Fail, fail, fail, fail, succeed


A Short Story by David Thomas Peacock

Dori could hear footsteps coming up the stairs, soft and slow, as if the person was trying not to be heard. It was about 11:00 PM and he had been in bed for an hour or so, just lying under the covers, waiting. He didn’t hear the footsteps every night, but it didn’t matter – he always expected to hear them, so waiting for them became his routine. He was now seven years old, and this had been going on for as long as he could remember. Well, that’s not exactly true – his mother died when he was four and he wasn’t sure if they started after that or before, it was all kind of hazy, but I guess that would be expected of a child that young.

She had died from bleeding in her brain, or at least that’s what he had been told. Dori honestly didn’t remember anything about it – he could barely remember her for that matter. He knew he had a mother, everyone had a mother, right? But there were no pictures of her that he had ever seen, and no one spoke about her, ever. He thought he might have some aunts or uncles, but wasn’t sure, in fact he wasn’t even sure where he had gotten that idea – maybe wishful thinking? All children who are in danger instinctively wish for someone to rescue them, often making up elaborate fantasies to feed their dream. For most of them, they remain just that, a fantasy to help them cope with whatever horror show has become their reality.

Dori’s horror was now slowly making his way up the stairs to his room, one agonizing step at a time. He was in no rush, because he knew the child had nowhere to go, no way to fight back. He could take his time, leisurely approaching the boy’s room, completely comfortable in wielding his omnipotent power. This was all part of it – the more scared and helpless the boy became, the more pleasure he took – the child’s fear acted like a potent aphrodisiac, spurring him on.

There was no one else in the house except Sophie, Dori’s little sister, who was only three. She was a quiet child who had been born right before his mother’s death. Even though he sometimes had to watch her when he got home from school, they weren’t really close. He tried to do the right things with her, but with no guidance he didn’t really know what that was. Besides, he had other worries. The secret nightly visits weren’t his only problem.

But right now, he had to get through another night, and his main focus was on getting hurt as little as possible. Here’s how it usually went down: first, his father would slowly open the door to his bedroom. He would look even larger than normal because of the effect of being backlit by the hallway lights. Sometimes he would be taking his belt off as he came in, other times he would just slowly close the door, softly, as if not to wake his sister. It always followed the same basic script, Dori would have done something wrong and now it was his job to punish him, either with a spanking or, if he was really worked up, with his belt. He would always say something like “Boy, I don’t want to do this, but it’s for your own good.”

Then he would make Dori lay across his lap and pull down his pajamas so the punishment could begin. It would always start slow, like he was savoring it, then pick up steam as he got going. Dori could always feel his father’s erection as the blows rained down, but he had learned to lay still and not make a sound. The more he struggled and cried, the worse and more prolonged it would be. He never knew whether the old man’s penis would end up in his mouth or his ass, if he had his choice it would always be the latter – at least that way he didn’t have to look at him. There was something so degrading about having to suck him, the dirty smell of his unwashed prick, the gagging when he really started to go at it. Then there was the final humiliation of having to swallow his cum – if he didn’t, the beating could be real bad. His dad was always careful not to hit him where it might show at school.

Dori didn’t question any of this, because it was all he had ever known. He knew it was wrong, but he felt trapped, like there was nowhere to go. And truth be told, he felt there was something wrong with him too. Like maybe if he was a better kid none of this would be happening. After all, people seemed to like his dad. He was a deacon at their church, had a good job, and was friendly with all of their neighbors. Whatever made him do this stuff must have had something to do with Dori, so the boy carried his secrets like a coat of shame. There was no one to tell, and even if he did, what if it turned out to be his fault? I know this doesn’t make sense, but if you’re seven and caught in a situation like this, you’re just thinking of survival. Everything else takes a back seat.

His favorite fantasy was that someone who was good and loved him would somehow appear and save him and his sister, and then everything would be all right. But whenever he got too deep in his daydream, reality had a way of intruding, shocking him back to his senses. He didn’t realize it at the time, but life was about to present him with a choice, and how he responded to that choice would determine the course of his life.

He didn’t yet know how strong and smart he was, but he was about to find out.

Dori was in first grade, and even though he was a shy kid, he loved it. School was the first time in his life that he began to realize there was a whole world that existed beyond his miserable existence at home. He was a good looking, quiet and bright child who always seemed to be watching everything intently, like he was trying to soak up and absorb the world around him. He was endlessly curious and his teachers recognized there was something special about this boy, yet they could never seem to connect with him.

As intelligent as he appeared to be, it was obvious that something was wrong at home. He was constantly falling asleep in class, and appeared to be dangerously thin. Yet whenever any of the adults at school tried to draw him in and get him to open up, he would just smile like he’d been caught doing something he wasn’t supposed to and say Thank you but everything’s ok – really. He was always convincing enough to prevent anyone from taking the next step and inviting his father in for a conference. His father would have easily brushed everything off anyway, and Dori knew that when push comes to shove, adults will generally always side with other adults.

