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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 David Antrobus (113)

Friday
Aug262016

Faraway Thunder

There were no signs. You got there via a rutted overgrown track between the corn brake and the slough. Once you did, you'd be hard put to know which was the more broken down: the shack or the old man who lived in it.

She knew he never spoke of the very war she figured was what ruined him. She made these visits not to hear about napalm or agent orange or Bell Hueys but simply to keep him company. She felt badly for him, all on his lonesome an' all, no family she knew of, friends likely dead, unbidden memories shuffling out of the corn. 

Sometimes he'd be sitting on his canted porch in a reeking bathrobe that might once have been white cotton flannel but now appeared as if assembled from filthy slaughterhouse mops, and stank that way. Mayhap she'd hunt down that old washboard and coax him out of his robe and try to launder it best she could. He never hid his nakedness, and after a while it stopped bothering her too. Other times she'd dig up a greenish potato in the weed patch that dreamed of being a vegetable garden and add it to the chitlins she'd brung, along with a couple eggs from the coop if the broody old hens had deigned to lay that day.

Neither of them said much, all told. She might sit beside him on the stoop—though he'd never offer up his rickety chair—and watch as the sun spread like a broken yolk and dripped below the rim of the world and the lightning bugs briefly outshone the few pale stars. Occasionally he'd go fill a mason jar with moonshine and share it with her, and smoke while they listened to the antic coyote chorus, after which she'd sway a little on her hike back in near blackness, half-afraid she'd fall in the slough, a small dutiful woman in a large world of night.

He did tell of his brother once. Another time of his mama. Both long dead, as she'd thought. Rare times he talked, she mostly listened; the smallest creek needs no impediment. He never once mentioned his pa.

The most he ever talked was after a big storm had passed, one that still sounded in the gloomy hills to the east, like the ghosts of old battles.

"Had to kill me one a' them hens," he said into the clear mercury air.

"How come?"

"Got a wound on her neck, so the others woulda slowly pecked her dead anyways."

"Which one?" she asked, but immediately felt foolish. "Though I s'pose you seen one dumb chicken you seen 'em all."

And that was the only time he spoke of the war.

"They used to say that about Charlie. They was wrong then, and you're jes' as wrong now."

Friday
Jul222016

Little Apples of Death

Never forget. I forget. I always forget. What indeed is memory?

The ceiling fan flickers in the rearview screen of my keys. They sit bunched on my desk alongside an overfilled wallet straining like an enlarged organ, an unfashionable cell phone, and an open notepad filled with jottings and appointments and TV quotes and titles of movies I want to catch, like silvery fish, all written in green.

Only recently I quit talking on my phone to Gabriella, my most recent ex. In a red leather diner, art deco no less, I think I became amorous and whispered, "Let your petals unfurl for me," and now in shame I'm trying to forget this. She hung up, of course. But strip away the poetry and pretension and I think I meant it.

That quiet rural road at night, the scant light a weak spill from the sky gilding powerlines.

Gas stations bathed in jaundiced pools.

I met Gabriella in a small Guatemalan village where we came to know the little apple of death in a mangrove swamp. That is not a metaphor. We came to know each other beneath the wicked limbs of a manchineel tree, unmindful of everything but each other's crevices and tastes and folds and fragrances, until our innocent choice of love nest revealed its terrible weeping teeth. A sudden squall washed its glutinous sap onto our exposed bodies, which erupted in yellowish domelike clusters of scalding pus. I won't even try to describe the torment. Enough that we lived. Scarred but alive.

The next time we kissed, I felt your newness. You, not Gabriella. I hardly want to say your name for fear of breaking some spell. But Nastassja, I guess, let's say that. It wasn't even an amorous kiss. More sibling friendly and full of love. I recall you smelled of the fresh rain in summer, sprinkled over the sweet dust of berries. That is always your smell, my love, will never not be. The things we scratched in the dirt have become signs, sigils, symbols, license plates, catechisms, wreaths, and leis, the heart-pause moment your fridge hiccups and your lights twitch and trouble flickers your brow.

