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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
Feb272015

Frontier

Clearing Over Sideroad 106 - © David SharpeWhat drove us east from our coastal home in the late fall near got us ensnared in the mountains that winter. But we stumbled on the last clear pass with days to spare, vindicated though much depleted. Descending the lee side of that great range, scanning an impossible horizon, we accepted our reprieve with some grace.

"What now?" you said.

"We find some place and hunker down till spring, if there is a spring. We might be in the rain shadow, so the snows could well spare us, but don't bet on no easy ride."

In time we came to a place of flat light and echoless sound—a place so dead it seemed haunted not by ghosts but by its lack of ghosts. Cold, absent, god-abandoned. Remote as a deviant comet and more pitiless.

Clapboard walls, roof of tar, thin aluminum windowframes, yardless and forlorn on a treeless plain, its eggshell walls its own piteous windbreak—stoic before the baying lupine gales of endless prairie nights, and patient for morning.

Which did arrive.

A dilute lemon sun struggled through a vaporous sky, the wolfpack howl dispersed by the voluted mists, the only sound now the iron clang of crows at a forge without shadows.

You smiled for the first time in weeks. I took your hand and held it, marveling at the avian bones.

"We have a little food. Dry stuff. And water," you said.

I tried to smile too, but my face was a mask. 

"And I have you," I managed.

We rested up a fair while, weeks even, and what our bodies regained we paid for with disquieted minds; what replenished our thirsty blood only drained our ruined spirits, helped untether those thoughts best left stowed and tied.

My heart is made of ore; it loves as well as it might but is shot through with something igneous, something ferrous. Only the blast furnace of your own heart will distil the purity of it, forge of our union a thing less friable, less ephemeral. O our savage steelbound hearts.

While the timid sun tried each morning to revive the world, we sensed the tireless chill of the future as it unearthed our trail at last and began slowly to track it. What manner of thing is this? What is its essence? It's the story's ending, doubling back, heedless of narrative arcs, avid and greedy in its zealous moment, wanting to finish, wanting it done, desiring to end this thing now.

Friday
Feb202015

By Nectar Neglected

See him. He is the walker.

The kinked arrow of his wending takes him past the fitful sleep of murky settlements, past the stitched brows of crepuscular forests, his gaunt and stringlike frame a hauntscape for the murmurs of night guilt and uncompromising schemes.

No one has ever seen him in the glare of sunlight, and even during the darkest hours most sense him only as an inkling, like they might a brief visit by a lone black hummingbird in some forgotten back field, by nectar neglected, by nature abandoned.

His kindred, his compañeros, whose fugitive trails he here and there crosses and even more rarely shares, are lonesome castoffs too, exiled coyotes bereft of their pack, silent, unmoored, whether from fear or shame no one knows. Or likely cares.

"I run to death, and death meets me as fast,

And all my pleasures are like yesterday"

says the poet.

"That's why Monday, when it sees me coming

with my convict face, blazes up like gasoline,

and it howls on its way like a wounded wheel,

and leaves tracks full of warm blood leading toward the

night"

says another.

Yet there is more. Under clear Iowan skies he's a mere whisper, a momentary flash when a sunflower blinks. Beside dire mangrove swamps his brows tangle amid roots. Along lovers' lanes he watches expressionless from shadows, awaiting the secret puzzle word. In lost caverns where the world's heartbeat can be heard (after which you will hear no other sound), he licks the slime from shuddering walls. He climbs towers of ancient skinbound books in forgotten libraries and recites random fragments, calling Twain a charlatan and Steinbeck a liar. He interprets the raw dreams of bats so marauders might understand.

He enters your quiet towns and your silent villages, his jointed shadow angling over facades, his cantilevered insectivore jaw pensile, and wherever cracks and crevices present themselves, he slips inside, breathless as ice in your hallways and corridors, caressing the handles of silent bedrooms…

…where upon entering he places the spatulate tips of his long arthritic fingers on the velvety lips of sleeping children to hush their unspeakable dreams, though he be their source.

Friday
Feb132015

American Deadbeat

Why he still drove this 1970 Dodge Charger he could never figure. Wasn't he a little old for muscle cars? Especially now. Now he had a kid an' all. Maybe 'cause he'd never much cottoned to kids, though he felt as scared and lost as one right now. 

