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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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Places I Hang Out
Saturday
Feb092019

Are You Queen Of Heaven?

This is a new thing we tried to learn.

We dreamed a whole summer away.

My cousins walked alongside the ledge.

When we were young we laughed and believed.

Now so many are gone we balk and flinch.

Sparrows amass in the charcoal margins.

The rest of us don't hardly ever blink. 

A cab came by, and I damn well flagged it.

No matter. No sense. I think I also floored it.

***

Grieve next time, but this time roll with it.

What's the word they use? Dissociation?

Don't you dare feel sorry for me. Okay? What happened to me happens to thousands of kids, maybe more. No. I want you to focus on the good parts of a bad tale.

I'm a grown man now, of course. This is a life I didn't choose but found. And it's really not so bad. 

Right? Do you remember? Since you were there too?

***

Easy words, not such easy thoughts. I don't even know if they noticed me as they pulled the car from the rocks, dripping like a murder weapon, and I stood on the road above, squinting into the decaying honey of a late August day.  

Chewing on human evil.

***

"You know they never found him?"

"Course."

"They found his car. Some of his DNA in the wreck. But no body."

"What else they find?"

"Someone else had been in the car too."

"Who? Whose?"

"No one anyone knows."

***

Yet.

***

Hail this tarnished Mary. If this is it, if this is the moment I die, I accept it. 

Pain is unconscionable, but love is paramount. My entire left side is ruinous, yet my ears and heart are eerily specific, hearing on a loop the empyrean throat of Isabel Bayrakdarian as she dreams Górecki’s Symphony No. 3 anew, while rains fall like dreary curtains on a sodden carpet. 

***

At the hour of my death, a dog came out of the dark woods. Now talk to me. Own me. Anagrams are loco. Keep on listening. Anagrams lure, okay. 

Stupid, goofball, elusive, this damnable struggle wants so badly to be told. 

***

Striding into the bar filled with the spirit of Dorothy Parker, I fell in actual love. She was a hiccup draped in ticklish grey at the very end of a smeared warmth.

***

The black dog insinuated himself into our family and moved with us to the cabin built of wood that hunkered in the shadows of giant firs. When we had visitors he vetted them, growling like unfathomable sonar at two men who tried to cross our threshold. Mostly he wagged his stiff tail like an emotional rudder that ached to proclaim happiness. Yet he was never fooled. And we chased those particular men away with the assuredness, the quiet promise of violence, the unspoken quenching of some awful complex thirst.

In the endless gnomic bar of Dorothy Parker.

***

These colors. So subdued yet so attendant. I'm unleashed into the street, and alert I bounce then thrust my feet atop the running board and launch into the seat. Then I drive. I am a woman, driving. In the nineteen forties. Away from a massacre.

***

Darting on and off I-5 an hour south of the Canadian border, Koma Kulshan's dusky peak implacable beyond. Dream our common place in this commonplace place. Here I knew a woman with a mouth like yours. Exceptional. Magnetic. Even her brows were freighted with meaning. I drove on and off the interstate like a firefly, headlights lighting each lost tendril I stumbled upon, blunt visions of Econolodge and myriad locations more faceless yet. A kaleidoscope of bleary shelters, arranged hierarchical, like pantheons of gods, sacred and senseless, screamed from the overlooked backdrop.

***

It's a silent avalanche patient atop some empty peak.

This thing started toward me the moment I was born. Something sleek and inaugurated by my own insensate launch. It's coming fast, like teeth. Cold, exposed, like beholden jaws. 

Starved. Indebted. Imminent. Adamant.

***

You. No other. Please tell me the same. Please.

O enchantress, O my dreadful queen of desolation, did you ever hold on as tightly again as you held on to me? What yet squirms in the folds of your recall? Who will have the wherewithal to abridge this appalling tale? Will anyone? Where is the dog from the woods when we need him? Where is Ms. Parker? Love, life, music as sung by a child? The wind wrapping scarves of mist around skeletal branches? The cavernous indictment of silence where birds and insects once chirped? Where has it all gone? Where have you all gone? And where indeed am I? 

