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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
Jun292018

Might Never Happen

Hallowed be her name.

When she first came here—the skin beneath her hazel eyes smeared as if an artist had been learning charcoal, the eyes themselves almost pitiless—we called her Trashy, soon shortened to Trash. We meant nothing bad by that. "Trash panda" was a nickname for raccoons, and that was all we meant. But Trash—Raylene—heard only bad. Today we'd call it slut-shaming, only we weren't slut-shaming anyone. Yet she felt slut-shamed. 

I still remember her room, the three dreamcatchers: the obvious one over her bed; another in the exact centre of her small window; and the other hanging from the doorframe, like mistletoe meant to stop dreamers dreaming bad things instead of lovers kissing good ones. 

She never knew it, and even I only figured it out far too late, but I was her sister. 

Trash was skinny and chill as a frappuccino straw. She liked to eat but she often couldn't. Her moods precluded co-option of solid fuel. In fact, that's even how she would have said it back then: "My moods preclude co-option of solid fuel." Her speech was unique. Like she began her thought in English, heard it in Venusian, then translated it hastily back into English.

I secretly adored her eyes. Not the shadows that made me think of future ghosts scribed in hindsight, but the marketplace of colour shimmering in those irises, even when her will held them steady as edicts. Her face was its own proclamation, the golden emerald eyes an enactment within. 

You might have actually loved her too.

I'm making it sound like she died. Far as I know, she never died. She simply left. Left us. Joined someone else, far as anyone knew. On cold nights, I try to warm myself with the thought of Trash, surviving, articulating her offbeat vision to some spellbound soul.

But yes. Trash never laughed, though she found some kind of humour in everything. She told me how often this bothered people around her. Related this story. She was small, maybe seven or eight, and her mom won some local contest and they went on a trip to London, a hardscrabble momma from the American South and her no-account daughter, first time either of them left America. Some point, she was sitting on a barstool in some dark pub that smelled like unfiltered tobacco smoke and cheese and onion crisps (she remembers her first taste of English chips even while she's forgotten the endless flight itself or Heathrow or the narrow streets or the tiny houses) and her mom was chatting with three men who seemed smitten by her voice, by her look, by her difference. And Trash, quiet, alone, stared ahead at the array of bottles, all that bright-hued glass, and thought about why adults seemed so sure they were in control when most times the opposite was true. And she nearly smiled, but she didn't want to give reality the pleasure of agreeing with it, so she decided to remain stoic. A girl of stone, perhaps more limestone than granite. Emotion was real to her, but expressing emotion felt like a luxury. Seemed one of the men noticed her reserve and came over to her, and she never forgot this, but he touched her upper arm where it was also her shoulder, not sexual or creepy in any way, and he looked in her eyes—his were the palest blue and you wouldn't gainsay someone who called them grey—and said, quietly yet not secretively, "Cheer up, darlin', it might never happen." Then he went and rejoined the other men serenading her mother, and Trash tried not to think about it but failed. It might never happen. What might never happen? It was too open-ended and infinite. Too soaked in plausible. It made her mind feel like all life shrank to a point, a point at which it must decide on cheering up or cheering down. Like it was a sinkhole hoping to warn the neighbors. Like a graffitied road in an abandoned mining town.

How do I know all this? It's like we switched places, traded pasts. It's like Trash stayed and I left. Maybe I'm mistelling it or misrecalling it. 

One thing she knew that no one knew is this: everything aspires. A moth seeking light and dancing ungainly around it, tracing some newfound poetry in the expectant night. A two-lane road between cedars. Drunken songs after hours. A comet. Fresh-hatched turtles clambering over sand. The winning goal in a World Cup final. Migrants. Warmed cognac. The sun melting on the blazing rim of this world. Midnight mass. Laughter.

Though I don't know this, I know this: Trash is there still. On that blazing rim. Sipping Rémy Martin. Faking laughter at the exertion of turtles. Loving angrily yet secretly. Living within the penumbra of borders. Trying not to notice the chainlink. Trying not to cry.

Friday
Jun152018

Consolable

"A screaming comes across the sky." — Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow

He stopped because he thought that's what you did. She kept going for the very same reason.

The street had become a sluggish blur to both of them; each had eyes for the other only. Each felt only heart pain as the clasp of their hands loosened and was parted.

All sounds were muted: the clang of a streetcar a cracked bell; muffled sidewalk murmurs; the soft rustle of pigeon wings.

