• 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
    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.

Networked Blogs



Places I Hang Out

Entries in Midwest (5)


Contaminant, USA

Place ain't much. Somewheres to be born, is all.

Three main streets like a Y and a couple swingin' lights, a barbershop, a diner'n a convenience store. Feedlots. Plenty farmers with not much to farm. Passers through on the interstate. A school bus stop, a part-time sheriff, a scowling cliff top.

Pickup trucks. A whole mess of dusty pickups.

Grew up here, then some of you came by.

Hear tell they talkin 'bout dreamers in the govermint. Way I see it, we're all dreamers now. A foot in here and a great loss there. Sure, I stutter. Th-thought I'd grasped it all once, b-but now I don't even f-fake it: I cain't learn no more here, no more'n a rattler can hush its dry clatter once it done bin bothered.


Confronted by the holiest of ghosts, we crumble like pies. 

Claim me, sister. Make me one of your own. Your nighttime entreaties galvanize me. You are a river, I tumble like waters, my destiny your delta. Your splayed, glorious wetlands.

I am the spray inside the bowling shoe, the bogus peppermint breath pledging our allegiance—you sanitize the world, you decontaminate it all, even the things we'd rather defile. 

The juniper reek when you piss in the street one feral August night. You stringent tomcat fuck.

"You got stories to tell."

"Sure. I got stories to tell. When I get a minute to tell 'em. Or when the Lexapro kicks in. Might take weeks. Ain't none of it come easy no more."

Clamber aboard this clumsy vessel, tune those strings, find your sea legs, drift by the cliffs, sing your heart out, endure the tireless mockery of gulls. We die bereft of love. Die without our allotment of love. Fall before we even dream of love. Stumble on love's doomed highway. Shot across the bows. Holed beneath the waterline. Dance irrelevant as our kindly ardor allows. 

"Just start."

"I can't."

Visit this. And detonate. Disintegrate.

"Yeah? A'right. How about this. Left my girl when I found out she was cheatin'. Walked straight the fuck away. Sold my ride for a couple hundred plus memories and trod the bleakest of streets, some wide meridian thoroughfare lined with gas bars named from lunatic tales, like Love's and Flying J, edged with landscaped evergreen forecourts blurting mammoth names—Target, Costco, Walmart—amid lawns and hardy desert flora, cardboard pleas held high by the penniless elect, bona fide scenes in an unwatched film. More. Cracked open fourscore beer in homespun bars, scowled at the haters, spit at the dreamers, howled with the lovers. Fascination Street. Angel squalls. American honeys. Vindictive, tender, whatever, this just the motherloving start."

"Pretty words, and I like 'em, but still ain't no story, only the germs of stories."

"Huh. Well, don't tempt me. I got stories could keep you up a stack of nights, stories could hug the whole world. Slip between your waking and your sleeping, yarns you ain't never gonna dislodge. Kurt Cobain, Kurt Weill, Kurt Vile. Drunk and violent girl on a train. That goddamned maniac sundial. Bless us. Defile us. Obsess us. I don't know why we ever choose to stay or choose to go away."

Grip it. Track it. Ragged golden clouds spill across our flyblown sky, drop below the collagen lip of the world, partway ashamed, most ways stunned. Gather the light of evening, cup it, feel it spill across your fingers, and make of it a gift to someone treasured. Then sleep. Then wake to the shudder of morning and arpeggiate this.

O my quaking, mislaid heart. Love abhors its own purity.


When Gulls Scream

When my girl left me and went back east, I drove many hundreds of miles of my own. South.

Long before Canyonville even had a chance, I pulled into a darkening asphalt parking lot horseshoed by conifers, hearing the cannonade of surf against rocks, and I signed in to a room with an ocean view. The owner, a handsome woman with short black hair in a bob and wide sargasso hips, hinted I might find solace in her oceanic murmurs and clefts, and I did consider it, her warm specific impetus of comfort. But I never acted on it. Actual solace being too distant and all. 

That first night, after hearkening to the eternal clamor of the tide, I beheld the sunset, the dripping red sun like some internal sac dropped into an autopsy pan. My rosy camera finger stutter-sifting forensic traces.

