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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
Apr072017

"Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground"

Even if he'd been a small man he'd have been a big man. But he was a big man. I see him in his chair at the peeling formica table, on the right facing the tiny kitchen itself, slumped, in what some now call a wifebeater but then we simply called a vest—baggy trousers, cuffs rolled, braces over the tea-stained vest. White hair nicotine yellow, swept back. A soft pack of nonfilter Woodbines and a mug of sweet strong milky tea. Ten or fifteen bottles of prescription drugs ranked like soldiers in a defective war in which daily battalions are lined up at dawn to learn their fate.

England. Northwest. The nineteen sixties. The syncopation of passing trains.

I sit now on the long sandy reach listening to "Little Wing," blinking along, tapping my toes and fingers, stretching my neck to watch the disc of our galaxy wheel slowly across the night sky, that genial Stratocaster tone opening its throat and hungry for us all.

Oregon? BC? Baby, won't you change your mind?

This is the part where we are asked to feel shame. Where our therapists make their living.

"Baby, what's in your spice rack? Paprika's a given, but surprise me. Cloves. Ground nutmeg, sure. Dried sage and oregano. Chilli powder. Garlic. Cumin. Coriander. I need something radical, girl. Exotic."

"I got something radical. Stay with me."

A skinny girl in a tiny pleated skirt and motorcycle boots, nipples face-forward and plastered humid inside a plain white cotton tank top, eyes encased in kohl, earbuds pulsing Diplo and Flux Pavilion, waxy, harsh.

I'm two generations beyond, yet more thirsty for Cleopatra. 

And is this the part where I'm to beg you to love me?

Nah. Don't work that way. Been driving a good while, coming down from the mountains, heavy on the brakes as the road descends and sidewinders down to a quiet valley while the sun begins to drop behind the dry hills. The town is unremarkable. Its populace too. I pull over and walk the empty streets, meet almost no one. A one-eyed scarface dog, an old lady with recycled bottles inside transparent bags in a shopping cart. Meet me. Meet me. You won't ever meet me.

Quiet howls emerge from the draws that backdrop the town, each a distinct tone, a coyote symphony. Except it ain't coyotes; it's the outraged god-abandoned wind piping its raw heartbreak through ruined fissures in shafts that are no longer mined nor ever again will be. 

Back to the large man in the crumpled grey pants absorbing and agitating the fog of morning, charcoal and faded pink. His mind always working, his appetites arrayed, some clockwork set by ancients and left to unspool well into life and beyond. UFOs, wartime, an Italian-American tenor, a gaudy South Pacific theater, Antarctic sacrifice, an icebound German plane one bleak February that never got airborne, the awful melancholy of something unsinkable sinking. Melancholy hearted, he saw the eventual decline. Nodded quietly at fate. Checked out around the same time as Elvis, of whom he'd once said, "He'll never last." Nineteen seventy-seven. The jubilant year of Sam and Stevie, of Stormtroopers and fevered Saturdays, under a marquee moon. Stayin alive amid the rumoured death of a ladies' man in the decade's autumn.

I am fourteen or fifteen, a voyager, thumbing my tangled path away from pain. Close encounters on the littered edges of motorways while listening to "I Feel Love" on light cranial rotation and waving at "Johnny B. Goode" as it slingshots out of the solar system. Never minding the bollocks. Watching every last detective. And shedding a tear for Ronnie and Marc. Low. Animals. The Idiot. A Bat Outta motherfucking Hell. 

She emerges inchoate from the gloaming, haloed by dark motes like the ur-lights of some grim carnival. Hands me something warm and still dripping. Smiles like a tracheal gash.

"Eraserhead. Is that radical enough for you?"

Nightfall is upon us, with no place to sleep. 

Friday
Mar312017

Monarch

The wind gets up and sweeps our fires into streams of sparks, and we huddle closer inside our reams of rough hessian. Who knew the gales would blow so long? This is our place in the town square, our moment in the dreamscape, our truth within the chapel. Press those pedals, let the tiny organ wheeze its banal statute. Unfurl its rules. Queen, open your warm vaults to me, force me to partake of your exotica. The blizzard is here already; no one will speak again. 

