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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
Apr222016

Green

I came here to investigate your disappearance. Now I can't leave.

There'd been some kind of terrible storm along the eastern seaboard and it had raged its way across the North Atlantic and was about to inflict the dirge-black swan song of its wrath on the Emerald Isle.

Why I chose that moment to head for this one place, I'll never understand. Maybe Greta was right and I do have that death wish she always smelled on me, that vintage eau de cadaver.

My memories are like a desert canyon, undermined by years of slow erosion, revealed only to crumble. Only things I remember between Heathrow and here are a painted gypsy wagon and a halfway likeable mule. A dream of fuchsia hedges and narrow lanes. A couple baggies of weed, a blend, though more sativa than indica. The beginning of the rains felt like nothing. This is Ireland, County Kerry. When does it not rain?

You must have had a reason to run away. That or you'd been stolen. And truth be told, my motives were murky as the Irish Sea in the oily, churning, briny history of that leaden ferry. Goddamn, I always hated loose ends.

Remember Denny, how he smiled all the time and largely for that I could never trust him? Turns out I was wrong and Denny was solid gold. Too late now he's hightailed it back to Kidney Stone, Arkansas, or whichever buttfuck town he started from. Told us he was getting tired. Only he pronounced it more like tarred. I truly miss that smiling sonofabitch. I picture him tarred even now, spitting soft white feathers and grinning like he won the Alabama state lottery. Or was it Arizona?

No matter. We're no nearer the answer, me reminiscing like this.

I arrived, unsullied love stoking my heart's malfunctioning engine. A middle-aged dude with blameless intentions, yet a gawky kid whose pistons still stuttered, in some way I can't quite fathom or describe. I wanted to find you and help you. I know I did.

So, daytime, this place was paradise, almost suspiciously perfect, I swear to God. Hell, no need to even swear: God shoulda known it, since he allegedly fucking made it. A cold clean prattling cobalt stream winding its patient way amid mossy shoulders of land, steep gray crags soaring beyond this emerald valley floor, with its dry stone bridges, its gentle boulders, easy greens and grades, sheep so billowy white you suspect shenanigans. The Gap of Dunloe, it's called. If anyone ever reads this scrawl, look it up. Follow the reedy moans of the phantom pipes. Pretty sure it's near Killarney. 

Which is pretty much the place the storm made landfall. The precise moment I knew in my stammering core I'd find you, the yowling wall of wind and rain hit. One point, a woman in a home built of the very stone that tent-pegged the terrain and warmed by the peat gouged right from the dark loam floor, flung open her door and ushered me in and poured a pint of honey-sweetened Jamesons, bitter dark roast, and thick double cream down my throat. She laughed when I tried to pay her. Slapped me hard when I insisted. Kicked me out for good when I flashed American dollars. Hell, don't judge: I thought the Irish loved green.

So I reentered the shrieking premature night and was instantly drenched and made deaf by the sorrowing howl of untold centuries of horror: the raven on Cúchulainn's shoulder, the passing of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the Easter Rising, Bloody Sunday. I turned to you and said, "I know you're close, my love. This has been more worth it than I could ever have hoped." And you looked like you might answer until you blinked away the torrent that waterfalled your brows and then you blinked away your whole self, to leave me the one blinking, because I was alone.

Which is when I glimpsed the chapel behind the cauls of rain, hunched and low-key in the backdrop of the downpour, a lap dog half-pondering a growl.

Inside were people, not a one over thirty, making muddy coffee on camping stoves. They'd moved some of the pews to make a rough circle, and most sat either on them or within their confines. I saw no priest. I began to write these words, until you noticed me and screamed to rival the storm outside.

"He's the one I told you about!" you shrieked. "The one who did those things."

"But I came such a long way to find you, girl." 

"Don't you come near me!"

And that's when I notice the circle has tightened and I'm looking into the close, placid faces of a dozen or more backpacking folk—bearded and north-faced; flanneled, unmoored, and barely bonded—all gripping sharpened hunting steel now they've placed their enamelware mugs on the scuffed hardwood floor, curiosity eclipsing malice in their blind and somber eyes, yet not a shade less terrifying.

