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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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Saturday
Jun012019

Raven of the Sea

"I see you now."

I might be the stupidest man who ever lived. This is my delayed tribute. I never saw you, but I see you now.

When I wheel her onto the concrete platform behind the fence so she can look out on the cove, her head is like some piñata, loose upon a bundle of sticks, desirous of being hung and being beat. I will never hang it. Or ever beat it. I want her to drink the waters and the misted skies of the bay forever. I don't want to ever say goodbye. But she knows this and brays laughter like a crow.

"My damn voice barely works anymore, and you're a total prick of a man, and I know what you want, and I'll be damned if I'll do what you want right here and right now, you complete and utter…"

Though I tune her out, I am penitent. I barely flinch.

She always was a cursing virtuoso, a maestro of malediction.

A cormorant rises from the shallows like a fiend released in our world and spreads the sodden shawl of its wingspan as if we could discern some profane script inside its scope, then it drags its sopping body impossibly and barely airborne, mere feet above the waves. Inwardly I cheer, but I know that is gauche. What self-respecting lifeform shits and grubs in the shallows and the dirt before it can soar in a blink, and arrow like the dream of a spear? This cormorant. This cursed black serpentine jinx with dripping parchment wings. This ink-dipped oath. Not bat but not bird either.

If somebody says, "I can't do this anymore," that's the time to start listening. 

It's also true that if they say they're struggling, you listen too, but these, these are crisis words, this is the klaxon, the clamor of an alarm aboard a starship where everything's bathed in alternating crimson and black, and sirens blare. 

"Tell me how you are," I say to her.

"I can't… encompass it.

"Try."

"For you?"

"No. For you. And for her…" 

"Prick. See?"

A tide brings the waters in, tosses great boatloads of kelp on the beach like the tendrils of cephalopods, waxes so ferries can leave, wanes like a moondrawn thing. Tourists keep gathering on the heights, to watch, to listen, to smell this thing. This hermetic zombie thing.

Grief lies curled like a dead fern in my gut.

"Talk," I say. "It's your moment. I did you harm, woman, but here's your time to preach."

Like scraping molluscs from an antique hull. 

Then a silence falls on land and water alike, a birdless quiet, until at last she croaks out her testimony. 

"Right. You raggedy motherfucker. What did you ever want with me? With us? Like actors, you want us to drag our indignities like ruined limbs across the stage, explain away our shame… Wait. No. That isn't right. Reboot. Start over…" 

Her voice is a rasp on fibrous wood. Her flintlike sorrow moves from her eyes to her entirety. 

"Lookit. Imagine there's this vast mural painted by generations upon a stucco wall, each segment independent of the rest, great scenes of despair and dread, of busted dreams and the mockeries of hope. Leaving some alleyway trattoria, you stumble on it and you close on some small grey drama, something ugly or mean. Shocked, you look upon another patch of the canvas, equally tawdry, and you think the ugly is winning, but then you go to leave and something makes you turn around and you see the whole fresco and you gasp and you cry out and you finally stand mute, comprehending, and you see it's your life. All your life. And you…" She points a misshapen finger at me. "You were one of the shabby sections is all. Now cut the fence and tip this damn chair already, you gawking ungainly dipshit. Time to introduce this meat suit to the unforgiving rocks."

Sunday
May262019

Blame

Wait. Rewind. Take the chablis instead of the pinot. Scream from the Shed End not the Kop. Deep fry the fiddleheads don’t steam them. Purchase don’t pirate. Rehabilitate don’t shame. Kill don’t maim.

We narcissists enamoured of minor difference. Our oil-smeared glories. 

You damn well wear me out.

We gather here on a darkling plain, you and me and your girlfriend and my roommate and my twenty-seven rabid first cousins, plus half of Europe under gawking Polaris. Friends and those we think we should have met. Loved even. That batshit horny aunt we wish we’d never fucked, though glad we did if only for wank fodder, though we were only twelve. Muslims and Jews. Bent cops, craven officials, a legion of weak and stupid fucks. The pointless inarticulate rage of white grievance. Aimless spleen. Doltishness in celebration of itself. Vicious dimwits. Old cunts we wish would die; yeah, fuck your feelings indeed. Those conspiratorial priests, milling like cormorants on pilings, spreading their robes lasciviously, fake as puppets coerced onto sweaty laps, shot through with voices and breath, the same breath moving the tide over stones, hissing and hitching and asthmatic under austere skies, heralding war but mostly unheeded, mostly unheard. 

I’ll give you Dover beach, you absolute fucking weapon. 