Friday
Jan182019

Aches to Emerge

Here, where the forest unfurls like a rug almost to the rose-gold beach, is where it all started. Where the eagle cries amid cobalt thermals like something abandoned. Forgone yet freed.

"You're a warrior. But are you my warrior?"

"Who's asking?"

The sky crackles like a death-throe radio. Old limbs dislocate at the first hesitant storm. Something in the trees aches to emerge. Don't let it. Please don't fucking let it.

Caffeine is masculine; tannin feminine. The latter leaves less residue, less darkness on the tongue, is cleaner. 

I am a man, so I wake and make coffee, and Annalise smiles at me, still partway gripped by her dreamworld. 

"I'm glad you came back," she says.

Rather than answer I take great pelican gulps of my coffee though it's too hot and I know my tongue will pain me for days.

Birdland is our purgatory. 

Neglect the equivalent of abuse. Indifference as keen a weapon as hate.

Please don't tell me about your dream, I think.

Against the window a ruby-throated hummingbird flits its quantum dance. There. Not there. Vertical. Tiny needle aloft. There again. Not there. Someplace else in an instant. The only clue to its trickery the vague blur at its shimmering sides. If this is the Matrix, hummingbirds are its emissaries.

Once looked at, a bird; unseen, some other thing.

"We should hang more nectar."

I can't recall later which of us said that. Since kindness was its source, I like to think it was me, but I'm likely wrong in my usual random way. I don’t know about yours, but in my universe God indeed plays dice.

Someone knocks at our door, and I'm startled out of something beyond the mere moment; it's as if I'm flipped from one dark tale into another, if not darker then less knowable. 

A tight voice from outside, a sexless shadow beyond the sheer curtain and frosted glass. "I know you're home."

Unbreathing, we out-wait the interloper, and after a while I go out back and drowned in the bloody dripping yolk of a sunset kick a deflated soccer ball against the darkening house, over and over, again and again, volleys and half-volleys, inside of the foot unswerving passes, outside skewed bananas, until I'm filled with hubris and start to juggle it unselfconsciously, a possessed marionette, soon surpassing my own record of fifty and finally overdoing it around seventy-five and dropping it in the talcum-fine dirt at eighty-one. Incensed I didn't make a hundred. While the cowl of night drapes all, scowling, indifferent.

"Come inside. I made dinner," she calls. "The eagle has left."

This wasn't supposed to happen. Not like this. The hummingbirds are absent, and I go inside to eat. 

Her tender care is like a razor, and I am her strop.

"The neighbours have gone, I think," Annalise says over dinner. She has made a perfect pho with nut-rich fungus and something dark as green can be.

"I only want to eat," I say ungratefully, and think for a moment I might be a bad man.

"Then eat," she says. 

Silence should follow, but it doesn't. Slurping and sighing follow.

Then, as if on cue, breaking news on CNN violates our intimacy to inform us of possible terror attacks in a scattering of cities. Confusion and mayhem, panicked crowds, global howls.

We look across a clean marble surface into each other's eyes. I think I reach for her hands first, but it honestly doesn't matter.

Fingers knitted, we talk. About what we'd ask for if granted three wishes (I insist we should ask for infinite wishes; she thinks that's finagling). About the long chalk ghostlike faces near Dover, England. About the skeletal grip of someone dying. About the faultless imploring eyes of children fighting cancer. About this amazing thing: do we love our pets in ways we don't love each other? Is that question even framed right? How honest can we be? Do we privilege our antic species at every juncture? Even when we're genociding? Is MAGAlomaniac a word? If not, should it be? Can dreams come literally true? Even if they feature Nazi dryads giving blissful head to supine unicorns? Even if they narrate our appalling triumphs? Even if they highlight our equally shabby fiascos?

What gears have slipped so badly in the machinery of the world that all this is the upshot?

I say to her, "We should head inland."

"I'll go pack some stuff," she says. Her brimful ass, swaying as she climbs the staircase, is the best thing I've ever seen.