His mouth formed an O gape as he tried to call her back, tell her no; hers was a downcast wound as she silently implored him to keep up.

No matter.

Everything uncoupled and inconsolable. Sometimes this is how it ends.


***

She walked here on this earth, and she lived among the stars beyond her ancestors. If you had seen her liquid emerald eyes, folded with molten gold, you would have stood in one place forever, unable to move with the sorrowing weight of her grief and the burden of her arcane glamour. She will never return to this place, and her absence will prove calamitous.

Lovetar, Kali, Menhit, Lamia, Scylla and Charybdis, in your passing all colour fades, all song has fallen mute on brittle ears. We beseech you. Pain is a dance and truth is also a place. Come back to us. Even as the bay doors open, even as the poison seeds fall, even at the moment of our eradication.


***

Here we are in the violet night, spilling from our front doors, tumbling down our steps, hurtling into a riotous haze of utter disbelief.


***

She called herself Glass because most everyone looked through her and she was easily shattered. She had a single tattoo on her midriff, of an open window.

Between her skinny legs Montgomery breathed easy, safe and partway warm on concrete paving in his cocoon of threadbare denim. Government Street in April.

"Is your dog friendly?" A woman, thirtysomething.

"Monty. Sure," said Glass.

The woman reached to pet him, and Glass didn't breathe. Monty glanced at her and decided it was okay and extended his disheveled neck for a scratch, and then Glass breathed.

"I see you every day, and every day I think I should speak to you." The woman obliged Monty, who smiled, his pink tongue draped on his teeth, somewhere between solid and liquid. Glass said nothing, though she recalled the woman from the beauty salon a block or two away.

A man across the street yelled something over the early traffic. He sounded hoarse and weary.

"Look. It's not right you should have to lie on this sidewalk while folks no better than you drive by in luxury."

"Someone's gotta do it. May as well be me."

The woman sighed and stared at her. Glass wished she'd stop. She felt like she was transparent again and the woman was staring holes in the sidewalk. There was a silence that stretched too long.

"What do you want from me, lady? How about you give me a couple loonies and go on with your day?"

"I'll give you more than a couple loonies if you come help me clean up the salon."

Glass squinted up at her. The sun had moved higher, and the woman was a dark grey construction paper cutout. Glass thought she heard a herring gull cry, "Beware!" Monty made his teakettle sound of unease.

"Don't know nothing about beauty," she finally said, and a word came into her thoughts: exfoliate. Sounded like something to do with horse abortions. Yet it sounded pretty too. That's what was so weird about the world, pretty hiding inside all that ugly.

Across the street, the man yelled again, and Monty barked, once. This time, Glass heard the words.

"They did it. It's fucking happening!" There had been fear and astonishment in those words. And in Monty's short bark, there was a world of companionship and love and a lifetime of cold huddled nights and all the withstood scorn of passing strangers and the words oh please no oh please.

The pretty woman looked up, and she was a puzzled lens that concentrated the white and terrible sun as it fell toward each and everyone equally, the kind and the cruel.

None stood a chance. Not grifters, not bankers, not pimps, not actors, not teachers, not lovers, not empathetic beauticians, not streetworn kids and their tousled, loveable dogs. Not even, especially not, the dreamers of dreams.


***

She walked out of the infirmary, dragged her damaged limbs over moorland, mists swirling like her jettisoned conscience, the sun a rusted coin, the vast quiet dome of the sky above the earth hushed as the fading notes of a requiem.

***

After the screaming, the awful woe, and then the blessed silence.

Friday
Jun082018

Crime Watch

It's always windy now; there's never any peace. They tell me the local wolves are returning. I say good. That's good. Find the dens. Go ahead with your goddamned crimes.

Since words are such distant cousins and not the only language we know, I doubt that words themselves will suffice for the telling of this tale, but let's try.

Where did I come from? I cannot even know. I woke on a trail favoured by green. Why do we highlight the fox, the bat, the buffalo? I feel her palm settle over my wrist, and we bow beneath the wax-green arbor. We are stitched into the tapestry absent our consent.

In case you missed it, I repeat: our assent means nothing to the world.

An old woman watching the haze coughed up by the eventide. I used to sit here and watch whales. I haven't seen a whale in twenty years. The ocean itself is a heaving grey behemoth with cloudy eyes, redolent of slate. Imagine wet dust.

