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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
Jun242016

Balance Beam

He enjoyed whispering rumours of doom on long flights. Insinuating himself into the sphere of a fellow passenger's trust, wearing his skin of bland congeniality so well he began to believe it himself, then telling them what he'd overheard from a flight attendant, about how the captain had swallowed a fish bone and, while clutching at his throat, had knocked an instrument setting askew that no one noticed until the first officer finally did so, before immediately realizing that their unwitting detour across half the Pacific meant they no longer had enough fuel for a landing at any airport, and that they'd have to ditch in the ocean, which almost always augured catastrophic loss of life. He would select a young mother to whisper this to, a weary twentysomething whose toddler had finally, mercifully, succumbed to sleep. Or a nervous old lady. Or a half-drunk and angry middle-aged white man, who'd invariably make it about him and his entitled self-pity, provoking a full-blown tantrum that would be infectious throughout the cabin, providing endless entertainment far funnier than the inflight movie.

Although he could never laugh, not on the outside.

When they always landed and people looked at him accusingly, with oddly hurt and—strangest of all—disappointed expressions, he'd shrug and say, "Must have misheard. Could have sworn that's what they said."

Sometimes he would embellish it further, reveling in the unfolding story and its implications: The copilot noticed but pretended not to, and when it was discovered, he declared "Allahu Akbar!" at which the senior flight attendant fainted. A cadre of mice that had been onboard as property of a multinational pharmaceutical company, in the process of being transferred between a research laboratory in San Diego and an experimental facility in Kobe, had escaped their defective crate and chewed through enough wiring that all the hydraulics were lost and the slightest turbulence would soon send them plummeting like a doomed lance into a calm and glassy ocean that might as well be adamantium.

He once told an unaccompanied young passenger, all of thirteen years old, dark of feature and tiny of frame, that he was an undercover air marshal and had discovered a plot by ecoterrorists to make of their fossil-fuel-guzzling flight an example, by remotely shutting down each engine in turn until the United Nations agreed to outlaw all the oil trade on earth, and she had begun to cry silently until her grief and terror had built like late afternoon thunderheads and no one could console her or get any sense from her, and she'd had to be sedated and then hospitalized once they'd landed.

Because they always landed. 

***

She never landed. A decade of perfect run-ups, mounts, and layout full twists on the balance beam, only for the landing to fail. 

Yet she kept loving. Loving it all. Believing in the idea of perfection and the dedication of her coach and her fellow gymnasts. And the cruel man she didn't know, yet dreamed of every night. The man who whispered appalling things to defenceless souls so he could fondle their terror. The man who fed on dread and drank dismay. 

This charming man. She knew one day she'd get it right.

***

A dream. He was lying on a cloud, smoking a Cuban cigar. A coyote and a crow were having a heated conversation about the chemical makeup of Pluto's great heart plain. He laughed and they both turned to him and said, "You'll wish you hadn't done that."

"Whatever," he answered, and drew in a lungful of smoke that was bitter and hot and made him cough.

"You need to stick the landing," a female voice whispered in his ear, but he saw no one. The coyote and the crow were gone. Just a single balance beam, shimmering, impossibly narrow and infinitely patient.

He mounted, teetered and lurched a couple of times, attempted a routine, did okay. But he couldn't dismount. He was too afraid of the landing. He closed his eyes, told himself nothing could go wrong in a dream, that it didn't matter. Just jump and hope. But he stayed frozen, his heart drumming like a hummingbird orgy in his chest, his lungs shrivelled in the rarefied air. Then the cloud disappeared and he was falling at last.

***

When he opened his eyes, he thought at first the cloud was back, the dream was back, but it took a moment to realize the cabin was gauzy with smoke. He inhaled an acrid electric reek. Then he registered the screaming. Saw the flight attendants wet-faced and inconsolable, clutching rosaries, totems, talismans. Felt his entire lower guts shift with the slow stirrings of true terror.

A man nearby, in a voice tremulous with sorrow, said, "My daughter's wedding is next month. I can't miss it…"

He scrambled to the window, saw the fire flapping like oily orange rags from the engine, the impossible cant of the horizon.

And for the first time in the few minutes left of his life he embraced terror and found within his core something small but bright, something that hummed an unheard frequency, while his wretched human moans mingled with those of his fellow passengers and were entirely indistinguishable.

Friday
Jun032016

London Calling

Hindsight is the sweetest bitch. And this one's mine.

Breakfast time. You might force feed me Corn Flakes, could love me in different circumstances, execute me in others. Economy Lodge continental breakfasts. I was one lost wing-draped bird who lived on the shoulder of a ruined man who loved coffee yet forgot how to tell his own story.

