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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
May062012

On The Bench

Late autumn afternoon, Paris. A low bench – its blockiness a predictable facsimile of the architectural backdrop – seats two people who gaze intently at a notebook in the man’s hands.

Janice:

Why’s he sitting so I have to perch right at the edge of this damn bench? It’s uncomfortable enough, this low to the ground, with no back to rest on. Who designs this shit? What the hell is wrong with this city? I need to speak:

“So that was the name he was using?”

“Uh-huh.”

“We probably shouldn’t say it out loud, now that…”

“No, absolutely. Let’s refer to him as Dante.”

“Why?”

“Mmmm. Seems darkly poetic, with a trace of sulfur or something.”

“Jesus.”

“What?”

“Nothing, doesn’t matter.”

And what’s with the prim pose, bony knees all hunched together like that? Or those skinny arms? This pointing with his pinky finger all of a sudden? He never does that. All this stupid melodrama and subterfuge. This “meet me at precisely 6:00 pm on the corner of Rue Merde du Taureau” bullshit. God, he’s creeping me out. And after what he did, too. Am I an ingrate? He does something like this (for me!) and all I want to do is scream at him to stop fucking crowding me and let me get back to my trashy paperback! His maps and charts just seem so prissy and irrelevant. Damn.

Martin:

She must be overwhelmed. It’s the residual trauma, has to be. I don’t think she could’ve absorbed the enormity of it yet, of what I did for her: tracking the sick fuck down, all the way from Waukegan to the farmhouse just outside Fontainebleau; feigning long-lost camaraderie, then ending it with one wrenching thrust and twist of a hunting knife. Christ, does she think that was easy? Does she think there isn’t a moment when the memory of that ripping, bursting of warm innards giving way doesn’t invade my daily thoughts? That look in his eyes? Fuck! This reunion isn’t going how I imagined.

“You seem angry.”

“No, no, Martin, I’m not, really.”

“Isn’t this what you wanted?”

“What exactly?”

“This ending, here, in Paris, just as we planned a year ago. Here, on this bench, our trials over, justice served. Triumphant. Whatever.”

“You really did it, didn’t you?”

Yes. Yes. Except the word, waylaid by sudden emotion, merely ghosts past my lips. She doesn’t understand.

“You killed him.”

“He raped you.”

“Martin, you killed him. He was your father, too.”

Yes. Yes, he was.

The dark gauze of a viola drifts from gaps in the many panes behind them. Something dense and hulking reflects from the window itself. Traffic stains, like crime-scene blood-spatter, fan outward from the base of the wall to their left. The ground is uneven. Recessed lights prepare to illuminate. Or cast shadows. A cello joins the viola. It dawns on them simultaneously that a) they need to get home, and b) they’re no longer at all sure what that even means.

*     *     *     *     *

A version of this short story appeared on BlergPop on 28 April, 2012. also writes for Indies Unlimited and BlergPop. Be sure to check out his work there if you like what you read here.

Friday
May042012

Ten Minutes

A ten minute writing exercise we did on BlergPop.

5:10 p.m.

The light outside is pale and delicate but the sky is oddly dark. There is nobody in the street. I hate the sight of that yellow house with the stupid giant Monarch butterflies on the side. But the branches have light green frosting, the instrument of nature tuning itself for the spring crescendo.

There are sounds above my head, footsteps on hardwood floors, happy married sounds. I can’t resent it. I just can’t bring myself to.

My keyboard is so dirty. I can’t actually believe how, all of a sudden, I can objectively see the ingrained dirt of food and drink spills, splashes. It’s disgusting.

What will I eat tonight? What is everyone eating? What are they eating in Paris now? It’s past one a.m. there. Maybe someone is drinking from a great litre stein filled with lager on the Champs Elysees. What about Marseilles? That is the France I would prefer right now, the smoky, jazz-filled night. The seediness around the next corner. Danger.

