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  • Endless Joke
    Endless Joke
    by David Antrobus

    Here's that writers' manual you were reaching and scrambling for. You know the one: filled with juicy writing tidbits and dripping with pop cultural snark and smartassery. Ew. Not an attractive look. But effective. And by the end, you'll either want to kiss me or kill me. With extreme prejudice. Go on. You know you want to.

  • Dissolute Kinship: A 9/11 Road Trip
    Dissolute Kinship: A 9/11 Road Trip
    by David Antrobus

    Please click on the above thumbnail to buy my short, intense nonfiction book featuring 9/11 and trauma. It's less than the price of a cup of coffee... and contains fewer calories. Although, unlike most caffeine boosts, it might make you cry.

  • Music Speaks
    Music Speaks
    by LB Clark

    My story "Solo" appears in this excellent music charity anthology, Music Speaks. It is an odd hybrid of the darkly comic and the eerily apocalyptic... with a musical theme. Aw, rather than me explain it, just read it. Okay, uh, please?

  • First Time Dead 3 (Volume 3)
    First Time Dead 3 (Volume 3)
    by Sybil Wilen, P. J. Ruce, Jeffrey McDonald, John Page, Susan Burdorf, Christina Gavi, David Alexander, Joanna Parypinski, Jack Flynn, Graeme Edwardson, David Antrobus, Jason Bailey, Xavier Axelson

    My story "Unquiet Slumbers" appears in the zombie anthology First Time Dead, Volume 3. It spills blood, gore and genuine tears of sorrow. Anyway, buy this stellar anthology and judge for yourself.

  • Seasons
    Seasons
    by David Antrobus, Edward Lorn, JD Mader, Jo-Anne Teal

    Four stories, four writers, four seasons. Characters broken by life, although not necessarily beaten. Are the seasons reminders of our growth or a glimpse of our slow decay?

  • Indies Unlimited: 2012 Flash Fiction Anthology
    Indies Unlimited: 2012 Flash Fiction Anthology
    Indies Unlimited

    I have two stories in this delightful compendium of every 2012 winner of their Flash Fiction Challenge—one a nasty little horror short, the other an amusing misadventure of Og the caveman, his first appearance.

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Friday
Aug212015

Lantern Souls of the Lake

You push the paper lanterns out into the lake, and the moon is shamed by their glow.

We do this in memory of someone, I forget who.

"How many men have you loved? Women too."

You are beautiful, born haunted, dropped into a dream of need, warmed by a lakeside sun, seeded on a trail that was gouged from the earth by a demon raping an angel. Rutted and gutted, encumbered and incubated. Or was it the other way round?

First time I saw you, your mouth rimmed with powdered sugar, I had to laugh. Laughing was hardly my default then, is less so now. You wet-fingered the sweet dust and sucked on it, like someone on a cocaine binge, and your Romany eyes danced like cryptic bordello tales stashed beneath the darkest of thoroughfares for later telling. Erotic. Driven. Most likely lost.

No one saw anything. They never did. Everything passed in the margins, whispered only by migrants in drab fields and passed via honking bird flights over waterless barrens into the icetails of comets plunging into the sun or whipped into the outer clouds of a shattered and dying system.

That was when we both stood naked and peeling before a torrid star, cancerous and boundless, tempting the planet to brush our blighted haunches while the ground splintered into cryptic droughtland and the clouds went AWOL for good.

Absence and loss and enticement. Tails and tales.

Remember that plate of eggs, sunnyside up, those sizzling strips of bacon, the dark, steaming coffee, and hot buttered toast? Our server was Naomi. She was pretty, like arroyos and dreamcatchers are pretty. The scorpions held back, laden and shadowed, dark arthritic limbs poised with toxins. The desert turned the blindest of eyes. A kitchen radio played a rebel song about secret fires, and a couple in an adjacent booth argued about Taylor Swift and Kanye, while a busload of Asian tourists stopped on the highway to witness Navajo coyotes yowl an alien dirge, ghost dance a potlatch, curb-stomp all dubious history. 

My god, we were happy and didn't have one single motherfucking clue. 

