Katrina Monroe's The Rack
“Is this thing on?”
“Miss. Don’t talk directly into the—”
“It’s Mistress. Not miss.”
“That’s why you’re here, isn’t it?”
“Get it right.”
I flick the microphone attached to the collar of my rather subdued button-down blouse, grinning as the sound guys cringe.
The crew takes up most of the standing space in the basement. There’s barely enough room for myself, Bunny, and the rack, currently occupied by author Paul Tremblay. His beard is knotted and his hair matted with sweat and grime. When I found him, I was pleased to see Bunny had kept him hidden for several days to soften him up. Then she mentioned the cameras.
“They made him like that. Make-up and stuff. It’s for YouTube,” she said.
“My tube? What tube?”
She shook her head, so I snatched her hair to keep it still. “Explain, grommit.”
A documentary. Or mockumentary, rather. I’m still not keen on the moniker, but Bunny and the man in the funny hat insist it’ll yield more clients.
“Just do whatever it is you do,” the man in the funny hat says, “and we’ll record it.”
It’s hard not to focus on the camera lens. The lights. The thousand breaths per second on the back of my neck as I try to just do my job. This is a terrible idea.
With one hand on the wheel, I meet Paul’s anxious gaze. “So you’re the man who scared Stephen King. How’d that realization make you feel? Guilty? Or fiendishly delighted?”
One of the cameramen drifts closer to the rack and trips, smashing the camera into Paul’s face.
“Ow,” Paul mutters.
I scowl at the cameraman before gesturing for Paul to continue.
“Fiendishly emotional? Is that possible? I started reading, never mind writing, because of Stephen King. My girlfriend (now my wife) gave me a copy of THE STAND for my 21st birthday. I inhaled it. Then I read all the King I could get and moved on to Straub, Barker, Jackson, Oates, Vonnegut, and so many more. His tweet on August 19, 2015 (yes, I have that date memorized) remains a high point of my professional career.” He coughs. Turns to Bunny. “Bunny is an odd name. Just sayin’.”
I pat her head, a little harder than necessary. “She’s an odd duck.”
The man in the funny hat clears his throat.
I’ll have them all on my rack after this. I turn the wheel slowly, taking special care to check that the restraints are secure. Paul’s limbs grow like weeds. “Head Full of Ghosts scared me on a number of levels. The most prominent being the exorcism aspect because, as a recovering Catholic, that shit is burned in my brain. Did your personal religious beliefs (or non-beliefs) influence the story?”
“I'm scared on at least three levels right now...but thanks! The story started out as a secular/skeptic take on the possession story, which is very much my take on any "real" attempt at exorcism. But once I got going deeper into the novel, I really worked hard so that readers could build equally compelling cases for both a supernatural and a non-supernatural explanation for what happened to Marjorie and Merry Barrett.”
I frown. “Was that fucking scripted?”
The man in the funny hat s. “Keep going.”
On the rack in the iron maiden. I’ll draw and quarter them.
Another few turns, not even looking at Paul now (he’s in on this charade) and only stop when I hear a strangled grunt.
One of the cameramen snickers.
Jaw clenched, I say, “HFOG is highly cinematic (hard not to be, considering there’s a show being taped in the middle of it), so surely you’ve thought of movie possibilities. Any casting choices?”
Paul wriggles against the restraints around his chest and hips. His knees twitch angrily. No doubt they told him this was all for show. Poor bastard. “Since Focus Features optioned it and Team Downey is one of the production teams, I feel morally bound to say that Robert Downey Jr. would be a perfect John Barrett. Winona Ryder as Sarah Barrett? Ow, I mean, Bunny. Otherwise, I don't know. I would like a cameo though. Maybe an angry protester, or cameraman number 3. Why are there cameras here now?”
Fuming, I yank the wheel through a dozen rotations. Jesus. Does he take me for some sort of fool?
The man in the funny hat says, “Uh, mistress?”
Still turning the wheel, I glance at him. “What?”
“I don’t think his ankles are supposed to bend that way.”
“No.” I grin. “They aren’t.”
