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    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.

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    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 Cascadia (6)

Saturday
Aug172019

Jaquinta

You clamber down the embankment, under a squeal of rail. A blaring assemblage sparks and screams above. How soon until your ears bleed?

Jaquinta knows your story. For a good price, she might even give it up.

Things might escalate, although they might not. 

Love the aftermath. The silent hiss of conifers, under a windless sky. Why is it they still hiss, even in stillness? Their very tops somehow moving while the evening settles so quiet, a scattershot of dogs barking hollow in the throat of this dry valley. 

Back in my dream, Jaquinta, you told me something, and I heard it, and to this day I want that story spilled over eggshells crackling alive, overrun with raccoons ruining a coop.

“I don’t care where you bin,” you say, so quietly, and a cloud of bright parakeets flutter from a nearby roof, and you dream the same hoarse breath. “I just care where you at.”

Ain’t none of us one thing. 

These glittering cities. Emerald Seattle. Quicksilver Vancouver. The glistening infernal Bay. The bristling, stockpiled western edge of the continent. We rooted them in beauty. We sang their swollen choral praises. And they abandoned us. We, the workers, the dreamers, the pragmatists, the saints: you don’t get to hate a thing until you love it. 

The shriek of the train trails into a lingering tail, a dwindling lonesome coda echoing across the hallowed plain.

This is a story clinging to the coattails of another, and one day I’ll muster the cojones to tell that one too.

Friday
Jul272018

Black Ambient

In the gloom, a girl shaped from sparking ozone and her wild electric canine dance beneath a moon of cold bone and a dormant volcano. Ice floes crackle around them, splitting and snapping, glitchy as break beats spun by a frozen demon DJ. All is blue or ozone-white.

Voices weave in and not in. This tapestry of sound is torn, charged.

Have you ever seen ice-smoke? You have now. The chill, fuming tail of the dog and the smouldering cold tendrils of her dress.

She is my girl, though I don't know it yet. She whips the hem of her dress like a matador. Ecstatic. Like a mad, evasive, holy truant.

We fall from this frigid locale to a motel on earth, somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. Cascadia. Good Christ, how do you adjust to that? Carpets that clutch and walls like dried pulp. A girl in the next room is sobbing like the world decided to upend itself, unravel its guts in space. She can barely draw a breath after each protracted sob. Her throat sounds raw and long headed for ruination. I knock on the wall and a male voice tells me to fuck off. I knock again and someone knocks back harder, informs me I'm a motherfucker. I no longer know my own mind. I am enraged and sorrowed and can no longer distinguish between the two, and I exit the room and rap on the adjacent door. The same male voice screams at me to fuck myself with something serrated and oxidized. I'm not even armed. Other than with my annihilating rage. I knock again, and harder. It hurts my knuckles, but pain is now my companion at every level and juncture. Someone flings open the door and I'm instantly struck, in the gut, in the groin, and in the face. The nebula of pain is a collision of starfields, and I drop, happy and gasping, knowing I now have cause to obliterate. Wolves dream their darkest chorus in the forest of my brain. A full moon hangs pendulous as drool from an idiot's lip. Anticipatory. Gleeful.

Stand back, make room. Some wolflike stammer tattoos this guileless jaw.

Come to me. Be me. Your pain as I consume you is why I came. Such sour elusive bonhomie. Melancholy and euphoria; few drugs meld so catastrophically.

Beyond the cityscapes, through airwaves, I hear electric ghosts stuttering their dumbstruck phrases hourly: "I-I fell in love with you," "Huh-who do you love?" "Wuh-when will we be saved?" "Huh-help them. Help us help them."

He blinks, like paper.

Then I go in like a shark and devour him.

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
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
Dec302016

Eleven Steps

My friend is generous, but like most others I meet he eventually runs outta patience with me.

"Get off of your high horse and deal with things the way they are, goddammit."

"Not on a high horse, I swear. Not even on a horse."

"Then why do you seem so far away?"

"I don't know. Maybe 'cause I won't quit. A horse did gallop out this way, then slowed and left. But honestly, I swear I never rode it."

"Yeah. Okay, brother. Fine. What the fuck are you so afraid of?"

To that I say nothing, make idle patterns of a blemish on the wall. Feeling trapped but knowing I coulda turned it around on him.

But you wanna actually hear what I think? What I'm afraid of? Here's what I think.

The fear is you enter that world of men, of wounded men, of stained men, irredeemable men, and it seems easier to be alone than it would be to risk becoming part of that drab, desaturated procession, in which every gesture is interpreted via a sponsor or judged through some oppressive twelve-step framework, where all we can smell is sharp and carbolic like infrequently laundered institutional clothing, or grim and sebaceous as two-stroke engine oil, rank and barnlike as stale tobacco but never booze, god forbid. Never booze and never excitement. Or grace. Nothing feminine whatsoever. Always something daubed or smeared. Small. Adobe. Shrunken. Stained and shabby. 

Because we deserve this purgatory having reached prematurely for heaven. 

Less the unforgiven than the unforgivable. 

Innocent of what, indeed.