We have divided this world into arbitrary parts. We guard these artificial lines like they matter. They don’t matter. We shoot at others across these lines, if not with rifles with words. Harsh words. We blame in place of accept. We have all done this. When we fall victim to it, we pause. If we are not cowards, we learn to do it to others less. Most people, however, are cowards. They pass on the hurt instead of saying “no,” gently “no,” we’ll stop that here. Erase that line. Step across it, friend.

I have less than three minutes to finish this piece.

What would I like to say?

The outside light flattened out, became an old faded photograph. I don’t even hear a single dog barking. It’s as if I am trapped inside something from the past that can’t get here, can’t find its way to the present and is fading away because it knows something it can’t impart, as if in possession of some terrible secret it is doomed to keep to itself.

And now, the last minute has sounded. It’s all over.

5:20 p.m.

*     *     *     *     *

also writes for Indies Unlimited and BlergPop. Be sure to check out his work there if you like what you read here.

Friday
May042012

Catharsis or Carnival?

As anyone connected to the horror genre can tell you, we get more than our fair share of questions that boil down to “why do you read/write that stuff?” along with the accompanying nervous sidelong looks and wrinkled nose gestures. And, put on the spot, I’ve always found it difficult to give a reasoned answer, settling for either the glib (“because I’m more twisted than a yoga mom wrestling with a Slinky in a pretzel machine”) or the cop-out (a bewildered shrug). So when Sue Palmer from Book Junkies did me the recent kindness of asking me a far more nuanced and generously-phrased version of that question, I snapped her hand off and wrote down some thoughts. Only, I didn’t actually snap her hand off. That’s a metaphor, thankfully. Here are those thoughts, and I think they come closest to capturing what it is about the genre that attracts me, repels me, keeps me coming back as a reader, writer and even viewer. Well, all this and the euphoric thrill of the carnival ride, too; let’s not forget that.

***

Horror is the only genre named after an emotion, and a very specific feeling at that. Which is strange when you think about it. I mean, why don’t we call comedy “hilarity,” or drama “alarm”? But this one word doesn’t really do it justice, since we can experience everything from terror to revulsion to disquiet when reading a horror story. This provides a lot more scope than is immediately obvious, and the genre has always suffered from a perception of distaste. Or plain bad taste. Something it has fully and even gleefully embraced on occasion. I think it’s far more rich and varied than the casual reader often assumes, however, and its effects can range from the thrill ride at the carnival to sheer gross-out to a sense of true and deep unease. Escapism? Catharsis? The arguments have raged on that one for centuries.

I wish I could cite just one author as my main inspiration, but I’d have to reel off a list. I suppose Stephen King comes closest, in terms of his dazzling and prolific storytelling ability, although my own stories tend not to lean toward the supernatural as much as King’s do. Clive Barker, for his sheer writing chops, his unrelenting willingness to go places most shy away from and his complex imaginative world-building, would be another.

My own tastes tend toward the darkly psychological and even surreal. If you could somehow meld Barker’s technical wizardry with King’s storytelling and throw in some David Lynch, you might get what I am trying to achieve when I write horror. I suppose the best word to sum that up would be dread. A kind of bleak yet strangely or fleetingly beautiful unease. The agony of that elusive beauty amid the sewer. I am intrigued by exactly how far down that old disused well really goes. And not so much what lives in it but what lives within us when we find ourselves there.

As for modern horror, I think it is currently as diverse as it has ever been. With everything from the Twilight series (not a fan, but each to his or her own) to both American Horror Story and The Walking Dead on television, there seems to be a resurgence in those traditional horror tropes I tend not to be as interested in (zombies are my one exception to this, as they seem almost plausible in a world in which genetic experimentation, environmental disaster and deadly viruses are not only possible but actual realities). And recent horror film is a rich smorgasbord, with incredible twenty-first century pickings such as Audition, Let the Right One In, Martyrs, Oldboy, REC, and hundreds of others I could name here. But I don’t complain about even the more lightweight stuff, as I remember times when the horror genre was brushed under the carpet, treated like the redheaded stepchild of all genre writing, basically looked down upon. For this renaissance, King must take a huge amount of credit. That said, I don’t think a genre that explores some of the darker sides of our nature will ever be accepted by the mainstream, for good or for ill. There will be plenty who see it as exploitative or gratuitous or sensational or even childish, and oddly, some of those same people will laud Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, the Grimm brothers, Charles Dickens, Henry James, Daphne du Maurier, etc., all of whom wrote horror at some point.

