A Special Halloween Victim of Unmitigated Horror

This Friday, October 31st, I played the most fateful game of Battlefield 1942 in my life.

There I was in my darkened room, dirty clothes and empty soda cans strewn about like debris after a party. And for all I know it was – it had been a while since I’d cleaned. My face was lit only by my monitor, flickering as the gunfire ripped across the screen. We were playing on one of the Pacific maps, and as usual I was playing on the Japanese team. Not that I’d ever been back to Japan – my parents moved to California when I was still a year old, and I can’t even speak the language – but with a name like Takamoto you gotta do what you gotta do.

My team had rushed ahead to an early lead, and early in the map I leapt onto one of our landing boats and drove up to the island alone. I had hopped out and stolen an American tank, which I was now using without mercy. See, the Americans only had two spawn points on the map, and I was just sitting outside of one of them with the tank placed next to the ammo dump, firing away at will.

It was great: Americans would spawn in, and my shell was already in mid-air. BOOM! I’d take out three, sometimes four or even five guys with one shot, before they even got a chance to move. Hah hah! They were SO angry in the chat. “Quit spawn camping!” they yelled at me. “Cut it out!” Even my teammates were getting on my case: “You’re embarrassing us…” one of them teamchatted to me.

But I couldn’t help myself. “HA HAH! DIE!” I shouted, killing another couple of guys just as they respawned. Now they had to wait like 20 seconds before they could play again. I loved it.

I was getting so into it, I almost didn’t hear the knock on my door.

It was a harsh rattle, a quick machinegun-like knock with the meaty part of a fist. “Just a minute!” I called, mercilessly shelling the inside of the building at random until I racked up three more kills. The knock came again, and again right away – more urgent this time. I thought my door would rattle off of its hinges.

I rolled my chair away from my desk, kicked aside a pair of old jeans, and strolled to my door. It swung open to reveal something hideous, so terrifying that my hand tensed up around the doorknob until my knuckles turned white.

There was a young Japanese man on the other side of the doorway, my age, maybe slightly older. But his eyes betrayed a weariness and wisdom many times his age. What little of his eyes you could see, that is, between the shadow and the burns that covered his face. Although it was covered in seaweed, crusted with salt, and riddled with bulletholes, it was clear the man was wearing a World War II flight jacket. Moreover, with growing terror, I recognized him from old pictures that my grandmother had once shown me. My jaw flexed and fell open, helplessly.

The downed pilot raised a broken, undead finger to point at my face. “SPAWN CAMPING GRANDSON!” he boomed. “YOU BRING GREAT DISHONOR TO WHOLE FAMILY!

Chapter II

My knees buckled under me. I was paralyzed with fear until I saw him reach around to lift his scabbard. Japanese fighter pilots carried with them Katana, just as the warriors of old. My grandmother never talked much about grandpa, all we knew is that she was pregnant with mother when he disappeared fighting over the pacific. The glint of steel as he withdrew his blade brought me back to my senses, and I howled a sharp scream before slamming the door shut and throwing my back against it. Maybe, I thought, he was just a nightmare.

Then with a loud crack and the splintering of wood, the blade of the Katana shot through the door an inch from my ear.

“Dishonorable grandson!” the undead pilot screamed from the hallway outside. “You commit seppuku, ritual suicide, restore family honor! Is very simple, you disembowel self, I chop off head, end pain. Okay?”

“No!” I shouted.

“Okay, I leave head on. Let grandfather in!”

“No!!”

The blade of the katana wriggled in place, then disappeared. A moment later it burst through the wall in a shower of plaster. “You stain family name! Spawn camp with Yankee tank! Ancestors weep, tears fall as rain in Okinawa,” he shouted. My grandfather pounded his fist against my wall, knocking posters to the floor. “Seppuku is honorable death, very honorable! You like!”

I stumbled over my bed, lunging for my phone. I had to call for help – but who? Not the police. Maybe the veterans’ administration? No … no, only one man could help me. He would know what to do.

