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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 horror (21)

Friday
Nov022018

Something Bad

“These dangers arrive quickly, just like death” — Marina Abramovic

Loss is a thing that once strayed and now lurches haltingly westward. It shuns its own footprints, ignores the dry dirty blizzard of its shedding skin, stifles with a great grey trembling paw its own desolate cries.

Don’t ever ignore what we were: combatants, companions. Custodians of conundrums. Siblings of stealth. Cryptic co-sponsors in a game without rules. Comrades. Compañeros.

The blue velvet night, the aquarium night, draws itself back for the raw abraded morning. Infected. Throbbing. Pulsing with ill-health. Gauze in a motel window still as a shroud, something lurking and medical.

The dawning truth of last night’s Chinese food scattered like a crime scene: sickly cardboard, spilled noodles, the scarlet provocation of congealed sweet-sour sauce, that fortune cookie message I thought I tossed in the trash. “Something bad is headed your way.” You ever see a fortune like that before? Yeah, me either.

The day struggles to wake, and off to the west gaunt towers of fine steel bone blink red for the airplanes like hangovers. Things no longer welcomed but necessary.

Me. You. Boy. Girl. Mojave jawline, Death Valley confluence.

Trucks pass on the interstate, insensate and tidal.

Why’d you leave? Who was the last to breathe? Why can’t I erase the name Melanie even from my dreams?

Fragments of words catch on the sodium lights, flame out, fall, all your breathless, dismal confessionals. Every confab obliterated, refashioned. I can fake amnesia better than anyone. Fake it until it’s real, so I never have to see the arc of a hunting knife flinging a bloodmist, can never hear the ragged shriek of someone who manages to track, to apprehend, without ever intending to, the lurker now wearing their own dreadful face.

Those ominous, luminous words: “Don’t leave me.” About as terrible as any three words could be. 

Deathly. Dancin’ with the ones that brung us. Let me walk you out soon. Come close and say it. What are the ardent things within us that cleave so hard to all this?

Later that evening, I hear a girl singing, comin’ around the corner. I mean barely singing. Tracing the edge of some abandoned tune while the sun skulks lower in a cardiac sky. All those reds returning to blue, the lowered pulse of the industrial night, the ceaseless, remorseless turn of the earth.

Right when I think I’ll see her, the world blinks like a giant eye, and I don’t see her.

I don’t ever see her.

 

Saturday
Aug042018

Ghost Birds

What have we here? A field in England. Absent colour or anything defining.

Wait. Sound of a bird, a two-syllable scream. Could mostly be anything. Hear it? The monochrome ghost of a lapwing.

Unveiled, the razor stubble underfoot, foreground to a copse. Ploughed lines littered with fallen crows. Black-pepper dead things and mud, well seasoned. Botched black ops. Othered.

Oh, this is it. Here. The land of nowhere. It's grey, and in that grey another grey partitioned.

Separate this. Memorize it. Long gone, the caws of crows are a haunted echo of here.

No one survived. Not you. Not me.

Caravans in a lacklustre grid, arranged on causeways, flavourless as barroom eels in watery aspic.

This is a sort of ending.


***


"You remember that summer?"

"I do."

"How do you know which summer I meant?"

"I guessed."

"Huh. You were so splendid. And those luscious hills!"


***


Programmed, the night train plies its loop, though nothing living enters or leaves. Entropy will win out, but for now emptiness goddesses its route. Sparks shower lost highways, accidental angels on agnostic tableaux.

Tell me I am lost. Read me a story, Mama. Warn me against the aroma of risen bread. Against tricksters and temptresses. Fresh ground Arabian beans and newly cut grass.

Next? Will I triumph? I barely even exist.


***


"How is any of this right?"

"It isn't."

"Then…?"

"There ain't no then."

"But…"

"Enough. We won't ever answer this."


***


Each season speaks its maddening tale. This glass, this pane, is but a sliver cleaving air.

No glass can separate our lust. Air is blent blank comfort bathing everything.

Armies approach. Still the empty sunless skies hover like dismal apparitions over barren fields. The sound of clanking armour barely registers. All is ashen subdued terror.

Your champion's enticed into a tent, his low guts cut and unwound as he's sent into the dreary afternoon. Sent away screaming, watching his own steaming innards unspool between his feet.


