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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 (13)

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.

Thursday
Dec152016

Red White Bitch

CanLit is short for Canadian literature. Geist is a Vancouver literary magazine. Over the years, it's featured some excellent writing challenges. The idea of this particular contest (the Can't Lit Without It CanLit Short Story Contest) was to grab a randomly generated Canadian premise from the canlitgenerator.com and create a piece of fiction no longer than five hundred words.

Anyway, they received around two hundred entries, and though my story didn't win it did manage to get itself shortlisted, for which I'm proud.

So here was my premise: "A family and their dog struggle with what it means to be Canadian. To each other, they say nothing."

___________________________________________________________

The world is filled with things. Lodgepole bark, cribbage boards, a softening of the eyes.

But the world in this moment is filled with two things: red and white, blood and snow.

Five beings in a cabin trapped by a blizzard don’t tend to open themselves to the lone canine, and I must accept that.

***

“If someone doesn't shut that fucking mutt up, I swear I’ll carry it outside and turn it into a dogsicle.”

“Leonard, that dog isn’t an it. She’s a genuine hero. She once saved an entire SAR team somewhere west of Tumbler Ridge. Long story, but trust me.”

***

Did one of them just speak up for me? I’m impressed. If I end up going rogue, perhaps I’ll spare her, let her be the one to lead us back to the bright lights and the furry microphones. We all love a survivor tale.

***

Grandpa decided it was time. “I ate many a critter I was once partial to.”

No one knew what to say to that. Grandpa claimed to be Métis. Most thought of him as a wily grey fox who’d seen better years.

***

Marie-Louise said, “What say we turn on the TV?”

Snow punctuated the windows in grainy tattoos.

***

“Before we return to Peter Mansbridge, we would like to express our condolences to all Canadians who have erred in some way, to those who left it late in October to buy a snow shovel after they disappeared from the shelves, who belatedly learned about block heaters that first winter after moving to the Prairies, who assumed milk in a bag was a prank, dismissed Bubbles as a retarded kitty-loving Rush stan and nothing more, barely registered Sidney’s goal in Vancouver in 2010, looked blank at the mention of Christine Sinclair or Hayley Wickenheiser, remained unmoved by the quietly revelatory stories of Alice Munro, or unimpressed by Tekahionwake’s gentle retellings of Coast Salish stories, or perplexed by phrases like bunny hug or gonch launch. Please try to be better at this Canadian thing, okay?”

***

For fuck’s sake. To you folks, Drake is a male duck.

I yelled and rapped (yapped) into the night, Leonard be damned. And no one stopped me.

***

“Morning’s coming.”

“I’d never have guessed, given the steady increase in light from the east.”

“You’re a good girl, Lorena. Sarcastic and filled with love for the finest things. Let us smudge.”

“You mean ash on the forehead or burning a sage stick in an abalone shell?”

“Does it matter?”

***

It might. Crossing the border for a gallon of milk and a block of American cheese the size of a shoebox, alongside a tankful of cheap gasoline, you remember those days? Red and white doesn’t only refer to wine.

***

“Me, I don’t ever forget.”

“Yeah. Right. That old Trudeau, though? One mean, contrary sonofabitch.”

***

It’s morning. I need to pee. All I see now is red and I itch. Okay. Let me out of here. Please.

Friday
Apr082016

Shudder of the Possible

Where did they go? Who took the words that were here, at the top of this page? Why would someone do that? They weren't offensive. Weren't bothering a soul. They hadn't even been arranged into sentences yet. Look, I can't afford to pay a reward, but if I get them back I promise to make something glorious out of them. Okay?

***

A small thing half-scampers, half-falls down a steep and rocky slope. It recognizes pursuit but knows nothing of its pursuer, other than the deep hankering that drives it. The lapis sky is relentless in its furnace heat and its implacable blue, like god's vast phlegmatic eye gazing on the terror of one of his most low-born, unconcerned as the hunter gains ground. The small thing squeaks and knows its tiny precious hold on a rudimentary life is at an end; its pulsing seed of a heart nearly breaks with its imminent loss. But then a fissure opens up in the rock, and the creature diverts to meet it and is saved with seconds to spare. The keen arced claws of a demon rake the air where the small thing was, and the great eye blinks, begetting to the land sudden darkness and even the mighty hunter cowers. So much for indifference; this god is hungry as fuck and someone will now pay.

***

I met you at a place where the pumps were rusting. You were stocky and beautiful, like something birthed in a fjord. A blue chambray dress, your bare legs tanned, your wide face earnest and glowing with the sweat of your exertion. You sang like a motherfucker. A tan you'd worked so hard on, yet couldn't disguise the spray of freckles. A gray-blond bob. Your toes gripping, your brows arching, your knuckles creating cantilever spreads over all our raised faces.

Dirty summer girl. Now summer itself is a memory, but I'll never stop loving you.

***

"Play for me."

"I can't."

"You won't."

"No, my hand, remember? I busted something in it."

"You'll bust something in us if you don't play for me."

***

This is Canada. This emptiness. This hawk eye shudder of the possible. I always said it was more than two solitudes. Four, maybe five. At least. And yet there's a here here. How can that be?

***

We let the rowboat drift in the placid lake. The kids race to prepare the fishing poles, which they drop into the calm waters amid great shouts. When we turn our faces to the sky, the warmth of the early sun is like being kissed by the universe. All around us stand great firs and cedars, spruce and hemlock. A wetland sits to the north, its boardwalk steaming in the hot morning.

It's the kids who see them first, pointing and yelling like the small apes we are. By the shore. Great beasts, necks ponderous as cables swaying in front of cordillera torsos, heads the measure and weight of a bus undulating as they move through the vast forest. A dragonfly half a metre long and the colour of sapphire stitches the air and comes to stillness beside our boat. We are silenced by the great aberrations, marvelling but frightened beyond all fear. A sound deep in the forest, enraged and ravenous, removes all warmth from the air. The children are inconsolable. Something terrible is coming.

***

Her therapist leans back and watches the ceiling. She resists following his gaze, sensing some kind of trap. She's grown weary of his games, how he seems to anticipate her every mood. It's sleight of hand, misdirection; he's a stage conjuror. He's a hawk roosting. He knows he's cute; that's the problem. All men who know they're handsome are utter devils; it's impossible for them not to be. The world is their killing field. She wonders not for the first time why she's continued to see him.

He smiles at her.

Fuck you, she thinks, but she keeps her face neutral as Florentine marble. Don't let him see. The Beast. The rage-thing capering in its cage and craving release. He'll twist your hostility into something it's not, dilute or poison it.

"It's okay to be quiet sometimes. There are no expectations here. No agendas." His voice is like the morning's first coffee.

If only you knew, you fuck. I want silence forever, not for the pathetic length of a stupid session you pretend not to grow anxious about as the strategically placed clocks tick toward the hour mark. Fuck you and your hundred and fifty bucks an hour for being an empty bullshit artist.

A vast batlike shape takes to the sky outside the window but she pretends not to notice. If she acknowledges it, all is lost. A rodent in the wall sings a lullaby to its pink babies, promises them the world. Tendrils of ivy sprout from around the window frame, drooling ichor and blood. If these things are real, the world has lost its moorings; if they're not, she has.

She wants to cry, but she's already lost track of why. 

Then she remembers the Glock in her purse, feels its weight on her lap like the cradled dripping heart of an ogre, remembers why she brought it today, remembers her holy, holy quest.

And for the first time she smiles back at him.

***

The words never were returned.