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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
Jan062017

Hope in Any Other

© Steve Hebert"Isn't that what matters?"

The rest of what she had to say was drowned out by the falls. 

We gathered our equipment and began the hike back down to the trailhead.

But yes, I thought. It is what matters. 

And also, that was the last time we or anyone else saw her.

Spem in alium. Did you hear? The hidden choir, singing "Be mindful of our lowliness" in a dead language?

*** 

Christmas Day. We found our way back into town and heard George Michael died. No one cried about it until later; one of those slow-burn things. Somewhere along the timescale we lost our freedom and our faith, and we never fully pieced those two together until now.

Here in the bar, we drank to all the people we lost in this terrible, abominable 2016. Someone suggested karaoke, and to our eternal shame most of us cheered encouragement, when we really ought to have left that dire year to its abject misery. To dissolve in its own toxic juices. Not even sang about it.

To me was allotted "Rebel Rebel," and however hard I tried, profusely cognizant some boy might be a girl, some mother was in a whirl, I could never do it justice, whoever tore their goddamn dress, even if I were telling this story from a fictional land. A story board. Some tawdry vision.

The thing is, we still had the mud and water from those canyon trails sluicing from our hiking boots. Our dreams were still unfolding. I recall watching Michael Stipe on some talk show, withdrawn into his guru beard, his pain at the outcome of the world so plain and so wretched I could feel my actual heart shrink within the cavern of my chest and quietly crumple. This isn't what we envisaged in 1991. Or 1999. At what point did the dream end?

If I could say anything, I would say this: stop being afraid. Stop being fearful. And quit blame. Reject potato peelings. Spurn astroturf. Reduce dead fledglings to tiny rubber dinosaurs. Fucking stop it, you weak-kneed, spineless fucks. Taste the dirt. Either we're right, or we die. Don't pretend. Take a stand. 

***

Anger and graciousness. You don't deserve us, and vice versa. Cardboard signs at four-way intersections kitty-cornered by Target and Kmart, Costco and Walmart. Vast static confluences of concrete-and-asphalt rivers occupied by grubby penitents holding Sharpied cardboard pleas, each one more desperate—Need work. Please help. Will work for food. Will work for weed. Will work for sex. Homeless, anything helps. I used to be your neighbor. Please help me I have nothing. God bless—people staying, people moving on, not so permanent markers. Impregnable suburban tanks gliding by. Such rootlessness in a land of generic signs, identical to the next town and the next, long as they're on an interstate. Less so off the beaten path. 

But then the shocking moments of beauty, the dream blue of the sky with fantasy clouds scudding above a smoky mauve-into-cerulean range of distant peaks. A hawk spit-crying and spinning slo-mo in the afternoon thermals. A coyote loping quick-step anxious in scrubland. Mile-long trains blaring like lonesome creatures seeking their lost herd. Made antlike by tawny distance. Rare punctuation in the endless sentence of a narrative yet to be fully told. 

***

"What's that movie? You know the one."

"Uhm, no."

"With that actor, you know? She was in that other show, yeah? One with the trailer in the desert."

"I sure don't have a single idea what you're talking about."

"Aw, fuck, you ain't one bit helpful."

It don't have to be some big drama. We can just get away. Leave while the pulse of a hip-hop beat makes of the walls a drumskin. While the smell of fried food coats the air and clogs our sinuses right after we free the blockhead dogs to piss in the overgrown weeds out back.

I don't know anymore what's good or not. Or I think I know. I just ain't sure. My fingers look like they belong to someone twice my age. Daren't even look at my face no more.

My mama come from Lisbon and my daddy mighta been Moroccan or Malian or something, Mama's story always changed, but I'm an American girl, bathed in American light. That was a joke. The only light I mostly ever knowed was held under a spoon so the drugs would cook. Somewheres between the two half-jokes lies my real tale.

We are what's known as itinerant, living in the places in between the other places, Red Bull our fuel and Mark One vodka our lube, refusing to dream, middle-fingering all a y'all. Dancehall and trap, sometimes even cowpoke. Metro Boomin. Vybz Kartel. Lady Antebellum. The world is made of gauze and crepe, draped over syncopated yelps of nothin' much, dissolved by the sound of a thousand funnel storms harsh-disciplining flat annihilated land.

***

"I ain't interested in where you come from, I'm interested in where y'are now."

"That's good."

"I mean no disrespect, but your story's like a million other stories. I only wanna know if you can help me now, this moment. Don't mean I ain't interested in you."