Friday
Apr152016

Of Moths and Monsters

Once she got it in her head, she couldn't shake it. Monsters. Sex was an ambush and drugs were lame; hunting for monsters seemed a better prospect than either. 

Of a night, she'd purloin a semiautomatic pistol from the gun safe in the basement—having a cop for a dad had that perk at least—and go hang out behind the Walmart parking lot, down in the scrubland near the river. Or over by the skateboard park, beside the wharf. Anyplace with deep enough shadows. She lived in a town that floated on dirty rainbow water, its reflection swaying like a deranged mother rocking the corpse of an infant.

When the monsters came—and they always came, as they had done so even in the asylum of her home, the sanctuary of her bedroom—she would make it all right again.

Tonight, an older boy kept eyeing her even as she tried to blend into spindly bushes so laden with late-summer soot they were more brown than green. The dark waters of the wide river sent brief warm breezes ashore that tasted in her mouth and nose like lukewarm decay. The boy was a skater and the spill of hair over his face still couldn't hide his gimlet stare.

"What you doin' down here, home girl?"

She ignored him. Spit on the dirty ground. Wondered if—hoped, even—he might turn out to be a monster.

"This no place for a shawty."

"I ain't a kid."

An urban coyote yipped a sudden sharp thought from the other side of the oily waters. Between them, a dark barge slipped soundlessly by, a silent apparition. River spirits passing between scant gutterings of life.

"Wanna see something'?" the boy said.

Her hand went to her waistband and the boy watched and nodded like he knew. He came closer and she tried to send out a warning but she froze. He was standing below a streetlamp from whose dome emanated an orange mist more sodium haze than any true kind of light. He held his skateboard in front of him like an oblation.

"'Sokay," he said. "Lookit. Move into the light."

She did as he said. Stared at the wooden board. Its surface was filled with shifting graffiti, textured and swirling, in which she saw a land made of slate and purple rhododendrons, watched auroras dance over breaching pods of orca, left her body to cavort with forest dryads in a spore-filled sunlit clearing, flew impossible distances across a black howl to taste the ice mountains of Pluto.

She felt too naked so she came back to herself, though she mostly didn't want to.

"What the fuck…?"

"Told you it was okay."

It had to be a trick, but she couldn't fathom it.

"How?" she asked.

"You see what you see, is all. What you need to see. And it's a'ight, shawty. You oughta get on home now. Lock up that nine, yo."

She felt the need to thank him, but he was gone as if he'd never been there at all, and only moths moved in the weak canted light.

Nothing to do but go home. Funny, but she sensed she could handle this. Somehow the monsters had all up and left and, while relief filled many of her hollows, something about that still disappointed her.

Friday
Apr082016

Shudder of the Possible

Where did they go? Who took the words that were here, at the top of this page? Why would someone do that? They weren't offensive. Weren't bothering a soul. They hadn't even been arranged into sentences yet. Look, I can't afford to pay a reward, but if I get them back I promise to make something glorious out of them. Okay?

***

A small thing half-scampers, half-falls down a steep and rocky slope. It recognizes pursuit but knows nothing of its pursuer, other than the deep hankering that drives it. The lapis sky is relentless in its furnace heat and its implacable blue, like god's vast phlegmatic eye gazing on the terror of one of his most low-born, unconcerned as the hunter gains ground. The small thing squeaks and knows its tiny precious hold on a rudimentary life is at an end; its pulsing seed of a heart nearly breaks with its imminent loss. But then a fissure opens up in the rock, and the creature diverts to meet it and is saved with seconds to spare. The keen arced claws of a demon rake the air where the small thing was, and the great eye blinks, begetting to the land sudden darkness and even the mighty hunter cowers. So much for indifference; this god is hungry as fuck and someone will now pay.

***

I met you at a place where the pumps were rusting. You were stocky and beautiful, like something birthed in a fjord. A blue chambray dress, your bare legs tanned, your wide face earnest and glowing with the sweat of your exertion. You sang like a motherfucker. A tan you'd worked so hard on, yet couldn't disguise the spray of freckles. A gray-blond bob. Your toes gripping, your brows arching, your knuckles creating cantilever spreads over all our raised faces.

