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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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Sunday
Mar312019

Tragicomic

I wanted to tell you about the ones who watch. But I lost the thread. Look, if you have to begin again, whatever story you were trying to tell is no longer the same story. 

So take two.

They are the ones who watch.

Different ones. They are dirty and silent and sit on the landings of broken motels, and they wait. Surveilling some squandered lot under a pewter sky.

A gravestone is a lozenge. Place it on your hungry tongue and wait while it dissolves. This might take a while. Decades even. Until… ah, death (death you rascal, you holy, holy rogue) is now inside you, as it should be. Let us meet again beneath a canopy of green, smiling and true, and grab my forearm, clasp my augmentations, my fingers as you insist on calling them, as they gesture and curl, urging unity, emblematic of accord, my compañeros, my luminous sisters, my radiant brothers, and wait. 

Sounds arrive, fashioned from beachcombed shells and the gentle breath of a hundred tides. An inner ear and some vulvic sculpture, such tender whorls and devotional twists of flesh. Folds and fabrications. To listen is to love. 

Following the atrocity, you arrive late at night. Unobserved, you think. Sleep a fitful hour or two. Moments after a weak and dilute dawn withdraws in shame, the children flock and sing their crude atonal rhymes beneath your window, and reluctantly you stagger from your bed to witness them. 

"Mister, we know why you're here!" shouts one, because they're the children of the ones who watch. 

But you can't let it go, because comedy, so you call back.

"Of course you do. It's because this tale needs a Greek chorus."

And instead of retreat or bewilderment, the children's grimy faces under the lice-swarming tangles once known as hair crease with such genuine joy that it brings you to your knees, and you begin to sob like a small child yourself, one who first believed the promised gift would be a pony or a trainset before you opened it and found the irradiated post-tsunami ruins of a miniature coastal town, which turned out, stunningly and over time, to be a more apposite bestowal.

Because, mindful now, you watch too.

How funny tragedy is. How hilarious the unfolding of awful things, witnessed from some window with a flower box beneath it, while songbirds gather staves and clefs for abstract nests from which they compose and perform something lovely, even though friends and colleagues plummet in fiery feathered arcs around them. 

It doesn't take a giant rock. Just millions of smaller ones. 

And still we laugh. Because it's funny. There's literally nothing in this world that isn't funny. Otherwise nothing is.

Friday
Mar152019

Vespine

I can't write about this, so I'll write about another thing. 

There's a beautiful sapphire-jade wasp whose body is forged from elfin metal. It's truly lovely, and it was forged on this bright, astonishing planet. This earth. When it meets a cockroach, an ordinary cockroach, it stings it, paralyzing its front legs, and injects its larvae into the roach's body. The roach is unfortunately alive. I say unfortunately because far worse is to come, as you've doubtless anticipated. 

Next the wasp eats most of the roach's antennae. Maybe for pure spite, who knows?

It then leads the crippled victim to its nest, dragging it by the remaining parts of its antennae, like some ruined leash. 

As you've probably guessed, the wasp—a dark glittering star in the vespine world—lays a white egg on the living body of the doomed beetle, and after a few days the egg hatches and larvae start to feed on their unwilling host. 

Let me reiterate at this point: none of this is consensual. Just in case you were wondering. And yes, this is fucking bleak. 

So anyway, the larvae chew their way into the living roach and begin to devour its internal organs. During this time, they ensure the roach stays alive while they form at first a pupa and then a cocoon within. 

Eventually, the grown wasp emerges from the body of its host, the wretched abandoned cockroach, wholly unchampioned and alone, still alive and leaky and utterly ruined like something from a movie rejected by George Romero as way too callous, too goddamn brutal.

So this is the story I can tell, while the one I actually want to tell is drowned by sorrow and horror and the atrocity of truth. Time to reach for the antivenin. Time to admit we might not win this.

Regardless, how can anyone ignore the heaving grandeur of that tiny pendulous abdomen, pinch-waisted and brimful of the shrewdest toxins and the bright gleaming ego-dream of need? Dark as it is, this awful thing is framed by the purest, most appalling love.

I tell this, of course, while the real story I want to tell is so much more complex, a thousandfold more grim.

Friday
Mar082019

Cosmic

God, or someone like him, decides to tell a joke. 

Here's how it goes. 

It's wintertime on the great plains. We're huddled at a giant gas station—ten islands each with five pumps, like little solar systems—and we're alone there in that cold dome of artificial light amid an encroaching, encompassing darkness, like all of space itself has encircled us.

Us being Doris, Blake, and me.

And the winds. The winds on all sides sing no human melody, just a fluctuating galactic plainsong, like abandoned sheets berserked by a gale. Blurs of snow like the flung arms of colliding starfields.

Doris says, "You think she made it?"

Given I watched Sylvie die with my own anguished two eyes, I'm gonna pass on that. 

