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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
Dec022016

Reprisals

I began as someone else and now I'm here at this place.

Christ, you'd think with time I might learn a few things. Most of those we've loved are gone. I walk beneath the great curving highways, marveling at this nowhere world, this umbral city, where forgotten people languish on palettes and gaunt and puckish coyotes prowl. What are we to each other? Why does caring entail such paucity? Do my memories of strolling with you, hands clasped palmward, through streets of antique brickwork and abundant baskets of green, mean anything now?

I want to return to all the sacred places. You know the ones. You know I know you know them.

"When you loved me, did you love me for me or for you?"

My first thought is "Both," but I end up choosing silence.

Although I have a question too. Did you stop and get out, that time you hit something out in the hills? In a chinook, in the Santa Ana winds, wherever? Did you stand helpless as you watched it, this possum, this raccoon, this nameless broken thing, watched it spin slowly clockwise on the asphalt, pinwheeled and bewildered by its own inexplicable ruin? Did you dare kill it?

For that is love. Killing is sometimes love.

Also love is the long road coming to a point someplace far. Pale lavender smudges of sagebrush on either side, mesas and buttes, distant mountain ranges, a sky that feels like the time you fell as a child into a bright cerulean pool and lost all sense of up or down. Panicked, resplendent, surrendered.

Trace the flow of clouds over an afternoon. How did we not know all our changes would come via such quiet events? That our careful attention would matter this much? They say Van Gogh saw the secret patterns of clouds and starfields only when he was suffering, that psychosis is one of just a few ways to see it all. What an atrocious, outrageous price.

One I can't afford yet might still pay.

Wet sand between your toes, the exhaled tide. Starfish clutching rocks. The hectoring cries of seabirds. Sweat beading on your glistening, unsolved haunches.

Grieve with me now, girl. Won't any one of us escape.

There's a moment that feels eternal. It begins with something in the ground trying to squirm free. First, my shelves topple in great cascades of media, and my TV screen breaks. Fine, I clung to those things too long. But it continues. Windows shatter, plaster and drywall rain in squalls, and I leave my building and stand in the street and watch great flocks of birds gather, herons and pelicans and ravens, and the trees are swaying, palms and conifers, and all the neighborhood dogs are chorusing their terror and dismay. Power lines snap and whip like vipers. Glass crashes like tuneless bells. I hear sirens. I hear the sound of many things fracturing, coming loose, pissing on us. Reprisals. Redress. I'm forced to confront my neighbors, their half-undressed wide-eyed monstrous neediness. I choose kindness. I ask each person if they're okay, take their trembling hands in mine. I don't listen to their replies; there is nothing I can do for them in this world. I love them and I hate them. This feeling alone becomes the eternal one. I hate whatever made us love.

I hate whatever makes us love.

Friday
Nov252016

Matinee

Geneva's a small woman in a small town at the quiet end of a quiet life.

Union Street is straight and plenty wider than it needs to be, and the bakeries and thrift stores and credit unions and jewelers and coffee shops are comforting, like old photos in sepia. It's only partway through November, but the seasonal lights are already up. She doesn't mind. She finds it safe, like when she used to lie beneath the towering fragrant spruce as a little girl, her eyes filled with color and love.

This is her routine on a weekend. Since her Stanley up and died a decade ago now, she's discovered a love of film, so she attends at least one matinee a week, usually on a Saturday, which leaves Sunday open for when she gets the comparatively less frequent urge for Jesus. Fact is, Jesus ain't really cutting it all that much of late.

Ron McDonald manages the movie theater. Everyone forgets how plumb comical his name is now; given time, people get used to most everything. It's called The Empire, and though it mostly shows current films, Ron tries to host a classic or two during weekend matinees.

Geneva feels still as the eye of a thwarted storm, like the storefronts and sidewalk are moving past her and all she has to do is wait until Union and Wabash arrive and she can step off and walk right into the movie house to find her weekly measure of drama.

She knows she's old and unremarkable. She knows her place is set and her role defined. Unseen. If Stanley were still alive, perhaps they might drive to Echo Park, even take a real picnic like old times, red-and-white checkered cloth and everything, while the young folks stared, bemused. He would call her Eva and she would smile. But Stanley is gone, and her life as a wife, and as a waitress, then as a department store salesclerk, and then, briefly, as a student of art history in college before she realized she'd bitten off more—financially at least—than she could chew, is gone.

