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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 Desert (4)

Wednesday
Jan162019

Then

That’s it, I’m leaving. The road is spread before me, wide up close and narrowing ahead, ruined by its history, and I move into its sex trap scope, an ingenue. When last it rained here’s measurable in years, and the dry old asphalt’s cracking and clumped and dusted with skeins of sand. Drifting. Downcast as a virgin, I step forward again, glance into the cracks, halfway breathe along the narrowing arid lines of perspective. 

No other lives or moves here. The brutal sun itself is cataracted. No winds breathe.

However crumbled, like ancient cheese, I love the yellow lines that remain. Tell myself that treading them will break the long-gone backs of so many of my kin. I miss them. Kinfolk, signs. I miss those childhood rhymes. I miss the rampant trees of then. I miss such succulence. I miss so many things.

This town consists of scattered homes, squat as toads though drier and more dead, a dimmed red light askew and hanging like a shrunk albino grape and optic nerve, bone-dry jackstraw corpses strewn beyond. Nothing for me here. Nothing for anyone here, including God and her wide-eyed antic crew. 

I focus on chewing my own hangnails, tearing with my loosened teeth my raw, torn cuticles. The consumed flesh of my fingers recedes like long-ebbed tides from a dying bay. My nails are black, my scalp alive with vitriolic things that compel urgency. 

Maddened, I lope. 

Feet raw and wrapped in bloody cloth. I won’t even look at my feet unswathed; like something lame and lurching, that way lies limp surrender.

Movement on my left, amid the dying scrub, the blue-grey sage, the burned and skeletal mesquite.

Coyote. 

She’s following my halting steps and glancing right. I glance right back.

Speak risible words into the rising heat: “I’m proud to share with you this leg of our fruitless odyssey, my slat-ribbed sister.”

She looks away but stays with me, snout sleek as a pocket blade, bleak and colorless eyes a-shimmering.

Ten years ago we might have contravened some fabricated line in a mound of imported sand, some feeble wall of rusted slats. She didn’t care then, and she can’t care now. Her offspring gone through violence, she shadows me in this inferno desert, loping between parched stumps, if only because we’re the only two things alive we both can sense. 

Attachment. Linkage. Fusion.

Left like an unraveled arm, once knitted, now forlorn. 

The feminine a last unlikely want. Yet still a want, a wish. A loveliness, the opposite of scorn; an artless, candid, bleached and blasted ache.

Friday
Nov062015

Fallstreak

It's like one of those dreams where you can't wake up.

"Wake up," you said.

I remember the day rolling away from the roof of the world, like a demoralized guest curling toward the wall, and how the darkness made everything shimmery, grainy, and animate.

"Forget it. Go to sleep," you said.

That winter the winds whistled no human tune. Just an oscillating galactic plainsong. Like abandoned sheets on the flinch of a rise, all fluttering and sullied in a dirty howling wind.

"Meet me one day at the crossroads," you said.

Recall how this was once a place of brightness and strangeness? Target and Walmart and Rite Aid. Boulevards. Rust and stardust. Corrugated iron. Cherry blossom. Cascades. Brick facades. Ferries departing the point. Knots of people gathered outside Starbucks, warmed by a patio heater in winter, by mochaccinos always, and by the arbitrary camaraderie of belonging.

That's all memory now. Here is not here anymore. I had no answer for you anyway.

Except this: "You mean all things to me."

But the dreams. They used to call it post-trauma. I don't want to give it its dignity by naming it fully. It encumbers me. The dreams are part of being awake, or as close to being awake that you're unable to tell the difference. And it's whatever your chosen fear, your trigger. They arrive in pairs. Fluctuate. Could be a small fire breaking out and a scream. Or the brittle shock of shattering glass and a moan. Disbelief and the blurry grind and shred of tumbling asphalt. The hot proximity of a biting human reek, then wrenching tears. Or the feel of rubber or hair or oil or watery, seeping hangnails. It's usually specific and crawly and lost.

