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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
Jul112014

Stygian

A pale sun slides into a sky vacated by a cataract moon. Two tarnished pennies. An exchange. 

The surf sounds so close it might be undermining the very supports of this beach house. But I'm not fretting; this is the tail end of the storm. Whatever wild, dire omens rode its turbulent breakers have already come and long gone. 

Now, the susurrant rush and hiss-drag of the waves over sand and pebbles sounds more like the fading coda of some vast, tenebrous requiem shimmering into morning.

Tentative, reluctant, like lonely people closing their front doors. One more glance. The hope that won't die. 

A sudden swell, like the late, bright moments of a life, suddenly poignant against the grey of everything that came before. If not to innocence, a return to childhood at least.  

No storm will ever frighten me again. There's a dark, turgid river now, running beneath everything. 

Nona lies broken amid more broken things. Liquor bottles, betrayal, cracked glasses, knickknacks. A laptop, its screen spiderwebbed. Our last ever fight. A doozy, as they say. A blood reckoning, I think. I pick my way through the shattered glass, through our shattered, annihilated lives, and find my phone, tacky with jellied (and gelid) blood. 

Hit 911. 

Time to pay the ferryman.

_____________________

Once again, a big shoutout to Dan Mader and all the regulars who post their amazing flash fiction on his blog every Friday. Big love and smooches to all a y'all.

Friday
Jul042014

Sacral

I Confess, Alfred Hitchcock, © 1953

He seemed to be the only penitent in the church. The airy hush was a sound larger than the place itself.

The priest waited in the confessional until a shuffling noise told him the man had at last joined him on the other side of the grid. The voice in the near pitch-dark was shaky.

"Bless me, Father, for I have sinned…" So quavery it sounded more like a question, as if its owner couldn't settle on a tone. The man's breathing was shallow, rapid—the sound of near-panic. 

"Relax, we're all sinners here. How long since you last confessed, son?" the young priest soothed, suddenly aware of the awkwardness of such an endearment directed at someone probably no younger than he. Yet such was the nature of these things; how mysterious and nuanced the intricate bonds between shepherd and flock. 

"Not long. A while."

The priest chose to ignore the contradiction, sensing a reluctance that seemed to press on the confessional like an old mattress abandoned in a rainstorm.

"Take it slowly. They're not exactly lining up out there." He smiled grimly at this. He'd meant to put the man at ease but there was an edge to his tone even he could hear. Slim pickings among the faithful these days.

A conversation he'd had earlier with Sister Camilla arose unbidden. She'd looked at him askance and raised one full eyebrow.

"Your father was a tyrant, no?"

"Now why would you ask that, Sister?"

"Because, Father, you are so completely terrified of eternal damnation you spend much of your time atoning for sins you've yet to commit."

He hadn't argued. Couldn't have, really.

Though too cloaked in darkness to make out, he knew the thick rosary he clutched to his chest would give him sufficient strength to bear the torment of a fellow sinner, if only for a few scant moments. Those plump beads the ripest of grapes on his arid vine of faith.

"Father…" A sour scent like spoiled meat marinated in vinegar wafted through the grill.

"Yes?"

"You can't tell no one else? This is between you and me, right?"

"And the Almighty, yes."

"Good. Father. I didn't mean to do it." That small voice. Almost the voice of a child caught stealing apples from an orchard.

The young priest inhaled deeply, ignoring the abattoir fetor, calling on the Holy Spirit to fill him with patience and love.

"Take your time, my son." 

Through the grid he could barely even discern a silhouette, let alone any distinguishing features of the distressed man. Strange. Normally his eyes would have adjusted by now.

"I thought she was willing, Father. Otherwise I'd never have gone that far. When she fought back, I just…"

Quiet sobbing filled the confessional. The priest closed his eyes, felt a pain so deep it surely had to be in his soul. The agony of compassion. No doubt a mere thousandth of what Jesus Himself had felt for His own lost sheep.

"Something in me snapped, Father. I don't want to carry this with me…"

"Son, are you confessing a mortal sin to me right now?"

"If rape, dismemberment, and murder are mortal sins, Father, yes, I'm confessing all three."

"My God…" The priest squinted at the lattice in an attempt to resolve a hint of an outline or the particulars of a face. "You must tell someone else, you can't—"

"No! No! I will lose everything. This is all I know, Father, I…"

Without thought or warning, the priest was on his feet. He exited his side of the confessional, stepping over something that nearly blocked the narrow aisle between the recessed confessional and the rows of pews. He tore open the door to the other compartment, preparing to confront the man, urge him to tell the authorities. 

The booth was empty. It smelled only faintly of old incense and even older dust.

His skin prickled and his mouth went dry. In the restless glimmer cast by the nearby rack of votive candles, he could now see his own hands, the rosary swinging from them. The shiny black beads dripping something red the viscosity of syrup. He looked again at the object on the cold grey marble floor, at what he'd first thought was a discarded pile of clothing. Black, white, red. Like something from a childhood joke. Sister Camilla. Or what was left of her.

