The return of Dar’goth had been long prophesied for the latter half of the decade. The old god of unspeakable horrors would soon emerge in the form of human flesh an avatar for his conquest. As Dar’goth would soon march across the countryside carrying with him a tome of unspeakable magic bound by human flesh, leaving nothing but the scorched earth and razed cities in his wake. Only those who would follow him to his every word would be spared and be allowed to join his brave new world. A horrible future for sure, but that didn’t stop John from trying to make a quick buck off of it.
Rumors of Dar’goth’s return began spreading on the Internet a few months ago. From hearsay of a middle-aged female landlord with a “Karen” haircut suddenly speaking with a deeper more menacing voice and demanding that she be called Dar’goth (although many people dismiss this as the landlord just trying to intimidate her tenants into paying higher rent), to more menacing accounts of strange cults sacrificing animals in the woods, their robes, once originally white, had taken on a light red hue from all the splattered blood (which most people agree that this was more likely, albeit a bit cliched and uninspired). Dar’goth fever was all the rage these days, and John couldn’t say no to a new money-making opportunity.
Dressed in a black robe with crimson cuffs bearing the insignia of the long-awaited god of destruction upon his back, John stood before his small congregation speaking the words of the old god. His voice was modulated by a device tucked within the collar of his robe giving it a deeper snarly tone that not even a lifetime of voice coaching could train a human to speak naturally.
“Within forty months the March of Madness will begin. We shall march upon the earth sowing the seeds of chaos with every footstep. Not even the most powerful man or treacherous king shall be a mere gnat to our crusade. For I shall be the sole ruler of the new world, do you hear me!?”
“Fear Dar’goth, fear the old god!” The congregation answered in unison. Despite there being no more than a hundred their cheer reverberated throughout the false temple of plywood and paper-mache styled to look like obsidian and human bone. (To which John had been personally proud of assembling himself, and making it look so convincing too. Of course, he had to instigate a no-touching rule so as to not break the illusion). When the cheering and chanting subsided John dismissed the congregation.
“Thank you,” John to the audience. “Now if you may, don’t forget to contribute to the March of Madness fund on your way out. Remember, it’s a minimum hundred dollars per sermon, less you want to be damned to eternity.”
The audience trickled out of the temple. Chatting amongst themselves and making plans for where to go for lunch. As they always did. One member, Kelly, a young woman no older than twenty-five approached him.
“Um, dark lord?” She asked.
“What is it, my servant?” John said.
“Has there been a delay in the March of Madness?”
“There are no delays in Dar’goth’s plans. Why do you speak?”
“It’s just uh,” she said trying to avoid eye contact. “You said forty months last time too. It sounds like there might be a delay.”
John gulped, searching for a believable excuse. “Ah, you have passed my test.” He smiled. “I only repeated forty months as a test to sniff out who is really paying attention in sermon. And you young lady, are the first. I now grant you the title of First Cardinal of the church of Dar’goth.”
Kelly smiled, a big genuine smile that John had grown familiar with from his past cons. A smile that showed that he had caught her hook, line, and sinker.
“First Cardinal, wow,” Kelly said. “Thank you oh dark one.”
She turned her back and walked towards the door when John called out to her. “Kelly,” he said.
“Yes, master?” She said turning around, still smiling.
“Being the First Cardinal is not without sacrifice. On your way out can you deposit an extra hundred to the funds after each service?” He grinned.
She nodded her head. “Anything for you dark lord.”
John watched her as she walked to the entrance, withdrawing two hundred bucks from her purse and slipping them into the deposit box. When she left John approached the box and retreated to his office.
He sat in his office counting the tithings for the day. The office was a small sheet metal room at the back of the temple, no larger than a walk-in closet and barely large enough to contain himself, his desk containing nothing more than cash and his iPad, and a safe. A wall-mounted AC unit and a router sat behind him. The AC unit whirled on and the metal walls rattled when his phone rang.
No number, no caller ID. Just a screen with “incoming call” printed across it. Most people wouldn’t pick up to such an obscured phone call, but John wasn’t most people. In his line of work, his acquaintances always preferred to obfuscate their contact details. So John picked up.
“You shall perish for an eternity and more, pretender!” A loud voice shouted through the phone’s speaker. Garbled and deep. John felt chills run down his spine. Whoever spoke on the other side had a much more impressive modulator than John’s. Another false prophet calling for advice maybe?
