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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 Canada (15)

Friday
Jul142017

Hostile

We're a long way past those plastic wood panels. That studded belt. The brackish shallows.

She was born Ida Grace Showbuckle, a Midwestern girl in a middle America world.

By the time she arrived in Hollywood, she was Shyna Lite, but that only shepherded her briefly pornward until she settled on Gloria Spensky, which combined a classic first name with an authentic East European family moniker while largely avoiding complications. America fell quietly in love, even before they'd truly parsed the name for prestige or infamy.

She was fortunate. Spectacular and tawdry. Resplendent with dubious pedigree.

Before tomorrow, the deviant mollusc will have devoured eleven faces. Be ready. This carnage won't be silent or demure. Segmented limb parts the texture and disavowed color of forsaken tarpits will skitter from bleak corners, antennas tuned to utter wreckage, trojaned in by the aroma of coffee beans and the poise of a nylon seam, a lukewarm foot cupped by a cool stiletto heel.

You have no idea what I'm saying, do you?

Don't worry. I don't either. I no longer know how to ask for help.

Was something birthed in the vomit of some homunculus, before any of us were here?

Gloria made progress, found a modicum of genuine affection among the glitterati. If she is filled with secrets, then so are we all.

Laura was my neighbor. She was older than me, not by all that much. Sometimes she babysat us. Her hair was the color of a raven's throat. My fingers ached to stroke it. Then came our private Armageddon, and our priorities changed. Although I never stopped loving the girl next door, whatever her guise. She was my ingress. 

Psychotic girls might be our last shot. Please rearrange words accordingly.

And please give me an invitite. Smurn me with lashes. Starl. Aglutor. Abrogate all this. If langrage is a skareton, the very bones of our syntax are fragmenting in clouds of sweet white dost, like wedding caek. Our vocalumnary crombles. Restet my gladdamned jawmoan. That bird has flone. Hear me haol till dawn. 

Chronology isn't my strong suit. Nor is lucidity. Especially when my brainpan hosts its silent apocalypse.

Gloria met an enigmatic young woman named Evelyn who'd come down from Canada alone, for altogether obscure purposes. Gloria and Laura, who met at a club in Inglewood in July 2011, would help her sometimes, both sensing her dangling-over-a-cliff vulnerability. Evelyn had landed on skid row—in a hostel once opulent but wearing its own sad fall from grace in its crumbling facade—either because she felt it was her natural home or believing it her launchpad to Hollywood. She was pretty and sweet, listened to J-metal and read dystopian fiction, but she was already a wraith. A waif like a leaf gyred by November winds through a caterwauling valley someplace north of the forty-ninth. Her appointment with death kept getting postponed, and they took this as a sign she would be okay. They bought her meals now and then, took her to shows. But one day they didn't see her, no one did, and the internet seized on a shiny new mystery and Evelyn became a made-to-order character for websites dedicated to creepiness, not even rounded enough to be tragic.

Gloria kept going, but Laura went home, could never shake the sorrow of Evelyn's disappearance. They still talked now and then, but things had lost their luster. I loved all three, a walking, pulsing Bechdel test, but Evelyn will always hold a special place for me, allowing me my moment to school them and to fail them, her soft porcelain throat collapsing under my thumbs, her epicanthic stare beseeching me until her light slipped away, already heading back up Interstate 5, searching at long last for home.

Now you've read this nonsense, answer me this: what the fuck is wrong with you?

Friday
Jun302017

Adanac

Here. This place. One hundred and fifty. One fifty. Buck and a half. A birthday. Entire nation no older than the lives of two robust adults laid end to end. 

What ever did we do to deserve it?

But hey, did you know? Canada means "village." Yeah, me either.

Listen. A rest stop diner by the Trans-Canada, heading east. The Fraser Canyon. The white waters roaring from the north, headlong from the wicked throat of a bitter spring. You were scowling beneath butchered bangs—jagged as a silhouetted treeline—and a bad dye job. About to thrust out a ragged thumb. I picked you up in the dirt lot if only to keep you safe for the next few miles of your calculated self-immolation. You barely even thanked me, not that you needed to, although you did howl along to my road mix, gyrating in your seat to the Hip and to Bran Van 3000 and to Love Inc's "Broken Bones," for which I will always forgive and never forget you. 

