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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 Lynch (5)

Friday
Sep142018

Juniper Moon

"The beauty of the world which is so soon to perish, has two edges, one of laughter, one of anguish, cutting the heart asunder." — Virginia Woolf

Please allow me to introduce herself.

She is now. She leaks from her own seams. Hilarity. Goodness. 

She is a feral wisp of a child finding herself wakening someplace with pale-peach skies and light-olive foliage and a postcoital volcano smoking beyond a shallow lake, a lone ox lapping at the water’s edge. 

Her voice is redolent of mesquite and burned hope. Her sweat is bottled as holy fragrance. Her throat plays all our favourite songs. 

So pretty. I could never forget your tiny perfect face. My hands form a cup for your lower jaw. To protect you. To save me.

One of us left the house in the early morning, while dawn tried and failed to grasp the day, and the humbled sun rose shamefaced over the land, as our astounding friend grew into her stride and strode away among the green shoots, amid the moaning of doves, utterly alone, completely amazed.

***

They agreed to meet in a pullout off the Coastal Highway, an irony she tried to amuse herself with while she waited on his unpunctual ass. Pullout. Yeah. If he'd pulled out like he said he would, they wouldn't be in this situation. Come to think of it, had his unpunctual ass been as late that evening as it usually was, and still was, she'd have quit on the whole date and, again, the same: none of this would now be happening. She supposed she could play that game all the way back to before she slid from between her mommy's skinny legs: if her dad wasn't an asshole and had never met her mom; if the bust-up between her parents had never happened; if she hadn't been so desperate to meet a boy to help her make her escape from her disintegrating home… but now she was retracing territory she'd already picked over, and these days she tried to stop doing that.

***

Mercury screens, lost highways, atomic tests.

Dr. Seuss draws all of this.

And all of this, let’s face it, is loneliness. 

______

Artwork © Finn Campbell Notman

Friday
Jun022017

A Different World

Are they fields or backdrops? Cornstalks, watercolor hills, the raw faraway throats of the assembling hounds.

You tripped on the edge of a ditch, dressed in your charcoal raiments. Fell to your knees along the rude shoulder of a quiet straight road. When I saw you, my first thought was why a nun would be alone out here in this place of silence, dripping sullied water, palms displayed, mud streaks your only stigmata.

The hunter is coming, with his dogs. 

I am your sister, your twin. I squat in a hovel, barely fed or taken care of. My dirt is in sedimentary layers, marking the eons of my degradation. I was taken from our village, where you and I played in our facsimiles of innocence, and the years passed like sutures in a wound: deep, stinging, sequential.

You are the river that keeps pace, that stays its course through millennia of strata thrusting upward and tells my ancient tale.

"Befouled."

"I'm sorry."

"No, don't apologize. You are far more nun than whore. I am, too, perhaps." 

"My sister, I suspect it's not so stark a choice. But I don't want to dredge the past. I only want to love you and be loved."

"Easier for you to say than me. It is I who has to keep on paying. So many prices."

"What would you have me do?"

"Live my life as if it were yours."

"Is that possible?"

"Of course. Anything we imagine can become real."

"I can be the river instead of the rock?"

"Yes. Yes."

Did you crawl across the ankle-sharp cornstalks, the stunted remnants of our precious crop? Each year we move more soy, more sunflower. Pretty, yet the details become erased, the fine grain of things smoothed. We rip out the milkweed, even its roadside kin, oblivious to everything, the future, Lepidoptera attrition, the ruination of the monarchs. Make of everything a cipher. Too late, we get it. These are way stations we should never ignore. Did you make your escape?

Keep one eye on the distant hunter, an ear on the uncanny hollers and yowls. 

