Katrina Monroe's The Rack

Today's Victim:
Jeff Strand

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            I don’t know when I decided I needed to decorate for my clients. There was a time, back when torture was good, honest work, that a mistress need only functional tools and a firm hand. People have grown soft. Myself included.

 

            Perhaps it’s Bunny’s influence.

 

            I watch her dust the leaves of an old, plastic palm tree, taking special care with the sharp ends. A breeze drifts through the single window in this dank place and catch the faintest scent of orange blossom perfume. It reminds me of my mother and, for a moment, I’m back in Florida, feeling the sting of sand on my face and neck and sun burning my scalp.

 

            My guest, Jeff Strand, clears his throat, snapping me out of my fantasy. He’s going to be a needy one, I can tell.

 

            “Hold your horses,” I mutter.

 

            He cartoonishly looks around as if to say, “What horses?”

 

            Bunny snickers. I really need to get her out more. She’s got the expression and body tension of a rabbit in heat.

 

            I flick a bit of crusted blood off the rope securing his wrist, and then gesture to the palm tree. “I lived in Tampa, Florida up until about four years ago. I got the hell out for the exact opposite reason you moved in, but I STILL can't write something without including a bit of Florida fuckery. How has living in the best place to escape conviction in the United States influenced your writing?”

 

            He coughs and points at his throat. He’s thirsty.

 

            “Flash flood.” I dump a cup of tepid tea over his face. A mistress knows when she’s being tested.

 

            He shakes his head. “I was writing about whack-nut characters before I lived in Florida, so I think it has influenced my writing by requiring less research if I set novels in my home state. Tampa is, I think, a more "normal" part of Florida, even if we're the part of the United States most overdue for a doomsday hurricane. Sure, it's necessary for me to put the word "normal" in quotes, but it's not quite as insane here as if you travel further south.

 

“I'm not gonna lie: right now it's summer and Florida sucks. But later in the year, when people are wailing about having to dig their cars out of eighty feet of snow, I'll be very, very, very happy with where I live.”

 

Something whirrs loudly behind me.

 

He cranes his neck. “Uh, what's that thing in Bunny's hand? Why is it whirring?”

 

“Never seen a blender before?” I chuckle. “Relax, Strand. Bunny’s making margaritas.”

 

I turn the wheel with ease—the lines are still a little loose—and when his extremities pull, I’m reminded of a Gumby doll.

 

“You've published an obscene number of books in a less than obscene number of years. What's your secret? What pagan ritual have you found that actually works?” I ask.

 

Bunny turns toward us. She’s had a few bum experiments involving questionably virgin blood and insane amounts of dried herbs that left the basement smelling like cannibal Thanksgiving.

 

“Don't wait for the muse,” he says. “The muse is an unreliable hag. My inspiration comes from book deadlines. I'm not saying that I don't procrastinate--I procrastinate like a college student waiting until the day before a paper is due who chugs six Red Bulls during an all-nighter while cursing poor life decisions--but the pagan ritual, ultimately, just involves sitting down and writing.

 

“I don't want to complain, but you said this would be comfortable. You even said snuggly. This is neither comfortable nor snuggly.”

 

“Oh, you poor thing.” I roll my eyes, cranking the wheel until his hands turn white and then red and then purple. “Is that better?”

 

He groans in response.

 

That’s more like it. I continue with the questioning. “I stalked your FAQ page (because I'm a DILIGENT mistress) and noticed you mentioned Johnathan Tropper as your favorite author. While reading BLISTER, I immediately cast Jason Bateman (who played Judd in the movie version of Tropper's THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU) as your Jason. Coincidence? Or did you write the character with him in mind?”

 

“Pure coincidence. I never "cast" my characters while I'm writing them, and when people ask about my casting choices afterward, it's rare that I can come up with an answer better than, "Ummmm...I dunno." I would do backflips of joy if Jason Bateman were cast in a BLISTER movie, but it's nothing I thought about until I read this interview question.”

 

I doubt backflips will be in his future after this. I continue turning the wheel, studying his wrists and ankles for the moment they might snap. “Does this hurt?”

 

“Nope.”

 

Frowning, I put all my weight into wrenching the wheel through several more rotations. Something pops in his knee. His left kneecap is crooked.

 

He yelps. “Ow, crap, THAT did!!! Why am I voluntarily subjecting myself to this??? Why don't I make use of the key that's lying right there on the table???”

 

My gaze meets Bunny’s, her eyes wide and red-rimmed. She slides the key from the table, knowing she’s been caught. “I’ll deal with you later,” I say.

 

She nods. “Yes, mistress.”

 

Back to my guest. His face is contorted into a combination of pain and confusion. His one intact knee and elbows twitch in time with his mouth. He’s holding it in, like I’ll be impressed. Doesn’t he know what I want?

 

I have to keep him talking if I want to get it.

 

“A couple of your works have been optioned for film, including MINDY HAS TO DIE which starts filming, like, now. Being a screenwriter, did you make it a caveat that you would have final yay or nay to things that ended up on the script? Do you get ANY cool privileges?”

Like color-sorted M&Ms, for example?

 

He takes a deep breath before answering, but the effort jostles his already precarious shoulder situation and it pops from the socked like a plastic Barbie limb. The scream dies in his throat and he muscles through. “The screenplay for MINDY HAS TO DIE is a faithful adaptation of my book STALKING YOU NOW, and the pictures I've seen from the set do indeed depict events that I wrote about...but actual caveats? Nope. I am powerless. I'd be powerless even if they weren't making the movie in Ireland.

 

“COLD DEAD HANDS (a movie based on a not-yet-published novella) is written and directed by my wife Lynne Hansen, who made the short film CHOMP. To preserve marital harmony, I also have no power in this one. The book is mine. The movie is hers.

 

“As for cool privileges, I assume that bouncers won't remove me from the premiere.”

 

“Do you have a date, yet?” Bunny asks.

 

I throw my shoe at her, sending her scampering behind the boiler.

 

I stroke his arm, the one still more or less attached properly. It isn’t until then I notice the twin pools of blood directly beneath his wrists. The ropes have sawed away the skin. “What are you working on now, and why should we care?”

 

His voice is chapped. “I'm working on edits for my fourth young adult novel, STRANGER THINGS HAVE HAPPENED, which is about a teenage magician (of the Penn & Teller variety, not Harry Potter). I'm also working on a vampire novel called MILES OF NIGHT and a crime thriller called SKEETER'S CASH.

 

“You should care because I'm losing a lot of blood and things are starting to go blurry, so knowing that you've taken a mild interest in my upcoming work is pretty much the only thing keeping me conscious right now.”

 

I pat his head. Such a trooper.

 

But I’m not quite finished.

 

With one final turn of the wheel, his second shoulder dislocates and the ropes around his wrists and ankles tear new strips of skin.

 

His long-awaited scream is eclipsed by Bunny’s horror-movie wail.

 

The neglectful girl has let the margaritas melt.

 

Jeff Strand is a four-time finalist (and zero-time winner) of the Bram Stoker Award. His books include PRESSURE, WOLF HUNT, A BAD DAY FOR VOODOO, THE GREATEST ZOMBIE MOVIE EVER, BENJAMIN’S PARASITE, SINGLE WHITE PSYCHOPATH SEEKS SAME, and a bunch of others. He’s quite a fan of hot dogs and yogurt. You can visit his Gleefully Macabre website at www.jeffstrand.com.

 

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