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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
Jul212017

Chesterman

When you ran alongside me, barefoot, following the beach pier below, I thought you meant to tell me something profound, announce something real. When you caught up to my shadow and climbed the iron steps and looked in my eyes and said, "Your mother died," I thought you were either funny or cruel. It took a long time for me to realize you were going for both.

I can't help it. I associate your metronome hips toiling in a sandblasted skirt with the death of my mother.

At my tea party, Kate Winslet is Emily Blunt's aunt. Kelp lies forlorn on the shore.

"Honey, don't make me do anything. Let me do it 'cause I want to."

Escape your uterine penumbra. Ask me how?

"I'll ask this. Impossible to answer, no doubt. How is it you seem to know me when all you know is my menstrual smell? And what is it that tastes like people? Makes us numb?"

"Because you climb men like we're trees."

"Seriously, no words. You should be banned from speaking."

"True. But then I'd write."

Here we all are, rulers of a thousand silent kingdoms. Wearers of so many tawdry cotton shifts.

"You are not the marrying guy. You are the affair guy."

"Welcome home, girlfriend."

"Ugh."

The wind gets up. Stirs the treetops. Will you dream of a monster hunched among the dark limbs, breathing quiet, awaiting its time? All I know is, every coward craves a gun. 

Friday
Jul142017

Hostile

We're a long way past those plastic wood panels. That studded belt. The brackish shallows.

She was born Ida Grace Showbuckle, a Midwestern girl in a middle America world.

By the time she arrived in Hollywood, she was Shyna Lite, but that only shepherded her briefly pornward until she settled on Gloria Spensky, which combined a classic first name with an authentic East European family moniker while largely avoiding complications. America fell quietly in love, even before they'd truly parsed the name for prestige or infamy.

She was fortunate. Spectacular and tawdry. Resplendent with dubious pedigree.

Before tomorrow, the deviant mollusc will have devoured eleven faces. Be ready. This carnage won't be silent or demure. Segmented limb parts the texture and disavowed color of forsaken tarpits will skitter from bleak corners, antennas tuned to utter wreckage, trojaned in by the aroma of coffee beans and the poise of a nylon seam, a lukewarm foot cupped by a cool stiletto heel.

You have no idea what I'm saying, do you?

Don't worry. I don't either. I no longer know how to ask for help.

Was something birthed in the vomit of some homunculus, before any of us were here?

Gloria made progress, found a modicum of genuine affection among the glitterati. If she is filled with secrets, then so are we all.

Laura was my neighbor. She was older than me, not by all that much. Sometimes she babysat us. Her hair was the color of a raven's throat. My fingers ached to stroke it. Then came our private Armageddon, and our priorities changed. Although I never stopped loving the girl next door, whatever her guise. She was my ingress. 

Psychotic girls might be our last shot. Please rearrange words accordingly.

And please give me an invitite. Smurn me with lashes. Starl. Aglutor. Abrogate all this. If langrage is a skareton, the very bones of our syntax are fragmenting in clouds of sweet white dost, like wedding caek. Our vocalumnary crombles. Restet my gladdamned jawmoan. That bird has flone. Hear me haol till dawn. 

Chronology isn't my strong suit. Nor is lucidity. Especially when my brainpan hosts its silent apocalypse.

Gloria met an enigmatic young woman named Evelyn who'd come down from Canada alone, for altogether obscure purposes. Gloria and Laura, who met at a club in Inglewood in July 2011, would help her sometimes, both sensing her dangling-over-a-cliff vulnerability. Evelyn had landed on skid row—in a hostel once opulent but wearing its own sad fall from grace in its crumbling facade—either because she felt it was her natural home or believing it her launchpad to Hollywood. She was pretty and sweet, listened to J-metal and read dystopian fiction, but she was already a wraith. A waif like a leaf gyred by November winds through a caterwauling valley someplace north of the forty-ninth. Her appointment with death kept getting postponed, and they took this as a sign she would be okay. They bought her meals now and then, took her to shows. But one day they didn't see her, no one did, and the internet seized on a shiny new mystery and Evelyn became a made-to-order character for websites dedicated to creepiness, not even rounded enough to be tragic.

