Kamaitachi — Killer Wind
Bobby loved pub night. He loved playing a few rounds of pool, throwing a few darts and getting wasted over few pints of Guinness with old school chums. Sure, there would be talk about who bought what, who was seeing whom, who got promoted or won a big fat pay rise. It would be followed by bitching about the workplace or souring relationships , interspersed with half remembered songs or advertising jingles sang off key. It was loud, silly, even. But the cacophonous camaraderie warmed him. It kept away the icy fear of impossible deadlines and demands, at least for a little while. Bobby’s footsteps brought him to the glass door, which separated him from freedom. Grinning like a gleeful child, he swiped his pass card and was almost out when his name was called. He reluctantly turned his head and looked down.
A few feet away, a pale face with narrow eyes and razor sharp cheekbones glares up at him like a small bespectacled cockerel. Dressed in a mock black turtleneck and black jeans, Tanaka was the self-styled Steve Jobs of CubeFarm, the online startup at Bangsar South.
“You need to add in the customer registration module now!”
The edge to Tanaka’s squeaky voice broke no argument.
“You said he did not want it.”
A whine crept into his basso voice. His heart pounded in his barrel chest . Tremors began in his big meaty hands. It was school all over again. Now he was reliving the painful anticipation of the raw strokes of the rattan on his palm when he had forgotten his homework.
“Well, he wants it now and it needs to be up tonight!” barked Tanaka, his yellow teeth bared in an angry grin. A tense silence ensued. Tanaka’s imperious gaze bore into him like a drill, its sharp bit tearing away the every vestige of defiance. Bobby hung his head low like a chastised peasant. Goliath defeated by a small domineering David. The one who paid his salary. The one who determined whether he could make the monthly rent, enjoy weekly pub nights and spending sprees at the comic book store. He trudged back to his cubicle.
Bobby’s fleshy fingers tapped the steering wheel as he lustily sang alongside his favourite Bossa Nova singer. His work was finally done . The highway was clear with the occasional headlights passing him now and then. Down below, streets glittered under the full moon. He turned left and headed towards the sprawling suburb of Pandan Indah. One more stop at a traffic light. Then past the burnt down biscuit factory. And finally home sweet home. As the remains of the steel framed building towered in his view, his jaw dropped. Far from being abandoned, the dirty, lalang-filled industrial estate, was bustling with activity. Bobby pulled his Honda City over by the side of the road to take a closer look.
Rusty chains hung limply on rusty red gates of the factory. They gave way with a slight push. He entered and observed that its damaged zinc roof, crumbling walls and dusty floors hosted what appeared to be Comic-Con event: a wild place of rambling costumed peoples, raucous masked dancers, of manic jugglers and all kinds of food and exquisite things for sale. Men and women, some delicately winged and heartbreakingly beautiful, others furred, feathered and beast-like ,watched performances or wandered among the stalls. High above him, floating serenely among the dark boughs of old rain trees were brilliant diamonds that cast an unearthly greenish light on everyone and everything. Oddly enough it had no movie screenings, game or comic stalls. Bobby shook his head in mild disapproval.
“Smart toyols! Buy one get the next one free!” shouted a wizen old man in tattered robes and skin like brown leather. He stood before a white PVC table covered with bottles, each filled with writhing gray smoke. Bobby shook his head in amusement. He could have sworn something in the bottle winked at him.
“Try your luck! Answer a simple question and win Excalibur, the legendary magical sword of King Arthur,” intoned a tall Victorian gentleman, bearing a powerful looking silver sword.
Bobby paused in front of a tatami mat filled with kokeshi, colourful Japanese wooden limbless dolls. Bending down with a painful grunt, he examined them, pondering getting one for himself. With a big brown hand, he picked up a doll with large dragon head. It was no bigger than his middle finger. It squeaked like a mouse and vehemently hopped off his palm into the lap of a man with vulpine features , dressed in a brightly coloured kimono, sitting cross legged in front of him. The man had mismatched eyes, one silver flecked, the other sky blue.
“It doesn’t like me!” Bobby gasped, not believing what he had just seen.
