Search
Browse
  • 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.

Networked Blogs

 

 

Tweets
Places I Hang Out

Entries in Racism (6)

Friday
Mar032017

Some Dire Indian

Stillness. A lime-green-and-cream fifties model Buick by a lake. Backdropped by a silent bank of conifers, half-lit by a quarter moon. A woman in a headscarf stepping gracefully into a boat. A shadow man taking her hand.

You think you know what's happening here? Well, you don't. 

Back then, we summoned from nothing the possible. We dreamed up heists in our methamphetamine haze and enacted them. Constantly amazed they worked. Purloined heat from frigid matrons. Took what was undoubtedly ours. Dropped slack dumbass bodies into lakes. 

Once, we stopped in the desert, a trunkful of bills, stopped and took off hurtling like gazelles. She was a vision. Her flower print dress clinging to her damp curves, riding high, her thigh sweat like raindrops lashing from a clothesline as she pistoned across the scrub, heedless of snake or cactus or ankle-trap burrow. My crazy mother. High-strung, they said, betraying both their bloodlust and their envy. 

"This isn't the place," I said, once I found my breath.

"Sure it's the place."

"You will get us caught."

"Stop worrying, my sweet, sweet boy. Life is so short. None of this matters. Dance with me here."

So I did. Under a splayed galactic sky, serenaded by the wild desert dogs, amid pinpoints of virescent treachery, I danced with my half-mad mother and felt her core try to scorch the fulsome night.

***

Another customer, another delayed minute before I can cash out and go home. 

We got ourselves a menagerie tonight. Three college boys celebrating somethin' I never figured out, a couple on the verge of breakup or proposal, ain't sure which, two women in them headscarves worn by A-rabs, a goddamned family of six here way past their kids' bedtime. Some dire Indian veteran alone at the bar. Two off-duty cops, a man and a woman (can always smell five-o). A black drifter, the one just came in. The one that spoke right after the bell above the door finished jingling.

"Better ignore me or shoot me, but I got a bad tale to relate." 

***

Here we are. No longer able to tell sadness from meanness. No longer caring to. It might even have mattered once. Remember that visit when you drove from your family's home and one of their tiny marmalade kittens had crawled unbeknownst into your wheel well? Bones no thicker than a quail's. How quickly and immediately it died, a smear on a swatch of the slow-turning world. Ten weeks' worth of wide-eyed warmth cooled in an instant. Yet even thwarted, life won't relent.

***

These eyes have watched a half century of things: melodrama, atrocities, gelato, acceptance, secrets, luminosity, triumph, toxins. No wonder they look weary, weighty as grey velvet curtains draped behind a crime scene.

Why not come to something new with curiosity instead of suspicion? You think jaded is a good look? Sure, have it your way. But only if dead is too. 

***

"Here's my tale. My momma was a good woman. Sure, all a y'all would say the same 'bout your mommas. But mine was 'specially good. Why? Simple. Because she held off a full invasion while being tormented, just to let her kids escape. Ten of us made it, including me ... obviously. Five of them died. Which is why I'm here."

I weren't impressed. Be the first to call myself impatient. "That's it? The whole tale? I cain't even do the doggone math."

"Hell, it ain't ended yet, girl. Open that door. Go take a look outside. You think there's the silent desert out there?"

"Well, sure ain't the Big Apple, if that's what you mean."

Can't explain this, but I wanted to smile right then, like I quit, like I was cryin' uncle, though it gets harder for your face to change as you age. Something about how the muscles lose their pliancy. And I ain't even old. But we all watched as the Indian, who maybe ain't ever smiled, not once, made his slow way to the door, opened it, shrugged, and disappeared into the night. And I mean disappeared. It wasn't just night out there; there was no "out there" out there. Pitch-black; an absence. Don't hardly have the words. Read it in a National Geographic once, about space: the heat death of everything. 

The drifter looked me dead in the eye and then everyone else in the diner: the frat boys, the sand niggers, the lovebirds, the breeders, the law. "Y'all ain't gonna like how this story goes, I'm afraid…"

***

"Quick, tell me a cliché."

"I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired."

"You need to listen to the right songs."

Words spit from the void. We leave our eventual faces as fossils half-gathered by beachcombers distracted by showers of glittering meteors. I loved you from the start, just came to say hello, but now I'm the brokenhearted. Dreaming of escape, pretending you're not a rat and this is no damn sewer. 

