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We Can Do Tricks

A horror story

By P. D. MurrayPublished 9 months ago 10 min read
We Can Do Tricks
Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

The cabin in the woods had been abandoned for years, but one night, a candle burned in the window.

Inside, Donny and Craig argued. They always fought a lot growing up, but this time is different. The stress is getting to Donny, six years the younger of the brothers. He’s only five days clean. His beard is a wild, unwashed tangle and the sleeveless Don’t Tread on Me tee he’s wearing is stained with a streak of ketchup. Craig can tell his brother’s wound up way too tight. Donny keeps stabbing the hunting magazines on the coffee table with his Bowie, like he’s playing mumbly-peg with an invisible hand.

“You said it would be easy,” Donny whines.

Stab. Stab. Stab.

“You said two days at most and they’ll cave in and pay. Cakewalk, bro, you said.”

“It will be,” Craig says. He sweeps back his long, oily blonde hair and fixes Donny with his best don’t-fuck-with-me stare. “This just shows they’re getting nervous. They’ll pay.”

“And where we going to find a newspaper?” Donny whines. “The nearest town is Baskins. Why don’t we just cut off one of the little bitch’s ears? Send them a photo of that. I bet they’d shit themselves to pay up.”

“That’s exactly what we won’t do,” Craig says. “It’s called proof of life. I’ll drive to Baskins first thing in the morning. Grab a newspaper. We shoot the pic and then they pay. The kid has to be alive, Donny, not carved up. You’ll see. They’re ready; I know it. Until then, we chill. Did you feed her something like I said?”

“Froot Loops and a tuna pouch,” Donny mumbles.

A fat moth flies into the candle and smothers it. Its fuzzy, grey meat sizzles. A suicidal cloud of other bugs has gathered around the kerosene lantern. Their shadows flicker over the rough boards and beams of the cabin. Every once in a while, one manages to worm through the lantern vents and die.

Zzz-shh-pop. Fff-shh-pop. Zff-shh-pop. Followed by roasting wings.

Craig shivers. He’s wearing flannels and his army coat, but all the wood they’d found for the cabin stove is damp, and it’s not throwing off much heat.

Donny suddenly sweeps the shredded magazines off the table. Craig thinks he’ll finally stop fidgeting then, but now Donny starts carving on the table itself. He scars it with one letter, then flips the knife in the air. He catches it with his left hand, the one with the faded tat S-U-C-K across his knuckles. He starts on another letter. Craig tries to see what Donny’s writing but the letters are too scraggly for him to make out.

ILLKOM, it looks like.

“I’m out for a smoke,” Craig says. Donny doesn’t even answer, just keeps sawing away, like he’s in a trance. Left hand: S-U-C-K. Carve. Flip. Right hand: T-H-I-S. Carve. Flip. Repeat. SUCK. THIS.


In the husk of the rusted RV out back, Avery is whispering to her special friend, Mrs. Blackwibble.

“Don’t eat those,” she says. Mrs. Blackwibble pauses, with a fistful of cereal on the way to her crumb-flecked face. It’s super-dark in the RV, but Avery knows Mrs. Blackwibble so well she can see her shimmery body anyway: her pointy hat with the purple pompom, her curly-toed shoes, her moony-cartoony eyes that can change colors or go all narrow like a cat’s.

“Why not?” Mrs. Blackwibble says. “They’re yummy.” She crunches and crunches.

“They’re pure sugar,” Avery says. She sounds exactly like her mother. “And what if they poisoned them?”

“They’re not poison,” Mrs. Blackwibble giggles. “They’re fruiti-licious!”

“I’m scared,” Avery says. She wriggles her thin wrists under the duct tape. Is it getting a little looser? “The stinky beardy one might cut us with his knife.”

“Oh, you silly,” says Mrs. Blackwibble. “You know exactly what to do. I’ve been doing it a little already.” Avery can hear her friend gesturing in the dark, her hand flitting about like a bat.

