Katrina Monroe's The Rack

 

 

 

 

     I’ve been a good girl. Kept the library (mostly) clean, though a black cat has somehow found its way inside and disappears whenever I try to catch her. Haven’t killed anything in at least a fortnight. Polished The Rack to a glistening shine. I’ve been so good even Sue noticed and promised me a surprise.

           

     I love surprises.

           

     “Prepare the rack,” she said.

           

     And prepared it, I have. New vinyl lining in deep crimson (to mask the stains) and a silver skull topper on the longest wheel spoke.

           

     Just after lunch, someone knocks on the library door. Soft, but determined. I race to the door, a painfully large smile on my face, and throw it open.

     

      He looks like a writer—disheveled hair and a few days’ worth of stubble on his face. He squints, peering over my shoulder into the library and spots the rack. Though his expression is stone, his hands twitch.

 

       What a lovely surprise, I think. Sue is such a doll.

 

      “Come in,” I say and stand aside as he crosses the threshold.

 

     I make a show of locking the door, sliding the chain delicately through the track. He shakes his head. A what did I get myself into motion. He tells me his name is Taylor Grant. I beam with pleasure. I recognize the name from a book I’d read recently. Quite the twisted mind this Grant fellow has. I can’t wait to peek inside.

 

     With little pomp and circumstance, I escort him to The Rack and tie him to the table. There’s a smudge of ink along the side of his right hand. He’s working on something devilish, I bet. Once he’s secured, I give the wheel a test nudge. Taylor flinches. I grin.

 

             “I have to thank you for the inspired “breast ripper” in The Dark at the End of the Tunnel. It’s my new favorite toy.” I retrieve the iron device from beneath the rack. Round at one end and spiked at the other, it’s the perfect design for its carnal use. “Obviously I won’t be using it on you today, but I wondered, what’s your favorite torture device?”

He chuckles. “My favorite torture device is clearly my computer, which torments me daily with its dreaded white screen and blinking cursor.”

Clever as it is, it’s not quite the answer I’m looking for. I give the wheel a double rotation as punishment. His wrists and legs lift slightly. I study his face for some kind of reaction. Nothing.

 

    No matter. It’s early.

 

     I stroke the dome of the silver skull, rocking the wheel back and forth so that Taylor’s limbs wobble in a kind of dance. I bite my lip to keep from laughing. “A little bird told me you’re in talks to sell your soul to make the collection into a movie. What are you going to call it? 4377?”

His back arches to adjust to his flailing limbs. “Clever girl. Not a bad idea. But I’d probably name it something short and punchy. Like, Please See This Movie So That I Didn’t Sell My Soul For Nothing.”

 

     He’s buttering me up, I can tell. Though if he does go with 4377, I might feel a little badly for what I’m planning next. Maybe.

I position myself so that I’m facing him before I kick the wheel. I want to see the moment he realizes his arms are dangerously close to popping off. He bites his lip against the pain—he’s going to be difficult—but his cheeks redden and sweat beads above his lip. I’ll break him yet.

Purely out of curiosity I ask, “What’s your dream cast for the collection?” I pause. “Don’t say Jack Black. I’ll have to tighten the straps.”

Taylor takes a moment to answer this time. If he’s deciding which response will annoy me most, it’s futile. There are no right answers on The Rack.

 “I would cast Gary Oldman in every single part—even the women.  He’s THAT good,” he says.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    I grant him that, yes, Gary Oldman is a fine actor. But as I mentioned, there are no right answers here. I check the catch on the wheel—clever boy won’t be wriggling loose anytime soon—and fling open the doors to my Cabinet of Curiosities. I’ve gotten several new toys in the past few days (thank you, Amazon), but the one I’ve been itching to try is a leather whip, four feet in length, with a snap that’d make even Gary Oldman piss himself.

 

    I wrap the whip around my neck, like a python, and continue the interrogation. “What made you want to write horror? Some of your stories are genre-mashed (like Gods and Devils). Why not write straight up sci-fi or thrillers?”