My name is Millie Trench. This was my home for three score years. You think your avarice enables you to up and lay a hand on it? Let's talk about that greed. We've grown accustomed to it, and you've grown used to exercising it in the service of politics that sound more like faith.

You overreached. We all did.

We pranked our friends but never copped to it. We ran through evening streets convincing ourselves we'd seen a visitation. A spindly future in a window. A light in the deepening dark above the rooftops. And we ran, alive in our fabricated terror, lungs swelling our ribcage nobility, skinny thighs pistoning the liquid cylinders of our adolescent hips. We were mercury, platinum, and we ran until our terror became real. 

Entire lifetimes have gone by since then.

We never imagined the coming brittleness, the years of compromised ligaments, of tendons stretched beyond their elastic bounds, of creaking bones or the quiet unearthly skies.

***

I know you'll come and cry with me if I ask. I don't like to impose. My heart purrs inside a hummingbird, fluttering as my host drinks crimson nectar from a feeder. My genitals are something else. You really need to witness them, but I won't insist. (I might no longer be human.) We slip inside and rest against the ink-black geometry of panels. Pen and ink on rough-scratch sketchpad partial to yellowing. Let me draw you. Your lines inspire me. Your fervent mortal heft. Pull off the interstate, Bridie, let's take stock of this and make some visual music if we have an hour or so to try.

A raven lives in the tower and laughs. She is the plainclothes inquisitor dripping warm song on all of us. When we forge such camouflaged tunes and try to hide our hungry robes, it's like listening to the thirst of birds.

Open the door. It's a rundown bar not far from the coast where few now bother to attend. Maybe it's a gentle church of liquor and gambling losses, where a thinning congregation no longer dreams of anything like redemption. Their prayers are holes and loss. They hope only to escape cruelty.

I found my way this night to Millie Trench, and she gives me that nod old people know is better than some document or paper. (Old folk are the only whites conversant with that nod.)

We sit silent before the silent sea. Now and again, a man up the beach laughs amicably, a sugar grain cascade. 

Where are all the gulls?

All she needs, my dusty compatriot, is her one last friend to reaffirm some normal standard of American life. Even fake it if I have to. Barbecues, beaches, campfires, places we watch out for bears. Lights streaking in solstice skies. A dream of an eternal park in eternal dusk starlit by fireflies, and the laughter of children singing like a secret creek.

A horse fly, solid and glinting blackish and distracted by its mission creep, bothers the shore lurkers, hoping to drive them into panicked mea culpas, circling their dim crimeheads like a winged and sable pecan as they rear and flap, preening and twitching without hope of exoneration. There's Jodi in Walmart with her gas cans, the hurtling bespattered basement steps, the gunshots into the crowded van, sex zombies, plaster casts, child pageants, lies, race, sex, even hope. 

My mind uncouples, forgets itself. Bring them through the prize draw routes, lottery types and winning hands, clear passages now suited to the epic ruins of the day. I would like to find the corpse of a champion and unearth a feeble decoder, witness the death throes of loyalty. Spinning it all circular. 

Are we enthralled? From which side of the bay do we look? I live to suck out every thread, each loose end, and give it if not its name at least some character, a man who polishes combat boots using only green and now this lightest brown. It's a start, pale though it is. 

I wanted to have the last word with all of them and gesture as they approached, as he and his friends whooped and hollered, yelling and high-fiving my people, promising to haul each other up and out. I never knew his name. Was he the man who laughed? Could he have been the wolf? Things will be elided here, redacted and stashed away, quite possibly forever.

Saturday
May192018

Attend to All the Tales

© Jame T. McArdleBright. So many thoughts and moments gusted like wrappings on the shoulder of a highway in the wake of a thousand passing trucks. 

(Those boxes of books, like steps. Like buildings.)

This was the time when he fell partway down an embankment and came to rest within a meter of a passing freight whose sparks on the tight steel curve burned new tattoos into his arms, and he crawled back to a semblance of a man and climbed his way up into a bright morning in some western city and started to walk. 

(Cascading guts, some kind of release.)

Girlfriend sported metal in her septum, navel, and clitoris; she raged about as much as she laughed, which made her more than tolerable. She left her nipples unmolested thanks to unexpected motherhood. Answer this. Is rank, dire poverty ever fine? It's awkward and wrong and it hurts. We lived a good half-lifetime raising kids inside a house that seemed like kids themselves had drawn it. Some rooms were sketched in plaster and lath. We could break them open and let our yearnings out, considered that sustainable.

