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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 crime (7)

Friday
Jun082018

Crime Watch

It's always windy now; there's never any peace. They tell me the local wolves are returning. I say good. That's good. Find the dens. Go ahead with your goddamned crimes.

Since words are such distant cousins and not the only language we know, I doubt that words themselves will suffice for the telling of this tale, but let's try.

Where did I come from? I cannot even know. I woke on a trail favoured by green. Why do we highlight the fox, the bat, the buffalo? I feel her palm settle over my wrist, and we bow beneath the wax-green arbor. We are stitched into the tapestry absent our consent.

In case you missed it, I repeat: our assent means nothing to the world.

An old woman watching the haze coughed up by the eventide. I used to sit here and watch whales. I haven't seen a whale in twenty years. The ocean itself is a heaving grey behemoth with cloudy eyes, redolent of slate. Imagine wet dust.

My name is Millie Trench. This was my home for three score years. You think your avarice enables you to up and lay a hand on it? Let's talk about that greed. We've grown accustomed to it, and you've grown used to exercising it in the service of politics that sound more like faith.

You overreached. We all did.

We pranked our friends but never copped to it. We ran through evening streets convincing ourselves we'd seen a visitation. A spindly future in a window. A light in the deepening dark above the rooftops. And we ran, alive in our fabricated terror, lungs swelling our ribcage nobility, skinny thighs pistoning the liquid cylinders of our adolescent hips. We were mercury, platinum, and we ran until our terror became real. 

Entire lifetimes have gone by since then.

We never imagined the coming brittleness, the years of compromised ligaments, of tendons stretched beyond their elastic bounds, of creaking bones or the quiet unearthly skies.

***

I know you'll come and cry with me if I ask. I don't like to impose. My heart purrs inside a hummingbird, fluttering as my host drinks crimson nectar from a feeder. My genitals are something else. You really need to witness them, but I won't insist. (I might no longer be human.) We slip inside and rest against the ink-black geometry of panels. Pen and ink on rough-scratch sketchpad partial to yellowing. Let me draw you. Your lines inspire me. Your fervent mortal heft. Pull off the interstate, Bridie, let's take stock of this and make some visual music if we have an hour or so to try.

A raven lives in the tower and laughs. She is the plainclothes inquisitor dripping warm song on all of us. When we forge such camouflaged tunes and try to hide our hungry robes, it's like listening to the thirst of birds.

Open the door. It's a rundown bar not far from the coast where few now bother to attend. Maybe it's a gentle church of liquor and gambling losses, where a thinning congregation no longer dreams of anything like redemption. Their prayers are holes and loss. They hope only to escape cruelty.

I found my way this night to Millie Trench, and she gives me that nod old people know is better than some document or paper. (Old folk are the only whites conversant with that nod.)

We sit silent before the silent sea. Now and again, a man up the beach laughs amicably, a sugar grain cascade. 

Where are all the gulls?

All she needs, my dusty compatriot, is her one last friend to reaffirm some normal standard of American life. Even fake it if I have to. Barbecues, beaches, campfires, places we watch out for bears. Lights streaking in solstice skies. A dream of an eternal park in eternal dusk starlit by fireflies, and the laughter of children singing like a secret creek.

A horse fly, solid and glinting blackish and distracted by its mission creep, bothers the shore lurkers, hoping to drive them into panicked mea culpas, circling their dim crimeheads like a winged and sable pecan as they rear and flap, preening and twitching without hope of exoneration. There's Jodi in Walmart with her gas cans, the hurtling bespattered basement steps, the gunshots into the crowded van, sex zombies, plaster casts, child pageants, lies, race, sex, even hope. 

My mind uncouples, forgets itself. Bring them through the prize draw routes, lottery types and winning hands, clear passages now suited to the epic ruins of the day. I would like to find the corpse of a champion and unearth a feeble decoder, witness the death throes of loyalty. Spinning it all circular. 

Are we enthralled? From which side of the bay do we look? I live to suck out every thread, each loose end, and give it if not its name at least some character, a man who polishes combat boots using only green and now this lightest brown. It's a start, pale though it is. 

I wanted to have the last word with all of them and gesture as they approached, as he and his friends whooped and hollered, yelling and high-fiving my people, promising to haul each other up and out. I never knew his name. Was he the man who laughed? Could he have been the wolf? Things will be elided here, redacted and stashed away, quite possibly forever.

Friday
Sep112015

One Night in Nebraska

After the rains, the fog bloomed like a sudden resolve.

She drove through the night, hunched forward now, and more careful. Soon, a sign loomed ahead and moved to her right, then was gone.

