Katrina Monroe's The Rack
I can barely contain my excitement. Not only do I have an extra special guest hogtied and gagged in the corner of the library while Bunny ties cool packs around his neck and wrists. I have a new toy.
A thousand pounds of bronze in the shape of a bull, hollowed, with its head poised up as though sniffing something especially delicious. It was a gift from the Emperor of some far east kingdom as thanks for procuring a certain bit of information using my superior methods.
All I said was please.
Funny the things some people forget.
I approach my guest—fantasy author, A. Lee Martinez—trying to mask my glee. “It’s a brazen bull. Roman. Very special.” I stroke the side of the bull. “Want to climb inside?”
Lee shakes his head, which I take for ardent enthusiasm.
With Bunny’s help—she’s surprisingly strong for her size—we loosen the ropes around his legs and lurch him into the bull through a small door on the side. Rather than shut it, as is the custom, I let the door swing wide. I reach inside and remove the gag while Bunny positions the space heaters.
“Are you comfortable?” I ask.
He sticks out his tongue.
“Right. Straight to it, then. Few of your characters tend to be human, and when they are, there is an element of supreme weird to them. Purely figments of your delightful imagination, or based on real people?”
Bunny accidentally hits the side of the bull with one of the heaters, making Lee flinch. “Kids like monsters and weird creatures. I guess I never grew out of that because my favorite characters tend to be monstrous in one way or another. None of my characters have ever been based on real people. There are occasion elements of people I know popping in now and then, but it's never intentional. The truth is that I just really like monsters and aliens and talking gorillas.”
“Who doesn’t?” Bunny says.
“Exactly. All plugged in?”
I walk over to the first space heater, its grate right against the bronze haunch of the bull, and flip the switch to high. The element sparks—the thing is at least a decade or two old. Standing next to it, I begin to sweat within seconds.
Inside the bull, Lee coughs.
“I've read the majority of your body of work and DIVINE MISFORTUNE is by far my favorite. If you imagined a god of fiction writing, what would she or he be like?” I ask.
He coughs again and curls away from the rapidly heating bronze. “The goddess of fiction writing would be a quiet deity chained to her desk, banging out stories. Meanwhile, a little pixie would be flittering about, offering distraction as her indifferent public mostly talks about the same five stories over and over again. Occasionally, a mortal would happen upon her temple, ask her questions like "Did you write all these?" and "How long did it take?" before mentioning that their sister / nephew / great aunt always wanted to be a goddess. Then they'd wander away, leaving the goddess of writing to wonder why she even bothered.” As Bunny flips on a second space heater, this one near the neck, Lee struggles with the bonds around his wrists and elbows.
“Don't struggle! It'll wear on the leather. HELEN AND TROY'S EPIC ROAD QUEST is one of your books I'd kill to see adapted to film. In an ideal world, who would be cast in the lead roles?” I peer inside the door.
Sweat rolls down his face. “Don't ask me. I don't live in ideal world. I never have. Part of how I stay sane is by avoiding thinking about what MIGHT be. I never cast my characters. I never consider what could be. I just deal with what is. None of my stories are written to be adapted into film, though I wouldn't complain if it happened. So who would play Helen and Troy? Helen and Troy, of course. Who else?”
Pfft. Cop out, I think, and prod his shoulder with a BBQ fork.
“Tender.” Bunny sniggers.
I poke again, but he rolls away and the prongs snag the hem of his t-shirt. “You're not the self-deprecating writer type, but we've all had moments of blah-what-the-fuck-am-I-doing. Which of your books gave you the most trouble? How did you overcome it?”
A third space heater is switched on and soon the side of the bull begins to glow. Whether from the reflection of the element or intense heat, I don’t really care. It’s pretty.
He gulps hot air and it dries out his voice. “Probably Chasing the Moon because it was my homage to cosmic horror. It's not a horrific book in tone, but thematically, it comes down to life is meaningless, incomprehensible, and maddening. The truth cannot be understood. Existence is confusion. Even monster gods have no damned clue what it's about, so what chance do you have? Creating that sort of story without making it an existential bummer was difficult. It's probably why Cheery Cosmic Horror isn't a very strong genre.”
“Sounds like a porn star,” Bunny says.
I frown. When did she become clever?
The bull amplifies the heat and my shirt has started to stick to my back. I chug from a bottle of water—warm, because the gods hate me—before saying, “You're a talented cartoonist as well as a writer. Don't shake your head. I've seen the pictures. Have you ever written or considered writing a comic book adaptation of one of your stories?”