His high, liquid scream, rising like a startled dove toward the remote dusty beams above the nave, signalled the end of that day's sacrament of penance. Even though there was no one there to take its measure, to corroborate or to hear it.

Saturday
Jun142014

The Smell of Neglect

He pulled into the dusty two-pump gas station and diner combo, as lonely a place as you'll ever see, the desert heat like the torrid breath of a febrile god.

He only wanted a break from the endless miles of asphalt, a coffee, and a few moments of stillness.

The flyblown thing had been following him for some time now; he thought he'd shaken it most recently back in Carthage, Missouri, when he'd ditched the rental and hopped a freight like a vagabond from a distant time, a grainier time, and worked his way west. And maybe he had… although he doubted it. Even his current ride was long-ago stolen, plates switched, serial numbers filed off. Untraceable. And let's face it, he suspected the thing used other methods than a paper trail. But he'd tried other tricks, too, and they hadn't worked. Had even crossed the northern border, until the mutilated bodies had shown up inside that dark and peeling Saskatchewan grain elevator, and he'd seen the gaping horror on the faces of the eyeless corpses under Nunavut ice.

The guilt was becoming unbearable. Wherever the thing dragged its stinking carcass, people died, and died horribly. Mutilated, dismembered, eviscerated.

Not only that, but it was only those times it caught him up that it set about its butchery with gusto. What the hell was it? And why him? Far as he could tell he was some sort of catalyst for the thing, a reluctant enabler. Yet that made little sense. He was nobody; simply a man trying to outrun his own story. He had only caught glimpses of it, himself; saw some vaguely humanlike buffalo thing, bipedal by occasional choice, shaggy and matted, and showing little distinction between head and torso. A knobby block of imbalanced meat and bone on muscular legs. And it reeked like some hidden back alley in New Orleans choked with rancid offal during the dog days of August. Stifling, loathsome, wretched. And cruel.

The man dreamed it most nights now, in fact. Him on his back, the bison thing drooling tendrils of blood and pus, loops of gore, howling its rage-sorrow while a rain of maggots big as soft albino olives spattered his face. However else it might be described, it was something built for murder, wrought for mayhem, shaped for bedlam. Its aim wasn't merely killing, but the utmost administration of pain. Not enough that its victims died but that they experienced gouged eyes, severed tendons, slowly shattered bones.

He parked and headed for the diner. Stopped for a moment and raised his head, tested the air, sniffed dust, heat, gasoline, neglect. 

Found a booth inside that squeaked on his back as he took a seat.

"Coffee. Strong and black."

"Coming up."

The man gave her a nearly imperceptible nod, yet she seemed to catch it anyway.

"Some hard miles, fella?"

"Uh-huh."

"Well, we serve the best coffee in more than a hunnerd miles of here, so you jus' sit and enjoy."

He noticed her exquisite, singular Spanish beauty and damn near leered but checked himself. No use getting attached at this late stage. Not to no one, not even the world's beauties.

The window was painted with dirt, smeared bugs, and decades of scratches, and looked out on the empty highway in either direction. A range of dark burgundy mountains a long ways off broke up the otherwise steady horizon. Tawny layers of dust covered most things, unless those things were passing through. And even then. An ancient Airstream was filling up at the rusty old pumps, reflecting painful sunflashes. A dog with milky eyes, scarred and limping, crossed from the other side of the highway toward them. The entire world seemed ruined, birdless, and dying. Lonely as goddamnit, all of it.

The man rested his head on his arms on the plastic tablecloth. Red and white check, ketchup and mayonnaise, blood and cum. So weary. He needed to sleep. But how could he sleep? How could he ever sleep again? And yet, how could he not sleep? He wondered if this was it, whether he was at last caught, right here in this hot and dusty nowhere. If so, it could have been far worse, he knew it.

When she brought the steaming coffee at last, he looked up at the sultry waitress, who seemed to flinch at whatever she thought she saw in his gritty, grainy eyes. Tried to back off, even. But she heard him, alright, and heard him good.

"Thank you, missy. Sorry to say, but there's something' comin' outta the east you all ain't gonna like."

Friday
Jun062014

Tempting Ogres

There are times when I drive across the whole of America and the sky stays that same deep blue, morning through night, Monday through Sunday, behind mountain peaks from fabled lands. Distant clouds bloom off-white and cerebral, unattainable dreams on abandoned horizons. The kind of dreams dreamed by forsaken gods. 

Roxy says, "Tell me you love me." 

"I love you." 

"Now tell me like you ain't just been caught in a lie." 

"…"

All those map lines, crisscrossing. The pitiless blue interstates. Broken line borders. The edges. Brimming with need and indifference. Love and embarrassment. The high wretched calls of ocean things. 

Detoured from I-90 aways back, we're lured and lulled into this living postcard of America. 

We head south on the Oregon coast, find some kind of level in a springtime bubble of ocean surge and yellow scotch broom, tadpoles under grey rocks, seals on brown ones. Plunge into spray, follow a monochrome urge, Roxy standing atop the headland, desirous to display but knowing that can only backfire in a world built the opposite of joy. 