After which we met Tyrell, a tiny whipped dog who finally bit back but bit all the wrong people. He lived in a motel in Sedona, but his dreams and his history leaked from the sun-bleached door and proclaimed themselves tendrils of dreamstuff, larger and more real than their origins. Tyrell wasn't a dog, though; he was a man. But he was hurt and squalid and swollen and famished. His footprint was tiny, yet his presence was vast. We witnessed a microburst, listened to a bell chime, made a clear date with him, and left.

After which we committed atrocities, of which I will not speak.

We headed north, Seattle bound, shunned, and I became Sylvain and you became Nathalie. We became the universe's secret scheme by which to gaze upon itself. In the shadow of a needle, we sucked each other's essence through our germy, blistered genitals.

Kept going. My god, my love, this late summer evening, an apricot and charcoal sky, the dense stand of trees across from my window thick with gelatinous greens, mutinous quiet, and still as an inbreath, a 3-D painting, that moment we know we're finally betrayed.

Right before we cotton to it. Before backwash. Before we are fully tarnished.

And now we all meet at the cabin by the lake, one by one or in small groups, you and your sister, the crippled geek, the quiet killer, the queen bitch, the whipped dog, the selfless children, the drastic the guilty and the laughable, as ordained, as determined by the warfaced nun and the sneering gypsy we couldn't shake loose in the French Quarter that unnaturally humid spring, by the cosmonaut with all the juicy conspiracies, by the Japanese artist daubing graphic manko portraits in defiance of her culture. My gentle Yukio. My profane Monique. My abandoned mermaid. My coconspirators.

The lake water is still, and the greens drip and mix like virgin oils on a canvas. A loon succumbs to laughter. The Milky Way begins its gentle rise across the darkness, a smeary cosmic vulva. A single coyote yips and then stops. All the trees, like bronchi in a vast lung, exhale as one. Sweet sacred oxygen.

We are here. We are seismic. This could be our moment. We might take flight. Grab our keys and wallets and light out. Then a fight erupts in the cabin—"Fuck you, what is this?" "I'll hurt you!" "Stay away from me!"—and suddenly the world weighs heavy and the moment lies wounded and defiled, stunned immobile by the sudden draining of all hope.

See my alien scars. Features of exotic worlds shaped by impossible forces. Come closer. Trace them with trembling fingertips. Smell my carnation scent. Hurt me as I ask to be hurt. And bring me home. Bring me home.

And if I die, please, if only once in a while, please fucking dream of me.

Friday
Jun032016

London Calling

Hindsight is the sweetest bitch. And this one's mine.

Breakfast time. You might force feed me Corn Flakes, could love me in different circumstances, execute me in others. Economy Lodge continental breakfasts. I was one lost wing-draped bird who lived on the shoulder of a ruined man who loved coffee yet forgot how to tell his own story.

Oh, and Kellogg was a complete stain of a man. Let's remember that.

The frogs are etching their improv dream chorus into the grainy columns of the night, and I recall I fell in love with a girl whose eyes were so spread she might have been part goat, part erotic. Even part poet. Like Britney. But I also drove a quiet road in the forest, beside a swamp, and slowed when a deer walked in front of my Jeep. I came to a stop and the deer seemed to graze the blacktop. I tapped my horn lightly and it raised its head and it had no face, was smooth and beige and featureless. So I hit the gas, booked it out of Pennsylvania into Ohio and beyond. Westward.

Followed the fading blood trail of the dying sun for days.

I never reconciled that thing, not ever. Still cry over it in weak moments.

Twenty or thirty years ago I found Karen. She was a northern English girl, Bury or Rochdale, rounded eyes, ass, and accent, button nose, juicy as a citrus, a warm diamond trapped in a land of hosiery. She was a sales rep for a dry cleaning company and she'd appear on my doorstep randomly and we'd eat bad food and drink beaujolais and fuck like lemurs and she'd eventually ask me if I wanted to go up to London. 

