Katrina Monroe's The Rack
They came for Grog a little before five in the morning, barbeque forks thrust high and righteous, lit by a hundred Home Depot Clearance Sale flashlights. I expected more out of my little community—though they never gave me reason—and the rushed display was so disappointing (not a single pitchfork!) I gave Grog up without a fight.
I’ll admit it, but only to you, dear readers, that I miss my Bunny.
I hung carrots from the exposed beams of the basement, baked a carrot cake (and by baked, I mean bought), and spritzed fall-scented air freshener throughout the room, hoping to lure her through olfactory means alone.
I empty the second bottle of spray and my client—who, I’ll be honest, I completely forgot about until now—sneezes.
“What do you think, Ian?” I wave the empty bottle. “Too much?”
“I’m not a bad person, you know.”
He glances at his bound wrists and ankles and raises an eyebrow.
“This is . Ethics have no place in this.”
It’s clear from the blank look on his face that he doesn’t believe me. Oh well.
I toss the can and clutch the wheel at the head of the rack. “You have a lot of short fiction under your belt and you’ve recently finished the first draft of a novel. Which medium do you find suits your style better?”
Ian peers down at his belt, as though expecting to find a collection of stories there. “Funny thing about short fiction is that it's short. Lots of room for it under your belt -- assuming you're wearing one -- but not so much for a novel. Novels you have to carry on your back, which makes sense in a way since they can be back-breaking to write. But the bigger the effort, the bigger the reward. My stories tend to want to run long these days, so I've graduated from short stories to novels mostly be necessity. I still enjoy short fiction, and I admire the discipline involved in crafting a story to a certain word-limit, but these days I find that I prefer the extra legroom of novels and novellas."
If he wants legroom, he’s come to the wrong place. The first few clicks of the wheel extend his arms and legs by a few inches. His pant legs creep up, revealing pasty-white skin dappled with wiry, black hair. “I’m a cover snob, so I have to mention the one for Every House is Haunted. It’s awesome. Did you have a say in the design, or did your publisher surprise you?”
His toes curl, possibly in satisfaction, but more likely it's the hundred pounds or so of pressure I'm putting on them. "I'm a cover snob, too. Let's face it, a bad cover will hurt a book because no one will pick it up. So even if you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, you'll be feeling the pain if you don't have a good one. I love the cover for Every House Is Haunted. My publisher, ChiZIne, uses the same artist, a talented fellow named Erik Mohr, for all of their books. The original version of the cover was just a close-up of the sampler itself, which I didn't feel worked. It was funny, but not quite as scary. It really needed the context of seeing the sampler hanging on a wall, slightly crooked, to get the proper effect. ChiZine was very receptive to my feedback and Erik delivered the perfect cover. An author friend of mine, Michael Thomas Ford, even made me a real needlepoint sampler of the cover that hangs proudly in my kitchen today."
Guilt twinges my chest. Bunny loved crafty shit like that.
I turn the wheel, not at all gently, as I ask, “How goes production for The House on Ashley Avenue? Any news? Can you get my assistant a cameo?” The question is out before I can stop myself. Bunny is gone. What does she need cameos for?
The wheel hasn’t even completed a solid rotation before Ian starts in with his half-cocked answer. It's clear from my malicious ministrations that I don't need to do much to get Ian to talk -- getting him to shut up is going to be the challenge here -- but this is one subject on which he is reticent. "There are developments, but none I'm permitted to discuss. Hopefully something will be announced in the not-too-distant future."
“I hate non-answers, Ian.”
He shrugs as if to say, “Sorry, bro.”
I’ll relieve him of that pesky shrug. The wheel meets resistance and I push on. A girlish squawk pierces the otherwise quiet of the basement.
“Did you consciously choose to write horror, or did you find that your writing just sort of veered into the land of HOLY SHITSNACKS on its own?” I ask.
He laughs, but it comes out as a sort of wheezing, dying accordion sound. “First of all, HOLY SHITSNACKS would make a great title for my follow-up book. I may steal that. Or maybe UNHOLY SHITSNACKS would be better... Anyway! In answer to your query, I would have to blame my parents for my interest in horror. My mother was a more direction influence: she loved horror movies and was always reading Stephen King and Dean Koontz books. My father doesn't have much interest in horror himself, but he showed me Alien at a very young age, and I knew from that chest-burster scene what I wanted to do with my life, which was to scare people.”
“So you could have just as easily become a birthday clown as a writer.”
He grins, despite the quiver in his arms. His fingers wriggle futilely against a scrap of rope. The grin dips, just for a moment, and a sob bursts from his lips.
It’s in this moment I remember, Ian wanted to be here. “Don’t think I forgot that name drop earlier. Adam Nevill was a top-notch client; think you can keep it together as long as he did? He certainly didn’t cry like this.”
“Well, I fell in love with Adam after reading The Ritual. Then I went out and picked up the rest of his books. Then came the handwritten letters and the late-night visits to his home. I didn't think he'd mind the way I stood over him while he slept -- I honestly thought he'd get a kick out of my little homage to Paranormal Activity! Of course, the courts had their own opinion on that one.
"Could I keep it together as long as him, though? Not likely. Adam is British and known for keeping a stiff upper lip and all that. I'm Canadian. Our stiff parts are... elsewhere. Usually because they're frozen from the sub-arctic temperatures up here.
