Katrina Monroe's The Rack
Bunny has a new obsession. Far be it from me to deny her something which provides a little joy to her otherwise dark and dreary existence down here in the basement, but it’s getting a bit out of control.
Evil, thy name is E-bay.
Navigating the maze of boxes becomes more treacherous by the day. I give it another month before I grow horns and Greek adventurous come knocking for my head. It takes a good hour to find my rack and, strapped to it, my guest for the day.
Adam Nevill doesn’t look like a horror author in that he doesn’t look like a serial killer, in that he looks almost normal (insomuch as a person can look normal, but that’s a discussion for another session). There’s hardly any room to stretch, let alone pull a human body to the brink of tearing, so I’ll have to get creative. I eye the teetering tower of Tupperware above his head and the kitchen gadgets piled beneath the rack.
It takes a second for me to notice my name in bright, red sharpie on a box roughly the size of my torso.
“I don’t usually accept gifts before the session,” I say to Adam. “S’unethical.”
He raises an eyebrow, but he can’t fool me. I know Bunny’s handwriting, or what passes for handwriting anyway. The name on the box was written in a foreign hand.
I shake the box. Something heavy rattles against the cardboard. Curiosity stirs in my belly, but there’s a job to do. I set it aside for later. “Right, then. Let’s get started, shall we?”
He shrugs and his eyes betray no fear. He’s the very picture of stoic. I love a challenge.
I crank the wheel slowly as I ask my first question. “Your book, HOUSE OF SMALL SHADOWS touches on my very real fear of dolls, particularly porcelain-faced, Victorian-style ones. I have to wonder if you hold a similar fear, or if you're just especially tuned into the fears of others.”
His eyes twinkle even as his arms and legs lengthen like putty. “As a child, yes, I was frightened of dolls and puppets, but also fascinated by them. I tried to reconnect with that fear and fascination in the story. They engaged my imagination and I often wondered if these small effigies led a secret life.
“The original root of my interest came from the demoniac nature of the doll in the Doctor Who serial, 'The Talons of Weng-chiang', in which a ventriloquist's doll, called Mr Sin, had the brain of a pig and was kept inside a wicker basket. I saw this series when I was seven and may never have fully recovered. The same trauma was worsened when I later watched Trilogy of Terror around the age of eleven, in which Karen Black is chased around her apartment by a voodoo doll. So, TV made me do it.
“Another influence that stuck in my mind when I was young, and often revisited my imagination at night, was an urban myth I was told at the age of seven about a doll with four fingers. If it paid you a visit, your body would be found the following morning, with four puncture wounds in your throat. The other detail in this story that really chilled me was the idea of the bedlinen moving as the doll climbed up the side of your bed. I could always vividly imagine the outline of a doll's head appearing at the side of my bed - I could almost see it. I would also imagine one of my sister's dolls making its way down the hallway hesitantly to my room.
“I don't know where the story originated from, but it was narrated to me by a slightly older boy on a ship when we were emigrating to New Zealand. I've never forgotten it.”
I shudder. No. He’s trying to get in my head.
“You think you’re clever, don’t you?” I ask.
He smirks. The strain on his shoulders and hips should be setting in—I’ve turned the wheel through his entire response—but he looks as though he could purr, rather than scream.
Fine. Next question, then. “When plotting a novel, do you find you're drawn more to the monsters that go bump in the night, or the ones inside our own heads? Why?”
Was that a twitch in the cheek? A subtle vein throb? “I think the two things become the same entity. All of my fictional monsters are composites of things that have disturbed me at some point in my life. They're creations made from constituent parts that are culled from a whole range of things that I've seen and read. Black Maggie in No One Gets Out Alive arose from a photograph that fascinated me as a child, purporting to have been proof of a race of small Peruvian devil people. I combined this with a childhood nightmare that I still remember, in which a black snake appeared out of the darkness and played a primitive drum with its tiny arms. After death in Lost Girl, I am sure, originated from the first time I watched Bergman's The Seventh Seal. My memory is a mountain of grotesques.”
One of the Tupperware—a particularly pointy model—falls from its leaning tower, pinging him at the center of the forehead. He doesn’t even blink. His comment about living dolls echoes in my mind as I turn the wheel. Something pops, but it doesn’t sound right. It sounds like porcelain cracking.
I clear my throat to find my voice and my grip on the wheel hardens. “What, in your opinion, are the essentials of horror writing? What's the difference between horror and a thriller?”
He smiles, pleased. “That's a big question. I'll avoid all of the advice I usually give about writing horror, and will try and simplify it even further as a concept: good horror comes from what disturbs a writer who is honest about what they find frightening without trying too hard to invent something, be it a situation, location or entity.
“As for the difference between horror and thrillers, I'm not so sure there is that much of a difference. The two fields can swap their classifications (which are often determined by publishing's reaction to what the book trade favours). But I guess horror has a closer, more singular or primary purpose to create unease and fear, and a greater use of the supernormal.”
The box with name on it shivers. Or did it? “Bunny?” I call.
I turn the wheel, but I have a feeling it’ll do no good. His arms and legs crunch at the joints and his face is a frighteningly calm, pale mask.
Faced with no other choice, I continue. “Who is your favorite character you've written?”
Don’t say the doll people, don’t say the doll people.
“I honestly don't have one. I like most of them equally.”
A chill surges through my spine. Somehow, this answer is worse.
Bunny has never been absent for a session since beginning her employ. It worries me. What worries me, more, is that when I called out her name, Adam’s lips curved slightly upward, into a knowing grin.
That’s it. I’ve done with this man. One question and it’ll all be over. “What are you working on now?”
He frowns, as though expecting more before this obvious finale. A cat deprived of the mouse he hadn’t finished playing with. “I am working on the final edit of a novel, Under A Watchful Eye, which will be published in January 2017. It's a novel about literary rivalry, resentment, blackmail, and astral projection ...
“Alongside the new novel I am preparing two editions of my first short story collection: Some Will Not Sleep - Selected Horrors. The collection should be available in September 2016. I have also created two free eBooks for fans of horror, including a full book of fiction and non-fiction, Cries from the Crypt: Selected Writings. For news of these and how to get hold of them, all of my news goes into my newsletter first. You can register to the newsletter at www.adamlgnevill.com. There will be more macabre goodies coming soon too.”
The box jumps.
My gaze rips from Adam to the box and back again. He should have been writhing in pain by now. His arms are nearly severed from his body and his hands are white with blood constriction.
Open it, his eyes seem to say.
Against my better judgement, I comply. Perhaps what lays inside will be the secret to Adam’s spectral calm. The tape peels back easily and I lift the flaps. Inside, I’m greeted by a mop of golden curls, decorated with thin, pink ribbon.
My skin crawls, but I can’t look away, can’t close the box.
The curls shudder and, with a sickening crack, the head tilts back and a pair of shiny green eyes peer up at me.
My body convulses and a strange sound deafens me. It isn’t until the doll crawls up my arms that I realize I’m screaming.
was born in Birmingham, England, in 1969 and grew up in England and New Zealand. He is the author of the supernatural horror novels Banquet for the Damned, Apartment 16, The Ritual, Last Days, House of Small Shadows, No One Gets Out Alive, Lost Girl, and Under a Watchful Eye. Some Will Not Sleep is his first short story collection.
In 2012, 2013 and 2015 his novels were the winners of The August Derleth Award for Best Horror Novel. The Ritual and Last Days were also awarded Best in Category: Horror, by R.U.S.A.
Adam lives in Devon, England, and can be contacted through www.adamlgnevill.com.