As a former Fortune 500 company sysadmin, he always had a backup plan.

The phone rang for an agonizingly long time before the sysadmin picked up. For the time being, my grandfather withdrew his katana from the wall and seemed to disappear – it was eerily quiet. So quiet I almost jumped when the phone made noise. “Hello?” crackled a voice on the other end of the line.

“Undead samurai grandfather is trying to make me disembowel myself!” I croaked into the phone.

My friend grunted. “Tom?” He asked. “Tom Takamoto?”

“Yes, it’s me.”

“I see. And you’re being haunted on all Hallow’s Eve by one of your undead ancestors? Where is he now?”

I looked around helplessly, afraid to open my katana-scarred door. I peered out the peephole, terrified that a sword might plunge into my gut, only to find that the hallway was empty.

Then, the CRASH! I nearly jumped out of my skin, falling forward into the door and whirling about on unsteady legs. A great crack had appeared on my bedroom window. A moment later, with another crash, something else hit the shutters.

“Tom! Are you okay?” the voice on the phone asked.

I crept to the window and, sure enough, my grandfather was on the ground below, glaring up at me.

“I’m okay – He’s pelting my window with charred pieces of the USS Intrepid,” I said.

“You ancestors fight honorable war!” the pilot cried when he saw my face. “Die honorable deaths! Rebuild nation to world power! Make world most popular videogame console unit! Then have spawn-camping grandson piss on graves of ancestors!

My friend on the phone emitted a thoughtful “hm.” In my mind’s eye I could see him scratching his chin and looking at the ceiling, as he always does when putting his plans into motion. “Ordinarily undead of Asian descent don’t haunt the living without some sort of debacle involving their lineage. Some sort of family dishonor, such as incest, murder…”

“I was spawn-camping in Battlefield 1942,” I admitted.

“Sweet Jesus, Tom, I thought I knew you!”

Some tree branches scribbled against my window, and to my horror the scarred face of my grandfather suddenly appeared and pressed itself against the cracked glass. “Grandson!” he said. “I talk to ancestors, they say you put down rubber mat, catch guts and severed head. Clean up real easy. We do now, okay?”

I shut the blinds.

“Okay, okay,” my sysadmin friend finally admitted. “You don’t learn to administer mission-critical server farms without sketching out a few plans for dealing with the undead. Meet me at the mall in fifteen.” With a click, he hung up.

My grandfather reached through the window, shattering the glass.

Chapter III

A cold hand clasped around my neck, reeking of the ocean and burned motor oil. “Okay Grandpa!” I croaked, allowing the phone to drop to the floor. “Seppuku sounds great. Come in and hook me up!”

“Oh grandson!” the pilot beamed, sticking his head through the window while spent bullets clattered out of his corpse and onto my bedroom floor. “You do right thing! I come around to door now.” With that, he released my neck and dropped out of my view.

I was frantic. I had to get to the mall. But how? Had to fool him. I could already hear his steps creaking up the stairs, seaweed rasping along the carpet of the stairway.

I tore a sheet from my bed, then flung another out of the closet. As fast as my quaking hands would allow I tied one end to the doorknob, then tied the two sheets together, like an escaping prisoner. I backed toward my shattered bedroom window and quietly unlocked it. Then, the doorknob rattled.

“You let grandpa in, we erase stain of family honor with own blood, very nice!” he called, sweetly.

“Just a minute!” I called to the closed door, slowly opening the window. “I’m getting a knife and … uh … drawing a big dotted line on my tummy for where the guts will come out!” I said. I put a foot out over the window sill, but couldn’t find any purchase. My shaking hands clamped my end of the sheet.

“Use Ginsu, chop tin can like tomato!” The door rattled again. “Hey, you not let grandpa in…” he pounded the door with fury. “I come in now!”

