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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
Aug172019

Jaquinta

You clamber down the embankment, under a squeal of rail. A blaring assemblage sparks and screams above. How soon until your ears bleed?

Jaquinta knows your story. For a good price, she might even give it up.

Things might escalate, although they might not. 

Love the aftermath. The silent hiss of conifers, under a windless sky. Why is it they still hiss, even in stillness? Their very tops somehow moving while the evening settles so quiet, a scattershot of dogs barking hollow in the throat of this dry valley. 

Back in my dream, Jaquinta, you told me something, and I heard it, and to this day I want that story spilled over eggshells crackling alive, overrun with raccoons ruining a coop.

“I don’t care where you bin,” you say, so quietly, and a cloud of bright parakeets flutter from a nearby roof, and you dream the same hoarse breath. “I just care where you at.”

Ain’t none of us one thing. 

These glittering cities. Emerald Seattle. Quicksilver Vancouver. The glistening infernal Bay. The bristling, stockpiled western edge of the continent. We rooted them in beauty. We sang their swollen choral praises. And they abandoned us. We, the workers, the dreamers, the pragmatists, the saints: you don’t get to hate a thing until you love it. 

The shriek of the train trails into a lingering tail, a dwindling lonesome coda echoing across the hallowed plain.

This is a story clinging to the coattails of another, and one day I’ll muster the cojones to tell that one too.

Sunday
Aug112019

Lit By Fire

"If you must die, sweetheart, die knowing your life was my life's best part.” — Keaton Henson

They said it was Banksy. The last painting. The howling boy on the wall of the capitol. We’ll probably never know, but I saw it, and it sure looked like a Banksy. 

You can’t really miss a black bear. The dripping, flexing arms of the forest murmur their shades of green, some a pale jade whisper, some an emerald shout, some so abysmal they’re nearly black, and within those dark branches lie shadows, blacker still. Yet a black bear, once it crosses your visual field in front of or within those varied shades of green, is a piece cut out of the world, a stark absence, a patch of lonely void in the shape of a bear. At which point, is it even a bear?

We sit in a quiet corner, you with your floppy hat and me with my eighties obsession that I can barely articulate.

“Try my hat on,” you say.

“I’d prefer not to.” I realize this is a hat store, and I balk. 

“Ha ha, that’s why I love you! You let me down gently, like an escalator.”

“No idea what you’re talking about, but you’re my friend, and I love you too, of course. Why are we even saying any of this? It’s a given.”

“Nothing’s a given. We’re renewing our friendship vows.”

“Um, you can stop now. Stop talking, that is. For fuck’s sakes. My toes are cramping.”

“Which only makes me love you more.”

“Shut up. Uh. Please, shut up.”

“Let’s go see some sights.”

“Yes, the new Banksy. The one we literally dropped everything to come and see.”

She had a way about her, a mood, something impossible to say no to.

But yes, back to art and stuff. Life. Banksy or not. 

What matters? Stale toast and the late, lazy flap of corvids against a peach sunset. An avocado pit sending tendrils. A butter churn. Scaffolding arched above a sidewalk, mauve and crimson night leaking into the tubular screens of its graceless folded geometry. Umbilicals. A honeybee nudging petals, reticent as a new lover. “I can’t breathe.” Do unto others. Me too. Make me an instrument of thy peace. Do what thou wilt, though it harm none. Keep on truckin’. Just do it. The great oil canvas of Serengeti brushstroked by wildebeest. Boreal trails of the caribou. Helpless, tenacious Marlowe balanced on the unlikely ridge spanning love and cynicism. The shock of a black locust on the whitewashed farmhouse wall, droning stark on stucco. Slanted dusty rays of old gold across grocery scales. The micro worlds of toys, all those chimes and astonished faces. And she has gone to Carterhaugh. How long, baby, how long? Stripe of the Bengal tiger, the lion’s nasal folds, the cougar’s stern and diffident brow. Howling alien nowheres blazoning the arrant vacancy of forsaken love. Pissing your name in a snowbank, or better yet an obscenity. Reeking fresh leaves of basil torn and open as the Sacré-Coeur. Bats exploding from a granite mouth, hurtling like scorched sparks in the quiet fire of twilight. Reciprocity: mouthing a woman to orgasm and being sucked. Croissants warm in the slatemine morning beside the drifting river. Dreamed unearthly cathedrals. Black lives never not mattering. The hart of the wood, the heart of the would, a-bloom with grief and guilt. Kiln-baked pizzas assailed by artichokes. Rooks prattling in a copse, jackdaws likewise on ramparts. Blastocysts zapped by lasers. Terror cells cleansed by drones. Eyelashes shipped free by Amazon. Thirst, in all its forms. 