Hey, did you hear? You can get Innis & Gunn on tap in a bar on Government Street. Parliament dissolves into the backdrop of encroaching night, its outline a string of seasonal LEDs. Hot people lovemaking on the darkening lawn. Gawkers and passersby quietly thinning; tetchy draft horses dragging emptying wagons. Seabirds and crows scolding stragglers. The intimate lap of sailboats in this restful harbour. Sketchers and jewel makers disassembling, dismantling, heading for home. Red buses parked for the night. Replicant England folding into its counterfeit footprint. 

The lovers leave sweat outlines like crime scenes. I feel like an implosion. Down by deceptive waters, the frisson of thwarted love.

Where are you, Sheryl, and your prettier sister, Helena? Are you lost in Astral Weeks, listening to glory snared in amber? Bawling over the love that loves to love. The love that loves to love. While the gale howls over fallow fields and flattens the cornstalks. The love that loves to love. Say goodbye to all of that, to Madame George and Boy George and George Michael, and how we hitchhiked ourselves from Miami, FLA, shaved our legs, unfurled our litany of fags and freaks, made it all the way to NYC, hopelessly transformed. 

I offer you Rayne and Paige. The darkest, brightest, maddest, and sanest of twins. 

Or perhaps we should come at this from a different angle first. Picture a young David Lynch with his parents—late nineteen forties, early fifties—while they do business in some musty bank in Spokane or Boise. For a couple seconds, his parents take their eyes off of him and he wanders to the side of the bank where a hefty wooden stand filled with deposit slips hugs the wall. Young David is three or four years old and feels the urge to climb it, so he does exactly that, gripping the raised lip of its edge and trying to pull himself up. An innocent, even delightful moment in midcentury America. Norman Rockwell America. But that innocence is also his and everyone's downfall, in a prelitigious America where some article of furniture is not secured to a wall to prevent what happens here from happening. He hangs from its edge and it tips, and it's fashioned of dense and heavy wood—such good quality back then—so when it falls on him it crushes his throat and neck almost instantly. Thus one family enters the dark garden of grief, and thus the world is deprived of Eraserhead and Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks and Mulholland Drive. On such random pegs such despondent coats hang.

But again. Twins. Rayne was told he was a boy and Paige a girl. Or was it the other way round? They spent decades in conflict with the world on something this elemental. Were you ever told your eyes were blue when you knew they were chestnut? That the world is flat when you endlessly sail its arcing horizons. Paige rained rage on all and Rayne filled pages with wrath, until they wrangled the word and then bent the world to their will and became Pain and Rage, brand new transgender superheroes for a world still not ready. Non-binary twins, a paradox.

"Did you see the man?"

"Last night was so quiet. Did something happen?"

"Nothing happened. The dismal man walked by."

"I want to live in a different world. One in which the dismal man doesn't walk by."

"He was holding something in his right hand."

"Holding what?"

"Something."

"I want to live in a world where the dismal man isn't holding something."

Someone faraway is firing up power tools, and the last ever dog bays doleful, and a deep threnody resounds from the mouth of a cave like the world's final jeremiad. A man screams, "You don't know me!" and runs into a busy street while dousing himself with gasoline and flicking a Zippo. Two women emerge from a shallow lagoon and mutilate each other with the shells of razor clams. A baby dies alone on a soiled mattress. Worlds are annihilated by a supernova. 

The hunter has arrived, and his eyes are screaming. 

"I want to live in a different world."

Friday
Jan292016

The Nowheres

A couple times each month, he'd drive out from the city to what he called the Nowheres, a flat, unremarkable piece of the rural Midwest, and pay for two nights, sometimes three, in a nondescript motel somewhere off the beaten track, thirty bucks a night or thereabouts. Sometimes he'd bring along a fifth of cheap bourbon, and other times he'd find a bar nearby and drink steadily and methodically, speaking only to the bartender before hiking unsteadily back to the motel on dark and mostly silent county roads.

