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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
Jan292016

The Nowheres

A couple times each month, he'd drive out from the city to what he called the Nowheres, a flat, unremarkable piece of the rural Midwest, and pay for two nights, sometimes three, in a nondescript motel somewhere off the beaten track, thirty bucks a night or thereabouts. Sometimes he'd bring along a fifth of cheap bourbon, and other times he'd find a bar nearby and drink steadily and methodically, speaking only to the bartender before hiking unsteadily back to the motel on dark and mostly silent county roads.

He never told the few friends he had in the city what his purpose was, what he did out there in the Nowheres while Lucinda, Shelby, and Patty emptied their abandoned, melancholy hearts on a jukebox at the bar or on a cheap boombox in his room, in time with the ebb and flow of the Wild Turkey he tipped and swallowed without joy. He never told a single soul that he came out to the Nowheres to get drunk and write shit down—not any old shit, but the kind you needed to get out or it burrowed into your dark places like a soft, blind thing and over time became hard, mean, and cancerous.

Something about the lingering sunsets. The sudden stillness. Crepuscular rays spotlighting barns, grain elevators, corn patches, painting them briefly gold. Streaks of byzantium, coral, and vermillion like fever-dream inlets separating dark cloud archipelagos, ushered slowly westward into the flat horizon by the gentle darkness.

Like it or not—and sometimes he truly did—this was his country, on some level he barely understood.

This night, he crossed the gravel parking lot of the basic two-story L-shaped motel, looked up at the sign, the neon in one of the letters long leaked away: Mote. Because it was a mote, and he was a mote, and all the people and cattle and corn and fields were motes of inconsequential dust under the stars, which were also motes, but made of brightness. Beneath that sign, a smaller one, also broken: acancy, which sort of made him laugh. These lonely visits sure felt like acancies, even though he knew that wasn't a word.

Other nights, after dark, he would look up at that same sky, in which a few stars trembled between the dark reefs of cloud that scudded furtive like the decamped souls of everyone who'd once pined and then died of some related strain of sorrow in this wide and disregarded place.

Traffic on the distant interstate was usually a muffled commotion that sounded like the landscape dreaming fitful dreams, but the railroad was closer, and when he heard the familiar abandoned rattle and moan of a passing train, his mind went to dirt and rust and peeling paint, went to sleeplessness and silent entreaties to sellout gods, went to shrieks and sparks and graffiti, and unquenchable longing. Went to her. His momma. Went to that day—and every day since—she'd turned off most of the light in his world by up and leaving. He'd been perhaps eight when he watched her slip away in the night, heard her quiet sobs until a night freight had blared and clattered by, stamping its larger grief on their smaller one, erasing theirs so no one even noticed it. No one but him. Those days, passing like ghost trains, each boxcar filled with ever more solitude. Those days when he couldn't possibly blame her. Those days when he blamed her with a savage, perilous heat.

The pages he filled with longhand he'd sometimes set light to over the john, make of them black flurries, tiny apocalyptic storms, other times would tuck behind heating or air-conditioning units, slide into gaps in the fake wood paneling, under mattresses, or tear in tiny pieces while he cried raw tears. His memories made into words. Mostly of his momma but sometimes of his papa too. He still missed her; and less often, his papa too, god help him. He could keep on missing that sonofabitch forever, though, as he was never coming back from whatever sorry hell he'd volunteered for by finally swallowing the muzzle of a military-issue Beretta M9.

He knew he couldn't do this forever. The coming of the interstates had proved a slow and lingering extinction event for the era of these motor courts, and this—whatever this was—wouldn't work the same way in some Comfort Inn or Motel 6. Take this place—thirty-two units and only three vehicles parked out front. Always, always an acancy.

Back in the motel, room 27 on the second floor, where the two wings of the L join, he hit play and grabbed a notepad and pen, while Lucinda sang about some farmhouse out a ways and how she didn't want no one to come find her if she strayed, and his whole breath hitched. He felt strange, like he was smaller and more scared, remembering his fear of the dark and of the lightning bugs that lit the dark, believing they were the souls of demons who'd lost their way to hell. More Wild Turkey and he began to write like the little boy version of himself was watching over his shoulder and giving him tips.

