by Nicholas MacDonnell
The next ten minutes dragged on as the Eraser endured the Creators’ short film. The story centered on a young teacher who worked at a poor public school and drew comics as a way to reach his students. It was obvious the filmmakers had real talent; the movie blended the plot and the black-and-white drawings in perfect symmetry.
“Wow, this is really ambitious,” said the Eraser. “If you agree, I’d like to show this in our blind screening. If the panel likes it, I’ll call you back and we can talk about your plans.”
The directors nodded like bobblehead dolls. “That would be amazing. What’s your email? We can share the film from our drive.”
“Would there be any way I can take your computer?” asked the Eraser. “If you can go back with me and get it set up, I’ll keep it there after the screening.”
A delay — for the briefest second — the men pondered why they needed to hand over their laptop. Even the Eraser could not decide if this attempt would be worth it. Two years of work would be surely backed up, but would it be anywhere beyond the drive? Only time would tell.
“Uh, yeah, we can get it set up for you,” said one of the men. “Our editing software is on this computer, so you’ll have our final cut. That’s the one we want you to share.”
“Sounds perfect,” the Eraser said, walking the men to the room he had booked. “That sounds perfect.”
Inside the viewing room, although there was as of yet no panel, there was a projector to give credit to the Eraser’s claim. The filmmakers set up the computer, opening their drive and performing a test run before the Eraser gave them a thumbs up.
“I’m really excited about this one,” he said. “I think the panel’s going to love it.”
“We’re so thankful,” said the men. “We’ll be back at our table when you’re done.”
“See you soon,” said the Eraser, already at the computer by the time the door had closed.
Starting with the recent edit, an easy mark, the Eraser moved the file to the trash. Next came the drive. This was where the Eraser feared he’d be vanquished, that some permanent link would remain between the filmmakers. Seeing that original ownership existed solely to the computer before him, his heart leapt. The Eraser was able to unshare the work with a simple command.
Last, a new measure in the Eraser’s workings was a quick check of the computer’s email. The Eraser had discovered that some Creators sent themselves copies of their work, one more backup in case everything else failed. Searching the title of the film, the Eraser was able to confirm that the man had indeed sent himself a copy.
Final edit!!! What you’ve been working for
The Eraser deleted the email without hesitation.
With the film vanquished, the Eraser made his escape. There was no way he could leave out the same way he’d come, but the Eraser had already confirmed that this room had a first floor window. Slipping out unnoticed, he left only the computer behind.
The Eraser showed no mercy. Old. Young. Black. White. He took no mercy and he showed no fear. From yuppie dens to seedy dive bars, from hipster baristas to tank-topped body-builders writing fitness books on getting swole. It would have been cowardly to pick only low-hanging fruit. It would have been unbecoming of a supervillain to leave any rock unturned.
Seven years. Millions of words. Countless lines of poetry and technical manuals and letters to spouses serving in the military. Paintings and portraits and graphic novels. Such a journey from the outset. So perfect, his track record of waste. So divine all that he stole.
Seven years. Such a stretch. But even masterpieces must end.
On the day the Eraser met his match, his meddling started out like so often before. He had just gotten off work, and had stopped at a new coffee shop near his office. Grabbing a drink and placing his back against a wall, the Eraser surveyed the crowd. The hunting was sparse compared to Saturdays, but quiet stands had their own perks.
Two women sat near the Eraser, chatting obnoxiously about a third, and noticeably absent, friend. Further back, a lone man sat reading a book. A couple came and went after ordering a drink. A man with a service dog stopped in to order a scone.
The Eraser was coming up empty until a new arrival made him pause. A young woman, her hair pulled back in a ponytail, her backpack on her shoulder. The woman ordered a tea and grabbed a seat. Before her drink arrived, her laptop was already withdrawn.
The scent of the Creator. The Eraser smelled it in the air. But watching this woman, something felt different. Had he seen her somewhere else? Had they danced this waltz? The Eraser kept no notes, no record of his hall of fame. Only memories got him through the week.
But this girl, the one blowing on her tea, where had he seen her before?
The girl gave the Eraser no mind. She was too lost in her work, in her world she would soon lose. Giving up the premonition, the Eraser grabbed a paper from the stack. Over the headlines he kept watch on his prey.
After thirty minutes typing, the girl reached into her bag and withdrew a pack of cigarettes. The café had opened inside a failing shopping mall; in order to smoke, it would be necessary for the Creator to go outside, easily a five-minute walk. She would go, and she would smoke, and when she returned, the Eraser would be gone.
The Eraser and whatever dribble she had left for him to consume.
Setting down his paper, the Eraser looked around and saw that he and the barista were the only two people left inside. The barista was lost in his own world and didn’t even look up when the Eraser walked across the shop and sat in front of the girl’s computer. The Eraser examined the work before him, his eyes scanning the text as he prepared to destroy the work.
He called himself the Eraser.
From coffee shops to libraries, to books stores new and old. Anywhere creators congregated, the Eraser stalked his prey.