PRISON AREA

DO NOT PICK UP

HITCHHIKERS

With her notch-below-average height and build, and notwithstanding her jet hair gathered and piled under a black ball cap, her outsize leather biker jacket, and her purloined outlaw swagger, she knew she looked more like a young adolescent boy than a man, but any effort was preferable to none. Driving alone through the Midwestern night had its unique risks.

She toyed with the radio. Crazed preachers. Dire conspiracies. Sports and weather. The usual. If she had left it for thirty more seconds on one particular channel, she would have heard a news story about a prison break just outside of Lincoln, but she hadn't so she didn't.

From out of the fog, something darker appeared then dissolved back into the gray. Her flicker of an impression was of a man, in which case he was far from shelter on this chill Nebraska night. She hesitated and came to a rolling stop. Over her shoulder, her brakelights bathed the fog bank in a bloodmist, and from that backdrop a man emerged. Again, she almost second-guessed herself, and the silhouetted figure seemed equally skittish, moving slowly, leaning forward in an effort to see who'd pulled up on this dirty, dripping night.

She felt the cold reassurance of the .38 Special nestled between her thighs and opened the passenger window an inch or two.

"Where you headed, fella?"

There was a harsh laugh, followed by, "It's me, ya dizzy cunt."

A pause.

"Good to see they didn't kick all the charm outta you." She still couldn't see his face, but she knew he was grinning. "So you did it. Well, hell, get in then, why don't you?"

He did and they pulled away.

"Someone gonna miss this vehicle?" He said it like it was two distinct words—vee-hickle—and she realized how damn much she'd missed the bastard.

"Nope. Not gon' miss nothing ever again either."

He whistled through his teeth, an oddly forlorn sound. She glanced at him but he was staring ahead into the bank of gray punctuated only by the occasional set of headlights, and they were quiet for a while.

"Guess we're headed for Kansas, miss Dorothy," he said at last.

"How'd you figure, mister Tin Man?"

"License plate, 'course."

"Yeah, got lucky. Dumb old dead bitch in Iowa almost caught me jacking this beauty, then I found Kansas plates very next place I stopped. We're an hour away from the state line, so I figured we'll be less conspicuous once we cross. Damn pea-souper actually helps."

"Figured right, no doubt. No interstates, and 77 gets us near Wichita, if I recall." Then he added, almost whispered, "You're a good girl."

"Yeah, but I owe you, hoss. Owe you big." She wouldn't look at him. Couldn't.

"Sure you do. But you're here now, so that probably makes us about even."

"Right." She ached to pull into the desperate gravel lot of every cheap motel they passed, but that "about" hadn't escaped her.

"Hell, woman, you're a stone-cold, dead-eyed killer and y'ain't done a minute of hard time. Man's gotta respect that." He chuckled.

"Yeah, sure."

"Girl, you're one honeycomb I ain't gon' rile up, no matter how big and hard my stick, if ya know what I'm sayin'."

She smiled her crooked smile, but inside she thought about that, about what some learned folks might call "power dynamics," and about how a small-framed woman is always imperiled around a larger man, even if he is wary (hell, especially if he is wary), and how most of 'em are indeed larger, and also wary, and some might feel they're owed, and some don't mind either way, and about how damn lonely it could be out here on these endless gloomy highways passing between rude clonelike towns with identical water towers and dusty feedstores and squat, boxy dwellings, and how it always took some trade-off, some transaction, spoken or otherwise, to make it to another day, another week, to feel something halfway good for a few bartered moments, while the radio played soft jazz and the lights of rigs loomed like the luminous eyes of ancient monsters glancing terrifyingly close, as if sparing them some awful fate—for now, at least—under the filthy charcoal night of an accursed old America whose time, like theirs, was already passing, had perhaps even passed, all of it gathered in the dying saurian eyes of Triassic brutes from before history itself even started.

She drove on and willed herself to please stop thinking.

Friday
Jun052015

A Man's Truth

Today's when y'all get to kill me. Some of y'all will see this as a good day, and most days I'd go along with that.

Yup, forget they candy-ass public defenders and bleeding-heart ink slingers—even Jesus couldn't save me, though I cain't hardly blame him if he never put his full weight behind the cause.

Why am I in this here predicament? Well, not to put too fine a point on it, what I done was a massacre, like what happened to they Injuns somewheres in the Dakotas back when this peacelovin' country was young. I don't know about wounded knee but I do know you can bury my heart right where you damn well aim to kill it, far as I care; goddamn shriveled thing never did me a lick of good while it still pumped, ain't that the truth?