While I wait, a shadow returns and looms at the door. It hefts something heavy in its hand. It weighs at least fifty hummingbirds, probably more, and part of me knows we almost made it.

(The thing in the trees parts the curtains. It's like unspeakable sex.)

And almost is another word for heartbreak.

Wednesday
Jan162019

Then

That’s it, I’m leaving. The road is spread before me, wide up close and narrowing ahead, ruined by its history, and I move into its sex trap scope, an ingenue. When last it rained here’s measurable in years, and the dry old asphalt’s cracking and clumped and dusted with skeins of sand. Drifting. Downcast as a virgin, I step forward again, glance into the cracks, halfway breathe along the narrowing arid lines of perspective. 

No other lives or moves here. The brutal sun itself is cataracted. No winds breathe.

However crumbled, like ancient cheese, I love the yellow lines that remain. Tell myself that treading them will break the long-gone backs of so many of my kin. I miss them. Kinfolk, signs. I miss those childhood rhymes. I miss the rampant trees of then. I miss such succulence. I miss so many things.

This town consists of scattered homes, squat as toads though drier and more dead, a dimmed red light askew and hanging like a shrunk albino grape and optic nerve, bone-dry jackstraw corpses strewn beyond. Nothing for me here. Nothing for anyone here, including God and her wide-eyed antic crew. 

I focus on chewing my own hangnails, tearing with my loosened teeth my raw, torn cuticles. The consumed flesh of my fingers recedes like long-ebbed tides from a dying bay. My nails are black, my scalp alive with vitriolic things that compel urgency. 

Maddened, I lope. 

Feet raw and wrapped in bloody cloth. I won’t even look at my feet unswathed; like something lame and lurching, that way lies limp surrender.

Movement on my left, amid the dying scrub, the blue-grey sage, the burned and skeletal mesquite.

Coyote. 

She’s following my halting steps and glancing right. I glance right back.

Speak risible words into the rising heat: “I’m proud to share with you this leg of our fruitless odyssey, my slat-ribbed sister.”

She looks away but stays with me, snout sleek as a pocket blade, bleak and colorless eyes a-shimmering.

Ten years ago we might have contravened some fabricated line in a mound of imported sand, some feeble wall of rusted slats. She didn’t care then, and she can’t care now. Her offspring gone through violence, she shadows me in this inferno desert, loping between parched stumps, if only because we’re the only two things alive we both can sense. 

Attachment. Linkage. Fusion.

Left like an unraveled arm, once knitted, now forlorn. 

The feminine a last unlikely want. Yet still a want, a wish. A loveliness, the opposite of scorn; an artless, candid, bleached and blasted ache.

Friday
Dec282018

Reckoning

"All that happened after was predicated on before."

I came upon the group gathered in the blue twilight, silhouetted atop a ridge, the half moon rising behind them. The coming night crept in silently, and the gathering was silent too. A gentle scene, though I knew if they saw me they would kill me. Without words they stayed awhile, lingering in the quiet grain of the air, and I held my place below, hidden by a great stone and a small grove of aspen, whose song was muted by the absence of any wind. This was dry land, and no rains came that night either. 

Why did I linger? That's simple; I needed something from them. But no, truer still—they had something of mine, and I wouldn't be leaving till I could balance that ledger at last.

When they left the bluff, filing down a narrow rocky trail on its flank, I stayed in place until they'd returned to their camp. Then I climbed the trail myself in the vast silence of that star-blessed night. It took less than a minute to find my daughter's footprint in the soft dirt, the extra toe on her right foot a private sigil.

***

"On the nature of daylight."

This world. It's sumptuous. It's freighted. Wherever you can, cook things in the surplus juices of the last ingredient.

***

Once I knew she was there, I closed in the next dusk. Waited a drawn-out moment.

Soon, she wandered near the perimeter and I hissed our reptile code, and she stopped in her tracks and hissed back after a beat and came to me.

"I found you," I said.

"You did," she whispered.

The horizon crackled with something bright and infected.

"Ready to leave?" I asked.

