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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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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.

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.