There are so many branches, however: the religion-based terror of The Exorcist is a world away from the transgressive horror of, say, Dennis Cooper or Poppy Z Brite. The late-’80s horror resurgence that gave birth to the so-called splatterpunks (Skipp, Spector, Lansdale) was also the era in which Peter Straub’s literary and darkly imaginative work was ascendant. Or Ramsey Campbell’s near-hallucinogenic nightmare visions of urban decay. John Farris, too (now there’s a relatively unheralded master). And yet they are equally capable of shocking. Or disturbing. Again, why some readers should want to be disturbed escapes me, but in a world where babies are sometimes raped and bayoneted in front of their parents, or in which our bodies can turn on themselves and literally eat us alive, I don’t blame horror writers for reflecting that and trying to wrestle with how truly awful things can get, how deeply, sickeningly violent humans can become. Writers write about the human condition, after all. Perhaps if I can tell some of these stories while shedding some light on the terrible darkness, there’s a glimmer of healing. Or maybe me and my fellow horror fans/writers are kidding ourselves and all we really want is that thrill ride on the roller coaster. Or maybe it’s some of each. I honestly don’t know. But thanks to my work with abused kids, I do know this: Telling stories can be how we deal with trauma; in fact, relating our “truths” out loud is essential to what trauma experts have called “critical incident stress debriefing” and perhaps that, in the end, is the root impulse of the genre we’ve chosen to term “horror”—that by telling each other how it felt to meet the boogeyman, we’re simply trying to heal.

*     *     *     *     *

A version of this post appeared in Book Junkies Journal and on Indies Unlimited on April 27, 2012. also writes for Indies Unlimited and BlergPop. Be sure to check out his work there if you like what you read here.

Saturday
Apr282012

The Seed That Breaks

The Seed

It begins as something negligible. A seed. A flash of matter. A tiny dynamine. Iceblink Luck. But beware, and be aware; they are coming, and they’re utterly devoid of mercy. In fact, they’re already here.

Who could ever have guessed that a relatively obscure (yet tellingly influential) Scottish indie rock band from the ’80s and ’90s would accidentally encode future dispatches from an invading species? In spite of all that potential, we are such dull apes, sometimes; so lacking in nous; so classically focused on the solidly immediate while hopelessly oblivious to the emergently conceivable.

Elena McClelland was the first to articulate it without ambiguity. Hailing from the same town as the Cocteau Twins – Grangemouth, situated about 20 miles west of Edinburgh on the evocatively-named Firth of Forth – Elena was a very early fan of the band’s ethereal, layered ambience. She followed them throughout the early 1980s as they chiseled a distinctive and unique channel in the solid edifice of UK rock. Something about the crackling wrought-ice tension in Liz Fraser’s evocative vocals resonated with Elena’s own frozen childhood wounds… although she would never have dreamt of expressing it that way.

But never mind. Here we are. And damn, it hurts.

That Breaks You Open

I suppose it’s an honour that I will die in the company of the one person bright enough, careful enough, open enough, to recognise their awful threat. Elena came to me with an ember of hope flickering in her eyes, and all I managed to do was extinguish it. Somehow, she knew of the impending invasion. Back then, when we believed ourselves invincible – as all peoples have done, always, contrary to the corrosive evidence of history – I had access to what I thought of as power, to the machinations of the European Union and to the rapidly crumbling United Nations. We could have remade the world, in opposition to the increasingly imperialist American hegemony. Whole theatres of culture lay before us, spread-eagled in our fantasies like sexual conquests, but in our hubris we mistook potential for actuality, and forgot to look up. The stars were gathering – encroaching dark matter, a ruthless insectile diaspora.