Dirty summer girl. Now summer itself is a memory, but I'll never stop loving you.

***

"Play for me."

"I can't."

"You won't."

"No, my hand, remember? I busted something in it."

"You'll bust something in us if you don't play for me."

***

This is Canada. This emptiness. This hawk eye shudder of the possible. I always said it was more than two solitudes. Four, maybe five. At least. And yet there's a here here. How can that be?

***

We let the rowboat drift in the placid lake. The kids race to prepare the fishing poles, which they drop into the calm waters amid great shouts. When we turn our faces to the sky, the warmth of the early sun is like being kissed by the universe. All around us stand great firs and cedars, spruce and hemlock. A wetland sits to the north, its boardwalk steaming in the hot morning.

It's the kids who see them first, pointing and yelling like the small apes we are. By the shore. Great beasts, necks ponderous as cables swaying in front of cordillera torsos, heads the measure and weight of a bus undulating as they move through the vast forest. A dragonfly half a metre long and the colour of sapphire stitches the air and comes to stillness beside our boat. We are silenced by the great aberrations, marvelling but frightened beyond all fear. A sound deep in the forest, enraged and ravenous, removes all warmth from the air. The children are inconsolable. Something terrible is coming.

***

Her therapist leans back and watches the ceiling. She resists following his gaze, sensing some kind of trap. She's grown weary of his games, how he seems to anticipate her every mood. It's sleight of hand, misdirection; he's a stage conjuror. He's a hawk roosting. He knows he's cute; that's the problem. All men who know they're handsome are utter devils; it's impossible for them not to be. The world is their killing field. She wonders not for the first time why she's continued to see him.

He smiles at her.

Fuck you, she thinks, but she keeps her face neutral as Florentine marble. Don't let him see. The Beast. The rage-thing capering in its cage and craving release. He'll twist your hostility into something it's not, dilute or poison it.

"It's okay to be quiet sometimes. There are no expectations here. No agendas." His voice is like the morning's first coffee.

If only you knew, you fuck. I want silence forever, not for the pathetic length of a stupid session you pretend not to grow anxious about as the strategically placed clocks tick toward the hour mark. Fuck you and your hundred and fifty bucks an hour for being an empty bullshit artist.

A vast batlike shape takes to the sky outside the window but she pretends not to notice. If she acknowledges it, all is lost. A rodent in the wall sings a lullaby to its pink babies, promises them the world. Tendrils of ivy sprout from around the window frame, drooling ichor and blood. If these things are real, the world has lost its moorings; if they're not, she has.

She wants to cry, but she's already lost track of why. 

Then she remembers the Glock in her purse, feels its weight on her lap like the cradled dripping heart of an ogre, remembers why she brought it today, remembers her holy, holy quest.

And for the first time she smiles back at him.

***

The words never were returned.

Friday
Apr012016

Double Helix

© The Tree of LifeEveryone acts like nothing just happened but everything just happened.

I remember walking with you on the beach at sunrise, hands coupled, the clear cold air jagged in our throats, the ocean feigning benevolence. Sandpipers strutting the wet sand, stabbing their own reflections.

"Do you think it's weird how no one hardly ever talks about someone till they die unexpectedly?"

"Like?"

"I don't know. Bowie. Robin Williams."

"People talked about them a lot."

"Yeah, but not like they did when they died."

"It's because they were shocked. No one saw it coming."

"I guess. Seems strange to me still."

"Whatever."

Up ahead lay at least twenty bodies. Human bodies. We tried not to glance at them as we passed, but we saw enough to see they'd been mutilated. I wanted to make a joke about the mystery of whales beaching themselves, but I didn't. I'm glad I didn't. I hadn't known then how long we had left, and I'm glad I didn't befoul the already turbid waters of our last few hours together. Avoidance humour has its time and its place, but its time was not then and its place not there.

Who am I speaking these words to? To your memory, of course. To the strands that spiraled the precise patterns of your makeup, to the double helix that was you.