If you don't already know, Englan' is a bitch, yo. It was always up to the capital, never down. But yeah, I'd say sure, alright, and gather up the leftovers and jump in her clean bland rental sedan (saloon in UK speak) and we'd go get Vidal haircuts (Sassoon, if we're paying attention) and watch bands and eat things I'd never even dreamed of or contemplated, like chalk and cheese, scalded apples and melted brie, like hot spice and poisonous fish and eels and things you knew you needed to chew so much harder, and one night we found Gemma, who at sixteen I'd decided was my first and only and best love, silky blonde pixie girl, despite our first actual sexual encounter turning out so unspectacular (it was always spectacular to me). And now, all these years later, circa 1985, the three of us went to watch some bands play Dingwall's, dirty blues and rawthroat punk, spitting and scattering sound like ink all over the orange sodium London night. My gratitude for these two women, for their lovely drunk and smart and sexy company, had no limits. To this day, has no limits. So much so I'll draw a curtain over this memory.

Oh, digression. Almost forgot.

Earlier still. Teen years. I hitchhiked from North London north, cried with frustration at the hundreds of cars passing me without a glance, but kept walking, backpack full and heavy as shame. Hiked a good seven miles from St. Pancras north through Finchley and Hampstead to Brent Cross. I tried to ride a bus without money, and moments before the driver ejected me I locked febrile eyes with a Spanish woman twice my age whose heart and loins even I could see were quaking (aching) with love and sex. But I knew I was too young to do her any justice, so I got off at the next stop and kept on walking.

And tonight it's a quiet, cloudless, almost airless evening in early June. Decades and countless lessons later. I can see Mars and Jupiter from my kitchen window, yet the sky is still a shade of chambray blue. And Muhammad fucking Ali just died.

Friday
May272016

One Act Play

What had possessed her to do this she couldn't have said. Alone. Out of shape. And in deep winter. By the time she'd made it up to the cabin—quads, calves, and lower back muscles trembling with fury at her impromptu masochism, heels sanded raw by her ancient hiking shoes, her every breath a vast torment—much of the light had gone from the sky and the cedars were ink-black against a layered gray backdrop of mountain ranges and thick cloud.

There'd been snow at the trailhead, so no surprise to see more of it here, almost two hours' near-vertical hike later, burdening the branches and drifted like cold-bleached dunes against the walls of the cabin. She shivered and dug in her pack for a spare fleece. At least she would likely be alone, no partying hikers to interrupt her monastic night.

No sooner had she formed that thought than a sound reached her, startling in the silence: the crisp snap of twigs, something moving in the trees.

Bear? Cougar, even? It was a hot and a cold thought, both, and her skin a crawling electric skein, she backed toward the cabin.

***

"Just one night's all I'm asking." She kept her face still.

"Okay. Fuck. So we get used to one night, then you sneak out for another 'just one night,' some point after. So what then? It's a slippery fuckin' slope, ain't it? Plus, how do I know you're gonna go where you say you're gonna go, even now? Huh?"

"Because it's true."

"True like what? Like Area 51? Like Sandy Hook? Like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion?"

"Nah, true like truth. Like love."

"Oh, what a pleasant little poet you turned out to be. What a lovely, perfect, dreamy little cunt. Please, tell me more!"

"Hon, you're scaring me."

"I'm scaring you? Bitch, you don't even know what fear is. Get ready, though."

She could never anticipate the exact moments; she was doomed to parsing tendencies, which neither flashed on the immediate nor lit on the specific. His right hand, with its cracked and knobby joints and its futile zirconian angles, hovered like a distant thunderhead until it was suddenly upon her, catching her square in its cyclone drama, plying its special breed of junkyard mean. The inked knuckles, left to right, fist-forward: T-R-U-E G-U-T-S. Though P-U-R-E R-A-G-E would probably have been more truthful.

Either way, she might not have known precisely what it meant, or its specific ETA, but she damn well knew exactly how it felt.

***

She backed up the four wooden steps into the doorway, ready to slam and bolt it against whatever moved out there. The last light draining from the world. All breathing suspended everywhere. The mountain itself seeming vast and hollow, as if its fragile crust might fracture and pitch everything into some unthinkable chasm beneath. As if the earth itself was nothing, a dewdrop, a snowdrop, quivering, an unanswered echo in the interstellar dark. As if catastrophe didn't matter, on a scale she could never quite absorb or countenance.

Gracile as a new doe, a girl emerged from the blackness between the trees.

An anime shock of corvid hair, fuchsia Hello Kitty T-shirt, powder blue shorts, and colorless flip-flops.

An impossible girl.

