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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
May052017

Riding the Blue Shard

It's the blue train, the coal train.

How did we come to be lying on these tracks now it's arcing its slow curve this way around the hillside?

Two blue engines fore and one mid, dusty lozenges of sapphire bracketing dull beads of jet.

Eve is up on the hillside with a camera. She will avenge us if this goes awry. If this train of thought leads to catastrophe, so be it, and there will be a reckoning of sorts. Supine between the tracks I wait, the weight of the device heavy on my chest, the ballast between the ties jabbing my spine, my ribs. I feel the train before I hear its distant voice, its thin wail of loneliness. At the right moment, I will detonate this thing and the train and I will cease to exist, and one more blow will have been struck for freedom. Eve will film it for posterity; students will yearn for martyrdom.

The clanging, screaming serpent is closer now, and the steel tracks on either side are harmonizing with each other, a calamitous electric yowl like the pitched dyad birth throes of star twins. My skull is coming apart. The clouds are blurred, the treetops smudges of dark. Smears and blurs against the blue of faded jeans: the very last things I will look upon. Things we can't unknow. I close my eyes. The great engine is upon me, and amid the clinker sparks and infernal din I count the seconds. And I hit the button.

It's 1980 or '81. A Soviet engine arriving on time via Warsaw and Köln rolls into the Gare du Nord like something mythical and reptilian, a vast bristling hammer-and-sickle agglomeration. A clanking imperious steel assemblage ablare with its own fanfare. Stopping us in our tracks.

Trains. We got on board the love train some eight years earlier. In England, in Russia, in China, in Egypt, in Israel. When did we disembark? Or did we? Was there a derailment? 

We're all on a haunted planet careening through some galactic backwater, convinced of our own consequence. Each galaxy a bright station for hurtling aggregations of stars and worlds. 

Canis and corvid. Coyote and crow. The engineers. Conductors. 

"Every hour wounds. The last one kills."

Cliff edge trees like victims of strokes: listing, staggered, part-ruined. They lean like broken soldiers in a bewildered vanguard, unmindful of each other, wind-assaulted, salt-scoured. The droning lobes of my skull are full as tics. 

"Thy bones are marrowless, thy blood is cold;

Thou hast no speculation in those eyes

Which thou dost glare with!" — Macbeth, William Shakespeare

I have woken as if from some other life. This here is the dream. I was happy in that life; my simple needs were met, and my smile was broad as Grand Central Terminal. My moons had their own moons. But this rude place is unworthy even of a dream. It is like a stick figure, a chalk drawing on a stoop, a bundle of twigs when placed before a great temple, tied with a grubby strip of cloth. Like a single brushstroke in a grand painting, an afterthought. The cracked mortar between the stones of an architectural wonder. Is this lost night of silent dreaming nearly over? Please. Let me return to my life. The abandonment of dreams has never seemed so promising. 

How are you?

Struggling. In pain.

Really?

I do a good job of pretending otherwise. 

Probably we all do.

The device didn't work. It didn't go off. We can't go back.

Ah. What if this world is our home now? What if it rejects us? What if the world's skin crawls and spasms like that of some weary and ancient being, shuddering to rid itself of the parasites in its afflicted rind? What then?

What then.

Friday
Apr282017

Refugee Songs

There's something deep in the dripping forest that's darker than anything else in this world. You'd best pray you never find it. 

A beach shaped like a razor clam. A vulvar shell like a lover's wild promenade. Beads of moisture and salt.

"Don't look for it. Promise me."

"One day I'll find you. I swear."

They tellin us we gotta meet up wi' a lady named Fleur De Lis. That funny. But it what they tell us. That Cajun French or summin. Know what that mean in English? Flower of the lily. 

Fingertips oxidized brass smell. Grooved smokin' abraded calluses. An undersea cable drama. 

Because you're always there. Spitting lore and ill-judged bromides: "You might win some, but you just lost one." A hill you might not want to die on.

"You might not find me."

Her bland face was sexual the way a cheap motel is sexual. Dirty. Cut-rate. Worn. But you stay the night anyway. And suddenly it's no longer about sex but about adherence.

"I'm sorry, Mikey."

About loyalty. 

"I saw you up there earlier. A girl with a voice like yours should never apologize."

Cover all the deserts in geometric panels. Spin a million offshore blades. Panels, blades, desperate boats, great cedars. Components of the flag of the refugee nation. 

Have you ever felt bad about something, wished you could take it back? Downtown, a hawk roosts on a ledge thirty stories up. Calm and pitiless. In its mind already sorting bones. 