His first grade teacher Mrs. Balderdach found him to be a particularly curious child. First grade was somewhat traumatic for most children – there would always be some degree of anxiety as they were separated from their parents for the first time. Crying, clinging, vomiting, withdrawing – these were all normal signs of the kind of stress-related anxiety kids express when they are thrown into an overwhelming new environment like school for the first time. Except Dori didn’t exhibit any of these behaviors. Mrs. Balderdach got the sense he couldn’t wait get to school and couldn’t remember him ever even mentioning his parents. All of this made him stand out to her, but with 35 other children in her class, she didn’t have time to dwell on it.

In the first week of school, Dori met Jonno on the playground during recess. The PhysEd teacher was organizing the kids into two groups and teaching them to play dodge ball. The object was to simply kick or throw a soft, inflatable rubber ball at another child on the opposing team. If you hit them, they were out – the last team standing won the game. Jonno was on the opposite team and he and Dori were the last two still in the game. That alone made Dori feel special, and the rest of the kids were screaming and cheering as they dueled – each one kicking or throwing the ball as hard as they could at the other, both of them out of breath as they frantically tried to dodge the ball and hit the other one. Finally, on the sixth try, Jonno launched a kick that seemed to be shot out of a cannon, hitting Dori directly on the head and knocking him over. Everyone went quiet as Jonno and the teacher rushed over to see if he was ok – the boy looked down at Dori and reached out, extending his hand. Dori looked up, smiling, and grabbed it as Jonno pulled him up, immediately lifting both of their arms in the air like two warriors. Everyone on the playground erupted in riotous cheers as Jonno put his arm around him grinning. The bell rang and everyone filed off the playground and back into class – but not before two of the children had bonded into best friends. Not a word had been said, but kids are pure like that. They just know.

Mrs. Balderdach found herself thinking more and more about Dori, even at home. This was surprising because it was not her nature to become personally involved with her students. She lived by herself and was sometimes referred to cruelly as “the spinster” by the teenage girls in the neighborhood, even though she was only 29. Yes, it was true she never dated and seemingly had no close relationships with anyone, but really – was that so unusual? Yet there was something about the boy that brought out maternal instincts that had long been dormant, even though she always said she never wanted kids. The part she never told anyone was that she had had an abortion at 16 – an event that traumatized her deeply, one that forever made her mistrust any intimate relationship. Worse yet, it made her mistrust her own desires. She had loved the boy who got her pregnant, yet in the end she had been forced to murder her baby, or at least that’s what her mother said. When parents say these things to their children, it burns deep into their brain and forms a scar that will never fully heal. Why are people so cruel?

Soon after school started, she just began thinking about Dori all the time, sometimes imagining she was his mother. What a ridiculous thought, she would immediately think, somewhat embarrassed it had even crossed her mind. He’s my student and he’s already got a father, which would usually be enough to quell the fantasy. But sooner rather than later it would always return – the boy seemed so strong yet vulnerable at the same time. There was nothing she could quite put her finger on, but she had the sense that something was going on at home that was disturbing the child. She knew she couldn’t intervene on a hunch, no, she would need something more definitive to go on. So she determined to simply watch and wait, and hopefully, win the boys trust so he might open up to her. She had the whole school year, so time was on her side. Patience, she thought. You can’t rush a child.

Every weekday morning Dori’s father would wake him at 7:00 a.m. before leaving for work. That gave him an hour and fifteen minutes to shower, brush his teeth and get dressed, wake up Sophie, get her dressed, and make cereal for both of them so he could drop her off with Mrs. Lewis on his way to catch the school bus at 8:15. Even as a child, Dori hated getting up early, but somehow seeing a new day made whatever had happened the night before seem like a bad dream. Besides, it meant he would soon be at school, away from home. He would get to experience at least eight hours away from his father; eight hours where a whole other world existed, one where people laughed and children fought and played, where he could eat lunch with a cafeteria full of kids and pretend he was normal like everyone else. And Dori was good at pretending; he had a particularly rich imagination that allowed him to transport himself to other worlds whenever he closed his eyes. This was a skill that came in handy, and although he couldn’t understand this at the time, it could be used as an effective coping mechanism to allow him to escape the harsh reality of his life.

Mrs. Lewis lived next door in a small, neatly kept house that always smelled good – as if there was always something delicious cooking, something with bacon or butter in it, or maybe the smell of baking cookies. She was a kind but tough old woman who lived alone and seemed to have no family. Dori had never seen anyone else in her house except him and Sophie; she watched his little sister every day during the week and sometimes on the weekends if their father had other business to attend to. She was tiny and wiry with sad eyes and a wrinkled face, but people seemed to be afraid of her, or at the very least treated her with respect. She kept a loaded shotgun leaning against the wall next to her bed and had been known to answer the door with it after dark. She was the only adult he had ever known who he trusted – he knew she would never hurt him or Sophie, but still, he could never tell even her. Dori couldn’t physically or verbally express his affection for her, but she seemed to know it anyway – her wise old face would watch him intently, but she would never pry. She seemed to know that just being there was all the boy needed. It can be a cruel world for little things, she would think. Someone has to watch out for them.