Oh, and Kellogg was a complete stain of a man. Let's remember that.

The frogs are etching their improv dream chorus into the grainy columns of the night, and I recall I fell in love with a girl whose eyes were so spread she might have been part goat, part erotic. Even part poet. Like Britney. But I also drove a quiet road in the forest, beside a swamp, and slowed when a deer walked in front of my Jeep. I came to a stop and the deer seemed to graze the blacktop. I tapped my horn lightly and it raised its head and it had no face, was smooth and beige and featureless. So I hit the gas, booked it out of Pennsylvania into Ohio and beyond. Westward.

Followed the fading blood trail of the dying sun for days.

I never reconciled that thing, not ever. Still cry over it in weak moments.

Twenty or thirty years ago I found Karen. She was a northern English girl, Bury or Rochdale, rounded eyes, ass, and accent, button nose, juicy as a citrus, a warm diamond trapped in a land of hosiery. She was a sales rep for a dry cleaning company and she'd appear on my doorstep randomly and we'd eat bad food and drink beaujolais and fuck like lemurs and she'd eventually ask me if I wanted to go up to London. 

If you don't already know, Englan' is a bitch, yo. It was always up to the capital, never down. But yeah, I'd say sure, alright, and gather up the leftovers and jump in her clean bland rental sedan (saloon in UK speak) and we'd go get Vidal haircuts (Sassoon, if we're paying attention) and watch bands and eat things I'd never even dreamed of or contemplated, like chalk and cheese, scalded apples and melted brie, like hot spice and poisonous fish and eels and things you knew you needed to chew so much harder, and one night we found Gemma, who at sixteen I'd decided was my first and only and best love, silky blonde pixie girl, despite our first actual sexual encounter turning out so unspectacular (it was always spectacular to me). And now, all these years later, circa 1985, the three of us went to watch some bands play Dingwall's, dirty blues and rawthroat punk, spitting and scattering sound like ink all over the orange sodium London night. My gratitude for these two women, for their lovely drunk and smart and sexy company, had no limits. To this day, has no limits. So much so I'll draw a curtain over this memory.

Oh, digression. Almost forgot.

Earlier still. Teen years. I hitchhiked from North London north, cried with frustration at the hundreds of cars passing me without a glance, but kept walking, backpack full and heavy as shame. Hiked a good seven miles from St. Pancras north through Finchley and Hampstead to Brent Cross. I tried to ride a bus without money, and moments before the driver ejected me I locked febrile eyes with a Spanish woman twice my age whose heart and loins even I could see were quaking (aching) with love and sex. But I knew I was too young to do her any justice, so I got off at the next stop and kept on walking.

And tonight it's a quiet, cloudless, almost airless evening in early June. Decades and countless lessons later. I can see Mars and Jupiter from my kitchen window, yet the sky is still a shade of chambray blue. And Muhammad fucking Ali just died.

Friday
May272016

One Act Play

What had possessed her to do this she couldn't have said. Alone. Out of shape. And in deep winter. By the time she'd made it up to the cabin—quads, calves, and lower back muscles trembling with fury at her impromptu masochism, heels sanded raw by her ancient hiking shoes, her every breath a vast torment—much of the light had gone from the sky and the cedars were ink-black against a layered gray backdrop of mountain ranges and thick cloud.

There'd been snow at the trailhead, so no surprise to see more of it here, almost two hours' near-vertical hike later, burdening the branches and drifted like cold-bleached dunes against the walls of the cabin. She shivered and dug in her pack for a spare fleece. At least she would likely be alone, no partying hikers to interrupt her monastic night.

No sooner had she formed that thought than a sound reached her, startling in the silence: the crisp snap of twigs, something moving in the trees.

Bear? Cougar, even? It was a hot and a cold thought, both, and her skin a crawling electric skein, she backed toward the cabin.

***

"Just one night's all I'm asking." She kept her face still.

"Okay. Fuck. So we get used to one night, then you sneak out for another 'just one night,' some point after. So what then? It's a slippery fuckin' slope, ain't it? Plus, how do I know you're gonna go where you say you're gonna go, even now? Huh?"

"Because it's true."

"True like what? Like Area 51? Like Sandy Hook? Like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion?"

"Nah, true like truth. Like love."

"Oh, what a pleasant little poet you turned out to be. What a lovely, perfect, dreamy little cunt. Please, tell me more!"

"Hon, you're scaring me."

"I'm scaring you? Bitch, you don't even know what fear is. Get ready, though."