 

    His gaze doesn’t leave the whip’s steel tip. “I didn’t choose horror. Horror chose me. But yes, I do like to add some sci-fi elements here and there--I love the imaginativeness of it. Eventually, I will write some straight up science fiction, but I naturally gravitate toward the darker stuff.  My first novel—currently in the works—is a psychological thriller.”

 

    I have Taylor’s attention and I refuse to relinquish it. I unravel the whip and test it against the side of the rack, centimeters from his armpit. The steel tip snags on the vinyl, and I have to rip the new cover to free it.

Taylor flinches harder with each snap. Silly boy. I won’t hurt him. Much. I just want to see him squirm.

“Just between us chickens, how much do you enjoy killing off your characters? Don’t mind the blinking camera light. No one’s watching. Swear.” I’m lying, of course.

 

     He raises an eyebrow, despite the threat of my whip. “Oh, well—since it’s just us chickens, I will say that there is great satisfaction in giving an evil character what they deserve.  For example, the lead character in Dead Pull is loosely based on a sociopath I used to work with. It was fun giving him his just desserts.”

 

    We have so much in common.

 

    I nudge the wheel through another rotation. “You’re sweating. Does this hurt?”

 

    He squeezes his eyes shut.

 

    “This?”

 

     Another nudge and his hands begin to turn purple.

 

     He strains against the bonds. “Aaargh! Take it easy with the fingers. You can break anything else—but those are my bread and butter. I was warned that you were a tough interviewer. Good thing I’m getting paid big bucks for this interview.  Wait--I AM being paid, right?”

I shrug, loosening the straps on his wrists, but just enough that blood can flow a little easier. I’m no monster.

 

     “What scared you as a child? As an adult?” I ask.

 

     “I saw the Exorcist as a child and that freaked me the hell out (pardon the pun).”

 

     I shudder. The Exorcist. Now there was some scary shit.

 

     “As an adult, what scares me is the destruction of our planet and our health by corporate corruption.”

 

     We’re getting off track. I brush the hair out of his face and mop his brow with a rag. Clean, this time. Special guests deserve special treatment.

 

     I notice my little feline intruder has emerged from behind a stack of dusty Marquis De Sades. Her tail flicks inquisitively. I turn to Taylor. “Are you superstitious?”

 

     “I’m not sure anyone would ever admit to being superstitious—even if they are.  So I’ll say no and let you guess.”

 

     I guess yes, wondering how quickly I could train the cat to scratch on command.

 

     I realize I’ve been too kind to Taylor. Being a good girl has gotten in my head. Without warning, I spin the wheel.

 

     Pop.

 

     An arm or a knee. I don’t care. The sound is lovely either way.

 

     Taylor pales. A faint groan escapes his lips.

 

     I empathize. Truly. “Most days, being a writer is a thankless profession. (Unless you get to tie some of your peers to a device that slowly rips them apart, that is.) What gives you the most satisfaction as a writer?”

 

     His answer comes out a raspy whisper. “Two things. When a reader reaches out to tell me something specific about a story I wrote--something that affected them.  The other is when a story I’m writing takes me to places I never expected.”

 

     “One last thing,” I say, tracing the smudge of ink on his hand. I don’t want to seem too eager. “What are you working on now? Give us a taste.”

Any other person would ignore the question, but Taylor pushes through the pain. In that moment, I admire—and pity—him.

 

     “I have new four horror stories I’ve promised four different editors that range from a fun, creature feature type story, to a more sophisticated tale involving the extremes of parental love. I was also hired to work on a cool anthology project starring two classic pulp characters from the 40s: The Black Bat & The Domino Lady.  In addition, I am in talks with a comic company to write a sci-fi/horror graphic novel based on an original story of mine, and of course, my first novel: a psychological thriller set in a tiny town in West Texas.”

 

     His breath comes in shallow bursts. I almost don’t want to do what I have to do.

 

     Almost.

 

    “Deep breath, pet,” I say.

 

    He complies as I give the wheel one final, ferocious turn. His scream sends delightful shivers down my spine.

 

    My new feline friend purrs. I think I’ll call her Dahlia.