I took a deep breath and yanked on the sheet. My bedroom door slammed open, and as I dropped from the window I caught a brief glimpse of my grandfather silhouetted in the doorway, Katana raised to strike. “ATARRRIII!!” he yelled, storming forward, swinging his sword. Coincidently, he severed the Atari 2600 sitting in front of my TV. Then I let go of the sheet and dropped to the grass below, falling backwards as I hit, my ankles crying out in pain.

Meanwhile, my grandfather yelled “Bansai!” and I heard him shatter my lamp with the sword. Then another flash of metal, and I saw the blade cleave into my window sill. The end of the sheet fluttered around me, cleanly cut. I wasted no time; I took off running.

“You come back now spawn-camping grandson! You not die with honor yet!” He leaned far out the window to shout angrily at my retreating figure. “ANCESTORS SERIOUSLY PISSED OFF!

In the dim twilight of an orange Halloween moon, he turned back into my room and slowly sheathed his sword. My chair was still angled toward my flickering computer monitor. Scrinching up his half-burned face, he peered at the game of Battlefield 1942 that raged on the screen. Then, he looked over and saw my flight stick…

Chapter IV

The mall was crowded, with people pressed on all sides. A mummified hand reached out to grab my stomach, so I screamed with terror and threw the figure aside – turned out it was just a kid dressed up for trick-or-treat. He cried sloppy tears through his plastic mask and ran to his mother, who glared at me under the brim of her witch’s hat.

I met up with my server administrator friend in the local LAN gaming center, the place where they have all the big tournaments. Gamers, some in costume, hunched in front of screens barking orders to one another or dodging digital rockets. Small tables sat in the corner, and it was at one of these that my sysadmin friend sat alongside of a gangly man with a disturbing glint in his eye.

“Tom, I’d like you to meet Gabe,” said the man with the plan. “Gabe here is an expert on the occult as it relates to video games, and once possessed the powerglove of Satan. A peripheral of immense power that thrived on the taste of human blood.”

“It was a little buggy that way,” Gabe admitted. “Sure was great for playing Diablo, though.”

“Whatever happened to it?” I asked.

“Well, those things never end well,” Gabe said with authority. He turned to my friend: “Thanks for getting me acquitted!” he said.

“All part of the master plan.”

“Anyways,” Gabe continued, “Funny thing is, months after we destroyed the dark one’s peripheral, these crazy occult symbols and runes started burning themselves into my flesh where once I wore it.” To demonstrate, Gabe lifted his right hand and placed it on the table. Sure enough, dark scratchings of an unknown language were scrawled jaggedly along his wrist, fingers and knuckles. When Gabe turned his eyes away his hand seemed to slither across the table on its own, creeping toward the salt shaker on its fingers. “Kinda kooky, hunh? Funny thing is, I’m way better at Counter-Strike now.” His hand reached up and gingerly loosened the top of the salt shaker, then backed off and rapped its fingers on the table innocently. Gabe appeared not to notice.

“So,” the system administrator began, edging his seat closer. “Tom here is haunted by his undead uncle -“

“Grandfather,” I corrected.”

”- and needs things taken care of. You’ve seen this kind of thing before, right?”

“Oh yes,” Gabe explained. “One time – you know that Palace Park Amusements Arcade? Well, you heard the tragic story about Jules, the guy who fixed all the arcade machines. The guy was a genius when it came to Pole Position II. Anyways, he was killed in a car accident – DELICIOUS IRONY! – but get this: he had an organ donor card.

Gabe waited for some kind of reaction. He got none. “…yes?” I finally said.

“Well, I met the guy who got his liver. And … he suddenly acquired amazing Pole Position II skills.” Gabe pushed back his chair and sat up, proudly. “I am NOT making that up. So you see, I’m used to this whole ‘undead’ thing.”

Me and the System Administrator exchanged glances. “How is that undead?” I asked.