Plastic glasses brimming with cheap red wine. Slipshod guitar work. I slept on the narrow balcony, folded into motel bedding, torches marking the cliff top trail below. Eighties Prince strutting on my laptop. Grainy silhouetted couples passed and gouged more pieces from my dark-starred heart. Whispered and clasped hands. I could see the sugar arc of their fingers, imagine the shadowy settlement of their terms, the endearing angles of their lips and eyebrows, their poise, their tone, their doleful, gentle music.

As the surf replayed its nevermore loop, hell's agonal gasps, I watched the gaping moon, frozen out there in the solar wind. Cadaver blue and alone.

The first time solitude outshines us, it makes some quiet vow to ratchet up its bone-grip.

That ring tone. Asking, "You there?"

FaceTime. Fuck. I could have ignored her, but my prison was my grieving skin, my gentle heart, was never not.

"Here. Yeah. Hey, babe."

Shadowy faces moving and grimacing in doltish middle grounds. Aging white folks. Farmer's omelets and rye toast and bottomless coffees in white mugs, Perkins and Denny's, peanut butter and strawberry jelly arrayed in racks, thumbsized. Iowa fields and South Dakota billboards. Sioux City, Sioux Falls. Illinois sunset. Faraway lightning. Liver spots. Trucker hats. Angry as fuck. The drastic ghosts behind all this.

"You did the left coast road trip without me."

"I did."

Pause to hear the sussurance of the night surf. The quiet inhale, the concussive rage, the hissing backdraw through mineral-brown teeth. The whole defiant coast is a wide and diffident mouth.

Lighthouses faking something. Partial corpses. Zombified. Useful in some surrogate time now gone. 

"How could you?"

"Was always gonna do it. And woulda done it either way."

"I'm mad at you."

"Yeah. You broke this. Broke me. There was no us when I started."

Seabirds claim their quotas of night right before the crows wake.

We traded more words. Reminisced. About fireworks seen from a balcony. Even tried to wring something winsome from this jilted Fender, until…

A great blinding shear off the coast, somewhere near the horizon, sliced across the night, stupefying light so pure it's easy to forget the wretched bastard cacophony to follow.

And you saw it onscreen, knew it was your immediate future, light-speed nigh, the moment I tried to say I still cared, the moment love posed triumphant, when a gull screamed, at the frozen blazing moment of my erasure. 



We're a long way past those plastic wood panels. That studded belt. The brackish shallows.

She was born Ida Grace Showbuckle, a Midwestern girl in a middle America world.

By the time she arrived in Hollywood, she was Shyna Lite, but that only shepherded her briefly pornward until she settled on Gloria Spensky, which combined a classic first name with an authentic East European family moniker while largely avoiding complications. America fell quietly in love, even before they'd truly parsed the name for prestige or infamy.

She was fortunate. Spectacular and tawdry. Resplendent with dubious pedigree.

Before tomorrow, the deviant mollusc will have devoured eleven faces. Be ready. This carnage won't be silent or demure. Segmented limb parts the texture and disavowed color of forsaken tarpits will skitter from bleak corners, antennas tuned to utter wreckage, trojaned in by the aroma of coffee beans and the poise of a nylon seam, a lukewarm foot cupped by a cool stiletto heel.

You have no idea what I'm saying, do you?

Don't worry. I don't either. I no longer know how to ask for help.

Was something birthed in the vomit of some homunculus, before any of us were here?

Gloria made progress, found a modicum of genuine affection among the glitterati. If she is filled with secrets, then so are we all.

Laura was my neighbor. She was older than me, not by all that much. Sometimes she babysat us. Her hair was the color of a raven's throat. My fingers ached to stroke it. Then came our private Armageddon, and our priorities changed. Although I never stopped loving the girl next door, whatever her guise. She was my ingress. 

Psychotic girls might be our last shot. Please rearrange words accordingly.

And please give me an invitite. Smurn me with lashes. Starl. Aglutor. Abrogate all this. If langrage is a skareton, the very bones of our syntax are fragmenting in clouds of sweet white dost, like wedding caek. Our vocalumnary crombles. Restet my gladdamned jawmoan. That bird has flone. Hear me haol till dawn. 