“I know,” Avery says. “But you mustn’t. Not without my permission.”

“Little miss bossy britches,” her friend says. “I’m just giving him a tickle.”

“Stop,” Avery says. “You’ll make everything worse.”

“Party pooper.” Mrs. Blackwibble pouts. “Then I’m making like a tree and leaving. In a while, crocodile.”

“No,” says Avery. “You can’t.”

“Can so,” Mrs. Blackwibble says. And she does. She fades into nothing except for the lingering aroma of something Avery can never quite place, but she thinks might be lilies that are dying, perfume and puke all mixed together.


In the cabin, Donny startles, as if he’d just awoken. He stares down at the coffee table, littered with shredded images of deer heads and hunting bows and fragments of steelhead. The writing that he’s carved in the wood stares back at him.




Donny examines his left hand, which is now motionless, but still clutching the knife like his life depended on it.

“Jesus,” he says. Sheathes the Bowie. Takes a long pull from the bottle of Jack and feels the joy surge down his throat. He imagines that one tiny flywheel in his head, the one that spins too fast, slowing just a bit. Meth can brake it to a purr, but the Jack just ticks it down a notch.


At Avery’s last birthday party, Daddy had shown up as a surprise. Best of all, he’d brought three ponies for Avery and her guests to ride. They were circus ponies, Daddy joked, and they knew how to dance and do tricks. Also, he’d bought American Girls, not just for her, but for all the girls at the party. When Mommy saw all those presents, her mouth went all tight. And she poured another ’tini.

Later on, when they thought Avery was asleep, she heard them fighting.

“For chrissake, Charles,” Mommy said. “My mother had it too. There’s even a word for it in Ireland: a pooka. And in other cultures I’m sure. I will not turn her into a lab rat for something so natural.”

“I’m talking about a PET,” Daddy said. “In a private facility. So that we know what we’re dealing with. They can do miracles these days. They can practically scan engrams.”

“What we are dealing with is a very special little girl,” Mommy said. “And you’d know that if you showed up every once in a while instead of whoring all over Europe.”

“Special, yes. And one that might just need some guidance instead of your abjectly permissive bullshit. I want to protect her.”

“What, from herself?”

“Look, Caroline, if I have to get the lawyers involved, I will. I just want some data, some facts about her condition. This isn’t Ireland in the 1800s; it’s today in the Hamptons. They can map her entire br—“

“Go to hell, Charles. You are not mapping our child in any way, ever, period.”

Their voices rose and fell, on and on, like waves smashing sea rocks. Avery scrunched her eyes tight and burrowed under her pillows. She was just about to fall asleep when she heard Mrs. Blackwibble at the foot of her bed.

“I like ponies,” her friend said. “Especially that one named Trixy. I think we should get one.”

“Go away,” Avery said. “You get me in trouble. You make them fight.”

“I don’t make them do anything. But you know that we could if we wanted.”

“Last time Daddy got hurt. His pinky got broke. And Mommy said never again, not even if someone is mean or angry.”

“Mommy’s not the boss of me. You are. And you’re a scaredy-cat. This time we’ll just make them shake hands. And keep on shaking them until they shut up.”

Mrs. Blackwibble tittered in the dark. She sent Avery a funny picture in her head. One of Mommy and Daddy shaking hands so hard for so long that their arms dropped off and flopped around the floor. Just like poor fish that can’t breathe when they’re on the grass. But then the picture started to change and it wasn’t funny anymore. Avery could see right through it to the yellowy bone in Daddy’s shoulder and the red spraying on the wall.

“You are wicked,” she said. “Like a wicked witch.”

“I know you are but what am I?” Her friend snickered. Avery thought maybe Mrs. Blackwibble's teeth were changing into needles again.


