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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 Tales (6)

Friday
Mar032017

Some Dire Indian

Stillness. A lime-green-and-cream fifties model Buick by a lake. Backdropped by a silent bank of conifers, half-lit by a quarter moon. A woman in a headscarf stepping gracefully into a boat. A shadow man taking her hand.

You think you know what's happening here? Well, you don't. 

Back then, we summoned from nothing the possible. We dreamed up heists in our methamphetamine haze and enacted them. Constantly amazed they worked. Purloined heat from frigid matrons. Took what was undoubtedly ours. Dropped slack dumbass bodies into lakes. 

Once, we stopped in the desert, a trunkful of bills, stopped and took off hurtling like gazelles. She was a vision. Her flower print dress clinging to her damp curves, riding high, her thigh sweat like raindrops lashing from a clothesline as she pistoned across the scrub, heedless of snake or cactus or ankle-trap burrow. My crazy mother. High-strung, they said, betraying both their bloodlust and their envy. 

"This isn't the place," I said, once I found my breath.

"Sure it's the place."

"You will get us caught."

"Stop worrying, my sweet, sweet boy. Life is so short. None of this matters. Dance with me here."

So I did. Under a splayed galactic sky, serenaded by the wild desert dogs, amid pinpoints of virescent treachery, I danced with my half-mad mother and felt her core try to scorch the fulsome night.

***

Another customer, another delayed minute before I can cash out and go home. 

We got ourselves a menagerie tonight. Three college boys celebrating somethin' I never figured out, a couple on the verge of breakup or proposal, ain't sure which, two women in them headscarves worn by A-rabs, a goddamned family of six here way past their kids' bedtime. Some dire Indian veteran alone at the bar. Two off-duty cops, a man and a woman (can always smell five-o). A black drifter, the one just came in. The one that spoke right after the bell above the door finished jingling.

"Better ignore me or shoot me, but I got a bad tale to relate." 

***

Here we are. No longer able to tell sadness from meanness. No longer caring to. It might even have mattered once. Remember that visit when you drove from your family's home and one of their tiny marmalade kittens had crawled unbeknownst into your wheel well? Bones no thicker than a quail's. How quickly and immediately it died, a smear on a swatch of the slow-turning world. Ten weeks' worth of wide-eyed warmth cooled in an instant. Yet even thwarted, life won't relent.

***

These eyes have watched a half century of things: melodrama, atrocities, gelato, acceptance, secrets, luminosity, triumph, toxins. No wonder they look weary, weighty as grey velvet curtains draped behind a crime scene.

Why not come to something new with curiosity instead of suspicion? You think jaded is a good look? Sure, have it your way. But only if dead is too. 

***

"Here's my tale. My momma was a good woman. Sure, all a y'all would say the same 'bout your mommas. But mine was 'specially good. Why? Simple. Because she held off a full invasion while being tormented, just to let her kids escape. Ten of us made it, including me ... obviously. Five of them died. Which is why I'm here."

I weren't impressed. Be the first to call myself impatient. "That's it? The whole tale? I cain't even do the doggone math."

"Hell, it ain't ended yet, girl. Open that door. Go take a look outside. You think there's the silent desert out there?"

"Well, sure ain't the Big Apple, if that's what you mean."

Can't explain this, but I wanted to smile right then, like I quit, like I was cryin' uncle, though it gets harder for your face to change as you age. Something about how the muscles lose their pliancy. And I ain't even old. But we all watched as the Indian, who maybe ain't ever smiled, not once, made his slow way to the door, opened it, shrugged, and disappeared into the night. And I mean disappeared. It wasn't just night out there; there was no "out there" out there. Pitch-black; an absence. Don't hardly have the words. Read it in a National Geographic once, about space: the heat death of everything. 

The drifter looked me dead in the eye and then everyone else in the diner: the frat boys, the sand niggers, the lovebirds, the breeders, the law. "Y'all ain't gonna like how this story goes, I'm afraid…"

***

"Quick, tell me a cliché."

"I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired."

"You need to listen to the right songs."

Words spit from the void. We leave our eventual faces as fossils half-gathered by beachcombers distracted by showers of glittering meteors. I loved you from the start, just came to say hello, but now I'm the brokenhearted. Dreaming of escape, pretending you're not a rat and this is no damn sewer. 