It's like the world had conspired to trap him: Podunk town, the only main industry collapsing the moment he left high school, football injury eighty-sixing his scholarship dream, prom queen high school sweetheart turning into a queen bitch, escalating fights fed by liquor or worse, initially indulgent visits from the sheriff (sorta friend of his sorta family) turning more sobering, dead-end jobs, couple petty crime arrests (drugs, bar fights he never hardly won), and dead-eyed assurances he would walk a straighter line, sir, ma'am, officer, Your Honor. And now, after a decade of this, he was a dad. Which scared him more than all the rest combined. 

Hell, he was a walking, talking cliché. 

But if Buttfuck Central was so bound and determined to trap him in its stifling grip, he knew a trick or two that spelled out a big defiant g-o f-u-c-k y-o-u-r-s-e-l-f to all he'd ever known. Far as he was concerned, both were better options than the status quo. But which one, was the question.

Earlier, as the sun had flattened itself against the western horizon and bled out its gaudy fluids like bloody yolk behind the smoke-blue haze of the Crazy Hills, he'd gone and stood on the field by his old high school and looked up at the first stars in the deep blue penumbral sky and tried to imagine (or recall) the crowds cheering him on, but try as he might he simply couldn't. After a while he dropped his foolish arms and skulked away in the gathering darkness, grateful for its camouflage.

Now it was full dark and he sat behind his wheel by the roadside—fast food, gas bar, and beer ad neons lighting his face in sequence (red, white, blue), the deep engine murmur the only damn lullaby he could ever recall—and he couldn't tell if it was rage or sorrow he felt, just wished it was neither, and that it might soon resolve itself into numbness, godwilling.

Seconds ticked by.

He gunned the 440 Six Pack, and headed for Main Street, lulled by the low, languid growl of the engine. His earlier idea had taken on form, become a plan even. Here it was. He'd turn right on Main and he'd watch for the traffic lights at the first intersection, at Commerce, and if they were green he'd drive on out of this shithole, follow the sun's bloodtrail west… but, if they were on red he'd break into Jimmy's auto shop (he'd done it before), fix a hose to his tailpipe, close the door for the last time, and await his own version of the American dream.

Either way he'd beat his goddamn fate.

He turned right. Sighed like a slashed tire, then barked a laugh without a shred of humor. The light was on yellow.

Friday
Feb062015

Je Reviens

There was a moment as they climbed the logging road when Max thought they were in trouble. They had rounded another corner when Jasper hunkered in confrontation and bristled and growled with excess zeal. Max stopped and squinted, his heart jackhammering past normal exertion, eyes fixed on the twisted, gnarled stump beside the road up ahead. For that was all it was. Not a black bear. Especially not a murdered hiker. Just a storm-blasted old stump.

His released breath was all the border collie needed to also relax, and the two companions continued their hike over the loose, broken shale logging road that switchbacked all the way to the mountain's summit. Although it felt like midsummer heat still, it was in fact late morning on the day after Labour Day, and as a consequence he'd barely seen another person since they'd parked the Jeep a couple hours earlier, down in the rainforest shade. His boots and his dog's paws kicked up the sweet, dusty berry scent of a late Canadian summer. 

Max was hot. His water bottle was below halfway, already tasting like lukewarm sweat, and he knew Jasper was possibly more thirsty than he was. He decided to keep going to the next large twist in the road, a good distance up ahead but clearly in the cooling shade of a stand of cedars, after which he'd make a call about continuing.

They trudged on, the gradient climbing, everything blasted and bare. Jasper, his blacks and whites blurring into greys, slunk wary and busy. Max too stayed on high alert, watching all things. Bone dry coyote shit like scorched braids. Faded du Maurier filters. A gleaming black corvid feather beside a rusted can of Molson Canadian. Spent and flattened shotgun casings. All light-peppered with the dust of a parched season. A tiny infant forest sprouting from the descending incline to their right, baby spruce and fir like hopeful stubble on an ailing face. Beyond, the hazy valley entire, with its veiny, shimmering roads, swayback barns and bright pastures, its silt-gagged sloughs and cedar-shingle roofs, tree farms and dikes, and all the women, horses, crows, coyotes, men, bears, cats, otters, children, chickens, dogs, rats, cougars, goats, geese, raccoons, and cattle that made of this flood-prone land at least a temporary home.

Reaching the shade and breathing heavily, Max knew he'd already made the decision. There'd be no great vistas today, no panoramic views of the faraway delta and distant Pacific and its scattered and sparkling island jewels. Sad, but there would be other days; the summit could wait. No, he'd underestimated the sheer fatigue factor of this early September scorcher, and needed to head back the way he'd come, find shade and water.

