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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 (83)

Friday
Apr242015

Heist

He woke and looked up into a husky's eye cerulean sky and saw only the long fingertip of a conifer, upraised as if to call some temporary halt. Fir? Spruce? He wished he'd learned the names of trees and sought out secret things. But what was stopping him? He lay on his back, warmth on his face. The flat scaly leaves of the tree—cedar? Yes, he thought so—were moving strangely, waving and undulating as if underwater. Was this the ocean? Not unless he'd grown gills; he felt and could see his chest rising and falling, and the warmth had to be the sun.

There was a strange ticking echo, like tiny pebbles trickling down a mountainside, then the music of water as if from a small fountain, and a faint spray. This was a peaceful place. A Tibetan sanctuary. A Japanese garden.

So why did he feel so odd? Like winter's ice was breaking into the hot vault of summer.

A red bird sang in the topmost branches of the tree. Why did he not know the names of birds? What was wrong with him? He'd never heard a bird with such a deep song, as if it were being played at the wrong speed.

There was something wrong with his eyes. He thought of his photo editing tool and the words edge blur came to him; the bird was flying now and he could see each crimson feather—cardinal?—but the tree to one side was bleary, clouding.

He thought of random things: carjackings, jade figurines, terraced riverbanks, lotus flowers, a woman's hands, beach kelp, heart murmurs, spreadsheets, Viking funerals, hammerheads, fretless bass riffs, smoky suburban nights, two fingers of Laphroaig in a tulip-shaped glass.

Another sound now. Familiar. Rhythmic. Shoes on pavement; people running. Running toward him. Again, he felt that chill and closed his eyes as if, like a child, he could never be seen if he could no longer see. But he could hear, and the owners of those urgent feet were nearby now, pulling up after running hard, and he smelled trauma, a hot ferric tang.

A woman screamed then.

And, in the sluggish voice of a fairytale troll, a man said, "Oh my fucking god, don't move him."

Someone moaned appallingly, and he realized it was him.

Friday
Feb062015

Je Reviens

There was a moment as they climbed the logging road when Max thought they were in trouble. They had rounded another corner when Jasper hunkered in confrontation and bristled and growled with excess zeal. Max stopped and squinted, his heart jackhammering past normal exertion, eyes fixed on the twisted, gnarled stump beside the road up ahead. For that was all it was. Not a black bear. Especially not a murdered hiker. Just a storm-blasted old stump.

His released breath was all the border collie needed to also relax, and the two companions continued their hike over the loose, broken shale logging road that switchbacked all the way to the mountain's summit. Although it felt like midsummer heat still, it was in fact late morning on the day after Labour Day, and as a consequence he'd barely seen another person since they'd parked the Jeep a couple hours earlier, down in the rainforest shade. His boots and his dog's paws kicked up the sweet, dusty berry scent of a late Canadian summer. 

Max was hot. His water bottle was below halfway, already tasting like lukewarm sweat, and he knew Jasper was possibly more thirsty than he was. He decided to keep going to the next large twist in the road, a good distance up ahead but clearly in the cooling shade of a stand of cedars, after which he'd make a call about continuing.

They trudged on, the gradient climbing, everything blasted and bare. Jasper, his blacks and whites blurring into greys, slunk wary and busy. Max too stayed on high alert, watching all things. Bone dry coyote shit like scorched braids. Faded du Maurier filters. A gleaming black corvid feather beside a rusted can of Molson Canadian. Spent and flattened shotgun casings. All light-peppered with the dust of a parched season. A tiny infant forest sprouting from the descending incline to their right, baby spruce and fir like hopeful stubble on an ailing face. Beyond, the hazy valley entire, with its veiny, shimmering roads, swayback barns and bright pastures, its silt-gagged sloughs and cedar-shingle roofs, tree farms and dikes, and all the women, horses, crows, coyotes, men, bears, cats, otters, children, chickens, dogs, rats, cougars, goats, geese, raccoons, and cattle that made of this flood-prone land at least a temporary home.

Reaching the shade and breathing heavily, Max knew he'd already made the decision. There'd be no great vistas today, no panoramic views of the faraway delta and distant Pacific and its scattered and sparkling island jewels. Sad, but there would be other days; the summit could wait. No, he'd underestimated the sheer fatigue factor of this early September scorcher, and needed to head back the way he'd come, find shade and water.