We were ragtag then; more so now. My memory careens between blunt and compassionate. Both, really: I truly hope you avoided the murder-rape of your grim trajectory. Had I been the praying type, I might well have gotten on my knees about it, put myself in hock to some obscure god. But I wasn't. And I didn't. 

We moved on. Someone tracked a black fly cloud, draped microphones in boreal stands to capture cryptozoological ephemera, filmed the awkward and the implausible, crumpled Labatt deposits underneath an aurora, traced the opening of dry rustic cracks in some ghost-abandoned road, devouring handfuls of poutine and Ativan. Silent Sam and Black Fly Vodka Cranberry. Fantasy arrivistes. Supplements. Afterthoughts. 

Breathe an A-frame house built from fragrant cedar south of Sicamous. The drastic tang of a wood stove. Wholesome. Imbued with the cool mint breath of the forest.

Friend, grab a cold one, join us by the fire under the riotous stars, listen to the popping sap. Strum this here guitar for us. But first, here's my stolen story of the Thunderbird... 

One early fall the salmon didn't appear in the river. Thunderbird waited, but nothing. He asked the people, and they told him a great orca had blocked the mouth of the river and was swallowing all the sockeye. Enraged, Thunderbird flew to the river mouth, but there was no whale and no red fish either. Then he saw that the people had poured their dark toxins into the waters and brought disease to the fish, killing most of them. Now more angry than ever, Thunderbird flew out over the great waters and spied the fearsome orca. He hovered above the whitecaps and spoke to the mighty whale, once his enemy, and they came to an agreement, a truce. Thunderbird lifted the immense whale and flew closer to shore, where he dropped him from a great height. A wave of dreadful size moved like a locust plague toward the coastal homes of the people and began to level them. The people tried to run but many drowned. Then Thunderbird flew to the coast mountains and began to beat his mighty wings together many times, summoning a terrible storm, and the land itself began to shake and crack, and the people further inland were laid waste until only two remained, a woman and a man. Thunderbird flew to them and saw they were rightly terrified. He said, "Rebuild, but do not forget. This cannot happen again, or your kind will pass from this world." He named the man Father Tremor and the woman Mother Tsunami. Twenty, thirty, fifty generations followed and remembered the tale told by the great Father and the great Mother of the people, retelling it over and over, until a new people arrived from the east and called the land Cascadia. But the new people were heedless and laughed at the old tales and began to pollute the waters and burn the forests again, brought sea lice and deadly beetles, a wasting sickness to the elk, toxins for the bees, and wouldn't listen to reason even when the rumble of thunder in the mountains became ominous and the seething saltchuck swelled ever more restless. And this is where we are now. If Thunderbird abandons his patient forbearance and revisits the whale, when the edge of one slips beneath the limb of the other, this land will be wiped clean for a last time, and it would all have been for nothing, with no one left to tell the tales and only wolves and ravens to hear the last few echoes deep in the sacred and soon to be silenced forests.

You never liked that story, come to think of it. 

Afterward we blink at the music of Crash Vegas, wonder if we missed something resplendent, something drenched in the fragility of love, and get back to work. Especially now they changed the rules. Once knew a couple bought a house on unemployment. Saskatchewan, granted, but still.

Relax. There will be a fresh atrocity soon enough.

"I died so I could haunt you."

"No, you damn well didn't. You really didn't."

"You don't know who I am."

"Yes. No. You're right; I don't. What?"

What is this place? These stunted trees, this wetland, all our wonderments? This jingle-jangle, all these tricky agglomerants. Where did the majesty go?

The Last Waltz. Scorsese. Joni, the Band, and Neil. I even quote myself on Facebook: "There's so much Canada on that stage that the very air must taste like maple syrup." I think I got seven likes, but that was early on. Whatever.

I commit to this. My dreams are dry run coalitions. Dramaturges. Arcade fires. Must be Northern Ontario. Kenora. Thunder Bay.

Pick some place to cross the dry stream. We can't avoid the dry stream. Cross at Pigeon River into Minnesota, skirting Lake Superior, or drop due south to Grand Forks. North Dakota from the Peg. Harsh desaturated landscapes peopled by stripped down watchmen. Workaday men like weathered barns. Gaunt and barely functional. Even the gentle West: Blaine. Sumas. Laurier. Good Grief, Idaho. The hidden road to Kalispell. It's rarely gentle now. We are the chill shadow to the southern puppet show, faint shapes thrown against abandoned backdrops. 