“His liver. His LIVER – from a dead man – MADE HIM GOOD AT POLE POSITION!” Gabe reached up and started putting more sugar in his coffee with his graffiti-covered hand.

“But the liver was alive!” I protested.

Gabe didn’t hear me, focusing his attention instead on his hand, which continued to pour sugar into his coffee until it became a foaming white mass. “Stop that,” he said aloud. Then he grabbed his own hand by the wrist, dropping the sugar. “Cut it out! I can’t take you anywhere!”

Gabe flipped himself off. “Oh that’s it, mister! You’re wipin’ for a month.

“Gentlemen, gentlemen!” my friend urged, speaking to Gabe only. “Do you think you can help?”

“Standard exorcism. Very, very easy,” Gabe proclaimed. His hand reached up to stroke his chin, then pulled his cheek in funny angles. “Now, about my fee. You need to hook me up with one of those 42-inch plasma screens and a copy of Mario Kart Double Dash.. Down! Hand! Sit!”

I practically leapt out of my chair. “This is ridiculous!” I boomed. “I can’t afford that!”

“It’s okay, I have a coupon that I put aside for just such an eventuality,” explained the system admin, putting a reassuring hand to my chest. My outburst had attracted attention, though.

“Tom? Tom Takamoto, is that you?” asked the bartender behind the counter. “Funny, I thought you were playing Battlefield. You’re logged into the server.”

Panic gripped my chest. I had left myself logged in when I abandoned my bedroom – what if he was on there? I dashed to the nearest bank of computers, and had to fight my way through an admiring crowd before I got a view of the on-screen action.

A player turned around in surprise. “Tom? You’re here? Then who’s logged in under your name?”

“That’s my grandfather!”

“Wow. Guy’s the most amazing Zero pilot I’ve ever seen. A whole group of us stopped playing just to watch.”

Suddenly, the computer speakers roared as a Japanese plane pulled out of a dive just overhead. From out of the sun my Grandfather’s plane dove, machine guns blazing. He pulled up at the last second, sending an American Jeep whirling out of control into a fencepost, riddled with machinegun bullets. My grandfather’s right wingtip grazed the roadway as he pulled up and veered over, strafing and then dropping a perfectly placed bomb into the turret of an American tank. GIs bailed out of the way as it burst into an explosive fireball, flipping the burning tank over in mid air. The Zero roared away before anyone could even fire a shot in retaliation. The crowd cheered.

“Wow,” Gabe said, mouth hanging open. “He fights with great honor.”

“Shaddup!” I barked.

“C’mon,” said the System Administrator, pulling us away. “Let’s roll.”

Chapter V

“Which house is yours?” Gabe whispered as we stalked quietly down the street. “The one with the picket fence? Or the one with the smoldering bullet-ridden Japanese Zero fighter parked in the yard covered in seaweed?”

Light from my monitor flickered in my window. “Banzaaii!” cried my grandfather’s voice. We heard a series of explosions, and then a computer voice declare “Point Secure.”

“Damn he’s good,” whispered the server administrator.

“Shaddup!” I grunted.

Gabe led the way as we silently stalked up the stairs. He had ringed his neck with garlic and held a cross before him – even though I insisted my grandfather was probably either Shinto or Buddhist. Katana cuts crisscrossed the door to my bedroom as well as the wall outside of it.

The System Administrator and I framed either side of the door, and then nodded to Gabe to go for it. Gabe burst inside, and I risked a peek to see what would happen next.

My Grandfather, as sprightly as a cat, kicked aside his chair and flew to his feet, whipping out his katana in one smooth motion. Gabe approached him with a booming voice: “BEGONE, SPAWN OF SATA- Er -WHOEVER! I COMMAND YOU TO LEAVE THIS HOU-“

“Yooosh!” barked my Grandfather, flicking his Katana upwards in a flash. Gabe’s right hand shot away from his wrist in a spray of blood that arced across the room.

