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Rated: E · Novella · Sci-fi · #2295538
Meant to be a Lovecratean story, but probably didn't end up that way.
It was a bright, sunny day in March 2024 when the police car turned slowly into Leander Street, Maribyrnong and headed down toward number 122.

“What number is it again?” asked the middle-aged sergeant behind the steering wheel.

“Number 122,” said the tall, thin redheaded policewoman in the back of the pale blue Fairlane. Although she had a plastic clipboard in her hands, she had all the information that she needed in her head.

“Aren’t you going to check that on the clipboard, Janice?” teased the young policeman in the front passenger seat. Although he knew that the redhead had a near-photographic memory.

“If you insist,” teased back Janice Snyder ruffling through the papers in a pretence of checking them. “Yep, I was right.”

Laughing, Sergeant Eric Paulsen said: “You know Janice has a memory like a computer, Liam.”

“So, every time it’s a little bit colder than average, a little bit hotter than average, or there’s a tiny bit of dust in the air, she freezes up and forgets everything that she knows?” teased Constable Liam Fredericks.

“No!” said Janice pointedly.

“Well, that’s what my computer does,” said Liam.

“Well, maybe that was a bad analogy,” conceded the sergeant with a laugh as they drove down Leander Street, noting the procession of derelict houses, some missing front doors. Others with weatherboards hanging away from the walls. Still others with most of the roof gone – tiles, or corrugated iron laying on the near jungle-like lawns out front of the derelict houses.

“D-Notice after D-Notice,” observed Janice Snyder. “How can anyone be living among all these houses marked for demolition?”

“Don’t ask me,” said Sergeant Paulsen. “But that’s what the Department of Housing claims. An old man, named Bill Josephson, known to be suffering from hallucinations, is squatting at number 122 Leander Street. And they want him out so that they can demolish all of the houses in this row.”

“Then why aren’t they here instead of us?” asked Liam.

“They want us to check it out first and if necessary take him away,” explained the sergeant. “And if so, they’ll collect him from us at Russell Street, Melbourne.”

“So in other words, their time is more valuable than ours,” persisted Liam Fredericks.

“It would seem so,” agreed Eric Paulsen.

“122!” cried Janice, pointing. Too late, so the police car overshot and parked at 124.

As they alighted to the street, Paulsen reminded his two constables: “Remember this is a homeless old man who has fantasies. Not a criminal. Leave your sidearms in your holsters, we won’t need them.”

They walked carefully down the crumbling concrete path to the side door. Then Eric Paulsen knocked on the brown-painted door, calling out: “Mr Josephson?”

As he tapped, the door slid open. After a second hesitation he called out again: “Mr Josephson?”

Then, getting no response, he pushed the door open wide, to find no sign of the old man standing there.

“Come on,” said the sergeant, leading the way inside.

Inside the small brown-brick villa house, they found a doorway (but no doors) to a large lounge room to the left as they entered. The lounge room was full of cheap, dilapidated furniture including six bookcases full of books, VCR tapes, DVD and Blu-Ray discs. There were also two dust-coated armchairs, one almost falling apart, a desk with a PC which looked like a late 1990s model, as well as a couple of unsafe-looking kitchen chairs and a dozen or more cardboard boxes full of Lord only knew what.

“Well, someone has certainly lived here recently,” said Janice Snyder as they stepped tentatively into the lounge room.

“Hey, Serg,” said Liam, picking up a cheaply bound hardback book from a phone table beside the PC desk. “It looks like his diary.”

“Give it here,” said the sergeant reaching for the book.

For the next hour or so Eric Paulsen stood reading Bill Josephson’s diary, with Liam Fredericks and Janice Snyder each standing behind him, reading over a different shoulder:


Saturday, 14th January 2024

I don’t know what the erasers are? Where they come from? Or even how they devour their prey? If indeed, that’s even what they do. But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself.

My name is Bill. Bill Josephson. For the last three years or so I’ve been attending Centre-West Church every Saturday afternoon. Centre-West meets on Saturdays because we lease a Church of Christ building, and C.O.C. holds services all day on Sundays.

By 6.10 PM today, we were seated or standing around in the tearoom after church, having a cuppa and filling our faces with biscuits, jam tarts, some hideously bitter candy canes left over from Christmas, and other goodies.

I was seated with my back to the large window, pressing backwards to ease the hideous arthritic pain in my back. Glancing across the brown-wood tables in the centre of the room, I saw Nancey Kwouk standing smiling toward me. Nancey was a tall, attractive women in her late forties or early fifties.

Today she must have been planning to go out after church, since she was wearing a bright dress with a plunging neckline, from which her full, melon-shaped breasts did their level best to leap free as she leant across the tables to say something to me.

A frustrated, middle-aged bachelor, who until joining Centre-West three years ago had had no real friends outside my family, I none-the-less tried my best, without much success, to raise my eyes from Nancey’s full, swelling breasts to her pleasant face as she said to me: “Are you going to …?”

Then a beam of sunlight flooded in through the window behind me. Sunlight and something else. Something like a black sheath or burst of black light. If black light is possible.

Streaking across the snack table to the surprise of Mark Jenkins, a thickset, grey-haired man, and a couple of others, the black streak stopped upon the bosomy figure of Nancey Kwouk.

Except that Nancey Kwouk no longer existed. As the eraser (as I have decided to call it) landed up Nancey, the busty brunette faded out of existence.

“What the bloody Hell!” cried Mark Jenkins. Leaping to his feet, as I staggered more slowly up upon my arthritic legs.

“Mark, honey, what is it?” asked his wife, Sandra, short and stout as Mark himself was.

“Nancey …?” he said. Making the others in the tearoom turn to stare at him.

“Nancey …?” asked Sandra. She sounded as puzzled as Mark himself now looked.

“Nancey Kwouk?” I finished for him.

“Nancey Kwouk?” echoed Sandra Jenkins, turning toward me.

“She just vanished,” I said, wondering how Sandra could have possibly not noticed.

“Who just vanished?” asked Sandra, sounding as puzzled as I now felt.

“Nancey Kwouk just vanished,” I said, pointing toward where the bosomy Asian-Australian woman had been standing a few seconds earlier.

Twenty or more people turned to where I was pointing, and then clearly perplexed they all looked back to me – like a tennis crowd following the ball with their eyes.

“Who is Nancey Kwouk?” asked Sandra.

“Is she a friend of yours?” asked Mark. Suddenly looking puzzled to find himself standing, he sat again beside Sandra.

“Of course, she’s a friend of mine,” I said with enough force to make everyone in the tearoom and adjoining hall stop to stare at me.

“Bill? Are you all right?” asked Pastor Ian Wong, sounding genuinely concerned as he made his way through the small crowd of people from the hall to where I sat by the window.

“Nancey?” I said as he stood beside me. “Nancey Kwouk?”

“Nancey Kwouk?” asked Ian, mirroring the question from Sandra earlier.

Pointing back toward the large mirror behind me, I explained: “A shaft of black light flashed in across the room and hit Nancey Kwouk and she just vanished. Mark saw it.”

“Everyone turned to look at a very puzzled looking Mark Jenkins.

“I’m sorry, Bill, but I’ve never known anyone called Nancey Kwouk,” insisted Mark.

“But you stood up when she was hit by the black light and vanished!” I insisted, trying not to raise my voice to a shout as I spoke.

“Black light?” asked Sarah Jenkins.

Looking worried, Pastor Ian persisted: “Who is Nancey Kwouk, Bill? Someone you brought along to church with you? I wish you had introduced her to us. New members are always welcome here.”

Trying my best not to shout at him, I said: “No, Nancey has attended Centre-West every week for the last three years.” Although I had missed much of 2011 due to painful urology problems, so I could not really know how often Nancy Kwouk had attended Centre-West last year.

Looking both concerned for me and dumbfounded, Ian Wong insisted: “In the three and a bit years I’ve been running Centre-West Church, I can’t recall anyone name Nancey ever attending. Let alone a Nancey Kwouk?”

“But that’s ridiculous!” I protested, almost pleading with him to remember Nancey. Finally unable to resist raising my voice, I shouted, “You know Nancey Kwouk as well as I do. She was attending Centre-West before I started coming three years ago!”

“Bill, are you all right?” asked Jenny Wong, Pastor Ian’s wife, coming over to reassure me. The Wong’s knew – as everyone else in the church did – that I had been ill for much of the second half of 2011. And it soon became apparent that they all thought that I was suffering from some form of hysterical delusions.

In vain I argued with them for another ten minutes, without managing to convince anyone in the tearoom that anyone named Nancey Kwouk had ever existed, let alone attended Centre-West Church virtually every week since it had opened a little over three-and-a-half years ago in July 2008.

“But she was real!” I persisted, only drawing troubled looks from my many friends at the church tearoom.

Finally Jenny signalled to Anthony Nuygen, who lived in the same general direction as I did, and whispered to him (loud enough for everyone in the tearoom to overhear): “Can you drive Bill home, Tony? He’s not feeling very well.”

“No worries,” assured the tall, muscular Korean-Australian.

I wanted to shout at her that I was feeling fine! I just wanted to know what had happened to Nancey Kwouk. I just wanted them to remember Nancey Kwouk, who they had all known for over three years! But I knew that they were only trying to help. And I was starting to understand that no matter what I said none of them would ever again remember Nancey.