"Right. I understand. You know how people chase twisters?"

"Yeah, I seen that on YouTube."

"Well, I can get behind anything, you know?"

"I know it."

"Did we hurt someone back there? Back in Sioux Falls?"

"Best not talk about that."

"A'ight. You know it."

We did, though. Things got accidental. I hope someone didn't die. Afraid they mighta. 

***

We'll return to those falls one day. Some requiem playing in our earbuds. Under a grey dystopian sky. We'll carry our hope by the shoulder straps and look for signs of her, not find them, our faces wet in the relentless spray. We'll listen for her echo in the tumult, and we'll hear nothing. Gone as if she hadn't lived. The script of her life part written. A dull place in all our hearts that sometimes still aches on certain calendar dates. Earlier I said, "That was the last time we or anyone else saw her." But how can I be so sure of that? Melodrama's never a complete truth. What did she meet that day that quietly and effectively and manifestly obliterated her? I could keep on dissembling, but fact is, truth is, we won't ever know, and given the times we've turned our stricken faces toward the abyss, why on God's dark and gleaming earth should we?

Friday
Dec302016

Eleven Steps

My friend is generous, but like most others I meet he eventually runs outta patience with me.

"Get off of your high horse and deal with things the way they are, goddammit."

"Not on a high horse, I swear. Not even on a horse."

"Then why do you seem so far away?"

"I don't know. Maybe 'cause I won't quit. A horse did gallop out this way, then slowed and left. But honestly, I swear I never rode it."

"Yeah. Okay, brother. Fine. What the fuck are you so afraid of?"

To that I say nothing, make idle patterns of a blemish on the wall. Feeling trapped but knowing I coulda turned it around on him.

But you wanna actually hear what I think? What I'm afraid of? Here's what I think.

The fear is you enter that world of men, of wounded men, of stained men, irredeemable men, and it seems easier to be alone than it would be to risk becoming part of that drab, desaturated procession, in which every gesture is interpreted via a sponsor or judged through some oppressive twelve-step framework, where all we can smell is sharp and carbolic like infrequently laundered institutional clothing, or grim and sebaceous as two-stroke engine oil, rank and barnlike as stale tobacco but never booze, god forbid. Never booze and never excitement. Or grace. Nothing feminine whatsoever. Always something daubed or smeared. Small. Adobe. Shrunken. Stained and shabby. 

Because we deserve this purgatory having reached prematurely for heaven. 

Less the unforgiven than the unforgivable. 

Innocent of what, indeed.

And yet we're blindsided and (it turns out) astonishingly wrong. Turns out these men are kind. Thoughtful. They bother to consider their actions. Figure out how they got here. Take time to make a few things right along the way and where they can. However shambling and uncharming. 

We stumble across far better people here—in the psych wards, in general population in our prisons, in seedy church basements redolent of the last tobacco partaken outside, where clutches of dreary people admit their flaws and are better for it—than we meet in suburban backyards, in the halls of academe, or in cocktail societal gatherings.

Anywhere else, in fact. We try, we rectify.

These are the folks who've looked into a well and never seen the bottom. Have felt the chill crawl of ragged fingertips on their raised skin. Been called out in class to read the paper they lied about writing because they'd been fending off an uncle (or an aunt) all night. They've been that guy or that gal who sits at the diner's or the bar's end, wanting to be left alone to enjoy their breakfast eggs sunny side up, or nurse their splash of bourbon on the rocks, only to flinch at the brittle shadow erecting itself behind them. The Other. The Enemy. The schoolyard Bully, all grown up, feigning strength through an unerring radar for doubt in others. 

***

Maybe something's happening. I put our friendship before my lust. Proud of that. Your light broke down into shimmers. Like our love had always been some dream, some distant piano melody while rain bejeweled and berated our windowpanes, crowding us, tracing facial lines while you haunted a roadside, a gravel shoulder, above a precipitous drop, below a climb toward someplace greener, better. Raindrops tattooing a dusty trail becoming mud. 

Four words I never wanted to hear, in a voice like silk and shrapnel: "A girl was hurt."

Or maybe a boy.

I show up at your place in the dry hills of an evening, arrive to the chorus of pop bottle windchimes, Dr Pepper taking the bass while Coca Cola trills the melody, and I almost gag on the bright banded gradient of night to our west. Gravitational waves. The drawn-out death cry of faraway stars. Sirens. Lineage. Binaries. Gamma rays. 