Gabe reeled backwards, holding his stump before his face in utter shock. “My hand – you cut off MY HAND! …Delicious Irony!” Blood spurted into his face. “Holy – Hey!”

Like Mitsurugi from Soul Calibur, my Grandfather stepped forward with a perfectly timed thrust of the sword that audibly cracked Gabe’s chest and emerged, bloody, through the center of his back. Then Grandpa stuck a booted foot onto Gabe’s midsection and kicked him off of his weapon, where he landed to the floor in a crumpled heap. The undead blood-spattered pilot took a moment to bow before the body.

Horrorstuck, I withdrew my head and flattened myself against the hallway wall. My frantic eyes sought the System Administrator for guidance – what now?

“I have a backup plan for just such an eventuality,” he said. “RUN!”

He took off down the front stairs, but before I could follow, my Grandfather stepped out in front of me. His unburned skin was flush, and he had a boyish grin on his face. In one hand he held the bloody katana, in the other Gabe’s severed rune-covered hand.

“Dear grandson, you can learn LOT from dead American. He die with MUCH honor! And judging by face, great disappointment.” Grandpa grinned widely, wide enough to dislodge an eye from his socket where it dangled on his cheek attached to a black vein. “But look this – severed hand still moving on own. Verrrry creepy!

I darted away and ran down the back stairs three at a time, bursting through the kitchen and out the back door as fast as my weakened legs could carry me. I could hear my grandfather screaming at me through the second story window: “Grandson come back! I wipe blood off katana so you not get infection when I chop off head! Ancestors still disappointed in lack of skillz…!!”

Fortunately, the System Administrator had a backup plan.

Chapter VI

Back at the LAN gaming center in the mall, the man sitting across the table from us needed no introduction. We had met under previous circumstances, because I was friends with his son and knew of his unorthodox Battlefield 1942 tactics. That’s right, I’m talking about Kevin, a blonde 16 year old, and his father, a grizzled weekend warrior with a beer belly who had ordered a huge plate of French Fries but insisted on calling them “Freedom Fries” because (his words): “The frogs screwed us over in the war with the a-rabs.”

Kevin’s dad pounded the bottom of his ketchup bottle as though he were trying to win a fight with it. “So you got yourself an undead Jap grandpappy locked in your bedroom slicing open your friends like Yan Can Cook, and you need him taken out?”

“That’s right,” agreed my server administrator friend, who had hastily arranged the meeting. “We need someone who can bring in some heavy hardware. The subtle approach didn’t work.”

“Well,” explained Kevin’s dad, “It’s like I always said: The only good Jap is a dead Jap.”

I bristled. “By that definition, the zombie would be a good Jap!”

Kevin’s dad narrowed his eyes at me. “Are you some kind of Communist?” he asked.

“So what can you do for us?” cut in the server administrator, trying to defuse the tension between us.

Kevin’s dad put down the ketchup and picked up the salt. “It’s like this, like I’ve always been trying to teach my son here. When you want to take care of a problem, you don’t pussy around. You go in, you go in big, and you GET THE JOB DONE THE FIRST TIME. Like we did in Iraq. Twice.” He went to salt his fries, but the lid came off the shaker, dumping a quarter cup of white powder all over his dish. “DAMMIT what kind of pantsless pissant DOES that kind of thing anymore!?”

“What’s the plan, dad?” Kevin asked.

“The plan?”

“For killing the zombie!”

“The zombie! That’s right, son. Now, as you and I know from playing Quake together, you can’t kill zombies with guns or knives. You need grenades.” He reached into a faded green knapsack and – with deadly serious authority that somehow made the room go quiet – set a U.S. Army grenade on the table with a deep metallic thud. Together, we drew in our breaths. Nobody said a word for several moments.

“Dad,” Kevin breathed. “Whoa.”

“Son, I was saving this for your 18th birthday. But fate perspired against us, and since we can’t use it on a communist, or a terrorist, we’ll use it on the next best thing: a foreigner.”