That was then, at least a history. This is DNA memory. Once I rode out on my kid's bike under a troubled sky, running the elided gauntlet of endless wheat fields, mad at my mom and mad at my dad, twin runnels of tears on my cheeks flying pitiable streamers behind me, a funnel of sky and lariated dirt half-twisting on the southern horizon, while "Pigeon Camera" filled my headphones. A man in a dark pickup pulled up and asked me if I needed help, and I told him yes, no, wait, we all need help, but him most of all. Ivory-knuckled, he chased me a good two klicks or so till I veered off the highway and plunged through the amber amnesia of grain.

Recollection, loss. Farewell to wheat kings, rage, and weathervanes. Adieu to where the spirit sits. Where the masts lean. Skeena. Scarborough. Southern Ontario. Ask me about Alicia Ross and Alice Munro. Speak to me of pretty things. Of passage. Lesley. Kristen. The Highway of Tears. Go tell Marlon Brando. Now that's how he's gonna clear the table. See if he cares. It's the very same thing in French: bon voyage and sayonara. Hell, is there anything sadder and quieter than a distant grain silo standing erect on land so flat it's like someone drew it and then got bored?

Hence: this is the country with the longest coastline, the longest land border (okay, equal first, by definition), the most educated populace. And the nicest. All because someone got bored, and we were left alone. Even Robin Williams said this of us: "You are the kindest country in the world. You are like a really nice apartment over a meth lab." Funny guy. And he should know kind. 

You know what comes with all that good? A whole shitload of bad. The surface is a mirror. One great city. Two? Three, tops. A darker light breaking through a strident one. The Salish Sea to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Two solitudes (three, tops), hopping a Greyhound from Kamloops to Canmore, to Moose Jaw. Tar sands. Pipelines. 1867–2112. The tower of song. Up beyond the lighted stage, they urged us to be strong, not to be failers, to change the sheets once in a while, not to be weaker than (weaker than what?), to live like this, but we got it all wrong. Like all of them, we're still going down to the same old bar, same old people, same beer, and just like them we don't likely care much anymore. Yellowknife. Yellowhead. Blue. What is a jagged pill? A river we can skate away on. These ambulance blues, this case of you, a crowded hazy bar. Dance me outside, damn you. O tabernac, O adanac, O Tekahionwake, O Manitou. Late breaking story in the Globe and Mail, a nation chastened by Karla and Paul browbeaten further by a prairie atrocity on a midnight bus. Our nightmares like our treasures, buried. All our friendless misdeeds. Our worst crimes the loneliest of crimes.

Enough already. I hear the impatience borne on a prairie wind. I'm unnerved. Something is coming.

"Okay. Leave now. Go away."

"What? Why?" she says.

"I ran my race already."

"Nah, fuck off. That's pure bullshit."

"No, it isn't. Who do you think you are, anyway?"

"I don't think, I know."

"You're a smartass girl."

"More a loud-mouthed girl, but either way, don't make me wrong."

"So tell me."

"Alright, I will. I was the girl you picked up on the gravel lot near Boston Bar and played those tunes to in your car. You gave me a boost, like we used to do when we helped each other over fences or up trees, you know? You were a friend to me when I had none."

"Well, fuck, that's weird timing because lately I ran out of friends completely."

"That ain't weird. It's how it is."

How it is. 

It's not true, by the way. The kindness thing. Ask anyone who knows about missing women or residential schools. Or Oka. Are we even real? Has anyone ever captured our actual image? Lord pulsing thunderhearted gods of the motherloving prairies, we have so much still to fix.

Friday
May192017

Amethyst Magnet

A wounded moon, she tries to escape her orbit and arcs her way starward in some fruitless bid for independence. Hunkered down in a Tacoma apartment, listening to Sleater-Kinney, for six weeks she shares a rough cube with roaches and rodents and silverfish. And mildew. Until a day when she ventures out and finds a nearby farmer's market and spends so many hours overstaying her welcome. Smiling at strange men with stranger facial hair. Lusting for expensive ink. Pretending to flip quarters into the hats of buskers but tossing only bottle caps.

Can we climb the hills outside town? Eclipse their occasional gravity? They're not far, and the sounds of our celebrations echo from their striated flanks. The faraway choir cries, "Tom Hardy," and we all think of the actor. But some of us suspect they meant John and think of Leadbelly. Either way, doesn't matter. Pick me up like flakes of iron, like metal shavings, don't let us grow beyond our suicide lines, our creosote dreams.