"As for crying, I go along with Jack Handey's words of wisdom: It takes a big man to cry, but it takes a bigger man to laugh at that man."
More guilt, this time for Grog. There’s no telling what the suburbanites are up to; probably forcing another episode of Orange is the New Black on him while they shove Tuna Surprise down his throat. Poor dear. I might consider a rescue. One day.
I don’t realize I’m turning the wheel while I think until a gurgling noise erupts from Ian’s mouth, along with an impressive line of drool. I can see his pulse thump beneath the skin of his wrists.
“Tell us about your writing routine. What’s important to the magic?”
He attempts another shrug, but I yank the wheel, preventing any sort of movement. He frowns. “So many virgins. So many gallons of goat blood. Thank Jeebus for my Costco membership. It's true: you really can buy anything in bulk. Once my muse, the great blue buffalo Booyah, has been sated, I start my morning with coffee (sometimes laced with bourbon -- thank you, Matt Scudder!) and pound out a first draft as fast as I can. I think it was Stephen King who talked about getting a first draft down quickly, because a writer is always trying to outrun their greatest enemy, which is doubt. It's not a method that works for everyone, but it works for me. It keeps things fresh and sharp, while spending time away from my stories and characters makes them vague and indistinct. I couldn't imagine leaving a story for weeks or months and then coming back to it. It's like starting from scratch. I prefer to go in deep and stay for the duration. I'm like Moby-Dick. That was a book, right?”
Virgins have done nothing for my writing. So skittish and unwilling to do the fun stuff.
Ian tugs once more at the ropes around his wrists, scraping skin and tightening the bonds. Part of me knows he’s playing at the escape, but it does make me feel better to watch him squirm.
I continue with my questioning. “As writers, it’s hard to pick favorites, but not impossible. What’s your favorite thing you’ve written?”
He ignores the blood trickling from his wrists. “In terms of my short fiction, I think the piece I'm happiest with is a novella called "Black-Eyed Kids." It's part of a series I've been working on for years called The Black Lands, about a world where the supernatural exists as a matter of course. Many of these stories, including "Black-Eyed Kids," feature a Toronto-based private investigator named Felix Renn. I think "BEKs" is probably the best of the Felix Renn stories I've had published to date. Readers responded to it strongly, probably because people like stories with spooky kids. Let's face it, kids can be kind of creepy all on their own (look at the little weirdos in The Ring and The Sixth Sense). When they've got dead black eyes and a body count, they're even creepier.
“Having said that, I think the last two novels I wrote are probably the best things I've done to date. I really put everything I had into each one, and they are both very different books. I had this idea for a sci-fi comedy, which is completely unlike anything I'd written before, and I knew it wouldn't be the first novel I'd have published because it would completely confuse readers coming off my previous collection. It's a big strange book about UFOs, conspiracies, and family. It's like Arrested Development meets The X-Files. It's got crashed UFOs, aliens, glow-in-the-dark cows, Men in Black (and Red, and Blue, and Brown), and a lizard man who lives in the sewers of Toronto. I hope it gets published some day because I really enjoyed writing it.
“The other novel, which I finished just a few months ago, is a straight-up horror novel called The Underwood. It's about a documentary film on a haunted forest that turns out to be... supernaturally radioactive. I'm currently working on the second draft."
Other than a few twitches and squeals, the rack has done nothing to push Ian toward the screams I need to satisfy the itch which has only gotten worse since I fired Bunny. Resorting to desperate measures isn’t exactly my style, but neither is this feeling of loneliness. Perhaps I’m evolving.
I chuckle. Unlikely.
“Second draft, eh? Come on. Give us a little something to nibble.”
His gaze follows me to my oft-abandoned Cabinet of Curiosities. “Well, since you twisted my arm.... and my legs... and my liver.... At present, all of my attention is focused on the next draft of The Underwood. That, and playing No Man's Sky. Both are taking up all of my free time right now (I won't say which is taking up more than the other). I've completely a couple of short stories, although the only ones I write these days are for anthologies I've been invited to. I'd like to carve out some time to work on some short stories for a new collection. One day!”
I reach inside the cabinet and withdraw a blade the size of my forearm. It’s a little dusty, but otherwise pristine.
Ian forces a laugh. “Hey, speaking of carving, what are you doing with that knife? Are we having steak or something?”
Line pours in from the open door and, in the corner of my eye, I make out a trim silhouette and a flash of blond hair.
My heart soars. “What do you fancy, Bunny? A thigh or a wing?”
Steel finds flesh and with Ian’s sorrowful cry, all is right with the world.
IAN ROGERS’ debut collection, EVERY HOUSE IS HAUNTED, was the winner of the 2013 ReLit Award in the Short Fiction category. His novelette, "The House on Ashley Avenue," was nominated for the Shirley Jackson Award and was optioned for television by Universal Cable Productions.
He is the author of the Felix Renn series of supernatural-noirs, which have been collected in the book "SuperNOIRtural Tales." For more information about the series, visit TheBlackLands.com.
Ian's stories have been published in markets such as Cemetery Dance, Broken Pencil, and Shadows & Tall Trees, His work has also been selected for "The Best Horror of the Year" and "Imaginarium: The Best Canadian Speculative Writing."
Ian lives with his wife, Kathryn, in Peterborough, Ontario. For more information, visit ianrogers.ca