And yet we're blindsided and (it turns out) astonishingly wrong. Turns out these men are kind. Thoughtful. They bother to consider their actions. Figure out how they got here. Take time to make a few things right along the way and where they can. However shambling and uncharming. 

We stumble across far better people here—in the psych wards, in general population in our prisons, in seedy church basements redolent of the last tobacco partaken outside, where clutches of dreary people admit their flaws and are better for it—than we meet in suburban backyards, in the halls of academe, or in cocktail societal gatherings.

Anywhere else, in fact. We try, we rectify.

These are the folks who've looked into a well and never seen the bottom. Have felt the chill crawl of ragged fingertips on their raised skin. Been called out in class to read the paper they lied about writing because they'd been fending off an uncle (or an aunt) all night. They've been that guy or that gal who sits at the diner's or the bar's end, wanting to be left alone to enjoy their breakfast eggs sunny side up, or nurse their splash of bourbon on the rocks, only to flinch at the brittle shadow erecting itself behind them. The Other. The Enemy. The schoolyard Bully, all grown up, feigning strength through an unerring radar for doubt in others. 

***

Maybe something's happening. I put our friendship before my lust. Proud of that. Your light broke down into shimmers. Like our love had always been some dream, some distant piano melody while rain bejeweled and berated our windowpanes, crowding us, tracing facial lines while you haunted a roadside, a gravel shoulder, above a precipitous drop, below a climb toward someplace greener, better. Raindrops tattooing a dusty trail becoming mud. 

Four words I never wanted to hear, in a voice like silk and shrapnel: "A girl was hurt."

Or maybe a boy.

I show up at your place in the dry hills of an evening, arrive to the chorus of pop bottle windchimes, Dr Pepper taking the bass while Coca Cola trills the melody, and I almost gag on the bright banded gradient of night to our west. Gravitational waves. The drawn-out death cry of faraway stars. Sirens. Lineage. Binaries. Gamma rays. 

Ancestry.

You take my bloodline and twist those veins, spill my unworthy blood, mop up my unfit gaze, trash my blood-soaked shirt. You are a cunt, but I'm far worse. Far more hungry (so much hungrier).

Watch the full moon claim its sky. Her sky. It don't matter. You are a black woman confronting a white man; you have to know how badly you will lose. But your pure courage warrants a better ending, doesn't it? 

Are you right now on Robson Street, strolling between the flickering lightsprays limning the trees? Can you follow the trail of scent? Rooftop seafood restaurants. Tsunamis. Luxury ivories tinkling. Sushi. Complexity. Lush. Lush. The store. Enter, smile at the staff, ask if they still pipe that music they played all those years ago. What was it? Vitalic? Electronic. OK Cowboy? Leave. Greenery spilling like falls. Do they know the best, the greatest words? The most evocative? That beechwood also means, in German, Buchenwald

Ghost me. Abandon me. Stop pretending I matter. This is no haven, no liberating sanctuary. 

Race cannot be ignored. Gender cannot be ignored. Genocide likewise. You want me, you want to feel me, you want to roll my credentials between your tender fingertips? I once shot something minimal and lovely, oblivious to a camera mast that watched my every move. How can we possibly compete with that?

Grunge city. Dark sister. You needle me.

I'm back with you, a raw white man with a clean black woman, a dry black man with a lean white woman, a trans woman with two lost souls, an atheist with a Jew, a skinhead with a queer, a Muslim with a kafir. We can't shirk this. The sounds of an entire city are like a canopy, a vast speaker quivering open over our heads, heedless of a trembling monolith, of dream saviours, of Cascadia, mostly flinching from the prophesied slip. 

Wanna cross the line? Subject yourself to indignity? To likely shame? Be allowed through at the booth so you can fill up with cheap gasoline, grab a bottle or two of two-buck Chuck, a Trump-hued block of American cheese, keep driving because now that you're here you might as well explore. Through wide expansive rural miles, full ditches, cornfield stubs. Sumas. Linden. Mount Baker to the east or link up with Guide Meridian to Bellingham south. See the school bus, the exact same colour and shape as the school buses you know, the red octagonal stop signs, the signs in general except the speed limits, which first look the same yet on reflection seem so low and weird. Who the fuck goes fifteen, twenty, twenty-five? Wouldn't it be better to walk?

You used to be our friends.

She is waiting for you on a motel forecourt off of a state road, her thighs already splayed above the loose grey gravel. A Thunderbird looming overhead. The sun dropping westward disappointingly fast. Her crotch is damp, but she knows not to reach too far. Knows you're not gonna make it. She returns to her room and fingers the remote, reels in a story 'bout a man who shot a toddler during a road rage incident, cries when a witness tries to make sense of it, yells at the news team who don't seem to have grasped its full import.

Then she succumbs, masturbates, her fingers soon warm and puckered with her own arousal. Celebratory. Her orgasm coinciding with a memory, a rearview glimpse of how she opens up a hole, untwists the leaden links in a chainlink fence as a child, and lets a boy through, from the streets her mother calls the Commonplace. A boy who'll end up paying much too great a price for that.

A boy who in his dreams turns everything to eleven.

And it still comes back to this: we deserve this purgatory having reached so early for heaven.