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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
Sep012017

Ink Into Blue

All the warm lights settle into the glow of evening, that umbra of deep blue before it accedes to black. You can still see the ridge with its dark fractal conifers and a deepening gloom beneath, backdropping this pretty town, beyond the amber necklace of I-5 lights. This melancholic summer twilight. All our crew and passengers anticipating night.

"I walked for hours alongside the interstate and no one noticed me. Till I stumbled. Then everyone gathered to watch me stumble again."

"The way of things. Said it before."

"But surely it ain't right. Ain't normal!"

"There is no normal; only what we become accustomed to."

The bay is flat as a hockey rink, barely a ripple on its reflecting expanse. Blue and blue and more blue, deepening to ink, punctuated by the copper and brass of streetlights, passing ships, the breathless tremor of awakening stars.

We are on an ark amid those stars.

You write like HST, like Hitchens: whipsmart and hairshirt honest. You're a heartbreaker the moment a heartbreaker's required. Because the truth barely hides within all the voices. Hurts, though, hurts so good.

It's a dark room, massive as a hangar. I can't even tell what the floor is made from, whether it's natural or even solid. A doorframe filled with light gleams on the other side, far away, and every footstep leads me there yet doesn't. It won't come closer. I walk and walk before the traceless course is set. 

People have been seeing stairs in the deep woods—in the peace and the pure dark of those woods, stairs and no floors, concrete risers absent handrails, going up, descending—and have heard music notes that rise and fall with the wind on still days. Like a sudden mist, a shudder, an air of something terrifying, trees inhaling en masse then holding their breaths.

***

They left me here. To deal with Mother Russia, or one of her misbegotten spawn. Inside this grim building that feels like an institution. Flats, I hear; never apartments. One syllable will suffice. The single pane windows are framed in cold metal once painted a green so pale it's almost grey and is grey where it flakes. I stand at one and hear the spite of the windflung snow like grit on the glass. Did you know glass is a liquid, one very slow tear from an eye that cannot blink? I hear someone moaning, not close. Outside, a narrow road set back beyond an open area that is barely ever grass, even in springtime. Now it is patched with snow and strewn with ugly, unwanted things. Unloved things. A scarred dog the colour of dysentery investigates. The deep fissure between its eyes suggests something treacherous; I see the same in some men. The dog first sniffs then begins to chew on a used condom, and my nausea returns, beached like a gulping fish. There is nothing out there. I am in some blighted quarter of some nexus where all Cold War stereotypes happened upon truth for once. Someone left me here and isn't coming back. Nothing moves on the road and the ghosts of centuries hurl cold grit at the window and I try not to blink.

*** 

The man who speaks to birds divulges troubles. An emphysemic blues harp trailing in sync with the failing blue light. A hierarchy of blue. Near-black to india ink to royal blue to cerulean to shimmering abalone, that inbreath, the vestige of light unreal.

Bird man is on this. Where is the two-step hoot of the cuckoo in the bluebell woods? he asks. Our childhood springs were punctuated by its veiled predation. Its dulcet faux-solace bored into our brains unnoticed. Those auspicious Aprils. That banded marauder. Now silence presides over the wildflower lake that laps against dead bark, its waves curling midbreak and browning. How is it the birds are silent, the odd lone interloper gallant in its solo aria? Did we make of progress a ligature with which to choke the rest?

Bile and drool. Factories, refineries. They all sound like chickens. Astonished and blest.

Great swaths come of age defrauded. Cheated of this: supine in fragrant grasses as the lark spirals skyward buoyed by its own sweet song. Twitter is scant compensation, is weaksauce.

Close those massive doors and stop dreaming. Nostalgia is the devil's favourite trap, your fretful yearning throat in a capo grip, your flustered avian heartbeat faltering. 

Undressed.

Behold the false spring. Here, things live in things that grow on things. Cryptic. Larval. Something lives inside the holes, appallingly aware. You came and lived among us. The earth itself cries torrents.

"I'll never be accustomed to this."

"Shhhh…"

"I'm right, though, ain't I?"

"Hush now."

We are all writers. We lay upon this world black ribbons. We lay upon this world vile detritus. We lay upon this world our open, defective hearts. Sigils and glyphs. We lay upon this world our fathomless regret. 

Friday
Aug252017

Majestic

© Robert WattsWe were staggered by rain. A torrent of it, for damn near half a day, before the sun broke through once more and redaubed our world in accustomed gold. Some called it cleansing, but if you haven't showered in a month or so, one won't get you clean.

Before they abated, the littoral squalls had a faint salt taste, it's true. 

I do recall my period came in heavy that month, lasted best part of a week.

