I read the title of this story by Karin Tidbeck and thought, “Okay, but how does that make a story?” Then I read it. I don’t know whether it will resonate as well with anyone who isn’t a writer, but oof.
What I didn’t know was that Johanna had been keeping tabs on me. About at the same time that my own project came to a close, she asked if I’d be interested in writing commissioned text for someone else. I was over the moon. Sure, I wouldn’t be working with my own material, but I would get to write. It could be a way to get into the business.
“The job’s a bit odd,” she said, “but I know you don’t have a problem with weird stuff.”
“Sure,” I said. “What is it?”
She opened her mouth, but jumped, as if she’d received a shock (and she had).
After a moment she said, “It’s sort of like ghostwriting.”
The agency was located in an anonymous–looking building in the northern part of Stockholm. The man who received me introduced himself as Henrik. He looked as generic as the Ikea–neat office: white, blond, forty–something, business casual. He offered me coffee from a shiny espresso machine and looked at my CV, work samples, and recommendations. A recommendation from Johanna counted for a lot. We talked about myself and my work experience in general terms, and he gave me a spiel stuffed with marketing lingo and broad descriptions that said nothing about the agency except that they hired ghostwriters. Then he set a document in front of me on the table. It was a non–disclosure agreement.
“I can’t give you any more details until you’ve signed this,” he said.
I thought it strange to have to sign a non–disclosure agreement before finding out what the job really was, but I was desperate for the job. In my case this clause proved unnecessary. When Henrik had told me what my job would be, I said yes almost before he’d closed his mouth. What geek wouldn’t? Magic, for real. My greatest childhood dream. Everything I had fantasized about as a teenager with Book of the Law and Necronomicon on my lap. That’s when Henrik brought out the actual contract.
This part was a letdown. When someone says, “You’re going to take notes from dead writers,” it’s not unreasonable to expect a contract on vellum, some Latin or Hebrew, a pentagram or two, something that says ritual magic and secret masses. But no. It looked like any other service contract, and I had to sign it with a regular pen. But then Henrik brought out a lancet and asked me to hold my hand out. He pricked my left thumb, then had me put my thumbprint next to my name. The instant I touched the paper, I had the sensation of being watched by an intangible Something.
“Welcome to the agency,” Henrik said and shook my hand.
I had no regrets. Magic existed. It was a dry sort of magic that smelled more of new car than frankincense, but it was there. It was only when I went to bed, and felt that presence watching me, that I wondered what I had gotten myself into. But by then it was already done.