And for a second or two, it works.

You walk beneath the land bridge at the shore—a small and timid biped framed by an arch of granite and greenery, half-dreamed into reality by heartache and salt. 

Friday
Mar252016

Nightshade

Her momma had died in childbirth. Her daddy loved her and tried to do the best he could for her, which wasn't much in the way of material things but was plenty good enough in her heart. Her name was Bella and she told folks it was short for Belladonna because she liked how it sounded. 

She learned to sew from a patient old townswoman named Millicent, and made her own dresses out of sackcloth. Down by the creek that usually ran dry in the summer months, Bella caught crawdaddies and hummed to herself for days.

Poor as the dry plains of dirt outside her little town, Bella was a happy child, and like the desert itself, didn't even know she was lonely. Sometimes there were only five or six other students in the single-room schoolhouse she attended when she was able, when her daddy didn't need her for chores. Sometimes she played jump rope with two of them, twin girls named Mary and May, but not too often. There was usually something else she had to do at home.

As the years passed, Bella's face beneath the constant layer of sweat-caked dust grew fair, with a fine jawline and eyes that, pale and without guile, held the innocent promise of love. Her body remained a wisp. Had she met a man of principle and gentle bearing their days would have likely approached fairytale bliss.

But she didn't have much time for any of that, until the boy, the son of another farmhand, told her one day he'd learned about a new trick and would like to do cumulonimbus on her and she'd thought he meant that game where you guess the shapes of clouds. He grabbed her arm and took her in the barn and when he squatted in front of her and lifted the hem of her dress she kicked out at him and shoved him so hard he stumbled backward and a large nail for holding a hackamore had pushed into the soft downy part just beneath the back of his skull and the light, even in the dusk of the barn, had visibly dimmed from his eyes.

No one but her daddy listened to her story and they took her to a foster home someplace with raintrees and mountains where her windows had bars and carpenter ants marched stoically to war over her trembling body each night. She tried praying to God almighty but she soon had the sense he either wasn't listening in the first place or had turned his almighty back on her for good.

They were mean to her. Put spiders in her shoes and spit in her food. She tried to hold on to that kernel of liquid gold she'd always felt in her center, but each passing day made it dim like the eyes of the boy she'd killed, only slower.

Then one day she was grown and they let her out.

Her daddy was older'n he should have been—bent and sad-looking as a lightning-struck mesquite—when Bella approached from the west, her scrawny frame in a threadbare dress, barefoot and silhouetted before a furnace sky.

She saw him shed the last teardrop the sandblasted land had left him with. She wouldn't leave him now, not until he left her through whatever dark portal awaited him, on whichever path. There would be no man for her until then and, thinking this, knowing that night had tried to draw its shade over her all her life, even in this fierce bright place, she felt that ember at her heart begin to rekindle, and found herself content with that.

Friday
Sep042015

Cowgirls Redux

Turns out this is a continuation of an earlier piece (read this first for sense) I wrote fifteen months ago about three women running from the law across a Cormac McCarthy landscape. Very yin and yang. A story demanding to be told? Perhaps. Anyway, here's the sequel, and there might still be more, who knows?

______________________________

The night brought storms unforeseen.

The fugitive women lay more awake than not as the branches whipped like the tails of some wild vermin infestation and rocks cracked and detonated on the cliff face. The rains when they arrived were a deluge, and the tired women chose to saddle up and move on.

They moved north and climbed steadily, hoping to find a track around the bluff to their left. Whichever way they leaned, the stinging rain seemed aimed at them, the three women and their horses, and it was like walking in a dream dreamed by a heartless fabulist. 

"We'll be caught," Ashlyn said into the raw throat of the raging night, and though her companions didn't hear her words, they read her tone and nodded along with the horses, six heads slung low against the gale and dripping with the dark plain's sorrow.

A new companion joined them by the name of hunger and after a while spent ignoring him they eventually stopped to dig in their packs. They ate quickly under the sharp dark arrowheads of rain, then hauled their weighty, saturated bodies onto their stoic mounts and continued plodding north.