"Papa was meaner'n a yard mutt, but he never took his belt to me. He managed a kind of meanness you'd have to study for at some school of evil, if such a place existed. I know Momma left 'cause a him, an p'raps he did take his belt more'n once to her, or worse, but never to me. When he was real drunk he'd threaten to hang hisself from the rafters in the barn, or go lay down on the railroad tracks, or some variety of same. It sure got tiresome. But one day might as well stand in for all the days, he told me to follow him out to the barn, and I didn't want to, but I knew things would only go sideways quicker if I said no. He sat on a hay bale and looked at me funny. He always looked at me funny, but this were a different kind of funny, like he didn't really see me but someone else: maybe God or Jesus or some loan officer whose name he cussed on a regular basis. He was so drunk he was swayin' slightly. He slurred, too, which was unusual as he had a high capacity for the rotgut he liked to drown hisself with. 'Son,' he said, 'go bring me the shotgun.' I stood still. I didn't want to do such a thing, given the tenor of his usual threats. He looked at me out of one eye, the other closed as if even the dusty murk of the barn was too much light for him. 'I said, go git me the shotgun or there'll be hell to pay.' Far as I could see, there already was hell to pay, no matter my part in all this, so after thinking about running and hoping he'd forget when he sobered up and then abandoning that plan after remembering I'd seen lightnin' bugs out there earlier, I went to the tackle room and grabbed the old Winchester pump-action 12 gauge. When he seen me with it in my arms, like an altar boy bringing the priest the host, his face twisted into something unrecognizable. 'Son, you'd bring a man fixin' to end it all a goddamn fuckin' weapon? Not jes' any man, neither, but your own kin?' I had no words. I jes' stood there and took it. 'You some kind of cold-blooded monster, boy?' He stared for what felt like a whole day, and I closed my eyes and didn't answer. I didn't have no answer. Then he stood and without another glance in my direction went back to the house and to bed. While I stayed in the darkness of the barn, eyes still closed, and trembling."

He was trembling now, sometimes felt like he'd been trying to get halfway warm again for twenty-some years ever since, so he got up, put on a fleece jacket, and went out on the balcony for air. The night was quiet and cool. His pickup sat in a pool of light, as if the heavens were beaming him a message.

Then he had a dream.

A road-scarred nineties-model Corolla pulled up beside his truck and she got out the driver's side. It was her; he had no doubt. Older, sadder-looking, dressed in black denim, but his momma. She didn't see him right away, but when she finally looked up he waited for a reaction but saw little of anything at all in her dark Spanish eyes.

"Mister, could you help me here?" she said.

He swallowed and couldn't make his voice work.

She opened the rear door of her Toyota and started dragging out something dark.

"Mister? Please? I hate to ask, but I think I twanged something in my back last night, and I jes' need to get this into room"—she dug out a key and squinted at it—"eleven. Room 11."

"Oh sure, ma'am. Be right down."

That bare bulb was still spotlighting their two vehicles like they were on some ethereal backlot in a movie by David Lynch. This couldn't be real, but he played along and took the nearby stairs to ground level. He wanted so badly to embrace her, to hold her, to bury his face in her cool dark hair now shot with strands of gray the color of heartbreak. When he recognized the object in the backseat as a guitar case, he felt like crying. Damn. She still played.

"You a musician?" he asked.

"You might say as I am, but it don't exactly pay the bills."

He recalled her thin but melodious singing voice and the early months of her learning to play, helping her string her thrift-store guitar and figure out how to tune it, absorbing chord shapes and building calluses, and how those were about the only happy memories he had from back then, before the light had gone out, before the music had quite literally died.

Turned out room 11 was directly below his. He carried her guitar and placed it on the bed.

"You're a sweet man," she said. "You gonna be around tomorrow night?"

"Uh, maybe, sure."

"Well, you are or you ain't, but if you are, I'm playing at The Lazy Vixen on Route 40, a couple miles east of here, and you're welcome to come hear me. Ain't no Patsy Cline but I know my way around a few good tunes."

"I might just do that, ma'am."

"You're a polite boy. I like that." She smiled briefly, then looked troubled for a moment, then let the veil fall again.

He wanted to scream at her, tell her in no uncertain terms who he was, rail at her for her betrayal, plead with her to come back, beseech her for her love, but none of that felt right, somehow. He was no longer a boy and this had to play out the way it decided to play out. Let her find his scraps, even if she was a dream; let him follow her spore, even if it weren't.