Laughing out loud, he yelled, "Not today, Jasper, old friend!" then was immediately chagrined by his note of hysteria in so muted and lonesome a place. Jasper sat quietly panting, accepting of all outcomes.

Out of nowhere, Max recalled the stupid fight he'd had with Becky earlier, and how, if he got into trouble here, she'd likely be as indisposed to help him as she'd ever been. He hadn't even told her his destination. Dumb. Despite the heat, his skin rippled with the chill waves of portent. The gist of their blowup was already trivial: something about a landlord, a truck, a cord of beech wood, and a conversation they both agreed needed to happen.

Labour Day. He thought about that. Only yesterday, his peers and neighbours had been up here, dirt biking and shooting, swimming and four wheeling, making a holy hellacious racket and leaving their thoughtless scraps and heedless scars across a big and tolerant land. Never seemed right to him that on account of our bigger brains we had carte blanche to make the deepest gouge. But yeah. Labour Day. He heard a story not long after he arrived in Milltown Falls about another Labour Day long ago, back in maybe the seventies or some other sepia-washed time. A town gives up its secrets in small parcels, usually, so this particular one Max had garnered from various local folk, yet mostly distilled by a gaunt, cadaverous man named Swampman Jacques in the Fisherman's Catch pub one night, down by the big river.

Like so many tragedies, it had begun as a joke. Everyone was gathered on the southern shore of Devil's Lake, and partying had commenced in earnest. One or two groups sparked up joints, a couple forty-pounders were cracked open and, at some point late on a clear galactic night, someone decided that releasing the parking brake in a camper would be a laugh riot. Short version: it wasn't. Two passed-out teenagers slipped into the lake that night, right around midnight, and never came home. Witnesses claimed to have heard the underwater screams and even what might have been clawing sounds as the van dropped into the depths. Yet even the cops knew it hadn't been done out of malice, and while the victims' families could never fully quiet their outraged grief, most of the town circled the wagons and left it alone in terms of blame, chalking it off to dumb adolescent idiocy.

Although the victims themselves were less sanguine. Legends were built on swimmers who felt the pull of the restless dead beneath a surface suddenly flyblown, about hikers who glimmered then darkened from existence, fell off the world's radar, soon after passing the turnoff for the lake.

Have you ever taken a dip in Devil's Lake? If so, can you recall how warm it felt when you stepped along its shoreline shallows, your feet growing sore on flinty grey quartzite, your torso soft and frail as you waded into its hotspring heat? Was your dog there too? Did you register the infernal drone of the deer fly before you ducked your head and breaststroked toward the centre of this shadowed lake? Mostly to escape the damnable fly? Held your breath only to meet the same winged demon, who'd waited, who hadn't for a second been fooled. While your dog plunged in, his earnest smiling head bobbing toward you, to save you, since that was his only ever job, to make you safe as a lamb. There's a point where your lower torso feels like it belongs to another creature, where the warm surface smile turns instantly to cold rage, somewhere near your heart, and your dangling parts sense their imminent uncoupling.

Local legends be damned. Max was feverish with the day's heat and his own exertion, his skin streaked with riverscapes of silt drawn from dust and sweat, and as his hot, dry boots had crunched their way down the logging road, the legendary chill of the lake had become a siren for him. When he reached it near midday, it was deserted. And silent. A diving raft lay still at its centre. As he waded in, he felt a note of disquiet when Jasper balked and whined, but it was brief, and soon the collie had overcome his rare hesitance and joined his companion, both making for the raft in the middle of the lake. Forested, almost sheer slopes rose on all sides; abysmal, umbral, in defiance of a bright hot day, only the shallowest of membranes managed to absorb the smallest daubs of warmth. The cold below that surface was anesthetic, immobilizing. Max kicked out and Jasper still whined occasionally, his limbs pistoning overtime to keep up.

A moment before they reached the platform, Max felt something brush his leg. A fish? He instinctively recoiled but felt the same whispery touch on his other leg. He stopped swimming, trod water, and looked down. What he saw almost stopped his heart: a white grasping limb and, attached to it, further down in the depths, a silent screaming face. The limb's icy fingers grasped his ankle. Insanely, in the temporal dilation of trauma, Max could clearly see a watch on the wrist of that terrible pale limb, one of those old watches that used to play "The Yellow Rose of Texas" every hour on the hour, and God save him, but he thought he could hear that song now, so weak and watery, with the watch face showing 12:00, and the cold iron grip of the bleached and slime-covered hand was pulling him down into the endless dark and now Jasper was snarling and launching his sleek body below the surface and frenziedly biting the thing that assailed his master, and Max tried to help, he did, but the cold had him now, and he wondered why he could no longer see the light of the surface, and whether he had fallen asleep by the shore, and this was all a… 

***

It was the appalling howling dog that had alerted them. Even before they rounded the corner, hidden by stands of dark silent fir and red alder, their hackles rose at the sound, both strangely aware that whatever awaited them here would likely dwell forever in nightmares yet to come. Reaching the lake shore almost reluctantly, their every instinct urging them to go home, leave now and phone this in, they stopped and stared.

