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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 Motel (4)

Sunday
Mar312019

Tragicomic

I wanted to tell you about the ones who watch. But I lost the thread. Look, if you have to begin again, whatever story you were trying to tell is no longer the same story. 

So take two.

They are the ones who watch.

Different ones. They are dirty and silent and sit on the landings of broken motels, and they wait. Surveilling some squandered lot under a pewter sky.

A gravestone is a lozenge. Place it on your hungry tongue and wait while it dissolves. This might take a while. Decades even. Until… ah, death (death you rascal, you holy, holy rogue) is now inside you, as it should be. Let us meet again beneath a canopy of green, smiling and true, and grab my forearm, clasp my augmentations, my fingers as you insist on calling them, as they gesture and curl, urging unity, emblematic of accord, my compañeros, my luminous sisters, my radiant brothers, and wait. 

Sounds arrive, fashioned from beachcombed shells and the gentle breath of a hundred tides. An inner ear and some vulvic sculpture, such tender whorls and devotional twists of flesh. Folds and fabrications. To listen is to love. 

Following the atrocity, you arrive late at night. Unobserved, you think. Sleep a fitful hour or two. Moments after a weak and dilute dawn withdraws in shame, the children flock and sing their crude atonal rhymes beneath your window, and reluctantly you stagger from your bed to witness them. 

"Mister, we know why you're here!" shouts one, because they're the children of the ones who watch. 

But you can't let it go, because comedy, so you call back.

"Of course you do. It's because this tale needs a Greek chorus."

And instead of retreat or bewilderment, the children's grimy faces under the lice-swarming tangles once known as hair crease with such genuine joy that it brings you to your knees, and you begin to sob like a small child yourself, one who first believed the promised gift would be a pony or a trainset before you opened it and found the irradiated post-tsunami ruins of a miniature coastal town, which turned out, stunningly and over time, to be a more apposite bestowal.

Because, mindful now, you watch too.

How funny tragedy is. How hilarious the unfolding of awful things, witnessed from some window with a flower box beneath it, while songbirds gather staves and clefs for abstract nests from which they compose and perform something lovely, even though friends and colleagues plummet in fiery feathered arcs around them. 

It doesn't take a giant rock. Just millions of smaller ones. 

And still we laugh. Because it's funny. There's literally nothing in this world that isn't funny. Otherwise nothing is.

Saturday
Nov102018

Dry Run

It had to begin somewhere, so let’s say it began with the elastic blare of a horn on a rain-smeared night. 

I peered through filthy sheer curtains and saw only the bleary motel sign. The word motel aspired to perfection, stacked vertically in neon blues and reds. The balance of 

M

O

T

atop the teetering

E

L

As if everything was priming itself to fall, rightward, like the overreaching goodness of the world.

Aurora slept through the klaxon din. I envied her that, at least. Since we’d murdered her husband and indulged our inner Thelma and Louise, sleep had been an elusive ghost for me for weeks. Karma, no doubt, for my grubby hands-on part in the drama.

The horn came from a single car parked in the motel forecourt. I could see no one inside it, although the lighting was bad—two weak posts at either end of the lot, and the neon from the sign. Occupied or not, the car’s message was clear: time to leave again. When one’s freedom is imperiled, auguries come in bunches, and all signs and omens are there to be read.

I knew Aurora would want to shoot up before we headed out, so I shook her awake, tore her from her sleep funk a little too gleefully. She took a while to swim through the layers, but as soon as her eyes opened and focused somewhere beyond me, I could see the feral need in them again. And I knew she could see the disappointment in mine. 

Things hadn’t quite worked out the way we’d hoped. But we still had each other. And the raw, wounded, anonymous night.

She winced and I smiled. She didn’t smile. But heading for the anemic yellow bathroom, she drew on enough decorum to close the door behind her. 

***

Hours driving south, keeping to state routes. We were someplace that felt like the South. Arid expanses and weird industry. Huge dry lightning skies. Last night’s rain felt like someone else’s dream.

Though I could still hear the damned horn.

Out of nowhere, Aurora spoke. 

“A moment will come when I’ll sit on the toilet and shit out most of my organs.”

“Girl, I thought you were asleep.” 

“You wish.”

“Or you do.”

