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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
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.

Saturday
Apr062019

Hammer Down

She was maybe fourteen when she first knocked on the door of my cab. Damn young even for a lot lizard. 

I rolled across and opened it and asked her, "What?"

"Nothing much. Name's Nora. I need a ride north…"

"Alright. I'm heading out in an hour. Be here."

"You a good man?"

I didn't answer, just stared. She looked away.

Don't sing about tomorrow because I already know I've lost you. 

She was punctual.

Underway, I cranked the tunes.

"Hope you like Waylon, little girl."

"What's a Waylon?"

I damn near busted a rib at that, while she gazed ahead with no expression on her heart-shaped face. 

After I got a breath, I asked her, "So, you a runaway?"

Ain't much for social niceties, as it happens. 

She didn't say nothing for a long time, and I was beginning to think she hadn't heard me over the outlaw uproar coming from my speakers when she finally answered.

"Not running away. Running to. I got me a man to kill."

Follow the endless poles and you'll hear our song humming in the wires.

My turn to think I heard wrong. I looked across at her, looked away, looked again. Her pretty face hadn't changed a jot, her eyes fixed on the unspooling ribbon of the eternal blacktop.

"Thinking I might've heard you wrong just now."

"You probably didn't. But I'll say it again, mister. Got me a man I need to kill."

Here's a thing. They're all lot lizards to me; I don't tell apart the ho's from the lost souls, the thumbers, the runners. Excuse the pun, but I don't truck with the former. I'll pick 'em up if I want the company, but it's strictly hands-off. I ain't stupid. Plus, each year they seem to get younger. Probl'y 'cause each year I seem to get older... ain't no mystery to it, really. But this life's a lonely one, and these girls often surprise me, make me laugh and sometimes even make me think about all the lives out there veering onto the shoulder, waiting to get bit by gators. Hell, I like their company, even the pissy ones who bitch about my choice in tunes.

"Alright. Look, miss. Back there you asked me if I'm a good man, and I never answered. But the fact is, I ain't entirely a good man. I done some bad things here and there, things I sure ain't proud of, but I ain't never been a party to no murder, so I'm thinking I'll let you out, no offense meant. There's a stop maybe a half hour up ahead that ain't no pickle park, so you'll be alright. And maybe you can think about shit while you're there and come to some different conclusions.”

"Sure, mister, I ain't offended. Ain't no murder, though. It's a mercy killin'."

Be damned if I wasn't curious, but I held my tongue and the big road kept on rolling and the music kept on twanging. 

Sing me a song of death. What do you love? The miles fill up with dread. You won't resist.

I glanced again, and her expression had changed for the first time; on her doll face was a full-on grin, wide as a toad's, made me think of some real bad thing, and I felt a tremor inside me and stood on the pedal, wondering if I should just hit the shoulder and unload her right there, be done with it. But I kept on going.

Hammer down and stack them eights. Ten-four, my sorry ass.

_______

To be continued?

Sunday
Mar312019

Tragicomic

I wanted to tell you about the ones who watch. But I lost the thread. Look, if you have to begin again, whatever story you were trying to tell is no longer the same story. 

So take two.

They are the ones who watch.

Different ones. They are dirty and silent and sit on the landings of broken motels, and they wait. Surveilling some squandered lot under a pewter sky.

A gravestone is a lozenge. Place it on your hungry tongue and wait while it dissolves. This might take a while. Decades even. Until… ah, death (death you rascal, you holy, holy rogue) is now inside you, as it should be. Let us meet again beneath a canopy of green, smiling and true, and grab my forearm, clasp my augmentations, my fingers as you insist on calling them, as they gesture and curl, urging unity, emblematic of accord, my compañeros, my luminous sisters, my radiant brothers, and wait. 

Sounds arrive, fashioned from beachcombed shells and the gentle breath of a hundred tides. An inner ear and some vulvic sculpture, such tender whorls and devotional twists of flesh. Folds and fabrications. To listen is to love. 

Following the atrocity, you arrive late at night. Unobserved, you think. Sleep a fitful hour or two. Moments after a weak and dilute dawn withdraws in shame, the children flock and sing their crude atonal rhymes beneath your window, and reluctantly you stagger from your bed to witness them. 

"Mister, we know why you're here!" shouts one, because they're the children of the ones who watch. 

But you can't let it go, because comedy, so you call back.

"Of course you do. It's because this tale needs a Greek chorus."

