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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
Jun092017

Kettering

"Nature, whose sweet rains fall on unjust and just alike, will have clefts in the rocks where I may hide, and secret valleys in whose silence I may weep undisturbed. She will hang the night with stars so that I may walk abroad in the darkness without stumbling, and send the wind over my footprints so that none may track me to my hurt: she will cleanse me in great waters, and with bitter herbs make me whole." — Oscar Wilde

***

O England. We lived and loved in a caravan in Somerset. On holiday with my mad friend and his half-mad family, I would steal across dim eventides to you, in your own small caravan where you stayed and helped your mum. Her problems were like prisms floating off in someone else's periphery. Her heart was good but her mind was shattered, weary of shadows, trying to reassemble on the abandoned half of the moon. She even liked me. Mothers always did, though. We were fourteen or fifteen, then. Sixteen at a pinch. The tender shimmer of our confidence barely burgeoning, yet reciprocal. Our summer days were wrung dishrags with pendent cloud and a fine mist that felt like tidal spray on our upturned faces yet tasted of nothing much. Like sweat without salt. We treated the sun like an interloper. 

Teens have a homing call, and we were no different. Scrawny pigeon things, we were, skewed preemptive magnets in our brains. In a village hall, someone half-arsed a disco, strung some weak synaptic lights, set up a turntable and blared Anita Ward and Tubeway Army 45s most of the night while locals and tourists partway mingled, got heartily, lustily sick on Southern Comfort, gorged on faded plastic bowls of salted peanuts, and largely failed at sex. 

Avid, irreverent, spectacular, reticent. Are frenemies electric? 

Does aristocrat rhyme with wrong side of the tracks?

Partially. I'll come in, but I stutter on the high notes.

Prince and pauper, some bright daughter. See those eyes.

Those Tesla eyes. Scattering. Dost thou know who made thee?

Your music the gauze of summer draped, festooned across this eternal valley.

Silver jubilee? Impromptu street party? Nah, mate. That was then. Now lifelong enemies. 

Edison. Faraday. Tell me when it's time to jettison.

Right. Are you at last the axe for the frozen sea within? 

Will you let us in? Kettering. The unbearable lightness of Kettering.

The unpaved road to whose damn heart, my loves?

Yes, we pause on the stinking asphalt of a busy road, Abington Street, that dumb weekend, dripping blood from our off-kilter mouths, our sliced-up knuckles and forearms torrenting, a-stagger in some pointless random place reeking of stale beer and layers of old oil, broken glass embedded in our wounds and spitting out the bloody fragments of our teeth, now serrated like steak knives by steel-toed boots, our bells truly rung, ding-dong, ding-dong, while anxious drivers honk their horns and the restless weekend lopes along, regardless of, indifferent toward, our savage choreography, our unsolicited valium nightfall… but have you once spared a single thought for Kafka or Kundera, let alone fucking Kettering? 

It sounds like some cold North Atlantic breakfast, made with rice and fish, eaten by men in thick woollen sweaters listening to wheezing organs and melancholy strings while robustly stabbing the hope out of an assortment of sea life. I'm outside the hut and utterly lost. Antichrist, domesticate, concussed, you appalling fuck, come love me. I have barely anything left to give. 

What is left?

The song of a bird that has come to love its cage.

O England.

Friday
Jun022017

A Different World

Are they fields or backdrops? Cornstalks, watercolor hills, the raw faraway throats of the assembling hounds.

You tripped on the edge of a ditch, dressed in your charcoal raiments. Fell to your knees along the rude shoulder of a quiet straight road. When I saw you, my first thought was why a nun would be alone out here in this place of silence, dripping sullied water, palms displayed, mud streaks your only stigmata.

The hunter is coming, with his dogs. 

I am your sister, your twin. I squat in a hovel, barely fed or taken care of. My dirt is in sedimentary layers, marking the eons of my degradation. I was taken from our village, where you and I played in our facsimiles of innocence, and the years passed like sutures in a wound: deep, stinging, sequential.

You are the river that keeps pace, that stays its course through millennia of strata thrusting upward and tells my ancient tale.

"Befouled."

"I'm sorry."

"No, don't apologize. You are far more nun than whore. I am, too, perhaps." 

"My sister, I suspect it's not so stark a choice. But I don't want to dredge the past. I only want to love you and be loved."

"Easier for you to say than me. It is I who has to keep on paying. So many prices."

"What would you have me do?"

"Live my life as if it were yours."

"Is that possible?"

"Of course. Anything we imagine can become real."

"I can be the river instead of the rock?"

"Yes. Yes."