To gather myself, I remember a night horse named Blondie. A winter horse. Escaping the horror of family, I would cross the frozen ridges of soil beside the dark barn and talk to that horse, rant at him, stand in the crystalline air beside his paddock, leaning on the railing, my nostrils crackling in the cold, the draw backdropped by a bright moon, my entire world ghosted, and make peace with him, watch his large luxuriant eye as it sought some gentle kinship of its own. 

But that was the world that was, and this is the world that is. No return. I only torment myself with thoughts like these.

You are out there somewhere. At the crossroads.

"At the crossroads. You follow me, yes?"

Murmurations. That's the word. Those twisting, flowing skeins against an orange sky. A fluid net of birds. Starlings. Practicing molten turbulence over the stark ruins of a blackened pier. These were things that occurred in the world.

I want to follow you.

America: you are a generous and optimistic place. Where else would carpet the outdoor stairway of a motel? Carve monuments from sheer cliffs? Serve food on such lavish platters in your cheapest diners?

I love you. I loved you. I will love you.

The sun loses its perfect circular rim and bulges into the horizon, while grey clouds become dark lavender and muted pink against a pale coral sky. All is melting and breathless.

Some memory conjures the reassuring call of a train from another era and I feel a tear fall.

Will you burst through a cloud? Emerge. Like a sprite in a fallstreak hole?

I sit by a roadside and watch a creature, some misshapen rodent thing, drag itself across the blacktop. Its rear limbs are shattered and skewed and blood pours from the tiny holes in its snout. One of its eyes is ruined, and it snuffles like something plague-begotten. A trail of blood and sand points back toward the creature's tale, untold and star-crossed. Its suffering is fascinating. But relieving it of the burden of life is a tenderhearted thing, so I stand, find a large rock, and attend to its leave-taking. Pity almost stops my heart, although not my hand.

"Will you be waiting for me, my love?"

There's only the wind across the bare desert and the single cry of a hawk.

My gaze on the heat mirage, I walk toward the crossroads.

Friday
May292015

War Child

Across the desert, we chased a twisting inferno to a dry village, a beige settlement without breath. From its crumbled perimeter, it seemed empty of life, everything the colour of sand, except for a lone figure up ahead a ways.

When we got close we could see she was a young girl in a torn and bloody dress, faded apricot, her thin arms embracing a pockmarked boulder the shape of a broken yellow tooth (all colour here the ghost of colour, except red).

At first she shied and wouldn't speak; then after three days, she did nothing but.

She said: "War come storming from the hills, and we wunt ready, and my ma is gone now. I dont mean dead, but she am or she amnit, an now we hear her cry in them same hills of a night, dusk while dawn."

And later: "Fetching water, I sees two soldiers on the dust trail, and they was full a angry talk, but later I saw a third walking aside them, had on a dirty hood, couldnt tell if a man nor a woman, and the fighting men growed quieter like they was thinkin'."

And then: "Big sounds far off like bad weather, but up close the worst men took us from our loves." 

Right then, a rooster burst from some hidden place, loud tawny feathers blurring against grainy fawn. A great cry erupted from the throat of the sky, dry brutal thunder without rain. Lightning scratched the horizon like indecipherable runes.

But we needed answers, so I kept asking.

I admit, at some point I grabbed her by the wrists and was rough with her, aggravated by her strange recalcitrance. She was all noise, no signal; all heat, no light. Children can be infuriating, the way they filter everything, turning routine horror into some passive, ineffectual fantasy while cold reality churns on regardless, relentless. People, including the children themselves, can be torn limbless while we wait for the young to tell their ersatz truths.

We asked her where everyone else was, demanded she tell us when the soldiers had left and where they were headed. She looked at us, her brows arched with skepticism, and her scrawny frame trembled like aftershocks in the brown and naked hills.

Narrow-eyed, she continued: "Theyre still here. All a them. Silly men. Dont you hear the screams?"

