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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
Sep092016

The Stalactites and the Love

She was instructed to go in there, to slip behind the curtain and give comfort, since the time for medicine had passed.

"Hold his hand," the matron had urged. "Let him talk. He's an officer, so listen to him. But show no distress."

The sounds—the moans and clacking of heels on tile—seemed to recede as she parted the curtain and entered the partitioned space. Where everything reduced to the leaking devastation of the man's skull. Her urge to weep was immediate and vast, but she kept those tears for the sleepless nights ahead.

How is he even alive? she thought, and she took his cool, rough hands in hers. She marvelled at the sheer human will, or perhaps at the dogged obstinacy of habit.

He was guttering like a votive in some drafty corner of an abandoned church. A flickering torch in a dimming cave.

"When I climbed the hill," he said, fixing her with one eye while the other seemed to look past her, at something awful, "I found the pure white sheets flapping against the brightness of the bluest skies. They were so clean, so fresh, I wanted to cry, but of course I didn't. I thought I might find the women who had hung them there and perhaps marry one if she were so inclined, and had there been time, but all I saw were shadowy lost things drifting between those vast invigorating sails that flapped and billowed like the lungs of God.

"But now it's me who's lost. I tried to follow my mother into the building, but the doors were locked, and when I cleared the dust and grease from a window pane a great dog with a bone-and-gristle head leapt up and frightened me away."

His one good eye kept wandering, as if searching slyly for an exit, only to return and fix on her again, guiltily. The light in the other appeared to have drained entirely away. She made a great effort to quiet the tremors she felt just beneath her skin. She gripped his cool dry hands, half as large again as hers, and forced a smile.

"Did you see my mommy?" he asked, leaning slightly forward.

"No. I didn't see her. I'm sorry."

"Oh." He let the pillows stacked behind his upper torso receive his weight again.

She knew she lacked the words for something like this, so she let them drip unspoken from the ceiling of her mind, form something mineral-hard over eons.

He smiled and something shifted in his head—audibly—and his smile turned briefly to woe.

"I have a feeling my head is such a terrible mess." He whispered this, as if ashamed, as if his presence was an unconscionable cruelty to the attentive young nurse forced to bear witness.

"Perhaps try to recall a quiet time from your home."

"Once, Dorothy and I had an appalling fight and somewhere in Nova Scotia, by the spiteful ocean, I wandered. I found an old chapel. Tiny, it was. And empty, but for a small bent woman hunched over an old pump organ. It was bright in there; all the walls between the icons and crosses were a pleasant summer white and all the wood—frames, trinkets, crosses, pews—was pine blond. I could see the woman was blonde, too, although she wore a loose shawl. The music she played felt incomplete, as if quoting shorter phrases from a longer work. I liked it up to a point, but I could hear the ellipses, the gaps, and I ached to hear the full piece.

"Frustrated, I left, but outside it had grown dark and the landscape seemed to have changed, for I now walked beside the edge of a gloomy wood. Soon the animals came, three, four, five deep, clambering over each other at the forest's margin: raccoons, skunk, foxes, deer, weasels, possum, coyotes, all watching me as if waiting for something…"

"Is this a dream, sir?"

"No, I don't think it is. May I continue?"

"Yes, my apologies."

"So I began to speak to them. I don't think it's all been worth it, I said. All this beauty, all the wonders we've seen and built and worshipped, the taming of the wild places, which will only get worse, all the astounding things we've forged and formed, brought to nothing by our impulse to war on our own kind, and to win those wars at any cost. What an experiment it has been, sublime at its apex but reprehensible at its nadir. Not something necessary and bad, a mere shadow behind the wonders. No, it's all-consuming and there is nothing noble beyond it or behind it, no redemption and no hope.

"Those animals listened to my every word, and when it was clear I was done, some nodded their thanks and they melted back into the gloom of the cedars and the pines, and I heard no more sound from them."

Her own head felt like a doomed airship. She still clasped his hands but had not imparted much warmth to them.

He began to sob quietly and she sat with him in silence. Between sobs he spoke small sad things.