So, starting to feel like the invalid that they were all treating me as, I dutifully followed Tony through the church to the parking lot out back. Even allowing him to help me into the front passenger seat of his white Kia.

“Don’t worry,” said Tony giving me a genuine smile, “you’ll feel a lot better when you’re lying down.”

Although with both my arthritis and my urinary problems, the pain was at its worst when I was lying down. But I didn’t bother to say this to Tony, since he was only trying to help.

“Soon be there,” said Tony as we turned left into Essex Street and started for Leander Street where (as always after church) I would find my Tortoisehell she cat, Bella, waiting, meowing at me to come inside and feed her.

It was only as we passed the roundabout at Eleanor Street that it struck me: Whatever had taken Nancey Kwouk had not just removed her physical presence. It had also erased her past. It had, in fact, erased her from history, so that Nancey Kwouk had not only ceased to exist, she had ceased to EVER have existed!

But why am I the only one who can remember Nancey? I wondered. After these … these Erasers erased her from history? Why hasn’t my memory of her faded out as everyone else’s did within seconds of poor Nancey’s vanishment?

I was still thinking these troubled thoughts as the white Kia pulled up outside my villa house at 122 Leander Street, where right on cue, Bella sat in the driveway meowing in an insistent almost pip-pip-piping manner, which she used solely when she needed to ram home just how starving she was (although I had fed her not much more than two hours ago, just before leaving for church).

“Come on, let’s get you inside,” said Tony still convinced that I could not manage by myself.

As I started to open the passenger door he raced around to help me from the tiny car as though concerned I could not stand unaided. Forcing poor Bella to follow alone behind instead of being carried into the house, as I usually carried her coming back from church on Saturdays.

Then, to my embarrassment Tony insisted, “I’d better see you into bed.”

After I fumbled the keys from the lanyard connected to my belt (so that they wouldn’t cut through my trouser pocket and fall to the pavement as they had done with an earlier set of trousers), Tony all but carried me into the bedroom. Where he reluctantly left me after I had assured him: “I’ll be all right now.”

He stood in the bedroom doorway for a moment, clearly uncertain about leaving me, knowing I lived alone with just Bella for company, before reluctantly waving good-bye and heading back to the front door.

“You’ve got Ian and Jenny’s number if you need anything, don’t you?” he called before stepping out the door.

“Yes, don’t worry, I’ll be fine, thanks,” I called back, relieved when I finally heard the front door close.

I waited until the Kia had driven away, then stood up (from where I had been sitting on the edge of my bed) and walked out into the kitchen followed by an insistently meowing Bella, to put out some Lamb and Liver for her. Then I walked to the lounge room to begin this diary in case I also forgot ever having known poor Nancey Kwouk.

Monday 16th January 2024

Around noon I received a phone call from Bee Ling Chi’ang, my doctor, a close friend and a fellow parishioner at Centre-West Church:

“Hello?” I asked, surprised to recognise Bee Ling’s voice. Usually one of the doctor’s two receptionists would ring me if he thought I needed to come to see him for any reason.

“Bill, I realised that I haven’t seen you at the clinic for a while,” he said. “I wondered if you could make it this afternoon at 4:00 PM?”

“Well …” I started to protest, knowing that Pastor Ian Wong must have phoned Bee Ling on my behalf. I wanted to tell him forcefully that there was nothing wrong me. But I didn’t want to offend him, and realised that Ian Wong and Bee Ling Chi’ang both only meant well. So, I said: “Yes, of course.”

“Good, good,” he said, sounding very relieved.

* * *

At four o’clock sharp I arrived at the doctor’s clinic, which as usual was almost full. However, instead of the usual ninety minute-plus wait, I was called in to see Dr Chi’ang almost immediately. To the obvious consternation of patients who presumably had been waiting for ages to be seen.

“Hey,” called one patient, who looked and may well have been a street person (since both Ian Wong and Bee Ling Chi’ang tried to help the poor as much as legally and financially possible), “is he royalty or something!”

Dr Chi’ang looked as embarrassed as I felt at the query, however, a stern look from Bee Ling’s most senior receptionist, Alexandria, silenced the protestor.

“Come in, come in,” enthused Bee Ling as though we were brothers not merely friends from church. He guided me to a seat before his varnished desk, as though like Tony Nuygen the night before he felt that I might collapse if not physically held up.

He went through an extensive physical exam, took my blood pressure and wrote out a bulk-billing request form for the Maribyrnong General Western Hospital to have blood tests, urine tests, brain scans and EEG tests done, before finally getting round to questioning me.

Rather tentatively he broached: “Do you ever imagine things, Bill?”

I did my best not to sigh aloud in frustration as I said: “No, never.”

“No hallucinations? Or moments of daydreaming?”

“I have daydreams, of course, everyone does.”

“But where you sometimes confuse the dream for reality?” he persisted.

“No, never.”

“Good, good,” said Bee Ling, actually sounding very worried.

Hesitantly he said: “I missed church this Saturday due to an emergency I had to attend. But Jenny and Ian Wong told me you had problems.”

Since he had been careful not to mention Nancey Kwouk, I decided not to either, simply saying: “I thought I saw someone in the church, who turned out not to be there.”

“Yet you were quite persistent that she was there? That she had been attending for three years or more?” said Bee Ling. Who, of course, had been told the whole story by Jenny and Ian Wong.

“Well …” I hesitated, finally telling him in depth what had happened. Although his calm reaction told me he was hearing nothing that the pastor and his wife hadn’t already told him.

Suddenly standing, he walked round the desk again to shine a small doctor’s torch into my right eye.

“Do you ever suffer from fainting spells?”

“Only if I stand up too quickly.”

“Yes, that’s due to your double blood pressure,” he said shifting the torch across to my left eye. We had established long ago that my blood pressure varied slight depending on whether I was sitting or standing. So I had to be careful not to stand too suddenly for fear of fainting.

“Do you ever suffer from white flashes at the back of your eyeballs?” he asked.

“Only when some silly bugger is shining a flashlight into my eye,” I said, making the Chinese-Australian laugh.

“Fair enough,” he said. “Well, I can’t find anything wrong. But to be on the safe side I’ll get Alexandria to make you an appointment at the Maribyrnong General.”

“Alexandria,” I teased, “that’s near Cairo, isn’t it?”

“No, I meant by chief receptionist, Alexandria,” he explained. And with that we returned to the reception area of the clinic so Alexandria could ring through to the hospital.

The brunette spoke of the phone for five minutes, then covering the receiver with one hand she said to Dr Chi’ang: “They say they have at least a six month waiting list.”

“No, that’s no good,” said Bee Ling Chi’ang. Taking the receiver from Alexandria, he began to argue the urgency of my case to one of the chief doctors of the hospital.

Normally six months could easily turn to six years when you were on the national health waiting list. However, as a personal friend of mine, Bee Ling pulled a few strings, called in a few favours, and to my dismay as he handed back the receiver to his receptionist, Dr Chi’ang turned to me and said: “Your appointment is for 8:00 AM on Thursday the second of February.”

Alexandria made out a date card for me, and handing it over and assured me: “You’ll get an official letter confirming that date in the next few days.”

Saturday, 28th January 2024

Having missed one week of church, I arrived a minute or two before 4:00 PM today, wondering at the size of the congregation. Over the last three years Centre-West had gradually built up until instead of six or seven people on bad weeks (as in August 2008 when I had first attended), our bad weeks by 2024 usually were thirty-five to forty parishioners. Today, however, barely twenty people had arrived by four o’clock.

Noticing that the front pew on the right (which was normally crowded by now) was all but empty, I asked: “Where is everyone?”

“Everyone?” asked Jenny Wong sounding puzzled.

Pointing at the near empty pew, I said: “Dan Horrocks, Thomas Naylor, Margey Hunter, Elspeth Warner …?”

The worried look Jenny was giving me stopped me as I realised: She doesn’t recognise any of those names. Yet Dan and Margey have been coming here for nearly three years? Tom and Elspeth for a year-and-a-half or more?

“Never mind,” I said to Jenny. Trying to ignore her trouble look as I tried hard not to run as I hurried across to a pew near the rear on the right hand side of the small church.

* * *

Usually our service starts with the congregation standing for twenty-five minutes or so as we sang hymns (plus a few gospel rockers). But today we had a treat as Pastor Ian explained:

“The Rodriguez sisters from the Spanish Church are going to entertain us by singing some hymns of their own choosing.”

The Spanish Church also rents the Church of Christ building for their services. And from time to time two (or all three) of the churches hold combined services.

As Pastor Ian Wong introduced them, five lovely girls aged from seven to fifteen, dressed in traditional Spanish costume, strolled toward the front of the church, smiling broadly as we stood to applaud them.

The five girls were onto their third song, “Holy! Holy! Holy!” when a shaft of bright light shot into the church from a small overhead window. And as though riding the white light down toward us, the black light streaked down upon the five pretty Spanish girls.

And two of them instantly vanished.

“Manuela? Conchita?” shrieked their distraught mother leaping to her feet as her two eldest daughters vanished.