Dori and Jonno had been looking forward to the last day of school for months now, and today it was finally here. It was a beautiful Wednesday in late June, hot but clear, the sky that kind of perfect blue that makes you want to stop whatever you’re doing and just gaze at it, letting your mind wander to some beautiful place, as if life couldn’t possibly be bad anywhere.

The day had been uneventful until lunchtime. Dori and Jonno were sitting at their usual table with the same kids they always sat with when Angus Brody walked over – as soon as the boys saw him they knew it wasn’t good. Angus was a bully in the third grade, his father was a police officer for the city who had a reputation as a very mean man, so attention from Angus always meant some kind of trouble.

 Hey dipshit, he said, looking straight at Dori. You sittin’ with your boyfriend? I was looking for the fags table, I guess I found it. There were always two other boys with him whose sole purpose seemed to be to laugh uncomfortably whenever he said something, which they dutifully proceeded to do. It was never the same two boys, mind you, because Angus didn’t have any friends. It was always just two losers who wanted to be intimidating like him so they tagged along hoping some of his bravado would rub off on them. The cafeteria started to get quiet as the other kids watched and listened.

Even though Jonno was two years younger and fifteen pounds lighter, he stood up and looked at him, his hands balled up into little fists, and said Who you callin’ a faggot asshole? Dori sat there silent, watching. Whoa, calm down Jonno, I’m not talkin’ to you. I’m talkin’ to your girlfriend Dori here. Hey Dori, you know what I heard? Not waiting for a reply, he said I heard your father killed your mother. Smashed her head against a wall, that’s what I heard. She probably deserved it, I heard he did it because she was defending her pussy son. What do you say to that, pussy? Jonno pushed Angus hard, shouting Fuck you! but it didn’t seem to have any effect. The other two boys, also from third grade, grabbed and held him as Angus went on, ignoring what just happened. The boy grinned cruelly, and said loud enough for everyone to hear him Unless you’re a faggot, meet me after school in the park by the fountain and we’ll settle this with a fight. I think you’re too much of a bitch to meet me, but I’ll be waiting.

With that, the boys who had been restraining Jonno pushed him back to his seat so hard he ended up on the floor with the chair next to him on its side, and the three of them sauntered off. The other children immediately went back to laughing and talking as if nothing had happened. Without saying a word, Dori looked at Jonno; they both knew where this was going and it wasn’t anyplace good.

The rest of the day in school all Dori could think about was what Angus had said – Your father killed your mother, and Smashed her head against the wall, over and over and over. As soon as the words had come out of that assholes mouth Dori knew they were true. Of course he couldn’t have known that shortly after his mother’s death the police had investigated his father as a homicide suspect, Christ, he was only four at the time. Fleetingly, he wondered if his father had killed his mom, why didn’t they arrest him? But none of this really mattered to the boy, after all, he knew things about the old man that no one else did. He knew what he was capable of – even to a seven-and-a-half-year-old it was plain as day.

After an hour or so of processing this Dori realized he still had to deal with Angus after school. He wasn’t a fighter, and Angus was two years older and quite a bit bigger than him, but still – he knew what he had to do. If he didn’t meet him after school, Dori would forever be marked as the kid who wouldn’t stand up for himself. He’d be the target for everyone to pick on from that moment forward. Even at that young age, he knew that this was a seminal moment. So he resigned himself – he would meet Angus at the park by the fountain after school, and he’d fight him. He knew there was no way he would win, but that was beside the point. The point was that he had to stand up to Angus and take his licks – it was better to get hurt in the short term than to suffer for the rest of his school days because he was afraid.

Besides, Dori had a secret weapon that no one else realized. Suffering pain at the hands of someone bigger was something he had plenty of experience with, so Angus didn’t really scare him – he had already faced demons far worse than anything he could dish out.

No, Dori’s real problem was coming to terms with the fact that his father had murdered his mother. What did that mean for the future?

The next year and a half went by as if time was some kind of endless highway that never changed – every morning you woke up and looked out to the same stretch of mundane road, always the same, never leading anywhere. It was somehow both disturbing and comforting at the same time. Dori had settled into a routine – he’d meet up with Jonno every morning on the playground before school, and in the fall and spring, if the weather was nice, they’d walk home together afterwards. They always seemed to be with each other, sometimes he thought that meeting Jonno was the best thing that had ever happened to him – he was his first close friend, the first real relationship Dori ever had outside of his family. Of course he never told him about his father, though. How could he, no, why would he? It would serve no purpose, there wasn’t anything he could do, and besides, the shame was too great for Dori to tell him or anyone else. After all, wasn’t he complicit too? In his mind, he wasn’t somehow separate from what his father was doing to him, he was doing it too. He didn’t understand that he was innocent, because he sure didn’t feel that way. So he tried to compartmentalize the abuse from the rest of his life, and he was pretty good at it, or at least that’s what he thought. Besides, he was sure Jonno had some secrets too. The damaged seem to be drawn together as if by some kind of unspoken magnetic force that no one else can see. Their pain is rarely verbalized, but they sense they have both suffered and done unspeakable things. By accepting each other, they slowly begin to heal, even if they don’t understand it at the time.