She grabbed at my hand resting on the gearstick, held it like it was a sickly pet, and I could sense her staring at me. I could feel a great distant tremor broadcast through her fragile bones as they clutched my own. Urgent. Electric. I refused to turn my head, watched the next mile and then the next.

At last she released my hand and sighed.

“We know how this movie ends, chica.”

I didn’t say a word.

All day, this endless brooding sky had stayed the shade of bedraggled fleece, putrid like the underside of a dying sheep dragged through watery mud. Less a storm threat than a vast sulk. 

Dying too, the day sank into its dark gray shroud, tolerating a thin band of corpse-light to gleam briefly on the horizon. Stark against that sickly greenish strip was the refinery, bristling like a city conceived by an alien amygdala. 

“This ain’t no movie,” I said.

___

Photo credit: © Monica Baguchinsky Lunn

Friday
Oct172014

Storage

It's Friday again, which means one thing: stories. This shortish piece wanted to be longer, so I've extended it here in full. Although it's grounded in a solid place and a real time, I'm not entirely sure what it's about on an emotional level. Possibilities, maybe. The infinity of alternative stories—good, bad, ugly, tragic, comic, lost, found—nestled in any one moment. Oh, and the hauntedness of place, of course, always that. Anyway, enjoy.

___________________________

We walked here.

It was one of those late summer, early fall evenings characterized by a lack of anything at all: flat light, birdless, airless; what scant and spindly greenery could be seen was buried in the dust of a long dry season. Dimensionless.

She fumbled with her keys, looking for the one that fit the padlock on the storage locker. She had a compulsion to juggle her things in the endless shell game of her life then, a thwarted nesting drive. Milk crates that doubled as shelves. Recipes. A plastic hamster cage. Tarot decks. Coffee table sex manuals. Faded things.

The parking lot was mostly deserted, its corners crumbling where smug, ungainly weeds pushed through asphalt with little apparent effort. A line of ants, not quite uniform, made its staccato way amid these uneven thickets, and my mind soared in a dizzying crane shot to I-5 and its lonely north-south freight bounded here so close by these tired stripmalls and young conifered hills.

She was a shortish woman with a woman's figure; lovely in her way. That night she wore faded blue jeans and a tight electric-blue T-shirt that paid homage to her ample breasts. I looked at her ass from behind, semi-lecherously, but my soft jazz heart was syncopated, distracted. My accolades were more cerebral than visceral. 

She found her key, gave me the arched-eyebrow you stay there look, entered the ranks of storage units, with their sharp reek of neglect and even loss, and said something in passing to Carla, the alarmingly stooped attendant who sat reading piss-yellow paperbacks in the side office, an ancient catatonic dog draped across her hot slippered feet. 

Outside, the muted rush of the cars on Samish Way, heading for town or the nearby interstate. 

I knew she would take a while, armed as she was with the knowledge of my impatience at having to wait in any place this fucking sad. Such details stored as arrows in a quiver, for small wounds only. I stood and paced in many places of sorrow waiting for this woman. In some ways I still do.

No real surprise there: wounded was the name of the place we met.

Out of nowhere I had the distinct impression of layers of time, of events unfolding in other, divergent chronologies. In some she was a princess attending ceremonies before millions who adored her. In others we had lived here half a devoted century cocooned by the purest unbreakable love. In one I was not present at all, and while she (her shirt crimson this time, dusted with pre-teen sparkles) groped for the right key, a shadow appeared behind her, a leather-gloved hand stifling her scream as she was dragged into the litter-strewn weeds to be curtly, hideously dismantled.

I shivered. Then felt a new chill behind the dissipating warmth of a nondescript day, the tiny glimmer-hint of autumn's cold blade, and shivered again. A dog began barking ferociously in this land of four-dollar gasoline, fast faux-ethnic food, and cheap, sticky motels. Lights were blinking on in gas islands, motel forecourts. The silent air held a crematory tinge. I don't know why, but I felt like sobbing, outright sobbing. Have we really done this to the world?

She emerged blinking and said something else I didn't catch.

"Let's check out the haunted motel," I said.

She made a face but for once didn't dig in her heels. We crossed the lot and walked the half-block to a motel whose name I've forgotten because perhaps it never had one in the first place. You would walk in the lot at the back, where no cars were parked, as if in some post-apocalyptic movie set, but you'd look up and there on two oddly looming sides were people clustered in threes and fours on the walkways of both levels. And they would stare at you. There was never anyone in the office and the place never seemed to have a vacancy, although the sign was rarely turned on, so how would you know? 