A gasp of annoyance went up around the church at this interruption. All heads turned toward Isabella Rodriguez for a moment, before swivelling back to where the three remaining Spanish-Australian girls stood together, having closed ranks to make up for the loss of their two siblings.

For another second or so, Isabella continued to look horrified by the disappearance of her two eldest daughters. Then as the memory of Manuela and Conchita slipped from her awareness, the horror was replaced by a broad grin as she began to applaud the singing of her three lovely and talented daughters.

“Bravo! Bravo!” cried the excited mother. Before finally being dragged down to her seat by her obviously embarrassed husband.

“Terribly sorry, terribly sorry,” apologized Benjamin Rodriguez. “She always does this when our little girls sing.”

“Mother!” chastised one of the three remaining Spanish girls. Her face flushed almost beet red from a mixture of anger and embarrassment.

“So sorry,” apologized Isabella Rodriguez.

“That’s all right,” insisted Pastor Ian from the front pew.

“We don’t mind a little parental enthusiasm,” assured Jenny Wong, seated beside her husband. “We’re easy going at Centre-West.”

Although the glares all three remaining Rodriguez sisters were now giving their mother were anything but easy going.

“So sorry,” said Isabella one last time, at a whisper.

The three Spanish girls continued to glare at their mother for a moment longer, before returning to singing, “Holy! Holy! Holy!” Before finishing with, “Majesty!”

To the wild applause of the diminished crowd, the three pretty girls did a well-rehearsed curtsy, then raced across to sit next to their parents.

As they ran, the black sheathed light, which had taken their two eldest sisters, streamed down again. For a horrified second I thought it would snatch the three remaining Rodriguez sisters from existence. Instead the black light passed within centimetres of the three sisters, passing behind them, to strike two parishioners sitting beside Jenny Wong on the front pew.

Tanya Richards a Eurasian had moved to Australia from the Indian Subcontinent more than thirty years ago. She had converted from Hinduism to Christianity at age twelve and had immediately been ostracised by her family. Her life in Australia had been trouble too, with bad marriages to three brutal husbands. Her last bad husband had at least presented her with her beautiful daughter Marni, just before abandoning mother and daughter to their fate.

Tanya had struggled on, working sixteen hour days for many years to bring up her daughter, who worshipped her mother for all she had gone through to give Marni a good home.

Tanya was held up as an inspiration to us all at Centre-West Church. Until the black sheath, the eraser, struck her and she was erased from history.

“What!” shrieked sixteen-year-old Marni. Staggering to her feet to stare gape-eyed at the empty pew where her beloved mother had just been seated.

“Marni? What is wrong?” asked Jenny Wong, also standing.

“Mother!” cried Marni Richards. Then in a blink of an eye Marni also vanished from time and space.

“Marni!” cried Jenny, as her husband, Pastor Ian, stood and put a comforting arm around her.

“Jenny, honey, what’s wrong?” asked Ian Wong.

“Marni!” said Jenny Wong, looking puzzled even as she said it. As though the name had already ceased to mean anything to her.

“Marni?” echoed her husband, equally puzzled by the unknown name.

“I … I’m sorry,” apologized a very confused looking Jenny Wong. “I think I’ve had too much sun.”

Helping his wife back to her seat Pastor Ian called to one of the church assistants: “Samuel, can you close the shutters and turn on the fluorescents?”

”No sweat,” said Sam Conti, operating a small consul in a metal box on the wall near the rear of the church.

With an eerie shrieking, the overhead vertical blinds squealed closed, cloaking the church in darkness. Until with a couple of clicks Sam switched on the fluorescent lights.

“Not too bright,” warned Ian Wong. Obviously still concerned about his beloved wife of twenty-eight years.

Nodding, Sam adjusted the lighting down a few notches on the rheostat.

As the vertical blinds has squealed shut, for a second I had thought I could hear another squealing behind the blinds. As though I could hear either the death squeals (I hoped) of the black erasers as I have named them. Or possibly squeals of rage as the closing vertical blinds blocked out the shafts of sunlight, preventing the erasers from sliding down into the church building to snatch more innocent worshippers out of space and time.

“That’s better, thanks,” said Ian Wong. Obviously having not heard anything out of the ordinary as the blinds had closed.

Although for a few seconds other members of the congregation had look warily around the ceiling. As though they had heard, or at least sensed, the angry shrieks of the eraser – as I was already thinking of the black light beings, since they erased not only the physical presence of their victims, but also their memory and place in history.

“Did you hear that?” whispered one of the startled congregation to no-one in particular.

Then in a second or two the parishioners startled looks turned to looks of concern for Jenny Wong. However, now obviously recovered from her distress, she assured everyone:

“I’m fine, thanks. Just a little too much sun.”

So, after kissing her warmly upon the cheek, Pastor Ian stepped up to a small podium at the front of the congregation to begin his sermon:

“Help the needy! Not the greedy!” began Ian Wong. Going on to talk in support of Prime Minister Gilliard’s Excess Tax soon to be levied upon the super rich.

The mega-rich and Big Business had already started to pollute the airwaves with propaganda ads., calling the new taxes, “Excessive Tax.” But it was clear that Pastor Ian was not falling for it, and was fully supporting Julia Gilliard’s plans to try to force the ultra-rich to pay major taxation for the first time ever.

Part way through the sermon two more parishioners vanished after a tiny shaft of light came down due to a small kink in one of the vertical blinds. But they were both first (and last) timers, whose names I did not know.

Our church hands out a welcoming bag to newcomers. A silver-grey bag like the ones you can buy at supermarkets to use instead of plastic bags. As the newcomers vanished, one grey bag vanished also. The other, placed on the pew beside the owner lay there, to be found after the service by Tony Nuygen.

Looking puzzled, Tony held up the felt bag and asked, “Did any of the newcomers forget their welcoming bag?”

The remaining newcomers dutifully checked and all had their bags, so Tony looked across to Pastor Ian, who said: “Put it back into the box, someone may have been given two bags by mistake.”

Then why didn’t they hand it back? Instead of just leaving it behind? I thought. Careful not to give voice to my thoughts for fear of being regarded as peculiar again.

The puzzled look on Tony Nuygen’s face suggested that he was thinking the same thing.

“They can always ask for a replacement one if someone finds they’ve left their bag behind,” added Ian Wong.

By this time Jenny Wong seemed to have completely forgotten her unease earlier at the disappearance of Marni Richards. And the casual way that he treated her as they headed toward the tearoom suggested that her husband had forgotten his wife’s distress also.

“How are you now?” I asked, before realising that she no longer remembered being upset.

“How am I now?” asked Jenny, giving me a worried look as though thinking I was imagining things again. Pastor Ian gave her a worried smile, and not too patronisingly, she added: “Fine, fine, how are you feeling, Bill?”

Dismayed by the question, I could hardly take offence, since I had started the conversation, so I said: “Fine, I’m just fine.”

“Bee Ling tells us that you have an appointment at the Maribyrnong General Western, this coming Thursday?” said Ian Wong. Trying a little too hard to sound matter-of-fact about it.

“Yes,” I said, trying not too sound too abrupt. If they already thought I was a little strange, the last thing I needed to do was to alienate them any further.

“I’m sure there’s nothing wrong,” said Jenny Wong. Although she sounded anything but sure, and anything but convincing.

Trying my best not to allow my dismay to turn to anger, I followed Ian and Jenny toward the twin glass doors to the small hall leading across to the tearoom.

We had just reached the door to, where Tony Nuygen stood by the sound consul and Sam Conti near the lighting consul, when a shaft of bright sunlight flashed in through the glass doors, from the front door, to the left of where we stood.

Instinctively all three of us took a pace backward so that the white light narrowly missed us. Striking Sam Conti instead.

In an instant, as he reached to turn off the fluorescent lights, the black eraser streaked along the sunbeam to engulf Sam. Who instantly vanished.

For a second all four of us (myself, the Wongs, and Tony Nuygen) stared in horror at the space where Sam Conti had just been.

Then, obviously forgetting the Italian-Australian man who they had known for twenty-five years, Ian and Jenny Wong stepped out into the hall and started toward the tearoom.

Tony Nuygen continued to stare toward the light consul on the wall for a moment. Then, casually, he stepped across to turn off the fluorescents, as I stepped out into the hall and started after Ian and Jenny.

Although not in a mood to drink and chat, I was afraid to leave the church building when it would mean stepping out into the bright summer sun and exposing myself to whatever was using the sunbeams as a guideline to snatch its victims out of time. So somewhat reluctantly I headed into the tearoom after the Wongs.

In the tearoom I stood in line for a cup of white coffee. Then seeing the portly, grey-haired figures of Mark and Sandra Jenkins seated at the biscuit table, I started across toward them.

“Hi, Bill,” said Mark. The last words he would ever say.

“Hello,” I said to Mark and Sandra, as a sunbeam flashed in through the large window behind them.

As the sunbeam hit the Jenkinses, the black eraser engulfed Mark, who faded out of existence.

“Holy shit!” I said, forgetting I was in church building. And dropping my coffee cup, which shattered upon the hardwood table (actually six small square tables place together).

Looking at first startled at my language, then shocked as she realised that her husband was no longer seated beside her, Sandra Jenkins started to stand. But as the eraser engulfed her, the grey-haired woman vanished while still in a squatting position.