“Who am I speaking to?” John said, his voice modulator jumbled and deeper his voice. He hadn’t realized that he hadn’t turned it off. He flicked the switch and took it out of his collar.
“Jesus is what what I really sound like?” The voice on the other side said, still distorted. “I sound like I’m gargling a turtle.”
John heard the muffled voice of a man in the background of the call, too far away from the mic for him to discern what had been said.
“You must see – uh – ist. -ortal!” The voice said. The syllables had become minced to pieces, with every other one lost into the void of the spotty connection John always got in his office.
“I’m sorry, I must what?” John said.
“-east -ist,” the voice said.
“I can’t hear you. Bad connection,” John said hanging up and shaking his head. He returned to counting the cash when another ringing came from near him. This time his iPad. Another unknown caller trying to FaceTime him. He answered.
On the other side of the screen, a middle-aged woman dressed in a much more regal and authentic-looking robe to his looked back at him. Her blonde hair was cut to an inverted bob with side-swept bangs. Although her mouth showed nothing but contempt, her eyes held a deep kindness within them that reminded John of his mother.
“Uh hello, who are you?” John asked.
“Do you not recognize the god you pretend to be?” The woman said. She spoke with the same deep garbled voice that had called him earlier on the phone. “You shall be punished with twice the suffering now. One for your horrible impersonation of, and the other for hanging up.”
Whatever modulation she was using, it was very convincing.
“I’m sorry, are you saying you’re Dar’goth?” John asked, cocking an eyebrow.
“Yes, bow before me foolish mortal,” she raised her hands to her side. However, the range of view of the camera cut them off past the elbow. John did no such thing.
The male voice John had heard earlier spoke from the side, still too far away to make out what the voice said. The woman turned to face it nodding her head.
“I call demanding that you cease and desist,” she said. “Or another eternity of torture shall be added to your sentence.”
The male voice spoke again, she turned her head looking at the source in confusion and irritation.
“I have been informed that I cannot threaten you with eternal damnation,” the woman said. “But my console never said I can’t do this! Say goodbye to what you most desire.”
The pile of cash ignited into a small inferno upon John’s desk. John jumped out of his chair, knocking it against the AC unit, and rattling the walls. Where the cash had once been laid now a pile of ash. He looked at the safe, a thin line of smoke drifted out of the seam. His heart pounded.
“What the hell?” John said. “Who did you pay off to lace my tithings with explosives? Was it Kelly?”
“Behold, the wrath of Dar’goth,” the woman grinned. The male voice called her again and she looked off-camera. John watched as her grin shifted to a scowl. “I didn’t explode anything,” she said. “He’s fine. Unfortunatly. It was just a little fire conjugation. A cheap party trick.” The male voice continued. “No, I can’t undo it. I’m a chaos god, not a hippy-dippy goddess of life. That’s just who I am Anthony.” The male voice spoke louder this time, still hard to make out. “Well if you didn’t want the reign of Dar’goth then you shouldn’t have resurrected me into your landlord’s body.” The male voice continued. “I’m sorry, yes your right. First the freaking code department now this.” She rolled her eyes. “Okay, I’ll tell him.” The woman calling herself Dar’goth looked back at the screen.
“You have one week to cease and desist your false operation,” she said. “Otherwise my legal console here will threaten suit.”
“You can’t sue me,” John said. “Dar’goth’s teaching are for all.”
“You got me there,” she nodded. “I wrote the book to accrue as many followers as possible. But the insignia on your robe,” she pointed at the screen. “That’s copyrighted. Not to mention that the contents of the book have now been trademarked. You have one week.”
“Or what?” John crossed his arms. She might have set his small fortune aflame, but he could easily make it back.
“Or you shall be dammed to three eternities of suffering!” She raised her garbled deep voice speaking in a grandiose fashion. The male voice then called her again, she looked over and nodded.
“I mean, or you shall be sued into oblivion!” She said in the same fashion. The lights in the room dimmed and the AC unit sputtered off. John gulped.
“Alrighty then,” she said. “How do I turn this thing off?” She said picking her device up, getting it unreasonably close to her face. The male voice spoke off-screen. “Ah, got it.” She said before the feed cut.
The AC unit turned back on. John sat there looking at the blank screen wondering just what the hell just happened. He looked at where the money once sat, now just a small pile of ash. Perhaps it would be best to change cons, he thought to himself.