I am sobbing. I never sob. I haven't seen a honeybee in five years. Must I compose a requiem for all that's lost? 

"Yes. Yes, you must."

"But why me?"

Haole. Cracker. It ain't about whiteness, it a human thing. You have an advantage, you take that advantage. Majority will run with it. Don't matter, though I won't. No one will notice, or if they notice they won't care. Ditch that nigga. Cowardice is the febrile line running through the arc of the human story—thin, hot red, and moist with shame.

We're blinded on the Gaza Strip. We see red. We see sand. We see night. We're just guessing. Not guessing: imagining. The daubed wheel of trillions of stars turns glacially overhead. Christmas music, choral, sweet, as warm as the brandy that ignites the fruit pudding. 

Sing along.

"How can I sing when my teeth have been obliterated, my lips torn ragged?"

"Try."

Grasp my outstretched hand, take it, feel its hot sweat. My England is like an underground brook, bubbling beneath a brittle mantle. Aching with want, ghosted by yesteryear. Its heroes and heroines, its Arthurs and Robins and Boudiccas and Guineveres. Its Sids and its Nancys. Rule Britannia my flaming asshole. I love you. I fucking adore you. A disoriented child slips from a chalk cliff, and the ripples engulf the world. 

The truth? Rags become riches almost never. 

Bowie's gone. Prince too. That sly old Canuck also. Starmen waiting in the sky? The crack in everything? How about earthmen and women prepare to put in a shift? Help turn this clusterfuck around? The Provos said it: First we take Mountbatten. We ourselves. The dead will always dance, the sisters dispense mercy. I can wait a long, long time before I hear another love song, comes the echo through that crack in everything.  

"Stop now. Don't walk away."

"I'll do what I have to."

Rags of green fluttering in the storm's death rattle. Pulsating clouds. Black remnants, dark marvels. Come here. Yes, you. I think you're beautiful. No, don't turn your head. Walk don't walk. Sing for the bones, compose hymns for the migrants. "Be joyful—though you have considered all the facts."

A girl meets a boy in middle school. They clutch each other, astonished. Share eerily similar playlists. Someone else plays a song by Journey. They think it's corny, both secretly loving it, the part about the small town girl living in a lonely world, but they also go down to the fleet river during the snowmelt and listen to Springsteen. Laughing and crying both. Waiting to hear the inky coyote wails from the other bank. Or hoping to see the visceral curl of a sturgeon outliving us all as it wrings all liquid from the world, lustier than the river that birthed it, writhing, squeezing, scheming.

It's a midnight promise, a moment of traffic and ambition, a howling voice on the flat side of pitch, everyone arriving in their Chargers and Mustangs, primed for a conflagration, drenched spectral, emergent, let down by the truth of the world, that its best moments are almost never announced, its secret dreams rarely if ever proclaimed. 

Friday
Apr142017

Levees of Sand

Somehow desolate, he woke to the sound of the distant surf. Low tide. The harsh sporadic gossip of seabirds. 

Open windows had left the room cool in the early morning. Light streamed in ghost layers of airy sediment through the gauzy drapes, which undulated in the salt breeze.

Shivering slightly and scanning the room, Eric had to work at recalling where he was. Recumbent, he smoothed the thin sheet that covered him. Took in the light cyan walls with their tolerable paintings of driftwood and dunes. The beach house. Of course. In which case, he had no memory of how he'd gotten here.

A herring gull outside the window shrieked a volley of spiteful laughter, startling him into a gasp. As if his unsettled dreams had pursued him into the vigilant day; dreams that murmured, The ocean is like the movement of blood through a living heart; we tune it out until the moments of consequence

He struggled to remember a French adage he'd once read about hangovers, something like "My eyes aren't opposite their holes." Accurate or not, it felt right. Every time he moved his head, it took his brain a few bilious seconds to catch up. Like he was seasick on shifting sand.

Removing the sheet, Eric stood on shaky legs, trying to contain the swimming pain in his skull. The usual drifting tang of the sea stirred his guts, his mutinous senses queasily alert to the underlying decay of a billion rotting fish corpses. He barely made it to the small en suite, heaving a warm sluice of watery scotch into the pink maw of the clamshell sink. 

Only then, when he looked up at the mirror, did he see the bloodstreaks like warpaint on his face.