And for a second or two, it works.

You walk beneath the land bridge at the shore—a small and timid biped framed by an arch of granite and greenery, half-dreamed into reality by heartache and salt. 

Friday
Dec302016

Eleven Steps

My friend is generous, but like most others I meet he eventually runs outta patience with me.

"Get off of your high horse and deal with things the way they are, goddammit."

"Not on a high horse, I swear. Not even on a horse."

"Then why do you seem so far away?"

"I don't know. Maybe 'cause I won't quit. A horse did gallop out this way, then slowed and left. But honestly, I swear I never rode it."

"Yeah. Okay, brother. Fine. What the fuck are you so afraid of?"

To that I say nothing, make idle patterns of a blemish on the wall. Feeling trapped but knowing I coulda turned it around on him.

But you wanna actually hear what I think? What I'm afraid of? Here's what I think.

The fear is you enter that world of men, of wounded men, of stained men, irredeemable men, and it seems easier to be alone than it would be to risk becoming part of that drab, desaturated procession, in which every gesture is interpreted via a sponsor or judged through some oppressive twelve-step framework, where all we can smell is sharp and carbolic like infrequently laundered institutional clothing, or grim and sebaceous as two-stroke engine oil, rank and barnlike as stale tobacco but never booze, god forbid. Never booze and never excitement. Or grace. Nothing feminine whatsoever. Always something daubed or smeared. Small. Adobe. Shrunken. Stained and shabby. 

Because we deserve this purgatory having reached prematurely for heaven. 

Less the unforgiven than the unforgivable. 

Innocent of what, indeed.

And yet we're blindsided and (it turns out) astonishingly wrong. Turns out these men are kind. Thoughtful. They bother to consider their actions. Figure out how they got here. Take time to make a few things right along the way and where they can. However shambling and uncharming. 

We stumble across far better people here—in the psych wards, in general population in our prisons, in seedy church basements redolent of the last tobacco partaken outside, where clutches of dreary people admit their flaws and are better for it—than we meet in suburban backyards, in the halls of academe, or in cocktail societal gatherings.

Anywhere else, in fact. We try, we rectify.

These are the folks who've looked into a well and never seen the bottom. Have felt the chill crawl of ragged fingertips on their raised skin. Been called out in class to read the paper they lied about writing because they'd been fending off an uncle (or an aunt) all night. They've been that guy or that gal who sits at the diner's or the bar's end, wanting to be left alone to enjoy their breakfast eggs sunny side up, or nurse their splash of bourbon on the rocks, only to flinch at the brittle shadow erecting itself behind them. The Other. The Enemy. The schoolyard Bully, all grown up, feigning strength through an unerring radar for doubt in others. 

***

Maybe something's happening. I put our friendship before my lust. Proud of that. Your light broke down into shimmers. Like our love had always been some dream, some distant piano melody while rain bejeweled and berated our windowpanes, crowding us, tracing facial lines while you haunted a roadside, a gravel shoulder, above a precipitous drop, below a climb toward someplace greener, better. Raindrops tattooing a dusty trail becoming mud. 

Four words I never wanted to hear, in a voice like silk and shrapnel: "A girl was hurt."

Or maybe a boy.

I show up at your place in the dry hills of an evening, arrive to the chorus of pop bottle windchimes, Dr Pepper taking the bass while Coca Cola trills the melody, and I almost gag on the bright banded gradient of night to our west. Gravitational waves. The drawn-out death cry of faraway stars. Sirens. Lineage. Binaries. Gamma rays. 

Ancestry.

You take my bloodline and twist those veins, spill my unworthy blood, mop up my unfit gaze, trash my blood-soaked shirt. You are a cunt, but I'm far worse. Far more hungry (so much hungrier).

Watch the full moon claim its sky. Her sky. It don't matter. You are a black woman confronting a white man; you have to know how badly you will lose. But your pure courage warrants a better ending, doesn't it? 

Are you right now on Robson Street, strolling between the flickering lightsprays limning the trees? Can you follow the trail of scent? Rooftop seafood restaurants. Tsunamis. Luxury ivories tinkling. Sushi. Complexity. Lush. Lush. The store. Enter, smile at the staff, ask if they still pipe that music they played all those years ago. What was it? Vitalic? Electronic. OK Cowboy? Leave. Greenery spilling like falls. Do they know the best, the greatest words? The most evocative? That beechwood also means, in German, Buchenwald

Ghost me. Abandon me. Stop pretending I matter. This is no haven, no liberating sanctuary. 