There were furrows we plowed and beaches we combed—true pacific stories of desolation and faith—all along that bright coastline and inland, through the tall wide conifers, climbing deadfalls, dragging palsied legs across molten prairies liquid with deer, waiting in birdless, threat-drenched silence for tsunamis or tremors, half-hoping our antic virgin ambitions would be derailed by the routine cataclysms of our unruly, blessed planet.

"Hundreds," you say.

And I blink, lost.

"Lovers. You asked how many lovers."

"Right, I think I did." I want to ask more, yet I want to ask less.

"The lanterns look like souls. Waiting to be assigned a place."

"They don't even know they can just go choose a place."

"Yeah. Yes."

Vehicles rush by, not far for the crow, yet way below this grassy crest. In each one a drama plays out, even if it's the slow red cellophane draw on a trucker's cigarette or a wayward nun's nylon-clad foot pecking an R&B beat while the dot-dash lines come and go—morse, remorse, despair, and hope—and tragicomedies begin with the smallest trickle of tiny stones atop a slope.

You watch me carefully, and I try to shrug you off, shrug everything off.

My god. Goddess. Pierce my chest with sharpest bone and lean me back under the merciless heat until I tear.

Billboards about Jesus and corn and abortions pass rapid to our right, like maledictions. Cursed and unnerving and joyless as Judas's empty sunless pockets.

Almost there now. You won't stop watching me. "Give me your damn hand."

Okay. I submit. I submit. Goddamn me to hell and worse, I fucking submit. And as soon as I do, the dripping, segmented limbs of a vast and terrible horror clamber ungainly over the black horizon, and our hopeless, maladroit screams ring out like the most graceless of bitter music. Fallen. Condemned.

Saturday
Aug152015

Third Place at Mash Stories Contest

 

Excellent news. I entered the seventh Mash Stories quarterly flash fiction contest with a post-apocalyptic story called "Wichita," received valuable feedback from them, and was shortlisted along with fifty-four other great stories from hundreds of entries. Today I heard my story had won Third Place, which made me very happy. Thanks to everyone who helped spotlight my dark little tale by voting, rating, and commenting. I truly value the online writing community and have thoroughly enjoyed my experience with the excellent Mash Stories and their supportive staff.

To explain in a little more detail: the competition itself has few rules. They ask that you keep your story to no more than five hundred words and that you incorporate three random keywords in your entry. On this particular occasion, the words were congress, art, and jealousy.

Anyway, here is my story.

 

Wichita

Nothing more lives in the fields of dead corn. Unless ash itself is alive.

A doomsday synod of shivering crows gathers on the wires, funereal linemen eulogizing lines long abandoned by the thrum of life. All pointless, everything ashen with the eradication of hope.

“Well, heck, I never expected to see you here, honey.”

On the cracked and silent blacktop, a compact woman in a smeared and outsized Abercrombie & Fitch hoodie and streaked black leggings adopts a greeting stance, outstretched arms, a twist of smile, a fierce and knowing eye.

She feigns the art of sanity with great finesse, since there is no one here to greet or be greeted by. Unless she wishes some grim new congress with soot, stubble, and starving corvids.

Unless. Unless is the great dead word of the world. There is no unless anymore, only terminus. All words are more sound than meaning, now, cessation the long hushed echo of ceased.

“We should head for the coast, child. See what’s up. Might be more of us.”

In response, a small gust skitters something light and dry over the ruined asphalt, the curtain-call ghosts of nature cooperating with this theater.

“Mmm-hmmm. Sure, child. We got ourselves a deal.”

Another cold blast from the north; she pulls her mangy fur-lined hood over her head and leans into the weather. Up ahead is a three-way intersection; turn right in the direction of the distant ocean, and she won’t have to battle the wind head-on.

“Feels like the right call. … What’s that you say, hon? Yeah, me neither. We got a trek ahead of us, for sure.”

She begins to sing, her voice a drop of shimmering blue in a monochrome vignette. Un petit piaf noir. Singing about Wichita. Singing about the sea.

But haunted theater aside, a living companion would notice the trail of dark blood behind the woman, and feel pity. Knowing she won’t reach sand and salt before insatiable death with its bitter jealousy seizes her as it’s seized all others these last chill months. And ceases her.

Saturday
Aug152015

Hips Don't Ever Lie

She said to me how far would you go and I answered as far as I need to and that's how things began to buckle after everything she said and I said and we both said.