"What the—?" She went to her and draped her fleece over the youngster's angular shoulders and ushered her into the rude one-room wooden structure that had served so many wanderers before them. "Girl, let's get you inside, you'll catch your death."

***

He didn't look right. His face was off, askew, as if the bones had been shattered in some terrible conflict and he had covered the devastation with synthetic skin.

"You think freedom will make you a better wife?"

She didn't want to answer, since a trap lay in either response.

"Well?"

"No idea." She hated herself for vacillating, but his knuckles had grown in her mind, and were now made of adamantium, and he was named Logan, and she was fucked if he decided on violence.

"You're trying my patience."

"I'm sorry."

"You really fucking will be."

***

After she stopped trembling, she said her name was Christy and that she remembered being chased in a dream by a police car with no driver and had found herself wandering here, near the top of the peak. Her clothing made it clear she couldn't possibly have hiked the steep trail, yet here she was, and the likelihood of her stumbling on the cabin a moment before nightfall was equally absurd. Yet here she was.

"Christy, I have some food and there are sleeping bags and camping foamies, so let's settle here for the night and hope tomorrow isn't bad weather."

"You got any booze?"

"Um, no, maybe. Why?"

"Why'd you think?"

"You're way too young."

"Oh, please, grandma."

"Okay, whatever, but please get warm first, okay?"

"Deal." 

"How old are you, anyway?"

"Sixteen."

She cracked a twenty-six of Silent Sam, took a long pull, and passed it to the girl, who'd huddled inside a sleeping bag that reeked of mold.

"Wasn't excepting company, so I left my tumblers at home."

She found a hatchet and some cedar that she could split into kindling and some newspaper that wasn't too damp, and she began a fire in the tiny woodstove, smiling when she spied a small stack of stove length birch logs. She felt the girl's eyes on her as she worked.

"You don't mind me asking, why ain't you at home, anyway?" Christy said. "It's a cold night and vodka martinis and Game of Thrones and a cozy fireplace gotta be better than this lonesome place, no?"

"Maybe I needed lonesome."

"Yeah, but why?"

"Hey." She squinted at the girl, trying to get the measure of her. "Does it matter?"

"I'm guessing your guy ain't the gentlest."

"What would you know about that?" As soon as she asked, she noticed the girl's shadowy bruises in the yellow lantern light. Near her neck, on her upper arms.

"Since you asked, I lost my momma when I was real young, and my daddy brung me up, and he was fine at first, even though he was sad. Then he met my step-momma and she was mean and he did nothing to stop her, and when I tried to tell him, he started drinking more and ended up matching her for meanness." She coughed out a laugh, but her gaze was downward and distant. "A story so familiar I got it fully memorized."

"They hurt you?"

"Every way you can prolly imagine." She made eye contact and reached for the bottle.

"Well, I'm sorry for you. And for me. We make a fine pair of sorry strays, don't we?"

"We don't have to."

"Don't have to what?"

"Act like strays. Victims. We can stand up."

"Yeah, if this was a story we'd ride back into town on a white charger and confront our tormentors. Except it isn't a story."

"What if we acted like it was?"

She decided she liked this Christy chick, and they ate crackers and cheese and talked long after the vodka was gone, long into the silence of the night and eventually, like the snow outside, she let herself drift against the wall of the cabin and slept the tentative sleep of the cautiously hopeful.

Dreamed of a riderless bone-white charger and righteous hooves crushing tattooed fists.

When the eastern light began to limn the milky layer of mist in the valley below, she awoke with a start to the keen absence of her new friend in the cabin; newly certain of her solitude, she stepped from the spider gloom into the sharp, icy hush of the fledgling day to feel its cold bright power and to see if Christy had done likewise. She took in everything at once, and her breath caught on the edge of a sudden question, one that led to another, each more chilling. Since there had been no fresh snow in the night, why was there only a single set of footprints leading to the cabin door? And why was she afraid to check the pattern of the soles?

Friday
May202016

Midnight in America

An old man: "Sometimes I think the only important things that happen happen between a woman's legs."

A young woman: "That sounds like something you would think."

"Today I saw a ladybug with no spots. Just a flawless shiny bloodred dome moving on a leaf. It looked more like a machine."

"It is a machine. We're all machines. Soft, wet machines."