We stole into the parking lot as the light began to drain from the sky and compress the world, and looked up. Here, among inbred faces, there was most definitely a vacancy. A neglect. And a malevolence that felt like obsolete parking lots invaded by alien green spikes, black cakes of tar crumbling, breaking apart, becoming subsumed, unlamented.

She clutched my arm and pulled me out of there and we picked up our pace, laughing quietly, nervously. Thrilled. Dismayed. There was something so wrong with that place we could barely even articulate it, something deep in its foundations and its frame—restless, uneasy—dreaming and skittering between its darkstained walls.

With the growing chill on the still air, she compensated by warming up, and smiled at me, saying, "Let's grab a couple bottles of wine, some Mexican from Diego's, and go back to the room and love each other while we still can."

I smiled back, happy in the conspiratorial moment, mindful of her body's warmth, protective of and avid for her, yet knowing the timelines were about to shift once more, and feeling helplessly sick with the knowledge, the stunned inevitability of it all.

Thursday
Feb282013

Devil's Tower May Have Caused My Lover's Furrowed Brow

It was for you. All of it. Every mile of every road. Every beach combed, whether by boardwalk or by driftwood trails. For you. And it will never truly be enough, each tousled feral cat, each dripping cedar bough, each hardy tadpole in a mountain creek, each fake surfer, each dry phantom tree inundated by wetland, each misspelled signpost, each prairie dog gone tame by tourist handouts, each sidewalk busker, each sheer crag imposing, perched above a plain, a precarious god surveying the gathered armies of a vast but gentle beast.

Sunflower miles and clock-face windfarm dials. John Deere greens gold-misted by evening's haze. The mockery of crows.

Screaming eighteen wheeler mayhem on a submerged interstate, Akron or Toledo-dreams of West Texas or Florida sunbelt vanquished by the hammering of an eternal deluge.

You and I. The dew still glistening as we ride glorious into morning, the freshness of the world threatening a heartbreak toll for its sheer clarity. A purity tax. The world is not going to go away. Only we will go away. One day. But not run away, no. As someone said once, "I won't be no runaway, because I… won't… run," and yes, I can still smell our commingled scent from the night before, as we move forward once again. We will go away as one, joined, in the manner we wished to move in this world. Touching and touched; hard, warm, wet. Animal. Trembling with need.

You become me and I you. We enter a lobby, you talk to a concierge, we smile at the decor, whether through joy or familiarity, alarmed at a rickety elevator, charmed by someone's dog. Hands held on dusty trails, picking berries, chalking our names in yellow on railings. Delight at the very air each other breathes.

And breathe. Take in the possibility we could have it all, do it right, win the prize, earn the reward, achieve the accolades, grab the spoils, hand in hand still and laughing like fugitives high on the very threat of their freedom's fragility.

And yeah: we cross the giant beast of America, marvelling at a sky so large it might belong to another world entire. A sky world with lands of cloud, grey-white accumulations tumbled between expanses of blue, an ocean made of air exhaled by a freedom god. A vision. This world, though, is both tawdry and noble, glowing and tarnished at once. It is our world, the one we were marked to move within together, bonded as two humans could ever be, hungry for more miles, more moments within the finite lifetime of a world as ugly-beautiful as we could hope for, raw with the love and pain of it all.

Unraveled cattle ranch cloth strips, freight cars like beads strung across the world's largest rug, a mildewed rug dotted with apple seeds, black cattle, Canadian trains like prayer flags flapping over a Tibetan meadow, all perspective and reference points gone, the impossible horizon a few feet distant yet a thousand miles away.

My love for you is fierce. My woman.

Fierce and stubborn as the clapboard walls of nondescript motels bracing for the raging gales of prairie winters, unprotected, abandoned. Stubborn as beauty in a world that seeks its own annihilation. Stubborn as life clinging to a tiny rock while nebulae swirl and supernovae detonate in cataclysms of lambent violence.