"I want you to succeed," she said.

"Seems you forgot I was Canadian."

"I did. Indeed. Nothing is for free."

(Really? Not even torn pantyhose? Not eroticism? Not rebellion, scorn, fugitive desire?)

At what point did the blurry wraith steal into the mall and wrap its cold persuasion around the wrists and throats of enough teenagers to undermine the morale of this place? Repurpose our world? I pledge to stand in recalcitrance. 

Stir that iron pan of rice and ground turkey, mix in spices, garlic, add your desolate tears, and consider the woman you once loved who gives you not a thought. Maybe barely a thought. You damn well wish. Eat and make your slow way coastward. Scratch off the layers of dirt in that abandoned place, that atrium, that cloistered dome drenched in the grey hesitant stupors of longtime voyagers. You will bow to me. Deflect the lightning. Swallow the juice of stupidity dripping from the vain tenements of some tossed-off American balcony. Goddamn it.

A faulty dream? A glorious sin? Scornful, doubtful gestures?

For a moment it looks like Iowa. Sioux City. For now I might dismiss it as Wisconsin. Far from the Madison crowd. It's all shimmering and lost. Loved, even.

 

Your heart is amethyst, your mind

is adamant. Your mine bores

deep inside this hillside. Why 

not drill yet farther? Why not

get in line, aspire to coruscant?

 

Flaxen-haired, klaxon-horned, this instant is stark. An urban stream, a concrete riverbed veined with graffiti, the dusty weeds swaying on the banks while fugitives converge, flame trees lining the streets and cursing like motherfucks, breathing like livestock given a reprieve. Promised something wondrous. 

She. She is a mother and she wears bluejean cutoffs, and the dirt-white pockets rest on her pale thighs like the ears of a phantom hound dog. Her wifebeater hangs off her t-frame, loose, not clean, underscoring dark erect nipples. She is indeed unclean. Her dirt is of the celebratory kind. Her stink joyous. She pushes cleflike locks of her lank dark hair behind her ears. The score of her loneliness her salient feature. 

Held in her eyes, bright cumulus skies, and a flurry of spores seeds the air above us. Even makes us smile. All must be maintained. Palm trees. Lawns. Dazzling miles. Hummingbirds darning the thick fabric evenings. Boxes of cheap malbec stacked near the checkouts. The sweet sculpted heart of your dark humid pubis. How do I keep this semblance alive? Do you hear the moans of the women? Do you consider them something good? The odds are largely against this.

A pack of dogs explodes through powder snow, scattering in childdrawn lines while their prey, a year-old fawn, hesitates before plummeting over the next ridge. This is the way of things. A woman texts her friend and watches the till while a carload of young men empties into the silence and advances. Bless the gifted blood in all of them. Curse their surety. How will we interpret the trucker's lament, the anchor dropped by a witness, the stutter of professional hesitance? The dogs confront their error and backtrack, plumes of backlit snow like golden dust against the sunset ridge. Cold. The tiny deer stops for half a second, enough to seal her fate. There is no cruelty in the kill; it's swift and wild and consummate. The way of things. 

My love, are you listening? You're the second-best girl I ever had. 

Don't leave me. Don't drop me. Good God, good girl, please stick around, vainglorious one. 

Everything is burning, The Wickaninnish Inn reeks of smoked sockeye. Eagles are dropping from a boiling sky. Bears stagger out of the trees, wisps of smoke uncurling from their fur. Clams pop on the rocks like apocalyptic snacks. This kid, that corner, our hopes, their moments gather on Chesterman Beach. Rock pools mirror a waning sky.

I stumble over my ownself. Nod quiet thanks to the waitstaff. This is the one place in this clustered nightmare that bleeds red, watery hot like Tabasco. Instinctively I lean its way. And overtip like fuck. The server—a sheer beauty made from alabaster, marble, hot clay, and the primate tang of vitality—punches her number into my phone and brushes my neck with her rustic lips. I shudder. She is beautiful and rural and I want to go home with her. But I'm on a mission here; if I get the chance I will go back, but if not, while the sap drips from the bark and gophers run riot along the shoulders, beyond the last Applebee's, we all dip our limbs and hopes in this heavy green soup and keep right on going until (someday, at some point) we don't.

