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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 murder (19)

Saturday
Feb092019

Are You Queen Of Heaven?

This is a new thing we tried to learn.

We dreamed a whole summer away.

My cousins walked alongside the ledge.

When we were young we laughed and believed.

Now so many are gone we balk and flinch.

Sparrows amass in the charcoal margins.

The rest of us don't hardly ever blink. 

A cab came by, and I damn well flagged it.

No matter. No sense. I think I also floored it.

***

Grieve next time, but this time roll with it.

What's the word they use? Dissociation?

Don't you dare feel sorry for me. Okay? What happened to me happens to thousands of kids, maybe more. No. I want you to focus on the good parts of a bad tale.

I'm a grown man now, of course. This is a life I didn't choose but found. And it's really not so bad. 

Right? Do you remember? Since you were there too?

***

Easy words, not such easy thoughts. I don't even know if they noticed me as they pulled the car from the rocks, dripping like a murder weapon, and I stood on the road above, squinting into the decaying honey of a late August day.  

Chewing on human evil.

***

"You know they never found him?"

"Course."

"They found his car. Some of his DNA in the wreck. But no body."

"What else they find?"

"Someone else had been in the car too."

"Who? Whose?"

"No one anyone knows."

***

Yet.

***

Hail this tarnished Mary. If this is it, if this is the moment I die, I accept it. 

Pain is unconscionable, but love is paramount. My entire left side is ruinous, yet my ears and heart are eerily specific, hearing on a loop the empyrean throat of Isabel Bayrakdarian as she dreams Górecki’s Symphony No. 3 anew, while rains fall like dreary curtains on a sodden carpet. 

***

At the hour of my death, a dog came out of the dark woods. Now talk to me. Own me. Anagrams are loco. Keep on listening. Anagrams lure, okay. 

Stupid, goofball, elusive, this damnable struggle wants so badly to be told. 

***

Striding into the bar filled with the spirit of Dorothy Parker, I fell in actual love. She was a hiccup draped in ticklish grey at the very end of a smeared warmth.

***

The black dog insinuated himself into our family and moved with us to the cabin built of wood that hunkered in the shadows of giant firs. When we had visitors he vetted them, growling like unfathomable sonar at two men who tried to cross our threshold. Mostly he wagged his stiff tail like an emotional rudder that ached to proclaim happiness. Yet he was never fooled. And we chased those particular men away with the assuredness, the quiet promise of violence, the unspoken quenching of some awful complex thirst.

In the endless gnomic bar of Dorothy Parker.

***

These colors. So subdued yet so attendant. I'm unleashed into the street, and alert I bounce then thrust my feet atop the running board and launch into the seat. Then I drive. I am a woman, driving. In the nineteen forties. Away from a massacre.

***

Darting on and off I-5 an hour south of the Canadian border, Koma Kulshan's dusky peak implacable beyond. Dream our common place in this commonplace place. Here I knew a woman with a mouth like yours. Exceptional. Magnetic. Even her brows were freighted with meaning. I drove on and off the interstate like a firefly, headlights lighting each lost tendril I stumbled upon, blunt visions of Econolodge and myriad locations more faceless yet. A kaleidoscope of bleary shelters, arranged hierarchical, like pantheons of gods, sacred and senseless, screamed from the overlooked backdrop.

***

It's a silent avalanche patient atop some empty peak.

This thing started toward me the moment I was born. Something sleek and inaugurated by my own insensate launch. It's coming fast, like teeth. Cold, exposed, like beholden jaws. 

Starved. Indebted. Imminent. Adamant.

***

You. No other. Please tell me the same. Please.

O enchantress, O my dreadful queen of desolation, did you ever hold on as tightly again as you held on to me? What yet squirms in the folds of your recall? Who will have the wherewithal to abridge this appalling tale? Will anyone? Where is the dog from the woods when we need him? Where is Ms. Parker? Love, life, music as sung by a child? The wind wrapping scarves of mist around skeletal branches? The cavernous indictment of silence where birds and insects once chirped? Where has it all gone? Where have you all gone? And where indeed am I? 