Chronology isn't my strong suit. Nor is lucidity. Especially when my brainpan hosts its silent apocalypse.

Gloria met an enigmatic young woman named Evelyn who'd come down from Canada alone, for altogether obscure purposes. Gloria and Laura, who met at a club in Inglewood in July 2011, would help her sometimes, both sensing her dangling-over-a-cliff vulnerability. Evelyn had landed on skid row—in a hostel once opulent but wearing its own sad fall from grace in its crumbling facade—either because she felt it was her natural home or believing it her launchpad to Hollywood. She was pretty and sweet, listened to J-metal and read dystopian fiction, but she was already a wraith. A waif like a leaf gyred by November winds through a caterwauling valley someplace north of the forty-ninth. Her appointment with death kept getting postponed, and they took this as a sign she would be okay. They bought her meals now and then, took her to shows. But one day they didn't see her, no one did, and the internet seized on a shiny new mystery and Evelyn became a made-to-order character for websites dedicated to creepiness, not even rounded enough to be tragic.

Gloria kept going, but Laura went home, could never shake the sorrow of Evelyn's disappearance. They still talked now and then, but things had lost their luster. I loved all three, a walking, pulsing Bechdel test, but Evelyn will always hold a special place for me, allowing me my moment to school them and to fail them, her soft porcelain throat collapsing under my thumbs, her epicanthic stare beseeching me until her light slipped away, already heading back up Interstate 5, searching at long last for home.

Now you've read this nonsense, answer me this: what the fuck is wrong with you?


Amethyst Magnet

A wounded moon, she tries to escape her orbit and arcs her way starward in some fruitless bid for independence. Hunkered down in a Tacoma apartment, listening to Sleater-Kinney, for six weeks she shares a rough cube with roaches and rodents and silverfish. And mildew. Until a day when she ventures out and finds a nearby farmer's market and spends so many hours overstaying her welcome. Smiling at strange men with stranger facial hair. Lusting for expensive ink. Pretending to flip quarters into the hats of buskers but tossing only bottle caps.

Can we climb the hills outside town? Eclipse their occasional gravity? They're not far, and the sounds of our celebrations echo from their striated flanks. The faraway choir cries, "Tom Hardy," and we all think of the actor. But some of us suspect they meant John and think of Leadbelly. Either way, doesn't matter. Pick me up like flakes of iron, like metal shavings, don't let us grow beyond our suicide lines, our creosote dreams.

"I want you to succeed," she said.

"Seems you forgot I was Canadian."

"I did. Indeed. Nothing is for free."

(Really? Not even torn pantyhose? Not eroticism? Not rebellion, scorn, fugitive desire?)

At what point did the blurry wraith steal into the mall and wrap its cold persuasion around the wrists and throats of enough teenagers to undermine the morale of this place? Repurpose our world? I pledge to stand in recalcitrance. 

Stir that iron pan of rice and ground turkey, mix in spices, garlic, add your desolate tears, and consider the woman you once loved who gives you not a thought. Maybe barely a thought. You damn well wish. Eat and make your slow way coastward. Scratch off the layers of dirt in that abandoned place, that atrium, that cloistered dome drenched in the grey hesitant stupors of longtime voyagers. You will bow to me. Deflect the lightning. Swallow the juice of stupidity dripping from the vain tenements of some tossed-off American balcony. Goddamn it.

A faulty dream? A glorious sin? Scornful, doubtful gestures?

For a moment it looks like Iowa. Sioux City. For now I might dismiss it as Wisconsin. Far from the Madison crowd. It's all shimmering and lost. Loved, even.


Your heart is amethyst, your mind

is adamant. Your mine bores

deep inside this hillside. Why 

not drill yet farther? Why not

get in line, aspire to coruscant?


Flaxen-haired, klaxon-horned, this instant is stark. An urban stream, a concrete riverbed veined with graffiti, the dusty weeds swaying on the banks while fugitives converge, flame trees lining the streets and cursing like motherfucks, breathing like livestock given a reprieve. Promised something wondrous. 