And instead of retreat or bewilderment, the children's grimy faces under the lice-swarming tangles once known as hair crease with such genuine joy that it brings you to your knees, and you begin to sob like a small child yourself, one who first believed the promised gift would be a pony or a trainset before you opened it and found the irradiated post-tsunami ruins of a miniature coastal town, which turned out, stunningly and over time, to be a more apposite bestowal.

Because, mindful now, you watch too.

How funny tragedy is. How hilarious the unfolding of awful things, witnessed from some window with a flower box beneath it, while songbirds gather staves and clefs for abstract nests from which they compose and perform something lovely, even though friends and colleagues plummet in fiery feathered arcs around them. 

It doesn't take a giant rock. Just millions of smaller ones. 

And still we laugh. Because it's funny. There's literally nothing in this world that isn't funny. Otherwise nothing is.

Friday
Mar152019

Vespine

I can't write about this, so I'll write about another thing. 

There's a beautiful sapphire-jade wasp whose body is forged from elfin metal. It's truly lovely, and it was forged on this bright, astonishing planet. This earth. When it meets a cockroach, an ordinary cockroach, it stings it, paralyzing its front legs, and injects its larvae into the roach's body. The roach is unfortunately alive. I say unfortunately because far worse is to come, as you've doubtless anticipated. 

Next the wasp eats most of the roach's antennae. Maybe for pure spite, who knows?

It then leads the crippled victim to its nest, dragging it by the remaining parts of its antennae, like some ruined leash. 

As you've probably guessed, the wasp—a dark glittering star in the vespine world—lays a white egg on the living body of the doomed beetle, and after a few days the egg hatches and larvae start to feed on their unwilling host. 

Let me reiterate at this point: none of this is consensual. Just in case you were wondering. And yes, this is fucking bleak. 

So anyway, the larvae chew their way into the living roach and begin to devour its internal organs. During this time, they ensure the roach stays alive while they form at first a pupa and then a cocoon within. 

Eventually, the grown wasp emerges from the body of its host, the wretched abandoned cockroach, wholly unchampioned and alone, still alive and leaky and utterly ruined like something from a movie rejected by George Romero as way too callous, too goddamn brutal.

So this is the story I can tell, while the one I actually want to tell is drowned by sorrow and horror and the atrocity of truth. Time to reach for the antivenin. Time to admit we might not win this.

Regardless, how can anyone ignore the heaving grandeur of that tiny pendulous abdomen, pinch-waisted and brimful of the shrewdest toxins and the bright gleaming ego-dream of need? Dark as it is, this awful thing is framed by the purest, most appalling love.

I tell this, of course, while the real story I want to tell is so much more complex, a thousandfold more grim.

Friday
Mar082019

Cosmic

God, or someone like him, decides to tell a joke. 

Here's how it goes. 

It's wintertime on the great plains. We're huddled at a giant gas station—ten islands each with five pumps, like little solar systems—and we're alone there in that cold dome of artificial light amid an encroaching, encompassing darkness, like all of space itself has encircled us.

Us being Doris, Blake, and me.

And the winds. The winds on all sides sing no human melody, just a fluctuating galactic plainsong, like abandoned sheets berserked by a gale. Blurs of snow like the flung arms of colliding starfields.

Doris says, "You think she made it?"

Given I watched Sylvie die with my own anguished two eyes, I'm gonna pass on that. 

I stomp my feet, Doris hugs herself, and Blake ignores us.

Our exhalations hang in the air like tiny frozen organ pipes.  

In the gloom beyond the lights, a pale gathering of rigs lie still, accumulating snow like the corpses of buffalo. I wonder where the drivers are, but again I keep my thoughts inside, for warmth.

And speaking of inside, not a soul moves within the chill fluorescence of the great hangar around which the gas bars orbit. An inconvenience store, I think. Not funny. The place looks like a forsaken terrarium. 

Blake hasn't spoken in hours, but he does now. "So this is hell," he says, quietly.

"More like hell's briefing room," says Doris, which makes me look at her and nearly smile. She nearly smiles back. And I try not to think about Sylvie. 

How do things go so wrong so quickly? Twenty-four hours seems barely enough time for such a one-eighty. Everything had gone to plan; against the odds, we'd pulled it off; we were superstars; life was about to begin in earnest. But now…

It's all a risk, every step of it. You can tell a joke, even a bunch of jokes, but no one's obliged to laugh.

Out there in the dark, beyond the dizzying supercluster whorls, we watch shapes move like slow behemoths; real or imagined, who knows? All we know is we'll never reach them, on this day or the next, but if they reach us they will end us. 

Blake says, "After we soar, how come there's this rule we gotta come down?"

"That's God’s punchline," I say.