***


Our quiet road angles its way beyond the town, arcing when it needs to, straight beside the black waters of the river, an extended jawbone savouring asphalt taste, seeking salt. Keep on driving. Maybe it will all resolve itself. Make sense. No one else pretends to even share this space. Silent wrecks litter the ditches. This once vibrant seat is ever more bloodless.

Cormorants bow and dip in the reeking shallows, flex their pitiless cauls, persevere and stretch and swallow, such drab unlovely priests.

Where did you go? Did you abandon us on purpose? Is this what it is now? Will any of us be spared?

Probably no. And you? Probably don't follow.

Saturday
May192018

Attend to All the Tales

© Jame T. McArdleBright. So many thoughts and moments gusted like wrappings on the shoulder of a highway in the wake of a thousand passing trucks. 

(Those boxes of books, like steps. Like buildings.)

This was the time when he fell partway down an embankment and came to rest within a meter of a passing freight whose sparks on the tight steel curve burned new tattoos into his arms, and he crawled back to a semblance of a man and climbed his way up into a bright morning in some western city and started to walk. 

(Cascading guts, some kind of release.)

Girlfriend sported metal in her septum, navel, and clitoris; she raged about as much as she laughed, which made her more than tolerable. She left her nipples unmolested thanks to unexpected motherhood. Answer this. Is rank, dire poverty ever fine? It's awkward and wrong and it hurts. We lived a good half-lifetime raising kids inside a house that seemed like kids themselves had drawn it. Some rooms were sketched in plaster and lath. We could break them open and let our yearnings out, considered that sustainable.

(Staircase built from words. Librarian meets architect.)

She was a target of my new approach, my sense that facts rode shotgun to the rest of things. Slunk fast and slick beyond the fury boiled in femininity. Distilled. Clean water from myriad shed tears.

Which makes rage.

We clashed impossibly within the town she called her temporary home, me having drove (I having driven) a weeklong trail, blessed and uninformed, oblivious to the sirens, the insect scratch and clamber of pursuit, the unspooling horizon behind.

(Language itself will abandon us.)

Our unique wine released by spigots, dark oak barrels creaking in dusty dim cellars while bloodred gouts spooled into buckets made from human skin.

It's emerald. Agate. Hematite. Some geode. Maybe let's meet at noon, after the shaded herds are teased, before we climb the brightest trail again, orient ourselves to up again. The woman I know, the woman I knew, would never kowtow to any of this. She lifted herself in segments above the fray, arched her aggregated vertebrae, a silent arc assemblage like a dim makeshift rainbow made of female.

(Friendship. Why so hard to get right?)

In secret, against a desert wind that pushed her words back down her throat, she said this: "Pass me a margarita, Papi. I lust for and loathe Mexicana. My bleached American guts see nothing but banalities. Cholos, cholas. Stupid boys and girls. Stupid drama. Estúpida. That scar? That's where they cut the baby out of me. Tráfico? Sí. Please yourself and crave the Caribbean sprinter, that liquid effortless longshanks, my forgotten hope, mi esperanza."

(Climb and reach the top. And gasp.) 

Accept my sculpted facial hair and gray skull toques. This impotent clench. Where is death? She leered at me the best part of a decade ago, but nowhere since have I glimpsed her foolproof perversity. No doubt she waits. Tawny grasses shimmer, silos dance, a shifting flutter of fata morganas. Broad daylight. Hawk tails, catamounts, latrans, ragged busted fence lines. Shadow things lope and glimmer. Ranks of afternoon sunflowers wagging dreamlike faces hour upon hour. Time to branch out. Maggie runs the place up on the hill; please, let's join her. Tiny black flies. A donkey brays. Sunrays spread between the slats.

(Look. Listen. Attend to all the tales.) 

May you never misplace the romance of the world. The glorious weight of its glamour. The sheer ferocity of its ardor. May its plucked strings accompany your heart's arpeggio forever. 

Saturday
Apr282018

Personal Attorney

The Man

When the ocean vomited him onto the beach, himself vomiting brine, there came a great wind rushing through the palms on the cusp of the jungle, making them twist in an agony of ecstasy.

The same cruel funnel of cloud that had left him shipless now drove the trees to flex and dance against their will. Vast phantoms reared up from the beach and sandblasted his eyes, and he cried out and staggered. Blinking, he turned seaward and saw only more approaching storms, great thirsting probosces of some terrible parched sky-thing intent on drinking the sea entire.