"I wish my mother had never gone into that house, or that she'd looked back at least … one time, I peed off of the side of a dock into a boat and no one saw me, ha-ha … do you love the sounds of a radio, in between the stations? Sounds like planets whispering … you are nice. Will you be able to play with me? I have two toy cars, one a racing car, which I'll let you have, the other a London bus, and we could race them on the sand … the sun is growing in the sky every minute and it's coming for me very soon … how sad, I would have loved to hear more Mozart … I once stood on a glacier the colour of a husky's eyes and heard it cracking under me, miles deep … another time I dreamed I was a poet, but all the words got tangled like kite string and I lost them … did you ever hear the dive of a Stuka? It paralyzes you. It sounds like a demon, an airborne demon, coming for you at last … although the sun, the sun in the end is scarier … did you ever lie on a carpet of bluebells and breathe in spring? If not, you should, and then sing about it to a lover … please tell Mommy I looked for her, will you? Yes, you will, I know. You are kind … the sun is huge now and I can feel it on my skin … I hope it won't hurt too much. Tell her I loved her, tell her about the stalactites and the love, all of it, tell her every…"

He talked and his voice faded slowly, like a lost broadcast. She sat with him a while longer until his cool, rough hands—mechanic's hands, kohl-dark at the creases and the cuticles—finally went cold and stiff. Then she left to find the matron and the doctor.

Friday
Aug262016

Faraway Thunder

There were no signs. You got there via a rutted overgrown track between the corn brake and the slough. Once you did, you'd be hard put to know which was the more broken down: the shack or the old man who lived in it.

She knew he never spoke of the very war she figured was what ruined him. She made these visits not to hear about napalm or agent orange or Bell Hueys but simply to keep him company. She felt badly for him, all on his lonesome an' all, no family she knew of, friends likely dead, unbidden memories shuffling out of the corn. 

Sometimes he'd be sitting on his canted porch in a reeking bathrobe that might once have been white cotton flannel but now appeared as if assembled from filthy slaughterhouse mops, and stank that way. Mayhap she'd hunt down that old washboard and coax him out of his robe and try to launder it best she could. He never hid his nakedness, and after a while it stopped bothering her too. Other times she'd dig up a greenish potato in the weed patch that dreamed of being a vegetable garden and add it to the chitlins she'd brung, along with a couple eggs from the coop if the broody old hens had deigned to lay that day.

Neither of them said much, all told. She might sit beside him on the stoop—though he'd never offer up his rickety chair—and watch as the sun spread like a broken yolk and dripped below the rim of the world and the lightning bugs briefly outshone the few pale stars. Occasionally he'd go fill a mason jar with moonshine and share it with her, and smoke while they listened to the antic coyote chorus, after which she'd sway a little on her hike back in near blackness, half-afraid she'd fall in the slough, a small dutiful woman in a large world of night.

He did tell of his brother once. Another time of his mama. Both long dead, as she'd thought. Rare times he talked, she mostly listened; the smallest creek needs no impediment. He never once mentioned his pa.

The most he ever talked was after a big storm had passed, one that still sounded in the gloomy hills to the east, like the ghosts of old battles.

"Had to kill me one a' them hens," he said into the clear mercury air.

"How come?"

"Got a wound on her neck, so the others woulda slowly pecked her dead anyways."

"Which one?" she asked, but immediately felt foolish. "Though I s'pose you seen one dumb chicken you seen 'em all."

And that was the only time he spoke of the war.

"They used to say that about Charlie. They was wrong then, and you're jes' as wrong now."

Friday
Aug192016

Wyoming

Those arroyos outside town, so precious. Their red dirt. The way they breathe so slow, ignoring roads, evoking shadows like the last wispy creeds of dying cults.

"You got a better story?" she asks me.

She ain't never satisfied. I could tell her about Jesus, Beyoncé, and Saddam motherfucking Hussein pooling their resources to solve the murder of a sexually ambiguous alien-dwarf hybrid by a vengeful sixteenth-century teenage Moorish prince in some English stately home, and she'd still ask, "You got a better story?"

Sometimes feels like my life's a constant struggle to tell a better story. It surely can't be, but it might be, after all's said.

So a man was found dead 'neath the cliffs, but there were signs he'd tried to climb them before whatever killed him came along, and he'd gotten two-thirds the way up according to the gouges in the red clay many people attributed to the toes of his boots, which also had remnants of the same red clay stuck to them. Maybe not open and shut, but hardly fucking unfathomable neither.

Braless, she unpeels her shirt and flexes her dorsals, a cetacean back like something lithe and fluid and strenuous you'd only see once in a lifetime of diving in a world of deep. The pendulous hint of her breasts sidelines me, makes me salivate through my answer.