I stomp my feet, Doris hugs herself, and Blake ignores us.

Our exhalations hang in the air like tiny frozen organ pipes.  

In the gloom beyond the lights, a pale gathering of rigs lie still, accumulating snow like the corpses of buffalo. I wonder where the drivers are, but again I keep my thoughts inside, for warmth.

And speaking of inside, not a soul moves within the chill fluorescence of the great hangar around which the gas bars orbit. An inconvenience store, I think. Not funny. The place looks like a forsaken terrarium. 

Blake hasn't spoken in hours, but he does now. "So this is hell," he says, quietly.

"More like hell's briefing room," says Doris, which makes me look at her and nearly smile. She nearly smiles back. And I try not to think about Sylvie. 

How do things go so wrong so quickly? Twenty-four hours seems barely enough time for such a one-eighty. Everything had gone to plan; against the odds, we'd pulled it off; we were superstars; life was about to begin in earnest. But now…

It's all a risk, every step of it. You can tell a joke, even a bunch of jokes, but no one's obliged to laugh.

Out there in the dark, beyond the dizzying supercluster whorls, we watch shapes move like slow behemoths; real or imagined, who knows? All we know is we'll never reach them, on this day or the next, but if they reach us they will end us. 

Blake says, "After we soar, how come there's this rule we gotta come down?"

"That's God’s punchline," I say.

Saturday
Feb092019

Are You Queen Of Heaven?

This is a new thing we tried to learn.

We dreamed a whole summer away.

My cousins walked alongside the ledge.

When we were young we laughed and believed.

Now so many are gone we balk and flinch.

Sparrows amass in the charcoal margins.

The rest of us don't hardly ever blink. 

A cab came by, and I damn well flagged it.

No matter. No sense. I think I also floored it.

***

Grieve next time, but this time roll with it.

What's the word they use? Dissociation?

Don't you dare feel sorry for me. Okay? What happened to me happens to thousands of kids, maybe more. No. I want you to focus on the good parts of a bad tale.

I'm a grown man now, of course. This is a life I didn't choose but found. And it's really not so bad. 

Right? Do you remember? Since you were there too?

***

Easy words, not such easy thoughts. I don't even know if they noticed me as they pulled the car from the rocks, dripping like a murder weapon, and I stood on the road above, squinting into the decaying honey of a late August day.  

Chewing on human evil.

***

"You know they never found him?"

"Course."

"They found his car. Some of his DNA in the wreck. But no body."

"What else they find?"

"Someone else had been in the car too."

"Who? Whose?"

"No one anyone knows."

***

Yet.

***

Hail this tarnished Mary. If this is it, if this is the moment I die, I accept it. 

Pain is unconscionable, but love is paramount. My entire left side is ruinous, yet my ears and heart are eerily specific, hearing on a loop the empyrean throat of Isabel Bayrakdarian as she dreams Górecki’s Symphony No. 3 anew, while rains fall like dreary curtains on a sodden carpet. 

***

At the hour of my death, a dog came out of the dark woods. Now talk to me. Own me. Anagrams are loco. Keep on listening. Anagrams lure, okay. 

Stupid, goofball, elusive, this damnable struggle wants so badly to be told. 

***

Striding into the bar filled with the spirit of Dorothy Parker, I fell in actual love. She was a hiccup draped in ticklish grey at the very end of a smeared warmth.

***

The black dog insinuated himself into our family and moved with us to the cabin built of wood that hunkered in the shadows of giant firs. When we had visitors he vetted them, growling like unfathomable sonar at two men who tried to cross our threshold. Mostly he wagged his stiff tail like an emotional rudder that ached to proclaim happiness. Yet he was never fooled. And we chased those particular men away with the assuredness, the quiet promise of violence, the unspoken quenching of some awful complex thirst.

In the endless gnomic bar of Dorothy Parker.

***

These colors. So subdued yet so attendant. I'm unleashed into the street, and alert I bounce then thrust my feet atop the running board and launch into the seat. Then I drive. I am a woman, driving. In the nineteen forties. Away from a massacre.

***

Darting on and off I-5 an hour south of the Canadian border, Koma Kulshan's dusky peak implacable beyond. Dream our common place in this commonplace place. Here I knew a woman with a mouth like yours. Exceptional. Magnetic. Even her brows were freighted with meaning. I drove on and off the interstate like a firefly, headlights lighting each lost tendril I stumbled upon, blunt visions of Econolodge and myriad locations more faceless yet. A kaleidoscope of bleary shelters, arranged hierarchical, like pantheons of gods, sacred and senseless, screamed from the overlooked backdrop.

***

It's a silent avalanche patient atop some empty peak.

This thing started toward me the moment I was born. Something sleek and inaugurated by my own insensate launch. It's coming fast, like teeth. Cold, exposed, like beholden jaws. 