"But a female machine. Or we wouldn't call it lady."

"I've never used this word to describe anyone before, as it's the type of word you only hear in movies or read in books, but you're incorrigible."

"Listen, chica. When I was a tiny boy, I believed. I prayed to the big god they told us about in church and in school. I asked that god to help me when I felt sad or lost. I fought in a war and took refuge with a whore, and while I knelt and was tender and attentive, I asked that I become a better lover. I was present when my daughter was born and I asked that same god to make me a good father. I'm an old man now and the final darkness is not too far away, yet I gotta say out loud that I've spent most of my life waiting for anything resembling a response."

"That's a lonely thing."

"You got that right."

"So that's why you're here?"

"Kinda. Why do you want to know? I pay you and I get what I want and then we're done."

"Because it's more than that. I know you. You may be an old bastard, and a cranky one at that, but you're not some anonymous client. I watched you cry that time."

"Fuck that. I was a pussy back then."

"No you weren't."

"Anyway, I thought you said we're all machines. None of this matters, if that's the case."

"Nothing sadder than a sad robot."

"…"

"See? Okay, I gotta ask. Are you depressed?"

"That's a simple question with a complicated answer."

"So answer. I got time."

"Ha. You're a tenacious little cunt, aren't you? But okay. I'll give you the simple version, since you're like a pit bull chewing on a femur and I like that the same way I admire Jack Nicholson's character in that movie with the big Indian. Or perhaps the big Indian himself. Hell yeah, I'm depressed. But I'm no more depressed now than I was last week, last year, last decade. You learn to deal. And some days I deal better than others."

"Tell me more."

"What are you, my therapist?"

"Nah, I'm curious."

"Right. Okay, you wake up in the flat grey morning of a gloomy Sunday. Sometimes that feels like the end of things, other times it feels like it's the low point you might climb out of. Or rise, like that firebird. It's always there, a giant fucking shadow. If you let it, it will drop from above, a tear-soaked canopy, and impede your every step. You won't be able to escape your bed, let alone some mythic fire. But you can't. You can't let it win. You gotta keep finding ways to let the light in. Fill the days with good. Could be a handful of blue M&M's one day, a Warner Bros cartoon the next. Things that are light, and free of that awful weight."

"I never heard you say so many words."

"Well, you asked."

"I did do that."

"I like something else about you. Can you guess what?"

"What?"

"I called you a name earlier and you didn't flinch. In fact, you smiled just a tad." 

"Words are words. Each one has more than one meaning."

"You'd have liked my daughter."

"Past tense?"

"See? You say you know me, but you didn't know that, did you?"

"I'm sorry."

"Yeah, me too. It's alright, I ain't mad at you."

"Why would you be mad at me? For not knowing? Because she's dead?"

"Nah, none of that. No reason at all to be mad at you. I'm a cranky old man, remember? I'm mad at most everyone much of the time."

"It's understandable."

"Ha! Hey, that time you seen me crying? That's why. My daughter. That's the real reason I was bawling like a baby, no matter what bullshit reason I gave at the time."

"Better late than never, I guess."

"Huh?"

"Honesty. Being honest. I'm glad you trust me enough to be honest."

"You're a fucking riot, girl."

"A pun?"

"Not intentional, but it works."

"So you still want to do this thing?"

"Uh-huh. Never been more sure of anything."

"It'll change you."

"I don't doubt that. I'd chew on it more if it was noon or even midafternoon, but I'm far closer to midnight, so it don't matter." 

"Okay. I wish I didn't know you, though. Makes this harder."

"Just let's go in the room and bring in the redneck."

"Alright. Did you pick your implement?"

"Gonna go with a claw hammer."

"How's your swing, gramps? It might take a while…"

"No problem. I want him to suffer. I need to experience this. Being bad, I mean. Evil, even. The last eight years, the Trump presidency, pretty much killed my love for people, especially the miserable fucks that helped him get there. This yahoo properly vetted?"

"Oh yeah. Skinhead past. Swastika tats. Stormfront bona fides. Has a long record of assaults against blacks and gays."

"Good. Let's go spill this hate machine's blood."

"You break my heart, old fella, but you paid your money and this is still America."

"Damn right, girl."