Smiles like an ocean horizon, faint, blue, where the sky is stitched. 

A baby crying on the floor, abandoned. Cold concrete and a massive ceiling. A bear seeking entry, quivering snout attuned. Junior’s alone and loud, his laments a looping echo of their own discordant song.

“Come back now. Did you hear me? Where did you go?”

My ears half-closed, my heart is like a cannonball, shock aroused by alcohol, patterns like a dream tattoo. 

Open my secular breast. These dripping fragrant delicacies I’ve saved for you.

Saturday
Jul272019

Indifference

They shepherd us into identical rooms, boxes of stacked cinderblock daubed a failed sort of white, like something long since beached and never dealt with. Plastic molded chairs bolted to concrete. A rounded table and a recording device. Two elongated bulbs in the ceiling buzzing intermittent. Insectile. Almost nothing to snag your attention, no edges on which to catch, might as well be one more casket in waiting.

“I hear you have a story for us,” says the stocky man with the alarming mole on his face. I wonder for a second if his use of the plural means he speaks for it too.

“You might have heard wrong,” I say, deciding to be nice.

“My hearing’s impeccable, friend.”

“Good for you. This story died before it got started.”

“Something died. That much I know.” 

“Yeah.” Boredom enfolds me now, like a threadbare thriftstore coat. Bought for a good price, but so was Manhattan, allegedly, and look where that got us. I think I prefer beads.

“The question is whether you know more than that.”

“A better question is whether I’d tell you.”

“That’s not a better question. Just a more immediate one.” His eyebrows, toothbrush bristles dusted with cornstarch, are a neutral hirsute line, like a prairie winter highway.

I feel like writing a poem about Saskatchewan. “I could almost like you, pal.”

“Let’s see if you’re still saying that in an hour.”

Although I wasn’t there, my life almost blew up on a stretch of road outside of Summerland. Three covert feet of silent black ice can obliterate you and all those you love. Try not to forget that. If you’ve ever driven up in the aftermath—phone dropped, heart arrhythmic, skin voltaic—to meet your hollow-eyed loved ones in some box store parking lot, you’ll know what I mean. Maybe no one cried, not then, but maybe they did when they thought it was over, once it became a Thanksgiving story not some awful marker separating the heartbreak chapters of our lives. Some unpunctual thing meant to come later. Or before. Or maybe that was the dream version sweated out into laundry loads of spectral grey sheets, the bullet not dodged, or maybe dodged, like we’re Neo and we took the wrong pill. Or the right one.

Loss steals in where it wants. Nod assent when it bypasses us. It’s a fluke.

“You’re saying you never knew the woman?”

“The woman?”

“Of whom we speak.”

“I’m not.”

“So you knew her.”

“No.”

“Allow me to apprise you of something, hoss. Riddles are dull and stupid things. Meant for children. And evasiveness makes me vindictive. Not a direction you want this to go, trust me. Now tell me how it is you knew her yet you didn’t know her. And do it in plain Canadian.”

Since I like a man who calls another man hoss, I decide he deserves something en route to the truth. “I knew she existed, I met her a time or two, drank with her, but I didn’t know her. Not in any real sense. Not even in what they used to call the biblical one.” 

“Yet, speaking of, she’s dead as Lazarus.”

“Not the best way to illustrate your point, detective. I might even be the Jesus in that version.”