He never told the few friends he had in the city what his purpose was, what he did out there in the Nowheres while Lucinda, Shelby, and Patty emptied their abandoned, melancholy hearts on a jukebox at the bar or on a cheap boombox in his room, in time with the ebb and flow of the Wild Turkey he tipped and swallowed without joy. He never told a single soul that he came out to the Nowheres to get drunk and write shit down—not any old shit, but the kind you needed to get out or it burrowed into your dark places like a soft, blind thing and over time became hard, mean, and cancerous.

Something about the lingering sunsets. The sudden stillness. Crepuscular rays spotlighting barns, grain elevators, corn patches, painting them briefly gold. Streaks of byzantium, coral, and vermillion like fever-dream inlets separating dark cloud archipelagos, ushered slowly westward into the flat horizon by the gentle darkness.

Like it or not—and sometimes he truly did—this was his country, on some level he barely understood.

This night, he crossed the gravel parking lot of the basic two-story L-shaped motel, looked up at the sign, the neon in one of the letters long leaked away: Mote. Because it was a mote, and he was a mote, and all the people and cattle and corn and fields were motes of inconsequential dust under the stars, which were also motes, but made of brightness. Beneath that sign, a smaller one, also broken: acancy, which sort of made him laugh. These lonely visits sure felt like acancies, even though he knew that wasn't a word.

Other nights, after dark, he would look up at that same sky, in which a few stars trembled between the dark reefs of cloud that scudded furtive like the decamped souls of everyone who'd once pined and then died of some related strain of sorrow in this wide and disregarded place.

Traffic on the distant interstate was usually a muffled commotion that sounded like the landscape dreaming fitful dreams, but the railroad was closer, and when he heard the familiar abandoned rattle and moan of a passing train, his mind went to dirt and rust and peeling paint, went to sleeplessness and silent entreaties to sellout gods, went to shrieks and sparks and graffiti, and unquenchable longing. Went to her. His momma. Went to that day—and every day since—she'd turned off most of the light in his world by up and leaving. He'd been perhaps eight when he watched her slip away in the night, heard her quiet sobs until a night freight had blared and clattered by, stamping its larger grief on their smaller one, erasing theirs so no one even noticed it. No one but him. Those days, passing like ghost trains, each boxcar filled with ever more solitude. Those days when he couldn't possibly blame her. Those days when he blamed her with a savage, perilous heat.

The pages he filled with longhand he'd sometimes set light to over the john, make of them black flurries, tiny apocalyptic storms, other times would tuck behind heating or air-conditioning units, slide into gaps in the fake wood paneling, under mattresses, or tear in tiny pieces while he cried raw tears. His memories made into words. Mostly of his momma but sometimes of his papa too. He still missed her; and less often, his papa too, god help him. He could keep on missing that sonofabitch forever, though, as he was never coming back from whatever sorry hell he'd volunteered for by finally swallowing the muzzle of a military-issue Beretta M9.

He knew he couldn't do this forever. The coming of the interstates had proved a slow and lingering extinction event for the era of these motor courts, and this—whatever this was—wouldn't work the same way in some Comfort Inn or Motel 6. Take this place—thirty-two units and only three vehicles parked out front. Always, always an acancy.

Back in the motel, room 27 on the second floor, where the two wings of the L join, he hit play and grabbed a notepad and pen, while Lucinda sang about some farmhouse out a ways and how she didn't want no one to come find her if she strayed, and his whole breath hitched. He felt strange, like he was smaller and more scared, remembering his fear of the dark and of the lightning bugs that lit the dark, believing they were the souls of demons who'd lost their way to hell. More Wild Turkey and he began to write like the little boy version of himself was watching over his shoulder and giving him tips.