She. She is a mother and she wears bluejean cutoffs, and the dirt-white pockets rest on her pale thighs like the ears of a phantom hound dog. Her wifebeater hangs off her t-frame, loose, not clean, underscoring dark erect nipples. She is indeed unclean. Her dirt is of the celebratory kind. Her stink joyous. She pushes cleflike locks of her lank dark hair behind her ears. The score of her loneliness her salient feature. 

Held in her eyes, bright cumulus skies, and a flurry of spores seeds the air above us. Even makes us smile. All must be maintained. Palm trees. Lawns. Dazzling miles. Hummingbirds darning the thick fabric evenings. Boxes of cheap malbec stacked near the checkouts. The sweet sculpted heart of your dark humid pubis. How do I keep this semblance alive? Do you hear the moans of the women? Do you consider them something good? The odds are largely against this.

A pack of dogs explodes through powder snow, scattering in childdrawn lines while their prey, a year-old fawn, hesitates before plummeting over the next ridge. This is the way of things. A woman texts her friend and watches the till while a carload of young men empties into the silence and advances. Bless the gifted blood in all of them. Curse their surety. How will we interpret the trucker's lament, the anchor dropped by a witness, the stutter of professional hesitance? The dogs confront their error and backtrack, plumes of backlit snow like golden dust against the sunset ridge. Cold. The tiny deer stops for half a second, enough to seal her fate. There is no cruelty in the kill; it's swift and wild and consummate. The way of things. 

My love, are you listening? You're the second-best girl I ever had. 

Don't leave me. Don't drop me. Good God, good girl, please stick around, vainglorious one. 

Everything is burning, The Wickaninnish Inn reeks of smoked sockeye. Eagles are dropping from a boiling sky. Bears stagger out of the trees, wisps of smoke uncurling from their fur. Clams pop on the rocks like apocalyptic snacks. This kid, that corner, our hopes, their moments gather on Chesterman Beach. Rock pools mirror a waning sky.

I stumble over my ownself. Nod quiet thanks to the waitstaff. This is the one place in this clustered nightmare that bleeds red, watery hot like Tabasco. Instinctively I lean its way. And overtip like fuck. The server—a sheer beauty made from alabaster, marble, hot clay, and the primate tang of vitality—punches her number into my phone and brushes my neck with her rustic lips. I shudder. She is beautiful and rural and I want to go home with her. But I'm on a mission here; if I get the chance I will go back, but if not, while the sap drips from the bark and gophers run riot along the shoulders, beyond the last Applebee's, we all dip our limbs and hopes in this heavy green soup and keep right on going until (someday, at some point) we don't.


The Nowheres

A couple times each month, he'd drive out from the city to what he called the Nowheres, a flat, unremarkable piece of the rural Midwest, and pay for two nights, sometimes three, in a nondescript motel somewhere off the beaten track, thirty bucks a night or thereabouts. Sometimes he'd bring along a fifth of cheap bourbon, and other times he'd find a bar nearby and drink steadily and methodically, speaking only to the bartender before hiking unsteadily back to the motel on dark and mostly silent county roads.

He never told the few friends he had in the city what his purpose was, what he did out there in the Nowheres while Lucinda, Shelby, and Patty emptied their abandoned, melancholy hearts on a jukebox at the bar or on a cheap boombox in his room, in time with the ebb and flow of the Wild Turkey he tipped and swallowed without joy. He never told a single soul that he came out to the Nowheres to get drunk and write shit down—not any old shit, but the kind you needed to get out or it burrowed into your dark places like a soft, blind thing and over time became hard, mean, and cancerous.

Something about the lingering sunsets. The sudden stillness. Crepuscular rays spotlighting barns, grain elevators, corn patches, painting them briefly gold. Streaks of byzantium, coral, and vermillion like fever-dream inlets separating dark cloud archipelagos, ushered slowly westward into the flat horizon by the gentle darkness.

Like it or not—and sometimes he truly did—this was his country, on some level he barely understood.