Starved. Indebted. Imminent. Adamant.

***

You. No other. Please tell me the same. Please.

O enchantress, O my dreadful queen of desolation, did you ever hold on as tightly again as you held on to me? What yet squirms in the folds of your recall? Who will have the wherewithal to abridge this appalling tale? Will anyone? Where is the dog from the woods when we need him? Where is Ms. Parker? Love, life, music as sung by a child? The wind wrapping scarves of mist around skeletal branches? The cavernous indictment of silence where birds and insects once chirped? Where has it all gone? Where have you all gone? And where indeed am I? 

Friday
Jan182019

Aches to Emerge

Here, where the forest unfurls like a rug almost to the rose-gold beach, is where it all started. Where the eagle cries amid cobalt thermals like something abandoned. Forgone yet freed.

"You're a warrior. But are you my warrior?"

"Who's asking?"

The sky crackles like a death-throe radio. Old limbs dislocate at the first hesitant storm. Something in the trees aches to emerge. Don't let it. Please don't fucking let it.

Caffeine is masculine; tannin feminine. The latter leaves less residue, less darkness on the tongue, is cleaner. 

I am a man, so I wake and make coffee, and Annalise smiles at me, still partway gripped by her dreamworld. 

"I'm glad you came back," she says.

Rather than answer I take great pelican gulps of my coffee though it's too hot and I know my tongue will pain me for days.

Birdland is our purgatory. 

Neglect the equivalent of abuse. Indifference as keen a weapon as hate.

Please don't tell me about your dream, I think.

Against the window a ruby-throated hummingbird flits its quantum dance. There. Not there. Vertical. Tiny needle aloft. There again. Not there. Someplace else in an instant. The only clue to its trickery the vague blur at its shimmering sides. If this is the Matrix, hummingbirds are its emissaries.

Once looked at, a bird; unseen, some other thing.

"We should hang more nectar."

I can't recall later which of us said that. Since kindness was its source, I like to think it was me, but I'm likely wrong in my usual random way. I don’t know about yours, but in my universe God indeed plays dice.

Someone knocks at our door, and I'm startled out of something beyond the mere moment; it's as if I'm flipped from one dark tale into another, if not darker then less knowable. 

A tight voice from outside, a sexless shadow beyond the sheer curtain and frosted glass. "I know you're home."

Unbreathing, we out-wait the interloper, and after a while I go out back and drowned in the bloody dripping yolk of a sunset kick a deflated soccer ball against the darkening house, over and over, again and again, volleys and half-volleys, inside of the foot unswerving passes, outside skewed bananas, until I'm filled with hubris and start to juggle it unselfconsciously, a possessed marionette, soon surpassing my own record of fifty and finally overdoing it around seventy-five and dropping it in the talcum-fine dirt at eighty-one. Incensed I didn't make a hundred. While the cowl of night drapes all, scowling, indifferent.

"Come inside. I made dinner," she calls. "The eagle has left."

This wasn't supposed to happen. Not like this. The hummingbirds are absent, and I go inside to eat. 

Her tender care is like a razor, and I am her strop.

"The neighbours have gone, I think," Annalise says over dinner. She has made a perfect pho with nut-rich fungus and something dark as green can be.

"I only want to eat," I say ungratefully, and think for a moment I might be a bad man.

"Then eat," she says. 

Silence should follow, but it doesn't. Slurping and sighing follow.

Then, as if on cue, breaking news on CNN violates our intimacy to inform us of possible terror attacks in a scattering of cities. Confusion and mayhem, panicked crowds, global howls.

We look across a clean marble surface into each other's eyes. I think I reach for her hands first, but it honestly doesn't matter.

Fingers knitted, we talk. About what we'd ask for if granted three wishes (I insist we should ask for infinite wishes; she thinks that's finagling). About the long chalk ghostlike faces near Dover, England. About the skeletal grip of someone dying. About the faultless imploring eyes of children fighting cancer. About this amazing thing: do we love our pets in ways we don't love each other? Is that question even framed right? How honest can we be? Do we privilege our antic species at every juncture? Even when we're genociding? Is MAGAlomaniac a word? If not, should it be? Can dreams come literally true? Even if they feature Nazi dryads giving blissful head to supine unicorns? Even if they narrate our appalling triumphs? Even if they highlight our equally shabby fiascos?

What gears have slipped so badly in the machinery of the world that all this is the upshot?

I say to her, "We should head inland."

"I'll go pack some stuff," she says. Her brimful ass, swaying as she climbs the staircase, is the best thing I've ever seen.

While I wait, a shadow returns and looms at the door. It hefts something heavy in its hand. It weighs at least fifty hummingbirds, probably more, and part of me knows we almost made it.

(The thing in the trees parts the curtains. It's like unspeakable sex.)

And almost is another word for heartbreak.

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