***

Hunter S. Thompson bowed out right on time, Shaun assures us. One of those moments America forgot to hide its death rictus. Baghdad shenanigans and worse. He—HST, that is—clicked off the safety and cocked his piece while he spoke on the phone of love and language. Then he triggered the mechanism that drove that fingerlike cylinder of shiny metal into his raging, glorious brain, and left instructions to fire his ashes from a cannon to the sound of "Spirit in the Sky" by Norman Greenbaum. That mad, splendid sacrificial ram.

Somewhere in the universe he's pursuing Richard Nixon like a bloodhound, like the finest hunter. Once he catches him, he'll circle back.

All those beach houses, lined up, balancing seasonal abandonment with clusters of carousers, while a faraway train trails its melancholy bray eastward, northward, calling for backup. 

Cross my heart and hope to fly. Shaun demands we all meet on Rodeo Drive and shop. To our credit and our shame we comply. The evening sun cracks its shell-like rim and drips like fulvous glue among us. 

***

I don't know what to do with myself. This is something new. Last thing I remember 'fore I killed the motherfucker was dancing at the strip club, my dress rehearsal legs astride some pole already smeared with someone else's body fluids, my ropy arms holding me trembling in a pose above the sightlines of a bevy of blithe and lustful men. A magnificent queen of tawdry caught in the lustfire.

Backstage the man named Crawdog stepped in my path, and I lost some part of myself. I never even knew I'd kept ahold of that blade until I drove it between his obdurate ribs and into his stupid heart. It felt dirty. Cuntish. Before he died, for ten whole seconds, he sobbed his ruined heart out. 

He sure knew. Play his drastic songs now, he sure did know.

***

"We need to agree to a meeting place."

"You know it."

"How about that old motel out on Sunset? Wait, no. Pacific Coast Highway? The Magic Motel? The Magisterial?"

"Ain't no such place."

"Uh, you sure? I can see it in my dreams, you know?"

"That's just dreams, though."

***

Who dies first? Is the desert next? What do we fear and who do we loathe, before and after a rain squall? We don't know. Not even Shaun. No. We won't ever know, have no idea where to gather, amid the oily puddles, stumbling ghoulish in this filthy sunset glow.

Friday
Aug182017

Mediocre, This Uncivil War

The restless dead still wander the sites of old battles. Ironic to this misfit how much they still belong.

The thing squats on the arm of my chair. A sound like veins being knotted, unknotted, gurgles from its abraded throat, a spoiled creek.

"How gentle are you?"

Faraway dead moan their irony. It's a hammock, this world. Where, which places, is it anchored?

"Gentle as I have to be," I answer, and it is a good answer.

Something falls into an abyss and screams, dopplering to silence.

"Enjoy the silence."

How can something in such surly folds of grey make so firm a claim to whiteness when clearly they mean purity? Is anodyne a prize now? 

"Funny. I refuse both silence and joy."

"Then you're a fool. As all your kind have proved."

So be it. It's not wrong. How normal is it to stand in your bathroom, your mouth unhasped, no sound emergent, while your fingers crawl amid the grainy air and the muffled drop of a cat stooping from a chaise longue onto a hardwood floor punctuates some mutant night that dreams of being a sentence? The cat a comma. Your silent scream an ellipsis. Your burlesque fingers quote marks emulating talk.

Is mimicry all we have left? Will this sultry air not move again? Or ever match this hankering? 

The stench of the dying dead fills everything. Help me. Help.

***

And you don't even own a cat.

***

Yearning for a cloudburst.

Apples, blueberries, fresh basil, a pickled human finger, spring water, kidney beans, parmesan, labia minora.

Fungal uncle. Aching aunt. A dozen cousins, and portabella bella, under her umbrella. Ella, ella.

Cumulonimbus. Digital familial. Expertly packed, the things we need today. Riding the subway, a muted rollick under the fungible layers of love and tragedy. A rhythm section somewhat lower than the cacophony.

Wetness. Extra virgin truffles, and the staring, gutted eyes of a slaughtered baby. 

Compare grocery lists?

No. Please, let's not.

***

Cry wolf and loose the battalions of ravens.

Coyote always had two syllables to me. 

This is the West. The terminus. The place the world crawls to when its legs give out. When its heart wears thin. When all thoughts spiral out from certitude, recoil from discipline.

You hold a torch, guttering in the prairie wind, but your endgame, your raw sortie is clear. Nothing is happening in the gathering impasse in the sky; a skirmish of silence and spreading shameface. A pinto gelding sighs and looks askance, partway asleep on its sturdy legs, its long piebald face more sorrowful than genocide.

A hiccup. Something rustles. You cut the flap, ignite the walls, and eviscerate a child.

As you run, the keening starts and flows like some soon-to-be-discovered cloud form, and it follows you, a subdued post-rape scream as you stop to slake from a brittle canteen, the leather cracked and crackling, the lukewarmth of its bowels more jittery horror than quenchment, and it follows you and doesn't ever blink or quit, not even once. Not even in judgment.