“What …?” asked Renka, a Russian-Australian parishioner, looking horrified for a second. Then in an instant her horror turned to helpfulness as she said: “Bill has spilt his cuppa.”

Racing across to grab some paper hand towels she mopped up the mess I had made. Before heading across to the counter to kindly make me a replacement cup of coffee.

“There you are,” said Renka, placing the replacement cuppa in front of me.

As Sandra Jenkins vanished, Jayne – our missionary, and sometimes stand-in speaker – standing by the hall had been staring in horror as her long-time friend vanished from existence. However, in seconds her look of horror turned to a look of delight.

“Look, there’s two vacant seats,” said Jayne as she gently guided Irene – at eight-seven our old member – over to sit in Mark’s chair, before plonking down into Sandra’s recently vacated seat.

“Lord, the light is bright in here,” said Pastor Ian. And, to my relief, he went across close the vertical blinds – too late for the Jenkinses, but in time to protect Jayne, little Irene, and the rest of us from the erasers.

As the curtains closed, again I thought I could hear angry, agonised squealing from the black erasers. For a second Irene and Renka looked started, obviously hearing the angry squeal. Then it faded and in a moment all except myself had obviously forgotten ever having heard it.

Thursday, 2nd February 2024

Today I had an 8:00 AM appointment at the Maribyrnong General Western Hospital. I didn’t mind the early start. For more than seven years I have been unemployed due to severe arthritis of the spine. So I am used to rising early in the unlikely chance of finding a job to go after. However, I did mind going to the hospital almost on orders from Dr Chi’ang. Since Bee Ling Chi’ang and Ian Wong were still convinced that I was imagining things.

Nonetheless, I arrived at the reception desk at First Floor North at ten minutes to eight – relieved that the hospital was only one street from where I live.

“Hello,” smiled the young Greek-Australian woman on reception.

“Hi,” I said, handing over my appointment letter, alone with my blue-card and Medicare care. Which she processed quickly before telling me:

“Sit anywhere.”

Anywhere? I thought, looking around the crowded waiting room, hoping that I would not have to stand up for hours with my arthritic back while waiting.

Seeing my dismay, the Greek receptionist advised: “There are overflow seats in the hallway.” She pointed back the way that I had just come in.

I headed back into the corridor to find that the overflow seats were overflowing also. I had all but decided that I would indeed have to stand, when from behind me a female voice called: “Vido Contouri.”

Turning, I saw a young, willowy brunette with a doctor’s coat helping an elderly man to his feet.

As the elderly man began to stand rise, I hurriedly started back across the reception room to be ready to take over the hard plastic, boat race blue chair when he finally vacated it.

“Nice and slowly, Mr Contouri,” encourage the brunette. Allowing me, even with my arthritic back and knees, time to sneak across ready to take over the seat vacated by Vido Contouri as he and the young doctor headed into the examination area beyond the waiting room.

“Thank the Lord,” I muttered, squeezing into the restrictive plastic seat.

Taking a paperback from my black burlap bag, I settled in for a long wait – knowing that appointment times meant nothing at the Maribyrnong General Western. Trying my best to ignore the smell of sweat and antiseptics, which vied for my attention, I opened my book and began reading.

I had read a hundred and fifty pages, when I stopped to check the time and saw that it was nearly 12:30. I also noticed that the once packed waiting room was now more than half empty. From time to time doctors had come in and called someone’s name. But at the same time new patients had steadily joined the queue. So I was surprised to see so big a drop in the number of people waiting.

“Where is everyone?” I thought aloud.

“Oh, there’s never many people in North Ward on Tuesdays,” said the Greek receptionist. Obviously having forgotten her advice to me earlier to try the overflow area when there had been standing room only in the waiting room.

As I looked around an elderly man tottered in pushing an equally elderly lady in a wheel chair.

“Mr and Mrs Harrelson,” said the man handing over his appointment letter, and cards together.

The three documents went into the right hand of the Greek receptionist, when a burst of bright sunlight streamed into the room and engulfed the elderly couple.

In an instant an eraser flashed along the sunbeam riding it down to the elderly couple. Who both vanished, leaving behind an unattended wheelchair.

“What the Hell!” cried the young receptionist, whose nametag identified her as Ghia. She stood staring for a few seconds at the space vacated by the elderly couple.

Then the appointment letter and two cards vanished, followed by the wheelchair also, leaving poor Ghia staring in horror for a second or so. Until the horror in her eyes turned to slight puzzlement, then complete unconcern.

Finally she bent to sit again. When the black eraser struck Ghia also, erasing the Greek receptionist from time and space.

Sun streaming into through the waiting room, I realised. That’s how the waiting area has emptied out so quickly!

Even as I thought it, the sunlight streaked around the waiting room, like the beam of a laser rifle operated by an epileptic.

In a matter of six or seven seconds as many people had vanished from the waiting area.

Doing my best to avoid being hit by the flashing sunbeam and the black light entity hidden within, I stepped over to click shut the Venetian blinds.

“Hey!” cried a burly, two-metre taller with blue-black tattoos all up and down his bear arms from wrist to shoulders. “I like the sunlight!”

So saying, he stepped toward the pull-cord as I stepped hurriedly away. Gripping the cord almost angrily, he ripped the blinds open, was struck by a vivid sunbeam and vanished before he could even release the blind cord.

With the tattooed man gone, I walked across to close the blinds again, blocking out the sunlight from half of the waiting room window. But when I tried to close the other half, the cord was stuck somehow and refused to close the Venetian blinds.

“That pull cord has been stuck for weeks,” said a portly redhead woman behind the reception counter. “They keep saying a repairman is coming, but he hasn’t turned up yet.”

As a beam of bright sunlight streaked into the room and raced across toward the reception desk, I hurriedly backed into the dark half of the waiting room. Trying my best not to feel guilty as the sunlight struck the redhead and erased her from history, along with two people seated in the waiting room. And a tall blonde who was just walking in through the doorway from the corridor.

Picking up my book again, unable to read now, I used the book as a shield, to block out the horrors of the waiting room, which was fast becoming a death room, as more and more people popped out of existence.

Trying to hide within the pages of my paperback shield, I did not hear at first when my own name was called.

Then looking up I saw the tall, thin brunette in a doctor’s coat standing near the reception desk looking toward where a grey-haired man and I sat together in the otherwise empty waiting room.

“Bill Josephson?” she repeated.

“Yes,” I said, standing as hurriedly as by weak arthritic knees would allow.

As I stood, the brunette took a pace toward me, and then was hit by a sunbeam and its lethal passenger. And in a second she faded out of existence.

A blue plastic clipboard she carried fluttered down to the floor like an oversized autumn leaf. However, the clipboard vanished just millimetres shy of hitting the floor.

Looking about the near-empty room, I said: “It’s speeding up!”

“If only it were,” said the old man beside me, staggering to his feet. “Just look at this place. I’ve been waiting for three hours and there’s only you and me here.”

Pointing toward the reception desk, he added: “There’s not even anyone on the front desk.”

Looking to my right, I realised that he was correct. The young Greek woman, Ghia, and the plump redhead had been the only people on reception. With them both erased from history, the reception desk was left unattended.

Before I could caution him, the elderly man walked passed me in through the wide doorway into the large treatment area beyond and started looking around.

“There’s nobody in here either!” he said in increasing anger. “They usually have a dozen staff and up to twenty patients in here at any one time. Now there’s no-one!”

“No-one!” I said in dismay.

“No-one!” he confirmed. Before walking out of sight deeper into the brightly sunlit treatment area.

For a moment or two I heard the clip-clop of his footsteps on the concrete floor. Then his footsteps faded suddenly out of existence. And when the old man had not returned in a couple of minutes, I realised that he also had faded out of existence!

No longer caring who saw me acting strangely, I turned and ran out into the long, empty corridor. I ran down one empty corridor after another. Until reaching the elevator bays for North Ward and stabbed my right index finger painfully against the down button in my terror.

“Ouch!” I said, sucking at my pained digit as the elevator doors almost immediately opened.

Stepping into the empty elevator I rode down to the ground floor. Where I ran as fast as my arthritic back would allow through more empty corridors, carefully following the blue painted line until reaching the empty reception area. Which I now little more than walked through, almost colliding with the slow automatic doors in my haste to vacate the seemingly empty nine-storey hospital building.

Outside the streets were as empty of life as the hospital. Yet Maribyrnong is a growing suburb with nearly a hundred thousand people. Even in the early afternoon there should have been a few stray people milling around.

As I passed the junior school on the corner of Essex and Eleanor Streets the schoolyard was also empty. Although school had started back this week after the long Christmas break and usually I could see children in the classrooms as I passed the school on my way to or from the hospital. But not today! Today no faces showed through the large classroom windows! And no stragglers stayed in the playground. The swings and Jungle Gym which had been brightly painted when I had passed by five hours earlier, were now faded and rusty.

By the time that I had reached Essex Street, my running had subsided to very slow walking, as my aching back refused to allow me to more than dodder along.

When I finally reached 122 Leander Street, I still had not met anyone. Although I was relieved to see my Tortoiseshell cat, Bella, waiting for me.

