Visual Dare – Secret

Secret

The room was a stark contrast to the other rooms they just passed by. The others had walls made of glass, furniture made of chromium, and the just newly released AI butlers. But the room they were currently in? Parker didn’t know if some kind of hidden-camera prank was being played on him.

The place smelled of mildew. It was the largest room they’ve been but with all the space Parker saw only nothing but emptiness. The wallpapers on the walls were peeling and cobwebs adorned every corner. The floorboards creaked with each step they took and the only source of light was a solitary lamp, standing tall, in the middle of the room.

“I don’t understand what exactly is going on here,” Parker said, unable to further contain his curiosity.

The Manager, as he introduced himself to Parker, stopped walking and turned around. Parker felt himself shiver at the sight of the Manager’s porcelain mask. The mask was cracked at different places. It had chipmunks like cheeks, which were painted red, and an equally red smile that literally reached from ear to ear. There were holes for the eyes but none for the nose and the mouth. He never did get the chance to ask why the Manager wore a mask, and he was sure he’ll never ask even if given the chance. He felt, no, he was sure he wouldn’t like the answer. The Manager’s bright, gray eyes held Parker’s; the old man couldn’t look away even though he wanted to.

“Mister Parker,” The Manager’s muffled voice said, “You came here, with your money, asking for something…new. Something exciting, I believe those were your exact words, yes, you asked for something exciting, did you not?”

Parker, for a while, remained silent but then remembered that he could talk. “Ye—yes, I did,” he answered. “But I can’t…”

The Manager held up a white, gloved hand. “I have taken you to all the rooms the Dream Factory had to offer. I have taken you to the Room of Lust and you responded with a shake of the head. You said you have walked this world for fifty years and you had experienced every woman there is to experience. I brought you to the Food Room and you scoffed. Scoffed! You said nothing but simply walked away. I brought you to the Wizard’s Tower and showed you the crafts of Merlin and Houdini. Your eyes showed surprise and wonder. I thought ‘This is what Mister Parker wants’, but, alas, Mister Parker was still not satisfied. I believe your exact words were ‘Smoke and mirrors, nothing but smoke and mirrors’.”

Parker felt sweat on his forehead though he didn’t know why. The old man wiped it away with the back of his hand. “I—I’m sorry if I’ve offended you.”

The Manager raised both hands at chest level and formed a steeple. “Offended? No, no, you have done no such thing, Mister Parker. The Dream Castle, you said you heard it from a friend who’s a frequent customer?”

Parker felt his mouth had gone dry. He responded with a nod. From somewhere in the poorly lit room, the old man heard something scurry. His eyes darted left and right which almost sent his spectacles flying.

“I am perfectly sure this friend of yours talked highly of this place.”

“Yes, yes he said that as long as I have the money you’ll be able to give me anything I want. Anything.” Parker wanted nothing more than to get out of the room and to hide and to never come out. He had never experienced this much fear and the scariest part of all was he didn’t know why he was feeling afraid. He just did.

“And you were very vocal about money not being a concern to you. Very vocal indeed. The Dream Factory had been operating for forty years, Mister Parker, and I’ve come to experience countless of customers and I am very proud to say all of their…wants were met. Through the years I have met all sorts of people and people like you, Mister Parker, the ones who have managed to get everything in life—money, women, power—I have encountered people like you as well. I am here to say that they too were not awed by the other rooms this place offers. But,” The Manager raised a finger, “it is in this room where I was finally able to satisfy them.” The Manager spread out his hands for emphasis. “Now, if you will just follow me, Mister Parker, I promise you, I promise you, you will get to have what you’re looking for. The Dream Factory never fails. I…never fail.”

The Manager turned around and started walking once more. Parker followed.

***

The end of the room was a wall—the strangest wall Parker had ever seen. It was filled with a mosaic of keyholes filled with varying keys and standing in the middle of the wall was a white door with the paint chipping off.

Parker walked closer to the wall. There were keys that were as long as his arm and there were some as small as a pin. There were keyholes without any keys in them. The door, Parker inspected, was nothing special. It was just a door. Parker reached for the knob and tried turning it but found it locked.

“Each and every one of these keys opens the door in front of you, Mister Parker,” The Manager said. “Just pick one and turn the key.”

“I don’t understand. What’s behind the door? Why should I be the one to pick the key?”

The Manager stepped beside Parker. “Behind this door is the one thing you want, Mister Parker. Behind this door is what you came here for.”

The Manager walked to the door and laid a hand on its wooden surface. “Every man on this planet wants something. Some wants can be as mundane as money, sex, a happily ever after. Some wants are more philosophical like death and spiritual awakening. Some wants cannot be identified. They are buried deep into the subconscious and dig as you may, you will never really get to know what it is. It is because of people like you, Mister Parker, that this door exists. This will show you what it is you really want. No, better yet, this door will let you experience it. People like you can never be truly satisfied. You have all there is to have. Behind this door, you will experience something you will never get to experience anywhere else. You say money is no issue to you, Mister Parker. I say to you: it is no issue to me as well. I am a rich man, richer than you. Your payment to me will be your satisfaction and you will get that once you enter this door.” The Manager turned around and pointed at the old man. “It is you who must choose a key and turn it. Now, please, let us not waste any more time.”

Parker, reluctantly, stepped forward and started looking at each and every key. Finally, he reached out a hand and touched one. The Manager just stood beside him, watching. Parker, slowly, turned the key. He heard the lock click and the key was suddenly sucked into the hole. Parker, surprised, took a step back.

“Open the door, Mister Parker,” The Manager said.

Parker, hand shaking, reached for the doorknob, twisted it, and pushed the door open. He shielded his eyes from the bright light. The light gradually weakened and Parker opened his eyes and looked. He couldn’t find the words to describe what he saw or what he felt. Eyes wide with shock, he started walking. “What is it?” He asked.

“I do not know,” The Manager replied. “I only see an empty room, Mister Parker. It is you who turned the key.”

Parker stepped inside the room and the door closed shut behind him. The Manager waited. After a while came the sound of Parker laughing. It grew louder and madder. As sudden as it came, it changed into screams of pain which turned into Parker sobbing like a child. Laughing, crying, screaming, it went on and on and on. The Manager just stood there.

Eventually, the sounds came no more. Walter Parker III had gone silent. Behind the Manager’s porcelain mask, he allowed himself a little smile…