d rather listen to the howl of harpies than hear the hollow, rasp of the machine that helped his lolo breath. Here in the hospital cafeteria, he was kept company by the buzz of the florescent lamp and that was more comforting that any of those other sounds, at least for the moment.
He rolled again.
Almost got it then.
Even if he got a 20, he wondered if it would be enough to save his lolo.
He had once seen a TV special about faith healers and bleeding statues, and wondered if that’s how magic manifested itself in the world. Maybe they were the real magicians. And if they were the real magicians, do dragons still roam our streets in disguise? Who were the dragons? Is it possible that these dragons now hide underneath human skin?
How he wished that he really had a pet dragon, so he could magically fly his lolo to the elves of Ayaniku, who can supposedly heal any wound and have potions that would allow people to live hundreds of years.
He quickly flicked to the next page and got paper cut. That was when he found what he was looking for.
As he licked the wound on his forefinger, his eyes wandered from the book to his pewter cleric figure. They called him Benedictus. The Blessed One. Formerly known as Wodden the Wicked. Beneticus’ red robes looked like it was bleeding on the stark white plastic of the table.
His lolo helped him find the right name for his cleric character using a big book about saints. Miggy loved hiding in his lolo’s library. No one bothered him there. It was his castle. His fortress. His secret door to worlds undiscovered.
Every Sunday, they would visit his lolo and he was allowed to borrow one book. His favorite was the one about the dragon who gave up his magic for the love of a beautiful princess.
He closed his eyes, slowly breathed in, and he stepped through that secret door. He was greeted by the scent of old leather, of yellowed pages that haven’t been touched for ages, and his lolo’s favorite cologne.
Miggy would usually find lolo seated behind this black wooden table that cut the room in half. He’d sit on his lolo’s lap and they’d read a book and lolo would do all the voices of the characters.
What he really liked were the times lolo would open his desk drawer which had a secret panel underneath. That was where they hid a little sketch book covered in brown leather, kept secure by a leather string that tied around the book three minutes.
This was their journal, their travel log, filled with drawings and doodles of their journey to a place known only to them; where the best mode of transportation were purple talking cats the size of elephants. Or one could rent a circular spinning shield and use it to fly to the other islands. This was the place where they were honored guests of the Queen of the Candy Castle and had to run for their lives from the Tribe of Rotting Houses. He gave a little laugh as he remembered all their adventures.
Someone suddenly hugged Miggy from behind making him drop the dice. His mom began to cry and tried to tell him in between sobs that his lolo was dead. The dice clattered under the table.
As tears began to make the whole room become a blur, he took a peek at the dice and saw that it came up 20.
They stayed there for awhile, cried `til they couldn’t cry anymore. They hugged each other tight, afraid to let go. It was as if they were afraid they’d loose the other if they did released from that tight embrace.
On the way back to the ICU he wondered, how blessed is this place.
How, if you listened carefully, you would hear the whispered prayers slip out of every room and float down the corridors.
These white walls must be holier than a church, he thought. In a church, most people would nod off in the middle of the sermon or keep looking at their watches or cellphones.
But here, when people prayed, they thought of nothing else but their prayers: please make him well, heal her, let him live, take away her pain.
They prayed by themselves, they prayed in groups, they prayed as families. Some prayed so loud they could be heard in the next room. Others prayed in song, in whispers, by mentioning verses from the Bible. They prayed with their faces buried under the hospital-issued pillow that slowly became wet with tears.
And yet, so many people die anyway.
So maybe the prayers get trapped inside, can’t get out, can’t get heard.
Maybe the hospital is built wrong, should have more windows and doors to let the prayers out and reach the heavens.
He hugged his spellbook as he took little steps into the cold room.
His lolo looked fine, like the many times he caught him napping in the library.
Page 88 was where he got paper cut. At the bottom of that page was the Teleportation Spell. This allowed the spellcaster to send himself or anyone else to a place that was far from all harm. This was the spell he was trying to cast right before his mom hugged him and made him drop the dice.
That was when he finally rolled a 20.