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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
Nov182016

Red

"She is up there," they tell us. "Up in them hills." 

They file on past, eyes averted, some making religious gestures, clasping tokens, intoning auguries, chanting maledictions, the superstitious fools. 

A red-tailed hawk catches a thermal and whistles a falling oath, while rising. Pretends to give a shit.

We set to climbing the red hills, breathing the sun's furnace and its diffuse issue from the world's parched surface, the sounds of the ferrous rocks we dislodge like a pool hall absent the cool and the echo. Same essential hush, though this one's hot, flat, and indifferent.

Guess we're all behind the eight ball now.

 

What do we expect to find? The polished bone of a cue ball? A shiny solid red?

I question my own damn self halfway to hell and back on that trek up the steep incline, with its loose rusted shrapnel like someone blew up some great adobe hut, with its tufts of vegetation too hardscrabble to ever be thought of as food by any living critter worth its salt. Like ancient green leather stuffed between the shattered brick-rubble lots of war-torn Europe.

What do I expect to find?

Likely nothing comforting. All I know is she's bad news on legs, and I'm weary, and not much good will come of any of this. And that's the optimist part of me.

Some bar in Tuscaloosa or maybe even Memphis, a drunk plain ran out of patience with my jaundiced talk, squinted at me and asked, "What's the difference 'tween ignorance and apathy?" I shrugged, and he answered his own self. "Don't know and I don't care." Only damn words he didn't slur all night. Truth is, I wanted to laugh, but I felt more like crying. So I did the next best thing and ordered another shot of bourbon. Better that than ripping out his throat.

I'm tired, tired like the damned. Been walking trails and riding rails and stealing horses a half century or more. By horses I mean four legs or four wheels, it don't really matter; hot-wire or hackamore, it's all the same. Part of me hopes I won't ever come back down from these hills.

But we're pilgrims of sorts, and this is what pilgrims do; we keep on moving even in a headwind of doubt, push onward so's we can find some succor in an artifact, grab ahold of a ragged sleeve or a loose page caught in a dry storm, hungry for its message, and if it ain't got no message we'll write our own, because there's plenty that's worse than death and one of them is the fear that all this has no meaning, which the red-tailed hawk knows, and the coyote knows, and the raven knows, and the red hills know, and I only partly suspect, despite all the scribbling I ever done in a score of ledgers I since burned for warmth.

I'm the first that gets here. She stands, inside a horseshoe of striated rock like the rough hull of a dugout, naked as the first day of man, or woman, her bright auburn hair like the radiated halo of a Celtic saint, like hair can shriek, like the lunatic prophets were right, her body in an X pose, impaled and glorious on a stake, skeins of watery blood spilling from the many wounds in her torn scalp, a crimson Tigris and Euphrates over her shoulders and breasts, down over her clenched midriff, merging like a bloodtide with the dry, sandy delta of her sex, congealing there in slow, pendulous drips. 

A twisted umbilicus hangs from that arcane gap and I shut down all thought, pledge not to wonder what such an organ might have been appended to, and where such a thing might now draw breath.

Before the others arrive, she looks at me and whispers, "They took it all, my love. They took everything." 

Friday
Nov112016

Shore

In a growing fog, I traveled 

in a rowboat to an unknown shore. Unsure 

I'd even reach any shore.

 

When my arms grew weary, I 

lay back and let the boat 

drift, directionless,

a mote on a vast

unblinking cataract.

 

Sky perhaps a mere

grey shade lighter

than this great water.

 

At times so enraged I'd row

so hard my heart

felt the bloodlust of a stoat

eating through the hide

of a stricken deer.

At others, only

mourning, only

sorrow.

 

Land glimpsed through cloud

but fleeting, maddening,

while silence hushed the skies

and night wouldn't fall.

 

Days of this. Weeks. Birdless

and silent, except for the oar blades

cutting and dripping like

a killer's dark enterprise.

 

Enticements, dreams of

welcome and a beach

warm under endless blue. 

Imagination a whore.

A disordered mind will trap you

if you yearn for but never reach

a solitary shore.

 

Friday
Nov042016

The Moon Dog

She waited for the first cold snap of the year and it came in early December. At first her nineties-model Ford pickup wouldn't start, and she almost laughed. Some might have read that as a sign and gone back inside to a warm, dry room, but she didn't believe in signs. Then the starter caught and none of that mattered.

The road was a favourite drive of hers. It snaked along a north-south valley that rose from flood plain into foothills, crossing dry creeks and ranch land, up toward Devil's Lake, but you took a right before the asphalt became a dirt logging road. She passed her favourite house: a log cabin set on parkland, huddled amid cedar and fir that were now strung with red LEDs. Festive. Cozy. Heart crushing. She grabbed the wheel tightly and tried not to feel.

As she'd guessed, the parking lot was deserted. It was late afternoon, and a light snow was falling. She doubted anyone would even show up to lower the barrier to the parking lot once the light had leached from the sky. It didn't matter.