Dreams and the gentle mendacity of hearts, distant police sirens and the furious murmur of crowds.

Back then, landscapes were our thing. Clouds and fields. Painting them and loving them and dealing in them. As bored as I am now, it's hard to summon that enthusiasm again, even to describe how we lived back when, but I know it felt like something. Some thing. Driving. Like a sudden dip in the long afternoon highway, as a big rig drops a gear or three, falling into the cooling abalone shadows of evening, a snug, complacent slit between dry hillsides, diverted by thirst into the rest stop before the bridge and beside the river bank, all quick-hissing air brakes while the last golden scales of the sunset shimmer on the northern Mississippi-Missouri, squirm-scattering like a slick-released fish haul.

Yeah, it's trickery. A blue gimmick. But keep watching. Everything might change, and soon.

"So. How far would you go?"

"As far as I need to."

"How far is that?"

"I don't know. I'm still waiting to find out."

"See those prefab fences out aways?"

"Uh-huh."

"Would you run for those, scale them, make yourself a fugitive defying their limits?"

"Oh, sure."

"Do you hate them?"

"No, I love them. They define my own limits, give me targets. The dull knife edge of suburbia."

"Uh. Okay. Right. Anything else?"

"Yeah. Yes. They are swimming with twilight fire beyond switchblade echoes."

"Seriously, huh?"

"Totally. Love. Need ... I don't even know. I've probably said way too much."

"Yeah, probably."

"It's never easy. None of it. None of it is."

The loneliness of the bush called us. The choking infinite greenery.

Nothing will change the unblinking reality that every bear we met was crawling with life, each predator quivering with the hot awful stink of need, every last belch of love trembling with moist, nacreous grace and urgency, all the lovers and haters arrayed and awaiting their moment to stamp each reality with its own singular conviction.

The planet turns so agonizingly slow, charcoal borders smudging brief blurred moments across a rolling plain, sparking off bright mountains and subdued by the widest waters, this invasion of the Salton Sea, of Puget Sound, of the Wash, of the vast and dazzling Sargasso.

Like a thirty-dollar motel in the Idaho panhandle, a dirty unpolished gem set in deep green folds, its thin brown floors gluey, its thumbnail TV swinging on loose brackets, its fake wood panels tacky, its water pressure weak as spit, its nestled ghostlight both lurid and brimming with refugee sorrow. 

All of this. Over and over. Greeting and decamping. Receiving and rejecting.

While gangsters broil under the annihilating heat of their own machismo. While wronged women shuck their brittle outer shells and drift into daylight, squinting and keening, their wild, exuberant hips buoyant and simmering.

While a grey church mouse on some scored Cornish bluff lifts its tiny trembling snout and samples the bright morning, gifting its sweet-tempered trust to a brand new shining Atlantic day, and helplessly, without agency, almost by accident, a pristine story emerges.

Friday
Aug072015

Hugging Barefoot Shapes

There's a place where even sadness dies. Sadness, that vampiric immortal. Think. What kind of a world would make sorrow so inextinguishable while joy is a fleeting bluebird on a cartoon shoulder? 

We watched the plane as it approached, flying far too low, its angle all wrong, toward the lights of the city. It seemed to be listing, like something shouldering deep waters. Natalie was crying. This hushed, cool April night, we were all recalling a blue-sky September morning long ago. Tyrone was moaning, "No, no, no, no …" into the scattered firefly darkness, while we waited for the detonation.

Who closes their fucking gas station? Running almost empty, I pulled off the interstate on some lonely exit (gas but no food and definitely no lodging) somewhere north of Canyonville, and the only building I could see was dark and deserted. There my engine coughed twice and died. I considered theft, but how do you unlock a gas pump? That one's beyond me. Likely as not I'd blow my baffled soul to kingdom come. By the faintest glow in the sky I knew there had to be some kind of burg to the east, so I grabbed the jerrycan and headed that way on foot, figuring there had to be another gas station, if only for the locals.