“You’re not, so hush your mouth. So where’d you meet her?”

“Why do you ask when you know the answer?”

He and his damn mole stare at me. On the outside I’m still as a lizard on a boulder at noon. Inside, my heart is pizza dough.

I stare back until I don’t. “Alright, fuckhead. You win. I did it. I closed her account. Called in her number. It was me. Now take me away…” I offer my wrists, yoked like veiny ghosts, the abject godless bones already singing songs of the dead.

He keeps looking at me like he can’t decide whether to tousle my hair or kill me himself.

He doesn’t say a word, but the brisk violent arc of his thumb in the stagnant air says, “The fuck outta here, punk.”

Alone beneath the cold fire of stars, my friends are gone, some into caskets they won’t get to claw out of. The merciful cloak of night has dropped. I no longer know how to say no to anyone at all. Rake my strained face; tell me which one’s the right pill. And dig a shallow grave. I can’t even and I won’t ever. It’s over. Lukewarm and lacklustre. You know full well what I’m trying not to say.

Friday
Jul122019

Off Limits

You’re with me now. We’re walking into some place brutal. Hard. Ice-cold. One of the places known simply as Off Limits.

“Are we meant to be here, Mama?” you ask.

“No. No one is meant to be here. Ever. But it’s okay.”

You flinch when a sound reaches us in the hollow air of the tunnel. A sound of something monstrous. Something not meant to be. A roar and a shriek and a lament. I flinch too, but I’m your momma and I can’t show my fear.

“Mama, what was that?”

“It was something we have to get past.”

“I don’t want to.”

“Neither do I, dear heart. But we have to. Be brave.”

I already miss the pugilistic night of the surface world, gusts like dancing feet, tense quick jabs of rain and sleet; despite the lightning combos to our body, the sudden startling scimitar of the hook, this place is so much worse.

I want so badly to say this, but I only think it: You are a warm jewel, a pulsing light. Your copious life makes mine a blip. You are a white hare glistening in an arctic winter. You stand still, quivering, brimful of the moment yet unmindful of the rest. You are a bird, mellifluous as a single sunrise in spring. You are full-throated, raw, momentous, awake to all your possibilities. You are an artist on stage and I the audience, each a battery charging the other. How do I tell you what you mean to me? How do I not scare you away? How do I pretend it’s okay?

“Mama, is that a man?”

I start and squint yet cannot see what she sees, though I sense some immensity moving peripherally, like a shadow disengaging from its host, like a dark uncoupled ghost.

“I don’t know, my sweet.”

Our crime was knowing, is all. About the way things work. Protocols set in motion by our breach. We are so small. Which might yet be our hope. Hope. The most vicious of four-letter words. 

I feel her hand squeeze mine harder, and a flurry of mechanical sounds echo ahead and behind, steampunk corvids and clanking maestros preparing for some dark discordant machine song.

The voice when it comes is close yet far, flat yet loud. Intimate and appalling, snaking through the marrow of my bones. 

“Your first mistake was to leave. Your second and worse mistake was to take her with you. Your third, and by far your worst, was to tell of what you know.” A voice that sounds like something flayed, a whisper-shriek like steel quills raked over mortal wounds, an unviable thing aborted by another universe yet thrust into this.

My fear near throttles me, but I manage to say, “Let us past.” My voice with subatomic spin passing through nothing, a neutrino sigh in the spume beneath everything. 

He is pestilence. The deadly sludge in a reactor. Something oily and massive clogging a sewer. I can smell his awful smile. He doesn’t even need to speak. The impasse between us spans eons.

My girl’s hand squeezes tighter, and I can feel the tremors of her terror. This gives me the strength I need.

“You have the power to destroy us; that is obvious. Still, you will allow us passage. You will show ‘mercy’”—hoping he doesn’t hear the quotes around that word—“because if you don’t, the circuits woven into my veins will transmit topside what unfolds here, and everyone will know you as the monster of our nightmares you claim not to be. So prove it. Let us go.”