At the big department store she worked in when they moved to St. Louis for a year, she won Employee of the Month three months in a row. She would've won it four times if the other employees hadn't started to get antsy. Her boss told her he was sorry about that, but sometimes excellence goes plain unrewarded in this world, when the other crabs want to pull you back into the bucket. That's exactly how he said it, too. She still hung those awards on her wall, in the tiny apartment she shares with the odd roach, a colony of bedbugs (she suspects), and plenty of angry Spanish epithets from her florid neighbor.

This is her life. She wonders what would happen if she stripped naked as a jaybird and danced the can-can the length of Union Street. Would anyone even notice? Or care? People in movies do crazy stuff like that and everyone loves them. She sighs, buys her ticket, and finds a seat about ten rows up from the screen and central.

There are more colored folks here than usual (she knows she needs to say African American but her tongue can be obstinate when it comes to current ways), a couple families with kids even, and Geneva realizes why: this Saturday, they're showing To Kill A Mockingbird. Sure, a story still told by white folks, but one that at least looks at prejudice without blinking. She knows because she read the novel a few years back, and she loved Scout's raw, wide-eyed voice and Atticus's quiet nobility.

And whoever picked Gregory Peck must have had the same dreams as her.

While she's watching the show, she drifts and has a memory of when Stanley first hit her. The pure shock of it is like an ice bath. She remembers wanting to disappear, to be like mist, because mist can't be broken. She misses him but she doesn't miss his knobby fists, his sandpapery palms, and his random meanness. 

"Are you okay, ma'am?"

Geneva blinks and recognizes Susan, who takes her money most weeks in exchange for a ticket.

"I'm fine. I think I fell asleep and was dreaming. Thank you. And my name is Geneva."

And that's when a dark figure enters through the exit door by the screen and the horror show begins.

Geneva is sprayed by something warm and wet, which turns out to be Susan's blood. The sound of an automatic weapon is like God's rage: all-consuming and limitless. It's everywhere in her head, everywhere in the theater, everywhere in the world. She can sense people clambering over seats in the dark all around her, hear them screaming. To her shame, she is frozen; just as before, she has no fight or no flight in her. She closes her eyes and awaits the inevitable end. Which arrives with sudden silence as shocking in its way as the gunfire had been. But not perfect silence; she hears a man drowning in his own blood, a desolate gurgle, and a child crying. Then another burst and even those sounds are no more.

The man stalks the rows of seats for survivors; she watches him as he gets closer. His face is hidden by a ski mask, but she sees his eyes, wide and cold as sinkholes in ice. He is saying something quietly to himself. It sounds like "Heil Trump," but that seems nonsensical to her. He lingers over the black families, then nods as if some grim ledger has been balanced. Then he heads her way… and keeps on walking, toward another exit door in what was once a theater and is now an abattoir.

Geneva sits for a while, feeling the blood of others move in rivulets down her body. She can hear sirens and sounds of alarm outside. She eventually gets to her feet, shaky and sick deep down in her bones, and walks outside, into an evening smeared with fuchsia and ultramarine and filled with the sounds of human distress.

Not even the cops see her, so she goes home.

Saturday
Nov192016

Mediterranean Avenue

© Mike Osborne

Here in America, I'm shivering under the red light on Mediterranean Avenue. I'm waiting for my friend, and she's late. A constant rain fell this evening, which has only recently eased, and the road is slick, reflecting neon.

The deepening blue of a darkening sky and the off-kilter red lights smear on the asphalt in gentle tones of muted fuchsia and chambray, daubed with sporadic yellow and white. Yellow hydrant and the X-ray backdrops of winter trees. I might believe it a painting if it weren't for the water dripping from my umbrella down the back of my neck.

It's a place that absorbs all sound. A place where quiet storms rage.

"FML" by Kanye West is playing somewhere in the world or inside my head.

Somewhere looking to flood. Somewhere looking to scare you, with its ghosts of vehicles, its human absence.