Friday
Jan122018

Openings

I knew I was going to kill him the moment he walked into my kitchen.

 ***

"Is it weird for you?"

"Is what weird?"

"That your abductor loves you more than anyone else in your life?"

"It isn't so strong. She has Gothenburg Syndrome."

"Ha."

The echo: I stand and face the waterfront and behold the absence of gulls and ponder the silent lapping of tethered boats, until a siren blares like the sudden shout of Satan, and not a single one of us has any inkling what comes next, as we dim with a fallen sun, pay endless respects to the spasming of a planet contemplating its own eradication.

***

It's a castle. The whole place is a castle. Music blares from speakers strung along its ramparts. "Lullaby," by Low. Turn it up. Place the speakers strategically. Untangle the fallout harmonies, adopt a male stance to blare, take a neutral line, assume a female posture to hear. The way of a world, probably our world, but not of all worlds.

I fell apart in Sacramento. Victim of those shibboleths. If my mercy overwhelms my wrath, this brass, your American face is bleeding, your underbite ascribed, your downturned mouth some emblem of your endless loss. Make the call quickly, and choose northward.

He walked into my kitchen. We were reduced. Me, my sister, my two brothers, and a cousin. They were sleeping. Here was I. There was he, and my eyes slid left to avoid seeing something appalling.

***

Want to meet love halfway? Simple. Add "my huckleberry friend" to everything you say. You will be inconsolable.

***

Across from us, wan dishrags of cloud drag across the tops of the dense conifers; ahead of us the road.

Oh god, that road. Oh god, that road. An unspooling charcoal ribbon curling between our splayed legs and the endless banks of trees.

***

An arrow into an abyss. It's hectic, corrosive, you pull into a federal monument.

Ten islands, four pumps each. Forty gasoline teats awaiting our unquenchable thirst. Outside just desert, a monotone of beige and fawn, of sands and scrub. This is where the action's at: microwaved hoagies and bitter scalding coffee.

Remember Scandella? The investigator? You thought of him as a good man, some kinda sleuth. And maybe that's right. But did it occur to you he mighta bin a she? Private dick, my irreverent ass.

Hunkered down, we hunch our impudent shoulders, lower our frozen gaze. The winds howl and whistle, keep on howling and whistling, and a fleet of corvids raids the back side of the ridge, dive-bombs this place, mocks this shelter, and we laugh, somehow vindicated.

***

Squeeze your eyes tight and let the tears fall; we can all see the humanity wrung from your dried apple face.

***

We fell through the long slow cracks. Made our way to minimum security. 

Carnock told us an ice storm was coming, so that night we took our chance during the first outage. 

A lurking, sporadic gale, teasing the world with sly offers of sanctuary. There's this moment when we both think we're free. Under scudding clouds of burnt umber traversing an orange night, a full quarter of the sky to the east flares sudden electric blue. Once. Twice. Transformers blown. Again. Four times. Her and me, we grab each other's hands as if the violence of the night might sunder us. Gaze at the antic incendiary sky. Then jack a Dodge pickup already warmed and readied by its hapless owner.

The roads are the shameful aftermath of genocidal lumber wars: miles of scattered limbs and even entire torsos of cedar and hemlock, fir and spruce, death-gripped by the cold embrace of their mutual hissing antagonist: the freezing rain. It paints you over many hours in layers of ice until its cumulate weight takes you down. All around, limbs groan and fracture, detonating, falling muffled and unmourned. Power line viscera curled every which way. We pick our careful course between these hazards, see orange lights in all directions flashing road closure warnings. Orange until they're suddenly red and blue and there's no escaping any of this. No way out. Now that's some rich and lavish fucking irony, right there.

***

Don't pay me any mind. No, wait. Blame my sorry ass for everything. You will anyway.