Race cannot be ignored. Gender cannot be ignored. Genocide likewise. You want me, you want to feel me, you want to roll my credentials between your tender fingertips? I once shot something minimal and lovely, oblivious to a camera mast that watched my every move. How can we possibly compete with that?

Grunge city. Dark sister. You needle me.

I'm back with you, a raw white man with a clean black woman, a dry black man with a lean white woman, a trans woman with two lost souls, an atheist with a Jew, a skinhead with a queer, a Muslim with a kafir. We can't shirk this. The sounds of an entire city are like a canopy, a vast speaker quivering open over our heads, heedless of a trembling monolith, of dream saviours, of Cascadia, mostly flinching from the prophesied slip. 

Wanna cross the line? Subject yourself to indignity? To likely shame? Be allowed through at the booth so you can fill up with cheap gasoline, grab a bottle or two of two-buck Chuck, a Trump-hued block of American cheese, keep driving because now that you're here you might as well explore. Through wide expansive rural miles, full ditches, cornfield stubs. Sumas. Linden. Mount Baker to the east or link up with Guide Meridian to Bellingham south. See the school bus, the exact same colour and shape as the school buses you know, the red octagonal stop signs, the signs in general except the speed limits, which first look the same yet on reflection seem so low and weird. Who the fuck goes fifteen, twenty, twenty-five? Wouldn't it be better to walk?

You used to be our friends.

She is waiting for you on a motel forecourt off of a state road, her thighs already splayed above the loose grey gravel. A Thunderbird looming overhead. The sun dropping westward disappointingly fast. Her crotch is damp, but she knows not to reach too far. Knows you're not gonna make it. She returns to her room and fingers the remote, reels in a story 'bout a man who shot a toddler during a road rage incident, cries when a witness tries to make sense of it, yells at the news team who don't seem to have grasped its full import.

Then she succumbs, masturbates, her fingers soon warm and puckered with her own arousal. Celebratory. Her orgasm coinciding with a memory, a rearview glimpse of how she opens up a hole, untwists the leaden links in a chainlink fence as a child, and lets a boy through, from the streets her mother calls the Commonplace. A boy who'll end up paying much too great a price for that.

A boy who in his dreams turns everything to eleven.

And it still comes back to this: we deserve this purgatory having reached so early for heaven.

Friday
Nov252016

Matinee

Geneva's a small woman in a small town at the quiet end of a quiet life.

Union Street is straight and plenty wider than it needs to be, and the bakeries and thrift stores and credit unions and jewelers and coffee shops are comforting, like old photos in sepia. It's only partway through November, but the seasonal lights are already up. She doesn't mind. She finds it safe, like when she used to lie beneath the towering fragrant spruce as a little girl, her eyes filled with color and love.

This is her routine on a weekend. Since her Stanley up and died a decade ago now, she's discovered a love of film, so she attends at least one matinee a week, usually on a Saturday, which leaves Sunday open for when she gets the comparatively less frequent urge for Jesus. Fact is, Jesus ain't really cutting it all that much of late.

Ron McDonald manages the movie theater. Everyone forgets how plumb comical his name is now; given time, people get used to most everything. It's called The Empire, and though it mostly shows current films, Ron tries to host a classic or two during weekend matinees.

Geneva feels still as the eye of a thwarted storm, like the storefronts and sidewalk are moving past her and all she has to do is wait until Union and Wabash arrive and she can step off and walk right into the movie house to find her weekly measure of drama.

She knows she's old and unremarkable. She knows her place is set and her role defined. Unseen. If Stanley were still alive, perhaps they might drive to Echo Park, even take a real picnic like old times, red-and-white checkered cloth and everything, while the young folks stared, bemused. He would call her Eva and she would smile. But Stanley is gone, and her life as a wife, and as a waitress, then as a department store salesclerk, and then, briefly, as a student of art history in college before she realized she'd bitten off more—financially at least—than she could chew, is gone.