Did you crawl across the ankle-sharp cornstalks, the stunted remnants of our precious crop? Each year we move more soy, more sunflower. Pretty, yet the details become erased, the fine grain of things smoothed. We rip out the milkweed, even its roadside kin, oblivious to everything, the future, Lepidoptera attrition, the ruination of the monarchs. Make of everything a cipher. Too late, we get it. These are way stations we should never ignore. Did you make your escape?

Keep one eye on the distant hunter, an ear on the uncanny hollers and yowls. 

Hey, did you hear? You can get Innis & Gunn on tap in a bar on Government Street. Parliament dissolves into the backdrop of encroaching night, its outline a string of seasonal LEDs. Hot people lovemaking on the darkening lawn. Gawkers and passersby quietly thinning; tetchy draft horses dragging emptying wagons. Seabirds and crows scolding stragglers. The intimate lap of sailboats in this restful harbour. Sketchers and jewel makers disassembling, dismantling, heading for home. Red buses parked for the night. Replicant England folding into its counterfeit footprint. 

The lovers leave sweat outlines like crime scenes. I feel like an implosion. Down by deceptive waters, the frisson of thwarted love.

Where are you, Sheryl, and your prettier sister, Helena? Are you lost in Astral Weeks, listening to glory snared in amber? Bawling over the love that loves to love. The love that loves to love. While the gale howls over fallow fields and flattens the cornstalks. The love that loves to love. Say goodbye to all of that, to Madame George and Boy George and George Michael, and how we hitchhiked ourselves from Miami, FLA, shaved our legs, unfurled our litany of fags and freaks, made it all the way to NYC, hopelessly transformed. 

I offer you Rayne and Paige. The darkest, brightest, maddest, and sanest of twins. 

Or perhaps we should come at this from a different angle first. Picture a young David Lynch with his parents—late nineteen forties, early fifties—while they do business in some musty bank in Spokane or Boise. For a couple seconds, his parents take their eyes off of him and he wanders to the side of the bank where a hefty wooden stand filled with deposit slips hugs the wall. Young David is three or four years old and feels the urge to climb it, so he does exactly that, gripping the raised lip of its edge and trying to pull himself up. An innocent, even delightful moment in midcentury America. Norman Rockwell America. But that innocence is also his and everyone's downfall, in a prelitigious America where some article of furniture is not secured to a wall to prevent what happens here from happening. He hangs from its edge and it tips, and it's fashioned of dense and heavy wood—such good quality back then—so when it falls on him it crushes his throat and neck almost instantly. Thus one family enters the dark garden of grief, and thus the world is deprived of Eraserhead and Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks and Mulholland Drive. On such random pegs such despondent coats hang.

But again. Twins. Rayne was told he was a boy and Paige a girl. Or was it the other way round? They spent decades in conflict with the world on something this elemental. Were you ever told your eyes were blue when you knew they were chestnut? That the world is flat when you endlessly sail its arcing horizons. Paige rained rage on all and Rayne filled pages with wrath, until they wrangled the word and then bent the world to their will and became Pain and Rage, brand new transgender superheroes for a world still not ready. Non-binary twins, a paradox.

"Did you see the man?"

"Last night was so quiet. Did something happen?"

"Nothing happened. The dismal man walked by."

"I want to live in a different world. One in which the dismal man doesn't walk by."

"He was holding something in his right hand."

"Holding what?"

"Something."

"I want to live in a world where the dismal man isn't holding something."

Someone faraway is firing up power tools, and the last ever dog bays doleful, and a deep threnody resounds from the mouth of a cave like the world's final jeremiad. A man screams, "You don't know me!" and runs into a busy street while dousing himself with gasoline and flicking a Zippo. Two women emerge from a shallow lagoon and mutilate each other with the shells of razor clams. A baby dies alone on a soiled mattress. Worlds are annihilated by a supernova. 

The hunter has arrived, and his eyes are screaming. 

"I want to live in a different world."

Friday
May262017

Sister Matins

For a hushed moment, in your stillness and quiet we thought you dead. 

Your body is encased in a form-fitting spray of powdery charcoal dust. No gloss, just fine textural grain. Your hair, which does in fact gleam like the renegade moon, is gathered in a dark ponytail, most alien to you. You are a vessel, a human kayak someone might paddle across the mist-shrouded lake. But you would never stand for that. This is about dignity. And what is right. 

Sister. Let me breathe for you.

Still. You are on your feet now in defiance, your perfect legs spread in a warrior pose, your musculature fine as topography, the line of your jaw tracing the upraised shoreline like a medieval sextant. 

With my fingertips I want to sketch that jaw; with my whole hands I want to ward off hurt for you. And I see that you know this. But each passing moment only adds to your Egyptian charm, your Cleopatran scorch, your torrid Mediterranean allure, your intrinsic gypsy tang. A parade of goddesses arrives and begins to carouse. Nephthys and Isis and Bastet. Qetesh and Sekhmet. Banished to the shadows, I watch with my jackal eyes. I dream of violet orchids and ruby-throated hummingbirds. 