I had a dream of you, long before you coalesced from the woods and beaches of your own dreams: I was alone in a cabin, fixing kindling for the stove, my fingers numb in January's vice, a body of water rushing away nearby, towering conifers bowing their laden heads in sorrow at the elegiac loss I had just encountered, stricken and arrested in my tracks. And you beckoned, from the future, called me through Dostoevsky fever-shades and Radiohead desolation, Russians and Englishmen, whispered of a time to come, of joy and discovery, of warmth and hope. And my insect mind began to follow the breadcrumb trail you set, one day catching up to the future as my brittle present fell away in chitinous strips like the shedding of a needless carapace.

Seagull sounds. Little wing. Gratitude. A river gorge, its waters the strangest and most exquisite shade I've ever seen, not jade, not turquoise, simply an indescribable blue.

You are my little wing, you help me fly. My pigeon camera, circus mind.

Brick shorelines, purple starfish. Cormorants and detritus. Shallow water crayfish rendering a giant fish head to nothing.

Jazz chords, Coltrane. Irish bars, Guinness. Blood Alley, history.

Spanakopita, souvlaki, classic rock, the world's most endearing waitress. Outside, a sunset, and a grey cat on warm cobblestone, diffident and wary.

I step outside the featureless motel, a bruised and dying sky darkening, air so breathable it almost induces panic. My woman is inside, drinking something sweet and potent, laptop typing, perhaps contemplating the dubious shower. It's as if the landscape is darkening while it quietens down, sound and light linked, the hush itself a dim new world hugging the hunched shoulder of a familiar one. Someone might even be dying out there. A farmhouse tragedy, a grim domestic tableau. Here, I can discern a day shrunk to a dog bark and the subsonic growl of the I-90 night shift. Somewhere a life ends in horror. Elsewhere, one begins. We fret too much.

We will drive and become temporarily lost on grey-mist Wyoming county roads tomorrow, until late afternoon the clouds begin to break and red earth arroyos emerge, all mere precursors as we head into something astonishing: an abrupt wedge of land, vertically striated rock, a truncated peak scored and topped from above, rising above sleepy stands of trees and untroubled fields, a land that has closed its eyes and forgotten its ancient ones though this one still looms. I can't breathe. I'm reliant on the world breathing for me. And my woman breathing for me, but she does that already, has done many times over. And we stand, rapt. This is something worth standing rapt over. Not because of mother ships—or not necessarily—but because we have moved far beyond that in such a short sliver of time, beyond the mashed potato modeling, beyond the earnest search for something that might prove we're not the lonely hearts we always suspected… our new knowledge far deeper and more forlorn.

And we do leave. And the sky rewards us with burnished gold and amassed cloud bunched like the awful fists of heaven, a land so utterly given over to its fantasy of beauty that it actually achieves it. And we drive. Rediscover the interstate. Factory-silhouetted refugees, passing asthmatic through an impassive land. And we keep on driving. And we cry. And laugh. And we love each other yet more, while each mile we consign to an awkward history behind our rubber aluminum revolutions.

But don't forget the boardwalk. We can always go back to the boardwalk. Even if it has to be rebuilt and is not the same boardwalk. No matter. It will always need to be rebuilt. Giant slices of pizza dripping scalding cheese, foamy mugs of amber beer, SALAD, WRAPS, in neon, and Julia from right here on the Jersey Shore with her raw glint of an English future urging us to commit, too. Real as this Elvis-haunted land, this vast and vulgar mystery. The great circle of life is revealed as a night time ferris wheel leaning over the Atlantic, metal on metal squeals, the pause at the apex all the more precious for that.

All I ever wanted, all I ever needed…

Drive till the rain stops, keep driving...

All those songs, drifting over twilit fields, their words torn to orphan strips and rags by the world's indifferent winds and scattered to the lonely horizons.

Death may come, invisible...

Well I'll be damned, here comes your ghost again…

This is now. Do it now, all of it, again, again; before we all become phantoms wandering dusty yellow backroads in search of the appalling beauty we let slip when time was young and hope dared to be born and we recklessly believed that was how it would always be.

This is the place all our hungers will meet, where needs go to be quenched, where we find each other again and stop time in order for it to be forever. Brand it with our need. Here, on some lost highway, in some dim motel room, the grey-blue glow of predawn painting us with spectral planetary light, your finger raised to touch my lips and trace them, like an artist, before another tentative question can emerge, saying shhhhh… shhhhh…

Outside, angled, the car waits quiet beneath a single bare bulb.