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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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Entries in British Columbia (7)

Saturday
Jul272019

Indifference

They shepherd us into identical rooms, boxes of stacked cinderblock daubed a failed sort of white, like something long since beached and never dealt with. Plastic molded chairs bolted to concrete. A rounded table and a recording device. Two elongated bulbs in the ceiling buzzing intermittent. Insectile. Almost nothing to snag your attention, no edges on which to catch, might as well be one more casket in waiting.

“I hear you have a story for us,” says the stocky man with the alarming mole on his face. I wonder for a second if his use of the plural means he speaks for it too.

“You might have heard wrong,” I say, deciding to be nice.

“My hearing’s impeccable, friend.”

“Good for you. This story died before it got started.”

“Something died. That much I know.” 

“Yeah.” Boredom enfolds me now, like a threadbare thriftstore coat. Bought for a good price, but so was Manhattan, allegedly, and look where that got us. I think I prefer beads.

“The question is whether you know more than that.”

“A better question is whether I’d tell you.”

“That’s not a better question. Just a more immediate one.” His eyebrows, toothbrush bristles dusted with cornstarch, are a neutral hirsute line, like a prairie winter highway.

I feel like writing a poem about Saskatchewan. “I could almost like you, pal.”

“Let’s see if you’re still saying that in an hour.”

Although I wasn’t there, my life almost blew up on a stretch of road outside of Summerland. Three covert feet of silent black ice can obliterate you and all those you love. Try not to forget that. If you’ve ever driven up in the aftermath—phone dropped, heart arrhythmic, skin voltaic—to meet your hollow-eyed loved ones in some box store parking lot, you’ll know what I mean. Maybe no one cried, not then, but maybe they did when they thought it was over, once it became a Thanksgiving story not some awful marker separating the heartbreak chapters of our lives. Some unpunctual thing meant to come later. Or before. Or maybe that was the dream version sweated out into laundry loads of spectral grey sheets, the bullet not dodged, or maybe dodged, like we’re Neo and we took the wrong pill. Or the right one.

Loss steals in where it wants. Nod assent when it bypasses us. It’s a fluke.

“You’re saying you never knew the woman?”

“The woman?”

“Of whom we speak.”

“I’m not.”

“So you knew her.”

“No.”

“Allow me to apprise you of something, hoss. Riddles are dull and stupid things. Meant for children. And evasiveness makes me vindictive. Not a direction you want this to go, trust me. Now tell me how it is you knew her yet you didn’t know her. And do it in plain Canadian.”

Since I like a man who calls another man hoss, I decide he deserves something en route to the truth. “I knew she existed, I met her a time or two, drank with her, but I didn’t know her. Not in any real sense. Not even in what they used to call the biblical one.” 

“Yet, speaking of, she’s dead as Lazarus.”

“Not the best way to illustrate your point, detective. I might even be the Jesus in that version.”

“You’re not, so hush your mouth. So where’d you meet her?”

“Why do you ask when you know the answer?”

He and his damn mole stare at me. On the outside I’m still as a lizard on a boulder at noon. Inside, my heart is pizza dough.

I stare back until I don’t. “Alright, fuckhead. You win. I did it. I closed her account. Called in her number. It was me. Now take me away…” I offer my wrists, yoked like veiny ghosts, the abject godless bones already singing songs of the dead.

He keeps looking at me like he can’t decide whether to tousle my hair or kill me himself.

He doesn’t say a word, but the brisk violent arc of his thumb in the stagnant air says, “The fuck outta here, punk.”

Alone beneath the cold fire of stars, my friends are gone, some into caskets they won’t get to claw out of. The merciful cloak of night has dropped. I no longer know how to say no to anyone at all. Rake my strained face; tell me which one’s the right pill. And dig a shallow grave. I can’t even and I won’t ever. It’s over. Lukewarm and lacklustre. You know full well what I’m trying not to say.