They break you open. They do it first through your thoughts… actually, your feelings. They find the part of you that wishes to remain forever hidden and they amplify it, so you hear your horrified secrets broadcast outward, via ever-expanding eternal cosmic frequencies. They kill you with shame. After that, it’s relatively easy to exterminate mere bodies.

We didn’t listen. To the music. To the message. We ignored the myriad ways in which our collective unconscious (to use Jung’s fairly inadequate term) tried to warn us. The Cocteau Twins were just one entity that pulled the cryptic and strangely beautiful dispatches from the void, gorgeously intact yet lacking a handy interpreter. Shakespeare did it when he conceived of Iago (“Cassio, my lord? I cannot think that he would steal away so guilty-like”, and “With as little a web as this will I ensnare as great a fly as Cassio.”). Bob Marley did it, on three separate occasions. Schindler did it for one heroic moment; likewise, and in similar circumstances, a relatively unsung German Nazi in Nanking named John Rabe prevailed. Jane Goodall touched on it, even though she never integrated it. For a time, Carl Sagan and Billie Holliday, too. Romeo Dallaire. There are others you will probably not have heard of. Some did it for sublime yet fleeting moments – the Irish footballer George Best in 1968, a female flautist for three bars in 1985, Yoko Ono circa 1970, a throat singer from Soweto in the late ’70s, a painter from Tibet, a part-time drummer in Chad, a carver from Haida Gwai.

Here she is, now: Elena, her presence an admonishment. The skies flash with the seizures of our dying breed. These alien invaders, water-seekers, cosmic krill, really; they accept their victory in the same way they kill our hope: dispassionately, sans sorrow or triumph. And Elena, awaiting our own death, sings to us endless plainsongs replete with fleeting words of shame and despair, tracing a history we never bothered to stitch together, keening our broken-seed eulogies: “wax and wane, blue bell knoll, millimillenary, Rilkean heart, suckling the mender, ella megalast burls forever…”

Our very lullabies now garbled epitaphs.

*     *     *     *     *

also writes for Indies Unlimited and BlergPop. Be sure to check out his work there if you like what you read here.

Saturday
Apr282012

I Have No Idea

So you got this deadline for your latest blog post/writing assignment and all you can hear in your head is a sound resembling the distant whine of an overclocked laptop crossed with Mariah Carey conducting elaborate experiments involving helium and canary embryos. Essentially, a combination of blind panic and a sheer lack of anything resembling an idea. You briefly consider opening your carotid artery while gargling with paint thinner before saying to yourself “way too dramatic”, so you dial it down and rock back and forth making mewling noises instead.

But the ticking clock is relentless, and something has to give. This is your last chance to become a mother… oh, wait, different story altogether. Sorry. Got my notes mixed up… So, anyway, what do you do? Well, you consult my newly patented Top Ten List of Idea Generators and Writing Exercises, is what! In the spirit of heroic cartoon supermice everywhere, here they come to save the day…

1. You are an international jewel thief. You have just fenced enough ice to re-sink the Titanic. You are flush. You receive a phone call in which a heavily disguised voice says “I am stranded in the Philippines. I am not Stephen Hise, never even heard of him in fact, but just so you know, the awesome website Indies Unlimited could sure use some serious funding right about now.” What do you do?

2. Push an elderly lady into traffic and describe the aftermath. An alternate version would be to record the sound of an audio-assisted crosswalk, find a home for the visually impaired next to a busy street and wait for the residents to emerge, at which point you press Play on your recording device. Remember to describe the ensuing events in loving detail. It’s the hilarious aftermath we’re looking for in particular.

3. Ponder this simple question and then write down your thoughts: why is the word “phonetically” not spelled phonetically? And, for a bonus: why does “succinct” have two syllables? Do you think words can commit fraud? Did Emily Brontë completely make up the word “wuthering”? And, anyway, how badass is it that she has umlauts in her name?