Some believe each moment splits into many versions of itself, that we live so many different lives in so many possible worlds. If so, did he hook up with his mother, as appalling as that sounds, or did he go watch her play in a bar and get involved in a fatal confrontation after some drunk asshole heckled her, or did he do neither and return to the city and his shadow life there? Did he live all these things and more? Possibly. Better still, was his story really her story, and did she find his notes in a series of nondescript rooms over weeks and even months and piece together his identity and movements until she could pinpoint him, find him, try to make it up to him? That's good, too.

But in this world it appears he returned to his room, to his sad caucasian girls and his fragments of memory, to stale air and worse decor, where he picked up the Beretta that had killed his papa, knowing why he'd kept it but afraid all the same, and he listened to another freight train run its ragged fingernails down the grainy backdrop of the Midwestern night, and he pounded more Wild Turkey while the reedy sounds of a phantom woman singing country tunes a floor below nearly drove him mad, out in the Nowheres, out where no one else came.

Friday
Jan152016

Headwaters

A story in a single sentence:

Shaky after two days' release from the psych ward, she wants to "put it all behind her," as the genial yet guarded advice had gone, so she takes the Skytrain to go ask about rental costs at a nearby Enterprise office whose bleak geometry squats in a grim patch of stilted highways, loose rubble, and territorial chain link somewhere near where Vancouver borders Burnaby, but she gets cold feet at Renfrew Station, turns around and scurries back to the library near her home on East Pender, where she searches Google Maps and decides Swift Current is the loveliest place name she's ever heard, especially in contrast to that of its province, which is all brittle stalks and wheat sheaf angles (Sask-atch-ew-an), and wants to visit for that reason alone—Swift Current, that is; a name that evokes homecoming sockeye vigorous and sleek as distance runners' quadriceps—although the furthest she's ever driven was Vancouver to Hope, ironically when she'd been at her least hopeful, and even then she'd had a tire blow somewhere near Yarrow, nearly killing her, and the towtruck and repair costs had been so high she'd had to turn back, out by many dollars and by even more self-worth, given all her struggles with what some might call mental health issues yet she chooses to term emotional difficulties, since the former still contains a tiny jab of stigma, and dammit, it's hardly her fault, given her early life with Uncle Giorgio and then those grey-stuccoed group homes and weary, spiteful foster parents, let alone the haunted jaundiced nightscape of the Downtown Eastside and her disaster-recipe life with Gunther, he of the one-part lavish confectionary largesse and two-parts savage fists, but she is free now, aside from the medication she needs to remember, while something about Swift Current calls and calls like babbling headwaters to a downstream eddy, urging her to spawn, to take this step that might mark a new chapter in a thus-far chiefly sorrowful tale, one charged with the possibility of something other than grim nights shivering with cold or dread and warmer nights sleepless with mosquitoes or regret, so she finds somewhere online that calculates the cost of gasoline, which comes to a little over a couple hundred bucks for the three thousand kilometre round trip, and she feels a heartsurge of joy until she sees the carbon footprint she'll be leaving—one thousand three hundred and fifty pounds, to be exact—which sounds so appalling she immediately scratches out this new life at its source—indeed, guilt and eroded morale have long perfected her inner Scratch 'n Lose—erasing the evocative names of Shuswap and Salmon Arm, Golden and Banff, Dead Man's Flats and Medicine Hat from a future that might have held something other than the pitiless tidal ebb of try then turn back, try then turn back, the balance of which has always seemed impossibly, monstrously weighted.

Friday
Jan082016

Skinwalker

I want to tell this story with all my truth but I don't know which order it happened in and which parts I dreamed and which parts I stole from another dreamer. They tell me to place one foot in front of the other then switch them up and keep doing that until my story's told, but it isn't like that, this didn't happen in the same way you might walk down a straight road, not even close. It's more like a bird flying between trees in a dense forest, only sometimes you jump between birds, between birds of the same type, but then from cardinal to woodpecker to crow, and then briefly into a squirrel or a raccoon… then the forest disintegrates and you're stood trembling in a desert as yourself again, only you wish you were a camel because the throat-scouring thirst is the worst thing you've ever felt and the gamma burst sun is burning a pencil-light hole through your skull and you consider opening up your veins just so you can drink from them. And that's not even scratching the surface of why this story is so hard to tell. Perhaps it's impossible. Perhaps it's gone beyond story.