And here's another truth: I was doomed from the git-go, pretty much. Least since I was a whelp no higher'n a tractor tire from a 1940s John Deere, anyways. If I hadna been hiding in the hayloft that day my daddy came out to the barn to slaughter sweet ol' Gus, maybe none of this woulda happened. But I was and he did, and in spite of the gloom inside I saw the glint reflected from his knife and the way Gus looked at Pa as if he knew what was comin', the fear in that soft, dark eye as bleak and knowing as any soldier's when the enemy's upon him and his weapon is empty, and how Gus thrashed and squealed louder'n I'd ever heard him squeal when that blade sawed at his pink and throbbing throat, and how it still took a while for him to quiet and be still as his steaming blood splashed in a ole tin bathtub my daddy had cleaned out and stoppered up for the occasion. Here's a thing: while all this was happening, I swear I saw a shadow bigger'n a man and blacker than a moonless prairie night step into the light at one end of the barn and stay right there 'til it was all done. Coulda been a cloud passing over the pale yellow sun, I guess, but I'm pretty sure it weren't. Meanwhile, Pa never knowed I was there, wide-eyed and shaking, reliving that scene in my head like I would for months after—not jus' the sight of it, but the sounds and the smells and how it felt inside. What I'm tryin' to say is, maybe none of this woulda happened if I hadna liked it.

So what did happen? What did I do to bring me to this place? Don't really matter now. It's done, ain't it? And you can read it in the dailies or go on that internet doohickey and find out the details to your heart's content. Not all of them were innocent their ownselves, case you were wondering; I knows that must be hard to hear for you kinfolk, but it's the truth. I never did it for the fame nor … what's that word they used in the trial to make me sound worse than I already am? The notoriety? Hell no, I did it for the pure enjoyment of hearing so many folks die slowly and in pain, to hear again the long and lonesome whistle through Gus's ruined throat, to watch hope dim in so many eyes, and to smell their lifeblood as it drained. That there's the long and the short of it.

Sounds crazy, but I ain't scared; not for me, anyways. They'll strap me with my arms spread like one o' they murderers they strung up next to Jesus Christ hisself—his brothers in arms, ha ha—then they'll fill my gnarly old veins with some chemical moonshine and barring some terrible calamity (oh, they happen, you better believe it) I'll go straight to the land of sleep like a warm little lamb, where guilt or innocence won't matter, 'cause whatever stories we tell ourselves to make the night seem less dark, there ain't no such place as any place once we up and leave this stingy, hardpan life.

But there's always killin'. And that's what does scare me some. You think this thing'll be gone when I'm gone? No sir and no ma'am, sure as the devil made little sour apples it won't. It steals in silent as a barn owl and more deadly. All it takes is one a y'all. To like it, I mean. To watch them push that poison into my veins and feel what I felt that cold April mornin' when my daddy done slit that hog's throat and I only wanted more, only yearned to hear that godawful shriek forever. Thing won't never end. Mayhap without even knowing it at first, one a y'all will greet the shadow, welcome it into the poisoned well of your filthy abysmal heart, and all of this will happen again. And again. World without end, as the good book says.

Now bring me that last fucking meal, won't ya? Telling the god's honest truth can make a man awful hungry, after all.

Friday
Jan022015

Cormorants

A rottweiler behind chainlink stands and swings its boneknuckle head while the couple quarrel by the dismal predawn roadside.

"We're heading back east," she says.

He kicks at the dirt. "Why do you say back east? You ain't never bin there."

"It's just a way of sayin it. Besides, I suffer from lostalgia."

"Huh?"

"Never mind. You won't get it."

"The fuck? Fuck you. Well hell, I'm mostly through talking anyways."

The dog watches from its shadows and emits a low growl every time Dwight glances its way.

"Suit yerself, but whether you're with me or not, I'm going and you ain't gonna stop me."

"Not unless I throw you over this here fence."

She rolls her eyes and he narrows his.

He sighs. "We really havin this conversation?" he asks, almost gently.

"Appears we are. Ain't no bad thing."

"But we talkin about bad shit. Like dyin. Worse. The future, no?"

"Sure. Yes and no. Love, dyin, kindness, pain. Yesterday and tomorrow. That axe gonna swing itself, use you and me as its own fulcrum."

He's silent for a good minute, then says, "Seems to me you caint rightly figure the light 'less you done reckoned with the dark."

"On the right day I might say otherwise. On this day, who knows? But whatever. Pass me a cancer stick, will ya?" Something sunnier passes over her coyote-fragile face. "Oh hey, know why I love you?"

"Sure don't."

"'Cause when you light my cigarette, you cup the match like you're protecting a good clean heart, even when you know full well it's dirty as hell. Anyways, let's go, hon. You with me?"