Saturday
Feb042017

Nineteen Sixty Nine

It was nineteen-sixty-nine. When the man in the marketplace began raving, it wasn't a market day, so there weren't many witnesses. Me, of course. And one of the shopkeepers at Simpkin and James came out to hear the racket, the bitter mammalian gist of cheese and coffee coiling in his wake, earthy and comforting. Scattered bystanders stood white-faced while the man screamed about impossible things.

***

A red maple leaf flapping in a high wind. Twilight and the night itself shuddering. The drift bank of snow up to our roof. A naked woman materializes from the sodium overheads on an Arctic outflow prairie backroad, and Shelby takes her in, wrapping her in blankets and massaging her limbs with vigour. Cracking the seal on a twenty-sixer of Crown Royal, I daren't even approach her. She is like a witch to me, a wraith. Ought to be dead. No one can last more than a clawed handful of seconds in a Saskatchewan blizzard, 'specially not naked. Yet Shelby helps her. Women. FFS.

Then I remember the screech I stowed after Bo McGuigan stopped by here last summer and left his Newfie gifts I forgot about till now. 

***

"It's gonna matter! It's gonna matter!" the man kept shrieking. He looked like an accountant, a civil servant. No special marker, nothing to distinguish him. His soft tan coat was long, and he wore dark pressed trousers and patent leather shoes, no hat.

Someone approached him to reason with him. We could hear "Mrs. Robinson" from a radio. The marketplace—a square, with its town hall on one corner and a bakery diagonal, the Midland bank on the other and a chemist facing—held its breath.

***

The ends of her fingers are black, but she clasps the mickey of screech and upends it. I'm mesmerized by the workings of her throat. I fucking love this country. All of it. Roots. Hope. Oka. Moose Jaw. Crosby's overtime winner. Timbits. Merritt. Meech Lake. The Hip's last tour. Kamloops. Solitudes. Bobcaygeon. We kiss all refugees. We kiss our own syrupy asses while first Harper and now Trump fuck us over. It's what we do, driving out in a frozen February to take a disc of hard rubber full in the face.

"We should call the hospital." Shelby's eyes are wide-grey and frankly lovely.

"Girlfriend, we could call the hospital and report an ongoing massacre at Wounded fuckin' Knee and they wouldn't react right now. This is some badass weather, and lots of folks are trapped and hurt and maybe dying. We need to deal with this our ownselves."

"She's frostbit, though."

"Yeah, she is that."

***

He laughed. Told them it still mattered and laughed. Winked, even, as he was led away, to a quiet acreage on the edge of town where questions could be put.

"You Brits. Living in the heart of fuckin' midlothian and dancin' down Petticoat Lane. Who the actual fuck do you think you are?"

"The bigger question right now is who you are, sir."

"If I told you, you'd think me insane."

"We already do. So tell."

"Okay. Fair. I'm from your future. The year 2017, to be precise."

The interrogator looked away, and I could see violence squirm briefly across his face like the ghost of a sidewinder. His better nature won out.

"So you a Yank?"

"Canadian."

"A Yank with manners, then."

"Funny. And not inaccurate."

"So what matters? What is going to matter?"

"All of it. I came back to the right time but the wrong place. You people aren't even bit parts. This is a clusterfuck. I'm meant to warn the powers, the movers and shakers…"

"You mean Westminster? Their movement is an illusion, and all they shake are their tiny, shrivelled cocks."

"Look. There are things that if you neglect to do now will destroy much of the good in the world ahead."

"How the hell would a Canadian know any of this, even if he was from he future? Canada's not exactly front and centre in world affairs … although you do spell centre right."

"It's complicated."

"So what does the world look like in 2017, Mr. Time Traveler?"

"Beautiful and fucked."

"Not that I believe you, but details?"

"Sure you're ready for this? Um, okay. We can talk to each other via small portable screens, anywhere in the world. We have cars that drive and park themselves. We've so far avoided nuclear annihilation but not climate change, which is threatening everything. And I mean everything. We can wear headsets, glasses, that enhance reality, paint new worlds atop our usual one. Play games that are plausible versions of the actual world. Anyone anywhere on earth can in theory speak to anyone else, via screens in our homes or in our hands. Using the same technology, we have access to all human knowledge and all human depravity. Just gotta ask. Step in a car, even one you have to drive yourself, and a satellite will help you reach your destination, with verbal instructions in a gentle feminine voice. Or alternately, press the screen of one of your devices once, twice, and you can hail a car to arrive in minutes, take you elsewhere, take you anywhere. All while you listen to a music library that doesn't exist in physical space, is floating someplace else they call the cloud, each and every song and artist instantly accessible. Vinyl to tape to compact disc to mp3, details no one could invent. Let's see, what else?"