"Papa was meaner'n a yard mutt, but he never took his belt to me. He managed a kind of meanness you'd have to study for at some school of evil, if such a place existed. I know Momma left 'cause a him, an p'raps he did take his belt more'n once to her, or worse, but never to me. When he was real drunk he'd threaten to hang hisself from the rafters in the barn, or go lay down on the railroad tracks, or some variety of same. It sure got tiresome. But one day might as well stand in for all the days, he told me to follow him out to the barn, and I didn't want to, but I knew things would only go sideways quicker if I said no. He sat on a hay bale and looked at me funny. He always looked at me funny, but this were a different kind of funny, like he didn't really see me but someone else: maybe God or Jesus or some loan officer whose name he cussed on a regular basis. He was so drunk he was swayin' slightly. He slurred, too, which was unusual as he had a high capacity for the rotgut he liked to drown hisself with. 'Son,' he said, 'go bring me the shotgun.' I stood still. I didn't want to do such a thing, given the tenor of his usual threats. He looked at me out of one eye, the other closed as if even the dusty murk of the barn was too much light for him. 'I said, go git me the shotgun or there'll be hell to pay.' Far as I could see, there already was hell to pay, no matter my part in all this, so after thinking about running and hoping he'd forget when he sobered up and then quickly abandoning that plan soon as I remembered I'd seen lightnin' bugs out there earlier, I went to the tackle room and grabbed the old Winchester pump-action 12 gauge, trying not to think about what hell charged. When he seen me with it in my arms, like an altar boy bringing the priest the host, his face twisted into something unrecognizable. 'Son, you'd bring a man fixin' to end it all a goddamn fuckin' weapon? Not jes' any man, neither, but your own kin?' I had no words. I jes' stood there and took it. 'You some kind of cold-blooded monster, boy?' He stared for what felt like a whole day, and I closed my eyes and didn't answer. I didn't have no answer. Then he stood and without another glance in my direction went back to the house and to bed. While I stayed in the darkness of the barn, eyes still closed, and trembling."

He was trembling now, sometimes felt like he'd been trying to get halfway warm again for twenty-some years ever since, so he got up, put on a fleece jacket, and went out on the balcony for air. The night was quiet and cool. His pickup sat in a pool of light, as if the heavens were beaming him a message.

Then he had a dream.

A road-scarred nineties-model Corolla pulled up beside his truck and she got out the driver's side. It was her; he had no doubt. Older, sadder-looking, dressed in black denim, but his momma. She didn't see him right away, but when she finally looked up he waited for a reaction but saw little of anything at all in her dark Spanish eyes.

"Mister, could you help me here?" she said.

He swallowed and couldn't make his voice work.

She opened the rear door of her Toyota and started dragging out something dark.

"Mister? Please? I hate to ask, but I think I twanged something in my back last night, and I jes' need to get this into room"—she dug out a key and squinted at it—"eleven. Room 11."

"Oh sure, ma'am. Be right down."

That bare bulb was still spotlighting their two vehicles like they were on some ethereal backlot in a movie by David Lynch. This couldn't be real, but he played along and took the nearby stairs to ground level. He wanted so badly to embrace her, to hold her, to bury his face in her cool dark hair now shot with strands of gray the color of heartbreak. When he recognized the object in the backseat as a guitar case, he felt like crying. Damn. She still played.

"You a musician?" he asked.

"You might say as I am, but it don't exactly pay the bills."

He recalled her thin but melodious singing voice and the early months of her learning to play, helping her string her thrift-store guitar and figure out how to tune it, grasping at chord shapes and building calluses, and how those were about the only happy memories he had from back then, before the light had gone out, before the music had quite literally died.

Turned out room 11 was directly below his. He carried her guitar and placed it on the bed.

"You're a sweet man," she said. "You gonna be around tomorrow night?"

"Uh, maybe, sure."

"Well, you are or you ain't, but if you are, I'm playing at The Busted Flush on Route 40, a couple miles east of here, and you're welcome to come hear me. Ain't no Patsy Cline but I know my way around a few good tunes."

"I might just do that, ma'am."

"You're a polite boy. I like that." She smiled briefly, then looked troubled for a moment, then let the veil fall again.

He wanted to scream at her, tell her in no uncertain terms who he was, rail at her for her betrayal, plead with her to come back, beseech her for her love, but none of that felt right, somehow. He was no longer a boy and this had to play out the way it decided to play out. Let her find his scraps, even if she was a dream; let him follow her spore, even if it weren't.

