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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 flash fiction (83)

Friday
Jul292016

And They Need No Candle

Like everything was prechoreographed, the barroom exploded.

Notice the anomalies. The flickering eyes and tapping feet. The man in the Donnie Darko hoodie on a steaming afternoon. A bitter taste lurking right behind the sweet. The quiet dry sand after the tide draws too far out. The flights of silent birds darkening an August sky. The nod toward the man near the exit. A cough that goes too long. The movement of animals.

***

Who am I? That's a simple question with an answer that might take a year to relate. No doubt there's a short version but I ain't ever found it. Okay, here, how 'bout this? I am an auteur. A black hole. A universe swirls inside me, and can't ever escape.

Last time I seen you I just got done telling your dumb ass about how it might behoove you to dial down the attitude in the workplace. Instead of listenin', it was easier for you to rant and call me a bitch and then ghost me like Caspar. He a scared little white boy too, and prolly sweeter. If your only weapon's social media, you already lost, bro-heem. Guess you never saw me sharpening my teeth on your wheel rims. Nah. Your days are numbered like scripture; one day you gonna get to Revelation (22:1–5). But save your prayers and your hymns; I ain't itching for ya. Planning me some primetime mayhem.

Like that barroom. A few strategic words whispered in a few disparate ears, conjugate humanity's secret verbs, program the drone to hack someone's iPhone, mix up sounds like iOS and IRS, watch while the tall skinny taxman brains the Venetian duchess. Ciao bella, indeed. Watch the dominoes fall. Dodge the blood and glass. Mind the step and keep off the grass.

Wannabe soldier? You a full metal jackass.

Other day I sunk five Bellinis while my homegirl tripped balls 'bout nothin. I tuned her out and soared to peach heaven on sparkling clouds of white wine. That shit has pedigree. Named from an Eye-talian painter. When I came back to earth she was gone. Took me a week to find her sorry, self-pitying behind and another week to decide to help her outta her misery. Old school hands around the throat, feeling that hyoid give way, the collapse of her trachea, and the tiny spreading capillaries in the whites of her full-moon eyes. The tattoo of her heels. For the sake of her dignity, I even tried to pretend I didn't enjoy it. 

"I'm sure in her you'll find the sanctuary."

The anomalies come faster now. We runnin' outta time, yo, I can feel it over my event horizon. Nebular menstrual cramps, dark attractors. Let me say now I loved you, boo, and still do. It ain't personal. It's nature. The animals know. They always know. This is how the world ends. Not with the mange but distemper.

Friday
Jun242016

Balance Beam

He enjoyed whispering rumours of doom on long flights. Insinuating himself into the sphere of a fellow passenger's trust, wearing his skin of bland congeniality so well he began to believe it himself, then telling them what he'd overheard from a flight attendant, about how the captain had swallowed a fish bone and, while clutching at his throat, had knocked an instrument setting askew that no one noticed until the first officer finally did so, before immediately realizing that their unwitting detour across half the Pacific meant they no longer had enough fuel for a landing at any airport, and that they'd have to ditch in the ocean, which almost always augured catastrophic loss of life. He would select a young mother to whisper this to, a weary twentysomething whose toddler had finally, mercifully, succumbed to sleep. Or a nervous old lady. Or a half-drunk and angry middle-aged white man, who'd invariably make it about him and his entitled self-pity, provoking a full-blown tantrum that would be infectious throughout the cabin, providing endless entertainment far funnier than the inflight movie.

Although he could never laugh, not on the outside.

When they always landed and people looked at him accusingly, with oddly hurt and—strangest of all—disappointed expressions, he'd shrug and say, "Must have misheard. Could have sworn that's what they said."

Sometimes he would embellish it further, reveling in the unfolding story and its implications: The copilot noticed but pretended not to, and when it was discovered, he declared "Allahu Akbar!" at which the senior flight attendant fainted. A cadre of mice that had been onboard as property of a multinational pharmaceutical company, in the process of being transferred between a research laboratory in San Diego and an experimental facility in Kobe, had escaped their defective crate and chewed through enough wiring that all the hydraulics were lost and the slightest turbulence would soon send them plummeting like a doomed lance into a calm and glassy ocean that might as well be adamantium.

