by Nicholas MacDonnell
He called himself the Eraser.
From coffee shops to libraries, to bookstores new and old, anywhere Creators congregated, the Eraser stalked his prey. At any place where dreams were kindled, the Eraser made his home.
For seven years the Eraser had existed. His origins, a seedy backstory saved for fanboys, remained as blurry as his identity. Little was known about this scourge of makers. Only heartbreak trailed in his wake.
Where did it all begin?
A coffee shop. The Last Drip. What a stupid name. Thinking back to that first time, the Eraser remembered how it had been to live without a calling. Without purpose, he had stopped in like any other mortal. He had come as a sucker, another worker bee.
On the day it all began, while waiting for his coffee, the Eraser’s eyes strayed to a young woman typing at her keyboard. They were near the same age but, despite the obvious attention he afforded her, the girl paid him no heed.
His order of “Coffee, black,” was ready soon enough but, as the Eraser prepared to leave, at that exact second, the girl disappeared to the coffee shop’s restrooms. Her computer was left all alone. The open Word document virgin snow.
The Eraser would never fully grasp what compelled him to strike. All he knew was that he had been overcome, a compulsion that made his body move without any direction from his mind. Dread filled his veins as he was certain he’d be outed but, as he’d come to learn, people are so self-absorbed that they never notice the details. Wasn’t a woman sitting there? No. Couldn’t have been. What kind of person would sit down at someone else’s computer?
Even in those early years, there was little time to strike. The Eraser’s villainy would have been sweeter if he could stay and witness the pain he bestowed, but prudence, anonymity, those were his bywords. Only a glance was allowed at the computer screen, the document’s title and the first couple of paragraphs.
The Summer of Seventeen
Steve’s hands inched up Carol’s blouse like a rollercoaster clicking skyward. Carol wanted Steve to continue. She needed to feel someone other than herself. She needed to know that after Michael, she could feel whole again.
“It’s my first time,” said Carol, struggling to master her breath.
“Me too,” said Steven. “Me too.”
What a load of crap.
Reading the manuscript, the Eraser had not yet passed a point of no return. Not until he closed the document without saving. Not until he dragged the file to the computer’s trashcan.
“This item will be deleted immediately,” the computer warned. “You can’t undo this action.”
Two hundred and seventeen pages. Seventy-four thousand words.
The Eraser left the coffee shop unnoticed, his deed a wound that would fester long after he was gone. Glancing back from across the street, he watched the girl return from the bathroom, taking a sip from her latte before her eyes fell to her screen. Her face fill with confusion. Confusion, and then terror.
After the Last Drip massacre, the Eraser honed his craft. Once a work was destroyed, he never returned to the scene of his crime. He wore different outfits when hunting. He concealed his face under baseball caps.
“The Summer of Seventeen” was but the first of many manuscripts. He showed no preference to the works he undid. The pleasure came from the deletion, from knowing he’d taken something the world couldn’t get back.
Coffee shops dominated the early years. It was just so easy. Come in on a Saturday, grab a paper and look for prey. Sidle closer, until you were two tables away, then wait for a Creator to drop a coffee-aided dump.
At a cafe called Java Mike’s, the Eraser deleted a term paper on Federalism. At a juice bar called Whole Beet, he erased a photo album filled with shots of a European vacation. At a bakery called Loaf, the Eraser burnt another novel.
The Burning Prairie
“This place,” said Stephen. “It’s this place that defines us. I know how you feel, Maggie, but you have to remember: if you don’t have a home you can go back to, then where can you say you’re from? How can you ever know where it started?”
Maggie tipped back and forth on the rocking chair, her grandfather’s favorite spot. She looked out at the wheat and the wind.
“This place?” Maggie asked Stephen. “This place is a graveyard. No. It’s worse. It’s a pit of quicksand, and Stephen, you’re waist deep.”
Seventeen chapters. Notes entered below the last line highlighting the novel’s tragic conclusion. The Eraser’s heart beat so fast he coud feel it in his fingertips. Watching all that work, all those words vanish into thin air, the Eraser felt like yelping in delight.
When coffee shops ran low, the Eraser’s realm expanded. College campuses presented uncharted territory, but with new opportunity came new challenges. External hard drives and cloud storage. Technology be damned!
At first, these innovations appeared unbeatable, but as soon as the Eraser discovered what accessing an unprotected drive could mean, his work evolved to a whole new level. Because really, why erase one file, when you could destroy an entire lifetime?
Once, while roaming college grounds, the Eraser hit a mother lode. Seeing a man, a graduate student, the Eraser stalked his prey like a lion after a gazelle. Between the Red Bull and the stress, it was inevitable that the student would break for a smoke. Two floors up, on the library’s most secluded wing, the Eraser was ready when the man turned and faced him.