If silence can be personified, his is a great bubble of malevolence, an inbreath of all that is loathsome, a quietly calculating horror, the moment prior to carnage, far from sane yet bright as the suppurating heart of an infection. Time uncouples from space. We are unmoored, adrift in a warp of unnameable matter. 

After the alpha of then and the omega of when, he speaks.

“Pass.” 

Good call, but you will never make things right, I think, as we head for the unknown, hands still clasped, my tiny fawn’s galloping heart echoing in the pulse of our wrists.

Saturday
Jul062019

Bright Are the Stars

Seagulls cry like brushstrokes across whitewash. Like ravens gulping at a landfill.

Peripheral. I watch you walk away.  

I like the Beatles a lot, but I don’t love the Beatles. I mean, I probably should love the Beatles. They were the soundtrack of my childhood, in many ways. I’m the right demographic: white, northern, English, old. Memories brimming with cobblestones, smokestacks, and rag-and-bone men. But I love so many bands ahead of them. Not sure why. Even though “And I Love Her” is one of the greatest love songs of all time. And “If I Fell,” too, a near-perfect melody wedded to the most genial and incisive of lyrics: “Cause I couldn’t stand the pain.” Sometimes I take my old Martin acoustic out of its case, all neglected and ashamed, with its patina of dust, and I play “And I Love Her,” those tiny Spanish hammer-ons and pull-offs on the A and D strings, and I’m reminded how demonstrably I should truly idolize that fucking band, and I wonder why they’re not quite at my pinnacle, how they’re the unwinnable K2 to my other more haughty Everests. 

A whole lot of hard day’s nights and plenty of yesterdays, you might say.

Well, that kind of happens. 

Like, why did Samantha become a memory of a sunrise and a sunset while Astrid stole my entire skies? How am I here not there? Why is there something instead of nothing?

Wait. Let me backtrack. Or forward track. Or sidetrack. This is how I want to meet the first aliens we encounter. I want to tell them, “This is the world that treasures Keanu Reeves.” What do you think? Honestly, that covers it all, the genial superficiality of celebrity culture and the sweetness of being risibly, brittly human and plausibly zenlike on this rocky, watery spaceship amid our dopey fixations. 

Astrid might argue. She always argues.

It’s never black and white… unless you’re a panda… or an orca. 

We stole a boat in the shadow of dawn and made for the coast of the forest of the spirit bear, the low sun streaming squadrons of light through the supplicant cedars into the inlet, a pod of orca undulating in the dips and troughs of the gentle sea, spraying golden veiled forests of misted breath as they moved in the waters, breath after breath like the softest of bellows, the rhythm of the rush and the echoing hush, their sinuous profiles sleek as the tender Pacific swells, oleaginous, serpentine, categorically and thoroughly home.

“You were right about one thing,” said Astrid, her cracked lips barely apart.

“Never,” I said. 

Her sea-wracked face was honest and in this moment especially erotic. Her straining for words made them precious.

“No, you were. I used to laugh when you said these things, but I’m not laughing now. These things were wrong, and you called it.”

“I call lots of shit. Can’t seem to help myself. And most of it makes me look like a tool.”

“Not this. These beauties should never be have been taken from their families and made to do tricks. It’s so clear now. How did we not know?”

“We think everything we do is normal. There’s no normal.”

“Huh.”

“I know. Hardly profound. But sometimes I see anomalies within the standard. Nothing was ever arranged so we would be here, now, doing these things. Nothing was meant. We can stop. We can always stop.”

“It’s quite possible I underestimated you, boyfriend.”

Maybe I underestimate her too. Astrid. Bright meteor. Starchild. 

The modest span of a woman’s back, the valleys alongside the ridge of her spine. The twin dimples poised above her hips, low as crescent moons in the sky of a modest planet, soft encounters by a glancing visitor. Do you have any idea how long I’ve needed that? It’s all a fad, every minute. If we live it, we love it.

If she goes now, I’m burned by the world. 

I loiter in the umbra of her night.