He loved his audience, a matador toying with the sleepiest of bulls. 

"Okay. America had eight years with a popular black president, a kind and thoughtful family man who served with grace and erudition and without scandals. In most liberal democracies, people who love someone of the same sex can get married. Married married. Nobody cares about marijuana anymore, and it's often prescribed for health reasons. But cigarette smoking is way down, and most of us know the tobacco companies lied for decades. Lip service is paid to gender equality, yet women are still paid less than men for the same work. Television captured some godawful things, even after Vietnam: the explosion of a space vehicle we called Challenger, a terrorist attack on America that brought down the World Trade Center, twin towers whose construction finished only a year from now in your time, yet loomed over lower Manhattan for thirty years. People have run the hundred metres in under ten seconds. This decade you currently live in will be a cipher for many on the right and the left: boho extravagance, permissive hellscape, or a foundation for human progress. Civil rights, Dr. King, and My Lai. Hunter S. Thompson, Edward R. Murrow, Joe McCarthy. You know most of that. But what you don't know is the Cold War will end in 1991, yet we won't necessarily be safer. On a global level, white people will become steadily less central, and this will anger them in ways we weren't prepared for." 

He swallowed, asked for water, wondered how anyone, however well briefed, could possibly encapsulate a half-century of change this rapid and momentous. Decided they couldn't. 

"Back to science. We've mapped the surface of Pluto, which is no longer considered a planet, and we've discovered thousands of actual planets beyond our solar system. Yes, thousands. We have a telescope in space that's now almost obsolete yet has sent us cosmic images that would make you cry. Deep, deep space and pillars of gas. Great swathes of nebulae. Star factories spanning light years. Robot cars explore the Martian dirt, clicking and sampling. We've mapped the human genome. Used DNA to solve crimes. Tens or even hundreds of thousands of books can be loaded onto a single tablet, which fits in one hand and looks like a slate and is immediately readable. And while fossil fuels still dominate, alternative energy is beginning to take hold: giant white windmills spin off of coastlines and in gusty prairie grasslands, while solar panels drop in price as we speak, are arrayed in deserts and on rooftops—using the heat of the sun to power our world. We still drive gas guzzlers (a term that came along after your era), but they're more like gas sippers now, and we also drive electric cars. Hybrids. It's a transition in motion, which makes it sound like we're okay, like we're handing it all. Which we're not, or I wouldn't be here."

"So what went wrong?"

"A fuckstain of epic proportions. It ain't so easy to sum up."

***

I miss Bo McGuigan already. Probably should have asked him what the machine was that he left, along with the screech. It looked like a toy to me. Yeah, I'm actually that stupid. Had a dial with place names and years, kinda like those plastic discs that match images of animals with their sounds. I loved those things. Early versions even had a pull cord. 

***

"Assuming we believe all that—and if not, it's a rich, impressive, and most appalling fantasy, I must say—what is it you want us to do?"

"I don't know anymore. After I ran it by a friend in Ottawa, someone with access to security types, codes even, I was supposed to take this to a national leader and pass them secret coordinates for some unnamed other who might be poised to take someone out who will ruin everything. Tradecraft. Not sure it feels that clear anymore. It's possible I was a little shitfaced and cynical when I activated the machine."

***

Shelby's naked new popsicle friend is speaking in oddities. Claiming she's not from our time but from the future. I want to show her Bo's machine, but I have an inkling she might trash it. Matter and antimatter kinda thing. She sure ain't happy about something: the future, the past, the blizzard, Saskatchewan, all of which is completely fucking understandable. Dammit, do things just keep getting worse? What did we let in when we opened that orange door on a reality show you've already forgotten?

Hell. Let the screech flow like virulent nectar.