***

"Time to wake up, baby boy."

A slow tide sucks itself back over pebbles. A harbour rocks its boats.

"I won't wake up. I won't ever wake up. All this is a lie. You lied to me. Goddamn it, you were supposed to be kind. Whatever happened to kind?"

"I won't ever answer that, my brother."

"You ain't my fucking brother."

***

Wild blueberries and whistler marmots bisect a sheer plane of scree. Fruits of the woman, of the delta. Contours the shade of American ordinance. Blue is the overtopping god above grey, above white. Great banks of snow in mid-August. Tourists braying like burros. This caldera, this cascadia, this hallelujah, shouted from a ruined throat into ink, chorused into unspooling light years of astonishing indifference.

Friday
Aug112017

When Gulls Scream

When my girl left me and went back east, I drove many hundreds of miles of my own. South.

Long before Canyonville even had a chance, I pulled into a darkening asphalt parking lot horseshoed by conifers, hearing the cannonade of surf against rocks, and I signed in to a room with an ocean view. The owner, a handsome woman with short black hair in a bob and wide sargasso hips, hinted I might find solace in her oceanic murmurs and clefts, and I did consider it, her warm specific impetus of comfort. But I never acted on it. Actual solace being too distant and all. 

That first night, after hearkening to the eternal clamor of the tide, I beheld the sunset, the dripping red sun like some internal sac dropped into an autopsy pan. My rosy camera finger stutter-sifting forensic traces.

Plastic glasses brimming with cheap red wine. Slipshod guitar work. I slept on the narrow balcony, folded into motel bedding, torches marking the cliff top trail below. Eighties Prince strutting on my laptop. Grainy silhouetted couples passed and gouged more pieces from my dark-starred heart. Whispered and clasped hands. I could see the sugar arc of their fingers, imagine the shadowy settlement of their terms, the endearing angles of their lips and eyebrows, their poise, their tone, their doleful, gentle music.

As the surf replayed its nevermore loop, hell's agonal gasps, I watched the gaping moon, frozen out there in the solar wind. Cadaver blue and alone.

The first time solitude outshines us, it makes some quiet vow to ratchet up its bone-grip.

That ring tone. Asking, "You there?"

FaceTime. Fuck. I could have ignored her, but my prison was my grieving skin, my gentle heart, was never not.

"Here. Yeah. Hey, babe."

Shadowy faces moving and grimacing in doltish middle grounds. Aging white folks. Farmer's omelets and rye toast and bottomless coffees in white mugs, Perkins and Denny's, peanut butter and strawberry jelly arrayed in racks, thumbsized. Iowa fields and South Dakota billboards. Sioux City, Sioux Falls. Illinois sunset. Faraway lightning. Liver spots. Trucker hats. Angry as fuck. The drastic ghosts behind all this.

"You did the left coast road trip without me."

"I did."

Pause to hear the sussurance of the night surf. The quiet inhale, the concussive rage, the hissing backdraw through mineral-brown teeth. The whole defiant coast is a wide and diffident mouth.

Lighthouses faking something. Partial corpses. Zombified. Useful in some surrogate time now gone. 

"How could you?"

"Was always gonna do it. And woulda done it either way."

"I'm mad at you."

"Yeah. You broke this. Broke me. There was no us when I started."

Seabirds claim their quotas of night right before the crows wake.

We traded more words. Reminisced. About fireworks seen from a balcony. Even tried to wring something winsome from this jilted Fender, until…

A great blinding shear off the coast, somewhere near the horizon, sliced across the night, stupefying light so pure it's easy to forget the wretched bastard cacophony to follow.

And you saw it onscreen, knew it was your immediate future, light-speed nigh, the moment I tried to say I still cared, the moment love posed triumphant, when a gull screamed, at the frozen blazing moment of my erasure. 

Friday
Aug042017

Solitude and the Devil's Armpit

What reared in palsied segments from a blasted hollow was the ruinous progeny of some heinous prior act, a man hauling across the incognizant desert long bereft of any road his own daughter and then violating all touchstones of trust, all human and earthly edicts, before uncoupling her from her life in the cooling night until the land itself sheared and assumed the burden of arbiter and caught him and vise-gripped his leg till he mewled and died sluggardly under the searing day that followed, the sun itself meting justice and broiling first his eyes to grayish raisins in their sockets then his sobbing brain in its canted bone pan. From the drying juices of his corpse some unholy alchemy spawned this flapping, fractured thing born thirsty and agonized. With the falling of night and the cooling of the red stones it staggered and moaned a crooked wan-lit path toward the lights of a town scattered like tiny stars in a great throated void.

Not really a town. A convenience store with twin gas pumps, crude sentinels, a dusty bestrewing of trailers, a barroom squat and yellow-brown as a bark scorpion, a single red light pendent as a polyp over a crossroads.