"Yeah, I got a better story." I taste salt, like blood, like tears.

"Tell me."

"You sure you're ready?"

"Yeah, go ahead."

"A'right. This. Fuck you is a better story. How's that, goddamnit? Stop breaking my balls, will ya? Something's wrong here, and even if I only felt a surface ripple when there's maybe some kinda vortex, wait it out, let it fucking breathe, for chrissakes."

She won't challenge that. It's beneath her. I can't ordinarily find the words, but I pitch this just right. Like when you get absinthe just perfect, the thick green, the flame, the melted sugar, the voodoo, everything in its right place. Her name is every state we ever lived in, however brief. Right now, her name is Wyoming. Part of me wants her to stop changing her name and stay Wyoming. It suits her. It sounds like a query asked of a journey, which is everything we ever did.

She's a tall female with wide shoulders. Rangy, I suppose. Like her mount. She looks like someone can only be happy astride that wide-eyed stallion galloping on a spit of glimmering sand; her golden silt hair streaming like a raging creek; its nostrils gaping like cave mouths; her haunches splayed and fulcrumed western style; its shimmering, filmy, velvet skin a platonic dream of musculature; her sweet hive eyelids tight as honeytraps; its citrus-leaf ears backstraining; her lone wild heart one violent stormshadow. 

Wyoming knows more than twice what she lets on, and maybe half of what she don't.

But we're here now. Devils Tower looming like a sly insult from a quiet ground. Striated and dreamlike. Look but keep going. Big Timber. The Crazy Mountains stark and barroom blue against a lemon-apricot sky, cheap real estate, torn pleather booths, the interstate, power cables, smokestacks, the bright rails straight like arrows pointing someplace, some other place.

So, the dead man, right? I truly want to honor his memory, find his killer, but my girl Montana insists we keep moving west.

Friday
Jul292016

And They Need No Candle

Like everything was prechoreographed, the barroom exploded.

Notice the anomalies. The flickering eyes and tapping feet. The man in the Donnie Darko hoodie on a steaming afternoon. A bitter taste lurking right behind the sweet. The quiet dry sand after the tide draws too far out. The flights of silent birds darkening an August sky. The nod toward the man near the exit. A cough that goes too long. The movement of animals.

***

Who am I? That's a simple question with an answer that might take a year to relate. No doubt there's a short version but I ain't ever found it. Okay, here, how 'bout this? I am an auteur. A black hole. A universe swirls inside me, and can't ever escape.

Last time I seen you I just got done telling your dumb ass about how it might behoove you to dial down the attitude in the workplace. Instead of listenin', it was easier for you to rant and call me a bitch and then ghost me like Caspar. He a scared little white boy too, and prolly sweeter. If your only weapon's social media, you already lost, bro-heem. Guess you never saw me sharpening my teeth on your wheel rims. Nah. Your days are numbered like scripture; one day you gonna get to Revelation (22:1–5). But save your prayers and your hymns; I ain't itching for ya. Planning me some primetime mayhem.

Like that barroom. A few strategic words whispered in a few disparate ears, conjugate humanity's secret verbs, program the drone to hack someone's iPhone, mix up sounds like iOS and IRS, watch while the tall skinny taxman brains the Venetian duchess. Ciao bella, indeed. Watch the dominoes fall. Dodge the blood and glass. Mind the step and keep off the grass.

Wannabe soldier? You a full metal jackass.

Other day I sunk five Bellinis while my homegirl tripped balls 'bout nothin. I tuned her out and soared to peach heaven on sparkling clouds of white wine. That shit has pedigree. Named from an Eye-talian painter. When I came back to earth she was gone. Took me a week to find her sorry, self-pitying behind and another week to decide to help her outta her misery. Old school hands around the throat, feeling that hyoid give way, the collapse of her trachea, and the tiny spreading capillaries in the whites of her full-moon eyes. The tattoo of her heels. For the sake of her dignity, I even tried to pretend I didn't enjoy it. 

"I'm sure in her you'll find the sanctuary."

The anomalies come faster now. We runnin' outta time, yo, I can feel it over my event horizon. Nebular menstrual cramps, dark attractors. Let me say now I loved you, boo, and still do. It ain't personal. It's nature. The animals know. They always know. This is how the world ends. Not with the mange but distemper.