Ancestry.

You take my bloodline and twist those veins, spill my unworthy blood, mop up my unfit gaze, trash my blood-soaked shirt. You are a cunt, but I'm far worse. Far more hungry (so much hungrier).

Watch the full moon claim its sky. Her sky. It don't matter. You are a black woman confronting a white man; you have to know how badly you will lose. But your pure courage warrants a better ending, doesn't it? 

Are you right now on Robson Street, strolling between the flickering lightsprays limning the trees? Can you follow the trail of scent? Rooftop seafood restaurants. Tsunamis. Luxury ivories tinkling. Sushi. Complexity. Lush. Lush. The store. Enter, smile at the staff, ask if they still pipe that music they played all those years ago. What was it? Vitalic? Electronic. OK Cowboy? Leave. Greenery spilling like falls. Do they know the best, the greatest words? The most evocative? That beechwood also means, in German, Buchenwald

Ghost me. Abandon me. Stop pretending I matter. This is no haven, no liberating sanctuary. 

Race cannot be ignored. Gender cannot be ignored. Genocide likewise. You want me, you want to feel me, you want to roll my credentials between your tender fingertips? I once shot something minimal and lovely, oblivious to a camera mast that watched my every move. How can we possibly compete with that?

Grunge city. Dark sister. You needle me.

I'm back with you, a raw white man with a clean black woman, a dry black man with a lean white woman, a trans woman with two lost souls, an atheist with a Jew, a skinhead with a queer, a Muslim with a kafir. We can't shirk this. The sounds of an entire city are like a canopy, a vast speaker quivering open over our heads, heedless of a trembling monolith, of dream saviours, of Cascadia, mostly flinching from the prophesied slip. 

Wanna cross the line? Subject yourself to indignity? To likely shame? Be allowed through at the booth so you can fill up with cheap gasoline, grab a bottle or two of two-buck Chuck, a Trump-hued block of American cheese, keep driving because now that you're here you might as well explore. Through wide expansive rural miles, full ditches, cornfield stubs. Sumas. Linden. Mount Baker to the east or link up with Guide Meridian to Bellingham south. See the school bus, the exact same colour and shape as the school buses you know, the red octagonal stop signs, the signs in general except the speed limits, which first look the same yet on reflection seem so low and weird. Who the fuck goes fifteen, twenty, twenty-five? Wouldn't it be better to walk?

You used to be our friends.

She is waiting for you on a motel forecourt off of a state road, her thighs already splayed above the loose grey gravel. A Thunderbird looming overhead. The sun dropping westward disappointingly fast. Her crotch is damp, but she knows not to reach too far. Knows you're not gonna make it. She returns to her room and fingers the remote, reels in a story 'bout a man who shot a toddler during a road rage incident, cries when a witness tries to make sense of it, yells at the news team who don't seem to have grasped its full import.

Then she succumbs, masturbates, her fingers soon warm and puckered with her own arousal. Celebratory. Her orgasm coinciding with a memory, a rearview glimpse of how she opens up a hole, untwists the leaden links in a chainlink fence as a child, and lets a boy through, from the streets her mother calls the Commonplace. A boy who'll end up paying much too great a price for that.

A boy who in his dreams turns everything to eleven.

And it still comes back to this: we deserve this purgatory having reached so early for heaven.

Friday
Dec162016

Inside the Avocado

We live inside an avocado; it's green and damp. Oh. Maybe it's not an avocado; maybe it's a rainforest.

I have this friend. I call her Genevieve. I think she might be some kind of lizard. She is also green and has funny eyes that make me laugh. They move like they're tiny machines, and not always together. She hasn't ever told me one single joke, yet she makes me laugh almost every day.

She catches flies for me and for herself. She lives in my belly pouch and seems happy with the arrangement.

You know, it might be an avocado. My other friend, who looks more like me, and is called Raglan, told me this is a moon but also an avocado. There's a smooth hard core and a mountainous crust that was blasted into black hard-rubber ridges in a long ago war and we can't live on it or we'd get terribly sick and die. We live in an avocado orbiting a nearby planet that is so molten it acts like a small sun and we wade through warm avocado pulp, which is our air.

Or perhaps that was my last dream. The dream before that I woke up in an ocean filled with wondrous sights that swayed and slithered and grasped in what was not water but pure alcohol. All the anemone things and the squid things and the sharklike things were completely shitfaced. Even the orange kelplike things spiralled off-kilter. It was drunken mayhem. It made me laugh, too, but I was happy to wake up so I could escape it, all the same. That kind of thing is not sustainable. 