I literally just said this to my good friend, a father of young children: "Hugs from a four-year-old are worth their weight in hummingbird wings."

He laughed in that way you laugh when something is unassailable.

It might well be that you rebut your feline side. Whatever. I sense it anyway; see, hear, feel, smell, taste. The steps you offer me I recondition, make of them a route for you to renegotiate and clamber back aboard hope.

The aurora blooms in the late summer sky. Greens and violets, curtains in the vast cosmic window. They dance and shimmer all night without need of accompaniment. An electric profundity of silence. 

You are a single flower the colour of amethyst in a once-fertile valley that has grown cold and strange. Your petals are a purple fist, protective. The very first rays of daybreak fail to tempt you. But then a sudden sunshower mists your corolla, stirring them to unfurl and accept both heat and liquid, and you open to the world and the first bird sings.

Your cry is piercing in the gentle night, carrying over conifers and crumbling ridges, the lament of someone grasping at a hundred frozen edges. Pain is pain. Fear is fear. And you know both. We meet on that very plain, wrought of anguish and the bleak ignoble tendencies of our kind. We are clothed; we are unclothed. It matters not. We embrace. Another time you walk right by me, oblivious. At others we are bathed in the spectral light of nebulae.

Sometimes my thirst makes you smile. And you tease me. Sometimes you welcome it. Each time we honour the crossing of our paths, we're forced to reconcile our altered selves. And each time that happens, the more we can say we're mostly good. And if I know your femininity of a moment, it's true you might save me from some future hangman. We are dangling from a fulcrum, you and I. Like clocks and guns and fever dreams. Crows and coyotes. Ravens and eagles. Breakthroughs. Onslaughts. Executions. Hot rocks in a lodge and scintillating skies, everything animate and woman-bejeweled.

Friday
May192017

Amethyst Magnet

A wounded moon, she tries to escape her orbit and arcs her way starward in some fruitless bid for independence. Hunkered down in a Tacoma apartment, listening to Sleater-Kinney, for six weeks she shares a rough cube with roaches and rodents and silverfish. And mildew. Until a day when she ventures out and finds a nearby farmer's market and spends so many hours overstaying her welcome. Smiling at strange men with stranger facial hair. Lusting for expensive ink. Pretending to flip quarters into the hats of buskers but tossing only bottle caps.

Can we climb the hills outside town? Eclipse their occasional gravity? They're not far, and the sounds of our celebrations echo from their striated flanks. The faraway choir cries, "Tom Hardy," and we all think of the actor. But some of us suspect they meant John and think of Leadbelly. Either way, doesn't matter. Pick me up like flakes of iron, like metal shavings, don't let us grow beyond our suicide lines, our creosote dreams.

"I want you to succeed," she said.

"Seems you forgot I was Canadian."

"I did. Indeed. Nothing is for free."

(Really? Not even torn pantyhose? Not eroticism? Not rebellion, scorn, fugitive desire?)

At what point did the blurry wraith steal into the mall and wrap its cold persuasion around the wrists and throats of enough teenagers to undermine the morale of this place? Repurpose our world? I pledge to stand in recalcitrance. 

Stir that iron pan of rice and ground turkey, mix in spices, garlic, add your desolate tears, and consider the woman you once loved who gives you not a thought. Maybe barely a thought. You damn well wish. Eat and make your slow way coastward. Scratch off the layers of dirt in that abandoned place, that atrium, that cloistered dome drenched in the grey hesitant stupors of longtime voyagers. You will bow to me. Deflect the lightning. Swallow the juice of stupidity dripping from the vain tenements of some tossed-off American balcony. Goddamn it.

A faulty dream? A glorious sin? Scornful, doubtful gestures?

For a moment it looks like Iowa. Sioux City. For now I might dismiss it as Wisconsin. Far from the Madison crowd. It's all shimmering and lost. Loved, even.

 

Your heart is amethyst, your mind

is adamant. Your mine bores

deep inside this hillside. Why 

not drill yet farther? Why not

get in line, aspire to coruscant?

 

Flaxen-haired, klaxon-horned, this instant is stark. An urban stream, a concrete riverbed veined with graffiti, the dusty weeds swaying on the banks while fugitives converge, flame trees lining the streets and cursing like motherfucks, breathing like livestock given a reprieve. Promised something wondrous. 

She. She is a mother and she wears bluejean cutoffs, and the dirt-white pockets rest on her pale thighs like the ears of a phantom hound dog. Her wifebeater hangs off her t-frame, loose, not clean, underscoring dark erect nipples. She is indeed unclean. Her dirt is of the celebratory kind. Her stink joyous. She pushes cleflike locks of her lank dark hair behind her ears. The score of her loneliness her salient feature. 