Another turn and the first pop of Paul’s ankle bone echoes across the basement.
His mouth falls open in a soundless scream.
I slap a hand over it. “No, love. Not yet.”
“Now that I have your attention.” I peer into Paul’s pale face. “On your blog, you mention that Disappearance at Devil’s Rock is partly inspired by New England folktales. Is there one story that was the catalyst for the idea?”
Someone knocks the rack, jostling his broken ankle. He gasps.
There’s a particular quiet that accompanies the witnessing of real pain. I’m relishing it.
Paul says through haggard breaths, “I will not wear a devil's tail, not matter what Bunny does.”
“What?” My gaze snaps in the other direction where Bunny stands holding a cheap costume devil’s tail. “The hell are you doing?”
She points to the man in the funny hat. “He said—”
“I don’t care what he said. I say get it away.” I turn back to Paul. “As you were saying?”
“Not one story in particular,” he continues. “Growing up in New England, folktales are inescapable. The story in the novel is kind of an amalgam of the devil-in-the-woods stories in these parts.”
His shoulders bounce against his ears as he talks. I briefly wonder how long until one of them dislocates before I continue, spinning the wheel in time with my voice. “Of all the characters you’ve written, is there one that you enjoyed writing the most?”
He winces. Wriggles purple fingers. “I think I had the most fun with Merry. I got to write as her but in a way that felt like three different POV's. It was a challenge but a really rewarding (and successful, I think) way to build her complex character. Mark Genevich, doomed protagonist of my two detective novels was a lot of fun too. He was a glutton for punishment. Like me, apparently. But, yes, the next character I will write will be named Bunny and I will enjoy it yes I will.”
This is the second time he’s promised something to my assistant without my prompting. If I needed proof she had ulterior motives to bringing me Paul Tremblay on a blood-stained platter, this is it. The bitch is conspiring against me.
Not for long.
“If there’s one piece of advice you could give your younger self as you sat down to write your first piece of fiction, what would it be?”
The wheel turns, turns, turns.
It’ll be the left one. I can feel these things.
His voice is little more than a whisper, “I guess it would be to hone a more consistent writing routine that would better serve me later in life, like right now. I would also say to my younger self, "Self. Don't tell everyone that you hate pickles, because, you know, that's all you'll be remembered for."”
The man in the funny hat giggles.
Paul isn’t laughing. Tears pool at the corners of his eyes and he keeps looking at the man in the funny hat as though he’ll help and it’s just so damn pitiful I almost want to stop it all.
I rock the wheel and it pulls his broken ankle over and over and his lip is blood red from how hard he bites it.
“What are you working on now?” I ask.
“Pain,” he whispers.
The man in the funny hat clears his throat again. His favorite affectation, apparently.
Paul nods once, subtle enough that I almost don’t notice. “A short story collection, a couple of short stories due to editors in the fall, and my next novel. I'm 30 pages into a novel. I'm excited about the story and hope I don't screw it up. I'll shortly be working on nursing my wounds. I'm a delicate flower after all.”
The last line said with a dash of spite.
I know a thing or two about spite.
I pat his sweaty forehead then wipe my palm on his shirt, leaving a long streak. “You’ll want to take care of that ankle,” I say before sauntering out of the basement, smacking cameras as I go.
“That’s it?” The man with the funny hat shouts.
I ascend the stairs slowly, waiting.
A quiet scuffle.
Bunny’s frantic tittering.
A sharp crack.
“Good girl,” I mutter. And then, “You’re fired.”
PAUL TREMBLAY is the author of DISAPPEARANCE AT DEVIL'S ROCK and the World Fantasy Award nominated and Bram Stoker Award winning A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS. A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS has been optioned by Focus Features. He's also the author of the novels The Little Sleep, No Sleep till Wonderland, Swallowing a Donkey's Eye, and Floating Boy and the Girl Who Couldn't Fly (co-written with Stephen Graham Jones). He lives outside of Boston, Massachusetts, has a master's degree in Mathematics, and has no uvula. You can find him online at www.paultremblay.net. He is represented by Stephen Barbara, InkWell Management.