Then one night Dori heard it, and from that exact moment, everything changed. He didn’t hear the old man’s shoes that night, instead he heard something else. It was Sophie, and she was crying. Dori immediately knew those tears and what they meant.

He knew, from that moment on, that he had to do something. She was his five-year-old sister, and there was no one to protect her but him.

Eraser said Jonno – Don’t tell me you’ve never heard that name?

It was now January, the halfway point of third grade, and he and Jonno were walking home from school on a cold but clear winter afternoon. Dori could never tell him about what he went through at home, but Sophie was a different story. He had to tell someone, and there were no adults he could trust, so he turned to his best friend. He had just told Jonno I know he’s hurting her but I don’t know what to do. They kept walking for a few minutes, both remaining silent, with Dori thinking about what he said.

Well? Jonno asked…

Dori was mulling it over. All kids knew the name Eraser, but it was generally accepted to be a kind of urban legend, a boogieman who, instead of being a threat, was instead a kind of a dark savior, at least for some people. Dori always assumed it was a joke, just a made-up tale to be passed around that scared people, kids mainly. The story was simple: Anyone (it didn’t have to be children) who was helpless and in mortal danger from someone who was abusing them over a period of time, could conjure Eraser by reaching out on the dark web. The Eraser webpage was constantly changing, and since web sites there are virtually untraceable, there would be no record of any communication.

The legend goes that you would describe, in detail, your situation – with names and addresses, including yours, how long the abuse had been going on, social security numbers, work addresses – the website would guide you as to what and how much information was required. Then, after you submitted your request, there would be no response, you would just wait. If your case was accepted, here’s what would happen:

The tormentor would simply be erased. Not killed – erased. Wiped from existence as if they were never born. And here’s the thing – after it was all over, the only person who would ever remember they existed would be the one who reached out for help – no one else would remember them because they never were. This is how the legend grew – only the saved could tell the tale.

But the whole process carried with it some significant unknowns, not the least of which was what new life the endangered would find themselves in. If it was true, which of course it most certainly wasn’t, there was no rational explanation of how it worked. Since no person could possibly have this kind of power, Eraser obviously wasn’t human. People believe all kinds of crazy shit, most of which is either a distraction from their miserable lives or something to give them a glimmer of hope in a hopeless world. Some people thought Eraser was god, extracting vengeance on the evil in the world. Of course, you had to believe in god to subscribe to that, and since Dori had never believed he was pretty sure that couldn’t be it.

Others thought it could be some form of general AI, one that had somehow learned how to control the space-time continuum, re-arranging human reality at will, perhaps one that had been instructed to intervene in an effort to mitigate some of humanities propensity for inflicting torture. The thing was, because of the way the whole process worked, it was impossible to ever verify anything. After all, if someone never existed, and you had a person who says they did, that person would clearly seem to be delusional at best, and psychotically paranoid at worst. Dori wasn’t thinking about any of this though – it would be years before he was capable of understanding these concepts. All he knew was that he had to save Sophie, and there didn’t seem to be a lot of options.

Dori looked over at Jonno and stopped walking. Their breath was condensing into steam in the cold air, but neither of them felt cold at that moment. Do you think Eraser really exists? he asked. Jonno looked straight into his eyes, and smiled. There’s only one way to find out.

They both knew what they had to do next.

They went straight to Jonno’s apartment where he lived with his mom. Dori had never met her, she was divorced from his father and always seemed to be working or something. Just like Dori, Jonno was somewhat cryptic when discussing his mother – he never gave any details and Dori never asked. They both felt alone in the world, and their loneliness bonded them even closer. Even though they weren’t completely honest with each other, they both sensed that somehow, just by being there for each other, they were starting to build a world away from the pain and hurt they experienced at home. For the moment, it was more than enough.

Jonno went to the refrigerator and poured a little bit of red wine into two juice glasses, giving one to Dori. They both headed to his bedroom and closed the door, even though no one was home. Jumping on his bed, Jonno got his laptop and started talking. Dori sat next to him, watching.

The only way to contact him is through the dark web he said.

What’s that? Dori asked.

It’s a part of the web that’s secret, you’ve got to have a special browser to get there.

Dori took a sip of the wine – it wasn’t the first time they got into her liquor, but just like always, as soon as he took a sip he started to get relaxed and a little lightheaded. It was a good feeling – he was already learning to go slow.

Before he could even ask How do you do that? Jonno had brought up a download page for something called “Tor.” All I have to do is install this and then we can do a search he said.

In minutes he had opened an innocuous looking green home page that said “Welcome to Tor Browser,” next to a drawing of an onion. In the middle of the screen was an unmistakable search box that looked just like the one on the Google homepage.

Jonno looked at Dori and smiled like they were about to go on a great adventure. They clicked their juice glasses together, took a sip, and Jonno said OK – here we go.

In the search box, he entered a single word – Eraser.

Predictably, a list immediately appeared – there were entries for various software programs designed to permanently delete files, a Wikipedia entry for erasers, links to reviews and the IMDb page for a bad 1996 action movie with the same name, links to eraser porn, pictures of rubber pencil erasers, and then, there it was. Seven entries down, the lone word Eraser, with a link underneath it to eraser.onion. There was no meta data attached to the link, no information explaining what the link was, just that one single word: Eraser.