Friday
Dec152017

Glorious Things

Have I got a half-baked story for you. Turn your pretty head. 

I sit at a corner table where I can see the main doorway and the windows, keep myself mindful amid warm, oblivious goldfish trapped in a frozen hell. 

Karla is the recently Sharpie'd name on the left breast of her waitress smock. She asks me if I would like to order, and I tell her I was supposed to meet someone a good thirty minutes ago, and will wait, see if they're the belated kind or the bailing kind. 

"Would you like to order a drink while you wait?" she asks.

"Sure. Coffee. Dark roast. Cream."

She brings a porcelain mug and a delicate matching jug on a tray. White with a subcutaneous shadow. It feels French. Or Elvish. Or English from some other time and place. My hands are large and clumsy.

Her eyebrow is an arch, an irony, a bow flexed by a squire. I try to stop myself, but I fail: I laugh out loud.

"What is it, sir?" 

She is so fine. My heart pumps extra blood.

"You. Just you. You're priceless."

"All respect, mister, I ain't, and nobody is. We all got a price."

"All right. Look. Yes. I didn't want to say this, but I'm dying. Does that change anything?"

"No, sir. Not anything I said, if that's what you mean."

"Yeah. Yeah."

"Uh, if you don't mind me asking, you're a fairly young fella. What you dyin' of?"

"Well, Karla, you just asked the exact right question."

"Okay, and I'm glad…" Her pretty face is flushed. "But I'm too darned inquisitive, and I gotta get back to the kitchen."

"Yeah, sure. Go. Nothing says I should answer you, or you me. Even when you talk in poetry."

Three emotions run across her face, her eyes, her brows, and she retreats, sensibly. 

I pull out the nine millimeter, caress its cool barrel. A woman in a booth with two small kids clocks it and looks away, alarm on her handsome maternal face. She has that dry Christian denial in her glowing bones, which are also porcelain. Somehow, within a minute, she's signaled the waiter, corralled her children, paid her check, and left the diner before I can even register it. All I see is the caboose of her receding Cherokee, one child looking back, a girl, tiny face stricken, like she's always known, like she wishes she never did. 

So instead I stand and shoot the fat old white guy in a neighboring booth. Nothing personal, but I'm playing the percentages at this point. I damn well want him to be a bigot and a malignant human blemish. He doesn't immediately die, which upsets me. His wife tries to stanch the carmine gouts of arterial blood that ejaculate from his throat, and as he gurgles and drowns, I admit I laugh. Not out of cruelty but out of absurdity. Stupidly, I think his neck is orgasming. 

"There are glorious things in this world, but I can no longer find them." 

I think it is me who says that, but I also think it's someone else. I feel forked like a tongue and skewered like a heart.

"Tell me he hates niggers and faggots and cunts," I say gentle into her face, but she only looks blank and crosses herself.

A siren blooms from the landscape, like a blister aching to be burst. So I oblige. Step out into the gravel lot where the snow is falling like soft artillery and pop both uniformed men who alight so breezily and guilelessly from their cruiser. One is gone from the get go, and the other clutches his throat and grabs my ankle as I aim to walk on by. He can't speak, but his face can. It says: "I don't know you, and you have now become the second-most important person in my life, since you've done killed me. Please tell my gentle wife I died clean. That I didn't cry or beg. That I died well, uncomplaining, upholding my duty." 

I nod yes. I wish I could talk, but I feel all stoppered up. And I think we hear each other regardless. 

None of this is personal. Yet it's about as personal as it gets. Not all the bad guys hate niggers and faggots and cunts. (But all the guys who hate niggers and faggots and cunts are bad.) You see? 

This is the land of the locust, the rat, the serpent; the wounded and the livid. Violators of women; fondlers of children. The doltish and the dotard. Malevolence squats beneath the bleachers. Feigns piety while reconnoitering malls, noisome with loathing. 

This bleach is not to whiten but to clean.