Friday
Mar302018

Lana and the Bear

Image © Michael O'Toole"I threw the pearl of my soul into a cup of wine. I went down the primrose path to the sound of flutes. I lived on honeycomb." — Oscar Wilde

He comes out of the mouth in the rock, underneath dripping, towering cedars, and stands swaying in the chill March air. More brown than black, his damp fur is matted as fever. Alone on a gravel curve, he hears the rage of dogs behind him, ahead of him, in all the directions, and knows he has to pick some astonishment of a path, some unlikelihood, even as his head still throbs from a season of sleep. 

Steaming in the late afternoon, he shows the wet earth to the pale ghost of a day moon, scuffs the moist dirt into sculptures.

The world is not the same. Will never be again. 

Bare and rude, a strip of blond ground, boxy green buildings, a place without complexion, long abandoned. The planes and shadows and golden light of a full day move across this vista, and nothing, absolutely nothing, changes.

A child emerges from nothing. She sits by a mildewed wall and with wordless sounds she confers with the waning day and she waits. Coyotes answer but she sits stoic and unresponsive; her parley is not with them, those subtle dilettantes.

Loneliness threads this land. Eyes appraise it: the black terror of a doe's wet stare, the eagle's stern glare. In time, resignation afflicts even the artful coyotes. There will never be another train.

She sits and waits and she calls out like a lost bird. Her name is Lana, but she has forgotten this. She almost remembers flutes and honeycomb, dreams of primrose paths arrayed with bees.

The great silence is the largest voice now.

Feral dogs and the liquid throats of ravens gulping high up in the conifers are no match.

A sound in the undergrowth, at the edge of the forest, and Lana clambers to her feet. And then he is there, lumbering perplexed from the leaking shadows, and he hasn't yet seen the little girl, Lana, whose name means "wool" in Spanish, and who dances a sudden dance at the first happy thing she has ever known, the first good answer to her silent query of a quiet land veiled in rain.

"You came back," she says.

The bear startles, his fur like acres of dark wheat in a prairie gale, undulating, fluctuate. Then he crosses the span between them in seconds and stands like a steaming boulder before her. She touches his cold nose and grabs his fur and climbs on his back and laughs, ignoring his savage reek, which is like memory. She digs in her pack for the dead things she's saved and dangles them over his snout and he feeds and is glad.

"Of course I came back," he says between bites, his voice abrasive from neglect. "It's winter I don't love. Not you."

Sunday
Mar042018

Bleed

This is what all happened in one night, give or take.

"Elise, you are bleeding."

One Friday. A dream of a train ride. Suburbia deep into downtown.

"I don't care anymore."

Neon sobs and menstrual facades. Smeary and hidden. 

"But you should."

Come with me. Come. This will be a story of concupiscent abstinence, a modest fleshy tale wrapped around unchaste bones. Sinless and degenerate, a miscreant jest, forbidden.

"I will tear your stupid pink-vermilion flesh with my yellowing teeth."  

Are we now just laughingstocks? Vague punchlines in so many cosmic jokes? Stooges in some frothing, galactic burlesque?

"Uh, okay..."

A life reduced: sex or not. Yearning or dread.

"You are so depressingly weak."

"Whatever."

***

This is the moment we all thought was coming, a fugue formed on a spectral hill; we grow our gardens here, bleed our victims, and love each nod and gesture highlighting so many mirror-image blastocysts. We surpass ourselves. 

I was your friend, and I marveled at the sunlit canopy above while clamorous street cars hissed and passed, leadenly clanking, iron-faced.

"You were my friend," you said. "I loved you." 

Although none of this was ever layered in flesh upon so many phantom bones. It only came to pass in labyrinthine dreams.

"I no longer know what you're trying to say."

"Me either. But trust me—it still needs to be said."

"I can't keep doing this. It's an endless stream of dreams, each one second-guessed by the next. We're bamboozled by timelines. All of our nows browbeaten by our thens. Just let me be, and wait while I sip this exquisite coffee and divide this pie with a fork. Where were we?"