Jonno looked at Dori, his eyes glowing with excitement. This is it he said.

Before they clicked on it Dori asked What’s .onion mean? Jonno explained – One of the reasons the dark web exists is so people could go online without their activity being traced. The reason it’s impossible to trace anything here is because everything is encrypted and routed to servers all over the world – the layers of security are like the layers of an onion, so that’s what they called the domains.

How do you know all this?

I’ve been checking this stuff out for a while, but until now I never had a reason to actually see how it worked. Dori looked at Jonno with admiration and had one of those priceless moments in life where you look at someone you thought you knew well and then realize there is a whole lot more to them than you ever dreamed. It’s a great moment – one that usually signifies a deepening of the relationship. People are complicated, Dori thought. Getting to know them is like peeling away the layers of an onion too…

Jonno clicked on the link and was taken to a spartan page with no graphics at all. At the top it simply said Eraser, underneath was a blank form that filled the page. At the top of the form it simply said “Explain why you are here.”

They both sat there staring at the screen for what seemed like a few moments, neither one moving or saying anything. Finally, Dori spoke up – I’m not ready for this.

Jonno looked at him silently. After a minute or so, he exited the browser and closed the laptop.

Dori took a deep breath and began to speak. There’s more to the story than what I’ve told you. You’re my best friend and I really appreciate you helping me with this, but there’s stuff I just can’t tell you. I’ve got to think about this, and if I do it, I have to do it alone.

Jonno paused for a minute, looking at Dori like they’d just met and he was trying to figure out who he was, and then smiled. It’s OK, I’m always here if you need me. If you decide to go ahead, you can use my laptop. There’s no way trace to anything on the dark web, so I’ll never be able to find out what you said.

Dori looked at his watch and realized it was getting late. He got up, turned to Jonno, said See you tomorrow and left.

That night Dori didn’t hear any footsteps, and he didn’t hear anything from Sophie’s room either. He didn’t hear his dad come home before he went to bed, but once there he couldn’t fall asleep, and when he finally did it seemed like he wasn’t really sleeping at all. He couldn’t tell if he was awake and worrying or asleep and fitfully dreaming about Eraser and the dark web. When morning finally came, he got up and wearily thought what bullshit – none of this is probably real anyway. He had to wake up Sophie and get ready for school – it looked like the old man had already left for work.

He went up to her room, knocked, and then opened the door. When he looked inside, he was confused – Sophie wasn’t there. He immediately froze – on the outside he looked calm, but on the inside the panic was building like the underground pressure that precedes an exploding volcano.

Sophie! He called out in a loud, stern voice. Silence. He stood there, immobile, just inside the door to her room, not moving, his face stoic. Dori had learned to remain calm in times of danger – it was a skill that would serve him well in life. While he was making a mental calculation of what to do next, he heard a faint sound. It seemed like it was coming from under the bed. He walked towards it purposefully, got on his knees, and looked under it. There she was, curled up in a ball, not making a sound. What the fuck Sophie – you scared the shit out of me!

He reached under and pulled her out. As soon as her body passed the edge of the bed she reached up and hugged him tight – tighter than she ever had before. He sat down on the bed, softly stroking her hair as she began quietly sobbing, choking off the sound as if she didn’t want anyone to hear her. Dori had never seen her like this, and took his time soothing her before delving into what had happened. Just as he was thinking What did he do now, he felt something wet on his thighs where she was sitting, her arms wrapped around his torso, her head resting on his chest. After a few minutes, he gently shifted her weight and looked down.

The area of his pants where she had been sitting was covered in blood. Gently grabbing her under her arms, he stood her up in front of him and turned her around. Her pajama bottoms were torn and bloody.

Dori didn’t need to ask any questions now, he needed to get her cleaned up and see how bad she was hurt. Sophie, listen to me. He’s gone now – I’m going to draw you a warm bath, then we’ll go see Mrs. Lewis. Everything’s going to be alright, I’ll make sure he doesn’t do this to you again. But I need you to help me. She looked up at her older brother, searching his face for a sign that there might any truth to what he was saying. She took a deep breath, looked down at the floor, and slowly started walking to the bathroom. Dori ran ahead and started the bath before she even got there.

While the water was warming up, Dori got her undressed and said I’ve got to see where you’re bleeding. Turning her around he saw dried blood around her rectum – gently spreading her cheeks he saw she was still oozing blood. Taking some toilet paper, he dabbed at the area, trying to get off what he could before she got in the warm water. Now naked, he turned her to face him to make sure she wasn’t bleeding from her vagina – nothing there he thought. Before draping a towel over her he saw that both her forearms were bruised. That’s where he held her down, he thought.

OK Sophie, the tubs full. He stuck his right hand in the water to make sure it wasn’t too hot before saying I want you to get in and just soak for a few minutes, OK? I’m going to leave the room but I’ll be right back. Can you do that? She nodded yes and got in the tub. I’ll leave the door open; I’m just going to run over to Mrs. Lewis and tell her we’re running late. I promise I’ll be right back – don’t worry, he’s not coming home until tonight. She lay there in the tub, looking at him with a blank face. The whole time she had never uttered a word.