She wasn't exactly dressed for it, a black T-shirt under a thin North Face fleece and Lululemons with sneakers, but a straight hike up to Cataract Falls would keep her warm enough for now. No danger of meeting the fashion police in this cold, remote place. The light was that combination of day and night that made visibility murky and strange, as if the veil between the two hinted at some other world entire. The mulch on the ground was hard and ridged, and mildew and ice made the rough cedar walkways and steps along the trail treacherous. In all directions, other than the faint rushing of the falls above, an anemic quiet had settled. Here under the canopy of the rainforest, the snowflakes were sparse, like the pallid ghosts of moths.

Fifteen minutes and she was at the falls, watching as half the deluge fell into a frothy bowl of slick rock, while the other half hung suspended, frozen, as if time itself was debating a cosmic pause and had been caught in two unfathomable minds. The sound now was thunderous, water at war with rock, and she could feel the icy spray of their combat on her face. This would be the last time she'd see the falls, and already the encroaching night was drawing a veil over them. She stayed, resting her arms on the railing at the viewpoint until full dark.

The cold seeping into her bones now, she headed north and up, crossing a ramshackle bridge where the trail joined a forest service road that switched back and forth a few times before eventually levelling out high in the mountains that stretched ahead for hundreds of miles, all the way to the playground of the rich and blasé, Whistler Blackcomb. 

Solitude is fertile ground for introspection, and she resisted. But as it often did, her mother's voice echoed in her head, a voice she hadn't heard in the world since she was eight years old:

"Remember, wherever you walk on this earth, you're always my moon angel."

Right. Got it, Mom. Whatever the fuck a moon angel is. I hope wherever you walk on this earth, it's even colder and lonelier than this, bitch.

She shook her head to clear both the settling snow and the voice of the woman who abandoned her to a father who in turn pimped her out to his greasy friends when she reached thirteen, prompting her to run away and divide her adolescence between group homes and the street. She learned resilience, albeit a brittle variant, and in her early twenties met Nils, a big Swede whose large heart fit her small one and somehow inflated it, began even to heal it. When she realized she was pregnant, the only cloud in her sky was a nagging fear she'd retrace the horrorshow of her own parents. She never got to find out. Baby Oliver died in his crib after four months and three days of life. SIDS. The shared grief that first enclosed them began to slowly divide like a cell, becoming two entirely separate and distant things, and she woke one day to an empty home and a dull hollow place where her heart had been.

The snow had ceased and the sky had cleared enough to ensure subzero temperatures and to display the shoddy detritus of the last weekend warriors: spent shell casings and broken glass on all sides of the trail, twinkling like fallen stars. Good. Let the tawdry indifference of men be among her last sights.

Now that the road had levelled off she began to look for someplace suitable. The cold was gripping her now, turning her slowly to stone. Off to her left was a hollow between two large boulders, sheltered by low scrub, all topped by frosting that glittered under the clearing sky like dark confection. This would be the place. She removed her backpack, sat lotus style in the snowy hollow, and grabbed the two-six of amber Bacardi from one of the pockets. No sense in suffering; let her feel the warm ironic buzz while her body cooled. She uncapped the bottle and took a lingering gulp. Which was when she heard it: the sound of an animal moving nearby. Her entire skin crawled and she stopped breathing. Not large enough to be a bear, but a cougar? She hadn't come all this way only to be mauled to bloody ribbons. No, too small. Raccoon? She heard a distinctly canine whine. Coyote? She couldn't imagine a lone coyote would come anywhere near an adult human, so instinctively she called it: "Here, boy. What's up? It's okay, I'm not gonna hurt ya."

Out of the gloom, a dog appeared, tail curled rigid between its trembling legs, ears flat on its sleek, emaciated head. She guessed it had once been a border collie, but now it was a fright, something too pitiable to be seen. The animal whined again and glanced at her and looked away quickly, its head dropping. Slowly, she extended her hand and made reassuring sounds, and the dog, hesitant and skittish, approached. She let it sniff her hand. Its muzzle was torn and bloody. After a long moment, the dog came all the way forward, whined again, and climbed into her lap. She smoothed his mangy hide, feeling a ribcage like lattice under burlap. The dog watched her and somewhere they met each other on the darkling plains of a land called Abandonment. She knew her plan was in ruins. If she succumbed, she would effectively be killing the pitiful creature, and she knew she couldn't do it. She wanted to scream into the night, but she didn't want to spook the dog, so she wrapped herself around him and they drew warmth from each other.

When they had both stopped shivering, she gently stood and petted the dog, telling him she was going to head back down the trail and he should follow; he looked at her with a wary, heartbreaking faith, bringing her to tears that froze on her raw cheeks.

She propped the rum against one of the boulders for the next lost soul and set out back the way she'd come, and the dog followed.

Her truck was still the only vehicle in the parking lot, hunched and oddly dangerous-looking, like a musk ox on a frozen lake. As she'd thought, the barrier hadn't been touched. She unlocked the driver's side door, threw her pack behind the seat. As she went to unlock the passenger side, she hesitated. She looked up into a sky now dominated by an electric moon, and she gasped at the halo surrounding it. Moon angel. But no, she might now believe in dogs, but she still didn't believe in signs. 