Which was when I was set upon. They came from all directions, from pastures and alpine meadows, from slugtrail creeks and glowering forests, broken barns and stagnant ponds, silhouettes suggestive of things with elongated skulls so massive and weighty they hung lower than their broad, pustular chests, impossible gator jaws slack with dripping rows of rotted shark teeth, reeking of things long buried and festering, long-derelict mucus throats rattling wetly. Hungry and misbegotten as outcasts in a pestilence.

I awake to my iTunes playing in a loop, and in between Nikki Minaj and Stars of the Lid, the same groundhog chorus begins each morning while I feel my lifeblood drip from three bullet wounds and cool, and find sluggish channels over this thrift store chair that's become a part of me, getting sticky with it, fusing me to a nightmare place I never thought I'd be, ever dreamed I'd be glued helpless. Hurts like a thousand fire ants too. Burns like a hundred motherfuckers. Oh. Let this pass.

Unmoored, discarded, enfeebled. Forsaken as the house whose dry gerontic bones creak around me, forgotten in the hills, without hope of rescue. Only one visitor expected now, as yet too distant to hear his slow, crafty shuffle.

Oh, and look, we see a free girl. An American girl. Perhaps her name is Natalie too. No, Naomi. Wait, no: Norma. Eagle dreams and square shoulders, cutoff blue jean jacket and a black mini skirt. Concocting secret thrills while unshoeing a gelding's hoof. Tracing the outer edges of R&B urges, caressing moist kelp frills and ketamine truths.

Hugging barefoot shapes.

Hurry now, I'm most assuredly ready.

But that place, the one where desolation goes to die? Where all aches are soothed? It exists. It does. Some of us have seen it. Only, no one is allowed to reveal its location, for fear the rest will down tools, quit living. Quit striving. A bluebird on your shoulder is fine for a short while. Pleasant and cute, no doubt. But a lifetime of its incessant twittering is a whole new holy type of hell. Smiling cheerleaders will drive you to atrocities. Skies without clouds eventually become banal. There's a hell of a fine reason we're not cartoons.

Friday
Jul312015

Turbine Love

Bruised Sky Junction — Michael O'Toole"How did this happen? How did you end up nearly dead on a cold slab, bleeding out hope?"

"You watch her walking away into that mercury heat shimmer, and you start to lose her outline, her hip sway, and you see your heart abandon your chest forever."

The scream of a jet in a cathedral dome. Frozen outposts dreaming of mammalian warmth. The quiet sanctuary of a woman's breasts. The rise and fall of her breath. Boys running on rooftops. A dark ocean gone silent. Desolate acres of shallow graves: the aftermath of massacre. The brief smile of a refugee. Someone waiting for news. What comfort lies in such imaginings?

We enter this room, thrown awry by the greenery alongside the cold, diagrammatic walls, annotated accounts of serial murders, bad dreams curling at their corners, pinpricked, while yellow drafts press their round flesh like thick, dewy petals.

Breathe. Again. You'll need it.

There's a ceiling fan spinning like a galaxy over my head—gut check, head check, jumbo jet—and I await today's first customer in the paltry shade of a giant cactus and a joshua tree while silver orbs dart across the horizon, feigning alienation, dreaming of escape from the sizzling planetary heat, futile, and the surpassingly cool demeanour of a woman throwing shade in a clean white shirt and crow-black pencil skirt and sheer assassin heels who steps poised into the growling lowslung roadster while dry electric arpeggios repeat along street vision fantasies of idealized love, greedy with ancient holes and sucking choirs of lupine need and sound into sandstorm cradles all incensed and drowned by wrath, as those compelled seek skittering arachnid lairs black and glossy as shoes shined by nineteen fifties negro boys, struggling in nests, squirming in holes, while caucasian voices tell one grey slanted side of a tedious and endless tale, clutching authenticity as if entitled, sucking pearl mists of motel ozone from superheated air both blessed and tainted by secret refinery cravings and deep essential sin, grasped by the emerald stem of a sunflower or a late August cornstalk, a harrowing green both yearning and sheathing yellow as it ought to, and we see this and follow it, seeking a trail, while orange detour signs coax us blinking and brokenhearted and sobbing from the interstate through dark unraveling rural tales all hazed with sundown rays and aglow with glimpses of our own possible ruin, take me, feel me, don't lose the spinning thread of our black, shining wreckage, our blighted horror, our love, our hankering, don't you fucking ever.