“I’m going out for a smoke,” he announced. “Will you be here for a minute? Do you mind watching my stuff?”
“Not at all,” said the Eraser. “I’m not going anywhere.”
The Eraser watched the man reach the elevator doors. When he vanished, his computer waited unguarded. Like so many before him, the Eraser’s victim had left his paper open, his dissertation on Theoretical Physics and something called Shroedinger’s Cat. Sweeter than this morsel, when the Eraser clicked the computer’s finder, he found the external hard drive unprotected and, in it, three years of saved files.
The Eraser’s mouth went dry as he looked in wonder at the world he would destroy.
It took time to delete the cache of research, to open Google and erase everything the man had uploaded to his drive. Many times the Eraser had contemplated stealing a computer, giving himself time to complete his deed. But the taking of things, that would have raised too many flags. No. The act had to be self-contained. The destruction must happen at the scene.
By the time the student returned, the Eraser had decimated his life’s work. The Eraser was long gone, but he did wait outside, listening through an open window in hopes of a sign. The screams of his victim carried in the winds as an ode to his purpose, a sound dedicated to that which he destroyed.
The evolution of a supervillain took time, years of growing resentments towards Creators. So many novels, so many papers and letters to mom, so many words fell under his axe. Over time, however, the Eraser realized there was so much more.
Sketch books. Architectural designs. Even journals handwritten by dinosaurs trapped in time. But how could he destroy these works? How could he spread the fear?
The answers came in a moment of genius.
Creators who made beyond the digital realm believed their works safe because they could not be destroyed with the click of a button but, in the end, the very same physical instruments they treasured would lead to their undoing.
Jars of ink became a favorite. Jars purchased from art supply stores, from the very halls where Creators walked. There was an irony in using their own tools to undue their works. There was a poetry to the act all its own.
Sit and watch the artist doodle. Wait until he left his work. Walk by, stopping only to set the jar beside the work. Tip it over with the flick of a finger. Ink, spiraling like smoke bombs. Sopping pages, drenched beneath the black.
Ink bombs worked wonders, but they were not the Eraser’s only weapon. Less messy, but just as destructive, razors provided a tactile experience. They didn’t work with everything, with notebooks too thick to cut, but upon the painter’s canvas, the large works done in parks and studios, the surgeon’s blade cut so deep that no stitch could heal the wound.
At a college bar filled with hookah smoke and half-empty wine bottles, the Eraser slashed a canvas portrait of a little girl standing in the rain.
At a creek near his office, an overlook frequented by old men feeding ducks, he destroyed a landscape painting when its Creator ducked into the bushes to take a leak.
At a used bookstore, he stumbled upon a painting of a row of books, a work that made him stop and examine the detail of the countless titles, an accumulation of so many souls. The sound of his blade slicing through the picture would visit his dreams for week to come.
A special joy came the day the Eraser devoured his first movie.
The film was captured at a beer bar, at a monthly event where local filmmakers were invited to share their work. The Eraser had read about the event in the newspaper and, sensing the potential, bought a ticket and created a fake biography to blend in with the fools.
There was a pulse inside the beer hall, a reverb produced by so many Creators. So much hope. So many dreams. It was enough to make the Eraser sick.
The scheduled event worked by allowing directors to participate in workshops where they could share their films. The hunting ground was more exposed than the Eraser preferred, and he would have to be doubly careful to strike without being detected.
Claiming a seat, where he could survey the scores of filmmakers, each hunched over their laptops as their films played on shrunken screens, the Eraser sat for over an hour, nursing a single beer to keep his wits. He was just about to call it, had seen no chance for hunting, when across the room, he noticed two men throwing back beers and talking with feverish passion as they watched in pride the work they had completed.
The seed of an idea was planted. Now, a lie needed to be told.
As well as buying a ticket, the Eraser had booked time in one of the private rooms under the guise that he would host his own film workshop. With his hour drawing near, all he needed to do was gain access to the film. Beers would grease the wheels. After that, blind ambition would do the rest.
“Good evening, gentlemen,” the Eraser said, approaching the men with two fresh pints. “Are you here to screen a film?”
The two men saw the Eraser and let their minds run wild. The Eraser had worn his best suit, slicking his hair back like some type of somebody. The ploy worked, because when the Eraser slid the beers forward, the Creators’ eyes lit up with tinsel-town wonder.
“We have,” they stated in unison. “Are you one of the producers?”
“I am,” the Eraser lied. “We’re doing a screening in Viewing Room C, and I’m in charge of finding directors who want to participate. Would you mind if I watch your film?”
“Absolutely,” said one of the men, passing over the laptop without concern. “You just have to push ‘Play’.”
Copyright © 2017 by Nicholas MacDonnell