He once told an unaccompanied young passenger, all of thirteen years old, dark of feature and tiny of frame, that he was an undercover air marshal and had discovered a plot by ecoterrorists to make of their fossil-fuel-guzzling flight an example, by remotely shutting down each engine in turn until the United Nations agreed to outlaw all the oil trade on earth, and she had begun to cry silently until her grief and terror had built like late afternoon thunderheads and no one could console her or get any sense from her, and she'd had to be sedated and then hospitalized once they'd landed.

Because they always landed. 

***

She never landed. A decade of perfect run-ups, mounts, and layout full twists on the balance beam, only for the landing to fail. 

Yet she kept loving. Loving it all. Believing in the idea of perfection and the dedication of her coach and her fellow gymnasts. And the cruel man she didn't know, yet dreamed of every night. The man who whispered appalling things to defenceless souls so he could fondle their terror. The man who fed on dread and drank dismay. 

This charming man. She knew one day she'd get it right.

***

A dream. He was lying on a cloud, smoking a Cuban cigar. A coyote and a crow were having a heated conversation about the chemical makeup of Pluto's great heart plain. He laughed and they both turned to him and said, "You'll wish you hadn't done that."

"Whatever," he answered, and drew in a lungful of smoke that was bitter and hot and made him cough.

"You need to stick the landing," a female voice whispered in his ear, but he saw no one. The coyote and the crow were gone. Just a single balance beam, shimmering, impossibly narrow and infinitely patient.

He mounted, teetered and lurched a couple of times, attempted a routine, did okay. But he couldn't dismount. He was too afraid of the landing. He closed his eyes, told himself nothing could go wrong in a dream, that it didn't matter. Just jump and hope. But he stayed frozen, his heart drumming like a hummingbird orgy in his chest, his lungs shrivelled in the rarefied air. Then the cloud disappeared and he was falling at last.

***

When he opened his eyes, he thought at first the cloud was back, the dream was back, but it took a moment to realize the cabin was gauzy with smoke. He inhaled an acrid electric reek. Then he registered the screaming. Saw the flight attendants wet-faced and inconsolable, clutching rosaries, totems, talismans. Felt his entire lower guts shift with the slow stirrings of true terror.

A man nearby, in a voice tremulous with sorrow, said, "My daughter's wedding is next month. I can't miss it…"

He scrambled to the window, saw the fire flapping like oily orange rags from the engine, the impossible cant of the horizon.

And for the first time in the few minutes left of his life he embraced terror and found within his core something small but bright, something that hummed an unheard frequency, while his wretched human moans mingled with those of his fellow passengers and were entirely indistinguishable.

Friday
May062016

The World Now

A road is an inevitability.

We traveled through the night and came back to the coast and a morning sky like God's mint breath. It was always going to be the ocean, that leviathan swell, gusted whitecaps, brightness glancing off the sound so dazzling you fear for your retinas.

This is the world now.

The cabins are still here. They were already being reclaimed by the insatiable life of the world even before all the bad stuff happened; rough cedar stairways and tortuous narrow boardwalks in creeper chokeholds, drifted corners of sand and lozenges of coloured glass, dry grey siding more bone than wood. Wood's spirit shadow. And inside, the permeating musk of old furniture, a leaky kitchen tap, ocean scene paintings as sun- and salt-bleached as the driftwood they depict.

We find one empty. You kick off your shoes, step to the small balcony, watch a resolute phalanx of ants on the railing. You turn and gift me a half-smile and I return its other half.

"Let's open that wine," I say.

"First, a shower, even if the water's cold."

"It will be. But we got plenty of time now, to fix things. There are others here. People like us."

I'm thinking generators. Solar power. Friendships. Things we almost gave up on as we trekked west and saw what we saw.

I listen to the water cascade and imagine you naked, the water skeining over your skin, your head back. Always your head back. Your solemn eyes half-closed. My love for you is a lighthouse to keep you safe, cooling rain on a sultry August night, the high blip of a beacon in the silent roar of space. 

