Katrina Monroe's The Rack
Bunny’s hair is like straw between my fingers. She asked me to braid it for our guest today. Erica Lucke Dean is a favorite of hers. I’m almost jealous; Bunny never dresses up for me.
“I’m bored.” I wrap a band around the end of the braid.
“Ms. Dean will be here soon.”
“Yeah. I know.”
I’m pouting. I know I am. It’s pathetic, but true. Week after week I put writers on my rack and week after week I get my screams. Call me selfish, but I want more.
Erica shows up a few minutes late for the appointment and tries to hand me a massage coupon—thirty minute shiatsu, half off. Cheeky shit.
Bunny escorts her to the rack. Straps her in. Erica wriggles her fingers and I get an idea.
“Bunny, dear?” I stroke the wheel. “Get my pilliwinks.”
The girl giggles like a toddler and retrieves my toy—an intricately carved iron clamp with special lily-shaped screws. Some people call it a thumbscrew, but pilliwinks just sounds more… fun. I pull off Erica’s shoe and sock and slide her little piggies between the clamps.
“Your novel Splintered Souls incorporates a time travel element. If you could go anytime (see what I did there?) when would it be? Why?” I ask.
She tries to wiggle her toes, but they’re clamped tight. “Hmm… I’m torn between going back so I can meet David Bowie in his Ziggy Stardust days (Bowie would have loved twenty-year-old me. I just know it!) and going back to divorce my ex while I was still young (and thin.) Yeah, that’s seriously a tough call…”
Her toes are already purple. Be a shame if the rest of her appendages didn’t match. I spin the wheel and her short limps yank upward, knocking her glasses cock-eyed. Bunny, helpful girl, rights them.
I tighten the screws on the pilliwinks. “What are your thoughts on Happily Ever After? Does being a romance novelist confirm or challenge that belief?”
“Ouch, that pinches a little. Do you really want to hurt me? Personally, I love a good HEA. I want to know things work out in the end. I’ve been known to abandon a romance (book or a movie) if it doesn’t have an HEA. I will suffer the cliffhanger as long as I have hope the series ends in an HEA.”
I like a good ayche-ee-aye, as she calls it, just as much as the next girl, so long as the “A” involves a high pitched squeal.
I throw the wheel; Erica groans under her breath.
Not quite a squeal, but it’s a start.
“Fifty Shades... Thoughts?” I ask.
“Don’t hurt me, but I liked Fifty Shades.”
“Uh oh,” Bunny says.
Uh oh, indeed. Despite the obvious link between myself and Christian Grey, I found the whole series to be, well…
She opens her mouth to explain and I twist the screws. Something snaps in her little toe.
“Hey! I said DON’T hurt me… not hurt me more!”
“You’re not the boss,” Bunny says. “Mistress is.”
I stroke the girl’s cheek, soft as a baby’s ass. “It’s okay, dear.” I turn to Erica. “Since we're all FRIENDS here, why don't you write my girl Bunny a book boyfriend? Pretty sure she likes them waif-like with a touch of heroin chic.”
“So Bunny basically likes David Bowie too? I think I like Bunny… wait, Bunny isn’t going back in time with me, right? Cuz I don’t need any extra competition. Ziggy has enough hangers on already…”
The thought of Bunny clinging to the spandex pants of a rock star makes me laugh. And then it makes me sad.
I hate being sad.
I yank the wheel, letting it fly until her arms stretch and Erica’s knees crack.
A squeal. Dainty and restrained. Cute.
“What's the worst thing you've ever written? Can I read it?” I ask.
“Worse thing? Eeee… no you can’t read it. It’s, ummm… I burned it. Yep. Burnt. To. A. Crisp.”
I smile. Fire. Now there’s something I haven’t tried yet. “Inspiring,” I mutter. “For that, I won’t dislocate your shoulder. Yet.”
Erica writhes on the table. Like everyone who ends up here, they think a struggle will help.
I continue, “Given that, what made you drop your city life like a herped-out scrotum and set up on a farm to pursue writing?”
She snorts. “I think the whole “herped-out scrotum” sums it up pretty well. Hubby and I decided the city was a cancer and we just wanted to live cancer-free. I absolutely love living on the farm. Even though I’ve almost been eaten by pigs (more than once) been nearly knocked unconscious by a turkey (they have powerful wings, and yet they’re not very smart, so I’ve had to rescue them many times) and I find chickens hiding under my bed all the time. Gotta love farm living. I keep trying to get the kids to move up here full time too. I’ve got one to take the plunge, wish me luck with the rest…”
Pig nibbling. There’s a creative idea. I nod to Bunny who scribbles angrily. She’s gotten into my mind over these last few weeks. What more could I ask of an assistant?
I flick Erica’s broken toe. “Don’t flinch. It sends the wrong signal.”
Another flick. “Does this hurt?”
“Ow… Sorry. Careful. Ow, ow, ow. Hey, now, I bruise really easily.”
I nudge the wheel further and her back cracks. “How about now?”
“Oh wait… a little to the left. Oh yeah, that’s it. You’re kinda good at this. I haven’t had a massage in a long time.”
I scowl. What is it with writers and the rack? Hunched over for long hours, I suppose it’d only get better before it got worse.
It always gets worse.
“If you could try your hand at any other genre, what would it be?” I ask.
Erica stretches and I turn the wheel. You know. To help. I see the shoulder jerk out of socket and her face pales. She swallows. Soldiers on. “I’ve actually started a thriller, but who knows if I’ll ever finish it. I have too many romancy books in the queue to finish first. I do like to explore different sides of romance. I call myself the barista of romance. You know, like, how do you take your love? With a dose of laughter, a dash of tears, a side of steamy, or a spell or two?”
Barista, eh? Now I’m craving coffee. I’ll send Bunny out after we’re finished. I glance toward the girl. She’s linking paperclips. Poor thing is bored, too.
I pat Erica’s shoulder, which slides beneath my touch. She bites her lip against a scream.
“What are you working on now? Can Bunny be in it?” I ask.
At the sound of her name, Bunny looks up.
A thin line of drool escapes the corner of Erica’s mouth. I’m proud she’s held out this long. Too bad it won’t last.
“Right now, I’m working on the sequel to To Katie With Love, and the next in the Flames of Time series. Can Bunny play a cruise director? Or a male stripper? Cuz I might have a spot open for that…”
“What do you say, Bunny? Think you can manage a cruise?”
She smiles and nods.
“Well then…” I grip the wheel. “This calls for a celebration.”
Round and round she goes…
Erica whimpers while the wheel turns until—snap—the other shoulder goes. Her scream rattles the rafters. Dust rains over the three of us.
“Time for some Starbucks,” I say.
After walking away from her career as a business banker to pursue writing full-time, ERICA LUCKE DEAN moved from the hustle and bustle of the big city to a small tourist town in the North Georgia Mountains where she lives in a 90-year-old haunted farmhouse with her workaholic husband, her 180lb lap dog, and at least one ghost.
When she's not busy writing or tending to her collection of crazy chickens, diabolical ducks, and a quintet of piglets, hell bent on having her for dinner, she's either reading bad fan fiction or singing karaoke in the local pub. Much like the main character in her first book, To Katie With Love, Erica is a magnet for disaster, and has been known to trip on air while walking across flat surfaces.
How she's managed to survive this long is one of life's great mysteries.