At the big department store she worked in when they moved to St. Louis for a year, she won Employee of the Month three months in a row. She would've won it four times if the other employees hadn't started to get antsy. Her boss told her he was sorry about that, but sometimes excellence goes plain unrewarded in this world, when the other crabs want to pull you back into the bucket. That's exactly how he said it, too. She still hung those awards on her wall, in the tiny apartment she shares with the odd roach, a colony of bedbugs (she suspects), and plenty of angry Spanish epithets from her florid neighbor.

This is her life. She wonders what would happen if she stripped naked as a jaybird and danced the can-can the length of Union Street. Would anyone even notice? Or care? People in movies do crazy stuff like that and everyone loves them. She sighs, buys her ticket, and finds a seat about ten rows up from the screen and central.

There are more colored folks here than usual (she knows she needs to say African American but her tongue can be obstinate when it comes to current ways), a couple families with kids even, and Geneva realizes why: this Saturday, they're showing To Kill A Mockingbird. Sure, a story still told by white folks, but one that at least looks at prejudice without blinking. She knows because she read the novel a few years back, and she loved Scout's raw, wide-eyed voice and Atticus's quiet nobility.

And whoever picked Gregory Peck must have had the same dreams as her.

While she's watching the show, she drifts and has a memory of when Stanley first hit her. The pure shock of it is like an ice bath. She remembers wanting to disappear, to be like mist, because mist can't be broken. She misses him but she doesn't miss his knobby fists, his sandpapery palms, and his random meanness. 

"Are you okay, ma'am?"

Geneva blinks and recognizes Susan, who takes her money most weeks in exchange for a ticket.

"I'm fine. I think I fell asleep and was dreaming. Thank you. And my name is Geneva."

And that's when a dark figure enters through the exit door by the screen and the horror show begins.

Geneva is sprayed by something warm and wet, which turns out to be Susan's blood. The sound of an automatic weapon is like God's rage: all-consuming and limitless. It's everywhere in her head, everywhere in the theater, everywhere in the world. She can sense people clambering over seats in the dark all around her, hear them screaming. To her shame, she is frozen; just as before, she has no fight or no flight in her. She closes her eyes and awaits the inevitable end. Which arrives with sudden silence as shocking in its way as the gunfire had been. But not perfect silence; she hears a man drowning in his own blood, a desolate gurgle, and a child crying. Then another burst and even those sounds are no more.

The man stalks the rows of seats for survivors; she watches him as he gets closer. His face is hidden by a ski mask, but she sees his eyes, wide and cold as sinkholes in ice. He is saying something quietly to himself. It sounds like "Heil Trump," but that seems nonsensical to her. He lingers over the black families, then nods as if some grim ledger has been balanced. Then he heads her way… and keeps on walking, toward another exit door in what was once a theater and is now an abattoir.

Geneva sits for a while, feeling the blood of others move in rivulets down her body. She can hear sirens and sounds of alarm outside. She eventually gets to her feet, shaky and sick deep down in her bones, and walks outside, into an evening smeared with fuchsia and ultramarine and filled with the sounds of human distress.

Not even the cops see her, so she goes home.

Friday
Sep302016

God's Honest Truth

It isn't the first time I've listened to the ranting of a dying man. I've heard rage. I've heard regret. I've heard terror. I have to say, this time feels like something different.

A neon urban orange sodium night, tailing off into indigo then black. Like a deep sea coral reef right before the squid attack.

Back then, when I told her the big ferry was in town she thought I'd said the big fairy was in town. And she laughed. I laughed too, but I meant the ferry. Someone said there were orcas in the water as it drifted into dock. White and kinda white and black, and rounded, like weird soap. I wanted, still want, to believe in them.

A clownish man approached me and began to punch me hard in the face, over and over, and I staggered back behind my own face, blood like a full-on tap. For some reason I remembered the carved Sasquatch sculpture to your left when you enter the town of Harrison, a hirsute giant ready to hurl a rock. And I wanted to inhabit that thing, feel it come alive, wear its flyblown skin and fur and deep wood stench, and tear my assailant's face into dripping ribbons.

Yet the silent empty ferry. Monolithic. Strange. I tried to ignore your homophobia, but the ferry had docked.

Dissociative dreams of how we are. Castoffs and cormorants and catatonia. Analog orcas and burned corneas.

What is this? You shrug. This might not even be happening. 

Will you come with me to buy a breakfast, a bagel, with lox, with cream cheese, with capers? Prettiest damn server ever. Engineered. Abutted hips and cantilever eyebrows. A living boast. You, hypervigilant. Let her fill your cup, one eye on the clock, with the darkest of roasts.