Held in her eyes, bright cumulus skies, and a flurry of spores seeds the air above us. Even makes us smile. All must be maintained. Palm trees. Lawns. Dazzling miles. Hummingbirds darning the thick fabric evenings. Boxes of cheap malbec stacked near the checkouts. The sweet sculpted heart of your dark humid pubis. How do I keep this semblance alive? Do you hear the moans of the women? Do you consider them something good? The odds are largely against this.

A pack of dogs explodes through powder snow, scattering in childdrawn lines while their prey, a year-old fawn, hesitates before plummeting over the next ridge. This is the way of things. A woman texts her friend and watches the till while a carload of young men empties into the silence and advances. Bless the gifted blood in all of them. Curse their surety. How will we interpret the trucker's lament, the anchor dropped by a witness, the stutter of professional hesitance? The dogs confront their error and backtrack, plumes of backlit snow like golden dust against the sunset ridge. Cold. The tiny deer stops for half a second, enough to seal her fate. There is no cruelty in the kill; it's swift and wild and consummate. The way of things. 

My love, are you listening? You're the second-best girl I ever had. 

Don't leave me. Don't drop me. Good God, good girl, please stick around, vainglorious one. 

Everything is burning, The Wickaninnish Inn reeks of smoked sockeye. Eagles are dropping from a boiling sky. Bears stagger out of the trees, wisps of smoke uncurling from their fur. Clams pop on the rocks like apocalyptic snacks. This kid, that corner, our hopes, their moments gather on Chesterman Beach. Rock pools mirror a waning sky.

I stumble over my ownself. Nod quiet thanks to the waitstaff. This is the one place in this clustered nightmare that bleeds red, watery hot like Tabasco. Instinctively I lean its way. And overtip like fuck. The server—a sheer beauty made from alabaster, marble, hot clay, and the primate tang of vitality—punches her number into my phone and brushes my neck with her rustic lips. I shudder. She is beautiful and rural and I want to go home with her. But I'm on a mission here; if I get the chance I will go back, but if not, while the sap drips from the bark and gophers run riot along the shoulders, beyond the last Applebee's, we all dip our limbs and hopes in this heavy green soup and keep right on going until (someday, at some point) we don't.

Friday
May122017

Cabin. Lake. Action.

Afterward, her first instinct was to make her way to the cabin upstate. When she saw his text—"On my way soon"—her heart hop-skipped in her chest for a second. Like a new comet, hope crossed the night sky of her awareness. 

She cranked the generator and wondered how much he had changed. Almost a decade had lurched awkwardly by since they'd spent a blurry month of kayaking and dancing and one-upping each other with their culinary skills. And lovemaking. Don't forget that. She couldn't forget that. It had been a perfect time. No hint of impending darkness; pure lakeside rapture in gauzy dreamlight.

Again. She wondered how much he had changed.

How cruel the passage of time. How needlessly complex. A relentless, heedless, slick-knot blastocyst. 

On the uncovered deck, unfolding chairs, sitting, standing by the railing, she paced, fidgeted. She could never get comfortable anymore. She tried to breathe, yoga breathe—prana, her instructor had called it; deep and long—and take in the skim of mist that hung like netting over the lake and the dark encirclement of conifers. But her mind stutter-stepped and her hot, coiled body wouldn't settle. 

She had the strangest sense of unraveling. Like yarn unspooling. Was it time or was it memory? The loons were long gone from this place, replaced by more distant complaints. The songs of the cicadas seemed muted. More sorrowful, more dissonant.

In the small kitchen, sensing his proximity, she uncorked an expensive Bordeaux, with some difficulty. Ready to celebrate this reunion. Mark this occasion. Poured herself a large glass. Began to fix tortillas with salsa and guacamole. Crushed some ice for margaritas, made do with lime juice instead of limes. Sweet-rimmed two plastic glasses. Overkill, she knew. 

But still she wondered. If he had changed, had she also changed? Well, yes. Much had changed, although this lake and its vigilant garrison of cedar and spruce seemed somehow eternal. The choral dawns and evening serenades. The songbirds and the fireflies. 

The earthy tang of woodsmoke in her nostrils. The face of the water ashen, like someone given grave news in a hospital. 

She tried to tune the radio, found nothing. Smacked its wooden frame. Paced. Waited.

The moment she found a channel—something preachy, gawping, and demented; scratchy as brain spiders—she looked up and with her remaining eye watched him approach from the overgrown driveway. He was worse off than her, an arm long gone and the skin on the other flapping in slick pink parade flags as he lurched her way. A good third of his head was a ruined moon, yet he grinned peculiarly, one pinning eye fixed on her while she struggled to stand and greet him.

The timing of their embrace, already heated in its way, coincided neatly with the next howling firestorm.