She could never anticipate the exact moments; she was doomed to parsing tendencies, which neither flashed on the immediate nor lit on the specific. His right hand, with its cracked and knobby joints and its futile zirconian angles, hovered like a distant thunderhead until it was suddenly upon her, catching her square in its cyclone drama, plying its special breed of junkyard mean. The inked knuckles, left to right, fist-forward: T-R-U-E G-U-T-S. Though P-U-R-E R-A-G-E would probably have been more truthful.

Either way, she might not have known precisely what it meant, or its specific ETA, but she damn well knew exactly how it felt.

***

She backed up the four wooden steps into the doorway, ready to slam and bolt it against whatever moved out there. The last light draining from the world. All breathing suspended everywhere. The mountain itself seeming vast and hollow, as if its fragile crust might fracture and pitch everything into some unthinkable chasm beneath. As if the earth itself was nothing, a dewdrop, a snowdrop, quivering, an unanswered echo in the interstellar dark. As if catastrophe didn't matter, on a scale she could never quite absorb or countenance.

Gracile as a new doe, a girl emerged from the blackness between the trees.

An anime shock of corvid hair, fuchsia Hello Kitty T-shirt, powder blue shorts, and colorless flip-flops.

An impossible girl.

"What the—?" She went to her and draped her fleece over the youngster's angular shoulders and ushered her into the rude one-room wooden structure that had served so many wanderers before them. "Girl, let's get you inside, you'll catch your death."

***

He didn't look right. His face was off, askew, as if the bones had been shattered in some terrible conflict and he had covered the devastation with synthetic skin.

"You think freedom will make you a better wife?"

She didn't want to answer, since a trap lay in either response.

"Well?"

"No idea." She hated herself for vacillating, but his knuckles had grown in her mind, and were now made of adamantium, and he was named Logan, and she was fucked if he decided on violence.

"You're trying my patience."

"I'm sorry."

"You really fucking will be."

***

After she stopped trembling, she said her name was Christy and that she remembered being chased in a dream by a police car with no driver and had found herself wandering here, near the top of the peak. Her clothing made it clear she couldn't possibly have hiked the steep trail, yet here she was, and the likelihood of her stumbling on the cabin a moment before nightfall was equally absurd. Yet here she was.

"Christy, I have some food and there are sleeping bags and camping foamies, so let's settle here for the night and hope tomorrow isn't bad weather."

"You got any booze?"

"Um, no, maybe. Why?"

"Why'd you think?"

"You're way too young."

"Oh, please, grandma."

"Okay, whatever, but please get warm first, okay?"

"Deal." 

"How old are you, anyway?"

"Sixteen."

She cracked a twenty-six of Silent Sam, took a long pull, and passed it to the girl, who'd huddled inside a sleeping bag that reeked of mold.

"Wasn't excepting company, so I left my tumblers at home."

She found a hatchet and some cedar that she could split into kindling and some newspaper that wasn't too damp, and she began a fire in the tiny woodstove, smiling when she spied a small stack of stove length birch logs. She felt the girl's eyes on her as she worked.

"You don't mind me asking, why ain't you at home, anyway?" Christy said. "It's a cold night and vodka martinis and Game of Thrones and a cozy fireplace gotta be better than this lonesome place, no?"

"Maybe I needed lonesome."

"Yeah, but why?"

"Hey." She squinted at the girl, trying to get the measure of her. "Does it matter?"

"I'm guessing your guy ain't the gentlest."

"What would you know about that?" As soon as she asked, she noticed the girl's shadowy bruises in the yellow lantern light. Near her neck, on her upper arms.

"Since you asked, I lost my momma when I was real young, and my daddy brung me up, and he was fine at first, even though he was sad. Then he met my step-momma and she was mean and he did nothing to stop her, and when I tried to tell him, he started drinking more and ended up matching her for meanness." She coughed out a laugh, but her gaze was downward and distant. "A story so familiar I got it fully memorized."

"They hurt you?"

"Every way you can prolly imagine." She made eye contact and reached for the bottle.

"Well, I'm sorry for you. And for me. We make a fine pair of sorry strays, don't we?"

"We don't have to."

"Don't have to what?"

"Act like strays. Victims. We can stand up."

"Yeah, if this was a story we'd ride back into town on a white charger and confront our tormentors. Except it isn't a story."

"What if we acted like it was?"

She decided she liked this Christy chick, and they ate crackers and cheese and talked long after the vodka was gone, long into the silence of the night and eventually, like the snow outside, she let herself drift against the wall of the cabin and slept the tentative sleep of the cautiously hopeful.

Dreamed of a riderless bone-white charger and righteous hooves crushing tattooed fists.