“Thank God you’re still here,” I said, leading the way to the side door.

“Meow!” said Bella in her most starving sounding tone. She dutifully trotted after me as I led her into the kitchen and filled her bowl with a nauseating-looking mixture of chicken and kidneys, which she happily scoffed down.

* * *

Perhaps an hour later I was sitting in the lounge room writing this diary, nursing a purring tortoiseshell on my belly, when the phone rang.

“Hello?” I said almost dropping the receiver again from nervousness, never fond of telephones.

“Mr Josephson?” asked a female voice.


“I’m ringing from the Maribyrnong General Western Hospital. About your appointment at 8:00 AM this morning?”

“Yes, I turned up, but there was no-one on reception. So I waited a couple of hours then left,” I said, telling the basic truth, but leaving out the horrid details.

“Yes, I’m terribly sorry. Due to some administration error you were the only patient scheduled for the North Ward this morning. And no reception or medical staff was assigned to First Floor North.

“I’m very sorry, we don’t know what went wrong. Possibly a computer error. We’ve never had this kind of a cock-up before.”

“Don’t worry, that’s okay,” I said, dropping my diary onto the floor so that I could pat Bella while holding the receiver.

“If you don’t mind holding on a moment, I’ll make a replacement appointment,” said the receptionist who sounded only seventeen or eighteen.

“No sweat,” I said, grimacing as Muzac started blaring over the receiver.

I waited impatiently for seven or eight minutes, having to swap the receiver to my right hand as my left started to ache.

“What’s keeping her …?” I said impatiently. And suddenly the Muzac went off.

“Hello?” I said, expecting the receptionist to come back online. Instead an eerie silence reigned for fifteen seconds or so. Then the ordinary dial started as though we had been disconnected.

“Damn!” I said, hitting the recall button hard enough to hurt my index finger again.

When the dial tone continued, I picked up my wallet to take out a card with the hospital’s number to manually ring through.

The phone rang for a moment, then a recorded voice informed me: “The number you have attempted to reach is either disconnected, or has not yet been assigned.”

“What!” I said in disbelief. Rechecking the card, I put down Bella, only to have her pivot and leap straight back up onto my lap. So that, with great difficulty, I had to stand, clutching Bella to my stomach, to go out into the hallway to grab the telephone book to check the hospital’s number.

Finding the same number, I re-rang only to be told again that the number was disconnected or unassigned.

“But that’s ridiculous. It can’t ….?” I started, afraid to even finish the thought.

Despite her best efforts to stay affixed to my belly, I managed to put down Bella. Then arthritic back or not, I headed across to the side door and out into the street.

Not even thinking of the danger from the erasers who lurked somewhere above, waiting to glide down a sunbeam toward me to pluck me from time and space, I hobbled around to Eleanor Street to where the Maribyrnong General Western Hospital had stood that morning.

Except that now instead of a hospital, there were rows upon rows of cheap, nasty housing estate houses, like little redbrick boxes stacked higgledy-piggledy one on top of another. No sign of the multi-storey hospital, which had stood there for more than seventy years.

“Oh Lord!” I cried. Almost falling in my haste to spin round and race back to the relative sanity of my own home and my cat, Bella.

Saturday, 4th February 2024

As I tentatively stepped through the double glass doors of Centre-West today, I was approached by Pastor Ian who asked me:

“Bill, we were wondering if you could help out with the lighting consul?” He pointed to the consul on the wall to the left of where Tony Nuygen sat at the sound consul. “It really is too much for Tony to manage setting up and running the sound equipment as well as the lighting.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll show you the ropes” reassured Tony Nuygen.

“We meant to asked you a few weeks ago …” said Jenny Wong. Suddenly stopping too embarrassed to explain why they had not asked me a few weeks ago.

“I don‘t know why we haven’t had someone on the lighting consul years ago,” added Ian Wong, as much to bail out is wife as anything else.

I was tempted to point out that until last week Sam Conti had worked the lighting consul for two-and-a-half years. But wisely I decided to keep my mouth shut.

“Congratulations,” said Edward Soong, almost colliding with me as he came in through the glass doors behind me.

“On what?” asked Tony Nuygen.

“It’s Jenny’s birthday tomorrow,” said Ian Wong, giving his wife a loving hug. “The love of my life turns …”

“If you say it, I’ll kill you,” warned Jenny.

“Uh-oh, I forgot that women are a bit touchy about their age,” said Pastor Ian with a laugh. Pointing to where their teenaged son and daughter sat together on the front pew on the left side of the church, Ian added: “And Tobi’s. He was born the same day as his mum.”

“But not the same year,” teased Tobi Wong.

“You just watch yourself young man,” teased back Jenny Wong. She wagged a reproving finger at him, making the two teenagers giggle.

“So, my sermon for today will be on the family in biblical times. And how it relates to the modern family,” explained Ian.

Putting an arm around the lady who he still obviously adored after twenty-eight years of marriage, Ian Wong led Jenny to the front of the church where they sat beside Tobi and Joanna Wong. Leaving Tony Nuygen to instruct me in the use of the lighting consul.

Despite sunlight streaming in through the overhead windows, we managed to get through the hymn singing without anyone being erased. Then when Edward read from the bible during communion and collection still no-one vanished.

Dare I hope that it has somehow ended? That the erasers have gone back to wherever they came from? I thought, as Pastor Ian Wong stood to head toward the podium to give his sermon.

As the pastor stood, bright sunlight streamed in from overhead, striking the front pew just behind the priest. And in an instant Jenny, Tobi, and Joanna Wong, and little Irene all vanished. Leaving an empty pew behind the pastor, and making the once happily married man a childless bachelor.

I hurried to shut the vertical blinds to replace the potentially lethal natural light with fluorescent lighting. But, unfamiliar with the consul, I acted too slowly to save Renka or Joyce, who had been seated together on the second pew. Until a black eraser covered them and removed them from history.

As Jenny, Tobi, and Joanna Wong were erased from time and space, Ian Wong faltered. He staggered for a moment as though a giant fist had just reached into his body and had ripped out part of his soul. Turning as white as a corpse, the pastor looked for a moment as though he were going to faint.

“Are you all right, Ian?” called Edward Soong from just in front of the sound consul.

“Yes, I …” said Ian Wong. Then quickly recovering, he turned toward the ever-diminishing congregation, seemingly unfazed by the sight of the empty pew where the love of his life had just ceased to have ever existed.

“My sermon for today is on the evil of lust,” he announced. “The worst, if most popular, of the seven deadly sins.”

Although Edward and Tony Nuygen did not blink at this abrupt change of subject, I started. Feeling guilty as I remembered lusting after Nancey Kwouk, ogling her generous, pear-shaped breasts just before she became the first of many to be taken from time and space by the erasers.

Monday, 13 February 2024

By this time I decided that it was time to risk making a fool of myself by putting in an official report on the disappearances of Nancey Kwouk, Manuela and Conchita Rodriguez, Tanya and Marni Richards, Jenny, Tobi, and Joanna Wong, and all of the others to have been taken by the erasers.

So, half expecting to be arrested for putting in false reports, I headed out into the burning hot sun to start the longish walk to the 220 bus stop.

Forty-five minutes later I alighted at Hyde Street, and very tentatively headed inside the small police station. And then, less assured than earlier, headed over to the reception desk which was manned by a young constable, who looked no more than fifteen or sixteen.

“Yes?” asked the young man as I approached.

“I just wanted to report …” I began. When in through the glass door burst a bright sunbeam, which struck the young constable.

As a black eraser streaked along the sunbeam, the young constable vanished from existence.

“Hello?” I called, hoping that there was someone else on duty in the small station.

When no-one answered, I repeated the call. Then, after a couple of minutes, I turned round and saw a large cork notice board, with information sheets and wanted posters on it.

As I watched one of the wanted posters suddenly vanished. To be replaced by the image of someone else.

Then another wanted poster flashed out of existence. To be replaced by the image of some other felon.

Then another and another. Until the eight or nine wanted posters on the corkboard were changing too quickly for me to make out each new image. As though foretelling the erasure of dozens, or even hundreds of people.

I stood staring at the rapidly changing images for twenty-five or thirty seconds. Then, coming to my senses, I turned and raced across to the glass door and out into the street.

I had almost reached the footpath, a few metres from the station, before suddenly feeling the weight of something heavy in my hands. Looking down I was astonished to find that I was carrying a large cardboard box filled to the brim with canned foodstuffs and dried pasta.

“What the hell?” I said looking back toward the Hyde Street Police Station.

Except that it was no longer a police station. Now it was a Salvation Army food centre, where they handed out boxes of food to the needy.

Forced to rest the box of foodstuffs on the brick fence of a nearby house, I waited nearly two hours for the 220 bus.

“Hi,” I said to the driver, at last climbing aboard the bus. “Is there some kind of delay? I’ve been waiting nearly two hours.”

Looking puzzled, as though I had just said something stupid, the driver said: “You must have just missed one.”

“But two hours?” I persisted, knowing that there was supposed to be at least three buses an hour on this route. After all the 220 is a direct line into Melbourne.

“That’s about average,” insisted the driver. “This is too small a line for the buses to run more often than that.”

