issue 2

Calling on Behalf of the Dark Lord, by Catherine George

It’s only part-time—you can always quit if you don’t like it. That’s what you told yourself when you were hired, and that’s what you tell your friends, too, when you meet down at the pub to buy them all drinks, for once, because apparently the Dark Lord pays on time and by direct deposit. Which, honestly, is more than you can say for your last couple jobs.

“It’s not that bad, really,” you say, grabbing another lukewarm potato skin. “It’s inside”—that matters to you, ever since the winter you almost got frostbite in your fingers selling hot chocolate to ice skaters on the canal—“the chairs are comfy, and it pays more than minimum. Plus, there’s a bonus each month for the person who signs up the most followers.”

“I couldn’t do it,” Anna says, with an exaggerated shudder. “Like, what if he drops in?”

Easy for her to say. She’s got a cushy job as a docent at the National Gallery—who could have predicted that a degree in Art History would have done you better than one in English Lit, seriously—plus her partner’s in accounting with the government.

“It’s better than retail,” you mutter, stung. And it is, really. It’s better than selling designer knock-offs at the mall, or records in the cramped vinyl shop on Bank; better than bartending at weddings, or working the night shift at the sketchy 24-hour diner. No, it’s not your dream job, but those are a myth anyway. And it’s not like the Dark Lord Himself is ever going to drop by an office building in an industrial park out east of the Rideau, right? He’s definitely got better things to do than check up on his telemarketers—like, can you even imagine? Does Anna think he’s going to come in and scorch the dropped ceiling with the heat of his Perpetual Flame, or inspect the new wireless headsets with his single glowing Crimson Eye?

“This is a limited time opportunity,” you say on the phone. “Once the Dark Lord takes power, only his followers will be spared his Wrath. Plus, sign up now and I can send you the Dark Lord’s self-affixing tattoo. It glows with the fire of a thousand tortured souls … Yeah, it’s kind of sparkly. Awesome! I think you’re making a great decision.”

Sometimes you and Nav, the cheerful jock who sits across the aisle from you, chat in the break room about what it would be like to meet the Dark Lord.

“You think you could shake his hand?” Nav asks. “Or would you just, like, pass out? The manual says people tremble in fear when he enters the room, and fall to their knees if he favours them with a glance.”

You shrug. “Yeah, but that’s just sales talk, right?”

“Still. I’d be nervous.” Nav seems to buy into the crap you’re peddling a bit more than necessary. It’s not like you have to sign up as a follower in order to work here. Still, you can’t argue with her conversion rate—she’s earned the bonus three times in a year. Something about the way she says “I can tell from our conversation that you’d make a great follower” really seems to resonate with bored housewives.

“How’d you get into this?” you ask her.

“Tore my ACL and lost my college softball scholarship,” she says. “I needed to do something, right? This pays the bills, and in the summer we’ve got a ball team. We’re called the Dark Bench. What about you?”

You’ve always believed you were too creative, too clever for the dead-end jobs you’ve fallen into, that there was some higher calling out there you just hadn’t discovered yet. But, as your mother is fond of reminding you on your monthly call, that plus a cappuccino won’t buy you a career. It’s a tough job market for someone whose skill set is limited to daydreaming and day drinking.

“I saw an ad for it online,” you say, after a moment.

So, yeah, the job’s not too shabby. Once you get used to the slightly sinister hum of the fluorescent lights, and get a handle on the patter, it’s actually kind of fun. You enjoy coming up with ways to improve your numbers, to get the Dark Lord a few extra followers each month.

“Sign up today and it’s obligation-free for a year. You get all the benefits of following the Dark Lord, but you don’t have to show up for the March of Glorious Evil or do your bit in the Dark Army until next winter …

“Hi, yeah, calling on behalf the Dark Lord … Seriously, there’s no-one better at raising that nameless dread in the hearts of his enemies. Plus the robes are really flattering … so can I put you down for Dark Chants on Sunday?”

The only problem with the job is that some of the Dark Lord’s plans aren’t such an easy sell.