The man calmly placed the doll back on the mat. He flashes Bobby a grin, revealing twin rows of needle sharp teeth. Bobby felt a chill go down his spine.
“My apologies, honourable sir,” He said in clumsy English, “The kokeshi that you just took, can only be used by a virgin to capture a tsunami on a night of a full moon.”
What use, Bobby wondered, would a virgin have for a violent sea wave stored in a doll?
His gaze rested on a doll with the head of a weasel. It looked cute with its lively black eyes set on a round head with a short snout. Chittering madly, it catapulted itself towards Bobby, hitting him on his bulging belly. He quickly caught it before it fell onto the ground. Bobby gives the man a questioning look.
The man smiled.
“This is a special doll. It chooses its owner.”
Bobby ran a fat finger over the weasel head, savouring the fine craftsmanship.
“What does it do?”
“It houses kamaitachi, a spirit assassin. My people use it as a weapon of war.”
Bobby’s brow furrowed with disbelief.
“Whatever man. How much is it?” Bobby asked in his rolling Tamil accented English.
Bobby made a grand gesture of flashing his wallet, stuffed with RM100 bills and credit cards. The man shook his head.
“We don’t take money as payment.”
There was something ominous behind the man’s clumsy English. Bobby’s heart raced.
“Oh, what will you take as payment?” Bobby asked belligerently, drawing himself to his full height.
The man fell silent and tugged the hairs of his slim black topknot.
“I could take your left ear,” He said casually, “Or all of your memories before the age of eight. I could take your sight, leaving you to see everything in shades of grey or your sense of smell, not all of it, but just enough that you can’t enjoy your favourite food.”
Bobby shook his head. No stranger was going to delete memories of the delicious chicken curry his mother made every day since he was a child. Or leave him blind to the sumptuous shades of red chilli oil and coconut milk. Or relieve him of the heady smell of the grounded cumin and coriander that accompanied each bite.
“Sorry man. Not giving anything away, not even for a doll.” Bobby replied tightly, his arms crossed tightly against a broad barrel chest.
The man’s bright black eyes flickered towards his hands.
“Or I could take what’s hanging on your right hand,” said the man brightly.
Bobby jerked the red braided cotton string from his wrist. It was a unremarkable, fragile thing that his mother forced him to wear when he drove her back to the nursing home from the Hindu temple in Brickfields.
The man bowed and gave Bobby the weasel headed doll.
“Should you wish to activate the kamaitachi spirit, say ‘Arigato’.”
“Right…like I am going to kill anybody soon.” replied Bobby sarcastically.
“Of course, you won’t…”
A brief smile skittered across the man’s face. He bowed again.
Bobby thanked him and hurried off. Cold sweat beaded his brow. His heart was beating so quickly that it almost leaped out of his chest. The toothy grin and oily smile didn’t feel right.
A strong gust of wind ushered in thick soupy fog that enveloped him like a shroud. The rich colours of the robes and costumes worn by the men and women faded into pastels of various shades. The cacophony of voices became muffled and distant. The fog thickened, bringing with it a cloying scent of incense. Dizzy and disorientated, his gait was unsteady, much like after 8 pints of Guinness . He stumbled back to his Honda City. As he drove away, he took one last look. The silhouette of the burnt down factory loomed over the eerie darkness. A rusty padlock now bound the rusty chains that held the rusty red gates together.
“First and last time I’m buying stuff from a ComicCon event. Next time, I’m buying online.” Bobby muttered, his purchase lying quietly on the passenger seat.
The next day unfolded like a perfect weekend. In between slow sips of his favourite Jamaican Roast, he coded a few simple programs for upcoming projects and had time to trade World of Warcraft gaming tips on GoogleChat with Chin, a fellow programmer three cubicles away.
“Tanaka’s got me working on this online queuing system with a super short deadline!! ” Chin fretted.
“Gotta roll with it man,” Bobby sagely replied.
A green bar bearing the name “Tanaka” flashed on his flat screen monitor. The smug smile on his broad face disappeared.
“Hey, you still there?” Chin typed, after a long period of silence.
“I HAVE BEEN SUMMONED…” Bobby typed with sweaty fingers. He lumbered towards the white door at the end of the hallway, his face taut with apprehension.