Craig tries to light his second Pall Mall but fumbles. Both cigarette and lighter fall out of his hands and onto the ground. He tries to pick them up but it’s like his fingers are momentarily confused. Both his ears pop and for a second he thinks he’s gonna fall over. Donny’s not the only one starting to lose it, he thinks. But he picks up the smoke and the lighter and stands upright. All around him he can hear the creaking that trees make when the wind starts to rise. Limb on limb, wood on bark, a frantic rubbing.

He glances over at the RV. The girl is quiet. Which is good because that tiny whimper was getting to him. What are the parents are doing right now? Pacing in that mansion. Crying. Mr. Robertson, dickhead Charles, counting stacks of bills into a suitcase. The wife drinking her ass off. Hell, the suitcase alone would probably cost a couple hundred. He pictures the morning, driving into Baskins, getting the local paper. How early would it be out? Six? He could start around five, probably.

He yelps. Looks down in horror. Without even thinking, he has taken the cigarette out of his mouth with his left, non-dominant hand. And he’s stubbed out the hot ash, smack onto the back of his right hand. Where the skin is now charred and blistered and the agony is growing.

“See,” says Mrs. Blackwibble. “Easy-peasy.”

“I don’t like this,” Avery says. “My tummy aches.”


The bottle of Jack is half-gone. Donny feels the wetness on his chest and opens his eyes. Not the first time I spilled a drink. And not the last neither. But then—what the fuck?—he sees the kerosene can on his lap and the reek assaults his nostrils. He sits bolt upright and scans the room. His left hand scrabbles for the Bowie. Craig’s not there.

“Everybody knows smoking is bad for you,” says Mrs. Blackwibble.

“You look bigger,” Avery says. And it’s true. Mrs. Blackwibble seems to have grown. Her pompom grazes the top of the RV. Then Avery vomits, a rank spew of tuna and Froot Loops sloshing over the floor.


Craig’s on the porch. Fighting to reach his left hand. Before he can grab it, though, it nabs his burner phone, holds it at arm’s length, and pushes some buttons. He seizes his left bicep and yanks it, struggling to gain control.

“Nine-one-one,” says the voice on the phone, “what’s your e—” But Craig’s left hand hurls the phone far into the dark, and pulls out his lighter. He stumbles into the cabin. It’s like he’s been on a three-day bender and has two left feet. It’s like the nightmare where he can’t outrun the monster. He comes face to face with Donny. His brother is wild-eyed and shaking; a crazy, bearded psycho, clutching the Bowie.

“Shouldn’t play with knives, you naughty bad boy,” says the woman’s voice in Donny’s head. Then it giggles.

Donny plunges the Bowie straight into the gristle over Craig’s larynx. He jerks it hard, and down, and over, as if he’s carving a letter. Craig’s eyes flood with wonder and terror, both. He looks at his brother, as bubbles of breath and blood froth from his throat. He smiles a half-smile. He flicks his Bic.


The next morning, two of the lab guys take a break and drink Red Bulls.

“Never send tweakers to do a kidnapper’s job,” one says in a low voice.

“Darwin Awards are a lock this year,” says the other. The booties over his shoes are scarlet with ashes mixed in.


“It’s okay, baby,” says SAIC Nancy Pellman in the ambulance. “It’s okay, Avery.”

The little girl is still shuddering, even though she’s wrapped in a blanket and a foil blanket over that. Her eyes seem distant and her wrists have raw tape marks. One of her hands twitches endlessly.

At least her parents will be able to afford all the therapy, Nancy thinks.

“I’m not Avery. Avery had to go bye-bye,” the six-year-old says. “I’m Mrs. Blackwibble. And Mr. Backwibble too, now. And I’m a witch and he’s a circus pony and we dance and we can do tricks.”

“Of course, you can, honey,” says Nancy. Absent-mindedly, she unsnaps the snap of her holstered gun. Rubs her left temple.


About the Creator

P. D. Murray

Murray is an accomplished painter and writer.

Through 2010, he was shown exclusively by Treehouse Studio Galleries. His work hangs in private collections around the world. He's also published 5 books. You can see more at www.pdmurray.art

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