Katrina Monroe's The Rack
This morning I found a note on the rack—one bloody paw print beside another, bigger, more distinctly male paw print. Traitor.
I need human friends, ones more easily controlled than my feline counterpart. That’s why I decided to search the internet. You can find anything on the internet. I arranged to meet three potentials today, scheduled alongside a rack session.
Bizarro author MP Johnson is on the table, strapped in with zebra-striped cuffs. The first candidate for my friendship is due any minute. I polish the already gleaming metal skull on the wheel to keep my hands busy. MP glances up at me.
“You behave,” I say. “We’re expecting company.”
He snickers. I slap the table beside his face as a warning.
The candidate is late. Minus points and she hasn’t even arrived.
Oh well. Might as well get started.
I stand shoulder-width apart with both hands on the wheel. “When I think of bizarro horror, I think of Rob Zombie. Are you influenced by him at all?”
MP pulls on the cuffs. Why do they always assume I’d make it that easy? “If I were to rank everything in the entire world based on how influential it is to me, I would put Rob Zombie near the bottom. Just above drywall, but still well below things like cottage cheese, acrylic nails, weed wackers and armpit farts.”
Somewhere behind me, someone giggles. “Farts.”
I frown. “You’re late.”
The woman approaches from behind one of the stacks at the back of the library. “Sorry, Madame.” She’s my height with long, shock-white hair and deep-set brown eyes. In her ugly, floral dress, she looks a bit like a rabbit. But she called me Madame; for that, I’m willing to forgive some things.
“Sit,” I say.
The woman obeys.
“Do you have a name?”
I have to bite my lip to keep from laughing out loud. “Fine.” I turn to MP. “Do you like her?”
Bunny had better be watching. I throw the wheel and the straps tighten instantly. MP flinches.
“I’d ask where you get your ideas, but we both know they’re pulled from the abyss of I-don’t-fucking-know.” I say. “Instead, tell me about an idea you thought was too nuts to write.”
“That thought has never crossed my mind. My primary objective is to find the ideas that are too nuts to write and actually write them. Sometimes I do that and it freaks me the fuck out, like when I wrote the cereal box rape scene in Cattle Cult! Kill! Kill! But I always do it. I have to.”
A man after my own heart. But still, I have a job to do.
From my Cabinet of Curiosities I withdraw a wooden paddle. The end is carved with my initials. A gift from a previous client.
I hold the paddle over his thigh. “Imagine someone paid you a butt-load of money to write traditional romance. How would you sneak your own individual style into the prose?”
He hesitates. I raise the paddle as if to strike.
“A few years ago, I thought I’d try to write a Harlequin-style romance novel. I figured I could use a pseudonym, break into that market and make a couple bucks writing books that actually sell. Twenty pages in and faces were melting. How many face-melts before a romance is no longer traditional?”
“Depends on what you call traditional,” Bunny says. She catches my glare and lowers her head.
I bring down the paddle; it thwacks MP’s thighs hard, leaving red welts.
He groans through gritted teeth.
“Julie Andrews or Audrey Hepburn?”
“Didn’t Julie Andrews train under Bruce Lee?”
I roll my eyes and deliver a roundhouse to the side of the table.
“No! You don’t have to show me how hard you can kick! Ah! Not the kneecaps!”
I toss the paddle to Bunny who catches it in one hand. She licks the edge.
Strange little thing.
I head back to my wheel and spin slowly as I ask, “You’ve been tasked with starting your own cult. Doesn’t matter who hired you. (Okay, fine, it was me, but don’t tell my superiors.) Who or what does the cult worship?”
His shoulders are up in his ears and his hair keeps falling in his face, which grows redder with each turn of the wheel. “Books! Ahhhh! Haha! I mean, books with sentient letters that infect the brains of all who read them.”
That’s not a bad idea. I turn to Bunny. “Take a note.”
As she scribbles, I yank the wheel. “Does this hurt?”
“Ha!” MP writhes on the table. “You can do better than tha…”
Another hard yank and something pops. “Ouch! Okay, fine, yes, kind of… Ah, careful my ribs are sensitive when they’re broken into pieces!”