Tanaka’s angry shout echoed across the office. Chin and a few others peered curiously into the glass panel that divided the programming department from Tanaka’s room.
“What browser did he use?” Bobby asked.
“IE 6,” Tanaka curtly replied.
“Only dummies use such an outdated browser. Fixing the bug will take days, months even,” Bobby protested weakly, himself an avid user of Firefox and Chrome.
“The dummy is our loyal customer and good paymaster! Fix the bug by day end or consider yourself fired!” Tanaka snarled, pointing a thin finger at him.
The fierce gleam in Tanaka’s beady black eyes. The fiery tone of Tanaka’s voice. Bobby’s own meek protests that hid boiling indignation. It was a disconcerting déjà vu, a reminder of his own cowardice. After a curt dismissal, Bobby trudged back to his workstation and put on his headphones. He closed all his GoogleChats and Youtube videos and banged away at the keyboard with a vengeance. Metalica’s jangly guitar chords made him deaf to many distractions including an insistent tapping on a wooden shelf, somewhere between his sleek Gundam model and the billowing cloak of his Darth Vader figurine.
Two tense days and three sleepless nights later, he presented his solution to Tanaka.
“Well done!” Tanaka grinned as he clapped his hands.
A smug smile spread across Bobby’s lips.
“Paul’s going back to the States, next week. You’re the next head of the development team. Congratulations.”
Tanaka stuck out his hand. Bobby could barely contain his excitement.
The office shook violently. Files jumped out of the cabinet. Mugs broke. Pens and pencils clattered as they hit the floor. Panicked screams rose to a crescendo when all the windows and glass panel which separated Tanaka’s office from the rest of the company shattered. Bobby threw himself on the ground and covered his head. A gust of icy wind roared in from a broken window, bringing with it the mad chatter of weasels. Bobby heard a blood-curling scream.
Bobby scrambled to his feet. His terrified gaze fell on Tanaka. His high pitched screams descended into deep guttural sounds of agony.
The Japanese man was on his knees, caught in the centre of a small vicious whirlwind encircling his body. Tears ran down his cheeks. His face was pulled into a rictus of pain, his lips peeled back over his teeth. Within the swirling tendrils of mist, a sleek weasel with razor sharp claws ripped his black turtleneck and jeans to tatters. Two more weasels raked angry red lines on skin, exposing bloody muscle and white bone. His blood ran in scarlet ribbons.
“What have I done…” Bobby whispered. An utterly absurd thought came to him. Absurd but nonetheless chilling.
“I said arigato and they came…”
Bobby’s angry shouts were as useful as pissing in a forest fire. The weasels intensified their savage assault. Not knowing what else to do, he climbed over the table and covered Tanaka’s thin body with his own. The cuts felt like fire ants crawling all over his body.
“I’m sorry..so sorry,” whispered Bobby. He repeated his apology like a mantra recited by the Hindu priest at the Bricksfield temple. His eyes were red, his cheeks wet and salty. Tidal waves of guilt crash over him. His legs buckled under him, sending sharp shooting pains up his knees.
Tanaka’s stare was vacant. A raspy gurgling sound came from his open mouth. The Japanese man’s grip on his arm slacked. The howl of the whirlwind softened. The mists melted away, leaving behind a wild eyed disheveled man holding on to a badly mangled body on bloody white carpeting. A Daliesque nightmare made real.
The police took Bobby away. Threats and intimidation failed to work their magic. Bobby babbled like a man high on meth. He talked of murderous whirlwinds. A cursed doll that released vicious weasel spirits with a word. Soon, they released Bobby due to lack of evidence. He quitted his job and disappeared .
Months later a mysterious man set up shop in a Kelantanese village. A gentle giant who spoke Malay with a heavy Tamil accent. He sold sweets to young children and rice to harried housewives. His appearance coincided with the arrival of a strange wind. The icy gust ripped through the village every fortnight, bringing with chittering sounds. It didn’t rustle leaves nor ripple surface of puddles. It did , however, made babies cry, dogs bark and him scream as if brutally slashed by sharp tiny claws.