***

With age comes not so much wisdom as perspective. We realize it's all built on something. Colonnades, piazzas, rialtos, domos. The Ponte Vecchio. Dikes and levees. Fifties-model Chevys and Buicks scurrying like vivid beetles along the Spanish colonial streets of Havana. Built. Pasted over. Like posters on walls. Layers. Sediment. Dreamed of again and again in infinite ways. On sand or on bedrock or on water. Bourbon Street. The Bridge of Sighs. The ephemeral is no less momentous than the permanent, because really, there is no permanence. The ephemeral is the now, where we stand. Live there. Live here. 

***

Somewhere, perhaps the last song ever heard on earth, Louis Armstrong sings "St. James Infirmary." So cold, so sweet, and so fair.

***

One part of Darla, half of her upper torso, lay on the wicker loveseat. Another bisected the open doorway to the sandy deck, a small crab moving unevenly in the ruins of her skull. Layers of sand had caked the coagulate rivers of blood. In all, she was in three pieces. At first he thought four until he realized the dripping horror on the glass top coffee table, amid the paraphernalia of an ill-judged, foolhardy night, was the remains of his unborn child who would remain forever unborn.

Shot glasses, crack pipes, and ornamental swords. Beach detritus, abalone, kelp. All driftwood looks like the bones of the world. 

A fraudulent life of counterfeit strength had brought him here, to a place where all his daddy's purported billions meant less than nothing. The ferryman had demanded payment over four long decades and Eric had ignored his entreaties, even laughed in his stoic face. But not now. He wasn't laughing now. Now that payment was long overdue, and the shifting sands of power had begun to slip through, like someone gut shot and trying to hold in their viscera.  

***

What is this? Who are you? What kind of people can walk on by? Do you see the bodies floating in the filthy water? The people with their signs on the roofs? You remember the poor, the tired, the huddled, right? Did you once make a covenant with these people? Are you not obligated? Is this not your mandate? Or is our humanity lesser when placed beside your own? Go, then. Pass on by. You'd best pray your gods ain't the judging kind.

*** 

He used her phone—the one with the precipitating text—to make a call, and then left the house. Headed for the beach and the incoming caress of a gentle tide. Everything gone. Love. Family. A future. Everything. He felt he should cry, but his body sustained its arrant rebellion and even tears wouldn't come.

The yielding sands were soft beneath his feet. He stepped barefoot into the clear waters of this once-bright world, and the merciful waves closed in. 

Friday
Apr072017

"Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground"

Even if he'd been a small man he'd have been a big man. But he was a big man. I see him in his chair at the peeling formica table, on the right facing the tiny kitchen itself, slumped, in what some now call a wifebeater but then we simply called a vest—baggy trousers, cuffs rolled, braces over the tea-stained vest. White hair nicotine yellow, swept back. A soft pack of nonfilter Woodbines and a mug of sweet strong milky tea. Ten or fifteen bottles of prescription drugs ranked like soldiers in a defective war in which daily battalions are lined up at dawn to learn their fate.

England. Northwest. The nineteen sixties. The syncopation of passing trains.

I sit now on the long sandy reach listening to "Little Wing," blinking along, tapping my toes and fingers, stretching my neck to watch the disc of our galaxy wheel slowly across the night sky, that genial Stratocaster tone opening its throat and hungry for us all.

Oregon? BC? Baby, won't you change your mind?

This is the part where we are asked to feel shame. Where our therapists make their living.

"Baby, what's in your spice rack? Paprika's a given, but surprise me. Cloves. Ground nutmeg, sure. Dried sage and oregano. Chilli powder. Garlic. Cumin. Coriander. I need something radical, girl. Exotic."

"I got something radical. Stay with me."

A skinny girl in a tiny pleated skirt and motorcycle boots, nipples face-forward and plastered humid inside a plain white cotton tank top, eyes encased in kohl, earbuds pulsing Diplo and Flux Pavilion, waxy, harsh.

I'm two generations beyond, yet more thirsty for Cleopatra. 

And is this the part where I'm to beg you to love me?

Nah. Don't work that way. Been driving a good while, coming down from the mountains, heavy on the brakes as the road descends and sidewinders down to a quiet valley while the sun begins to drop behind the dry hills. The town is unremarkable. Its populace too. I pull over and walk the empty streets, meet almost no one. A one-eyed scarface dog, an old lady with recycled bottles inside transparent bags in a shopping cart. Meet me. Meet me. You won't ever meet me.

Quiet howls emerge from the draws that backdrop the town, each a distinct tone, a coyote symphony. Except it ain't coyotes; it's the outraged god-abandoned wind piping its raw heartbreak through ruined fissures in shafts that are no longer mined nor ever again will be. 