“If you lost both your hands in a horrific cow-inseminating accident and you couldn’t write anymore, what would you do instead?”
Despite the pain, his mouth twists into a thoughtful grimace. “First of all, I hope my hands would run free, like the rogue abdominal muscles in my last book, Sick Pack. They have a blast. Start hardcore bands. Get addicted to meth. The usual. As for me, I’d dedicate my life to building robot hands that shoot lasers.”
Oh, for the love of fuck-all.
I lock the wheel in place and stand on the table, the heels of my boots crushing MP’s palms. “Is your drag persona, Maddy Manslaughter, inspired by your character in Dungeons and Drag Queens or vice versa?”
His voice is low and measured, as though trying not to scream. “Vice versa. I’ve been exploring drag for a long time. I feel like people don’t entirely get how intense this art form is. It’s so much more than men dressing up as women. A successful drag queen needs to know how to paint her face. That’s just ground level. She must also be adept at acting, comedy, dancing, choreography, fashion design. A lot of next-level queens are digging into filmmaking, or writing and recording their own music instead of just lip-syncing. Along the way, queens challenge gender norms, which is still quite subversive even now. Personally, I have fun with it, but I’m not good at it. Total amateur. But I love it.”
“Madame?” Bunny approaches the table carrying what looks like a long stick. “I’ve brought you a gift.”
I raise my eyebrow. Flattery. How predictable. But when I realize what she’s brought, I can’t help but smile. She’s a good girl. I think I’ll keep her.
I jab the forked end of my gift into MP’s side. He flops like a dying fish. “Oww! Oww! Oww! Just! Wait! A! Second! With! That! Cattle! Prod!”
I pull back. Allow him to take a breath. After all, I still have more questions.
He takes a deep breath. “If I lost my hands and couldn’t write, maybe I’d build robot hands and be the first robo-handed drag queen: Mech Maddy Manslaughter!”
I toss the cattle prod to Bunny. She lovingly carries to the cabinet and locks the door as I climb down from the table. Perfectly round heel prints pock his hands. They’re beautiful.
I unlock the wheel and wobble it back and forth. His shoulder, on the edge of dislocation, pulls precariously. “Tell me about your upcoming book releases. Make me care.”
His gaze drifts from the ceiling to Bunny. She’s learned her lesson and keeps her eyes fixed on me.
“Coming soon is Dinosaurs & Drag Queens. It’s the second book in what I like to call the Bizarro Drag Queen Adventure Series, which started with Dungeons & Drag Queens. The first one won the Wonderland Book Award for best bizarro novel, so the second has big shoes to fill. Of course, who can say no to drag queens fighting dinosaurs?
“I’m a short story author at heart. Always have been. I just started writing longer works within the last few years, but my short stories go back decades. This spring will see the release of Berzerkoids, my first short story collection. It’s everything I am as a writer. All of my favorite themes are in there: drag, punk rock, slime, toys, body horror, bizarro.”
I nod once and go to give the wheel one final crank, but the yearning on Bunny’s face is more than I can stand.
“Oh, fine,” I say. “Get over here.”
Bunny skitters to the wheel. I place my hands delicately over hers and whisper in her ear, “Don’t fuck it up.”
I stand over MP as Bunny throws all of her strength into an impressive spin. MPs jaw drops and his scream blasts over my face, warm and comforting. Both shoulders dislocate and his knees bend the wrong way; in seconds, he passes out.
“Not bad,” I tell Bunny. I clip a blonde curl from MP’s head and hand it to her. “Not bad at all.”
You want weird fiction? You want slime-spewing, flesh-melting, what-the-hell-just-happened stories? You want that primo, messed-up lunacy?
MP JOHNSON delivers. His campaign of crazy began in 1998 with the birth of Freak Tension, a zine devoted to punk rock and weird stories. Since then, he has published more than 50 short stories worldwide and four books, including Cattle Cult! Kill! Kill! and Sick Pack. He is also a B-movie extra and an amateur drag queen AKA Maddy Manslaughter.