(Staircase built from words. Librarian meets architect.)

She was a target of my new approach, my sense that facts rode shotgun to the rest of things. Slunk fast and slick beyond the fury boiled in femininity. Distilled. Clean water from myriad shed tears.

Which makes rage.

We clashed impossibly within the town she called her temporary home, me having drove (I having driven) a weeklong trail, blessed and uninformed, oblivious to the sirens, the insect scratch and clamber of pursuit, the unspooling horizon behind.

(Language itself will abandon us.)

Our unique wine released by spigots, dark oak barrels creaking in dusty dim cellars while bloodred gouts spooled into buckets made from human skin.

It's emerald. Agate. Hematite. Some geode. Maybe let's meet at noon, after the shaded herds are teased, before we climb the brightest trail again, orient ourselves to up again. The woman I know, the woman I knew, would never kowtow to any of this. She lifted herself in segments above the fray, arched her aggregated vertebrae, a silent arc assemblage like a dim makeshift rainbow made of female.

(Friendship. Why so hard to get right?)

In secret, against a desert wind that pushed her words back down her throat, she said this: "Pass me a margarita, Papi. I lust for and loathe Mexicana. My bleached American guts see nothing but banalities. Cholos, cholas. Stupid boys and girls. Stupid drama. Estúpida. That scar? That's where they cut the baby out of me. Tráfico? Sí. Please yourself and crave the Caribbean sprinter, that liquid effortless longshanks, my forgotten hope, mi esperanza."

(Climb and reach the top. And gasp.) 

Accept my sculpted facial hair and gray skull toques. This impotent clench. Where is death? She leered at me the best part of a decade ago, but nowhere since have I glimpsed her foolproof perversity. No doubt she waits. Tawny grasses shimmer, silos dance, a shifting flutter of fata morganas. Broad daylight. Hawk tails, catamounts, latrans, ragged busted fence lines. Shadow things lope and glimmer. Ranks of afternoon sunflowers wagging dreamlike faces hour upon hour. Time to branch out. Maggie runs the place up on the hill; please, let's join her. Tiny black flies. A donkey brays. Sunrays spread between the slats.

(Look. Listen. Attend to all the tales.) 

May you never misplace the romance of the world. The glorious weight of its glamour. The sheer ferocity of its ardor. May its plucked strings accompany your heart's arpeggio forever. 

Friday
May112018

Astride a Pale Horse

I see it coming, mostly peripheral, but not always. Sometimes it looms upfront and winks and laughs. Heartily, even. Yet more and more I clock it as it struts along an urban street or lurks at the lip of a wood. It's a tendril, a blur, a shimmer. Often a goodbye. But I know it's real; I'm no longer dreaming it. Last week I saw it fall from a branch and shower golden green as pollen, slide off a wing as bright clear drops onto dry gravel and be absorbed. Heard it late in the gathered dark as the scream of a bobcat. Fucking? Fighting? Is there a difference? 

It doesn't always win, although it usually does. It's coming, though, however slowly. 

See the gluey trail, the fallen tree, the intaken breath at the passing of a hawk. The blinking slicked-back head of the harbour seal. Spawning sockeye stymied by falls. Raven calls, airless, sacerdotal. "Rainbows and rail ties." A wild pony drumming the land frantic. Stories of injustice, desperate killers exonerated by science, by reason. The mining disaster. That last travesty. The next. 

In the glare of a burnt orange sundown, we might even run out of steam, of breath.

A slag heap slipped and dropped on a school. Friendship ruined by envy. Abandoned lovers gathering at the wharf, circled by urban coyotes (two syllables), the blare of the darkened barge gliding oleaginous in the thick contrarian ink of the river. Congealed fluids of everyone ever murdered. Molars claggy with rancid meat. Butterfly migrations. Stars astonished by their own birth. Mosquito nets. Craft slingshotted past so many lens flares for alien readings. The trafficked. The raped. The genocided. The blazoned sins tattooed by monsters on the conveyor-belt corpses of women. The lost. The compromised. Those who jumped so they wouldn't burn. Challengers. I swear. Dreamers obliterated by the shortcuts of others. I swear. There is nothing more terrible than imagination. I swear. Nothing. None of this. No matter. Swear. Nothing. Nothing whatsoever.

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