"Wait."

No, I will not wait. 

"I am telling you to wait. I will not beg." 

Are you placed, poised to describe a million, maybe tens of millions, of black-and-amber leaves opening and closing and flapping northward, tropical to temperate, fine panes of leaded glass, flakes of tiger, endless pages from a children's book made for countless children yet to be born?

"No, you will not beg."

Once, a woman walked among you. She was lovely in mind and body and heart. Did you administer kindness? Treat her with respect? Urge her to lie crosswise? Trace the carious ridge above her passage with your fingertips, searching for fragmented things? Shattered enamel, a busted pelvis, and a skewed, deteriorated jawline. 

"We don't need to beg."

A whiteout. Shrieking phantoms skirling across empty highways. No lawmen. Not even sirens. Nothing. No one. 

"Just wait."

"No. Fuck. I will not."

"Spring is almost here."

"No. It's not."

"Weesht, child. Be still."

She sat in a quiet centre and let the groan of a weighted mountain lurch and creak and begin to detonate. She was a superhero, but one who lived on earth and not in shaded panels or amid spilled ink. She accepted her millstone, scoped her foes, cradled her spigots, arraigned her adversary. Made with a vineyard near Summerland a faraway date. Woke to hope. 

"Not begging. Imploring."

We're gathered on some secret meridian, far from the gridlock bedlam, quiet in a Costco parking lot where color has drained from a bright sky and sound from a late spring evening. Breathe. We remember our journeys here: passing through semicircular bridges—iron hemispheres of hemlock-green like half-buried parts of some giant machinery abandoned by unknowns—jerking the wheel right and then left, skirting traffic circles, wrenching gears, racing some dumbfuck in his Dodge Ram with truck nuts and a Trump/Pence sticker, blurring cornfields and anti-choice billboards, RV parks and storage yards, Chevron pumps and John Deere outlets. Praying a state trooper won't be waiting round the next bend, flanks still, all of him ready to move like a rested fly on stricken carrion.

"I am clean."

Welcome, Gaia.

"They don't care."

Welcome, Jocasta.

"They must."

Welcome, Cassandra.

"No. No."

Welcome, Pandora.

"Then we must—"

Welcome, Boudicca.

"Don't speak it out loud."

Welcome, Kali. 

A soft-boiled sun drops into a blue Pacific to the west, and before the light drains from the world a billion wings ripple the quiet air, batlike against a lung-shadow sky, looming voluminous, a bounteous smog with which to paint the evening, had we the tools or the vision.  

Friday
Mar172017

Los Irish

This short tale is only a small part of something larger, I'm hoping. Oh, and happy St. Patrick's Day. 

__________________________________

It was a scene right out of Chandler, except I'm no gumshoe. A rain-soaked back alley at night, distant neon smeared abstract by the tireless storm. She wore Docs and a faded cotton dress, some reptile print. Gators or iguanas or some shit. Close-cropped hair and makeup-less. Celtic eyes dark as oxbow tannin. Her dress in the downpour so thin she might as well have been naked.

Without a shred of lechery, I said, "Nice Brazilian."

Despite her instant "Fuck you," a corner of her mouth twitched in a phantom smile.

I passed her the thin package wrapped in plastic film and she slid it under her dress, smoothing it carefully against her lower belly like a newly expectant mom.

"If I'd known, I'd have brought a raincoat."

"Not a chance, mister."

"I meant an actual raincoat."

Again she smiled. Cursed at me without malice before leaning forward and whispering three words in my ear and then dissolving into the night.

"Yeah, bye, Sinéad," I called after her. Did I tell you I have a puerile sense of humor sometimes?

It earned me one last well-deserved "Fuck you," and I could almost see it trailing off like cigarette smoke and rejoining the shadows—tragic, arch, and funny, like its source.

Nothing compares, indeed. 