"Here. In a Pacific Northwest reverie."

"Cascadia?"

"Oh, yes."

"Two heaped teaspoons?"

"Very good. Clever."

"God forbid you'd ever laugh."

***

Some sectioned limb unfolds itself so close to the horizon, we default into sweet-girl doom-pixie love—Eliza Doolittle, Amélie, Zooey, Rooney, more—ignoring such reality, a reach-around from callused arachnid palms, an imposition, all our aspirations paramount, flames of love sustained, a path portrayed and then proclaimed, so easy to unlearn each living segment of our drastic narrative. 

"My name is Eve, and I'm an addict."

"You really don't want to talk about that slimeball Adam."

The serpent slithers far beneath the palm fronds and the cedar boughs, only glancing back when blent and gusted love is finally defined: our hearts are filled with pain, and situational awareness aims to spend our buoyant, airy capital.

"Call me. Call me now. Okay?"

Elise is seeking not vengeance but balance. She seethes a culinary phalanx. Plays herself in video games complicit and askance.

This timorous howl is poetry right now. Wait until the sockeye find their wild elusive thread, triggering our western coastal shimmer, blare, and thunder. Gift to us this roiling tidal squirm, breathe from us this raw, rare planetary air, drop rain squalls over and upon us. Welcome, grey wolf. Welcome, spirit bear.

O Earth. O endless love.

***

Elise has left. Her bloodstain remains. A vaguely carmine map of shadow blame. 

This place is likened to some flippant home, a shell-like choir of intravenous drones, a cenotaph, dark and fatalistic brickwork; some distilled, some lost, some wretched absent aching monument.

A path. Follow it. Follow it and sing your verification song, your signature, your cultivating aplomb.

Before us is the tale itself. Then follow it…

We are none. Our shaken ranks resist decoding. Unscramble this, our fury. Our purest fury. Our one kilometre stare. Our relatable and incandescent rage.

Something emerges from the trees, hunches ungainly across the trail, slides queasily into the oily lake.

Friday
Jan152016

Headwaters

A story in a single sentence:

Shaky after two days' release from the psych ward, she wants to "put it all behind her," as the genial yet guarded advice had gone, so she takes the Skytrain to go ask about rental costs at a nearby Enterprise office whose bleak geometry squats in a grim patch of stilted highways, loose rubble, and territorial chain link somewhere near where Vancouver borders Burnaby, but she gets cold feet at Renfrew Station, turns around and scurries back to the library near her home on East Pender, where she searches Google Maps and decides Swift Current is the loveliest place name she's ever heard, especially in contrast to that of its province, which is all brittle stalks and wheat sheaf angles (Sask-atch-ew-an), and wants to visit for that reason alone—Swift Current, that is; a name that evokes homecoming sockeye vigorous and sleek as distance runners' quadriceps—although the furthest she's ever driven was Vancouver to Hope, ironically when she'd been at her least hopeful, and even then she'd had a tire blow somewhere near Yarrow, nearly killing her, and the towtruck and repair costs had been so high she'd had to turn back, out by many dollars and by even more self-worth, given all her struggles with what some might call mental health issues yet she chooses to term emotional difficulties, since the former still contains a tiny jab of stigma, and dammit, it's hardly her fault, given her early life with Uncle Giorgio and then those grey-stuccoed group homes and weary, spiteful foster parents, let alone the haunted jaundiced nightscape of the Downtown Eastside and her disaster-recipe life with Gunther, he of the one-part lavish confectionary largesse and two-parts savage fists, but she is free now, aside from the medication she needs to remember, while something about Swift Current calls and calls like babbling headwaters to a downstream eddy, urging her to spawn, to take this step that might mark a new chapter in a thus-far chiefly sorrowful tale, one charged with the possibility of something other than grim nights shivering with cold or dread and warmer nights sleepless with mosquitoes or regret, so she finds somewhere online that calculates the cost of gasoline, which comes to a little over a couple hundred bucks for the three thousand kilometre round trip, and she feels a heartsurge of joy until she sees the carbon footprint she'll be leaving—one thousand three hundred and fifty pounds, to be exact—which sounds so appalling she immediately scratches out this new life at its source—indeed, guilt and eroded morale have long perfected her inner Scratch 'n Lose—erasing the evocative names of Shuswap and Salmon Arm, Golden and Banff, Dead Man's Flats and Medicine Hat from a future that might have held something other than the pitiless tidal ebb of try then turn back, try then turn back, the balance of which has always seemed impossibly, monstrously weighted.