That morning I woke without skin. The thing that had flayed me in my sleep was slouching from the room, the entirety of my skin, mostly intact and dripping copiously, bundled in its scrawny arms like a sodden sweater, a look of shock on its face that it had even been seen. I knew I wasn't supposed to wake until later, but who could sleep through that?

Only that wasn't me. That was someone I had brushed by in the corridor days before, mindful of how narrow it was in that cheap hotel, how sticky the carpets in which the original pattern was barely discernible beneath the endless weary decades of grime. Tackiness emulating gravity. My bare arm touched his besuited one as we passed and he made a sound, a quiet apology, and I told him it was fine, it was my fault. I was unsteady in those heels. I might still have been drunk. As I got in the elevator the other elevator dinged open and breathed out a rancid shadow, a flap of bad, which clung briefly to the walls before I lost sight of it when my own door clattered shut. 

The lid is lifted and I watch a black balloon float up and over red rooftops patchy with snow, while a woman or a child sings in an alley like the world's last sad bird. Horses drum cobblestones. Echoes become muffled. A shout. Murder comes to visit awhile. It's Christmas.

An ornate frame, a blood-orange tree, a lifeguard running, drive slow homie, red red wine, a dark rest stop on an empty highway, fish tamales, a lone dancer smearing bloodscript on a polished stage, homemade knuckle tattoos, the secret yearning of a nun, human viscera in ribbons, the silent vigil of a grief-stricken dog, the lady in red, the anger of the sun, Bud Lite, sudden rain, an antique letter opener, fuck tha police, a field in England, cranberry vodka, our better angels, batteries not included, sheet-metal memories, fog on the runway, a forearm opened lengthways elbow to wrist, black lives matter, dewdrops on razor wire, que sera sera, a fatal misunderstanding, all your base are belong to us, the red road, you can't handle the truth, red and black, the evening redness in the west, that's me in the corner, don't breathe, paint it black, Juicy Fruit, ninety-nine red balloons, back to black, red dawn, fade to black…

Let me drive and I'll show you my true self. And lo, I'm behind the wheel of a late sixties Corvette Stingray and Interstate-5 is unrolling behind me like a dark contrail. A SoCal sunrise on my right. I'm heading north, Canada-bound. Unless I'm picked off before nightfall. I am a coyote returning to the pack, the sounds of hysteria echoing from the snowy bluff. An eagle sailing thermals. Orca music.

We're in a roadhouse, the percussion of pool balls and the hoots of the players adding new aural layers to AC/DC's "Back in Black."

"You're a sight for sore eyes," he says, joining me at the bar. He flicks his temple briefly in what looks like a tiny salute.

I look down. "You flatter me."

"No. Well, yeah." He smiles in a way he probably believes is rakish and charming.

"What you see is not necessarily what you get." I make eye contact and hold it. I always warn; it's only polite.

His grin widens. "I'll take my chances."

"Your chances are fast disappearing, honey."

There are things in the woods that scream. Skeletal things perhaps once human, but no longer. Malnourished and pitiless things. Do not leave the campsite, avoid the witching hour, and for the love of all that's holy, whatever that might be, do not ever whistle after nightfall.

My hair is black as a starless night and my eyes the colour of need. The kind of things you never even knew you needed.

Now get me a goddamned lawyer, Deputy.

Friday
Dec182015

The Mood

Writing. We all struggle sometimes to find new ways of expressing ourselves. I've taken a slightly involuntary hiatus, of late, in that sense. But as short as this piece is, it seems to be a somewhat different angle into story (with story being so crucial and all). I threw words together in a far shorter time than I'm used to and tried to resist traditional or strict punctuation in an effort to follow the rhythms of the speaker. There's a hell of a backstory, no doubt. Not even sure we'll ever be privy to it, but it doesn't hurt to speculate. My sense is, he was haunted by the look his mother gave him and never felt up to the task she set him, a task that seemed simple at first yet grew more complicated the more life unfolded... as things tend to do. Everything else that happened to him stemmed from that. But anyone reading this is free to dream or wish or reluctantly relate their own sweet or curséd version.