Some believe each moment splits into many versions of itself, that we live so many different lives in so many possible worlds. If so, did he hook up with his mother, as appalling as that sounds, or did he go watch her play in a bar and get involved in a fatal confrontation after some drunk asshole heckled her, or did he do neither and return to the city and his shadow life there? Did he live all these things and more? Possibly. Better still, was his story really her story, and did she find his notes in a series of nondescript rooms over weeks and even months and piece together his identity and movements until she could pinpoint him, find him, try to make it up to him? That's good, too.

But in this world it appears he returned to his room, to his sad caucasian girls and his fragments of memory, to stale air and worse decor, where he picked up the Beretta that had killed his papa, knowing why he'd kept it but afraid all the same, and he listened to another freight train run its ragged fingernails down the grainy backdrop of the Midwestern night, and he pounded more Wild Turkey while the reedy sounds of a phantom woman singing country tunes a floor below nearly drove him mad, out in the Nowheres, out where no one else came.

Saturday
Mar012014

4. to 1. A Broken Girl to Girls A-Broken

1. Martyrs  

Okay, everyone who mentioned this film over the last few weeks I posted this list on Facebook, please go get tested for psychic abilities, as it was always perched at the summit long before anyone suggested it, I swear. Again, as with plenty of the French extreme stuff, femininity is a theme. As well as (female) suffering. But it's not what you'd expect. It's decidedly modern, almost Tarantino-esque in its jumpy, nonlinear plot, eschews genre conventions in similar ways to Wheatley's Kill List, yet it's also damn near medieval in its cruelty. In an odd, full-circle way that certainly wasn't intended, it shares some themes with the movie that opened my list, not least the human capacity to endure or perversely even welcome pain, but it will surprise you more than once, and undeniably sicken you in ways you'll take weeks to recover from. So, you've been warned. 

And that said, we've reached the end, in more ways than one. Uh, can I say it's been a slice, or would that be crass? 

2. The Vanishing (Spoorloos)  

Now, I haven't seen the US remake with Jeff Bridges, so can't speak to that, but I'm talking the Dutch-French original from 1988. I can't really say too much, as this film is especially vulnerable to spoilers—and if I were you I'd stop reading here if you haven't seen it, yet intend to—but I only caught this gem quite recently and was shocked into an almost catatonic, open-mouthed silence by its deceptively placid, undemonstrative tone that leads so inexorably toward one of the coldest, bleakest, and most unforgettably harrowing conclusions I've had the misfortune to endure. (Also, um, Courtney Love lookalike, it has to be said!) 

3. Mulholland Dr.  

To me Lynch may not be perceived as a horror director, but most of his films contain exactly what I look for from the genre: deep, unsettling dread, nightmare moments of inexplicably surreal intensity and, at their heart, a girl (or boy) in trouble. This one is definitely about a girl, though. And very much in trouble. There's a distressing tension between the demands of Hollywood and the objectification of feminine beauty (ironically, Naomi Watts and Laura Harring are pretty much perfect in their deceptively layered and oppositional roles). I could outline my interpretation of the plot here, but it doesn't matter: you need to watch it first, at least once, before entertaining even the hope of unraveling it. Sure, that's part of the fun; it's a puzzle box of a film, but more crucially, the pure foreboding subcurrent of terror underlying this unfurling tragedy has to be experienced in all its visceral yet quiet magnificence. You'll never taste espresso the same way again. Or think of smiling elderly couples as cute. Or have any frame of reference for Billy Ray Cyrus whatsoever. I'll resist ending with the word "silencio." Oops. 

4. May  

This list's most recent theme has been femininity. Not necessarily feminism, although it could be. These final entries confirm something for me: that in order to be truly effective, the horror genre must encompass and acknowledge and even own its propensity for sexism before the possibility of moving past this particularly thorny problem has even a chance.