For seven years the Eraser existed. His origins, his seedy backstory saved for pulp comics, had grown as blurry as his identity. Little was known about this scourge of dreamers. Only heartbreak was left in his wake.
The Eraser’s heart jumped, but not like it usually did, the near-erotic anticipation at the burn. This was a different feeling. This was fear.
The scourge of the Creators, the Eraser roamed unchecked. Wiping drives and undoing prose. Drowning art with ink. No one knew why he did it, why he caused such harm.
How could this be? He’d been so careful, had spent so much time making sure he never returned to the scene of a crime. Pride had made the Eraser search the classifieds, the personals and missed connections. Never, not once, in seven years had he seen evidence of his work. That was because there was none. His crime was an undoing, an act that left no proof in its wake.
But now this, the revelation was undeniable. Someone had learned his truth. The Eraser looked around wildly, the barista paying him no charge. He should have fled, but he was plastered to his chair. Something kept him from running. Something made him read on.
The Eraser lived in the shadows, a coward who stole from others. Had he been jilted? had he too once dreamed of leaving his mark upon the world? Where did this hatred come from? Where did this need arise in this piteous man?
In the end, no one would care. No one would ever understand, for as the Eraser stole words from the wordsmiths, a hero would arise. A guardian of the written word. A patron of the Creators. The Eraser believed himself invulnerable, but one person had discovered his ways. Out of ashes rose the Protector. Out of despair came hope.
The coffee shop door opened, a swish of new air absent the scent of a smoke. The Eraser did not look up, not at first, his eyes and his mind taken by the words in front of him.
He did not look up until he heard the voice. He did not look up until he heard his name.
“Did I get it right? Did I do the Eraser justice, whatever justice a coward deserves?”
The Eraser’s eyes rose slowly. Wearing new clothes, not the lazy outfit she’d worn earlier, the Creator was now dressed in black. The Superhero had donned her costume.
The Eraser looked up in wide-eyed wonder. He, the great scourge of Creators, had been cornered. The idea of running came first, but to do so would be unbecoming. The Eraser couldn’t leave, not yet, not until he understood what had given him away.
“You call yourself the Protector?” he asked. “Seems a little hokey, don’t you think?”
“More hokey than the Eraser?” returned the hero.
“How did you find me? Have we met before? What words of yours did I steal?”
For a brief second, pain flashed across the Protector’s face.
“What you stole doesn’t matter, because it can never return. You thought you were free, stealing my story and running like a coward but, you should know, you left something stronger. Strike me down, as they say, and I become more powerful than you can imagine.”
“You sure are one for theatrics,” sneered the Eraser. “But what now? You’ve caught me, but no one will believe you. And when I leave, I’ll blend right in, ready to erase again.”
Where before there had been pain, now the Protector’s face revealed something else. Now her face portrayed defiance.
“You’ve gotten better at unraveling how Creators save their work. Taking down drives, the cloud. I followed your evolution, but apparently, you haven’t learned everything. You see the camera on my screen? You didn’t check the open windows.”
Flustered, the Eraser minimized the word document and opened the Google tab at the bottom of the screen. Sure enough, a video feed played live, the computer’s mirrored screen staring right back at him. The Eraser closed the tab, but that damage had already been done.
“Everything was sent right here,” said The Protector. “I’ve got you, you bastard, and now the world will know.”
“Know what?” spat the Eraser, rising from the table, his belly pushing against the edge. “You got a picture of a man at a computer. This is a big city. You don’t have anything.”
“But you’re wrong,” said The Protector. “I’ve got your picture, and I’ve got your story. From every blog and corkboard, every social media platform you know. Anywhere you hunt, I’ll be there first, warning people, telling them about the monster in wait. You’ve made your life out of taking from others, but now my mission will be stopping you before you strike.”
The Eraser had heard enough. Her discovering his origin story had been one thing but, now, an anger rose from deep inside.
“You can do whatever you want, but you know what people say about urban legends. They get scarier with time. Just know, Protector, every time you see a loser sobbing over their lost story, I’m still out there. I’m the Eraser, and the world is mine to destroy.”
With that challenge, the Eraser took his leave, walking past the Protector without giving her a second glance. She hadn’t earned it, he reasoned. She hadn’t earned the right to tell his story.
Not yet, for this was only the start. True rivals battled to the end, and the Protector did not know what villainy she had awakened. This was only the beginning, and unlike fairytales, evil had a fighting chance.
In the days and weeks and months to come, rumors would swirl throughout the city. Bands of artists, sculptors, and poets, all those dreamers who toiled in silence. Among these Creators foul rumors would rise concerning a monster in the shadows.
Some would say they’d seen his picture.
Others would read of him and tell their friends.
But alas, not all were given warning, for just as light shines on the faithful, darkness can also consume the just.
The Eraser would continue his mission, the Protector always close behind.
In the end, stories would tell of their fate. Poets would sing of the victor.
Or perhaps they wouldn’t. Not if their words were stolen. Not if the ink was stricken from the
Copyright © 2017 by Nicholas MacDonnell