***

A boy is trapped in an old outhouse. He knows he can't escape without some payment being paid. The birds are silent above. No cars move on the long driveway or beyond. He wishes he could be at the market with his mother, on a Thursday or a Saturday, buying fresh translucent fillets of cod, watching the unskinned carcasses of rabbits and chickens sway in a light breeze, smelling life and death and listening to men bark and generators hiccup and growl.

Instead of here, where the earth reeks of dark wet green and sounds are entirely absent.

Yeah, take my skin, touch its length, drain my dreamscape, ruin my hobbled walk on this drawn-out stage. Make sure you're cruel, as you were sent here to be. Vicious control-freak Punch to everyone else's blinking Judy. You gaslit me for a lifetime.

***

Best punch me hard. Moondogs flash above our impromptu rink. The clouds clear and our sweatstain galaxy smears itself on the great dome one blurred star at a time… and you cry, and I cry, and she cries. We are such losers. Tourists in our own backyards, wishing for dimensions we never dared conjure. But you fire a slap shot from the hashmarks, I barely tip it through the five-hole, and we all celebrate like we earned it, like Gretzky smiled. It's a good goal, truth be told. My mind is filled with the golden touch of sunset on the eaves of a sagging barn, the dripping orange yolk of a setting day over a red-green vista. All of us meeting our futures, crushed against the boards, sucking up our last damn hit, pretending till the end of time that we ain't hurt. 

Friday
Jan272017

Earthbound

That was the day I woke up tired. 

A sepia dream 'bout trains fading like a station abandoned.

"You okay, homeboy?"

"Nah."

"What's up?"

"Usual."

Didn't know it was possible to be so bone-worn drained. Didn't want to keep talking about it, though, so I grabbed a lukewarm coffee Estelle made earlier, poured some of that hazelnut creme shit all poor people seem to like better'n milk, and drank it in one, for the caffeine, the sugar, and nothin' else. Tasted like scorched ass with an undertone of litter tray. 

Got up to go.

"Where you goin'?"

"No place."

"Always a place."

Heard the trains still in my head, mourning each other, chasing each other's tails across the plains, through the Appalachians to the Rockies. Needy fucking earthbound dragons.

"Always a place."

"You be here later?"

"Yeah."

"Ever stop dreaming, black?"

"Prolly not. Listen. I tell you somethin'?"

"I know you will anyway."

"You funny girl. A'ight. When I sleep, I got this place. A city. Some old parts, some new. A old station. College kids. Antiques. Overpasses. Some kinda boat place—whatchoo call it?—a marina, that's it. Glitterin' in sunlight. Impressive fan of steps at the corner of a mall. East of downtown, a dark wooded place filled with wasps and nettles. Suburbs, vacation homes, a regular hood, weedy abandoned lots, you know?"

"For real?"

"Well, no, exact opposite of fucking real, matter of fact."

"A'ight. Sorry. Sounds kinda dope."

"Kinda is. Sometimes I can fly, like I'm watching from some drone, an' I fly north over downtown with its seawall glass, and northwest past the glittering waves and the boats, and over this island that feels like it's made outta moors or some kinda lowlands. All heather and weak fall colors, like a smile on a face that forgot itself."

"You always bin special wit' words, boo."

"Ain't like that."

"Sure it is."

Ain't fuckin' special. Ain't ever rode the short bus. I wanted to hurt her for just a part of a second, but it was enough to alert me to the badness inside-a me. Somethin' crawled from my left nostril and I swiped at it before she could see, and I saw it was black as crude. Thought at first it was old blood, but it was worse. Things're always worse. We gonna choke ourselves, ain't we? Ever ran a hunnerd-ton engine into a moose? Me neither, but I talked to a train man from Saskatchewan once, up in Canada someplace. Fuckers stand there like nothin' can take 'em out. Moose, I mean, not Canadians. Idea they can be killed by somethin' bigger than they is outside their wheelhouse, their motherfucking domain. But everthin' comes in mist form, even moose.

Know what? Before we found all that black shit in the earth—hard, soft, wet, grainy, cloudy, don't matter—we built all this on fuckin' whales. Ain't even lyin'. You think them whales thought they could be reduced to fuel, to lantern oil, to women's fucking corsets? Nah, dawg. They's the biggest things ever lived on this sweet dark earth, far's we know. Lucky for them enough of us still like 'em. Even more lucky for us this loco space-pinball had motherfuckin' whales, though, feel me?

Whatever. There's a kinda yearnin' the world won't get behind. As well as a kinda grief.