Genevieve just yawned and her tiny red tongue made me laugh. I love her so much for making me laugh. Laughing is one of the best things to do in this or any other life. Without it, a dimension or two would peel away and snag whatever breeze was passing and be faraway by nightfall. Too far ever to catch.

In one of my dreams, while birds shaped like liquid crystal wheels spun through a violet sky that tasted of berries, someone in a dark forest made from the eyelashes of giants called me Mississippi, called me a chimera, but I don't know what one of those is. Imagine that.

I think Mississippi was a river, though. I like its sound. I wonder if the thing itself sounded just like its name as it flowed along and lapped against its banks. And did the birds call out its name as it flowed on by? "Mississippi!" Did boats journey on its back and were some of them alive? There is so much I don't know.

I do know this, though. Raglan fell in love with Clarice, but Clarice went and died, so Raglan is too sad to laugh yet. I hope he will relearn laughter, because he's a nice person, and he deserves it. I think he feels left out of laughter world and sometimes it makes him say something mean, which I know isn't really him, it's his unhappiness talking.

He told me I was stupid and for a moment I wondered if he was right. Then he burst into tears, and I knew he hadn't meant it. His unhappiness meant it, and for a second his unhappiness convinced my unhappiness and we merged into a whole new being made out of pain, but it was over quickly largely thanks to Raglan's tears. My own tears never had a chance to show themselves.

Clarice didn't die of natural causes. She was killed. Some say the Mistreat Man did it. He is made out of smoke and something else I don't want to think about because it squirms and drips and reeks of death. Smoke I can deal with. But the older boys and girls up on the other ridge say he stole in one night and did something awful to Clarice—they say the word violated and their faces go still as stones and far too serious—and when he realized Clarice might tell, he snuffed out her life like it was a small candle, and then the Mistreat Man went someplace where he hoped he'd be forgotten. But Raglan won't forget him. Not ever, not in this life. Raglan believes the other children. I think he might be planning something.

Which, yeah. I wanted to tell you something scary I saw earlier, but I don't want to think about it anymore, not for a while, so thank you for listening to my tales of living in the avocado, and perhaps I will tell you more if you gain my trust. Or when I feel stronger. Wave back, I'm waving!

Thursday
Dec152016

Red White Bitch

CanLit is short for Canadian literature. Geist is a Vancouver literary magazine. Over the years, it's featured some excellent writing challenges. The idea of this particular contest (the Can't Lit Without It CanLit Short Story Contest) was to grab a randomly generated Canadian premise from the canlitgenerator.com and create a piece of fiction no longer than five hundred words.

Anyway, they received around two hundred entries, and though my story didn't win it did manage to get itself shortlisted, for which I'm proud.

So here was my premise: "A family and their dog struggle with what it means to be Canadian. To each other, they say nothing."

___________________________________________________________

The world is filled with things. Lodgepole bark, cribbage boards, a softening of the eyes.

But the world in this moment is filled with two things: red and white, blood and snow.

Five beings in a cabin trapped by a blizzard don’t tend to open themselves to the lone canine, and I must accept that.

***

“If someone doesn't shut that fucking mutt up, I swear I’ll carry it outside and turn it into a dogsicle.”

“Leonard, that dog isn’t an it. She’s a genuine hero. She once saved an entire SAR team somewhere west of Tumbler Ridge. Long story, but trust me.”

***

Did one of them just speak up for me? I’m impressed. If I end up going rogue, perhaps I’ll spare her, let her be the one to lead us back to the bright lights and the furry microphones. We all love a survivor tale.

***

Grandpa decided it was time. “I ate many a critter I was once partial to.”

No one knew what to say to that. Grandpa claimed to be Métis. Most thought of him as a wily grey fox who’d seen better years.

***

Marie-Louise said, “What say we turn on the TV?”

Snow punctuated the windows in grainy tattoos.

***

“Before we return to Peter Mansbridge, we would like to express our condolences to all Canadians who have erred in some way, to those who left it late in October to buy a snow shovel after they disappeared from the shelves, who belatedly learned about block heaters that first winter after moving to the Prairies, who assumed milk in a bag was a prank, dismissed Bubbles as a retarded kitty-loving Rush stan and nothing more, barely registered Sidney’s goal in Vancouver in 2010, looked blank at the mention of Christine Sinclair or Hayley Wickenheiser, remained unmoved by the quietly revelatory stories of Alice Munro, or unimpressed by Tekahionwake’s gentle retellings of Coast Salish stories, or perplexed by phrases like bunny hug or gonch launch. Please try to be better at this Canadian thing, okay?”