"I guess." He looks at her. Alice. The Bonnie to his Clyde. Feels his dirty heart clench.

While she thinks of the cormorants by the bay, that night they let slip the body into such cold waters. How those great oily birds perched on the guano-painted wood pilings like the dark acolytes of apostates, holding aloft dripping black wings in lewd maledictions before hearts yet darker, before offerings more profane.

The guard dog seems to lose interest and drops to the sandy ground like some wounded Serengeti thing.

They both look eastward. Thick red light thinned with watery orange is bleeding into the sky there, below which the smoky blue mountains seem flat as construction paper, and there is no rightful way for them to know if the vermilion eastern morning holds bloodthreat or promise.

Friday
Jul042014

Sacral

I Confess, Alfred Hitchcock, © 1953

He seemed to be the only penitent in the church. The airy hush was a sound larger than the place itself.

The priest waited in the confessional until a shuffling noise told him the man had at last joined him on the other side of the grid. The voice in the near pitch-dark was shaky.

"Bless me, Father, for I have sinned…" So quavery it sounded more like a question, as if its owner couldn't settle on a tone. The man's breathing was shallow, rapid—the sound of near-panic. 

"Relax, we're all sinners here. How long since you last confessed, son?" the young priest soothed, suddenly aware of the awkwardness of such an endearment directed at someone probably no younger than he. Yet such was the nature of these things; how mysterious and nuanced the intricate bonds between shepherd and flock. 

"Not long. A while."

The priest chose to ignore the contradiction, sensing a reluctance that seemed to press on the confessional like an old mattress abandoned in a rainstorm.

"Take it slowly. They're not exactly lining up out there." He smiled grimly at this. He'd meant to put the man at ease but there was an edge to his tone even he could hear. Slim pickings among the faithful these days.

A conversation he'd had earlier with Sister Camilla arose unbidden. She'd looked at him askance and raised one full eyebrow.

"Your father was a tyrant, no?"

"Now why would you ask that, Sister?"

"Because, Father, you are so completely terrified of eternal damnation you spend much of your time atoning for sins you've yet to commit."

He hadn't argued. Couldn't have, really.

Though too cloaked in darkness to make out, he knew the thick rosary he clutched to his chest would give him sufficient strength to bear the torment of a fellow sinner, if only for a few scant moments. Those plump beads the ripest of grapes on his arid vine of faith.

"Father…" A sour scent like spoiled meat marinated in vinegar wafted through the grill.

"Yes?"

"You can't tell no one else? This is between you and me, right?"

"And the Almighty, yes."

"Good. Father. I didn't mean to do it." That small voice. Almost the voice of a child caught stealing apples from an orchard.

The young priest inhaled deeply, ignoring the abattoir fetor, calling on the Holy Spirit to fill him with patience and love.

"Take your time, my son." 

Through the grid he could barely even discern a silhouette, let alone any distinguishing features of the distressed man. Strange. Normally his eyes would have adjusted by now.

"I thought she was willing, Father. Otherwise I'd never have gone that far. When she fought back, I just…"

Quiet sobbing filled the confessional. The priest closed his eyes, felt a pain so deep it surely had to be in his soul. The agony of compassion. No doubt a mere thousandth of what Jesus Himself had felt for His own lost sheep.

"Something in me snapped, Father. I don't want to carry this with me…"

"Son, are you confessing a mortal sin to me right now?"

"If rape, dismemberment, and murder are mortal sins, Father, yes, I'm confessing all three."

"My God…" The priest squinted at the lattice in an attempt to resolve a hint of an outline or the particulars of a face. "You must tell someone else, you can't—"

"No! No! I will lose everything. This is all I know, Father, I…"

Without thought or warning, the priest was on his feet. He exited his side of the confessional, stepping over something that nearly blocked the narrow aisle between the recessed confessional and the rows of pews. He tore open the door to the other compartment, preparing to confront the man, urge him to tell the authorities. 

The booth was empty. It smelled only faintly of old incense and even older dust.

His skin prickled and his mouth went dry. In the restless glimmer cast by the nearby rack of votive candles, he could now see his own hands, the rosary swinging from them. The shiny black beads dripping something red the viscosity of syrup. He looked again at the object on the cold grey marble floor, at what he'd first thought was a discarded pile of clothing. Black, white, red. Like something from a childhood joke. Sister Camilla. Or what was left of her.

His high, liquid scream, rising like a startled dove toward the remote dusty beams above the nave, signalled the end of that day's sacrament of penance. Even though there was no one there to take its measure, to corroborate or to hear it.