Too small! I thought, as I turned toward the passenger section of the bus. There are nearly one hundred thousand people in Maribyrnong!

Then deciding not to argue the point, I headed toward the seats. Amazed to see that there were only two little old ladies on the bus. Normally it was packed almost any hour of the day.

“With so few passengers,” persisted the bus driver, “I don’t know why they don’t phase it out altogether. Like they did with the old Maribyrnong Railway Station ten years back.”

“Maribyrnong Railway Station?” I echoed, knowing that the Victorian Government had just done a multi-million-dollar renovation of the station. Upgrading the old open-weather tar walkways with a new enclosed walkway above the station, with two hundred concrete steps leading up to it.

“Yeah, it must be about ten years now,” said the bus driver. Forcing me to hurriedly sit as he started the bus with a grinding of ancient gears.

A few minutes later we were riding through Irving Street. And to my shock I could see that the driver was right. The once impressive Maribyrnong Railway Station was closed down. As demonstrated when a Williamstown train expressed through the station without even slowing as it would do passing through most stations. Williamstown trains had always stopped at Maribyrnong Station!

The big shock, however, was that the enclosed overhead walkway, its two-hundred concrete steps, and the small elevators at the sides of the steps – which had been there a little over two hours ago – were all gone. Replaced by the ancient open-air tar-path walkways, which had serviced the station for many decades until being removed a year or two ago!

We had not yet seen anyone in the streets. But as we turned into Leed Street then Paisley – the main shopping centre of Maribyrnong – I expected to see the streets packed with people.

But there was no-one!

“Where is everyone?” I thought aloud.

“There’s never anyone much about,” said the driver, obviously thinking I was talking to him. “Maribyrnong has been dying fast for the last twenty years or more.”

“What …?” I said, puzzled. The Maribyrnong I knew and grew up in over fifty-five years had been thriving and growing big-time since the mid 1980s!

“Sad, but true,” said the bus driver. And as we drove through Paisley Street, two out of every three shops were boarded up. Or had ‘Closing Down Sale’ signs on their windows.

The big shock though, was at the corner of Paisley and Albert Streets. The two-storey Coles-K-Mart Plaza, which had started the revitalisation of Maribyrnong twenty-plus years ago no longer existed. In its place was the large gravel-lined car park, which had been there before the plaza had been built in the ‘80s.

“The Coles-K-Mart Plaza?” I said, shocked.

“Yeah, it’s a tragedy,” said the bus driver. “They were gonna build it right there on that car park. Then they got a better offer from the Hobson Bay Council, so it got built there instead. Shame really, it might have given a shot of much needed life blood to Maribyrnong.”

It did, dammit! I thought, careful not to voice the thought aloud, thinking: I don’t need anyone else thinking I’m loony!

With nobody at any of the stops, the bus continued at a steady pace through Paisley Street, Into Victoria Street then Barkly.

As we reached the corner of Leander Street, I decided to stay on the bus and go up to West Maribyrnong to see if I could get in to see Bee Ling Chi’ang. Not that Bee Ling would believe me about the changes going on throughout Maribyrnong, let alone about the erasers who had murdered hundreds, perhaps thousands of people now, seemingly murdering Maribyrnong township in the process.

As the bus stopped at last, I was relieved to see that Doctor Chi’ang’s clinic still stood across the road.

Turning back to thank the driver as I alighted, I was shocked to see that the passenger area of the bus was now empty. The two old ladies who were at the back of the bus had vanished. Yet the bus had not stopped between Hyde Street and where we were. And the two ladies had not got off before me.

I stepped back as the bus slowly started up and headed down toward Ashley Street.

Glad of the box of groceries I had received at the police station-cum-salvo depot, but not of the pain the weight gave to my back, I hefted the box and started carefully across Barkly Street. Once little less than a highway at this end, Barkly Street was now all but bereft of traffic. Although a few cars were parked outside the fish-and-chip shop, and I was relieved to see two customers inside the shop.

So it’s not a ghost town after all! I thought, relieved, as I turned to start across the road.

With only two cars in sight on the road itself, I was able to cross safely to head toward the wide-open driveway of the Chi’ang and Peterson Clinic.

Except that as I started into the driveway I unexpectedly collided with black cast-iron gates, which had suddenly appeared in my path.

“What the …?” I muttered, looking up. To see a tall red-blue brick, double-storey house – a so-called MacMansion – where the Chi’ang-Peterson Clinic had stood for the last twenty years or more.

“Yes!” demanded a darlek-like mechanical voice. Which I realised came from a small speaker on the left side of the gate.

“Sorry, wrong address,” I apologised, not knowing if the person inside could even hear me. Turning, I tottered as fast as my arthritic back and knees would allow, down the block and a bit to the next bus stop.

“Damn!” I cursed as a now rare 220 bus zoomed past just before I was within running distance of the stop. And with no-one waiting at the previously always crowded stop, the bus zoomed straight past.

Maybe I can get some fish-and-chips for lunch and rest in there while eating them? I thought, starting back. Only to stop after a few paces.

The fish-and-chip shop had turned into dilapidated laundrette with a condemned notice on the window.

* * *

I was ready to collapse by the time that I finally got home, many hours later. Still carrying the heavy box of groceries, despite more than once considering abandoning the box.

“Come on, girl,” I called Bella, and the plump tortoiseshell trotted after me to the side door.

“Hey, watch out!” I called to Bella, as she hurriedly pushed past me, when I finally struggled the door open, narrowly avoiding dropping the box of groceries.

Following Bella’s retreating form, I staggered down the varnished floorboards the seven or eight paces from the side door, to the small tile-floored kitchen.

“Thank God!” I said. Groaning aloud from pain I finally put down the heavy cardboard box on the black kitchen table.

Slumping onto an orange kitchen chair, I started to hunt through the jars and cans in the box.

After a few moments I looked up at where Bella now sat of the kitchen table, also looking into the box, and said to her: “There’s plenty of pasta, canned vegetables, cereal. But no cat food.”

Receiving the most contemptuous look that you have ever seen on the furry face of a cat, I said: “All right.”

Leaving Bella who started rifling through the contents of the cardboard box herself, as though not believing me, I stood gingerly. Going to the washhouse sink near the back door, I opened the door to the cupboard under the sink and took out two cans of cat food.

Holding up the cans, I asked: “Well, which is it to be? Ocean Fish Platter? Or Chicken and Turkey?”

Bella looked from can to can as though considering the question, then gave a very convincing shrug. I repeat: cats can be amazingly expressive.

As I started back into the kitchen, Bella leapt down from the table and headed toward her food bowl on the floor on the right side of the table. Putting the can of Chicken and Turkey on top of the fridge, I opened the can of Ocean Fish Platter and spooned half of its contents into the yellow plastic bowl, marked “Bella”.

“Now, what is there for me?” I asked no-one in particular. I regretted that I had not gone into the fish-and-chip shop before it had turned into a laundrette. Or would my flake and chips have turned into a bag of laundry too? I wondered. And what would have happened to me if I had been in the chip shop when it changed? Would I have ceased to exist? Or would I have merely found myself standing in a closed laundrette, instead of a fish-and-chip shop?

Finding a block of mature cheddar and a jar of vegemite in the cardboard box, I made myself a cheese-and-vegemite sandwich for a very late lunch. Then slumped into the kitchen chair to eat.

A short time later I was seated in the armchair in the lounge room, nursing Bella and trying to read a biography of the Marx Brothers, when the telephone shrilled.

“Hello,” I said into the receiver, having dropped my book onto the floor to answer the phone.

“Mr Josephson?” asked a female voice, I recognised as Bee Ling Chi’ang’s receptionist, Alexandria.

“Yes,” I confirmed, patting Bella.

“Doctor Burton has asked me to ring you.”

“Doctor Burton?” I asked, perplexed.

“Doctor Burton, your G.P.,” persisted Alexandria. “Doctor Burton would like to see you at his clinic at 3:00 PM tomorrow.”

Resisting the urge to point out that my G.P. had always been Bee Ling Chi’ang, and that I had never heard of a Doctor Burton, I asked for the address.

Sounding puzzled and a little worried, Alexandria gave me an address in Paisley Street. Which I recognised, since I had attended it about two months ago. Except that at that time it had been a federal government funded dental clinic!

Tuesday, 14th February 2024

I arrived at the Paisley Street Clinic (as the small, grey hardboard clinic was now called) as Alexandria returned from lunch.

“The first ones here after lunch,” said the brunette with a grin.

“Hopefully that means I’ll be the first one seen,” I teased. I had sometimes had to wait two hours to be seen at the Chi’ang-Petersen Clinic.

“Of course,” said Alexandria trying to sound nonchalant as she unlocked the screen door. Although a hint of wariness had crept into her eyes, suggesting that Doctor Burton – whoever the hell he was – regarded me as an urgent case.

I followed the brunette into the surprisingly large waiting room – in what on the outside had seemed to be a tiny single-fronted building.

Sitting on a hard plastic chair, I picked up a magazine to read when immediately the door to the doctor’s office opened.

“Bill,” said Doctor Burton holding out his right hand as though he and I were old friends, as he ushered me through into his office.