***

For fuck’s sake. To you folks, Drake is a male duck.

I yelled and rapped (yapped) into the night, Leonard be damned. And no one stopped me.

***

“Morning’s coming.”

“I’d never have guessed, given the steady increase in light from the east.”

“You’re a good girl, Lorena. Sarcastic and filled with love for the finest things. Let us smudge.”

“You mean ash on the forehead or burning a sage stick in an abalone shell?”

“Does it matter?”

***

It might. Crossing the border for a gallon of milk and a block of American cheese the size of a shoebox, alongside a tankful of cheap gasoline, you remember those days? Red and white doesn’t only refer to wine.

***

“Me, I don’t ever forget.”

“Yeah. Right. That old Trudeau, though? One mean, contrary sonofabitch.”

***

It’s morning. I need to pee. All I see now is red and I itch. Okay. Let me out of here. Please.

Friday
Dec092016

Sister Dakota

You love someone, so you leave scented candles out (pomegranate, grapefruit), which you might never light.

Flaxen wicks. Burgundy wax. Everything a stageset waiting on your stagecraft.

Enemies? Perhaps. Pop the cork on a malbec, watch your little sister roll her eyes. What is that? No matter. She's beautiful regardless.

Cedar posts and railings redolent of lanolin. Look west tonight at sunset, see the bright handwritten skies choked by gunsmoke and devotion.

Someone spoofed your iTunes, left it channeling. Kicking off the night are Gucci Mane, Destiny's Child, Iggy and the Stooges, Miles Davis, Yeezy, Nina Simone, Sinéad, and Kings of Leon. The good, the raw, the bad, the wired, the ruined, the ugly, the damaged, the misunderstood. Some reassembly required. 

Reminds me. Looking for parts in the auto junkyard, clear-oiled bearings, virgin gravy, constant velocity boots, y'all still slay me. The rains won't likely ever stop, 's crazy. Deep within the dark green wood a cabin, quiet and locked, a woman tied to a chair and recently shot, gouting red on kitchen linoleum while a policeman squints through glass, misses her, moves on. Takes days to die. Has to be cut from her own congealed blood. Happens or not.

Happens. My hands are free right now. Feel them cup your gracile face, lift your caramel eyes to meet my own, see the peaks that haunt my horizons beyond the gentle plains.

I need a passenger like you are craving salvage.

We all here now? Siblings, cousins, uncles, aunts? I'm mostly looking down through black arachnid lashes, so I usually look askance.

I don't even know if I'm a girl or a boy, or even whether that affects our plans. Most likely not; I'm lazy.

We hug the sides of the canyon and walk on, tongues awake to the mineral drip. We battle zero gravity, backlit by black and bathed in frontal sunglow. Before the aurora starts and we emerge from airlocks, exit doorways, tent flaps, orbital suspended slumber.

Myriad gods congratulate us. Replenish our rehearsal with fireflies.

I see you. I know all a y'all. Visitors. Hummingbirds. Vampires. Butterflies.

We come in peace. Receptive. Nothing alien, not even bees. Don't bat your eyes.

My stepmom touched me. I let her. We ossified. Long before we bled we crumbled.

The electric sky dreams color while my bandwidth tunes itself some damn place other, someplace else. We pull over on the shoulder. Watch a coyote slip out on the road and dither, lift its muzzle, catch our mismatched drift, a far-off purple coaldust range proclaiming its own locus beyond our troubled selves.

Dawn still struggles. Bleeds tourist real. Humble. Drums and regalia paint with smoke, smudge a hope, trace an asphalt splash, we stumble.

Pine Ridge. Oka. Standing Rock.

What do I find? This Glastonbury campfire, this huddle. And when? I awake in the backseat, your droll mouth working me, and I stay still. Letting you. Enjoying you. Enjoying you enjoying me. Enjoying me ironically. Consent some dream, some luxury. But I watch the coyote watching us. Dry lightning X-rays distant peaks. Immaculate Coachella. Our kind. We're all so faraway and road blind. Ciao bella, Mariela, we on fleek. You love most of this and so do we. So do all of us, and so iconically.

We're almost perfect till the haters find us, slam into our matchless dry-run moment from behind.