I open the wine and get a start on you. I know you'll be mad when you see that, but I don't care—there'll be more wine. You'll wrinkle your nose, make a dismissive gesture with one hand, then find your way back to happy in the blink of a lamb's tail.

Roads are righteous things. Even cracked and overgrown. Without them, we might never have found our way back here. We are the hot red cells in the arteries of the world. We were once the virus, or at least its carrier, but no more. We will atone.

Suddenly you are here in the room with me and you scowl. I try not to smile and I pass you the bottle, which you take and upend. Still naked and dripping, you look delicate as a suckling fawn.

"Did I tell you about my last dream?" you ask, after slaking your thirst.

"No."

"It was bad. Worst one yet. Even been dreaming awake."

I know better than to dismiss these dreams. Throughout, I've believed in you and we're still here. That's enough for me.

"They'll get better from here on in," I say. No more plague doctors. No more patient vultures. No more carnage. No more children coughing out their viscera in a mass grave. No. Welcome to the debridement. The healing surf will thread tendrils of hope through those dark landscapes, my divine Cassandra.

Things might have faded, but we'll bring colour back, just watch us.

This is the world now. But it doesn't have to be.

Friday
Apr222016

Green

I came here to investigate your disappearance. Now I can't leave.

There'd been some kind of terrible storm along the eastern seaboard and it had raged its way across the North Atlantic and was about to inflict the dirge-black swan song of its wrath on the Emerald Isle.

Why I chose that moment to head for this one place, I'll never understand. Maybe Greta was right and I do have that death wish she always smelled on me, that vintage eau de cadaver.

My memories are like a desert canyon, undermined by years of slow erosion, revealed only to crumble. Only things I remember between Heathrow and here are a painted gypsy wagon and a halfway likeable mule. A dream of fuchsia hedges and narrow lanes. A couple baggies of weed, a blend, though more sativa than indica. The beginning of the rains felt like nothing. This is Ireland, County Kerry. When does it not rain?

You must have had a reason to run away. That or you'd been stolen. And truth be told, my motives were murky as the Irish Sea in the oily, churning, briny history of that leaden ferry. Goddamn, I always hated loose ends.

Remember Denny, how he smiled all the time and largely for that I could never trust him? Turns out I was wrong and Denny was solid gold. Too late now he's hightailed it back to Kidney Stone, Arkansas, or whichever buttfuck town he started from. Told us he was getting tired. Only he pronounced it more like tarred. I truly miss that smiling sonofabitch. I picture him tarred even now, spitting soft white feathers and grinning like he won the Alabama state lottery. Or was it Arizona?

No matter. We're no nearer the answer, me reminiscing like this.

I arrived, unsullied love stoking my heart's malfunctioning engine. A middle-aged dude with blameless intentions, yet a gawky kid whose pistons still stuttered, in some way I can't quite fathom or describe. I wanted to find you and help you. I know I did.

So, daytime, this place was paradise, almost suspiciously perfect, I swear to God. Hell, no need to even swear: God shoulda known it, since he allegedly fucking made it. A cold clean prattling cobalt stream winding its patient way amid mossy shoulders of land, steep gray crags soaring beyond this emerald valley floor, with its dry stone bridges, its gentle boulders, easy greens and grades, sheep so billowy white you suspect shenanigans. The Gap of Dunloe, it's called. If anyone ever reads this scrawl, look it up. Follow the reedy moans of the phantom pipes. Pretty sure it's near Killarney. 

Which is pretty much the place the storm made landfall. The precise moment I knew in my stammering core I'd find you, the yowling wall of wind and rain hit. One point, a woman in a home built of the very stone that tent-pegged the terrain and warmed by the peat gouged right from the dark loam floor, flung open her door and ushered me in and poured a pint of honey-sweetened Jamesons, bitter dark roast, and thick double cream down my throat. She laughed when I tried to pay her. Slapped me hard when I insisted. Kicked me out for good when I flashed American dollars. Hell, don't judge: I thought the Irish loved green.