When she didn't reply, my heart skipped two full beats, and something buzzed in my brain pan. I repeated my question, and she still didn't say anything, her foot with the extra toe dug into the sandy dirt. 

I looked at her face and willed her great brown eyes to stay open and gaze at mine, and I give her credit, because she made sure they did. Respect is a strange animal; I felt it steal into the clearing of my heart and force hope into the crowding bush, while love crouched unmolested. I sort of almost got it. I knew that loss and grief were boiling thunderheads amassing in belligerent ranks beyond the next ridge and the next, someplace way ahead, awaiting me nonetheless. 

I didn't even know what sound to make. I brushed her small and bony hand with my own tentative reach, like the soft and flickering wings of a moth, and something happened inside my chest, and I saw tears fall in small beads from those nut brown eyes, and I left, and I never looked back, though I wanted to look back and squeeze her with the entirety of my raw and shrinking heart.

***

Why do we come here? Better yet, why do we stay? For the light and shadow at play on a woman's hands. For the nighttime murmur of a dreaming child. For the boughs laden, the twilight fading. For the huddle of warmth at the eye of the storm. For the room at the end of the couch with all the feverish cousins. For the eloquence of silence in the wake of ferocity. For tender care. For sweet triumphant justice. 

For the enraptured.

We are all poets. Troubadours of love. Now write me yours. Write us ours. And always, always try to go in the unbroken strength of peace. 

Saturday
Nov102018

Dry Run

It had to begin somewhere, so let’s say it began with the elastic blare of a horn on a rain-smeared night. 

I peered through filthy sheer curtains and saw only the bleary motel sign. The word motel aspired to perfection, stacked vertically in neon blues and reds. The balance of 

M

O

T

atop the teetering

E

L

As if everything was priming itself to fall, rightward, like the overreaching goodness of the world.

Aurora slept through the klaxon din. I envied her that, at least. Since we’d murdered her husband and indulged our inner Thelma and Louise, sleep had been an elusive ghost for me for weeks. Karma, no doubt, for my grubby hands-on part in the drama.

The horn came from a single car parked in the motel forecourt. I could see no one inside it, although the lighting was bad—two weak posts at either end of the lot, and the neon from the sign. Occupied or not, the car’s message was clear: time to leave again. When one’s freedom is imperiled, auguries come in bunches, and all signs and omens are there to be read.

I knew Aurora would want to shoot up before we headed out, so I shook her awake, tore her from her sleep funk a little too gleefully. She took a while to swim through the layers, but as soon as her eyes opened and focused somewhere beyond me, I could see the feral need in them again. And I knew she could see the disappointment in mine. 

Things hadn’t quite worked out the way we’d hoped. But we still had each other. And the raw, wounded, anonymous night.

She winced and I smiled. She didn’t smile. But heading for the anemic yellow bathroom, she drew on enough decorum to close the door behind her. 

***

Hours driving south, keeping to state routes. We were someplace that felt like the South. Arid expanses and weird industry. Huge dry lightning skies. Last night’s rain felt like someone else’s dream.

Though I could still hear the damned horn.

Out of nowhere, Aurora spoke. 

“A moment will come when I’ll sit on the toilet and shit out most of my organs.”

“Girl, I thought you were asleep.” 

“You wish.”

“Or you do.”

She grabbed at my hand resting on the gearstick, held it like it was a sickly pet, and I could sense her staring at me. I could feel a great distant tremor broadcast through her fragile bones as they clutched my own. Urgent. Electric. I refused to turn my head, watched the next mile and then the next.

At last she released my hand and sighed.

“We know how this movie ends, chica.”

I didn’t say a word.

All day, this endless brooding sky had stayed the shade of bedraggled fleece, putrid like the underside of a dying sheep dragged through watery mud. Less a storm threat than a vast sulk. 

Dying too, the day sank into its dark gray shroud, tolerating a thin band of corpse-light to gleam briefly on the horizon. Stark against that sickly greenish strip was the refinery, bristling like a city conceived by an alien amygdala. 

“This ain’t no movie,” I said.

___

Photo credit: © Monica Baguchinsky Lunn