Gloria kept going, but Laura went home, could never shake the sorrow of Evelyn's disappearance. They still talked now and then, but things had lost their luster. I loved all three, a walking, pulsing Bechdel test, but Evelyn will always hold a special place for me, allowing me my moment to school them and to fail them, her soft porcelain throat collapsing under my thumbs, her epicanthic stare beseeching me until her light slipped away, already heading back up Interstate 5, searching at long last for home.

Now you've read this nonsense, answer me this: what the fuck is wrong with you?

Friday
Jul072017

Boundary Bay

© Monica LunnThey came to our virgin thresholds and asked for our longest songs.

Some grim radar. An impertinent sonar.

Cephalopods.

Those songs we sang for them, relayed them for days, weeks, even months, the dwindling howl of a coda falling silent on upturned cedar. Dank, weary branches like bony old limbs. Notes like heavy snowflakes, the banshee shriek of the wind up in the narrow draw, silencing the very owls to grey.

Agonal gasps. A moist clutch of arms. First we gave them our extravagant minimum.

What were they? Aliens? Well, yes, but that says so very little. With which face should we meet the encroaching distance, which forgotten facet?

Rapid City. Deadwood. Devils Tower. The Black Hills quivering, purple, epochal, sacred with need. Unearthly as plasma spit from a star.

Dream westward. Spearfish. Sheridan. Missoula. Coeur d'Alene. Spokane. Fremont. Deception Pass. Ninety ways to Boundary Bay. 

You came home tonight, via the food bank, buzzed our door and I let you in. A train strums the night air in power chords. A hog revs on State Street like Satan's ruined trachea. The neon signs burn without mercy. You brought Campbell's soup and noodles and mushrooms and celery. Couple fresh spices. From this, we will conjure a feast in defiance, and while one of us plays culinary virtuoso, the other will walk a block to the Grocery Outlet and buy two bottles of wine, a malbec and a syrah, for relative pennies, and we will eat and drink like covetous gods, then turn our salivary hankering to each other's indigent need. Our thirsty skin. 

Okanagan. Plastic corona Penticton forecourt. Intersection highway desert fall fruit stands. Summerland. Peachland. Don't sneer; they're real. Burned on your shifty retinas. Harshness muted by conifers. Heat like a wall when you exit your car. Late-evening thunder in the hills like rumoured war. The shout of stars. The damp smell of dust in the dawn. The utter absence of any breeze. A patch of grass between your motel and the strip of sand by the lake. A toddler playing ball. Your child. You throw him the ball and his arms jut, fingers spread, and he laughs into the sky. You throw her the ball and her arms jut, fingers spread, and she laughs into the sky.

Even the living have ghosts. Sequential traces. Semblances.

Fairhaven. There are ghosts in the rust on the corrugated sidings of what I silently call the cannery, after Steinbeck. Rust-coloured ghosts of dust-covered trails and railroad tracks. Quick, when does the Amtrak come through? Let's watch it from the bridge, see it stir up the afternoon wraiths, send more dust and creosote to coat the dark berries where lovers saunter and graze. Let's take the boardwalk over sculptures and starfish. Swallow blackberries of sorrow over grapes of wrath. Someone draped a shawl over the evening, dimmed the reflected lights, the piers of industry reaching forlorn into the bay. Inviolate night haunted by the blush of its own unlovely face.

You have pledged all your nonsense and I will honour it. Speak to it.

"I was left behind," I begin.

"Yes, indeed. It wasn't anyone's intention, but you were hurt, it's true."

"Not just hurt, but hurt."

"Butthurt. I can't deny it." You smile.

"Funny. When you walked into my store, I thought it was a beginning. You were dressed in muted greens and reds, and they seemed so right."

You look waylaid. Your words are a whisper. "I'm sorry. I never intended anything else."

"Anything else?"

"Anything other than what it was."

"Which is?"

"Now? A pure clusterfuck." You show me your sweating palms, a saint with stigmata.

"What the hell did you want then?"

"All the love. All the good things."

"Did you capture anything at all?"

"Photographs. Hundreds of them."

"Tell me your favourite?"

"The beach ball in the grass with the blurry palm tree background and the heartbroken sky."

"You know about that? I should let you go now."

"Why? What? Seriously?"

"You know. You fucking know."