When the eastern light began to limn the milky layer of mist in the valley below, she awoke with a start to the keen absence of her new friend in the cabin; newly certain of her solitude, she stepped from the spider gloom into the sharp, icy hush of the fledgling day to feel its cold bright power and to see if Christy had done likewise. She took in everything at once, and her breath caught on the edge of a sudden question, one that led to another, each more chilling. Since there had been no fresh snow in the night, why was there only a single set of footprints leading to the cabin door? And why was she afraid to check the pattern of the soles?

Friday
May202016

Midnight in America

An old man: "Sometimes I think the only important things that happen happen between a woman's legs."

A young woman: "That sounds like something you would think."

"Today I saw a ladybug with no spots. Just a flawless shiny bloodred dome moving on a leaf. It looked more like a machine."

"It is a machine. We're all machines. Soft, wet machines."

"But a female machine. Or we wouldn't call it lady."

"I've never used this word to describe anyone before, as it's the type of word you only hear in movies or read in books, but you're incorrigible."

"Listen, chica. When I was a tiny boy, I believed. I prayed to the big god they told us about in church and in school. I asked that god to help me when I felt sad or lost. I fought in a war and took refuge with a whore, and while I knelt and was tender and attentive, I asked that I become a better lover. I was present when my daughter was born and I asked that same god to make me a good father. I'm an old man now and the final darkness is not too far away, yet I gotta say out loud that I've spent most of my life waiting for anything resembling a response."

"That's a lonely thing."

"You got that right."

"So that's why you're here?"

"Kinda. Why do you want to know? I pay you and I get what I want and then we're done."

"Because it's more than that. I know you. You may be an old bastard, and a cranky one at that, but you're not some anonymous client. I watched you cry that time."

"Fuck that. I was a pussy back then."

"No you weren't."

"Anyway, I thought you said we're all machines. None of this matters, if that's the case."

"Nothing sadder than a sad robot."

"…"

"See? Okay, I gotta ask. Are you depressed?"

"That's a simple question with a complicated answer."

"So answer. I got time."

"Ha. You're a tenacious little cunt, aren't you? But okay. I'll give you the simple version, since you're like a pit bull chewing on a femur and I like that the same way I admire Jack Nicholson's character in that movie with the big Indian. Or perhaps the big Indian himself. Hell yeah, I'm depressed. But I'm no more depressed now than I was last week, last year, last decade. You learn to deal. And some days I deal better than others."

"Tell me more."

"What are you, my therapist?"

"Nah, I'm curious."

"Right. Okay, you wake up in the flat grey morning of a gloomy Sunday. Sometimes that feels like the end of things, other times it feels like it's the low point you might climb out of. Or rise, like that firebird. It's always there, a giant fucking shadow. If you let it, it will drop from above, a tear-soaked canopy, and impede your every step. You won't be able to escape your bed, let alone some mythic fire. But you can't. You can't let it win. You gotta keep finding ways to let the light in. Fill the days with good. Could be a handful of blue M&M's one day, a Warner Bros cartoon the next. Things that are light, and free of that awful weight."

"I never heard you say so many words."

"Well, you asked."

"I did do that."

"I like something else about you. Can you guess what?"

"What?"

"I called you a name earlier and you didn't flinch. In fact, you smiled just a tad." 

"Words are words. Each one has more than one meaning."

"You'd have liked my daughter."

"Past tense?"

"See? You say you know me, but you didn't know that, did you?"

"I'm sorry."

"Yeah, me too. It's alright, I ain't mad at you."

"Why would you be mad at me? For not knowing? Because she's dead?"

"Nah, none of that. No reason at all to be mad at you. I'm a cranky old man, remember? I'm mad at most everyone much of the time."

"It's understandable."

"Ha! Hey, that time you seen me crying? That's why. My daughter. That's the real reason I was bawling like a baby, no matter what bullshit reason I gave at the time."

"Better late than never, I guess."

"Huh?"

"Honesty. Being honest. I'm glad you trust me enough to be honest."

"You're a fucking riot, girl."

"A pun?"

"Not intentional, but it works."

"So you still want to do this thing?"

"Uh-huh. Never been more sure of anything."

"It'll change you."

"I don't doubt that. I'd chew on it more if it was noon or even midafternoon, but I'm far closer to midnight, so it don't matter." 

"Okay. I wish I didn't know you, though. Makes this harder."

"Just let's go in the room and bring in the redneck."

"Alright. Did you pick your implement?"

"Gonna go with a claw hammer."