Anyway, I'd be hard pressed to name another movie that's as equally endearing as it is offputting, thanks to director Lucky McKee. It's a cracked Victorian attic of a film, wrenchingly sad yet somehow managing to max out the creep factor too. It also comes closest to breaking my no-humour rule for this list, but by the end, all that quirkiness is decidedly not funny when we realise where May is taking us. And as stellar as everyone else involved is, a great deal of the credit must go to Angela Bettis for her performance in the title role, one that will break your heart while simultaneously unsettling your stomach. Think Frankenstein meets Carrie. And then let your decidedly sick imagination run wild and free.

This scene is pretty much perfect.

Friday
Jan242014

24. to 21. Faux Real to Surreal

21. Eraserhead  

More Lynch and perhaps more obviously horror than the last entry. But also surreal, not to mention darkly and disturbingly sexually repressed. Actually, there is no other film quite like Eraserhead, which is perhaps a mercy. Bleak, industrial, helpless, it depicts our forced (or chosen?) passivity in a world that wants to grind us into nothing. Well, okay, that's just one interpretation. Others centre on the fears new parents try desperately to suppress of their diseased, deformed, unviable, unenviable progeny. Low level industrial sounds vie throughout with the constant and often maddening mewling of the pitiful offspring who lies wrapped and helpless within what appear to be filthy, infected bandages that could only hasten its end. Basically, it's an unnerving, extended nightmare—in the words of one critic: "human reproduction as a desolate freak show." 

22. Inland Empire  

Wait, you say, Lynch? Really? Yes, to me, David Keith Lynch is one of our leading horror directors. He is the master of nameless dread, of the ostensibly mundane looming suddenly beyond terrifying. Now, I love Lynch, and though I still think this film is bloated and even self-indulgent in places, and could certainly use a diet (hey, anyone else notice how diet and edit are anagrams?), its moments of pure, inarticulate fear are peerless and shocking. Nightmarish in every sense. Existential sitcoms in which the characters are large, anthropomorphized rabbits. Laura Dern, a woman in trouble. Harrowing and sad Hollywood street scenes featuring embedded screwdrivers and discussions about bus schedules. Plus, anyway, how often have you been able to enjoy a roomful of extremely ordinary and likeable hookers dancing to "The Locomotion"? Okay, don't answer that. 

23. À l'intérieur (Inside)  

Wow. I mentioned French extreme stuff earlier, and this is a perfect example. Brutal violence and genuine terror done with style. Seriously, this (ostensibly) home invasion film is gory as hell and is steeped in Cronenbergian body-horror, taking home invasion to its logical and dismayingly intimate conclusions. It's truly relentless and please, non-horror fans, all the warnings you'd expect apply to this one, even the trailer. Gruesome and beautiful and there seems to be an ever-present femininity to these French films that's often lacking elsewhere in the genre—not necessarily feminist, but certainly not content to bring suffering upon womankind without some kind of an accounting. Plus, Béatrice Dalle. I repeat: Béatrice Dalle.

24. The Blair Witch Project  

Another divisive film. Some feel it wasn't even particularly scary, but I disagree. The low-key slow-build to one of the creepiest endings in any film ever was worth it for me (I still shudder when I think of it, as it reminds me of actual nightmares I've had, so this shit's personal, yo). Yes, even the annoying, leaky-nostriled Heather character was kind of essential to how all the various strands led to that one urban legend shocker of a moment. Besides, Blair Witch reignited the whole "found footage" concept that had burst into life with the infamous Cannibal Holocaust twenty years earlier, only to go oddly underexploited ever since. In a world filled to the brim with the likes of Paranormal Activity, Cloverfield, V/H/S, etc, that's hard to believe. But it's true, I tells ya.

If you're one of those rare types who haven't seen it (I feel you. I watched Titanic for the first time ten years after all the hype had died down and it was a'ight), don't even dream of watching this clip.