I am the dark underlord you’ve been waiting for. Or at least I hope you’ve been waiting, because I’ve been in my lair for a dog’s age, trying on outfits for the occasion. Obviously, I want to make an impression. An impression of dark arrival, an impressive impression. I want to come into the room, virtually appear in the room, with a swish of lethargic cloth and an upright posture. I have debated between capes, Snapchatted a couple of dubious associates, and decided upon the satin with the purple velvet lining and towering, almost gaudy collar. I admit my outfit never feels quite dark enough. One of the dubious associates suggested rubbing it in dirt—fool. Though he may have been on to something.
But I, the dark underlord, long ago gave up on the appearance of distress. It does not serve my purpose. I understand it can be sexy in a mechanical way, suggesting long, weary struggle, individualism, a totemic nature. So what! I will always shave before I go out, I will always shine my boots. Old school: what of it? It’s a swoop in, you understand, a vacuum or an illumination. (Not that I am not tired—the campaign has been a long one.)
I have come, and I will coerce you, and perhaps something specifically dreadful will occur, for I do not shy away from dread or incident. You may feel comfortable in that static dream, but that static dream shall be, as the associates say, nevermore. I will pull you toward me, and we will collide there in our dark garments (my dark garments, your jeans and T-shirt), and we will roughly make a kind of bleak dry love, battlefield fucking. And then we will be chained together forever (metaphorically). You will have submitted to my stark power.
Alas, there is the issue with afterward.
For I never force the subjects to come with me, actually. I have been in the habit now for several centuries, when no one is looking, after the Sturm und Drang, the television moment, the swoop in and takeover, of releasing the subject, loosening my arm from around the neck of the waif or the fevered husband. It is just us, then. Behind the very large, the overlarge boulder, back in the shadows, the forest of backstage, she or he gets up from her/his knees. Wobbles. Looks at me. I look back, not penitent—not exactly. But it is the moment of truth, I am deeply afraid to say. Do you want to play in my lair with me, we can try on capes and live on venison, perhaps, and pear spritzers? It all comes down to now, the boot polishing and the telepathy practice and the infectious laughter. She, or he, has a fragile look at this stage in the game, and yet still—still, to a one—has had the strength to walk away.
(This story is reprinted from Once Into the Night, FC2, 2019.)
Aurelie Sheehan's collection of stories, Once into the Night, is the recipient of FC2’s 2018 Catherine Doctorow Prize for Innovative Fiction (FC2, February 2019). Sheehan is the author of two novels and three previous short story collections. When not out rummaging in her cape, she works at the University of Arizona as the head of the English Department and as a professor of fiction. [website]