"…"

A concussion ricochets across the distant ridge, clay pigeons, the shattered rock itself a percussion section. We can make of chaos sheer rhythm if we're so inclined. Strata. Stratum. Sessions. Casual permissions. And you will listen. And dance. Even in a last apocalypse. Even within the fission hiss and searing echo of all our abandoned superannuated missions. Even then.

Friday
Jun302017

Adanac

Here. This place. One hundred and fifty. One fifty. Buck and a half. A birthday. Entire nation no older than the lives of two robust adults laid end to end. 

What ever did we do to deserve it?

But hey, did you know? Canada means "village." Yeah, me either.

Listen. A rest stop diner by the Trans-Canada, heading east. The Fraser Canyon. The white waters roaring from the north, headlong from the wicked throat of a bitter spring. You were scowling beneath butchered bangs—jagged as a silhouetted treeline—and a bad dye job. About to thrust out a ragged thumb. I picked you up in the dirt lot if only to keep you safe for the next few miles of your calculated self-immolation. You barely even thanked me, not that you needed to, although you did howl along to my road mix, gyrating in your seat to the Hip and to Bran Van 3000 and to Love Inc's "Broken Bones," for which I will always forgive and never forget you. 

We were ragtag then; more so now. My memory careens between blunt and compassionate. Both, really: I truly hope you avoided the murder-rape of your grim trajectory. Had I been the praying type, I might well have gotten on my knees about it, put myself in hock to some obscure god. But I wasn't. And I didn't. 

We moved on. Someone tracked a black fly cloud, draped microphones in boreal stands to capture cryptozoological ephemera, filmed the awkward and the implausible, crumpled Labatt deposits underneath an aurora, traced the opening of dry rustic cracks in some ghost-abandoned road, devouring handfuls of poutine and Ativan. Silent Sam and Black Fly Vodka Cranberry. Fantasy arrivistes. Supplements. Afterthoughts. 

Breathe an A-frame house built from fragrant cedar south of Sicamous. The drastic tang of a wood stove. Wholesome. Imbued with the cool mint breath of the forest.

Friend, grab a cold one, join us by the fire under the riotous stars, listen to the popping sap. Strum this here guitar for us. But first, here's my stolen story of the Thunderbird... 

One early fall the salmon didn't appear in the river. Thunderbird waited, but nothing. He asked the people, and they told him a great orca had blocked the mouth of the river and was swallowing all the sockeye. Enraged, Thunderbird flew to the river mouth, but there was no whale and no red fish either. Then he saw that the people had poured their dark toxins into the waters and brought disease to the fish, killing most of them. Now more angry than ever, Thunderbird flew out over the great waters and spied the fearsome orca. He hovered above the whitecaps and spoke to the mighty whale, once his enemy, and they came to an agreement, a truce. Thunderbird lifted the immense whale and flew closer to shore, where he dropped him from a great height. A wave of dreadful size moved like a locust plague toward the coastal homes of the people and began to level them. The people tried to run but many drowned. Then Thunderbird flew to the coast mountains and began to beat his mighty wings together many times, summoning a terrible storm, and the land itself began to shake and crack, and the people further inland were laid waste until only two remained, a woman and a man. Thunderbird flew to them and saw they were rightly terrified. He said, "Rebuild, but do not forget. This cannot happen again, or your kind will pass from this world." He named the man Father Tremor and the woman Mother Tsunami. Twenty, thirty, fifty generations followed and remembered the tale told by the great Father and the great Mother of the people, retelling it over and over, until a new people arrived from the east and called the land Cascadia. But the new people were heedless and laughed at the old tales and began to pollute the waters and burn the forests again, brought sea lice and deadly beetles, a wasting sickness to the elk, toxins for the bees, and wouldn't listen to reason even when the rumble of thunder in the mountains became ominous and the seething saltchuck swelled ever more restless. And this is where we are now. If Thunderbird abandons his patient forbearance and revisits the whale, when the edge of one slips beneath the limb of the other, this land will be wiped clean for a last time, and it would all have been for nothing, with no one left to tell the tales and only wolves and ravens to hear the last few echoes deep in the sacred and soon to be silenced forests.

You never liked that story, come to think of it. 

