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art by Seth Alan Bareiss

Leaving Home

Kurt Pankau is a Sr. Software Engineer in Missouri. His work has been produced for Wisconsin Public Radio. He writes weekly flash fiction and the occasional blog post at kurtpankau.com.

Grace heard the knock on the door, but she did not recognize the man on the other side. He wore a crisp dark suit and close-cropped hair. He had a vague, forgettable face and a bland tie.
Everything about him screamed, "Eraser-man." The last time one of those had arrived on her doorstep, it had been... well, she couldn't remember exactly what happened. She only had the vague memory of someone she had loved disappearing forever. A brother, maybe?
She opened the door reluctantly. "Can I help you?" she asked.
"Good morning, ma'am," said the man. "Is Christopher home?"
Grace's heart skipped when she heard her son's name. "Yes," she said.
"He's not in any trouble," said the man. "In fact, he should be expecting me. May I come in?"
Grace nodded and backed into the house. "Chris," she called out--or tried to call out. The word caught in her throat as though it meant to choke her. Grace led the man into the living room and they both sat on the sofa. "Can I get you anything?" she asked.
"That won't be necessary, ma'am."
Grace heard footsteps coming from the hallway. Chris was there, her seventeen-year-old son. He was clad in slacks and a button-up, which was odd. The boy lived in t-shirts, most days.
He was carrying a suitcase.
"Chris?" she said. "What's going on?"
The Eraser-Man stood and smiled at Chris. "Hello, Christopher," he said. "You won't need the bag."
Chris nodded and set it down in the hallway.
"Christopher, what is this?" asked Grace.
"You haven't told her?" asked the man.
Chris shook his head.
"Told me what?" asked Grace.
"Last summer, I applied to join the Temporal Response Bureau," said Chris.
"You did what?" asked Grace.
"I applied to become"--Chris swallowed hard--"an agent," he said.
"You want to be an... an Eraser-Man?" asked Grace.
"I want to help protect the timeline," said Chris.
"And he's been accepted," said the stranger.
"How long have you known?" asked Grace. "Why didn't you say anything?"
"I didn't think you'd approve," said Chris, "not after what happened to Dad." His voice was almost sheepish, although his gaze never left hers.
What was he talking about? Grace tried to recall what had happened to Chris's father, but nothing came to her. "I don't understand," she said.
"Some days she remembers," said Chris to the stranger.
"That will change after you're gone," said the Eraser-Man.
"What will change?" asked Grace. "Someone tell me what's going on."
"The work we do," said the Eraser-Man, "necessitates that we not exist in time. If your son accepts our offer, he will be permanently removed from your timeline. And since he's the only biological tie to your husband, you won't remember him either."
"I have a husband?" asked Grace.
"Until he was arrested," said Chris.
"Are you ready?" asked the stranger.
Chris nodded. "I feel like I should say goodbye," he said.
"It's easier on her if you don't," said the stranger.
Chris nodded once more. He took a look around the house and a long last look at his mother. "I'm ready," he said. "I'm sure."
"Chris, what's going on here?" asked Grace. "Let's talk this over."
The two men were already walking out the door. Grace chased behind. "Hey," she shouted, once they had crossed the threshold. "Hey, wait a minute."
"Yes, ma'am?" said one of the two men on her doorstep.
"Can I help you gentlemen with anything?" she asked.
The two men glanced at each other. One of them--the younger--looked like he was on the verge of tears.
"No, ma'am," said the older. "You have a nice afternoon."
The End
This story was first published on Monday, April 8th, 2013

Author Comments

Whether they're silly or serious, my flash fiction pieces generally begin as a What-If scenario. In this case, I started with the question: "What would it be like to lose someone you love if you knew that you wouldn't miss them?" I decided that fear would be more prevalent than pain, and that led to the creation of the Eraser-Man. The rest of the story fell into place organically after that, including the tidy ending. I do, however, find myself wondering what happened to the young man's suitcase.

- Kurt Pankau
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