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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
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. 

Saturday
Jun222019

An Assault

Wait. Is there something else that needs to be said?

She sets out on the street, her Converse shoes scuffed and beat, her gait awry from a soccer injury that stopped her dreaming of the sporting life. Her eyes are asquint, always scanning her vicinity. She is a restless woman, not young but also not old. She staggers on the fulcrum of her lifespan, and it might go either way, like a ride in a dream of a playground. 

The afternoon is lukewarm, a fetid breeze coming down from the hills like the land’s breath, the breath of something ailing. Clouds herringbone the pale sky, stitched by crows moving northward. 

This town is not a good town. Few cars move along its arteries. Even fewer old women gossip in the silent marketplace. A dog whines in a backyard, hidden like the embodiment of shame. God himself might have lived here once, but no longer. 

Something follows her in the dusty streets, amid the dry beige deposits blown in from the far-off desert beyond the hills. She imagines its footprints as it takes its patient time tracing her passing.

The light seems septic—yellow and watery and unclean. 

She stops for a moment and smokes a Russian cigarette underhand, Asian style. Considers Tarkovsky and Murakami. Baldwin and Steinbeck. Sexton and Plath. Unshed tears of poetry behind the cloak of her eyes. Deadpan. She is of the earth, this earth. 

Resuming her ungainly walk, she thinks about Anton and the cruel things he said to her last night and the night before that, and she thinks she might not have it in her to forgive him. She is a naturally awkward yet truthful woman. Some might even see that as a strength. But not Anton. Not her parents. Not most people she meets or has met. Other than her shadow, no one has ever really seen her.

Two people, both young, are talking on the far edge of a weedy lot. She slows and catches drifts of their conversation, raggedy clouds of words, torn banners: “…and here, where all else failed…” “…sometimes a handle is just a handle…” “…and the cat pretended the dog had vanished…” “…the ocean was such a disappointment…” “…he made sure to dig much further than that…” “…why, why, why? Oh, the teacher couldn’t have known…” “…the last shop on the row was closed…” “…come back to me, chica, your eyes are filled with love…” “…but they drove over the edge…” “…the signposts were endless…” “…really, how fucking hard is it to try?”

Question. When you see a woman walking a dog, do you focus on the dog or on the woman? Your answer to this will determine how your life goes.

By the weak neon sign for a salon, under a sickly lime awning, she decides on impulse to get a haircut. Perhaps for the haircut, perhaps the human contact. It’s one of only two businesses still open, the other being a pet food store. Christiana is her stylist, and she asks for something neat and sleek, and Christiana nods solemn as a nun. 

In the chair under a black shroud, she says, “I think I’m being followed.”

But Christiana says nothing, acts as if she hasn’t spoken at all.

“I don’t mean to be any trouble, but did you hear what I said?”

“No. And you’re not any trouble. But I don’t want to hear about such things.”

“Okay.”

Her dark lustrous hair, when she emerges from the ugly light of the salon, is cut in the shape of a bell. A silent bell that won’t ever toll. 

She enters the pet food store and walks among the aquariums, bright neon tetras and dusky mollies, until the owner says, “Are you looking for anything specific, miss? We’re closing in a few minutes.” And she bows and leaves, her heart rate quickened, her face a brief rictus.

Does the sun ever set in this town? It feels like the afternoon has been stretched like a canvas over an infinite easel, long abandoned by the artist. Like an empty metro station, still empty tomorrow and the day after. She is the rat on the rails. The fluttering litter of wan eventide. The smoking moth beneath the incandescent bulb. Detritus. Flotsam. 

Behind, the sound of something shuffling. 

This is troubling, she thinks. She tries yet fails to remember her mother’s smile, the name of her first pet, the word for love in German. She remembers releasing paper lanterns over a lake one August night, dancing to “Born Slippy” in the nineties, loving sea lions, warthogs, penguins. She almost laughs when she thinks of her childhood bear, with his one twisted ear and his cataracted eye. (His bare tumultuous patch where she’d clasped him to her heart. Oh how love erodes.) 

Her mood has improved, like a jazz riff recalled, like Coltrane, like sanctuary, like a burst of starlings from a wood daubing some English sky, like June bugs glowing in a wet twilight, like things built from hope. 

And at last she turns a blind corner and walks into the gaping, dripping jaws of the thing that’s always been so content to wait.

Saturday
Jun012019

Raven of the Sea

"I see you now."

I might be the stupidest man who ever lived. This is my delayed tribute. I never saw you, but I see you now.

When I wheel her onto the concrete platform behind the fence so she can look out on the cove, her head is like some piñata, loose upon a bundle of sticks, desirous of being hung and being beat. I will never hang it. Or ever beat it. I want her to drink the waters and the misted skies of the bay forever. I don't want to ever say goodbye. But she knows this and brays laughter like a crow.

"My damn voice barely works anymore, and you're a total prick of a man, and I know what you want, and I'll be damned if I'll do what you want right here and right now, you complete and utter…"

Though I tune her out, I am penitent. I barely flinch.

She always was a cursing virtuoso, a maestro of malediction.

A cormorant rises from the shallows like a fiend released in our world and spreads the sodden shawl of its wingspan as if we could discern some profane script inside its scope, then it drags its sopping body impossibly and barely airborne, mere feet above the waves. Inwardly I cheer, but I know that is gauche. What self-respecting lifeform shits and grubs in the shallows and the dirt before it can soar in a blink, and arrow like the dream of a spear? This cormorant. This cursed black serpentine jinx with dripping parchment wings. This ink-dipped oath. Not bat but not bird either.

If somebody says, "I can't do this anymore," that's the time to start listening. 

It's also true that if they say they're struggling, you listen too, but these, these are crisis words, this is the klaxon, the clamor of an alarm aboard a starship where everything's bathed in alternating crimson and black, and sirens blare. 

"Tell me how you are," I say to her.

"I can't… encompass it.

"Try."

"For you?"

"No. For you. And for her…" 

"Prick. See?"

A tide brings the waters in, tosses great boatloads of kelp on the beach like the tendrils of cephalopods, waxes so ferries can leave, wanes like a moondrawn thing. Tourists keep gathering on the heights, to watch, to listen, to smell this thing. This hermetic zombie thing.

Grief lies curled like a dead fern in my gut.

"Talk," I say. "It's your moment. I did you harm, woman, but here's your time to preach."

Like scraping molluscs from an antique hull. 

Then a silence falls on land and water alike, a birdless quiet, until at last she croaks out her testimony. 

"Right. You raggedy motherfucker. What did you ever want with me? With us? Like actors, you want us to drag our indignities like ruined limbs across the stage, explain away our shame… Wait. No. That isn't right. Reboot. Start over…" 

Her voice is a rasp on fibrous wood. Her flintlike sorrow moves from her eyes to her entirety. 

"Lookit. Imagine there's this vast mural painted by generations upon a stucco wall, each segment independent of the rest, great scenes of despair and dread, of busted dreams and the mockeries of hope. Leaving some alleyway trattoria, you stumble on it and you close on some small grey drama, something ugly or mean. Shocked, you look upon another patch of the canvas, equally tawdry, and you think the ugly is winning, but then you go to leave and something makes you turn around and you see the whole fresco and you gasp and you cry out and you finally stand mute, comprehending, and you see it's your life. All your life. And you…" She points a misshapen finger at me. "You were one of the shabby sections is all. Now cut the fence and tip this damn chair already, you gawking ungainly dipshit. Time to introduce this meat suit to the unforgiving rocks."