Laughing out loud, he yelled, "Not today, Jasper, old friend!" then was immediately chagrined by his note of hysteria in so muted and lonesome a place. Jasper sat quietly panting, accepting of all outcomes.

Out of nowhere, Max recalled the stupid fight he'd had with Becky earlier, and how, if he got into trouble here, she'd likely be as indisposed to help him as she'd ever been. He hadn't even told her his destination. Dumb. Despite the heat, his skin rippled with the chill waves of portent. The gist of their blowup was already trivial: something about a landlord, a truck, a cord of beech wood, and a conversation they both agreed needed to happen.

Labour Day. He thought about that. Only yesterday, his peers and neighbours had been up here, dirt biking and shooting, swimming and four wheeling, making a holy hellacious racket and leaving their thoughtless scraps and heedless scars across a big and tolerant land. Never seemed right to him that on account of our bigger brains we had carte blanche to make the deepest gouge. But yeah. Labour Day. He heard a story not long after he arrived in Milltown Falls about another Labour Day long ago, back in maybe the seventies or some other sepia-washed time. A town gives up its secrets in small parcels, usually, so this particular one Max had garnered from various local folk, yet mostly distilled by a gaunt, cadaverous man named Swampman Jacques in the Fisherman's Catch pub one night, down by the big river.

Like so many tragedies, it had begun as a joke. Everyone was gathered on the southern shore of Devil's Lake, and partying had commenced in earnest. One or two groups sparked up joints, a couple forty-pounders were cracked open and, at some point late on a clear galactic night, someone decided that releasing the parking brake in a camper would be a laugh riot. Short version: it wasn't. Two passed-out teenagers slipped into the lake that night, right around midnight, and never came home. Witnesses claimed to have heard the underwater screams and even what might have been clawing sounds as the van dropped into the depths. Yet even the cops knew it hadn't been done out of malice, and while the victims' families could never fully quiet their outraged grief, most of the town circled the wagons and left it alone in terms of blame, chalking it off to dumb adolescent idiocy.

Although the victims themselves were less sanguine. Legends were built on swimmers who felt the pull of the restless dead beneath a surface suddenly flyblown, about hikers who glimmered then darkened from existence, fell off the world's radar, soon after passing the turnoff for the lake.

Have you ever taken a dip in Devil's Lake? If so, can you recall how warm it felt when you stepped along its shoreline shallows, your feet growing sore on flinty grey quartzite, your torso soft and frail as you waded into its hotspring heat? Was your dog there too? Did you register the infernal drone of the deer fly before you ducked your head and breaststroked toward the centre of this shadowed lake? Mostly to escape the damnable fly? Held your breath only to meet the same winged demon, who'd waited, who hadn't for a second been fooled. While your dog plunged in, his earnest smiling head bobbing toward you, to save you, since that was his only ever job, to make you safe as a lamb. There's a point where your lower torso feels like it belongs to another creature, where the warm surface smile turns instantly to cold rage, somewhere near your heart, and your dangling parts sense their imminent uncoupling.

Local legends be damned. Max was feverish with the day's heat and his own exertion, his skin streaked with riverscapes of silt drawn from dust and sweat, and as his hot, dry boots had crunched their way down the logging road, the legendary chill of the lake had become a siren for him. When he reached it near midday, it was deserted. And silent. A diving raft lay still at its centre. As he waded in, he felt a note of disquiet when Jasper balked and whined, but it was brief, and soon the collie had overcome his rare hesitance and joined his companion, both making for the raft in the middle of the lake. Forested, almost sheer slopes rose on all sides; abysmal, umbral, in defiance of a bright hot day, only the shallowest of membranes managed to absorb the smallest daubs of warmth. The cold below that surface was anesthetic, immobilizing. Max kicked out and Jasper still whined occasionally, his limbs pistoning overtime to keep up.

A moment before they reached the platform, Max felt something brush his leg. A fish? He instinctively recoiled but felt the same whispery touch on his other leg. He stopped swimming, trod water, and looked down. What he saw almost stopped his heart: a white grasping limb and, attached to it, further down in the depths, a silent screaming face. The limb's icy fingers grasped his ankle. Insanely, in the temporal dilation of trauma, Max could clearly see a watch on the wrist of that terrible pale limb, one of those old watches that used to play "The Yellow Rose of Texas" every hour on the hour, and God save him, but he thought he could hear that song now, so weak and watery, with the watch face showing 12:00, and the cold iron grip of the bleached and slime-covered hand was pulling him down into the endless dark and now Jasper was snarling and launching his sleek body below the surface and frenziedly biting the thing that assailed his master, and Max tried to help, he did, but the cold had him now, and he wondered why he could no longer see the light of the surface, and whether he had fallen asleep by the shore, and this was all a… 

***

It was the appalling howling dog that had alerted them. Even before they rounded the corner, hidden by stands of dark silent fir and red alder, their hackles rose at the sound, both strangely aware that whatever awaited them here would likely dwell forever in nightmares yet to come. Reaching the lake shore almost reluctantly, their every instinct urging them to go home, leave now and phone this in, they stopped and stared.