To the coiled tracks of shorebirds and the fading tracers of space junk.

I probably should have been more attentive to your theories. It's true I talked about you plenty before you were taken, but the voice in my head will no longer shut up about you, yammering about each detail like the Echo to my Narcissus, demanding I remember the time you inadvertently tucked the train of your wedding dress in your panties at the reception after returning from the bathroom (how no one even told you until the obligatory video had been captured), urging me to replay the panicked moment you thought we'd been unearthed by Bigfoot while camping in the Rockies (turned out to be a gopher), lamenting the shocked silence of the world in the sterile wake of your passing.

Have you ever imagined a field so huge it might as well be boundless? I think of you in such a place, your thin dress adhered to your curves, tall grasses eddying like liquid around you, your arms extended as if in a heaven designed by Terrence Malick. When such things could occur, before the slaughter, we would set up the TV on the porch and watch The Tree of Life and get hammered on those cocktails you called Fighting Irish, the ones only you knew how to make, while the wide cerulean day cooled into a tremulous cobalt evening, both of us poleaxed with melancholy over Brad Pitt's inkling toward his deficiencies, then stirred and charmed to grateful tears by Jessica Chastain's supple grace.

But now people act as if nothing happened, yet I know damn well plenty happened and that none of it is good and most of it is like finding your way through a dreadful dripping tunnel where dull bells toll and quick dark things skim your lowered head only to run into a sign that reads in strident black letters: This Is The Very End.

Friday
Mar252016

Nightshade

Her momma had died in childbirth. Her daddy loved her and tried to do the best he could for her, which wasn't much in the way of material things but was plenty good enough in her heart. Her name was Bella and she told folks it was short for Belladonna because she liked how it sounded. 

She learned to sew from a patient old townswoman named Millicent, and made her own dresses out of sackcloth. Down by the creek that usually ran dry in the summer months, Bella caught crawdaddies and hummed to herself for days.

Poor as the dry plains of dirt outside her little town, Bella was a happy child, and like the desert itself, didn't even know she was lonely. Sometimes there were only five or six other students in the single-room schoolhouse she attended when she was able, when her daddy didn't need her for chores. Sometimes she played jump rope with two of them, twin girls named Mary and May, but not too often. There was usually something else she had to do at home.

As the years passed, Bella's face beneath the constant layer of sweat-caked dust grew fair, with a fine jawline and eyes that, pale and without guile, held the innocent promise of love. Her body remained a wisp. Had she met a man of principle and gentle bearing their days would have likely approached fairytale bliss.

But she didn't have much time for any of that, until the boy, the son of another farmhand, told her one day he'd learned about a new trick and would like to do cumulonimbus on her and she'd thought he meant that game where you guess the shapes of clouds. He grabbed her arm and took her in the barn and when he squatted in front of her and lifted the hem of her dress she kicked out at him and shoved him so hard he stumbled backward and a large nail for holding a hackamore had pushed into the soft downy part just beneath the back of his skull and the light, even in the dusk of the barn, had visibly dimmed from his eyes.

No one but her daddy listened to her story and they took her to a foster home someplace with raintrees and mountains where her windows had bars and carpenter ants marched stoically to war over her trembling body each night. She tried praying to God almighty but she soon had the sense he either wasn't listening in the first place or had turned his almighty back on her for good.

They were mean to her. Put spiders in her shoes and spit in her food. She tried to hold on to that kernel of liquid gold she'd always felt in her center, but each passing day made it dim like the eyes of the boy she'd killed, only slower.

Then one day she was grown and they let her out.

Her daddy was older'n he should have been—bent and sad-looking as a lightning-struck mesquite—when Bella approached from the west, her scrawny frame in a threadbare dress, barefoot and silhouetted before a furnace sky.

She saw him shed the last teardrop the sandblasted land had left him with. She wouldn't leave him now, not until he left her through whatever dark portal awaited him, on whichever path. There would be no man for her until then and, thinking this, knowing that night had tried to draw its shade over her all her life, even in this fierce bright place, she felt that ember at her heart begin to rekindle, and found herself content with that.