Friday
Oct302015

Demon Eyes

When you're in trouble, it don't matter the exact location of that trouble, he supposed. Just the fact you're up to your neck in a deep mess and need to darn well fix it. Yet it still bothered him that home was a damn sight more than a hop and a jump and a skipped rock away and lookit, there were no goddamned people on this godforsaken island, apparently. Which, he had to admit, was kind of the point.

Okay, obliterated ankle and apparent blindness aside, let's back up here.

Grant was a proud Texan, lord of all he surveyed, which actually wasn't much. But hell, he was lord of it. A salvage yard and a used car lot, to be exact, just outside of Lubbock. Between the two, he and his crew brought them in lame and sent them out new, as the saying went. Or if you prefer a more Texan flavor: brought 'em in sinners, sent 'em out right with God. Well, almost new, almost right, close enough for Jesus to turn a blind eye. Small time as his little operation was, it nonetheless provided him with enough enticing glimpses of a world in which movers moved and shakers shook that he pretty much craved a piece of that world every waking minute. This hunting trip was the end product of some complex favors involving at least a couple bribes and even more meaningful nods and winks between connected associates and their high-powered acquaintances. And money. Which went without saying, was the way of the world. All so Grant could solo-stalk some private island off of the coast of British Columbia and bag himself a timber wolf or two. Or black bear or cougar, maybe. No doubt he'd owe somebody something when he got back to civilization, but still. If he brought back the head and pelt of a wild, grizzled mutt, his wan star might rise somewhat, and he was damn sick of being the one who had to constantly bow his own balding, blocky head in company.

Fucking Canada. Swell idea on paper, and he still treasured the memory of the six hundred pound grizzly he eventually took down somewhere near Jasper, Alberta, but it was always either too cold or too damned wet for regular folks—a godawful place, truth be told, filled with mosquitoes, ice, socialists, and black flies, where no one gave you eye contact and too many self-described hosers repeated sorry and thank you instead of aiming for the top, most of them drinking piss-weak beer and pretending to enjoy grown men exchanging punches on a flat rectangle of ice, so's they didn't have to think about their overall predicament—the predicament being that they're an entire country that's basically Minne-fuckin-sota. 

And apparently the place was also home to attack plants. And it wasn't only the lord Jesus who turned a blind eye, no sir. Right after he'd identified his quarry—a ghostly, damn-near white sonofabitch, and big too, well over a hundred pounds—Grant had stumbled, grabbed something greenish and upright to prevent a fall, then—relieved he hadn't taken a tumble and intending to do a double take at the spirit wolf—had rubbed his eyes with his palms. Worst decision of a bad decision day. But why the hell hadn't anyone warned him there were killer plants in the neighborhood? Took him a while to make the connection, but it had to be some kind of plant. Poison ivy? Nah, he knew poison ivy. Someone had even warned him about grabbing on to devil's club, so that wasn't it, either. He vaguely remembered some tall stems topped by parasols of whitish flowers. Come to think of it, maybe one of the early briefings had mentioned them? An "invasive species"? Giant something? Guess it didn't matter what the fuckers were called or who invaded what-all—hell, he was an invasive species himself right now—what mattered was he'd done manhandled those puppies and now he couldn't see. His eyes burned something awful and his hands were tight-swole with what felt like chemical burns, and that wasn't even the whole of it; to add injury to insult, he'd hightailed partway out of the hollow in a momentary panic (which shamed him in retrospect, boy did it ever), then went and plunged his dumb ass down the same gulch or ravine or whatever they called them in this god-abandoned place. He knew it was bad when he both felt and heard the ligaments in his right ankle rupture with an audible pop that actually echoed among the trees for an appalling second or two.

