Linus Eriksson is a man with a memory problem: but instead of not being able to remember anyone, nobody can remember him.
The Reset Button is from my two-story collection If You Go Into The Woods. Here’s what the critics had to say:
“There are definite shades of HP Lovecraft in both stories… punchy, entertaining reads with a bit of mental gymnastics thrown in, you can’t go wrong with this one.” — Jenny Mounfield, The Compulsive Reader, author of The Ice-cream Man.
“Two very well-constructed and thought-provoking tales from an author I know I will be keeping my eyes on. 4.5 stars.” –Heather L. Faville, Doubleshot Reviews
“This is the most professional design – both inside and out – that I have seen since I started reviewing at SIFT. The writing in this story is top-notch. The writer has a strong, clean voice. He’s able to sustain an air of mystery and suspense without it feeling cheap.” — Sarah Nicolas, SIFT Book Reviews
The Reset Button
Linus Eriksson placed the coffee pot on the stove and set the table for breakfast. He was out of bread. Typical. Switching the cooker off, he put on his heavy fleece-lined coat and began rummaging for his keys. Although fastidious in the upkeep of his one-bedroom apartment, he was invariably delayed while searching for his keys. Down the side of the sofa. On top of the fridge. Or still in the door outside. Today, he located them in the bathroom cabinet, under his toothpaste.
Locking the door behind him, Linus walked to the elevator, cursing when he remembered it was broken, then took the stairs instead. An icy blast greeted him outside; the wind whipped his scarf off, depositing it halfway down the street. Linus brushed it clean of snow, balled it in his pocket, and tucked his chin into his coat collar. He resumed his course, tilting his head into the storm. When he reached the bakery, he stomped the snow off his boots and pushed open the door, triggering the comedic jingle that always managed to startle him. A blonde girl appeared behind the counter. “What can I get you?”
Linus smiled as he removed his gloves. “The usual.”
She blinked then bit her lip. “Sorry, I don’t…” Her voice trailed off.
“The small sourdough.” He struggled to keep the edge from his voice. He had been coming to this bakery for more than two years. He thanked her and left, holding the loaf to his chest as he walked.
Back at his apartment, he turned on the stove, threw the bread on the counter, and switched on his answering machine. There was one message—his ex-wife.
“Linus, you were supposed to take your son today.” Her voice was cold. “The zoo, remember? You promised, after you missed his birthday. Anyway, it’s too late now. I cancelled my lunch. I’ll take him myself. Thanks a lot.”
The divorce had been acrimonious: he had been caught cheating. A teenage conviction for marijuana possession was dragged up. He had tried it only once, but his youthful indiscretion was enough to deny him joint custody of his son. His ex-wife had kept the car, the house in the suburbs, and his son. Linus had moved into the city and embraced public transport and bachelorhood. Things had improved, though. Now he was allowed to take his son, unsupervised, for one Saturday every fortnight. Days like today didn’t help—another screw-up for his ex-wife to add to the file.
Linus cursed and reached for the phone. She didn’t pick up. Switching on the television, he became engrossed in a report on a political scandal. The politician had been caught receiving kickbacks from a transport company that had won a lucrative tender in the last round of privatizations. Linus mocked the stupidity of the electorate before remembering how he voted himself. He changed the channel.
The coffee boiled over. Linus cursed himself and cleaned up the mess.
That afternoon, as the winter sun gave up its futile struggle against the coming of the night, Linus left the train station with flowers in his right hand and a stuffed animal in his left. He hadn’t been out to the house in many months. His ex-wife insisted it confused their son. He had to backtrack a couple of times to find the right street. The blanket of snow rendered the suburban streets featureless, and had iced over the steps to the porch. Linus transferred the flowers to his left hand, gripping the rail as he made his way up to the door. Through the living-room window he could see his son—happy and warm, howling at some cartoon. He thought of knocking and waving, but stopped himself and instead rang the doorbell.
The door opened. His ex-wife’s eyes hardened. “You know you aren’t supposed to come here.”
“I tried to call. I left a message.”
“You have to leave. Now!”
“I want to see my son. I have a present for him. And these are for you.” Linus waved the flowers.
“I had to cover for you again. Lie for you. He was crushed. I had to tell him you were sick! Please, if you care for him at all, leave!”
She shut the door in his face.
Linus placed the gifts on the doorstep and left.
He knew he couldn’t face sitting alone in his apartment, so when he reached the city he went for a drink. He couldn’t think of a single friend who would join him. His ex-wife had been his childhood sweetheart. They had married young. She got all of their friends in the divorce, too—his affair had seen to that. They hadn’t deserted him immediately. Not until his ex-wife announced she was seeking full custody and he struck her during their dispute. He was distraught, but she wouldn’t listen, wouldn’t believe it would never happen again. When word got around, his friends stopped returning his calls. No confrontation, no angry words—they just faded away.
Linus caught the bartender’s attention.
“What can I get you?”
“The usual, please.”
“Sorry, man, what’s that? A beer?”
Linus nodded, clenching his jaw. “And a vodka. No ice.”
He had been coming here since his student days. He was on a first-name basis with the staff, or, at least, he knew their names. Linus seemed to disappear from memory each night when he left.
The shot felt good. As he sipped his beer, he ordered another, then another. An old man sat in the corner, doing a crossword. Linus called out his name, raising his glass. The old man stared back, his face scrunched up with lack of recognition.
“It’s Linus—Linus Eriksson. We’ve met before.”
The old man shrugged and continued with his puzzle.
“We’ve talked, remember. I have an ex-wife who hates me and a kid who’s forgetting who I am.”
“Don’t we all,” said the old man.
“But you know me,” insisted Linus, his voice rising, “and I know you.”
Several patrons looked up from their drinks.
“Your wife died four years ago—cancer. You spend most of your time in here doing puzzles.” He turned to the bartender. “And you started working nights when you were in college, but you dropped out last year and still haven’t told your parents.”
“Mind your own business,” said the bartender.
“But you told me!” Linus was getting louder. “Last summer, right here. We got drunk together. You told me all about it!”
The bartender came around the counter. “Calm down, Memory Man.”
Linus shoved him, catching him off-guard, and sent him sprawling into the window, which shattered behind him. “It’s Linus!” He had everyone’s attention now. “Linus Eriksson!”