She'd stopped because she dripped without moisture, because she needed relief from the eternal dry breath of the road and its cartoon hornet string of broken lines. The smeary windowpanes of her eyes reflected nothing. Her twenty-four hours of freedom from a man hellbent on her ruin yet joyless. The bar had no signboard or emblem aside from a Sorry We're Open sign in its only window, and the inside was small and dark and hot and rank; she named it in her mind the Devil's Armpit and thought about smiling. 

But she didn't smile. The barkeep cocked an eyebrow and with her head she signaled a cluster of bottles, whiskies.

"Give me chain lightnin'," she said, her voice strange like that of an exotic bird in a cave.

He grunted and poured a dark amber shot glass and she drank it back, her throat taut, her eyes tight, and when "The Master's Call" by Marty Robbins rose and soared from buzzing speakers, though no god had ever dwelled in any part of her, a tear gathered in the corner of her eye. 

Two men had wandered in, like moths find their way on a porch around nightfall. One of the men wore his darkness like a prioress wears her faith—as a part of him, his oil-black hair gleaming like the nape of a corvid, his one eye a campfire coal soliciting dark tales, his other blank and nacreous. The second man was no account.

They took up a place on the other end of the bar, four or five scuff leather stools between them. 

"So, lady, tell me your first sight this sunrise." He didn't look her way because he didn't have to.

"With all respect, sir, I ain't exactly enamored of conversation right now." She also looked only in front, at the grimy bottles, at black-painted drawers now fulvous with the chalky exhalations of the land. Nothing here could be kept. All of it ran between splayed fingers amid silence.

"We-ell. Ordinarily I'd grant your respectful wish to be left alone, Miss. I truly would. But truth is, present circumstances militate agin' such a relinquishment."

She looked his way at last, for scant moments, heartbeats.

"Why might that be… Mister?"

Somehow he had grown more ursine during this short interchange. His snoutish face encased in rank dark fur. His one good eye a black pearl defying the abalone vacancy of his other. A stench coming from him.

"Why that might be… Missy… is this. You're runnin' from something. That much you cain't argue with, and neither can I. What you're runnin' from ain't too important, but what is important, to me, is where you is now. Your present... solitude. That I need to state for the goddamned record. And contemplate."

She thought about standing up and walking out, only as soon as the thought crawled its way across her skittering mind, she recognized it for the pale aborted thing it was. Whatever this man was, she needed to face him like she'd finally faced Dwayne and his fists a day or two ago. In some ways, this cornshucker and her ex were brothers: Cain and Cain. She never minded cursing, but she stockpiled her own profanities until the right moments.

She thought about his hands, his fingers, where they'd been, what things they'd ferreted and infringed upon.

"I tried respect, sir. Now I'm gonna tell you a truth: it ain't none of your goddamned business and I'd much prefer to be left to dwell on my loneliness entirely my ownself, the way it oughta be. Mostly so I can figure if bein' lonely might yet mean freedom."

He stayed silent for a good ten minutes while she sipped on her shine and the barman dissembled as if to polish stuff already partway buffed and the no account sidekick grinned at some deviant joke no soul would get to speak aloud on this earth. 

Then the man moved fast. Was behind her and wrenching her arm high behind her back.

"You are comin' outside with me," he said, with shocking gentleness.

She looked and knew instantly the bartender would be no help. 

No account was grinning and displaying three sullied teeth with a kind of truculent pride.

A grim marionette, she stumbled forward if only to prevent herself from falling and was quickly under a star field so bright it yet stole her breath despite her predicament. 

"What are you doing?" she whispered.

"Takin' you to my vehicle, Miss. Then to a different place."

They approached the dark shape of a pickup and, like some simian thing, no account swung his misshapen body into the bed while the bad man with one good eye pulled out the key from his pocket.

And that was when it staggered from out of the scrubland, lurched uncouth from an untrod trail in the broken hills, and began to dismantle a thing it knew about: something unapologetic, something mean as a scorpion in a resting boot, something belligerent, something that had sired its own torment. It took its time, tore and chewed slowly with claggy and crenulate teeth, jaw hasping and unhasping, barely registering the man's garish hoots as screams, beyond the rupture of the man's cords in his gorge, beyond the hellish slow minutiae of his drawn-out annihilation.

Instead of running, as no account had already done, she was rooted, some part of her desirous of this grotesque theater, hungry to see such unspeakable retribution visited on the wicked. Yearning to witness a delinquent accounting.

"Goodnight motherfucker," she whispered.

When it was done, and the meat on the floor had stopped twitching, the obscenity looked her way a second or two, before it lumbered its graceless way back the way it had come, into the scorched hills, where nothing awaited it and nothing wanted it and nothing whatsoever wished it into a dirty world, not now and not ever, the good lord help us, amen.