I shook hands without answer, since I did not have a clue what his first name was – until I spotted a triangular teak name block on the table, saying Dr. William Burton. Like his namesake Richard, Doctor Burton was a medium-height, thickset man of obvious Welsh origins.

As I sat on the plastic chair Doctor Burton sat behind his desk and, not wasting words, said: “I’ve called you in because Ian Wong told me that you are still imagining people attending Centre-West.”

“It’s not imagining people attending church, but seeing them vanish …” I began.

Then a bright burst of sunlight streamed in from a side widow of the clinic. As the sunbeam struck William Burton a black form streaked down along the beam and Burton was erased from time and space.

“Jesus!” I cried, standing, staring at his chair in shock.

Although I had seen many people taken by the erasers over the last month, it was still a great shock each time it happened.

I was still standing, gape-mouthed ten seconds later, when a side door of the office opened. In walked a tall, shapely blonde in a doctor’s coat.

“Sorry to keep you waiting Bill,” said the blonde, walking across to sit in Doctor Burton’s recently vacated chair. “I was on the phone to Ian Wong. Look I won’t mince words, I’ve called you in because Ian Wong told me that you are still imagining people attending Centre-West.”

“It’s not imagining people attending church, but seeing them vanish …” I said, before realising that she had repeated word for word what Doctor Burton had said.

“We’re all very worried about you at Centre-West,” she continued.

“We …?” I said, sitting again in the hard plastic chair. I started to tell her that in the three years that I had attended Centre-West I had never once seen her at the church once. Then, thinking better of it I looked down.

“Yes, we’ve all …” she hesitated for a moment. “Well, we’ve all seen you looking disturbed, as though you thought you were seeing things that we couldn’t see.”

For a moment I didn’t answer, barely hearing her words, as my attention was caught by William Burton’s triangular name block. A name block which now said, “Dr. Cicely Milbourne”.

Cicely Milbourne talked to me for nearly half an hour. Making me hope that she bulk-billed as Bee Ling Chi’ang had done – since I could not afford to pay for an ultra-long visit.

I barely heard a word that Cicely Milbourne said, still struggling as I was to cope with what the erasers had done. First replacing Bee Ling Chi’ang with William Burton. Then after I had hardly met him, replacing Burton with Cicely Milbourne. But I did catch her words, as she said:

“I have been on to the Williamstown Hospital to see what went wrong with the last appointment that they were supposed to have made for you. They couldn’t find any record of it,” she sighed in frustration to indicate how incompetent she thought they were, “but they have made a replacement appointment for Wednesday the twenty-second of Feb. I think you can still get to Williamstown via the 472 bus from Paisley Street. It’s such a pain not having a railway station in Maribyrnong, isn’t it?”

I nodded my agreement and reached out to take the small appointment card that she held out toward me. However, my instincts told me that this appointment probably would not eventuate either.

As I headed back into the reception area, Cicely Milbourne called out to me: “I’ll see you in church this Saturday, Bill.”

“Er, yes, I’ll see you then,” I said, looking back to smile at her. Not expecting for a second to ever see the tall blonde again.

Saturday, 18th February 2024

When I arrived a little after 4:00 PM today, I immediately saw that I had been wrong. As I pushed through the twin glass doors of Centre-West Church, I could see the tall, shapely figure of Cicely Milbourne sitting at the electric keyboard – as Bee Ling Chi’ang had helped out every second week for the past three years.

Looking around the nearly empty church, I saw no sign of Tony Nuygen or his wife Jessica (who had been the church’s other pianist over the last three years), Edward Soong or his wife, Angie, or two daughters Grace and Sally, or our second preacher-cum-missionary Jayne.

Perhaps Jayne is away on missionary work? I thought. But seeing the troubled looks that I was already receiving from the handful of remaining parishioners, I did not dare to ask.

Normally Centre-West has its own band, including Tori, a great giant of a man of Eurasian origins on drums, and lanky, blond Victor on Fender bass. But today we were down to Cicely Milbourne on electric keyboards, and Pastor Ian Wong on acoustic guitar.

Looking around to the left as I entered, I realised that I was now on the sound consul as well as lighting. Fortunately I had helped Tony Nuygen out from time to time over the last three years, so I (more-or-less) knew my way around the consul.

Normally, though, if I faltered either Tony, or Edward or his brother Oscar Soong could come to my aide. For three years Edward and Oscar had worked Centre-West’s PC terminal and video camera, which had sat together on a wooden table beside the sound consul to record the sermons in case anyone wanted a copy on DVD or Blu-Ray. And also to project the words of the hymns being sung onto a white screen behind where Ian Wong stood leading the singers, so that the congregation knew what to sing. But now not only Edward and Oscar Soong were missing, but there was no sign of the PC, video camera, or even the square wooden table that had sat there for more than three years. And at the back of the room near the twin glass doors now stood a small table with a stack of paperback hymnbooks for the now greatly diminished congregation.

Apart from Pastor Ian Wong, Cicely Milbourne, and myself there was Andrew Tan to give out the Holy Communion wafers and cups, and to take up collection. Just two worshippers sat together on the back pew at the right hand side of the church.

Walking over to me, Pastor Ian said quietly: “Once again the helpers outnumber the congregation.” Although until the erasers had arrived this had not been the case for more than two years. But I knew better than to say that to Ian Wong.

I did my best to smile at his attempted levity, but thinking of the forty or fifty parishioners, good Christian men, women, and even children who had filled the church pew just over a month ago, the smile turned to a lopsided sneer. Once the church had rung with the happy laughter of children running around playing, even during services – unless they became too rowdy and had to be gathered up by gently chastising mothers or fathers – but now all the children were gone. Taken from history without ever having the chance to grow up. Along with most of their parents.

Grieving for all these lost innocents -- the way Isabella Rodriguez would be grieving for her own lost innocents, if only she could recall the two sweet girls, Manuela and Conchita, who had been snatched from the fabric of time itself by the evil erasers – I felt like Atlas from Greek mythology, with the weight of the whole world on my shoulders.

“I’m sorry you’re still working both sound and lighting consuls after three years,” said Pastor Ian. “I know it’s hard on you week after week. I had hoped as the congregation built up to find someone you give you a hand and even relieve you some weeks. But unfortunately after three years the congregation never has built up.”

I dearly wanted to tell him how the congregation had built up, to around fifty people just five or six weeks ago. Until the erasers had come along and started to eradicate them. But not wanting to be thought completely mad, I wisely kept my mouth shut.

Pointing to one of the now three people seated together on the back pew, Ian Wong said: “I have been talking to Daniel about it over the last couple of weeks. He’s been attending for over a year now.

Which was news to me. I had never seen the short dark-haired man he called Daniel until that moment. Certainly if he had been coming for twelve months, he must have attended only on the weeks that I was away ill in 2011 – although I had managed to attend the last seven weeks or so without ever seeing him!

The hymn singing began co-incidentally with, “Holy! Holy! Holy!” the same hymn that Manuela and Conchita Rodriguez had been singing three weeks earlier when they had been taken by the erasers. As the congregation started up, I hurried to slam closed the overhead vertical blinds.

Too late!

Before I could close the blinds, a great burst of sunlight streaked into the church, engulfing Daniel and the other two parishioners on the back pew. Even as I struggled to work the unfamiliar lighting consul, an eraser streamed down the burst of light toward the three parishioners.

I finally managed to slam closed the vertical blind, making the eraser shriek in rage as I managed to save two of the three worshippers. But dark-haired Daniel vanished a split second before the squealing demise of the eraser. Squealing either as it was killed by the loss of natural sunlight, or in anger at being deprived of two of its intended victims?

For a second Pastor Ian stopped singing as Daniel was plucked from existence. Then in a blink of an eye he had forgotten the lost worshipper and returned to leading us in, “Majesty,” “Hosanna,” “Emmanuel Waltz,” then finally, “He Leadeth Me”. The latter two, modern gospel songs rather than true hymns. However, both songs are very beautiful and moving, so we often sang them at Centre-West Church.

From time to time the microphones would crackle or shriek, forcing me to move across to the sound consul. But having managed to save two worshippers from extinction today, I was more interested in working the lighting consul. To be certain that there was not even the tiniest gap for natural light to creep into the building, to allow the erasers to settle upon anyone else.

By 6:00 PM I was relieved that the service was over. I normally found Pastor Ian’s sermons both moving and uplifting. But today my only interest was in not letting anyone else be ripped from history by the erasers. Although I had no way of protecting anyone once they left the church building itself. And at the height of summer it would still be sunny for another couple of hours. Still I was determined not to let anyone else be taken while they were still within my area of care.

I hoped that by the time everyone had had a cuppa and some cakes and were ready to leave by 7:00 or 7:30 that maybe the sunlight would have dimmed a little at least. Giving the few people remaining in the church at least one more day or existence. I remembered an old movie line, “Even a little more life is worth having!” But I wondered if a mere day was enough extra life to justify this axiom.

Looking as exhausted as I felt, Pastor Ian sighed his relief at the end of the service as he came over to where I stood not far from the twin glass doors.

“Do you need any help shutting down the sound and lighting consuls, Bill?” asked Ian Wong.

“No, I don’t think so,” I said. Although my back and knees ached already, and it would be another twenty minutes at least before I have packed everything up.