I'm animal. I self-haunt. I sing to you, I'm hoarse, I don't understand my loss, I see a miniature horse on a fence line, happy, beside a solar panel.

Something big came through but we never even saw it.

Friday
Nov182016

Red

"She is up there," they tell us. "Up in them hills." 

They file on past, eyes averted, some making religious gestures, clasping tokens, intoning auguries, chanting maledictions, the superstitious fools. 

A red-tailed hawk catches a thermal and whistles a falling oath, while rising. Pretends to give a shit.

We set to climbing the red hills, breathing the sun's furnace and its diffuse issue from the world's parched surface, the sounds of the ferrous rocks we dislodge like a pool hall absent the cool and the echo. Same essential hush, though this one's hot, flat, and indifferent.

Guess we're all behind the eight ball now.

 

What do we expect to find? The polished bone of a cue ball? A shiny solid red?

I question my own damn self halfway to hell and back on that trek up the steep incline, with its loose rusted shrapnel like someone blew up some great adobe hut, with its tufts of vegetation too hardscrabble to ever be thought of as food by any living critter worth its salt. Like ancient green leather stuffed between the shattered brick-rubble lots of war-torn Europe.

What do I expect to find?

Likely nothing comforting. All I know is she's bad news on legs, and I'm weary, and not much good will come of any of this. And that's the optimist part of me.

Some bar in Tuscaloosa or maybe even Memphis, a drunk plain ran out of patience with my jaundiced talk, squinted at me and asked, "What's the difference 'tween ignorance and apathy?" I shrugged, and he answered his own self. "Don't know and I don't care." Only damn words he didn't slur all night. Truth is, I wanted to laugh, but I felt more like crying. So I did the next best thing and ordered another shot of bourbon. Better that than ripping out his throat.

I'm tired, tired like the damned. Been walking trails and riding rails and stealing horses a half century or more. By horses I mean four legs or four wheels, it don't really matter; hot-wire or hackamore, it's all the same. Part of me hopes I won't ever come back down from these hills.

But we're pilgrims of sorts, and this is what pilgrims do; we keep on moving even in a headwind of doubt, push onward so's we can find some succor in an artifact, grab ahold of a ragged sleeve or a loose page caught in a dry storm, hungry for its message, and if it ain't got no message we'll write our own, because there's plenty that's worse than death and one of them is the fear that all this has no meaning, which the red-tailed hawk knows, and the coyote knows, and the raven knows, and the red hills know, and I only partly suspect, despite all the scribbling I ever done in a score of ledgers I since burned for warmth.

I'm the first that gets here. She stands, inside a horseshoe of striated rock like the rough hull of a dugout, naked as the first day of man, or woman, her bright auburn hair like the radiated halo of a Celtic saint, like hair can shriek, like the lunatic prophets were right, her body in an X pose, impaled and glorious on a stake, skeins of watery blood spilling from the many wounds in her torn scalp, a crimson Tigris and Euphrates over her shoulders and breasts, down over her clenched midriff, merging like a bloodtide with the dry, sandy delta of her sex, congealing there in slow, pendulous drips. 

A twisted umbilicus hangs from that arcane gap and I shut down all thought, pledge not to wonder what such an organ might have been appended to, and where such a thing might now draw breath.

Before the others arrive, she looks at me and whispers, "They took it all, my love. They took everything." 

Friday
Nov112016

Shore

In a growing fog, I traveled 

in a rowboat to an unknown shore. Unsure 

I'd even reach any shore.

 

When my arms grew weary, I 

lay back and let the boat 

drift, directionless,

a mote on a vast

unblinking cataract.

 

Sky perhaps a mere

grey shade lighter

than this great water.

 

At times so enraged I'd row

so hard my heart

felt the bloodlust of a stoat

eating through the hide

of a stricken deer.

At others, only

mourning, only

sorrow.

 

Land glimpsed through cloud

but fleeting, maddening,

while silence hushed the skies

and night wouldn't fall.

 

Days of this. Weeks. Birdless

and silent, except for the oar blades

cutting and dripping like

a killer's dark enterprise.

 

Enticements, dreams of

welcome and a beach

warm under endless blue. 

Imagination a whore.

A disordered mind will trap you

if you yearn for but never reach

a solitary shore.