Dori ran over to Mrs. Lewis house and knocked on the door. As soon as she opened it, he blurted out Sophie’s not feeling well, she’s getting a bath right now, I just wanted to let you know we’ll be a few minutes late. The old woman studied his face, expressionless. She’d seen more than her share of trouble in her life and knew both how to recognize it, and, if necessary, how to handle it.

All right child she said, Go take care of your sister and I’ll be waiting when you’re ready.

Thanks Mrs. Lewis Dori said, and he was gone.

Before leaving his sister with Mrs. Lewis, he made her look at him and said Don’t tell anybody what happened. You’ve got to trust me; I’m going to take care of it. He knew he didn’t really have to say that, abused children almost never tell anyone what’s happening to them anyway. But he had to be safe. As long as Mrs. Lewis thought they were OK she wouldn’t pry.

Dori ran to school – he had missed the bus and now he’d be late, There’s no way I’m going to make first period he thought. That would be a red flag that could set off questions from his teachers, so he had to make up a story. Wait a minute – I’ll just tell them that Sophie was sick and had vomited, so I had to clean her up and it took me longer to get her to daycare. Perfect!

Second period was English, normally one of his favorite classes – but today the teacher may as well have been speaking Mandarin. All Dori could think about was what the old man had done to Sophie, how he’d probably murdered their mother, and the years of abuse he had suffered at his father’s hands. What was he going to do? He had no one to turn to, at least no one besides Jonno, and he couldn’t even tell him everything. And even if he could, Jonno was just a boy like him, unable to do anything to a full-grown man.

He couldn’t go the police – even if he did tell them everything (which he couldn’t), what would they do? They didn’t do anything after his mother died, did they? They’d split him and Sophie up, probably sending them to separate foster homes – and god only knows what would happen there. Plus, Angus would undoubtedly find out and spread it all over school. He could hear him now, shouting Hey look everybody – it’s the faggot Dorothy! Hey Dori – you sucked your dad’s dick lately? Oh no – there was no way he was going down that road.

No – his only option was clear as day.


It was probably a hoax, but it was better than doing nothing. At recess he would ask Jonno if he could borrow his laptop.

What the fuck Dori – what happened? Jonno could tell something was wrong as soon as he saw Dori’s face. Jonno – listen, I need to borrow your computer. They both just stared into each other’s eyes for a moment – each knew what this meant. Jonno broke the silence first – Come over after school. Is there anything else I can do?

Dori hugged him and said Thanks for being my friend.

After school Dori stopped at Jonno’s house to pick up his laptop, when he got there the boy looked at him and could tell that something was very wrong. What’s up? Are you and Sophie OK? He asked, searching Dori’s face for clues. He hurt Sophie again was all he said while stuffing the computer into his backpack. I have to do it today. Jonno didn’t need to inquire further – he knew exactly what this meant. You remember how? Want to go over it again before you leave? Dori nodded no, threw the bag over his shoulder and turned to his friend. Listen – thanks for helping me with this – I wouldn’t have known what to do without you. But please, whatever you do – don’t tell anyone.

Scared? Jonno asked. Dori looked down at the floor and took a deep breath before bringing his eyes up to stare directly into his friends. Yes, he replied, then he turned and was gone.

Just before he rang the doorbell to Mrs. Lewis’ house to get Sophie, he paused to collect himself. He hoped that Sophie hadn’t said anything and that the bleeding had stopped – he knew he had to appear as normal as possible so the old woman wouldn’t pick up anything. She opened the door and said Child, you been running or something? You look all out of breath… Dori smiled and said Me and Jonno were just playing. She looked at him suspiciously and said Well come on in and I’ll get your sister.

So far so good Dori thought. He sat on her couch, “Wheel of Fortune” was on the TV, and it smelled like she was cooking a roast or something. Rubbing his sweaty palms on his pants, he looked up and there was Sophie. She looked at him blankly and he immediately knew she hadn’t said anything. You kids want to stay for supper? I’m making pork chops and mashed potatoes… Dori smiled and said Thank you Mrs. Lewis but I’ve got a paper due tomorrow that I’ve got to start working on.

Well why don’t you do it here?

Trying to think quick, he said I checked out some books from the library that are back at the house, I need to use them for my paper.

Well, if your fathers late and you two are hungry you can come back over and I’ll warm some up for you. You know I don’t go to bed until late.

Thanks Mrs. Lewis he said, grabbing Sophies hand and heading for the door. I’ll call you if we’re coming back over. In minutes they were inside their house – as soon as the door closed Dori looked at his little sister and said You OK? She nodded yes. Any more bleeding? She moved her head back and forth, looking at him wide-eyed. He immediately let out a sigh of relief, his mind starting to focus on the task ahead.