“Oh come off it!” I said, my blood racing.

“Look here!” Kevin’s dad shouted back, his chair scraping loudly against the floor. “You don’t call in the A-Team for a B-Job!”

My server administrator friend rose to his feet and put a comforting hand on each of our shoulders. “Gentlemen, gentlemen, please. We need to work together on this. We need to help one another. Let’s all just do the right thing.”

Kevin’s Dad picked up the grenade, then shouldered his knapsack. “Let’s show this undead s.o.b. what it’s like to be red, white, and blew up!” He hollered, leading the charge. No, I didn’t get it, either.

Chapter VII

Out in my front yard, grandfather’s Mitsubishi A6M2b Zero still leaked seawater and oil and emitted a musty unnatural fog through the bulletholes along its fuselage. One wing was almost completely shorn off, and the propeller was all curved back as though frozen at the moment in time when it made its final plunge into the deck of an enemy carrier.

Quietly, Kevin’s dad, the server administrator with the plan, myself and Kevin all crept up the stairway toward my blood-spattered, katana-scarred bedroom. As before, we split up and pressed ourselves against the wall on either side of my bedroom door.

Kevin’s dad withdrew the grenade, wrapping one of his stubby fingers around the pin. He leaned in, slowly peeking through my doorway at the zombified pilot sitting in my computer chair. I was relieved to note that my grandfather had replaced his eye. In silence, we watched him play Battlefield 1942 for a few reverent moments.

“Wow,” Kevin’s dad breathed. “That Jap’s got some serious skills!”

“Shaddup!” I hissed.

“No seriously, look – he coulda just bombed that spawn point, but he didn’t, he let the guys get out so he could fight them for real. He fights with HONOR!”

“Shaddup!” I barked.

My grandfather suddenly looked up from the computer. For a moment, his head framed by the harvest moon through the broken window and his unscarred side lit by the glow of the monitor … his eyes met mine.

“Fire in the hole!” Kevin’s dad shouted, pulling the pin and chucking the grenade through the door. Grandfather’s eyes flicked, following the grenade through the air like a cat spotting a mouse. I tore myself away.

The group of us moved away from the door and threw ourselves against the wall. Kevin and his father clapped their hands over their ears. The server administrator crouched low. As for me, my head fell limply against the wall.

Grandpa.

Suddenly, a clunk and a rattle. We looked down to see the grenade bounce off the hallway wall and roll toward Kevin’s feet. A moment of utter shock. “He threw it back…” murmured Kevin’s dad. The army reservist pointed a chubby finger at the grenade as though it were a bad dog. “THAT NEVER HAPPENS IN VIDEOGAMES!” he cried.

A moment later, and we all would’ve been dead – a narrow hallway, absolutely no cover from the shrapnel, no time to throw it back. The server administrator dove away, his face white, the end near. And Kevin – Kevin was only 16! He had his whole life ahead of him! It couldn’t be.

I moved forward, reached out my arms, and dove onto the grenade, covering it with my body.

*   *   *

It was almost midnight now, and traces of mist crept amidst the dewy grass. Grandfather and I walked up the street, our shadows long, our feet rasping on the pavement. We walked toward a light low on the horizon. “You do MOST honorable thing grandson,” he said, beaming. “Ancestors probably pissing themselves.”

The huge ragged hole where my stomach used to be was disconcerting.

“Hey! Hey guys! Guys wait up!” called a cracking voice behind us. Gabe jogged up next to me. “When do I get my hand back?” he asked, holding up his stump. One of his arteries still shot blood like a fountain pen.

“Hand still alive,” grunted my grandfather.

“How can I play Tony Hawk like this?” Gabe whined. “This sucks.” He fell a few paces behind us, murmuring to himself.

The light was brighter now.

Grandfather put his arm around my shoulder.


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[Have a happy Halloween - from Fargo, HotSoup, The Daily Victim, and GameSpy!]


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