Afterward we blink at the music of Crash Vegas, wonder if we missed something resplendent, something drenched in the fragility of love, and get back to work. Especially now they changed the rules. Once knew a couple bought a house on unemployment. Saskatchewan, granted, but still.

Relax. There will be a fresh atrocity soon enough.

"I died so I could haunt you."

"No, you damn well didn't. You really didn't."

"You don't know who I am."

"Yes. No. You're right; I don't. What?"

What is this place? These stunted trees, this wetland, all our wonderments? This jingle-jangle, all these tricky agglomerants. Where did the majesty go?

The Last Waltz. Scorsese. Joni, the Band, and Neil. I even quote myself on Facebook: "There's so much Canada on that stage that the very air must taste like maple syrup." I think I got seven likes, but that was early on. Whatever.

I commit to this. My dreams are dry run coalitions. Dramaturges. Arcade fires. Must be Northern Ontario. Kenora. Thunder Bay.

Pick some place to cross the dry stream. We can't avoid the dry stream. Cross at Pigeon River into Minnesota, skirting Lake Superior, or drop due south to Grand Forks. North Dakota from the Peg. Harsh desaturated landscapes peopled by stripped down watchmen. Workaday men like weathered barns. Gaunt and barely functional. Even the gentle West: Blaine. Sumas. Laurier. Good Grief, Idaho. The hidden road to Kalispell. It's rarely gentle now. We are the chill shadow to the southern puppet show, faint shapes thrown against abandoned backdrops. 

That was then, at least a history. This is DNA memory. Once I rode out on my kid's bike under a troubled sky, running the elided gauntlet of endless wheat fields, mad at my mom and mad at my dad, twin runnels of tears on my cheeks flying pitiable streamers behind me, a funnel of sky and lariated dirt half-twisting on the southern horizon, while "Pigeon Camera" filled my headphones. A man in a dark pickup pulled up and asked me if I needed help, and I told him yes, no, wait, we all need help, but him most of all. Ivory-knuckled, he chased me a good two klicks or so till I veered off the highway and plunged through the amber amnesia of grain.

Recollection, loss. Farewell to wheat kings, rage, and weathervanes. Adieu to where the spirit sits. Where the masts lean. Skeena. Scarborough. Southern Ontario. Ask me about Alicia Ross and Alice Munro. Speak to me of pretty things. Of passage. Lesley. Kristen. The Highway of Tears. Go tell Marlon Brando. Now that's how he's gonna clear the table. See if he cares. It's the very same thing in French: bon voyage and sayonara. Hell, is there anything sadder and quieter than a distant grain silo standing erect on land so flat it's like someone drew it and then got bored?

Hence: this is the country with the longest coastline, the longest land border (okay, equal first, by definition), the most educated populace. And the nicest. All because someone got bored, and we were left alone. Even Robin Williams said this of us: "You are the kindest country in the world. You are like a really nice apartment over a meth lab." Funny guy. And he should know kind. 

You know what comes with all that good? A whole shitload of bad. The surface is a mirror. One great city. Two? Three, tops. A darker light breaking through a strident one. The Salish Sea to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Two solitudes (three, tops), hopping a Greyhound from Kamloops to Canmore, to Moose Jaw. Tar sands. Pipelines. 1867–2112. The tower of song. Up beyond the lighted stage, they urged us to be strong, not to be failers, to change the sheets once in a while, not to be weaker than (weaker than what?), to live like this, but we got it all wrong. Like all of them, we're still going down to the same old bar, same old people, same beer, and just like them we don't likely care much anymore. Yellowknife. Yellowhead. Blue. What is a jagged pill? A river we can skate away on. These ambulance blues, this case of you, a crowded hazy bar. Dance me outside, damn you. O tabernac, O adanac, O Tekahionwake, O Manitou. Late breaking story in the Globe and Mail, a nation chastened by Karla and Paul browbeaten further by a prairie atrocity on a midnight bus. Our nightmares like our treasures, buried. All our friendless misdeeds. Our worst crimes the loneliest of crimes.

Enough already. I hear the impatience borne on a prairie wind. I'm unnerved. Something is coming.

"Okay. Leave now. Go away."

"What? Why?" she says.

"I ran my race already."

"Nah, fuck off. That's pure bullshit."

"No, it isn't. Who do you think you are, anyway?"

"I don't think, I know."