This is nineteen sixty-one. A flower already scorched. A film unspooled. The wolf that knows which root to dig. My life entire. Go vent this. 

We wait while the elephant gets to her feet. The matriarch. She once considered stomping us to death. Now she watches as we wait. And we wait, and she backs away, swaying like vines and hammocks, ropy and weighty and arthritic. Her breath is the surface ripple of the Nile, by the banks, igniting a flock of cranes. Igniting or anointing, what’s the difference? Flames or oil? All falls down to one or both. When aphids die the ladybugs follow. When the salmon won’t spawn the whales can’t eat. When corals bleach anemones die. We leave with fingers miming silence on our tight lips, and I can’t get the theme tune from The Walking Dead out of my head. What is all this? Are we in some awful tale? Are we the thwarted salmon? Or are we the dying orca? Are we frail and ill-starred jewels or hopelessly mundane?

We escape. We think we escape. We hope. 

But we know something else, some true thing.

She damn well should’ve stomped us. 

Sunday
May192019

Overdue

Harlan sat on his porch of worn uneven planks that, like our world and Harlan himself, had seen better days. We faced west, the direction that once meant hope. The last glint of sun had slid below the rim of the land and only a narrow yellowish strip gleamed through the dead and silhouetted trees, the darkened plain and the starless sky crushing it like a seam of gold in the ground.

We sat in silence awhile. Until we both seemed to realize something at once.

He was the first to say it. "Well, I'll be damned."

"Yeah."

Cicadas. The Collapse had brought such ornate miseries it seemed almost impudent to include among them the silencing of the insect world, but even on a subliminal level we'd felt their loss keenly. Ghosts come in many forms. Yet here they were. Tentative and hushed, but back in some facsimile of numbers.

"Thought surprise was a thing of the past," said Harlan, and I smiled. 

The scattering of bug sounds stabbed at the silence under gathering clouds we could sense more than see.

A breeze was testing the air, thinking about becoming a gust or two.

"Mr. Cutler… Harlan, I mean?" Dammit. How many times over the years had the old man corrected me?

"Son?"

"I want you to know you've kept me sane all these years since the Collapse."

"I know that, son."

"I know you know it. I just wanted to say it."

"Alright. Good to know. Let's drink to that—"

"Sir, I'll get it—"

"The hell you will. And the name's Harlan. How many times…?"

I lost his words on the gathering breeze as he made his slow hunched way into the cabin to fetch a jar or two of the crude cider he fermented from some unknown organic thing. Roots. Fungus. Squash, maybe. It always tasted about the same as it sounded.

I knew what he was gonna say before he said it.

"Bourbon, young fella?"

I laughed. We sat and drank, pretending it was Wild Turkey 101. Imagination ain't exactly perfect, but it can get you halfway there sometimes.

"They quieted down again," I said. 

"Huh. Mayhap the orchestra's done tuning and the symphony's comin'."

We wouldn't get to find out. Those gusts had turned to squalls and soon great hollerings, and the sky dropped its pent-up grief on everything. I scrambled to join him on the porch, and we waited it out, drinking slow and steady, hearing the mayhem of trees crack and splinter and jettison their bones in the dark.

Felt like wicked black wolves now governed the night.

When it was done, a sadness came over me and I no longer felt like pretending Harlan's concoction was even drinkable and I told him I didn't feel too good and took myself home, a ruder shack about a mile south of his place.

Next afternoon, a mite rueful, I hiked my sleepless and hungover ass back over to the old man's cabin. 

Harlan was gone. Debris covered his porch, but so much of it; dirt and bits of tree and even what looked like old coyote shit. From the storm, I figured. Some of it, at least. But after calling his name awhile and knocking on his door like a fool, I went inside. A layer of dust covered everything, the only places clear of dirt my bootprints behind me. What in the hell? I grabbed a jar of his moonjuice, a sandy film on the outside, a dark layer of silt inside, and sat in his creaky old chair on the porch sipping my friend's godawful liquor, hair of the mangiest of dogs. 

Things in my head didn't feel right. The silence in everything was too loud.

I listened for the bugs again, but nothing. Thought maybe it hadn't been a chorus but a coda after all. 

Saturday
May112019

Lonely Comin' Down

Do you know pain? Do you know where to find it? Follow the hoofbeats on dry grasses. Follow the sun's arc.

On the day he became a man, he found her drenched in blood and viscera, the cavernous wound across her midriff a silent, dripping howl at the world's indifference, and she told him they'd cut her baby out and macheted it in two. He asked why they'd spared her, and she couldn't tell him. After he sutured her together again, her body at least, she cried for days, and a small part of that was the hard blunt urge of her engorged breasts, the desperate milk of which she convinced him to suck. Not as a sexual act, she insisted, but a pragmatic one. He meant to agree, and on one level he surely did, but soon the daily ritual of her motherhood expressed into his acclimatizing mouth was quite literally a sweet arousal. She was almost twice his age. 