Friday
Mar102017

Back Story in Green

“The world began without man, and it will complete itself without him.” — Claude Lévi-Straus

***

You see me standing in line waiting for a good life? See me there? Yeah, I was in that line once, along with most everyone, waiting for the gods to dole out something good and nice and kind. But they didn't, of course. And I kept going back to that line, even though the gods ignored it or, worse, spit on those who made roll call. But it weren't ever gonna happen, was it? I went on and saw people barely hanging till their fingernails tore and they eventually fell shrieking, or worse, in silence. Eyeballed the ravages of poverty and abuse. Suicide. Addiction. A deep pain that won't be expressed. You can be poor, you know, yet live a decent life. But let in the parasites, the nonces, the punks, the molesters, the goofs, the bloodsuckers, the pimps, all them motherfuckers, and you invite some crawling breed of clammy horror. I bought drinks for killers and took creeps out in the alley and fucked them up royally. 

I know a guy lived one of the good lives we all hear about, even though he was raped by a pederast at age six, one day found out a friend of his was doing something similar to a couple neighbourhood boys, so he took a katana that could bisect a human hair from its pride of place above the mantel, and sliced the guy into quivering, spurting pieces. Called 911 himself and assumed the prison time as his due. He was a good man too. A killer, and a standup guy. Does that make sense to you? If not, you're in a prison of your own. 

Everyone's window's a different window. Every lookout point is balanced on some precarious place. Ain't no lawman free of bias. No lowlife scum incapable of virtue. No saint truly innocent. It's a world that almost rhymes with swirl. It's a swirl of all we aspire to and the depths we may plumb. Some of the gentlest men I've known were killers, while some of the most psychopathic never even had to.

Walk along my path, mi amigo. Follow me into the jungle, its verdant tassels, its dripping peripheries. Do you see the shadow cat? The jaguar? Will you wait for it to leap, or is it enough to catch glimpses of its liquid tectonics, the slick twitches of its skin as it adjudicates murder?

Look. The story hasn't even started yet. Let's start.

Look again. I've been known to shut people out even when I didn't mean to. That's what the Chicken does. It's a flesh-eating disease of the mind. But that burning feeling slowly igniting your sinuses before your eyes fill up, that's a good sign. Means you're alive and might even belong to your rightfully allocated kind. 

The backdrop is a swath of land, thronged with sunflowers and corn. In front, a yellow-green fifties-model Studebaker crosses right to left on a charcoal ribbon of road. Sweet Gene Vincent plays on the radio. John Deere stands as witness. Stop signs and ditches, rail crossings and grain silos. 

Aimed inward but I can't catch up to myself. The round took out a scoop of brain matter and a swatch of skull. Yet I'm alive. Though barely. Shamrock green treachery vies with feline ovens; burned dreams flicker at the crumbling edges of dioramas showing harlequin suicides and child abuse. Play with me. We have nothing left. 

Any idea how long it takes to accept ourselves? Answer: a goddamn lifetime, if we're even granted that luxury. Otherwise we die in myriad ways. Trim that hedge, buzz that eyrie, bedevil those labile hearts. Tiny fierce girl in a short ponytail, capo high on the neck as you pick, your dewy eyes recreate all our failed dramas, your fragile measured voice some once-familiar layer of bedrock. 

Am I hoarse enough? Can you hear me?

These are our relics as they will appear to no one. Scoured by wicked sands, dripping with birdsong, teal as tide pools. Engineless. Replete with our liquid geometry, our rapacious need. 

***

When I first saw you, you were nothing. Walking down a nondescript road far off the beaten path. Your head was weighty, as if you were sad, and you probably were sad, and you scuffed your heels on the uneven tarmac. Every time you scraped a heel on the crumbling asphalt, the birds went quiet, lost their need for recognition, and the topmost leaves shimmered with vestiges of sound. With their own secret memories of life. 

*

Image © Javier DeLaTorre Sebastian

Friday
Mar032017

Some Dire Indian

Stillness. A lime-green-and-cream fifties model Buick by a lake. Backdropped by a silent bank of conifers, half-lit by a quarter moon. A woman in a headscarf stepping gracefully into a boat. A shadow man taking her hand.

You think you know what's happening here? Well, you don't. 