A naked man lay on the rocky shore, clearly dead. Bloated and bluish, his corpse was a latticework of lacerations. Bizarrely, he was encircled by a tree limb—what appeared to be a twisted branch of white birch—and even more perplexingly, someone had placed an old-style watch around one end of it. But worse still was the dog and the sounds it made—like all the loss of the world distilled into a late summer lakeshore snapshot; the sound of eternal sorrowing. Between howls, it would lower its head, and they saw that its muzzle still dripped with fresh blood. The boys backed away, watching that baying creature as they did so, and long after the emergency people had come and gone, had asked their serious questions and swabbed and scrubbed away the scene in a way memory never could, the two boys agreed on one thing in particular—that up until that grim and awful day they'd neither seen nor heard of such a thing as a pure white border collie.

Friday
Jan162015

Conviction

What did they say about the girl who died? That she was pretty? Delicate of face yet hardy of soul? That she sometimes lisped when excitement took her. That she was bright as a star cluster? That now and again she laughed riotously like a mule? No, they said she was a "beloved treasure." How could they mourn the death of something in which they themselves saw no life? Death itself has no meaning for a "treasure." You might as well speak of a broken clock. They are imbeciles.

She was alive and imbued with that fierce need only the best of us have, a need to experience it all. More so than me, her palest of shadows. Before I took all that away, robbed her of life and, worse, the world of her, she lit that world wherever she stepped, no matter how drear its corners, how dismal its recesses.

Before we heard about the storm heading our way, suspicions were starting to cloud my horizons. Something not quite right. Or worse, wrong right through. I could detail those things if I wanted to exonerate myself, but I sure don't want to do that at this juncture, maybe not ever.

Our place sat on a flood plain in a small north-south valley surrounded on three sides by thickly conifered mountains. At the south end, a vast east-west alluvial valley lay perpendicular to it. When at last the storm arrived, I was out by the woodshed, splitting birch stovelengths with an axe. A great gale was building, and since it was moving eastward, riding the pineapple express from some squally, cyclonic Pacific locus, our valley was safeguarded, sequestered.

Yet that gale had a voice. It made me drop tools and climb up to the deck so I could look to the main valley, and see if what was making that hellacious sound was something towering, wretched, and living. All I could see was a deep traumatic and carnal red roiling below the dark brow of the world, black and dire banners of cloud torn along in the wake of an apocalypse. And it howled. Like there were two levels to it—a prolonged shriek of something in mortal terror above that unabating roar of rage. The hair on my forearms stood spiky as the silhouetted firs on the ridge to my left. It felt ceaseless yet also final, the last sound we might ever hear in this or any other world, harrowing its way through eternity.

I went inside. She was doing something quiet in an alcove off of the kitchen, some kind of needlework, and I stood over her.

"You hear that infernal sound?"

She squinted at me, a puzzled look on that precious face, said nothing.

"You telling me you don't hear that?" I was exasperated. How could she ignore that doomsday shriek?

"Hear what, hon?"

I started to answer, but an awful realization hit me: she couldn't hear it because this was already the sound inside her pretty head; she heard this on constant, terrible, heavy rotation. I turned on my heel and went outside again, that great clamour crawling around my neck and shoulders like a shawl made of serpents, and, with ample time to think, retrieved my axe, returned to the house, and buried that pitted blade in her skull. She died with disbelief on her face. 

Here's the thing, though. Maybe I expected her head to discharge some vile green fluids, or spark and fizz like some midway sideshow, but all I saw was something runny like warm egg white, plenty of red, and a slow greyish-pink ooze. No other secrets. No wiring. No implants.

The 911 dispatcher could barely hear me over the raging fusillade.

Here's another thing, and it's damn near a kneeslapper: I now have vast and lonely stretches of time in which to contemplate my own impulsive certainty on a day I believed the world—with all its recessed corners, its mountainous tempests and everything I feared, seethed at, and treasured—was about to end.