OK, Sophie, listen to me. I have a plan, but I need to go into my room and not be bothered for an hour or so. He looked at his watch, it was now 4:07 PM. Dad won’t be home for at least an hour and a half, can you watch TV while I do this? She nodded her head up and down, expressionless. For maybe the first time ever, he looked at her and saw a little girl who would one day grow up to be a beautiful woman – and in that moment, he realized how much he loved her, at the same time realizing he was her only chance – their only chance, or rather Eraser was their only chance of surviving, if only he could pull this off. Dori knew they were trapped, and in that moment Eraser stopped being a hoax, an urban legend meant to scare people. In that moment, Eraser had suddenly become their only way out, and he was determined to go through with it. He had to – it wasn’t just about saving himself – he had to save Sophie too. She turned the TV on, found the cartoon channel and sat on the floor, watching the fuzzy screen, her face expressionless, eyes as big as saucers. Dori ran into the kitchen and got a box of Animal Crackers, setting it on the floor next to her. If you hear his car, just come up and get me, I’ll leave the door unlocked. But whatever you do, don’t come in unless he comes home or I come down to get you.

With that, he ran up to his room.

He closed the door and immediately tossed Jonno’s laptop onto the bed, his hands shaking. Logging in, he clicked on the icon labeled “Tor,” on the home screen he typed the word “Eraser” into the search box and once again there was the list. Scanning the page, at first he didn’t see it – now it was at the bottom, under a link that said “Eraser Nipples Porn Videos.” Just like before, it simply said “Eraser” with a link to eraser.onion.

Dori could feel his heart beating in his chest, his palms sweaty as he stared at it for a moment.

Then he clicked.

And suddenly he was there, staring at the page that simply said “Explain why you are here.”

Looking at the text box below it, Dori felt dizzy and a little nauseous as he began to write. His armpits were sweating profusely, his hands cold and clammy, fingers shaking, pupils dilated. I have to do this he thought, immediately changing his inner narrative slightly he started repeating to himself You can do this.

He began writing…

Dear Eraser:

I don’t know if you really exist but I hope you do because I don’t have anywhere else to go for help.

My name is Dorian Nightshade but everybody calls me Dori. I’m nine years old and it’s hard for me to write this. I’ve never told anyone about any of this and I feel ashamed and embarrassed, but here goes. If anyone finds out my life is over.

I’m pretty sure my father murdered my mother five years ago but he was never arrested. He told me she died from bleeding in the brain but the police thought she was hit or something.

After that he kind of went crazy and started beating me all the time. But that’s not the worst, he started putting his penis in my butt to. Sometimes he makes me suck his penis at night after I go to bed. I feel so ashamed and sorry. I’ve never told anyone. Sometimes I feel like it’s my fault but I know it’s not.

But all this isn’t why I’m here. I’m here because he started hurting my little sister and I don’t know what to do. I don’t have any other family so I have to keep her safe but I don’t know how. She’s only five. I’m afraid he might kill us.

Sometimes I dream that I wake up and it was all just a nightmare and me and Sophie are part of a family where everyone loves us.

My only friend in the world is Jonno but he’s only nine to. He doesn’t know everything but he knows enough that he told me about you and how you might be able to help.

If you’re not real please don’t tell anyone. It would only make things worse. Thank you – Dorian

Dori had never been so scared in his life – but weirdly, at the same time he felt relief. He had never verbalized what had happened to him and Sophie either in writing or by talking. It was strangely empowering to actually write down what happened, and when he finished, he was more sure than ever he was doing the right thing. He clicked Next and was taken to another page that simply instructed “Answer as many questions as you can, the page will close when enough information is obtained.”

He had already written down his father’s social security number, his birthday, where he was born, and where he worked. He entered as much info as he could, and sure enough, before he could finish filling out the form, the whole browser just shut down. There was no warning and no acknowledgement that he had ever even been to the site – just the computers home screen, waiting for some input. He looked at his watch and it was now 5:17.

For the first time in his life, he felt powerful, like he had some control. What have I done? Was the only thought that came to him.

By seven o’clock their father hadn’t come home yet so Dori started looking around the kitchen for something to cook for dinner. This wasn’t unusual, sometimes he wouldn’t come home until after they’d gone to bed. He found a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese in the pantry and put a pot of water on the stove to boil. He felt way too jittery and unsettled to go back over to Mrs. Lewis’ house for dinner. Sophie had been watching TV the whole time.

After dinner he tried to watch TV with her, but he couldn’t focus on what was happening on the screen. She appeared to be mesmerized, or at least that’s how it seemed. She had her head on Dori’s lap, his left hand resting lightly on her shoulder. They weren’t normally this physically close, but recently she had started to become clingy, it felt like she was holding on to him as if he were a life raft and she was in over her head. The whole time he was getting more and more anxious, but every time he started having second thoughts he reminded himself that he had no choice. If it’s real what will happen to us? Was all he kept thinking. He tried not to show any of this to her, but kids can tell a lot more than you think they can. It’s always good to remember that.

At ten he said Let’s get you ready for bed, and she dutifully got up and went to the bathroom to brush her teeth. He got her in her pajamas and put her bed, before leaving the room he said Don’t worry Sophie – I’ll be listening and if I hear anything I’ll come in. He’s not going to hurt you anymore. She watched him closely while he told her this, her face placid, looking for any tell that he might be lying. He slowly got up, wearily, and turned out the light. This is going to be a long night was all he could think.