So I reentered the shrieking premature night and was instantly drenched and made deaf by the sorrowing howl of untold centuries of horror: the raven on Cúchulainn's shoulder, the passing of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the Easter Rising, Bloody Sunday. I turned to you and said, "I know you're close, my love. This has been more worth it than I could ever have hoped." And you looked like you might answer until you blinked away the torrent that waterfalled your brows and then you blinked away your whole self, to leave me the one blinking, because I was alone.

Which is when I glimpsed the chapel behind the cauls of rain, hunched and low-key in the backdrop of the downpour, a lap dog half-pondering a growl.

Inside were people, not a one over thirty, making muddy coffee on camping stoves. They'd moved some of the pews to make a rough circle, and most sat either on them or within their confines. I saw no priest. I began to write these words, until you noticed me and screamed to rival the storm outside.

"He's the one I told you about!" you shrieked. "The one who did those things."

"But I came such a long way to find you, girl." 

"Don't you come near me!"

And that's when I notice the circle has tightened and I'm looking into the close, placid faces of a dozen or more backpacking folk—bearded and north-faced; flanneled, unmoored, and barely bonded—all gripping sharpened hunting steel now they've placed their enamelware mugs on the scuffed hardwood floor, curiosity eclipsing malice in their blind and somber eyes, yet not a shade less terrifying.

Friday
Apr152016

Of Moths and Monsters

Once she got it in her head, she couldn't shake it. Monsters. Sex was an ambush and drugs were lame; hunting for monsters seemed a better prospect than either. 

Of a night, she'd purloin a semiautomatic pistol from the gun safe in the basement—having a cop for a dad had that perk at least—and go hang out behind the Walmart parking lot, down in the scrubland near the river. Or over by the skateboard park, beside the wharf. Anyplace with deep enough shadows. She lived in a town that floated on dirty rainbow water, its reflection swaying like a deranged mother rocking the corpse of an infant.

When the monsters came—and they always came, as they had done so even in the asylum of her home, the sanctuary of her bedroom—she would make it all right again.

Tonight, an older boy kept eyeing her even as she tried to blend into spindly bushes so laden with late-summer soot they were more brown than green. The dark waters of the wide river sent brief warm breezes ashore that tasted in her mouth and nose like lukewarm decay. The boy was a skater and the spill of hair over his face still couldn't hide his gimlet stare.

"What you doin' down here, home girl?"

She ignored him. Spit on the dirty ground. Wondered if—hoped, even—he might turn out to be a monster.

"This no place for a shawty."

"I ain't a kid."

An urban coyote yipped a sudden sharp thought from the other side of the oily waters. Between them, a dark barge slipped soundlessly by, a silent apparition. River spirits passing between scant gutterings of life.

"Wanna see something'?" the boy said.

Her hand went to her waistband and the boy watched and nodded like he knew. He came closer and she tried to send out a warning but she froze. He was standing below a streetlamp from whose dome emanated an orange mist more sodium haze than any true kind of light. He held his skateboard in front of him like an oblation.

"'Sokay," he said. "Lookit. Move into the light."

She did as he said. Stared at the wooden board. Its surface was filled with shifting graffiti, textured and swirling, in which she saw a land made of slate and purple rhododendrons, watched auroras dance over breaching pods of orca, left her body to cavort with forest dryads in a spore-filled sunlit clearing, flew impossible distances across a black howl to taste the ice mountains of Pluto.

She felt too naked so she came back to herself, though she mostly didn't want to.

"What the fuck…?"

"Told you it was okay."

It had to be a trick, but she couldn't fathom it.

"How?" she asked.

"You see what you see, is all. What you need to see. And it's a'ight, shawty. You oughta get on home now. Lock up that nine, yo."

She felt the need to thank him, but he was gone as if he'd never been there at all, and only moths moved in the weak canted light.

Nothing to do but go home. Funny, but she sensed she could handle this. Somehow the monsters had all up and left and, while relief filled many of her hollows, something about that still disappointed her.