Watch the steam unfurl from a grate. It strives to form a shape, like the birth of a ghost. Most times it's stillborn. But that one time, you know? That one time is a glory to behold. It's the silver tongue behind speech, delivering all that is lyrical, midwifing the honeycomb of words.

We're not bad but flawed. That distinction might not comfort those we fail, might even be a feint or dodge most times. Look. Some say we are fools to love what death can claim. But death can claim all things. Why would we withhold the last great fragile thing that renders us unimpeachable? 

In my mind's eye, I see the place again, and this time I sit still and wait, and Karla comes out from the kitchen as the man enters the diner at last, that icicle sound as the door opens and his brogues are the first part of him to cross the threshold. His rage enters next and is endless, even while quiet. Karla smiles at him and with a gesture of her head and eyes offers him a choice of seat. He smiles back, but it's a cold thing in a warm place, and it stops people dead. In the abrupt silence, I start to get up, but it's too late. He unsheathes a sword—a katana—and swings it toward the fat old white man, who sees it coming and grabs Karla by the waist and the katana slices into her instead. I howl like something raised in a hidden forest among a shock of echoes and the eternal creaking of a giant raven. I know I am too late. This is all wrong. I blink, and the picture changes to white noise and static, and all I can feel is relief. A lie. Resignation and relief. 

Glorious things. Her sapphire eyes. Wide salt lakes. Forever gone but not quite lost.

Friday
Aug252017

Majestic

© Robert WattsWe were staggered by rain. A torrent of it, for damn near half a day, before the sun broke through once more and redaubed our world in accustomed gold. Some called it cleansing, but if you haven't showered in a month or so, one won't get you clean.

Before they abated, the littoral squalls had a faint salt taste, it's true. 

I do recall my period came in heavy that month, lasted best part of a week.

***

Hunter S. Thompson bowed out right on time, Shaun assures us. One of those moments America forgot to hide its death rictus. Baghdad shenanigans and worse. He—HST, that is—clicked off the safety and cocked his piece while he spoke on the phone of love and language. Then he triggered the mechanism that drove that fingerlike cylinder of shiny metal into his raging, glorious brain, and left instructions to fire his ashes from a cannon to the sound of "Spirit in the Sky" by Norman Greenbaum. That mad, splendid sacrificial ram.

Somewhere in the universe he's pursuing Richard Nixon like a bloodhound, like the finest hunter. Once he catches him, he'll circle back.

All those beach houses, lined up, balancing seasonal abandonment with clusters of carousers, while a faraway train trails its melancholy bray eastward, northward, calling for backup. 

Cross my heart and hope to fly. Shaun demands we all meet on Rodeo Drive and shop. To our credit and our shame we comply. The evening sun cracks its shell-like rim and drips like fulvous glue among us. 

***

I don't know what to do with myself. This is something new. Last thing I remember 'fore I killed the motherfucker was dancing at the strip club, my dress rehearsal legs astride some pole already smeared with someone else's body fluids, my ropy arms holding me trembling in a pose above the sightlines of a bevy of blithe and lustful men. A magnificent queen of tawdry caught in the lustfire.

Backstage the man named Crawdog stepped in my path, and I lost some part of myself. I never even knew I'd kept ahold of that blade until I drove it between his obdurate ribs and into his stupid heart. It felt dirty. Cuntish. Before he died, for ten whole seconds, he sobbed his ruined heart out. 

He sure knew. Play his drastic songs now, he sure did know.

***

"We need to agree to a meeting place."

"You know it."

"How about that old motel out on Sunset? Wait, no. Pacific Coast Highway? The Magic Motel? The Magisterial?"

"Ain't no such place."

"Uh, you sure? I can see it in my dreams, you know?"

"That's just dreams, though."

***

Who dies first? Is the desert next? What do we fear and who do we loathe, before and after a rain squall? We don't know. Not even Shaun. No. We won't ever know, have no idea where to gather, amid the oily puddles, stumbling ghoulish in this filthy sunset glow.