The sounds of the trees in the winds and the turbulent surf and the lashing skeins of rain were like the end of something halfway lamented. Flapping limbs of palm were torn away to sail like spurned beseechments toward some inarticulate doom.

Materials from what had once been his sailboat—pieces of fiberglass hull, part of an antique wooden porthole, and bizarrely, the keyboard half of a laptop—were flung upon the shore in random fusillades.

His clothes were mostly gone, a series of ragged strips on his bloody skin, but he didn't discard these sorry remnants, retaining enough wits to consider them at least minimal insurance against the eventual heat of a reemergent sun.

The tempest felt endless. His choice: endure the raw salt excoriation of the sands, or head away from the beach and risk blunt force violence from a freshly liberated branch amid the foliage. He chose the latter, found a hollow by a rock, covered his head with his arms, and waited out the bombardment.

Squatting there, he thought about his predicament. Assuming the storm would pass without further injury to his person, he knew this was a remote island far from any regular shipping lanes. Its fecundity augured well, in that fresh water must surely be accessible. He considered possible food sources… coconuts… fish… until a moment came when he realized the march of cyclones had passed and a strange still silence had closed in.

He stood. Like a deer alert to hunters, he balanced on shaky legs and took in the subtle currents and eddies of the suddenly quiet air. His neck crawled with the visceral sensation only prey animals know. He was being watched. Of that he was almost certain.

Then he heard it. The song of a woman, coming from the adjacent beach. Having slowed in the new silence, his quickening heart rate returned, only this time with hope not terror, and, imagining paradise, he began to walk in the direction of the songstress.

The Women

They were two, both women, and they were beachcombing in the wake of this latest storm, one of the pair singing a melancholy song that recalled her childhood far away, in a land whose name now sounded strange, before this catastrophe had left them stranded. They separated so as to cover a larger area more quickly and sang to each other across the distance. Every now and again, one would hear a sound from the breathing greenery beyond the beach and stop and straighten her back and listen, before bending again and singing once more, in clear fragile tones. 

In makeshift hessian slings across their naked shoulders and chests, they carried firewood, bowl-like shells, other detritus from the ocean they gauged might be useful. 

Their tangled locks were blond, their skin darkly lush as young golden rain trees. 

It was late afternoon, but evening fell like a drawn shade here, and they would soon have to return to their shelter to build and nurture a fire for the coming night. 

"Going back," said one.

"Me too," her sister answered.

And still they sang. 

The Man

Upon hearing the second, answering song, he picked up his pace. Two women. But how? Another recent shipwreck? A freakish conjunction of serial misfortune? He could almost make out the words now, what sounded like "sail away" in wistful English—English!—a wishful sorrow thing. 

An easily navigable natural bulwark of loose rock now stood between him and the women. They would have food and water, also shelter, and they would welcome him in other ways and he somehow knew they were statuesque and eternally lovely in form. Anticipation filled his guts and his groin.

How had such dire circumstances turned so completely? Even his decision to escape another fate by sailing in the first place, cutting his ties with everything and everyone he knew in order to evade the tightening investigation into legally dubious payoffs and misappropriation of campaign funds, seemed to have been a desperate error once his vessel had been reduced to its component parts, and yet now…

The Man and the Women

Beaming, he clambered over the rock promontory onto the new beach, ready to embrace this next chapter in a bizarre adventure. And he stopped. And gaped.

There was no one else. Only another identical beach, littered with the detritus of his and probably other wrecks, the myriad disgorgements of the abysmal deep. He sensed the fairytale collapsing around him. The mythology with all its potential risks and rewards. Sirens. Mermaids. Naiades. Ondines. He desired that vision with such intensity that he could almost believe a glimpse of corded blond, a gleam of nut-brown calf, a lyric fragment borne on layers of balmy air. He wanted to cry and wondered what was even stopping him, here with no witness to his unmanning.

But wait. There was something at the head of the beach where the sands turned to bush. He approached with care. The weathered remains of what once had been a shelter. And what looked like human bones, scattered and bleached and gnawed by animals. (Which animals? His knowledge was by no means exhaustive, but he knew of no dangerous predators inhabiting these remote archipelagos.) Farther into the darkening jungle was a mound marked with a rough Christian cross. Moving closer, he saw a name and a single date scratched into the wood: Eudora circa 1967. Two dead people, one buried. It appeared one's death had preceded the other's, after which no one had been able to bury the second. Moved to pity and forgetting his own predicament, neglecting even to dwell on how he'd somehow heard their songs, the man resolved to perform those long-neglected rites for the unnamed person who must have died in grief and alone. As he began to gather the bones, his foot struck something mostly buried in the sand, which he dug from the shifting ground. A giant turtle shell. He flipped it over and saw more words etched into its concavity. 

