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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 Mary Shelley (2)

Saturday
Aug182018

This Pain Needs a Name

I stare at the sky, eyes raw with grit, at this shroud of burnt orange and corpse-grey where blue once smiled its summer brilliance. The alien sun a faded blood-coin suspended within the rattling final breath.

Extinction. Exhalation. Wanting rain, fearing squalls.

Leaves and boughs caked in layers of sandy clay, encased like a warm dry antithetical ice storm.

Nobody has been this way in weeks. I sent my children far, not from ego but the opposite. So they might find some good beyond this. So they might have a chance.

Emma-Lynn and Aaron, if names become monuments.

But I fear we didn't do it right. Sanguine golden limbs among the shadows. Tales a-walking, ploys a-dancing.

And this pain needs a name.


***


"This is so sudden! You sure it's a good idea?"

"I do. We need this."

"But camping? Hiking? We never did this before."

"Sure we did. Not together, but we did it."

"Yeah, I was basically a kid when I did."

"So was I."

"So why'd you think this is a good idea now?"

"Trust me."


***


Present tense, I read the classics here. Over and again. Mary Shelley's lost and tender monster; a watery lamented spectre looming over Manderley; passion daubed across rugged brumous moorland; Brontë, du Maurier, Austen, Woolf; odes to girls, dirty precious haunted love songs etched into bones of landscape and carnival machinery. The Overlook. Hill House. Montauk. Joyland.

Our blessed migrant wake.

Why are you faking your presence? The headaches bunch like midway rides, subsequent cars of dissatisfied riders, gathering and griping, demanding redress. My blinded echoing skull is occupied by cutthroats. We usher in ghostly revolution.


***


No one could have scheduled this or made of it a scheme. We were young. A cleft in the land was damp and vulvar, and we followed it down—breathless, scowling, and leaning female. Moistened breath. We took our hints from the dreadful land that shouldered us.

"These bugs," you said. Oh, Emma-Lynn.

Battalions of mosquitos and lone earmarked deerfly.

"What of them?"

"I need to leave. They terrify me."

Aaron? Is that you? My god.

All composure gone, you ruined our trip, quietly shrieked your dissent, made of me a wounded fool.

Although pluralities concurred.  

The land was the land, and still is. Our trifling dramas dissolve in the face of everything, each item, all entireties, the kit and caboodle, the whole shebang, this thing we can never fully understand, all gone, so gone, so bereft, so utterly arrested.

We're lost. Blinded. Quieted. Hurt.

And still we need a name.

Friday
Mar162012

The Horror... The Horror...

“Horror… Horror has a face… and you must make a friend of horror.” Colonel Kurtz, Apocalypse Now

You’d think that horror would be one of the easiest of genres within which to write: create a protagonist who is either extremely likeable or go for the opposite, a character deserving of some particularly overdue and nasty payback; either invent or import a monster from Familiar Horror Trope Land (sparkly or not, preferably the latter); bring them together in some unexpected location and everything gets all squishy and liquidized and unpleasant and the audience members lose all control of their bodily functions and curse your parents… except that’s not necessarily what happens at all. Horror is hard to write. Okay, no, I just lied. Horror is easy to write, but good horror is hard to write.

Turns out you end up with a lot more decisions than you thought: do you go with quiet or splatter, traditional or transgressive, supernatural or psychological, gritty realism or more fanciful and fantastic? And that’s only the start. There are questions about suspense, how to build it, sustain it, let it go for a while, bring it back shrieking with ropes of blood-flecked drool and sheer malevolence (that’s another thing: beware overwriting; horror as a genre is particularly susceptible). Or endings. Tragic endings are more acceptable in horror than in most fiction, obviously, but does your story earn the especially awful nihilism it culminates in? I mean, what on earth did Frank Darabont think he was doing when he gave Stephen Kings “The Mist” that ending? You can’t give what is after all a solid pulp B-monster-movie, played for some comic moments, the existential, Kafkaesque, sheer dismal bleakness of that ending. I mean, come on… sorry, got sidetracked there. Ha. And anyway, film is a whole ‘nother area outside of our jurisdiction, thankfully. Point being, this shit gets complicated.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. When you picked up your metaphorical Sharpie to write, you were thinking along the lines of something garish, with simple, bold lines, like a Saturday morning cartoon with scares, a largely fun carnival ride of the mind. It’s like you thought to yourself, I’ll just go watch Wile E Coyote and Roadrunner—how taxing can that be?—but you somehow forgot about the acid you dropped earlier and now the plight of this desolate, skinny canine with the gaunt, desperate face is making you dig your fingers disconcertingly deep into your own face and weep uncontrollably even before he pulls back the ominously creaking arm on that ACME catapult. And then… Every. Single. Horrible. Creak. Sounds. Like. The. Irrevocable. Closing. Of. A. Heavy. Crypt. Door…

But enough of William Shatner’s bizarre vocal mannerisms. The point I’m trying to make is that each choice reveals another level or layer, and so on, until you wish you’d never started this horror writing lark and decided to tackle something more simple… like calculus… rendered in Farsi… suspended on an inverted treadmill… over a nest of squirming pit vipers… while balancing a copy of The Collected Works of H.P. Lovecraft on your elbow… while solving a minor border dispute between two irritable Central American states.

So as the great—yet admittedly insane—Colonel Kurtz said, you must make a friend of horror. You must learn its mannerisms, its idiosyncrasies, its rhythms and patterns, winks and nods. Its, ha, heart of darkness (God, I annoy myself sometimes). Do not assume you know what makes it tick until you have read a significant number of the greats: H.P. Lovecraft, Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe, Robert Bloch, Ray Bradbury, Helen Fielding, Richard Matheson, Ramsey Campbell, John Farris, Peter Straub, Stephen King, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Clive Barker, Poppy Z Brite, Joe R. Lansdale, etc. All joking aside, you need to respect the genre in order to have a chance of writing horror well. Which is not a given. It’s no accident the horror genre has been referred to more than once as the red-headed stepchild of genre fiction. But, unless you’re out-and-out spoofing it, you need to. That’s basically step one.

And this is a mere taster of what you can expect if you’re damn fool enough to try your hand at writing horror fiction. Over the next few posts, I’ll explore further steps that will lead you to some unexpected places, both in the outside world and in your own increasingly demented head. But let me end here with one particularly notable banana skin. One word: bathos. If you don’t know it, look it up and we’ll wait for you… *hums the theme music from Top Gun for some odd reason* Done? Okay. Bathos will kill your story, and you will never live down a tale that builds incredible, heart-pounding tension, no matter how deftly or skilfully written, only for the characters to be confronted near the end by—say—a were-hedgehog or a vampire koala. There are some things that will never, ever be frightening. While there may be artistry and prowess in teasing out something disquieting about a bird bath or an old blackboard eraser, for example, you will never squeeze a drop of fear out of a garlic press or a beer coaster. Not even if you make them sparkly.

*     *     *     *     *

A version of this post appeared on Indies Unlimited on March 9, 2012. also writes for Indies Unlimited and BlergPop. Be sure to check out his work there if you like what you read here.