Friday
Apr142017

Levees of Sand

Somehow desolate, he woke to the sound of the distant surf. Low tide. The harsh sporadic gossip of seabirds. 

Open windows had left the room cool in the early morning. Light streamed in ghost layers of airy sediment through the gauzy drapes, which undulated in the salt breeze.

Shivering slightly and scanning the room, Eric had to work at recalling where he was. Recumbent, he smoothed the thin sheet that covered him. Took in the light cyan walls with their tolerable paintings of driftwood and dunes. The beach house. Of course. In which case, he had no memory of how he'd gotten here.

A herring gull outside the window shrieked a volley of spiteful laughter, startling him into a gasp. As if his unsettled dreams had pursued him into the vigilant day; dreams that murmured, The ocean is like the movement of blood through a living heart; we tune it out until the moments of consequence

He struggled to remember a French adage he'd once read about hangovers, something like "My eyes aren't opposite their holes." Accurate or not, it felt right. Every time he moved his head, it took his brain a few bilious seconds to catch up. Like he was seasick on shifting sand.

Removing the sheet, Eric stood on shaky legs, trying to contain the swimming pain in his skull. The usual drifting tang of the sea stirred his guts, his mutinous senses queasily alert to the underlying decay of a billion rotting fish corpses. He barely made it to the small en suite, heaving a warm sluice of watery scotch into the pink maw of the clamshell sink. 

Only then, when he looked up at the mirror, did he see the bloodstreaks like warpaint on his face.

***

With age comes not so much wisdom as perspective. We realize it's all built on something. Colonnades, piazzas, rialtos, domos. The Ponte Vecchio. Dikes and levees. Fifties-model Chevys and Buicks scurrying like vivid beetles along the Spanish colonial streets of Havana. Built. Pasted over. Like posters on walls. Layers. Sediment. Dreamed of again and again in infinite ways. On sand or on bedrock or on water. Bourbon Street. The Bridge of Sighs. The ephemeral is no less momentous than the permanent, because really, there is no permanence. The ephemeral is the now, where we stand. Live there. Live here. 

***

Somewhere, perhaps the last song ever heard on earth, Louis Armstrong sings "St. James Infirmary." So cold, so sweet, and so fair.

***

One part of Darla, half of her upper torso, lay on the wicker loveseat. Another bisected the open doorway to the sandy deck, a small crab moving unevenly in the ruins of her skull. Layers of sand had caked the coagulate rivers of blood. In all, she was in three pieces. At first he thought four until he realized the dripping horror on the glass top coffee table, amid the paraphernalia of an ill-judged, foolhardy night, was the remains of his unborn child who would remain forever unborn.

Shot glasses, crack pipes, and ornamental swords. Beach detritus, abalone, kelp. All driftwood looks like the bones of the world. 

A fraudulent life of counterfeit strength had brought him here, to a place where all his daddy's purported billions meant less than nothing. The ferryman had demanded payment over four long decades and Eric had ignored his entreaties, even laughed in his stoic face. But not now. He wasn't laughing now. Now that payment was long overdue, and the shifting sands of power had begun to slip through, like someone gut shot and trying to hold in their viscera.  

***

What is this? Who are you? What kind of people can walk on by? Do you see the bodies floating in the filthy water? The people with their signs on the roofs? You remember the poor, the tired, the huddled, right? Did you once make a covenant with these people? Are you not obligated? Is this not your mandate? Or is our humanity lesser when placed beside your own? Go, then. Pass on by. You'd best pray your gods ain't the judging kind.

*** 

He used her phone—the one with the precipitating text—to make a call, and then left the house. Headed for the beach and the incoming caress of a gentle tide. Everything gone. Love. Family. A future. Everything. He felt he should cry, but his body sustained its arrant rebellion and even tears wouldn't come.

The yielding sands were soft beneath his feet. He stepped barefoot into the clear waters of this once-bright world, and the merciful waves closed in.