Back then, we summoned from nothing the possible. We dreamed up heists in our methamphetamine haze and enacted them. Constantly amazed they worked. Purloined heat from frigid matrons. Took what was undoubtedly ours. Dropped slack dumbass bodies into lakes. 

Once, we stopped in the desert, a trunkful of bills, stopped and took off hurtling like gazelles. She was a vision. Her flower print dress clinging to her damp curves, riding high, her thigh sweat like raindrops lashing from a clothesline as she pistoned across the scrub, heedless of snake or cactus or ankle-trap burrow. My crazy mother. High-strung, they said, betraying both their bloodlust and their envy. 

"This isn't the place," I said, once I found my breath.

"Sure it's the place."

"You will get us caught."

"Stop worrying, my sweet, sweet boy. Life is so short. None of this matters. Dance with me here."

So I did. Under a splayed galactic sky, serenaded by the wild desert dogs, amid pinpoints of virescent treachery, I danced with my half-mad mother and felt her core try to scorch the fulsome night.

***

Another customer, another delayed minute before I can cash out and go home. 

We got ourselves a menagerie tonight. Three college boys celebrating somethin' I never figured out, a couple on the verge of breakup or proposal, ain't sure which, two women in them headscarves worn by A-rabs, a goddamned family of six here way past their kids' bedtime. Some dire Indian veteran alone at the bar. Two off-duty cops, a man and a woman (can always smell five-o). A black drifter, the one just came in. The one that spoke right after the bell above the door finished jingling.

"Better ignore me or shoot me, but I got a bad tale to relate." 

***

Here we are. No longer able to tell sadness from meanness. No longer caring to. It might even have mattered once. Remember that visit when you drove from your family's home and one of their tiny marmalade kittens had crawled unbeknownst into your wheel well? Bones no thicker than a quail's. How quickly and immediately it died, a smear on a swatch of the slow-turning world. Ten weeks' worth of wide-eyed warmth cooled in an instant. Yet even thwarted, life won't relent.

***

These eyes have watched a half century of things: melodrama, atrocities, gelato, acceptance, secrets, luminosity, triumph, toxins. No wonder they look weary, weighty as grey velvet curtains draped behind a crime scene.

Why not come to something new with curiosity instead of suspicion? You think jaded is a good look? Sure, have it your way. But only if dead is too. 

***

"Here's my tale. My momma was a good woman. Sure, all a y'all would say the same 'bout your mommas. But mine was 'specially good. Why? Simple. Because she held off a full invasion while being tormented, just to let her kids escape. Ten of us made it, including me ... obviously. Five of them died. Which is why I'm here."

I weren't impressed. Be the first to call myself impatient. "That's it? The whole tale? I cain't even do the doggone math."

"Hell, it ain't ended yet, girl. Open that door. Go take a look outside. You think there's the silent desert out there?"

"Well, sure ain't the Big Apple, if that's what you mean."

Can't explain this, but I wanted to smile right then, like I quit, like I was cryin' uncle, though it gets harder for your face to change as you age. Something about how the muscles lose their pliancy. And I ain't even old. But we all watched as the Indian, who maybe ain't ever smiled, not once, made his slow way to the door, opened it, shrugged, and disappeared into the night. And I mean disappeared. It wasn't just night out there; there was no "out there" out there. Pitch-black; an absence. Don't hardly have the words. Read it in a National Geographic once, about space: the heat death of everything. 

The drifter looked me dead in the eye and then everyone else in the diner: the frat boys, the sand niggers, the lovebirds, the breeders, the law. "Y'all ain't gonna like how this story goes, I'm afraid…"

***

"Quick, tell me a cliché."

"I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired."

"You need to listen to the right songs."

Words spit from the void. We leave our eventual faces as fossils half-gathered by beachcombers distracted by showers of glittering meteors. I loved you from the start, just came to say hello, but now I'm the brokenhearted. Dreaming of escape, pretending you're not a rat and this is no damn sewer. 

And for a second or two, it works.

You walk beneath the land bridge at the shore—a small and timid biped framed by an arch of granite and greenery, half-dreamed into reality by heartache and salt. 

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