He’s curled up in a ball, every inch of bare skin red and covered in a sweaty sheen. “No, not really. I write novels to be novels, not to be something else. I have a few recurring characters I draw, and I've entertained the idea of doing something with them, but I haven't done much beyond that. I want to stress that I really do write novels because I like novels, and I tend to view the medium of written fiction as my territory. It's nice to dabble in cartooning and other mediums, but I'm not skilled or experienced in those. If they do cross into other media, I'd much prefer a more experienced person at the wheel with me as a contributor.”
Bunny tips a fourth heater on its side and slides it beneath the bull’s belly, directly beneath our guest. She switches the dial to low and I nod my approval.
As the floor of his prison slowly warms, panic seizes and he reaches for the door. I slap it away with the BBQ fork, leaving a thin scratch in his skin. “If your hands were cut off (hypothetically) in an unfortunate racking accident (also hypothetical), would you continue to write, or pursue something else, like professional taste-tester or foot model?”
He clutches his hands to his chest, insofar as he can with his elbows bent awkwardly. “I'd probably write. In fact, most any hypothetical terrible accident you could mention would probably end with me saying Writing. Not just because I enjoy it but because I'm not qualified to do much of anything else. I'm here because of a very limited skillset, and I acknowledge that.”
I tell Bunny to crank the upended heater to medium.
Lee whimpers and a chill travels down my spine.
“A lot of sci-fi/fantasy writers who don't go down the epic, sword and sorcery, or magical realism roads, tend to struggle finding a home for their work. What was your publishing process like?” I ask.
Sweat drips into his eyes, so he squeezes them shut. “A question I've been asked so many times that I don't know if I feel like answering it, no matter how long you might keep me tied to the rack.”
Rack? Poor thing. Must be heat stroke setting in.
He continues, “My publishing experience is overall good. There are snags here and there, and it's never been smooth. But I do all right, especially for a writer who hasn't created a series yet and who writes about vampires and space squids. I'm doing better than I have any right to expect, and while I can still complain, I've been very fortunate. People do love their specific sub-genres, and it's difficult for a writer to find appeal outside of those types of stories. I try not to fret about it. I write stories I think are worth reading and hope the audience will find them. So far, so good though it could always be better.”
I reach inside and pat his sweat-soaked head only to withdraw it within seconds. It’s like the face of the goddamned sun in there.
“Crank it,” I tell Bunny.
She grins and turns the nob.
Lee writhes against the bull’s belly, kicking until the thing rocks hard enough to tip.
“Quick!” Bunny says. “Before he breaks the damn thing!”
Clever and ordering me around? The girl will find herself in the bull before nightfall.
I fix my stare on Lee’s pleading gaze. “What are you working on now, and why should we care?”
It’s not what he wants to hear, but trooper that he is, answers anyway. “I'm currently on work on the second book of my new trilogy with Simon & Schuster: The Constance Verity Trilogy. Constance is a modern day Doc Savage, a woman who has been having adventures since the age of seven and in order to survive, she'd master an esoteric list of skills. She's hyper-competent, able to fix time machines, navigate booby trap filled temples, and beat up armies of space Nazis all in the same day (which she has to do now and then). It's a chance for me to indulge in the pulpy homage I tend to love while exploring what it's like to be amazing and still have problems. Constance is incredible, but she's still human, and her weird life has given her many skills though it hasn't taught her to deal with real life very well.
“You should care because I wrote it, and it's great. Also, Connie fights a demon ninja and nearly destroys all of time and space. If that doesn't convince you, I don't know what will.”
He has me convinced just enough.
I slam the door against his screams and it takes every ounce of will power (and self preservation) not to hug the bull cradling him. I kick the heaters away, knowing whatever the bronze absorbed will hold for several minutes.
I won’t keep you in here forever; just long enough for the screaming to stop. After all, I’m curious about these demon ninjas.
A. LEE MARTINEZ was born in El Paso, Texas. At the age of eighteen, for no apparent reason, he started writing novels. Thirteen short years (and a little over a dozen manuscripts) later, his first novel, Gil's All Fright Diner was published. Since then he has published or is about to publish five additional novels, including the forthcoming Divine Misfortune. His hobbies include juggling, games of all sorts, and astral projecting. Also, he likes to sing along with the radio when he's in the car by himself