Thus was their baffling and atypical bond established.

But one day they had to leave the shack and join the convulsing world so maddened in its throes. 

The throng of bison boiled across the plains like darkening suds. 

Blinking, stumbling, sometimes gasping, the man and the woman followed their simmering decadeslong passage into an evensong. Then reached the silver shimmer of the coastal sweep, frail as eggshell.

We think we're lonely. Want to know what lonely is? We think it's when someone won't hear us, when our words fall dry on quieted plains. Yeah, it's that. We think it's when we're misunderstood, misconstrued. Sure. It's also that. We think it's when we've suffered shame in public, been abandoned, no ally in sight. Yeah, it's that too. We think it's when we're strung from a tree and spit on, without a friend in close. Uh-huh. That too. We think it's the whistleblower's fear, the revolutionary's grail, the dissident's rage, all quelled by tyrant malice and worse, the silent savagery of indifference. Which it surely is. We think it the panic of doom in the great brimming eye of the wounded straggler as the zealous pride closes in. The shear of the desert hawk oblique to the hot wind. The last distraught arrival at the site, ribcage like bellows, as the final liftoff launches forlorn above. The lone white bear lurching on the only unmelted floe. The last bee spiralling clumsily down like our double-helix undone. All of which it is. But when I say lonely, I mean the impossible and pitiless interim between the brief age of life and the eventual relentless stretch of each atom and its subatomic parts into an unimaginably vast abyssal chasm spanning the entirety of what is and what will ever be, space itself expanding to a point that light can no longer be shared between points, so all the particles ever created drift alone and unencountered, no hope of warmth, or hope of even a glimmer of a friend, no hope of anything, no hope even of hope. Not the end, but the end of end, the loveless eternal void, the almost-nothing cruel enough to not quite ever be fully nothing. 

The pair, hollowed out and Oedipal, stand like stormstruck trees at the cliff edge and watch the vexed and undead ocean heave with blind grey malevolence, with lunacy, as one by one the stars are doused, all light and tide withdraws, the last things seen on this or any other world two scorched and doting human hands entwined, love's final say. 

Saturday
Apr132019

Soledad

"The only truth is music." — Jack Kerouac

Here beneath the strip mall sign, by some nameless roadside, I want to tell you something, whisper it even. You are not an adjective; you are the full noun. You are majesty. 

Cue faraway hillside banjo jank.

This urgent child now, this sparrow hawk. Quietly edging past the darkest of holy hours, suspended in dwarfland, in tens of millions cowed and streaming SoCal dreams, old strings droning like worlds of doom, pale draped bronze things nude as headlines, the hidden corners articulated, the lost so close to (yet endlessly far from) being found. This is how it is now.

Drop into a mandolin pizzicato. 

I succumbed to a ten-dollar haircut at the ramshackle mall. It felt like being sheared. By a shepherd with voluminous breasts and wildly uneven mascara. Now I run my fingers up my skull through tiny spines against the grain. Feels sorta fine. Scratch my itch with a loose grip then wish you'd kissed me there. You contrary winsome fucking bitch. (I'll always be here.)

Yo. Yo. Arpeggiate this

I'm sorry. So often I stray. I promise I'll be better.

Ahead of low skies, a cellist sweeps her sorrow like the final sigil after a flood, a godawful flare of rainbow. Will you hear that? Are you friendly, are you kin? Does this oily tide recede beyond the rocks? Is it choked, retching with our dead? Expectant, we are here now. Reading a book and lost in a wood. Waiting for what? Drop your instinctive pretense and stop, then listen. 

Verse chorus verse chorus bridge chorus outro.

Hooded by a caul of accumulated ice. Silent night. That arbitrary melody. That Indiana sawgrass. Those veiled amphibian eyes. Miss Sarajevo. The first Noël. Hoarse and lost adagios. Throaty requiems for all. Dig deep, my sister, my glorious amigo, make this a worthy dirge, our celebratory hands clasped like prayer flags first held aloft then whipped unforeseen by balmy leeward gales. 

"Look to windward." All gathered and aghast.

A fjord song, echoing past the headwaters, into the wailing abysm.

O please. Not now. Let me hear their harrowing threnody. So defenseless. Divested of all, of everything. My heart. My queer, my derelict, my tumbledown heart, don't quit on me now. Don't you dare, don't you ever fucking dare protect me.