"More coffee?"

"Yeah."

"New in town?"

"How'd you tell?"

"Your pointless fucking tears."

Get help. Sympathy? Dying is now only one tendril. Pain is pain is pain. Is pain. We can bury it and exhume its dry crust, its sticklike legs, its sheer wings, all desiccated. A dusty attic of mostly nothing.

Dreary gossamer. Benadryl. Wormwood. Go deep into the green. Drive for eight hours and park beside a wild creek, step out, listen to the waters, the breeze stirring the tops of the conifers, the ravens collaring their own echoes, the complete absorption of our tale, our blunted, airless psychodrama.

Back in the ambulance, the man snags my gaze. I don't want him to. He speaks in some other tongue, gags like an accidental witness to history, offers his throat to some alien wolf, spits poisoned absinthe at our door.

"I came back with a skin yet more dark. You still didn't get it. Last time you drove nails through my wrists and suspended me on two great pieces of wood. It took me hours, days, to die. In unspeakable pain. I believed my own tale and thought that would end it. Not true. Centuries earlier and later, millennia even, I've continued to return. My skin has been brown, olive, tawny, like tea, like coffee, like cola. None of which matters. Here I am, dark as a walnut and dying in the back of this medical wagon. Why is that? Well, new and completely beguiled by this bright embryonic world, I smiled and said hello to a white man dressed in blue. He told me to back away and hold my hands in the air, which I did. But he saw something in my hand that frightened him. A leather-bound book. Just a story, one more tale. Panicked, he sent his hot zygotes of death my way and now, instead of air, pink foam bubbles from my chest and my head grows light and lost, like melting taffy, and I don't know what more I can do … Will you hear me, my ambulance girl? Pass this on? This hurts, but you are a good woman. Attentive. My sweat is like wishful sacs filled with acid, or hope. You are nobody. But neither was Mary or Judas or Peter once. I'm only one of many, and yet you listened to none. If I come back at all, should I come as a rat, a gator, or a whore? A tumour or a field of stalks? Will you even notice? To tell you the god's honest truth, you haven't yet."

Friday
Aug262016

Faraway Thunder

There were no signs. You got there via a rutted overgrown track between the corn brake and the slough. Once you did, you'd be hard put to know which was the more broken down: the shack or the old man who lived in it.

She knew he never spoke of the very war she figured was what ruined him. She made these visits not to hear about napalm or agent orange or Bell Hueys but simply to keep him company. She felt badly for him, all on his lonesome an' all, no family she knew of, friends likely dead, unbidden memories shuffling out of the corn. 

Sometimes he'd be sitting on his canted porch in a reeking bathrobe that might once have been white cotton flannel but now appeared as if assembled from filthy slaughterhouse mops, and stank that way. Mayhap she'd hunt down that old washboard and coax him out of his robe and try to launder it best she could. He never hid his nakedness, and after a while it stopped bothering her too. Other times she'd dig up a greenish potato in the weed patch that dreamed of being a vegetable garden and add it to the chitlins she'd brung, along with a couple eggs from the coop if the broody old hens had deigned to lay that day.

Neither of them said much, all told. She might sit beside him on the stoop—though he'd never offer up his rickety chair—and watch as the sun spread like a broken yolk and dripped below the rim of the world and the lightning bugs briefly outshone the few pale stars. Occasionally he'd go fill a mason jar with moonshine and share it with her, and smoke while they listened to the antic coyote chorus, after which she'd sway a little on her hike back in near blackness, half-afraid she'd fall in the slough, a small dutiful woman in a large world of night.

He did tell of his brother once. Another time of his mama. Both long dead, as she'd thought. Rare times he talked, she mostly listened; the smallest creek needs no impediment. He never once mentioned his pa.

The most he ever talked was after a big storm had passed, one that still sounded in the gloomy hills to the east, like the ghosts of old battles.

"Had to kill me one a' them hens," he said into the clear mercury air.

"How come?"

"Got a wound on her neck, so the others woulda slowly pecked her dead anyways."

"Which one?" she asked, but immediately felt foolish. "Though I s'pose you seen one dumb chicken you seen 'em all."

And that was the only time he spoke of the war.

"They used to say that about Charlie. They was wrong then, and you're jes' as wrong now."