Bad Dogs, Good Tricks

by Erin Cole

Dr. Nelson believes I have a distorted view of reality. I’ve argued that even Psych 101 students know we all invent our own world. Not one is the same, or real for that matter, whether or not those worlds include two-headed people with proboscis noses and tails made from their own arms, or furry kittens with cloven hooves. I have a “crass imagination, ill-paired with an absence in forethought,” so I’ve read in the charts. Douchebag.

I shouldn’t blame Dr. Nelson though. My father, who I swear is of the non-biological kind, was the one to commit me to Fresno’s one and only Blackwell Adolescent Manor. He dropped me off on the steps like a bad dog at the pound and, bug-eyed, whispered to the psychiatrists to never, EVER let my hands free.

Terrible things happen when his hands are free—

I scared father, that much is true. From the time I picked up my first crayon, he treated me with ginger mannerisms shadowed by calculating gazes. He often woke with night terrors, screaming of things he begged the good Lord to forget. On my last night at home, he tossed in bed shouting, “What happened to their arms? They have no arms!”

My ten-by-eleven windowless room has a child’s toilet and matching sink behind one wall. We get three meals a day (in which I’m fucking spoon-fed since my hands are constantly bound behind my back—just as dear father requested) and two snack times. If we behave well enough, we’re allowed a ‘downtime’ in the common room.

It’s not the worst of places to be. At least there are others like me here. Tall as a Wall Paul says he can eat electricity. That’s what he does. He once pulled a fibrillator from a cupboard in the lunchroom, stuck his tongue on the pad, and clicked the dial on. 360 joules. His body flopped into a shudder of convulsions, eyeballs reeled backwards, lips cold-corpse-blue. When security bells sounded like burning cats, the CSU (crisis stabilization unit, which basically consists of a bounding pack of chub-cheeked nurses) came hurtling in and wheeled him away on a gurney. But the next day, Paul was a lit firecracker, a euphoric moron full of mouth-licking details about ‘The Plan’ to escape, when he wasn’t dominating the game tables like Muhammad Ali on crack.

Doctors and staff removed all the light bulbs from his room and disconnected each electrical socket. Now he lives in the dark, and his hunger for electricity is like a bulging volcano, imminent and dangerous. It’s only a matter of time before he’s released or earns outpatient trips, and when that happens I think he’ll drink in all the lights of Fresno, California.

Jo-Jo-Joanne says she can see the future. I question her ‘sight’ because her stuttered predictions sound more like horoscopes. Of course we’re all going to lose someone or suffer great pain at some point or another, but we want to believe her; she’s strange like the rest of us.

“Hey, Tied-up Todd?” (That’s me.) “What exactly do you do with your hands?” Paul asks me one day in the common room. There are always three nurses present, but usually, they’re preoccupied with more challenging patients.

“I draw things,” I said.

“What’s so special about that?”

“Things that probably don’t exist, dipshit,” Broken Brad says. Although he claims he can fly, he was admitted with two fractured legs and a cracked collarbone.

“How?” Paul asks.

“When I lick my index finger and trace the outlines of something in front of me, it becomes real.”

“Cool!” Joanne says, rocking in her seat.

Hairy Jerry can see people’s demons, the likely reason he keeps his distance and sits by himself hunched and attentive like a crouched, furry spider, and he must have seen one of ours then because he points at us and screams. Nurses stampede in and wrestle with his ape-like arms until they have him restrained. Then they wheel him from the room, Dr. Douchebag’s needle poised and spurting clear fluid.

Freaky Fiona, the skinny chick with crazy ice-blue eyes, stands from the couch and walks over to me. Others know what her gift is. After cornering her one night in the lavatory with a sock full of cockroaches, they finally got her confession. But everyone is too afraid to speak of it, telling me that I’ll have to ask her myself. I guess the right time has never rung now.

“I want to see how you do it,” Fiona says. She puts forth her palm and opens pale, slim fingers like thirsty roots, cupping a folding knife.

bad-dogs-good-tricks-scifi-sm“Whoa! Where did you get that?”

She smirks at me and flicks it open. “I’m a conjurer.”

One of the nurses looks over at us and lifts a finger to her mouth. Another nurse continues to stack books on the shelf in alphabetical order, still unaware that we choose them solely by cover art.

Fiona turns to me and cuts through the zip tie at my wrists. “Show us what you can do,” she whispers in my ear. “Show us how angry you are at having your hands tied behind your back, all day, every day.”

I’m not afraid to show her what I can do, but I figure time is presenting me an opportunity. “You first,” I say, keeping my hands behind my back so as not to attract unwanted attention. “I want to see exactly what you can do.”

She gives me a look that says, Are you sure? I nod. “All right.”

She closes her eyes, squints them tight until her nose creases at the top like a bunny. Then she inhales as if surfacing for air from a cold lake. Without a breeze or flicker of lights or anything else that might suggest magic is afoot, my father appears out of nowhere wearing his pajamas. It occurs to me then that he is my real father, gifted like me, but with vision —the real kind, unlike Joanne’s.

“Now that’s cool,” I say.

“He never comes to visit you, so I thought he should watch,” she replies.

I know then exactly what I’m going to draw . . . or rather, erase.

“What if they all had no arms?”


About The Author

Erin Cole is a psychology graduate of science and fosters those skills writing horror and strange fiction. Her work can be found in Niteblade Fantasy and Horror Magazine, Dark Moon BooksThe Lorelei SignalBurial Day Books, and more forthcoming in Fantasy Scroll Magazine, and a novella, with Damnation Books. When she’s not writing, she enjoys cooking ‘real’ food, adopts rescue animals, and loves all things geology.  She can be found at

Fast-Paced Author Interview (At High Speeds! Risking Dire Consequences!)

The Squid: If you could change one thing from your childhood, what would it be and why? (Please include the word “porpoises” in your answer.)

Erin Cole: The day my father brought home my brand new porpoises, I thought I was the luckiest kid on the block. No one else had porpoises! But those porpoises weren’t the friendly cetaceans they were supposed to be. They said and did things to me, mean, awful, cruel things. Hindsight, I should have asked for lemurs.

The Squid: Make up a word for “uncomfortably warm” and describe its origins.

Erin Cole: Ferkendita: /f?r·ken·dee·t?/ (adjective) to be uncomfortably warm. Origin from Latin word hot, fervens, and uncomfortable, incommoditas. Was also muttered by settlers of the western world when walking over two­-elephants length of hot coals, also known as firewalking, by the bushman of southern Africa on a triple dog dare.


About The Artist

Our very own D Chang is a game writer and web designer from Austin, Texas. His short fiction has appeared in the Cryptopolis science fiction anthology.

More by Erin Cole

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