The next morning, after what seemed like a completely sleepless night, he got up and immediately realized his father never came home. This wasn’t unheard of – he didn’t do it often, but it wasn’t that unusual. Dori felt relieved, that was one less thing he had to worry about. Right now he had to go through his usual morning routine, getting her to Mrs. Lewis and himself to school. It was a beautiful, clear late winter morning and the sun was shining. Gazing out the window, everything looked perfectly normal, and for a brief moment the activities of the last two days seemed like a dream.

He saw Jonno across the playground before school. Hey Dori he shouted across the asphalt You OK? Dori ran over, giving him a fist bump he smiled and said Yeah. He crouched down to open his backpack and, pulling out the laptop, he handed it to his friend and said Thanks dude. They looked at each other casually, having a whole conversation without saying a word. Satisfied, Jonno smiled and said Sophie alright?  

Yeah, she’s at Mrs. Lewis – he didn’t come home last night.

Just then the bell rang and they headed to class. In the hallway before splitting up, Dori looked at him and said See you at recess and went in. His homeroom also happened to be the same classroom as his first period. Taking his seat, he waited for the usual roll call. It was the first time he had been back in his normal routine in two days – yesterday was like a bad dream. I didn’t really do that, did I?  He was lost in thought as the teacher started calling the kids names. Timothy Abbot – the child called out here. Rosemary Abercromby – here, Jerome Atwell – here. What a stupid fantasy, he thought. What kind of idiot could think that was real? He started to feel more and more foolish. Terrence Aucoin – here, Annie Babinsky – here. At least it was on the dark web, there’s no way anyone could ever find out how stupid he was. But what if anyone ever did find out? The blood started rushing to his head as he looked around and thought about what he wrote – oh my god, he started to feel the panic closing in – What have I done? Dorian Balderdach – silence. He had a flashback of his father raping him, of Sophie’s torn pajamas and bruised arms, of the blood on his pants. Dorian Balderdach?  The teacher called out louder. Dorian suddenly noticed the classroom had gone silent. He felt dizzy… Dorian Balderdach she called out loudly, sounding exasperated, looking right at him. He looked around and everyone was turning in their desks staring at him. He could feel the blood rising to his face and felt confused. He was clearly expected to say Here so that’s what he did. The teacher went on calling out the other children’s names and everyone turned back around in their seats.

Dori sat there confused. What’s happening? Was all he could think.

In recess he met Jonno at their usual spot – he started talking about some video he saw on YouTube where a boy fought two older guys and knocked them both out. Dori was listening, relieved that everything seemed normal. He started to tell him about what happened in homeroom when Jonno suddenly said Oh, I almost forgot. Your mom gave me this, she said you forgot it this morning. Dori looked at it, dumbfounded – it was a brown paper bag with his name written on it with a felt tip pen. It said Dori B. He took it and looked at his friend – Jonno, I don’t understand what’s happening…

What do you mean?

I mean the teacher called out my name in roll call as Dorian Balderdach.


I’m confused…

Suddenly Jonno looked serious and said Dori, what’s the matter? That’s your name!

Dori paused, forced himself to smile, and replied Just fucking with you bro!

Jonno laughed and said, Fucker – you got me! The bell rang and he said I’ll see you at your house after school and ran off.

Oh, this can’t be happening was all Dori could think.

After school, he took the bus home and stopped at Mrs. Lewis to get Sophie. Ringing the doorbell, the old woman called out from inside Dori is that you?

Yes ma’am he replied.

Door’s open, come on in.

As soon as he came in Sophie ran over and hugged him, saying There’s cookies in the kitchen. That’s weird, he thought I’ve never seen her this animated.

Bending down, he said Sophie, listen to me – I know this sounds weird, but what’s our last name?

Smiling, she looked at Dori and said Balderdach silly! What are you talking about?

Oh my god was all he could think.

Trying to act normal he said Hey, you want to stay here until dinnertime? – Jonno’s meeting me at home.

OK she replied, doing a little dance move.

Tell Mrs. Lewis, where I am, he said and left. He was starting to get excited. No, it can’t be he thought.

As soon as he opened the door to his house it hit him. It’s fucking real. Nothing was the same except the outside of the house, everything else was different – different furniture, different colored wall paint, different curtains, strange car in the driveway, it even smelled different. As soon as the door closed, he heard a voice call out Honey I’m up here from upstairs. I’ll be right down…

He took off his coat and just stood there, not sure what to do next. Suddenly, there she was, coming down the steps – Mrs. Balderdach! As soon as she saw him, she came over and said What’s wrong Dori?

He looked at her then and knew. It was all true. This is real.

Instinctively, he knew there was only one thing to say, only one thing that would tell him for sure. Choking back the tears starting to well up in eyes, wanting to believe but still not quite convinced, he looked at her concerned face and said Mom?

She hugged him tight and said It’s ok Baby, everything’s going to be alright…