A naked man lay on the rocky shore, clearly dead. Bloated and bluish, his corpse was a latticework of lacerations. Bizarrely, he was encircled by a tree limb—what appeared to be a twisted branch of white birch—and even more perplexingly, someone had placed an old-style watch around one end of it. But worse still was the dog and the sounds it made—like all the loss of the world distilled into a late summer lakeshore snapshot; the sound of eternal sorrowing. Between howls, it would lower its head, and they saw that its muzzle still dripped with fresh blood. The boys backed away, watching that baying creature as they did so, and long after the emergency people had come and gone, had asked their serious questions and swabbed and scrubbed away the scene in a way memory never could, the two boys agreed on one thing in particular—that up until that grim and awful day they'd neither seen nor heard of such a thing as a pure white border collie.

Friday
Jan162015

Conviction

What did they say about the girl who died? That she was pretty? Delicate of face yet hardy of soul? That she sometimes lisped when excitement took her. That she was bright as a star cluster? That now and again she laughed riotously like a mule? No, they said she was a "beloved treasure." How could they mourn the death of something in which they themselves saw no life? Death itself has no meaning for a "treasure." You might as well speak of a broken clock. They are imbeciles.

She was alive and imbued with that fierce need only the best of us have, a need to experience it all. More so than me, her palest of shadows. Before I took all that away, robbed her of life and, worse, the world of her, she lit that world wherever she stepped, no matter how drear its corners, how dismal its recesses.

Before we heard about the storm heading our way, suspicions were starting to cloud my horizons. Something not quite right. Or worse, wrong right through. I could detail those things if I wanted to exonerate myself, but I sure don't want to do that at this juncture, maybe not ever.

Our place sat on a flood plain in a small north-south valley surrounded on three sides by thickly conifered mountains. At the south end, a vast east-west alluvial valley lay perpendicular to it. When at last the storm arrived, I was out by the woodshed, splitting birch stovelengths with an axe. A great gale was building, and since it was moving eastward, riding the pineapple express from some squally, cyclonic Pacific locus, our valley was safeguarded, sequestered.

Yet that gale had a voice. It made me drop tools and climb up to the deck so I could look to the main valley, and see if what was making that hellacious sound was something towering, wretched, and living. All I could see was a deep traumatic and carnal red roiling below the dark brow of the world, black and dire banners of cloud torn along in the wake of an apocalypse. And it howled. Like there were two levels to it—a prolonged shriek of something in mortal terror above that unabating roar of rage. The hair on my forearms stood spiky as the silhouetted firs on the ridge to my left. It felt ceaseless yet also final, the last sound we might ever hear in this or any other world, harrowing its way through eternity.

I went inside. She was doing something quiet in an alcove off of the kitchen, some kind of needlework, and I stood over her.

"You hear that infernal sound?"

She squinted at me, a puzzled look on that precious face, said nothing.

"You telling me you don't hear that?" I was exasperated. How could she ignore that doomsday shriek?

"Hear what, hon?"

I started to answer, but an awful realization hit me: she couldn't hear it because this was already the sound inside her pretty head; she heard this on constant, terrible, heavy rotation. I turned on my heel and went outside again, that great clamour crawling around my neck and shoulders like a shawl made of serpents, and, with ample time to think, retrieved my axe, returned to the house, and buried that pitted blade in her skull. She died with disbelief on her face. 

Here's the thing, though. Maybe I expected her head to discharge some vile green fluids, or spark and fizz like some midway sideshow, but all I saw was something runny like warm egg white, plenty of red, and a slow greyish-pink ooze. No other secrets. No wiring. No implants.

The 911 dispatcher could barely hear me over the raging fusillade.

Here's another thing, and it's damn near a kneeslapper: I now have vast and lonely stretches of time in which to contemplate my own impulsive certainty on a day I believed the world—with all its recessed corners, its mountainous tempests and everything I feared, seethed at, and treasured—was about to end.