I know, I know. I never should have upgraded from Windows 7 to 10.
The default login screen of Windows 10 features a variety of nature-themed photos, and under the original setting, they will change from time to time automatically. The scenes of nature depicted are kinda picturesque and I’ve always found them to be pretty relaxing, so I’d always been happy to leave it as it is.
Until this morning, that is.
My computer isn’t exactly the fastest so I usually start it up first thing in the morning, even before I have my breakfast. One morning last week, the photo on the screen that greeted my eyes as I entered my study almost made me drop my coffee mug.
It was from my recent trip to Japan. Now, granted that I'd already uploaded it to my computer so it wasn’t like some supernatural shit was going on. But still, it unsettled me. I’m no computer expert, but it just didn’t seem likely that Windows was just going to pluck some random photo from my library to use it on my login screen. They'd been using their own stock photos for as long as I could remember.
It didn’t help that the photo in question was a haunting one. It framed a lonely lane in the middle of a bamboo forest I had visited in the outskirts of Tokyo. I remembered that photo particularly well because it wasn’t the typical tourist spot, and having arrived close to dusk, I had found the place deserted, perhaps even slightly uncomfortably so.
But it was a beautiful picture, and one I was proud to have taken, so after I had shaken off the initial shock I decided to let it remain. I thought it had to be a Windows 10 feature or something—how perhaps with one of those madly complex algorithms of theirs they could detect suitable photographs stored in the hard drive and use it as they thought appropriate. The nerve of it. I had half a mind to google how to change the settings—no one likes it when artificial intelligence gets a bit, well, too intelligent, but I shelved the idea as I had more pressing matters to attend to that morning.
Days passed, and every time I started up my computer I was filled with a sense of pride, but also a slowly deepening sense of dread.
Now what was the story behind that lane again? I remembered reading up on that particular bamboo grove during my trip, so I dug up my old itinerary to have a read.
I hastily changed my login screen photo immediately after that. The bamboo forest was a famous, or rather, an infamous one, because after Japan's surrender that effectively ended World War II, many Japanese soldiers, unable to take what they saw as the unredeemable humiliation of capitulating to the foreign enemy, took their own lives in that very place. Many of them committed seppuku, the only honourable way for defeated samurai to die, other than in battle. It is also a horrible way to die, since it means having to disembowel yourself.
I had a nightmare that very night. I was a Japanese soldier, trudging into that familiar grove. I didn’t want to die, much less die in such a painful manner, but I knew that I hadn’t a choice. Not unless I wanted to live out the rest of my life in ignominy. But as my heavy hands hefted the weight of the short, sharp knife that I soon had to plunge into my belly, I began to think that any kind of life was better than none at all.
Hurry, hissed my second, the one who would end my life quickly as soon as I had suffered enough, or the moment he saw I was going to cry out in agony and so dishonour myself. He gripped my shoulder, pushing me down onto my knees, as a frightened whimper escaped me.
I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die.
But as I peered through tear-muddled eyes up at the grim countenance of my executioner, whose gleaming sword was already raised above his head, ready to cleave my life away in one fell swing, I knew my life was already forfeit.
I took the knife with both hands and plunged it deep into my stomach, shrieking all the way.
I woke up covered in cold sweat. All the dampness on my body made me think for a moment that I had wetted the bed, and frankly had that turned out to be true I wouldn’t have been surprised at all.
But worst of all, my computer, which I dutifully turn off every night before going to bed, was already switched on. The photo I had come to hate had made its reappearance on the garish screen, but there was something different about it.
I grabbed my glasses. I gasped.
For at the far end of the lane there was a small but unmistakable figure—a soldier, wiping his bloodstained sword.