_____________

I'm a old man now and dont ever ask me to recall that frail clapboard home dwarfed by the vast yellow prairie that was never warm even when sunny, I oughta be able to remember summers but I dont, only the moan and shriek of many winters, no true windbreaks other than some scraggy poplars, distant mountains a bluish smudge on the horizon, barely even looked like mountains they were so far, pa hurtin momma month in month out and one day momma killin pa with a hatchet when he was passed out drunk, blood the thickness of motor oil dripping still warm from the finger she held to her lips, her huge eyes on me and her tremblin voice sayin, look after your brother now, you hear? be a good boy, while a crackly old gramophone played in the dim corner of a bare room, big band, maybe even glenn miller in the mood, I can almost recall the label in the middle of the disc, blue with a dog listenin to a phonograph, although that might be my subconscious funnin me, we all know what happened to glenn miller after all, although we dont really do we?

Ask me about that, or about what became of little bobby, and I wont tell you, now git away from the bars I been known to react poorly to bein stared at.

Friday
Nov062015

Fallstreak

It's like one of those dreams where you can't wake up.

"Wake up," you said.

I remember the day rolling away from the roof of the world, like a demoralized guest curling toward the wall, and how the darkness made everything shimmery, grainy, and animate.

"Forget it. Go to sleep," you said.

That winter the winds whistled no human tune. Just an oscillating galactic plainsong. Like abandoned sheets on the flinch of a rise, all fluttering and sullied in a dirty howling wind.

"Meet me one day at the crossroads," you said.

Recall how this was once a place of brightness and strangeness? Target and Walmart and Rite Aid. Boulevards. Rust and stardust. Corrugated iron. Cherry blossom. Cascades. Brick facades. Ferries departing the point. Knots of people gathered outside Starbucks, warmed by a patio heater in winter, by mochaccinos always, and by the arbitrary camaraderie of belonging.

That's all memory now. Here is not here anymore. I had no answer for you anyway.

Except this: "You mean all things to me."

But the dreams. They used to call it post-trauma. I don't want to give it its dignity by naming it fully. It encumbers me. The dreams are part of being awake, or as close to being awake that you're unable to tell the difference. And it's whatever your chosen fear, your trigger. They arrive in pairs. Fluctuate. Could be a small fire breaking out and a scream. Or the brittle shock of shattering glass and a moan. Disbelief and the blurry grind and shred of tumbling asphalt. The hot proximity of a biting human reek, then wrenching tears. Or the feel of rubber or hair or oil or watery, seeping hangnails. It's usually specific and crawly and lost.

To gather myself, I remember a night horse named Blondie. A winter horse. Escaping the horror of family, I would cross the frozen ridges of soil beside the dark barn and talk to that horse, rant at him, stand in the crystalline air beside his paddock, leaning on the railing, my nostrils crackling in the cold, the draw backdropped by a bright moon, my entire world ghosted, and make peace with him, watch his large luxuriant eye as it sought some gentle kinship of its own. 

But that was the world that was, and this is the world that is. No return. I only torment myself with thoughts like these.

You are out there somewhere. At the crossroads.

"At the crossroads. You follow me, yes?"

Murmurations. That's the word. Those twisting, flowing skeins against an orange sky. A fluid net of birds. Starlings. Practicing molten turbulence over the stark ruins of a blackened pier. These were things that occurred in the world.

I want to follow you.

America: you are a generous and optimistic place. Where else would carpet the outdoor stairway of a motel? Carve monuments from sheer cliffs? Serve food on such lavish platters in your cheapest diners?

I love you. I loved you. I will love you.

The sun loses its perfect circular rim and bulges into the horizon, while grey clouds become dark lavender and muted pink against a pale coral sky. All is melting and breathless.

Some memory conjures the reassuring call of a train from another era and I feel a tear fall.

Will you burst through a cloud? Emerge. Like a sprite in a fallstreak hole?

I sit by a roadside and watch a creature, some misshapen rodent thing, drag itself across the blacktop. Its rear limbs are shattered and skewed and blood pours from the tiny holes in its snout. One of its eyes is ruined, and it snuffles like something plague-begotten. A trail of blood and sand points back toward the creature's tale, untold and star-crossed. Its suffering is fascinating. But relieving it of the burden of life is a tenderhearted thing, so I stand, find a large rock, and attend to its leave-taking. Pity almost stops my heart, although not my hand.

"Will you be waiting for me, my love?"

There's only the wind across the bare desert and the single cry of a hawk.

My gaze on the heat mirage, I walk toward the crossroads.