4. Eat something you hate, such as boiled wombat elbows or rancid yak butter. Make sure the very thought of it already induces a degree of nausea. Follow it up with a plate of traditional English cuisine. Yes, that is redundant, I know. Drink a bottle of cod liver oil. Follow that up with a few shot glasses of hot sauce. Nurture some genuine anger in the pit of your stomach. (If you find you are unable to do this, turn on FOX News.) Locate a trampoline. Bounce on it repeatedly. If you possess sufficient athleticism, perform a few backflips. If not, keep bouncing. Dismount. Find a giant canvas and stand over it. Or squat, your call. Let nature take its course, in whatever way it chooses. Then, in 500 words, describe the resulting art work.

5. Write a Petrarchan Sonnet that includes the following elements: a banjo, a dispirited clown, two befuddled paranormal investigators, a lighthouse keeper with bipolar disorder and a lukewarm vat of seahorse droppings. Please remember: use iambic pentameter and an octave of

a b b a a b b a

and a more flexible sestet of

c d c d c d

or

c d d c d c

6. Free-write longhand for ten minutes. No cue, no topic. Just write. Do not take your pen off the paper. Go!

7. Write a series of short literary mashups. Why should musicians have all the fun, after all? For example, mimic the writing style of Ernest Hemingway while employing the subject matter of H.P. Lovecraft. You may call the final product The Old Man And Cthulhu, for instance. Or combine the style of Cormac McCarthy, perhaps, with a Dr. Seuss theme: “The sun did not shine. The Cat in the Hat raised his face to the god-abandoned day. Thing One was uncoupled from its shoring, everything grey in the world’s last dawn. Oh Fish in the Pot, he whispered. Oh Fish.” You get the idea.

8. If you write horror, try a chick lit story. If your preferred genre is paranormal romance, write a western. The world needs more Gucci zombies and levitating cowboys, after all.

9. Write a long piece outlining your thoughts on why JFK’s assassination might have been connected to an obscure standard bearer in the Duke of Wellington’s army at Waterloo. Be sure to include the rare yet incisive commentary by one Dwight Z. Finkelheimer, who famously postulated that the bell jar in Sylvia Plath’s famous novel was actually a metaphor for hair metal band Motley Crüe’s insistence on delivering tanning beds to orphanages, all of which culminates eerily in architect Frank Gehry’s blueprint for cloning Lee Harvey Oswald, providing him with a blowgun filled with toxic paperclips and setting him loose amid a throng of Jesuit priests riding gloriously oblivious and slightly dim alpacas, the prized wool of which will one day clothe the very standard bearer mentioned previously. Woah. I don’t know about you, but I got goosebumps.

10. Notice that writing is not an art or a science; it’s an exercise in sheer futility. It is a slow, quiet, lonely torment; less a long, dark night of the soul and more a longer, grey afternoon of the spleen. It is reminiscent of the feeling you might get if a beaming child-faced serial killer peeled off your skin a layer at a time while reciting the complete works of obscure Scottish poet William McGonagall and sprinkling apple cider vinegar on your exposed, suppurating flesh. Reminiscent, albeit not exact. It is possibly the world’s most stupid human activity, and considering those activities include Australian dwarf tossing and British shin-kicking contests as well as Japanese game shows featuring a Snooki lookalike and a man disguised as Rasputin performing disquieting rituals inside giant hamster balls, that’s got to be pretty stupid. It all just makes you want to cry for your momma, not only now, but every single moment that remains of your miserable life. Now, once you have absorbed this, go away and write a counter argument, providing rich examples of why I am wrong, while being careful to note the fact that none of this will matter to you in less than a hundred years, since you will be dead. Which may be ugly, but it’s the truth. As ugly a truth as the one about Mother Teresa and the one-legged insurance salesman in that Calcutta alleyway. But don’t write about that. Write instead of how the mind goes, of its inevitable ruin. Oh look, a flower. Florentine death squads. The Mitt Romney remix. Castigation. Fuel. Aphids.

*     *     *     *     *

This post was originally written for Indies Unlimited but was deemed unsuitable. A version of it appeared on the website BlergPop instead. also writes for Indies Unlimited and BlergPop. Be sure to check out his work there if you like what you read here.