She helped the collie into the cab of the pickup and went back around to the driver's side. As she climbed in, a thought occurred to her. "Now what am I gonna call y—?"

She blinked. There was nothing there but the cold, scuffed pleather of the passenger seat.

Friday
Oct282016

The Moon, the Stars, and the Male Gaze

"At the back of my mind I was always hoping I might just get by." — King Creosote

*

Up close, the sidewalk looks like a moonscape. Smooth, cratered, starburst, ruined, and lovely. Ganymede, Callisto, Hyperion, Enceladus, the very names so dripping in glamour you could die from speaking them aloud. Hollywood Boulevard: not moons but stars; not wounds but scars.

Girl, your own dreams were modest. You breathed in first, then checked your breath, measured the ebb and flow of the seasons, stayed grounded, tough, and mostly sweet as the cornstalks of your Nebraska roots. No risk of supernova flameout. A steady rise, or steady-ish. Extras, bit parts, supporting. Commercials, television, TV movies, even movies. Back and forth. You compromised at times but mostly kept your gaze below the horizon, and bright as that seems in this inferno of light, the heavens are more bright and more perilous.

It's an old story.

Dialed back dreams or not, the streets can take anyone they wish and utterly consume them.

So what if you cut a few corners, blinked at times before the callous scrutiny of sporadic slimeballs, made darker shades of trade you once would have balked at? This is a place where inhibitions come to die. Whatever new tremor, Lord Xanax a fallback safeguard, in this great scheme your sins were nothing. You smoothed your skirt and carried on.

If only I'd known. I didn't see the tragic detail in the grain as I watched from afar. Not all stalkers are dangerous—in my case, too shy, too gauche. I loved you for five whole years, yet you never knew I existed. Now it's too late and I was your only friend.

He was a cold, bad shadow you didn't recognize. His hunger could never fill itself. He created a debt and when you couldn't pay it, as he knew you couldn't, he took his due with clear-eyed interest, made sure you looked in his eyes as you bled out on the ground, your thick pool of red spreading black in the neon night, blossoming at last into the tragic figure of your secret dreams, you pretty girl from a bathroom stall near Omaha, my lost and fallen moon star, my diffident, selfless love. 

And you can't hear this, not any more. Your eyes are glazed like silver screens on which ghost players enact their fraudulent dramas; they stare at moonscapes. Your beestung lips are split from your fall. Your emaciated fingers and ragged nails claw the point of a Hollywood star: Patsy Cline, 6160 Hollywood Boulevard. Nocturnal sirens howl all around, those raving wolves; the hot Santa Ana winds blow like demon breath, Pacific bound; a girl laughs, oblivious, like the chiming of ice in a cocktail glass.

Dark melodic songs haunt the rooftops.

I fall to pieces. I fall to pieces.

I touch your cooling skin for the first time and walk away before anyone sees. That touch will prove indelible. Your barely noticed life was indelible to someone, and now I can't tell you.

Friday
Oct212016

What Fresh Threat

I haven't been to Pasadena, never seen its wide palm-lined streets, or smelled its faint ocean tang braided with exhaust fumes and jasmine, or heard its low night cry of someone preyed upon…

…so how can I write about it?

Fittingly, her body was found in the weeds. A warm early spring evening. Some abandoned lot the penultimate resting place for a woman abandoned. She amounted to nothing to no one, yet the howls of grief echoing from the hills the night they found her corpse proved—at least—the urban coyotes cared.

Rubber-stamped by ruinous Anubis. 

I've never lost anyone. This is but a tale, spun from a terrible daydream, wrapped in crepuscular fool's gold. Yet what difference does it make? If I feel the loss, the awful drop of the lower gut, the ponderous bell of my own heart a-swing in the cage of my chest, the testicular cinch, who is to say I haven't felt loss?

Who dares tell me I cannot write of it? Will anyone challenge the wisdom of the purple desert sage, of the jackal-headed gods? 

Sacred rage and word games; we're all deplorable.

She was neither old nor young, had worn a white summer dress with a peach hibiscus print, had nicotine stains on her left index and middle fingers, wore her chestnut hair in a ponytail, bore week-old bruises on her legs. Her left ear was disfigured, as if it had been partially melted. Her crow's feet were tan and deep. Lukewarm semen seeped from her torn vagina. They found her wadded panties in the bed of a dry creek.

From El Monte. Telluride. Sedona. Sioux Falls. Parched places are places, and the branch work of all our pasts won't readily be untangled. How you dream of a place can sometimes be better than the place.

Night is coming. Stars are tentative in a sky half-dark. Something is trying to break through; a judgment pursues itself. A long ways east a tawdry, deficient scion implodes like a festering gourd, and America struggles to catch its breath. Look west at the snake of red lights, heading for the city, a crawling neon belly in a thirsty valley. City of tenuous angels. Specters on Mulholland. Centers not held. The embers of the long gone sun are dying. Who kicked this last campfire? What fresh threat, what tan carcinogen, imperils us anew?

Rough beast? She was nothing to me. 

So why, why, why do I weep?

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