Saturday
Jun142014

The Smell of Neglect

He pulled into the dusty two-pump gas station and diner combo, as lonely a place as you'll ever see, the desert heat like the torrid breath of a febrile god.

He only wanted a break from the endless miles of asphalt, a coffee, and a few moments of stillness.

The flyblown thing had been following him for some time now; he thought he'd shaken it most recently back in Carthage, Missouri, when he'd ditched the rental and hopped a freight like a vagabond from a distant time, a grainier time, and worked his way west. And maybe he had… although he doubted it. Even his current ride was long-ago stolen, plates switched, serial numbers filed off. Untraceable. And let's face it, he suspected the thing used other methods than a paper trail. But he'd tried other tricks, too, and they hadn't worked. Had even crossed the northern border, until the mutilated bodies had shown up inside that dark and peeling Saskatchewan grain elevator, and he'd seen the gaping horror on the faces of the eyeless corpses under Nunavut ice.

The guilt was becoming unbearable. Wherever the thing dragged its stinking carcass, people died, and died horribly. Mutilated, dismembered, eviscerated.

Not only that, but it was only those times it caught him up that it set about its butchery with gusto. What the hell was it? And why him? Far as he could tell he was some sort of catalyst for the thing, a reluctant enabler. Yet that made little sense. He was nobody; simply a man trying to outrun his own story. He had only caught glimpses of it, himself; saw some vaguely humanlike buffalo thing, bipedal by occasional choice, shaggy and matted, and showing little distinction between head and torso. A knobby block of imbalanced meat and bone on muscular legs. And it reeked like some hidden back alley in New Orleans choked with rancid offal during the dog days of August. Stifling, loathsome, wretched. And cruel.

The man dreamed it most nights now, in fact. Him on his back, the bison thing drooling tendrils of blood and pus, loops of gore, howling its rage-sorrow while a rain of maggots big as soft albino olives spattered his face. However else it might be described, it was something built for murder, wrought for mayhem, shaped for bedlam. Its aim wasn't merely killing, but the utmost administration of pain. Not enough that its victims died but that they experienced gouged eyes, severed tendons, slowly shattered bones.

He parked and headed for the diner. Stopped for a moment and raised his head, tested the air, sniffed dust, heat, gasoline, neglect. 

Found a booth inside that squeaked on his back as he took a seat.

"Coffee. Strong and black."

"Coming up."

The man gave her a nearly imperceptible nod, yet she seemed to catch it anyway.

"Some hard miles, fella?"

"Uh-huh."

"Well, we serve the best coffee in more than a hunnerd miles of here, so you jus' sit and enjoy."

He noticed her exquisite, singular Spanish beauty and damn near leered but checked himself. No use getting attached at this late stage. Not to no one, not even the world's beauties.

The window was painted with dirt, smeared bugs, and decades of scratches, and looked out on the empty highway in either direction. A range of dark burgundy mountains a long ways off broke up the otherwise steady horizon. Tawny layers of dust covered most things, unless those things were passing through. And even then. An ancient Airstream was filling up at the rusty old pumps, reflecting painful sunflashes. A dog with milky eyes, scarred and limping, crossed from the other side of the highway toward them. The entire world seemed ruined, birdless, and dying. Lonely as goddamnit, all of it.

The man rested his head on his arms on the plastic tablecloth. Red and white check, ketchup and mayonnaise, blood and cum. So weary. He needed to sleep. But how could he sleep? How could he ever sleep again? And yet, how could he not sleep? He wondered if this was it, whether he was at last caught, right here in this hot and dusty nowhere. If so, it could have been far worse, he knew it.

When she brought the steaming coffee at last, he looked up at the sultry waitress, who seemed to flinch at whatever she thought she saw in his gritty, grainy eyes. Tried to back off, even. But she heard him, alright, and heard him good.

"Thank you, missy. Sorry to say, but there's something' comin' outta the east you all ain't gonna like."