Katrina Monroe's The Rack
Last week, after cleaning up the mess left behind by Kaz, I found a small box of cash, tucked away beneath the nastiest floorboards. The serial numbers were sequential—a detail Bunny so helpfully pointed out—so I assumed the only thing I could: my budget had been expanded.
Like any good business person who comes into money, I decided to use it to assert my influence abroad. I like my coffee Columbian, my wine French, and my men British.
After I—er—acquired Steven Wetherell by means of mild force and a top of the line sepulcher stored in the back of a cargo plane, I brought him to the library where he now lies strapped to the rack.
Thing is, he likes it. Stevie and I go way back.
I tighten the straps on his wrists while Bunny pins neon baubles to his beard. “Remember that time you tried to entice me into your brother-in-law's hotel? We were looking at a potential SHINING incident, weren't we?”
He smirks. “The hotel has a reputation for being haunted, but I think most hotels do, so probably not. Unless you were just wondering if I was I going to hit you with an axe, in which case, almost certainly. Sorry about that.”
“Lucky for you, I would forgive any apology delivered in that accent. What part of the GB are you from, and how does that impact your writing?”
His smile falls, as though disappointed in the segue from axe-swinging. Reminiscing is for literary writers and grandmothers. I have a job to do.
“I’m from the English midlands, a kind of place where you can drive from a crack house to a country mansion in less than ten minutes (which is convenient). Sort of like if you mushed Mordor and the Shire together. I think this kind of comes through in my writing, where I have a tendency to mix the romantic with the blunt, and the sincere with the snide.”
I give the wheel a test pull. The chains are new and I haven’t had the chance to grease them properly. His arms and legs pull, taut. He grunts with the second yank.
He continues, “Look, I’m sure I don’t want to offend you or anything, but am I supposed to tip you after this?”
I shrug, never one to turn down money. Bunny offers her nonexistent cleavage as a bill receptacle, which he shakes his head at.
Bunny, saddened, sinks onto a bench beside the nearest book stack.
Hurts me the way these bastards hurt her.
I lean hard on the wheel, spinning it a full two rounds which pull Steven’s wrists and ankles, revealing ghostly white skin beneath his long-sleeves and jeans. “You leap-frogged from one writing collective to another when Deadpixel Publications bit the dust. Why not just fly solo? What do you get out of meshing crazies?”
He arches his back, trying to angle his body in a position more agreeable to being ripped apart. “Frankly I find being part of a team motivating. If I’d been left to my own devices I probably would have just petered out. I’m kind of like Hawkeye in the Avengers. Wow, that was a depressing realisation. I’m kind of like Hawkeye in M.A.SH. Nope, still depressing.”
Unhooking one of the chains, I twist it around the other, forcing his arms to cross above his head. Once the chain is reattached, I spin the wheel, slowly, watching his arms squeeze his head like a pimple.
“What's one book you wish you'd written?” I ask.
His response comes out garbled and throaty. “Gormenghast. The whole thing. It’s the longest poem I ever read. I’m not sure the book even had a plot, just a series of wonderfully drawn landscapes and characters like strange old photographs found in a shoe box. Also, if you have the complete trilogy you can use it to kill medium sized rats, should you need to.”
With an entire library at my disposal, I think rat extermination is the least of my worries. One little topple of the stack and SMUSH.
Another turn of the wheel, this one clanky and grinding thanks to the crossed chains, and his pimple-head turns bright red. His ankle bones grind against one another. I turn to Bunny. “What do you think? Ankle or shoulder?”
I study his extremities, trembling with the force. “You’re on.”
Steven’s eyelids flutter and it looks like he might pass out. I smack his face and he twitches back into focus.
“Plotter or pantser? Oh, EXCUSE ME, trouser-er?”
“Trousers all the way. I usually just start digging, and only think about shoring things up when it looks like the walls are about to cave in. It’s not the most constructive way to write, but on the plus side everything that happens is a surprise, so that’s nice.”
He tries to pull his head out from between his arms while I twist the chains further. There’s a heavy pause. Then.
Bunny and I study his body. She fist-pumps. I scowl.
Steven, drawing on his Britishness, says, “I think my shoulder just popped out. Sorry about that. Is that supposed to happen? Am I doing this right?”
I ignore him. “Looking back at your first book and continuing to now, what's one thing you'd say you've improved on the most?”
His face has gone an interesting shade of yellow. Something between egg yolk and mustard. “I think the first trilogy I wrote, the Doomsayer Journeys, was a sincere attempt to ape Terry Pratchett’s style. He’s the guy who made me want to write novels, after all. By the end of the trilogy I’d found my own voice, but there are certain parts where I step on the man’s cape somewhat, and that was clumsy of me.”
“On the other hand, what still needs work?”
Drool falls out of the corner of his mouth, pooling in the pit of his elbow. He tries to slurp it back into his mouth, but only succeeds in dribbling more. He’ll lose consciousness soon. “I’m still the kind of guy who’ll use two or three similes where none will do. I can’t help it. I love writing smart ass similes. It’s like a…uh… well, what do you know, I ran out. I think that’s probably because my spine is broke.”
Not quite, but we’re getting close.
Bunny dabs at his mouth with a napkin and tucks the thing in her collar, but not before giving it a good sniff.
The wheel click-click-clicks another round, bending his knees inward almost to the point of snapping. “When you switch on your reader brain, what books do you gravitate toward most? What are you reading now? It's that TINGLE crap, isn't it?”
His breath comes in shallow bursts, fogging the chain link nearest to his face. “What Tingle gets up to with his Hugo award nomination is between him and god. Generally I love dark whit with an absurdist tilt. Give me a Martin Amis or a Chuck Palahniuk and I’ll eat it up. On the other end of the scale, I will read pretty much anything that has an elf stabbing an orc. Or visa versa, I have no prejudice either way.”
Even between gasps, the accent sends pleasure shivers down the length of my spine. If I weren’t who I am, I might have had to grant him mercy. “What are you working on now, and why should I care?”
He watches me s-l-o-w-l-y turn the wheel with inquisitive, but fearful eyes. “I’m trying something different. I’m writing a murder mystery set against a future where all the world’s problems have been solved by a benevolent AI. The plot is not so much about the mystery, but rather a snarky look at a society that increasingly has little to do but fuck itself. I’m not sure where it’s going to end up, but I think it’ll be weird. Nice and weird.”
Bunny plants a kiss on his sweaty forehead just as I pull hard on the wheel, making the chains twist his arms unnaturally. His cheeks puff and veins pulse angrily beneath his skin as a long, delightful, “Cuuuuuuuuuuuuuuunt,” shudders through the rafters.