Moving about slowly, trying not to look as fatigued as I felt, I started packing, as the others strode through the doors into the small hall to head across to the slightly larger tearoom. Originally one or two of the congregation had made the tea or coffee for everyone – on a rotation basis. But as the congregation had plummeted in five weeks from fifty to single-figures, this obviously no longer applied, as I heard Pastor Ian call out:

“Everyone help yourself to tea or coffee. We don’t stand on ceremony here.”

By 6:30 I ached all over, and was relieved to be able to head toward the tearoom for a small rest and a big mug of milky coffee.

“Lord, I ache all over!” I said as I crossed the hall toward the tearoom. As much as anything else in the hope that despite not standing on ceremony anymore, someone might be kind enough to make my coffee for me.

When I stepped into the small room, however, there was no cake or coffee waiting for me. No Pastor Ian Wong. No Cicely Milbourne. No worshippers at all!

The brightly lit tearoom was empty of everything except for the sunlight, which streamed in through the large square windows at the back of the room. Even the kitchen chairs and six wooden-topped tables had ceased to exist.

“Ian? Cicely? Andrew?” I said in shock. Then as the tearoom began to shimmer like desert air in the distance, I knew that I had to get out of the church building quickly. In case I also ceased to exist when Centre-West was plucked cruelly from space and time to be replaced by a pie shop or milkbar.

* * *

Flipping to the last page of writing in Bill Josephson’s diary the three police officers saw the date: Tuesday, 7th March 2024.

“That’s today,” said Janice Snyder, as they started to read again:

I have just read back through this diary. I must have been having some kind of slow mental breakdown, or hallucinations of some kind! Nancey Kwouk? Manuela and Conchita Rodriguez? Mark and Sandra Jenkins? Ian, Jenny, Tobi, Joanna Wong? Bee Ling Chi’ang, William Burton, Cicely Milbourne? And all the others? I’ve never heard of any of these people! What can have possessed me to write all of the above listings?

None of it is true, of course. None of those people have ever existed to the best of my knowledge. And I’ve never attended a church called Centre-West. In fact, although a Christian, I haven’t been to church at all for forty years, since my fifteenth birthday, when my mother told me that I no longer had to go if I didn’t want to – so I never went again. Except to attend a few friends’s weddings, and, sadly, many more friends’s funerals.

“He seems to have come to his senses at last?” suggested Sergeant Eric Paulsen.

“Or maybe he fades in and out of reality?” suggested Janice. Who had had experience with her maternal grandmother suffering from dementia attacks for nearly twenty years before recently passing away.

“Well, nothing in that diary could have been true,” scoffed Liam Fredericks. “Erasers who remove people from time and space, it’s like something out of H.P.Lovecraft!”

“And there’s certainly never been a hospital in Maribyrnong,” said Janice, less scathingly. “Although with nearly twenty-five thousand people here, maybe it’s time we did have our own hospital of some kind.”

“Anyway,” said Eric Paulsen slamming the diary shut, making the two constables leap backwards as though afraid of the book snapping shut on their noses, “be that as it may, let’s go locate the old man. He must be in the house somewhere.”

Dropping the diary, he turned to start toward the doorway to the corridor. But instead of slamming to the floor, the hardback diary mysteriously floated down to the floor as though as light as an autumn leaf.

“What the hell?” said Liam Fredericks, as the three police officers watched the diary’s slow, gradual descent.

Until millimetres shy of the floorboards, the fat book faded out of existence.

“Shit in a hand basket!” said Liam.

“Holy shit!” said Sergeant Paulsen.

“But that’s impossible!” cried Janice Snyder, dropping her clipboard and covering her mouth with her hands.

The three police officers stared wide-eyed in terror as slowly the books, VCR tapes, DVD and Blue-Ray discs in the various bookcases around the lounge room started fading out of existence. Then one by one the now empty bookcases winked out of existence. Followed by the two armchairs and two orange kitchen chairs, then the PC, combined printer/scanner, and the large yellow-stained wooden table that they had sat upon. Then finally the cardboard boxes full of all and sundry.

Until the large lounge room was completely empty, except for the three police officers whose eyeballs were almost leaping from their sockets as though determined to make a break for it.

“Shit in a hand basket!” said Liam again.

“Holy Mother of God!” said Eric Paulsen, instinctively crossing himself – something that as a lapsed Catholic he had not done in over twenty years.

Then after a few seconds, his eyes stopped staring bulgingly, the calmness returned to his demeanour, and nonchalantly he looked about the bare lounge room.

“Well,” he said casually, “there’s certainly no sign that anyone has lived in here in the last umpteen years.”

“That’s for sure,” agreed Janice Snyder calmly. She stooped to pick up the plastic clipboard, which she could not remember having dropped. How did this get down here? she wondered.

“Let’s take a look in the kitchen,” suggested Liam.

“Sure, why not,” agreed Eric Paulsen and the three police officers stepped through the adjoining doorway. Having to push a little at the sliding door, which had fallen off its overhead casters and was now stuck halfway open.

“Oomph,” said Sergeant Paulsen, trying to pull in his belly more than was physically possible.

“I keep telling you, Serg, you need to go on a diet,” teased Liam as the three police officers looked around the bare, brown-tile floored kitchen.

“Hey, I’m just big boned,” protested Eric Paulsen.

“Yeah, well so were the dinosaurs, but they’re extinct now,” teased Janice. “So watch out, or you will be too.”

As they talked they did a quick check of the bathroom, and the two bedrooms, all of which were devoid of any signs of recent life.

Taking out his mobile phone in one of the bedrooms, Sergeant Paulsen flicked it open but failed to get a signal.

“Damned mobiles,” cursed the sergeant.

“Try back in the kitchen,” suggested Janice Snyder, so the three police officers headed back to the kitchen.

“Ah, that’s better,” said Eric Paulsen, managing to get a signal. He quickly dialled through to his superiors in Melbourne to report: “We’ve checked out 122 Leander Street, Maribyrnong, and there is no sign that anyone has lived here for decades. No, I’m sure of it. Yeah, okay.” He dialled off then rang through to the department of housing to repeat his report.

“Well, we’d better get back to Russell Street,” said Liam Fredericks.

“Yeah …” said Janice, startled by a thumping noise behind her.

The three officers span around and saw a large tortoiseshell she cat sitting on the ledge outside the kitchen window.

“Hello, Bella,” said Janice, receiver a meow by way of answer.

“How do you know her name is Bella?” asked Eric Paulsen.

“It says so on her name tag,” said the redhead. Pointing to the cat’s collar, which had a small silver nametag, which said: “My name is Bella. I belong to Bill Josephson.”

Then as the three officers watched, the nametag changed to say: “My name is Bella. I belong to no-one.”

“Poor girl, owned by no-one,” said Janice. Opening the window, she reached out and scooped up the tortoiseshell cat.

“Uh-oh, Janice and her strays,” teased Liam.

“You be quiet,” said Janice. Carrying Bella with her, as the three police officers headed out into the hallway and out through the side door to the concrete path outside.

“You’re not really taking that fleabag with you?” teased Liam as they headed toward the street.

“Of course,” said Janice Snyder, looking back toward the young policeman.

Then a bright sunbeam broke through the clouds and hit Liam Fredericks, who instantly vanished.

“What?” said Janice, dropping her clipboard again, but careful not to drop Bella.

The young policewoman stared in terror at where Liam had been moments before. Then as her memory of the young man faded, she casually stooped to pick up her clipboard. Then, still carrying the tortoiseshell cat, Janice followed the sergeant to where the blue Fairlane was parked outside 124 Leander Street.

Janice reached for the handle to the back door of the car, and then stopped, looking puzzled. After a moment she shrugged and walked over to grip the handle to the front passenger door to get in beside Sergeant Paulsen.

“Only rookies sit in the back seat,” teased Eric Paulsen.

“I know that, Serg,” said Janice Snyder blushing, having only recently graduated to a full constable. Placing the clipboard in a holder in the door. She put on her seatbelt, carefully holding Bella to her chest as they set off.

“You know anyone else would be booked for carrying a loose cat in a moving vehicle,” teased Eric Paulsen.

“That’s one of the perks of being a cop,” teased back Janice, receiving a meow of agreement from Bella.

The blue Fairlane drove into the driveway of a dilapidated house across the road to do a U-turn then started back down Leander Street. However, it had only reached number 118 when a great burst of sunlight hit the car and in moments, Janice Snyder, Eric Paulsen, Liam Fredericks, and the police car all faded out of existence. Leaving behind Bella standing in a quiet, derelict street, which even the birds and animals seemed to have abandoned.

Then slowly, one by one the houses started to fade out of existence, followed by houses in neighbouring streets, leaving behind only wild, overgrown paddocks. Open grassland for almost as far as the eye could see. With only the glass-and-chrome spires from the Melbourne CBD visible to the North, and the distant shops of faraway Braybrook to the South, as once-thriving Maribyrnong and Maribyrnong West both ceased to have ever existed! With no sign of life besides Bella the cat.

Except for one white rabbit a hundred metres away. With a yowl of excitement, Bella took off across the field, trying to chase down the now-fleeing rabbit.

© Copyright 2023 Philip Roberts
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
© Copyright 2023 Mayron57 (philroberts at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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