Arms folded under those lavish breasts, she won't look at me. 

"Hey Roxy, play some music." 

I can almost hear her eyes roll, a gritty squeak. I can almost hear my heart break too, but I won't describe that. 

When we pull into the motel parking lot in Yachats, a place held like something fragile by parental stands of terrified fir and pine, all we want is to fall down on a soft bed and surrender to the sleep that's been calling our names the last three months. High time we stopped ignoring it. Even Jesus slept. Far as I know, anyway. 

People die in this place. A teen boy once slipped on these rocks and couldn't climb back, struggling like an upended turtle as the surf beat him steadily to death while his friends watched, arms outstretched, impotent. There's a plaque recalling him.

We walk the rocks anyway, explosions of white spray booming and fizzing around us, surging tides shot through narrow passages beneath our feet. Nature's IEDs. So loud we can't hear the gulls cry out their PTSD, their hypervigilance. 

"I was born in a month that rhymes with remember." 

"I can't hear you. Not a single word. Let's go inland, see if we can find trains." 

I hear that. Trains are usually good. We walk as evening begins to gather itself. 

A field, dimming. Sure enough, the eastbound freight draws night behind it like a rough blanket over the land, a sky that catches and muffles its hoarse lament, holds it heavy and tenebrous within its midnight promises and vows of rain, all except for a western strip where earlier the sun dropped while we walked away—impossibly distant, a rarefied airless realm of crimson and gold, like blood and treasure. 

We are blood and treasure. Trash and pleasure.

No, we're worse than that, and better than that. 

The entire world trembles. For a moment, death's-head moths hold the fate of empires between their wings. The train gathers speed for a deep land trek while children are diced unlamented in alleyways and chickens burst like nebulae from rafters in a forgotten barn, dust motes and moths, stars and straw and strands of gold like the lustrous tresses of a fabled princess, cavalier, leaning from the window of her tower, her slender neck arched, waiting. Tempting the axes of ogres. 

Roxy fixes me with one of her eyeslit glares. "It's all your fault," she says, as jackbooted tyrants, charcoal-suited fascists with cruel smiles and flickering lashes, frogmarch us inland, indifferent to our renewed seaward yearnings, while amid the descending darkness great fat raindrops play free jazz over the thirsty fields, syncopated and toxic, and we pretend not to cry with terror as funnel clouds gather and we're mocked and jabbed by soldiers demob-giddy and lustful with the very last war's end, knowing they'll show us no mercy once the touchpaper's lit. 

"You're right. It is. My fault, I mean." 

"Yeah, well, checkout time's come early, my darlin'." 

And she reaches for my hand and won't ever let go. Sleep be goddamned.

 

Friday
May302014

Prayer for the Cowgirls

Right, we have Dan Mader's flash fiction Friday thing once again. To be honest, I'm trying to keep up while catching some intense Stanley Cup playoff hockey. No Canadian teams left, but it's hard for me to let go, nonetheless. It's okay, it's all good, worry not.

But yeah, I've been reading plenty of stuff this week about misogyny and rape culture and male privilege and domestic violence. I have some personal familiarity with some of that shit, truth be told, as much as I wish it weren't so (not as perpetrator, before you ask, and for that you must take my word). It's ugly, basically.

Anyway, try to imagine Thelma and Louise with a Cormac McCarthy screenplay, and this latest piece might come clear after a night under some burning starfield, the air having cooled fast, as deserts do.

The thing is, what's important is that writers keep writing, keep improving and entering, displaying their work in places that are both supportive of all-comers yet exacting in terms of standards. We can raise ourselves by our bootstraps, brothers and sisters, no lie.

But yeah. Okay, here it is: my flawed cowgirls get the goddamned blues. Life is messy, yo.

Prayer for the Cowgirls

They tied their mounts in a meager stand of red birch, evening's onset drawing out shadows beneath the vast western cliff face. 

To their right, the eastern plains were already dark as an indrawn breath. 

Blanket folded between her dusky head and a small rock, Ashlyn lay back and tried to guess where in the sky each new star would choose to glimmer. 

Glimmer-born, she thought. A fine name for high fantasy. 

But here was only low reality—the edifice that loomed to their left, the quiet trees still as quills, and the memories of their belligerent, cheating, freshly killed husbands still bleeding out on worn linoleum. 

What indignities this land has witnessed and then always covered like someone dutiful raking their trail with cedar boughs. Build a fire and not all ghosts scatter. 

"Well. We did it." Clara's face indistinct amid the greying of the world. 

Another star awoke, and Ashlyn smiled. "Sure did, sis. Turned them tables good." 

The horses chuffed and nickered amid the birch stand. Small birds in the scrub chittered and flit, settling. 

"So, head out before sunrise?" asked Emilia. "Keep going?" 

"I say yeah. Too tired to move, but giving y'all high-fives in my mind here. Night, girls." 

"Night." 

"Night." 

High on the cliff above them a cougar screamed like a child lost in a charnel house, while everyplace else shrank into silence and the stars blazed from their impossible distances, as they always will do and always have done. Amen.