And after that, silence. Lying still as a newborn after some calamitous birth, waiting for the pain in his lower leg to catch up to the fierce agony in his eyes and hands, barely able to distinguish light and dark. Disbelieving. Until he heard the twigs breaking right up close and the sounds of canine breathing. He went cold and still, reached for his rifle and went colder still. What kind of hunter drops his rifle and neglects to even notice? Worse still, as he reached he actually felt the animal's breath on his throbbing hand. He snatched it back and scrambled away, knowing he was only ruining his weirdly flaccid ankle more by moving. He didn't care. The wolf made a low sound deep in its throat. Grant felt around for his rifle, desperate. The beast was right there, its carrion breath assailing his nostrils, and Grant lashed out with his burning hand, catching its wet muzzle, eliciting a mutual yelp.

"This ain't a fair fight, ya flea-ridden heap o' mange!"

The wolf answered with a brief whine.

Then more silence. Grant's entire body was a tuned receptacle: for sound, for smells, for the briefest of movement. His skin, its fine hairs swaying like antennae, could feel the wispy fall of a single seed head, the tiny ripple of air in the wake of a lacewing's bright flutter, the soft exhale of the vast sleeping forest. Oddly, he'd never felt this alive, as he waited here in this place of solitude for his throat to be torn out, to end his days gargling his own lifeblood.

A hot rank tongue raked down his cheek and he actually screamed. But the teeth didn't follow. The animal had stepped away. It whimpered again. Stepped away further.

"You want me to foller you? You know I cain't walk, right?" Talking to the overgrown mutt only made him feel more stupid than ever, but dignity had dropped precipitously down his list of priorities at this point.

He heard the wolf scrambling in the forest detritus and for a mad moment imagined it finding his rifle and bringing it to him, and he almost laughed at that, but then he felt the damp splintered end of a branch and realized the goldarn brute had indeed brought him something: a crutch. For a moment he was amazed, must have looked like a sightless imbecile sprawled amid the needle-rich dirt and the waxy salal with his jaw hanging loose as an old-timer's drawers, but even a blinded Texan with a busted foot knows not to look a gift wolf in the general direction of its mouth, so he accepted the unlikely offering and began to pull himself to his feet.

Using the rudimentary crutch, he began to shuffle in the path of the timber wolf, who made a low chuffing sound, as if in encouragement. Then all of a sudden, Grant got wise, woke the hell up. What made him think this beast was leading him somewhere good? Who's to say it was on his side, this alien biped from a distant land? No doubt it could smell his strangeness on him. Nature's a bitch, always was since the wily old serpent made a naked chick eat an apple, and always would be until the sun went huge and red and time stretched to some kinda impossibly thin strand, and he of all people should fucking know better. This white monster was no friend of man, and somewhere in the darkest forest its dark companions waited, no doubt drooling and pacing some shadowy den. He knew coyotes did that, lured cats and small dogs away toward the waiting pack, and what was a wolf but a damn coyote on steroids? Hell if he was gonna go meek and stupid like some dumb house pet.

He recalled some latte-loving treehugger a couple days ago telling him the wolf had been unfairly "demonized" throughout history. Well fuck that with a giant fucking lumberjack dick. He sincerely begged to differ. And besides, everyone knows history's a tale told by the winners.

Grant stumbled and lurched in the opposite direction of his newfound spirit guide.

He felt a surge of elation, a sense he'd outsmarted this backward place, called the endless sly bluff of the world, until he stepped hapless into cool space and, as he fell, heard the last thing he'd ever hear on this busy green earth: a single forlorn and terrible howl desolate enough to make all the dead, faraway and near, predator and prey, shudder within their eternal sleep.