“You ever get anybody who’s enthusiastic about the Dome of Perpetual Darkness?” you ask Nav one night, when you’re both shivering in the snow waiting for the 61 back into town, the cold slowly seeping up through your soles. People keep hanging up when you mention the Dome spreading over the land once the Dark Lord’s got enough followers to ascend to power. You’ve stopped talking about the Vast Expanses of the Frozen Wasteland entirely, at least while the weather forecast for Ottawa seems set to, well, frozen wasteland.

“Not really,” she says. “Lately I’ve been pushing the Eternal Torment of the Unbelievers. It works pretty well with the ones that are susceptible to fear.”

“Yeah, I guess. I just feel like I sell better with the carrot, not the stick.”

Maybe it’s one too many calls where someone says “What would I do with an Endless River of Ice?” or hangs up when you mention the deathless howl of the Spectral Hounds. Or maybe it’s your mounting credit card debt; you could really use the bonus. Either way, one day you stray a bit off script.

“Would you say you’re satisfied with your current worship plan? Oh, really? Well, let me tell you about the Dome of … of Mild Twilight, and the Desert of Dry Heat. And I’ve been authorized to throw in an extra three-day weekend every month, just for you.”

Nav tips up her headset mic. “Did I miss an update to the manual?”

You just grin and mark down another new follower in your spreadsheet.

You toss the Dark Army in favour of mandatory Dark Brunches, with mimosas the colour of wildfire and eggs bennies sprinkled with black hole dust. You promise some of them Long Nights, so they can sleep off the hangover from Dark Karaoke. The March of Glorious Evil is gone; once summer comes around you figure you’ll replace it with the Barbecue over Malevolent Coals. Nobody likes the Plague of Nameless Terrors—it’s too abstract, people can’t picture it—so you sub in the Unceasing Scourge of Government Bureaucracy. People find the familiar appealing, you’ve realized.

Your numbers go up, and up. The bonus covers your overdraft, and if this keeps up you might finally be able to pay off your student loans. Even your mum seems impressed; at least she’s finally stopped mentioning your high school boyfriend, the one who became an orthodontist, and suggesting that you give him a call and catch up some time. Come to think of it, though, maybe you should call him—he’d make a good follower.

One night, while you’re out eating shawarma in the Market with your friends, Anna gives you a weird glare and shifts away from you.

“Are you sick or something? You’re, like, oozing heat.”

“I’m fine,” you say, because you feel great. You’d just been thinking about that feeling you get when you connect with someone on the phone—that buzzing intuition about what’s going to work for a prospective follower, the little thing that will tip them over into understanding the lure of the Dark.

“Hey, are you still at that weird call centre job? I thought you’d be bored of it by now, like everything else you try.” Anna laughs, and immediately leaps to number one on the list of people you’d like to subject to the Smiting of the Enemies. You’re particularly proud of that one: it curses a follower’s nemeses with perpetually bad haircuts, inconvenient traffic jams, and slow Wi-Fi. Just thinking about it gives you a tingly, tyrannous thrill. Anna frowns at you.

“Did you know your eyes are glowing?”

The next day you overhear Nav on a call, talking up the Dark Parkas (so much more practical than robes, honestly). When you give her a thumbs up it almost looks like she bows to you, but that can’t be right. Then on your next call the woman who picks up cuts you off in the middle of your spiel.

“Don’t try to sell me on that low-rent Dark Lord stuff. I know better.” Her voice drops to a whisper. “I’ll sign up, but I want to follow the Dark Lady.”

“The Dark Lady?” you say, confused.

“Yeah,” she says. “You know. With the Brunches, the Dry Heat, the Smiting. Let me tell you, I’ve got a few folks who could use a smiting, starting with Lisa next door.”

You push your headset off and stare around the call centre, at the twenty faces glowing blue in the light of their screens, all of them extolling the praises of the Dark Lady, ratcheting up the follower count with each call. Ratcheting up your follower count. When you stand, they all bow their heads to you, and murmur: “Dark Lady.”

Well. It looks like this might just turn into something more than a part-time job after all.

Catherine George is a lawyer who lives in Vancouver, BC, with her partner and two young children. In 2018 she returned to writing fiction after ten years away; her short speculative fiction has appeared in publications such as Clarkesworld, Augur Magazine, and Flash Fiction Online.

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