This night, he crossed the gravel parking lot of the basic two-story L-shaped motel, looked up at the sign, the neon in one of the letters long leaked away: Mote. Because it was a mote, and he was a mote, and all the people and cattle and corn and fields were motes of inconsequential dust under the stars, which were also motes, but made of brightness. Beneath that sign, a smaller one, also broken: acancy, which sort of made him laugh. These lonely visits sure felt like acancies, even though he knew that wasn't a word.

Other nights, after dark, he would look up at that same sky, in which a few stars trembled between the dark reefs of cloud that scudded furtive like the decamped souls of everyone who'd once pined and then died of some related strain of sorrow in this wide and disregarded place.

Traffic on the distant interstate was usually a muffled commotion that sounded like the landscape dreaming fitful dreams, but the railroad was closer, and when he heard the familiar abandoned rattle and moan of a passing train, his mind went to dirt and rust and peeling paint, went to sleeplessness and silent entreaties to sellout gods, went to shrieks and sparks and graffiti, and unquenchable longing. Went to her. His momma. Went to that day—and every day since—she'd turned off most of the light in his world by up and leaving. He'd been perhaps eight when he watched her slip away in the night, heard her quiet sobs until a night freight had blared and clattered by, stamping its larger grief on their smaller one, erasing theirs so no one even noticed it. No one but him. Those days, passing like ghost trains, each boxcar filled with ever more solitude. Those days when he couldn't possibly blame her. Those days when he blamed her with a savage, perilous heat.

The pages he filled with longhand he'd sometimes set light to over the john, make of them black flurries, tiny apocalyptic storms, other times would tuck behind heating or air-conditioning units, slide into gaps in the fake wood paneling, under mattresses, or tear in tiny pieces while he cried raw tears. His memories made into words. Mostly of his momma but sometimes of his papa too. He still missed her; and less often, his papa too, god help him. He could keep on missing that sonofabitch forever, though, as he was never coming back from whatever sorry hell he'd volunteered for by finally swallowing the muzzle of a military-issue Beretta M9.

He knew he couldn't do this forever. The coming of the interstates had proved a slow and lingering extinction event for the era of these motor courts, and this—whatever this was—wouldn't work the same way in some Comfort Inn or Motel 6. Take this place—thirty-two units and only three vehicles parked out front. Always, always an acancy.

Back in the motel, room 27 on the second floor, where the two wings of the L join, he hit play and grabbed a notepad and pen, while Lucinda sang about some farmhouse out a ways and how she didn't want no one to come find her if she strayed, and his whole breath hitched. He felt strange, like he was smaller and more scared, remembering his fear of the dark and of the lightning bugs that lit the dark, believing they were the souls of demons who'd lost their way to hell. More Wild Turkey and he began to write like the little boy version of himself was watching over his shoulder and giving him tips.

"Papa was meaner'n a yard mutt, but he never took his belt to me. He managed a kind of meanness you'd have to study for at some school of evil, if such a place existed. I know Momma left 'cause a him, an p'raps he did take his belt more'n once to her, or worse, but never to me. When he was real drunk he'd threaten to hang hisself from the rafters in the barn, or go lay down on the railroad tracks, or some variety of same. It sure got tiresome. But one day might as well stand in for all the days, he told me to follow him out to the barn, and I didn't want to, but I knew things would only go sideways quicker if I said no. He sat on a hay bale and looked at me funny. He always looked at me funny, but this were a different kind of funny, like he didn't really see me but someone else: maybe God or Jesus or some loan officer whose name he cussed on a regular basis. He was so drunk he was swayin' slightly. He slurred, too, which was unusual as he had a high capacity for the rotgut he liked to drown hisself with. 'Son,' he said, 'go bring me the shotgun.' I stood still. I didn't want to do such a thing, given the tenor of his usual threats. He looked at me out of one eye, the other closed as if even the dusty murk of the barn was too much light for him. 'I said, go git me the shotgun or there'll be hell to pay.' Far as I could see, there already was hell to pay, no matter my part in all this, so after thinking about running and hoping he'd forget when he sobered up and then quickly abandoning that plan soon as I remembered I'd seen lightnin' bugs out there earlier, I went to the tackle room and grabbed the old Winchester pump-action 12 gauge, trying not to think about what hell charged. When he seen me with it in my arms, like an altar boy bringing the priest the host, his face twisted into something unrecognizable. 'Son, you'd bring a man fixin' to end it all a goddamn fuckin' weapon? Not jes' any man, neither, but your own kin?' I had no words. I jes' stood there and took it. 'You some kind of cold-blooded monster, boy?' He stared for what felt like a whole day, and I closed my eyes and didn't answer. I didn't have no answer. Then he stood and without another glance in my direction went back to the house and to bed. While I stayed in the darkness of the barn, eyes still closed, and trembling."