"How's your swing, gramps? It might take a while…"

"No problem. I want him to suffer. I need to experience this. Being bad, I mean. Evil, even. The last eight years, the Trump presidency, pretty much killed my love for people, especially the miserable fucks that helped him get there. This yahoo properly vetted?"

"Oh yeah. Skinhead past. Swastika tats. Stormfront bona fides. Has a long record of assaults against blacks and gays."

"Good. Let's go spill this hate machine's blood."

"You break my heart, old fella, but you paid your money and this is still America."

"Damn right, girl."

Friday
May132016

Goodnight, Crazy Horse

No matter the setting, this is a world in which people cry all the time. You can walk along a fifties street, between barber poles and angle-parked lime-green Buicks, and everyone you meet is bawling. A man passes you and you notice an eye inside his eye, a full blinking eye nestled in his iris, and it too is crying.

You pass a clothing store and watch as women brush each others' hair, unmindful of the handfuls that come unmoored. A hotbed of scalpings. The idea it might be a front for a murder room occurs to you late on. Someone screams in back, a torn sheet of bright, eventful metal.

You keep on walking, as if the bomb had never dropped. Like Hiroshima in its shadow realm still emits light.

The street reflects shards of partial smiles.

Interlude: there was a Daft Punk instrumental early in the gray-dawn millennium playing somewhere, from the album Discovery, I think—I didn't see a jukebox, but maybe I was missing something, as I often lose track the later the day gets, and this was early evening and a sun was setting, not a sun but the sun, which only meant that our planet was positioning itself so that the horizon, from this perspective, was painstakingly rolling upward relative to the massive gas giant over ninety million miles away that we could nonetheless see and feel warmth from, which always stuns me when I remember to dwell on it, which isn't that often given the distractions of life down here, all around us, all the drugs and fucking and melody and screens and words and fights and sadness and rage and oddness. Wait. Where was I at? Oh, the Daft Punk music. It was great, it worked so well with the streaky sky and the sudden onslaught of birds, the tiny iron flocks, the gunning of gleeful engines, the lovely open conduit above the mundane, the relentless chatter and the awful quiet. Beauty doesn't always steal in on especially acceptable feet.

Also, remember this: take the weapons of your enemy and make them your tools.

We're going to walk along the pier, and as we go we'll feel the splinters beneath the soles of our feet while herring gulls cull sounds from the air, sucking in the caws and squeals as the fishermen move slowly alongside the shore, all the while backgrounding the sheer insanity of a body transfixed and transformed and dangling like the ripest of fruits above the great headland over a happy valley, in turn above the massive swoosh of the Victorian bay.

O Snowdonia. My cherished Cascadia.

The great tragedy of life is this: by the time you've lived long enough to figure something pertinent, nobody's interested because you're suddenly irrelevant.

The sun is edging toward down, but still a ways from doing so, and the dogs in the 'hood are surly and loud for minutes on end, and a neighbor fires up his Harley for a second or two, seeming to enjoy the clamor for clamor's sake, and then is gone down the exurban trail, coughing and roaring, while the dogs complain. Soon, one of the gods approaches and asks if we are okay with sundry horrors and scares and we say, "Sure, fine, let's do it"; and the very ends of the trees are swole-green, just the ends, like candlefire lime dripped in gold, and we lie back thinking of low gravity viables, dreaming of something rare; a warm squiggle within a lost icicle.

And I crawl home, gang-raped by grief.

It's the time of the women, the rise of the kohl eyes, the whole ascendancy of the sweet holes, the swing and arrest of the breast, the estrofest of the crest of a third or even a fourth wave, a celebration of something "knock-kneed and all-bright," of desire, bridal murmurs in a secular church, of something inside and shifting, the uterine lurch and lifting of our hopes...

It's now quite possible I don't know what I am.

I begin to run through the alley, or is this a canyon, or maybe a bayou, and at first it hurts, with my lame thighs dragging so slowly behind where my mind has aimed, but as the muscles twitch in their slow taffy environs, nevertheless, I roll into the Iowa detour, beam at the measureless fields of nodding yellow heads, read dubious quotes by Crazy Horse, bow to the buffalo, buy-in to America's dreamlife, gyrate to Kind of Blue, plot intricate vengeance for the Clutters in Kansas, stop off for a gas station hoagie, blurt my own god's honest truth, meet and half-love the devil at the wharf, burn all my Santeria-meets-zydeco Bourbon Street trinkets. The Big Easy. You fuckers are lazy. You did a heck of a job, Brownie. Mission fucking accomplished. Memories of east Texas. Truck stop waitress. Fuck right off, all a y'all. And truly goodnight, alligators.