 

     TAYLOR GRANT is an award-winning filmmaker, Bram Stoker Award nominated author, multiple award-winning copywriter, professional screenwriter, and part-time actor.  His work has been seen on network television, the big screen, the stage, the web, newspapers, comic books, national magazines, anthologies, and heard on the radio.

 

 

Today's Victim:
Taylor Grant

And Now for the Review...

 

            In this collection of stories, Bram Stoker Award finalist Taylor Grant shows us how to deliver a twist. Nothing is what it seems in these tales; knowing this, the reader still enters each new story with a modicum of hope. This is Grant’s greatest achievement with this collection.

 

            Masks opens with a gruesome blood-licking image that forced me to reread the passage, to be sure of what I’d read. The main character, Jonathan, gradually loses control over his mind and body, anxiously pulling the reader along for the ride. This Jekyll and Hyde type tale delivers a delicious twist while showcasing Grant’s grasp of metaphor and imagery.

 

            Reading The Silent Ones feels as though something dangerous is lurking behind every turn of the page. Beautiful metaphor is weaved throughout, giving the story a literary feel—something I personally appreciate. Of all the stories in this collection, The Silent Ones is the only one to twist a finger around the reader’s heartstrings. It also held my favorite line of the collection, purely for its feel in my mouth: “Her stony-faced visage spoke of a childhood devoid of smiles.”

 

            The Vood is easily my favorite story of them all. What begins as a “beware the shadows” story that lends weight to my already festering fear of the dark (thanks a lot, Mr. Grant), spirals into something deeper and more disturbing than I initially imagined with an unbelievable twist you will not see coming.

 

            Gods and Devils is the only sci-fi story in the mix, and I loved the genre mashup. While playing on the reader’s previously held beliefs of mankind’s creation, Grant builds a world where the human life has unusual meaning. A thought-provoking tale.

 

            If you’ve ever wanted a grizzly look at the back room of a pet store, look no further than Dead Pull. In this story, Grant creates a character so vile, the reader speeds through the pages, anxious to see what happens to him. Once you’ve finished, you won’t look at your docile goldfish the same way again.

 

            To me, there is nothing creepier than a child. Trust me, I have two. In Show and Tell, a young boy named Jacob is called into a school administrator’s office to talk about some strange and frightening drawings he’s created. Jacob is more than happy to tell the tale, but from the mouths of babes comes truth. That truth, as we see in this story, is dangerous. While most of the story is told passively in Jacob’s point of view, the subject matter is gripping enough to keep the reader turning pages.

 

            The Infected is a story about words. Words have unbelievable power—the ability to get inside your head and sometimes change your life. Reading The Infected, it’s easy to cast yourself in the starring role of this story within a story that merges at its inevitably bleak conclusion. It makes you question your very own existence which, to me, is most frightening of all.

 

            Fairy tales are my lifeblood. Imagine my delight in reading Whispers in the Trees, Screams in the Dark, and discovering it is a twisted homage to the fairy tales of our youth. Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, and Rapunzel among others make disturbing cameos. This story proves nothing is sacred when it comes to Grant’s expert pen.

 

            Intruders takes something as intriguing as schizophrenia and ratchets it up to a new level. Have you ever been in a room alone and swore you heard something say your name? Those dark whisperings in the middle of the night—they’re not real… right? Where you might have questioned your own sanity, Intruders promises you this—you’re not insane, it’s something far worse. This is the only story in the collection with an ending that leaves something to be desired. I can feel more story that needs to be told and I’m anxious to hear it.

 

            In The Dark at the End of the Tunnel, Grant tackles the memory loss trope from behind the wheel of a Ferrari. What should have been a lackluster plot device works and works well. Every page offers new questions for both the reader and the protagonist, forcing us to discover the truth together. A combination of four numbers, 4377 reoccurs cleverly throughout the narrative and the final line which reveals its significance leaves a devilish smile on the reader’s face.

 

            Abandon hope, all ye who read this collection, for as the title suggests, there is no light at the end of the tunnel. We at the Dark Side welcome this twist of fate. Thanks to Grant’s excellent story-telling, the reader welcomes, rather than rejects, the dark’s cold, tingly embrace.     

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