He was trembling now, sometimes felt like he'd been trying to get halfway warm again for twenty-some years ever since, so he got up, put on a fleece jacket, and went out on the balcony for air. The night was quiet and cool. His pickup sat in a pool of light, as if the heavens were beaming him a message.

Then he had a dream.

A road-scarred nineties-model Corolla pulled up beside his truck and she got out the driver's side. It was her; he had no doubt. Older, sadder-looking, dressed in black denim, but his momma. She didn't see him right away, but when she finally looked up he waited for a reaction but saw little of anything at all in her dark Spanish eyes.

"Mister, could you help me here?" she said.

He swallowed and couldn't make his voice work.

She opened the rear door of her Toyota and started dragging out something dark.

"Mister? Please? I hate to ask, but I think I twanged something in my back last night, and I jes' need to get this into room"—she dug out a key and squinted at it—"eleven. Room 11."

"Oh sure, ma'am. Be right down."

That bare bulb was still spotlighting their two vehicles like they were on some ethereal backlot in a movie by David Lynch. This couldn't be real, but he played along and took the nearby stairs to ground level. He wanted so badly to embrace her, to hold her, to bury his face in her cool dark hair now shot with strands of gray the color of heartbreak. When he recognized the object in the backseat as a guitar case, he felt like crying. Damn. She still played.

"You a musician?" he asked.

"You might say as I am, but it don't exactly pay the bills."

He recalled her thin but melodious singing voice and the early months of her learning to play, helping her string her thrift-store guitar and figure out how to tune it, grasping at chord shapes and building calluses, and how those were about the only happy memories he had from back then, before the light had gone out, before the music had quite literally died.

Turned out room 11 was directly below his. He carried her guitar and placed it on the bed.

"You're a sweet man," she said. "You gonna be around tomorrow night?"

"Uh, maybe, sure."

"Well, you are or you ain't, but if you are, I'm playing at The Busted Flush on Route 40, a couple miles east of here, and you're welcome to come hear me. Ain't no Patsy Cline but I know my way around a few good tunes."

"I might just do that, ma'am."

"You're a polite boy. I like that." She smiled briefly, then looked troubled for a moment, then let the veil fall again.

He wanted to scream at her, tell her in no uncertain terms who he was, rail at her for her betrayal, plead with her to come back, beseech her for her love, but none of that felt right, somehow. He was no longer a boy and this had to play out the way it decided to play out. Let her find his scraps, even if she was a dream; let him follow her spore, even if it weren't.

Some believe each moment splits into many versions of itself, that we live so many different lives in so many possible worlds. If so, did he hook up with his mother, as appalling as that sounds, or did he go watch her play in a bar and get involved in a fatal confrontation after some drunk asshole heckled her, or did he do neither and return to the city and his shadow life there? Did he live all these things and more? Possibly. Better still, was his story really her story, and did she find his notes in a series of nondescript rooms over weeks and even months and piece together his identity and movements until she could pinpoint him, find him, try to make it up to him? That's good, too.

But in this world it appears he returned to his room, to his sad caucasian girls and his fragments of memory, to stale air and worse decor, where he picked up the Beretta that had killed his papa, knowing why he'd kept it but afraid all the same, and he listened to another freight train run its ragged fingernails down the grainy backdrop of the Midwestern night, and he pounded more Wild Turkey while the reedy sounds of a phantom woman singing country tunes a floor below nearly drove him mad, out in the Nowheres, out where no one else came.