Friday
Dec262014

Blind

He woke under a sky that was a puzzlement. No immense swan soared across that black night, no northern sigil of a messianic creed, nor even the great why of Cassiopeia. Orion's flapping sheet had sailed on or, worse, was yet to sail.

He wished for clouds. Ghost-white shoals to make of the night a cataract to blind itself to the strangeness of this antic new void.

On the iron desert pan writhed a manshape of sorts, wreathed in a bloodcaul, seeming to search for purchase in a world without currency. Blind. Uterine. Forsaken. Articulated limbs and joints or things less wonted yet, angular as imperatives, stretched the wet sac in sundry places, and whatever sought its birth here mewled appallingly. 

Nothing had to become, no positing need quicken, even at this late juncture.

He scanned the makeshift ground for a weapon. Finding none he followed the bloodtrails of the blind pups into the hills so as to dispatch them between bootheel and the igneous floor, their sad soft heads compliant under his implacable decree.

Returning he kneeled and bared his teeth to midwife the abomination, a mad satire of a doula a-squat on this cracked unyielding earth.

It fought its way into a lifespan curtailed, its face mostly mouth, its lunar eyes sightless. It was devoid of the skin necessary for the bufferment of the world's pain and it shrieked like an ice age wind howling through a low brake, and even the mountain wolves were dumbfounded into silence.

It climbed unsteady to a semblance of upright, still screaming.

The man stood on the sneering lip of the world, clasped the thing's dripping hand, and together they plummeted toward the dry, rough, upraised palms of an indifferent giant.

*

"… of this popular Southwestern tourist attraction. It seems the man had some kind of psychotic break, causing him to blind and mutilate his wife of thirteen years—the latter in ways we can't describe on television—before completing a murder-suicide the full five hundred feet to the canyon floor. Police continue to search for the tragic couple's two young children. I'm Ramsey Farris and this is WTAF News, Arizona."

Friday
Dec192014

Delivered

There are a thousand ways to walk a road. I picked this one. Judge me when I reach the end of mine. 

There's a universe in every abandoned lot, every weed patch, all derelict things. Go deeper. Go deeper.

We dreamed of a universe that dreamed us first.

She laughs at me when I cry. And rightly so. This is wretched comedy not noble tragedy, slapstick not cataclysm. I should know better. Like hers, my road is crooked, has wound through thorns, thickets, prairies, caverns, and starfields. We have seen some things; some we rendered unto Caesar, some we stomped into pulp while we danced.

Yes, the tornado loves you. Yes, we drank moonshine out of cracked mason jars, somewhere outside of Baton Rouge, in a flat black El Camino. Yes, we smelled the trees rotting. Heard the pitiful whimpers of ruined children. Picked through the ooze of the world, its loathsome glue. Watched them scrape fetuses into ziplock bags. Cried forsaken uterine prayers at the world's drab rim. Fucked until we forgot ourselves. 

Your iris a limned nebula encircling a black hole. Mars isn't the red planet. Earth is. Drenched in blood from the primordial brawl onward, its deceptively placid unblinking eye in the tenebrous void the subterfuge of a demiurge.

How far from yesterday? Too far? Go now. Go. Write that reptilian western, that larval horrortale. Hear the cries of the interstate off-ramps, each one distinct as the lamentations of Jeremiah. Feel the scalding dark arterial blood spraying from my tear ducts.

We're not mad. How can we be? We've done all this together, again and again, felt bug-crawl sands squirm between our splayed fingers and twitching legs. If I am mad then she is too. We've traveled a billion parsecs trapped inside the pungent lurching atrium of a monster's heart, a living sarsen so ancient Stonehenge weeps in shame and the big bang itself is chastened and goes forever silent.

I hold her tender face and search those nebular eyes, feel myself pulled toward her event horizon, and I care not. The vacuum can take me, the nullity enjoy its empty triumph.

"What was it all for? Was it a dream?"

"No, all that's passed was a nightmare. This, this is a dream."

"And tomorrow?"

"A wish. A vision. A maybe. A probably not."

Her climb is up, and so is mine. Her moon's limb is coughed into rock salt. What can you obliterate for relief from this? Whose throat can you tear from its hot bubbling strings? Wherefore rage? Why do we continue laughing like a jester whose court is no more, whose joke runs far beyond its own flat and desolate punchline?