"We need a good thing to happen." Clara spoke into the tempest and only her horse seemed to hear her and nodded forlornly in long-suffering agreement.

Ashlyn kept her head down and the relentless gusts snatched at Emilia's breaths.

The sun would be climbing over the eastern rim of the plains soon, but its grand arrival would likely be muted in such a squall. Yet as dejection seemed to move in and make room in their hearts, the world's caprice reasserted itself and the storm was gone in an instant, leaving a stillness more profound than the Anasazi graves over which they trekked.

Something brightened to the east and they thought it the sun.

Emilia spoke. "What the living fu—?"

The women and the horses stopped to comprehend a new thing. The air crackled as if electric gods were toying with their creation. Something huge, like a brain or a jellyfish hung over the prairie. Like a vast gelatinous parasol, orange in the growing dawn, it moved like bloody kelp in the sky, and its red fronds hung below, predatory veils clustered with bluish toxins, great bird traps glowering with menace in the gathering morn. In all the eastern dome of the world, white sheetlightning flashed silent with distance and the little wolves of the plain melted and slunk every which way.

The horses stutter-stepped, skittish as lambs in wolf country, and the women, afraid as they were, soothed them with hushes and touch.

Ashlyn dismounted and spoke first. "It's lightning." 

"Ain't no kind of lightning I ever saw," said Clara.

"Me either, but I remember my momma telling it. She called it a sprite."

Clara looked at her. "Still don't mean a whole lot to me."

"She said it meant a clean slate, a new beginning."

"Old wives' tales?" Emilia laughed nervously.

"Old widows' tales, more like." All three women smiled at that and let the silence wrap itself around them.

The elder god hung in the eastern sky, vast as the dreams of giants, and began to pale as the first sunflash broke the horizon at last.

After a while, Clara said quietly, "Maybe it's that good thing needed to happen."

"Let's keep riding," said Ashlyn.

 

Friday
Jul312015

Turbine Love

Bruised Sky Junction — Michael O'Toole"How did this happen? How did you end up nearly dead on a cold slab, bleeding out hope?"

"You watch her walking away into that mercury heat shimmer, and you start to lose her outline, her hip sway, and you see your heart abandon your chest forever."

The scream of a jet in a cathedral dome. Frozen outposts dreaming of mammalian warmth. The quiet sanctuary of a woman's breasts. The rise and fall of her breath. Boys running on rooftops. A dark ocean gone silent. Desolate acres of shallow graves: the aftermath of massacre. The brief smile of a refugee. Someone waiting for news. What comfort lies in such imaginings?

We enter this room, thrown awry by the greenery alongside the cold, diagrammatic walls, annotated accounts of serial murders, bad dreams curling at their corners, pinpricked, while yellow drafts press their round flesh like thick, dewy petals.

Breathe. Again. You'll need it.

There's a ceiling fan spinning like a galaxy over my head—gut check, head check, jumbo jet—and I await today's first customer in the paltry shade of a giant cactus and a joshua tree while silver orbs dart across the horizon, feigning alienation, dreaming of escape from the sizzling planetary heat, futile, and the surpassingly cool demeanour of a woman throwing shade in a clean white shirt and crow-black pencil skirt and sheer assassin heels who steps poised into the growling lowslung roadster while dry electric arpeggios repeat along street vision fantasies of idealized love, greedy with ancient holes and sucking choirs of lupine need and sound into sandstorm cradles all incensed and drowned by wrath, as those compelled seek skittering arachnid lairs black and glossy as shoes shined by nineteen fifties negro boys, struggling in nests, squirming in holes, while caucasian voices tell one grey slanted side of a tedious and endless tale, clutching authenticity as if entitled, sucking pearl mists of motel ozone from superheated air both blessed and tainted by secret refinery cravings and deep essential sin, grasped by the emerald stem of a sunflower or a late August cornstalk, a harrowing green both yearning and sheathing yellow as it ought to, and we see this and follow it, seeking a trail, while orange detour signs coax us blinking and brokenhearted and sobbing from the interstate through dark unraveling rural tales all hazed with sundown rays and aglow with glimpses of our own possible ruin, take me, feel me, don't lose the spinning thread of our black, shining wreckage, our blighted horror, our love, our hankering, don't you fucking ever.

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."