Friday
Jul222016

Little Apples of Death

Never forget. I forget. I always forget. What indeed is memory?

The ceiling fan flickers in the rearview screen of my keys. They sit bunched on my desk alongside an overfilled wallet straining like an enlarged organ, an unfashionable cell phone, and an open notepad filled with jottings and appointments and TV quotes and titles of movies I want to catch, like silvery fish, all written in green.

Only recently I quit talking on my phone to Gabriella, my most recent ex. In a red leather diner, art deco no less, I think I became amorous and whispered, "Let your petals unfurl for me," and now in shame I'm trying to forget this. She hung up, of course. But strip away the poetry and pretension and I think I meant it.

That quiet rural road at night, the scant light a weak spill from the sky gilding powerlines.

Gas stations bathed in jaundiced pools.

I met Gabriella in a small Guatemalan village where we came to know the little apple of death in a mangrove swamp. That is not a metaphor. We came to know each other beneath the wicked limbs of a manchineel tree, unmindful of everything but each other's crevices and tastes and folds and fragrances, until our innocent choice of love nest revealed its terrible weeping teeth. A sudden squall washed its glutinous sap onto our exposed bodies, which erupted in yellowish domelike clusters of scalding pus. I won't even try to describe the torment. Enough that we lived. Scarred but alive.

The next time we kissed, I felt your newness. You, not Gabriella. I hardly want to say your name for fear of breaking some spell. But Nastassja, I guess, let's say that. It wasn't even an amorous kiss. More sibling friendly and full of love. I recall you smelled of the fresh rain in summer, sprinkled over the sweet dust of berries. That is always your smell, my love, will never not be. The things we scratched in the dirt have become signs, sigils, symbols, license plates, catechisms, wreaths, and leis, the heart-pause moment your fridge hiccups and your lights twitch and trouble flickers your brow.

After which we met Tyrell, a tiny whipped dog who finally bit back but bit all the wrong people. He lived in a motel in Sedona, but his dreams and his history leaked from the sun-bleached door and proclaimed themselves tendrils of dreamstuff, larger and more real than their origins. Tyrell wasn't a dog, though; he was a man. But he was hurt and squalid and swollen and famished. His footprint was tiny, yet his presence was vast. We witnessed a microburst, listened to a bell chime, made a clear date with him, and left.

After which we committed atrocities, of which I will not speak.

We headed north, Seattle bound, shunned, and I became Sylvain and you became Nathalie. We became the universe's secret scheme by which to gaze upon itself. In the shadow of a needle, we sucked each other's essence through our germy, blistered genitals.

Kept going. My god, my love, this late summer evening, an apricot and charcoal sky, the dense stand of trees across from my window thick with gelatinous greens, mutinous quiet, and still as an inbreath, a 3-D painting, that moment we know we're finally betrayed.

Right before we cotton to it. Before backwash. Before we are fully tarnished.

And now we all meet at the cabin by the lake, one by one or in small groups, you and your sister, the crippled geek, the quiet killer, the queen bitch, the whipped dog, the selfless children, the drastic the guilty and the laughable, as ordained, as determined by the warfaced nun and the sneering gypsy we couldn't shake loose in the French Quarter that unnaturally humid spring, by the cosmonaut with all the juicy conspiracies, by the Japanese artist daubing graphic manko portraits in defiance of her culture. My gentle Yukio. My profane Monique. My abandoned mermaid. My coconspirators.

The lake water is still, and the greens drip and mix like virgin oils on a canvas. A loon succumbs to laughter. The Milky Way begins its gentle rise across the darkness, a smeary cosmic vulva. A single coyote yips and then stops. All the trees, like bronchi in a vast lung, exhale as one. Sweet sacred oxygen.

We are here. We are seismic. This could be our moment. We might take flight. Grab our keys and wallets and light out. Then a fight erupts in the cabin—"Fuck you, what is this?" "I'll hurt you!" "Stay away from me!"—and suddenly the world weighs heavy and the moment lies wounded and defiled, stunned immobile by the sudden draining of all hope.

See my alien scars. Features of exotic worlds shaped by impossible forces. Come closer. Trace them with trembling fingertips. Smell my carnation scent. Hurt me as I ask to be hurt. And bring me home. Bring me home.

And if I die, please, if only once in a while, please fucking dream of me.