Back to the large man in the crumpled grey pants absorbing and agitating the fog of morning, charcoal and faded pink. His mind always working, his appetites arrayed, some clockwork set by ancients and left to unspool well into life and beyond. UFOs, wartime, an Italian-American tenor, a gaudy South Pacific theater, Antarctic sacrifice, an icebound German plane one bleak February that never got airborne, the awful melancholy of something unsinkable sinking. Melancholy hearted, he saw the eventual decline. Nodded quietly at fate. Checked out around the same time as Elvis, of whom he'd once said, "He'll never last." Nineteen seventy-seven. The jubilant year of Sam and Stevie, of Stormtroopers and fevered Saturdays, under a marquee moon. Stayin alive amid the rumoured death of a ladies' man in the decade's autumn.

I am fourteen or fifteen, a voyager, thumbing my tangled path away from pain. Close encounters on the littered edges of motorways while listening to "I Feel Love" on light cranial rotation and waving at "Johnny B. Goode" as it slingshots out of the solar system. Never minding the bollocks. Watching every last detective. And shedding a tear for Ronnie and Marc. Low. Animals. The Idiot. A Bat Outta motherfucking Hell. 

She emerges inchoate from the gloaming, haloed by dark motes like the ur-lights of some grim carnival. Hands me something warm and still dripping. Smiles like a tracheal gash.

"Eraserhead. Is that radical enough for you?"

Nightfall is upon us, with no place to sleep. 

Friday
Mar312017

Monarch

The wind gets up and sweeps our fires into streams of sparks, and we huddle closer inside our reams of rough hessian. Who knew the gales would blow so long? This is our place in the town square, our moment in the dreamscape, our truth within the chapel. Press those pedals, let the tiny organ wheeze its banal statute. Unfurl its rules. Queen, open your warm vaults to me, force me to partake of your exotica. The blizzard is here already; no one will speak again. 

"Wait."

No, I will not wait. 

"I am telling you to wait. I will not beg." 

Are you placed, poised to describe a million, maybe tens of millions, of black-and-amber leaves opening and closing and flapping northward, tropical to temperate, fine panes of leaded glass, flakes of tiger, endless pages from a children's book made for countless children yet to be born?

"No, you will not beg."

Once, a woman walked among you. She was lovely in mind and body and heart. Did you administer kindness? Treat her with respect? Urge her to lie crosswise? Trace the carious ridge above her passage with your fingertips, searching for fragmented things? Shattered enamel, a busted pelvis, and a skewed, deteriorated jawline. 

"We don't need to beg."

A whiteout. Shrieking phantoms skirling across empty highways. No lawmen. Not even sirens. Nothing. No one. 

"Just wait."

"No. Fuck. I will not."

"Spring is almost here."

"No. It's not."

"Weesht, child. Be still."

She sat in a quiet centre and let the groan of a weighted mountain lurch and creak and begin to detonate. She was a superhero, but one who lived on earth and not in shaded panels or amid spilled ink. She accepted her millstone, scoped her foes, cradled her spigots, arraigned her adversary. Made with a vineyard near Summerland a faraway date. Woke to hope. 

"Not begging. Imploring."

We're gathered on some secret meridian, far from the gridlock bedlam, quiet in a Costco parking lot where color has drained from a bright sky and sound from a late spring evening. Breathe. We remember our journeys here: passing through semicircular bridges—iron hemispheres of hemlock-green like half-buried parts of some giant machinery abandoned by unknowns—jerking the wheel right and then left, skirting traffic circles, wrenching gears, racing some dumbfuck in his Dodge Ram with truck nuts and a Trump/Pence sticker, blurring cornfields and anti-choice billboards, RV parks and storage yards, Chevron pumps and John Deere outlets. Praying a state trooper won't be waiting round the next bend, flanks still, all of him ready to move like a rested fly on stricken carrion.

"I am clean."

Welcome, Gaia.

"They don't care."

Welcome, Jocasta.

"They must."

Welcome, Cassandra.

"No. No."

Welcome, Pandora.

"Then we must—"

Welcome, Boudicca.

"Don't speak it out loud."

Welcome, Kali. 

A soft-boiled sun drops into a blue Pacific to the west, and before the light drains from the world a billion wings ripple the quiet air, batlike against a lung-shadow sky, looming voluminous, a bounteous smog with which to paint the evening, had we the tools or the vision.