Voice almost gone. Laryngitis? Can no longer sing. Delirious with lack of sleep. They will find me soon, the things in the trees, and I will find my sister again beyond the veil. Stranger, if you find this, you must sing. It keeps them at bay, soothes them even. They have the power of mimicry, which will chill you. But keep singing, "Stay away! Stay away!" I hope you are not one but two, since you must take shifts. When you stop, they will come for you. My last fervent hope beyond a painless death is that no one's unkind fate will lead them to read these words, my last. Keep singing. Eudora, I will see you soon. Ida circa 1968. 

Night was upon him now, with its attendant chill. He stood and let the bones fall, knowing he must find a way to stay warm, perhaps build a fire and even a rudimentary shelter from the remains of the ruined one. Survive this first night then explore and gather. 

Poor lonely Ida. Gone half a century ago. How she must have missed her sister. How the endless days of tropical heat punctuated only by violent squall must have weighed on her and slowly uncoupled her mind. Women were frail creatures at the best of times; he of all people knew the truth of that after decades of paying them for their silence. Nonetheless, as he worked, he found himself singing under the glimmering stars amid the strange hush of the island. And in that vast, quiet, ageless bowl, the starlit ocean placid at his back, he heard from the trees ahead the first echo of his own song.

Friday
Oct272017

Despicable Men

I'm the second best person you never heard of.

Me, your goddamn guts. I'm walking now, dragged strenuous, passing beyond the biting, random glare of your accountants.

That riff you play is like your stomach flipped then dreamed something up you never even knew existed. It's tight and warm, like intimacy, like pimps turned nice. Like you found your old friends gathered outside a barbershop in the tangerine light, toe ended your kickstand, and rode like nothing else mattered on crumbling tarmac, veering into the dunes and driving those piston legs toward the tide, all of y'all hollerin madcap charms, antic conjurations, before embracing the waters under an astonished sky.

***

Conversation with a despicable man.

"So you liked her?"

"Like? Don't know how that's relevant."

"I mean was there anything about her that you responded to, not in a sexual or murderous way, but on a human level, if you will?"

"…"

"What's that look mean?"

"You ask a good question. It's kind of blowing my mind right now, to be honest."

"Can you elaborate?"

"Well, you say 'human level.' And I think I know what you're alluding to, but isn't it also human to want to destroy, to ruin? I can't answer your question until I know where you stand on that."

***

The air has a death tinge out here on the prairie. To the west, above the defining wall of mountains, the sky is umber and coral and rust, and from the stench it seems great fires burn. The old house groans at its buffeting by the charnel winds. 

Cassady told me everything west of Canmore is burned. If our prairie grasses catch enough sparks, the blaze will race itself all the way to Manitoba, and south to Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, if it ain't already. 

We did this. You. Me. All of us. With our terrible thirst, our dragon breath. Crime ain't the word. Sin ain't the word. Wrongdoing ain't the word. This was unmitigated evil. The only world we know of that has such treasures as the wild headstrong ponies of the plain and the butterfly clouds in their migrant tides and the colours of fall and the sheets of green that dance in the northern skies and we've done killed it. Maybe not full dead, but what rises from these ashes henceforth some pale morn won't be the like of what's passed. I gotta hope it will be better, but will this world's waters ever again swell with the breaching whale? Will its forests echo again with the howls of the pack, the raven's dispatch, the loon's ambushed ghost? 

My heart says no. Like a deep bell says no.

Once it might've said otherwise, but my childish hopes ran headlong into the slaughter reek of a dying world.

***

"Shouldn't it go without saying that destruction and ruin are bad?"

"You'd think so, wouldn't you?"

"But…?

"But yeah. The world. Not so simple as we once thought. Powerful men have greater urges than the weak. They must be filled."

"That's monstrous."

"So says one of the weak, I'm afraid."

"If that's the case, why are you the one sitting here in manacles and I'm going home to take my wonderful wife to dinner tonight?"

He grinned the odious amygdala grin of something that scuttled in the skull's own basement and held up the unclasped cuffs. After the first shriek, his expertise was such that the guards were still too late.

***

There was one day that felt different. When everything worked. I reserve that day forever.