"You're a smartass girl."

"More a loud-mouthed girl, but either way, don't make me wrong."

"So tell me."

"Alright, I will. I was the girl you picked up on the gravel lot near Boston Bar and played those tunes to in your car. You gave me a boost, like we used to do when we helped each other over fences or up trees, you know? You were a friend to me when I had none."

"Well, fuck, that's weird timing because lately I ran out of friends completely."

"That ain't weird. It's how it is."

How it is. 

It's not true, by the way. The kindness thing. Ask anyone who knows about missing women or residential schools. Or Oka. Are we even real? Has anyone ever captured our actual image? Lord pulsing thunderhearted gods of the motherloving prairies, we have so much still to fix.

Friday
Jun232017

Wheels Within Girls

Marvin called me a femme fatale and I asked him how I could remind him of a dairy product. He murmured something about film noir, but I knew I was in the ascendancy, so I didn't let go. 

"So a crème fraiche?"

"No, that's not it."

"Frappuccino?"

"Na-ah…" He drew it out, but his voice quavered.

"You fuck. You think you can draw an edge around me, put me in a box?"

"No, forget it. You didn't hear me right."

"I hear you right. I'll fucking hear you right."

"Calm down. It doesn't even make sense. You're a bottle blonde, after all."

"Wait a goddamned jailhouse minute. So you're saying my hair colour is a key factor here?"

"Well, sorta. I mean, you don't get evil perky blondes, right?"

"Until me. Right?"

Up until the moment I got bored, toying with Marvin was fun. But yeah, that moment. Amazing how fast the color can drain from everything. Leaves you sitting immobile, gaping, like the power got compromised or something, like the sun snapped out a plasma lariat and browned out the world. 

That proved to be the last time I saw Marvin and the last time Marvin saw anyone at all. Not gonna give you too long to think about that.

Until recently I still bleached my hair, but I'm thinking of going back to black, so my roots aren't just showing, they're exposing themselves shamelessly. Thinking maybe I can grow into my stereotype. I'll have to be on my guard; I hear they treat brunettes different. Poor Marvin was probably on to something, Lana Turner notwithstanding. And Stanwyck, of course.

But here's another thing: they think they got me. The law, I mean. Got me to flip on a couple higher-ups when all the time I'm the higher-up. Look. As our president so amply demonstrates, bragging is for the childishly insecure, so trust me when I tell you this ain't no brag: I am smart as they come. Sharp as a shinken katana forged in Kyoto. A straight razor pushed against your trembling taint. At such moments of my choosing, you will not not notice me. Completely self-educated, a thirsty daughter of Phoenicia and the Amazon, I'm prouder of my smarts than the accident of birth that fashioned my looks. The latter tends to obscure the former, though, so I'm able to hide in plain sight—around men, especially. Playing the dumb broad or the ingenue is fun as hell. Ha, maybe I should use the handle Columba. 

The wheel. Invented in 3500 BCE, early Bronze Age. To my right is a Chinese bowl, porcelain, fish motifs, inky blue on bluish white. It's late in June, and the heat is a hot rag squeezing my skin. I am a wet sponge trying to become a dry sponge. A ceiling fan is reflected in the bowl, and its glazed surface holds the ghost of a tiny spoked wheel, turning fast. Aghast at its own heat. The circle of life is also a wheel. The wheel was a diabolical instrument of medieval agony. And my current troubles turned on a roulette wheel. 

I happen to be the kind of woman who uses a phrase like "Wait a jailhouse minute." Paints stellar imagery with words. Allusive. Elusive. A virtuoso amoroso, I control the lexicon. How can you not admire me, love me? I am delightful. Confronted with your bewildered mien, I will reflect you. Disguised as Echo, I am yet Narcissus. Both reflections, it has to be said. (See what I did there?)

But yeah. The casino added two to two and came up with something other than four. They were right I was cheating them, right for all the wrong reasons. Their heavies left no impact, so they turned to the weightier, blunter instruments of the state. I was so far ahead of them they thought they were lapping me. No doubt some of them would like that image, of them lapping me, I mean. Fantasists. Utter fucksticks. They have no idea the depth of my antipathy.

Strange. All these thoughts, these deadly playful words, and you don't yet know my name, and I'm so okay with that.

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