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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 The South (4)

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

Saturday
Jul142018

East and South

He read the note by the side of the road, right after he got punted by the irate trucker.

Handwritten, it said this:


Boo,

I love you an all. I cain't always be mad atcha. But you get right with your ownself or with God or maybe both. Then y'all can think about comin home and bein with me.

Your trusty girl,

Francelle Elesha Metcalf


Even before the trucker picked him up, he'd found it folded in the small pocket inside his flight jacket where he often kept a baggie of something, but he'd never read it till now.

"Fuck that trucker," he said, and then he almost laughed at the sound of the words. The brazen poetry of them.

"Fuck Francelle Elesha Metcalf." Words that felt a notch or three less funny, less poetic. She'd signed her whole name and taken time with the script, and something about that made him feel quite shameful.

By a stand of spindly trees, he tuned out his thoughts by listening to the interstate traffic, each approach of a laden semi-trailer some great breaking wave, an ex-surfer's fitful pipe dream. Yeah, he'd surfed awhile, at Ocean Beach, back before things had gotten murky as sequoia light at dusk. Ruby and gold, sapphire and emerald. Before it all went gray, like so many flavors of beach taffy chewed too long.

He'd made it a long way from the ocean by now, somewhere east of Sacramento and heading for Lake Tahoe, but this was a big place.

The Golden State, they called it, if that was where he was still. Not so golden now, though, right? Lots of reasons for pain but many more ways to buffer that pain. He figured skirting closer to his roots, partly east and vaguely south after Reno, might could cure him. Tease out his Southern truculence, slap him upside his dumbass head, wake him back to the world.

Kickstart the process, at least.

This stretch of interstate wasn't as busy as some, and he thought he could get away with hiking the shoulder. Fall was waiting all around, free of trust and dark with thieves. Before he set out again, he listened to the leaves in the aspens or whatever the fuck kind of branches shimmered and flashed against workshirt skies here. Heard birds he couldn't name. Squawks and whoops, hollow and distinct.

Tried not to think about much.

When that proved hard, he pulled out a pocketknife and dug into the quick of his thumbnail. The pain was bright as a sun flash and warm too.

Then he headed sorta east and kinda south.



***

The cop meant business or worse, he could tell. Moment the trooper clocked him, there was no doubt he'd be pulling alongside in his two-tone Dodge Charger to make his already shitty life a tiny bit worse.

"What you doin' on the interstate, boy?" Pudgy and bald, another cliché.

"Nothin' much."

"That ain't no answer. I'll ask you agin."

"Sir, I'm walking so's I can find a place to git offa this highway, swear to god."

"You got a long walk, and none of it legal."

"And I do apologize for that, officer."

The cop squinted at him. Raised his sunglasses to his absent hairline.

"Boy, you Mexican or something?"

"I ain't Mexican."

"But somethin', am I right?"

"I'm an American."

"You got ID?"

"Not on me."

"Then we got ourselves a problem, don't we, cholo?"

"Not if you decide to be decent. Sir."

"The fuck you just say?"

"I think you heard me."

"Get on the fuckin ground!"

"You made your decision, I take it."

"On the motherfucking ground!"

He dropped and lay prone and tried to ignore the jackhammer in his chest. Officer GhostFace McBigot cuffed him tight as he could, but he blocked out the pain.

"I'd wager something, officer."

"Shut the fuck up."

"No, I won't. I'm done shutting up. I'd wager my life on this. That you would never have acted this way before that pitiful senile prick lucked into power."

"Then you'd lose your life, Pablo. Or Alvaro. Or Fucko. Whatever. I ain't changed a damn thing. Don't matter to me who parks their fat ass in that crumbling hovel in DC, pendejo, a place that means the exact sum of nada to me. I've hated you people all my life. I'd be doing this if the Dalai Mother Lama of Cal-fucking-cutta was running our sorry nation. I hate you fucks, and I've always hated you fucks. You'll never get that, it seems. And now you won't get it again, cabrón, because…"

"Sir? No. Please…"

Out of nowhere, he couldn't recall seeing a plane in that dry implacable sky for days. Had everything crumbled this much?

Another sharp gunshot startled a cluster of nameless birds, and no one else bothered to flinch.

Friday
Jun292018

Might Never Happen

Hallowed be her name.

When she first came here—the skin beneath her hazel eyes smeared as if an artist had been learning charcoal, the eyes themselves almost pitiless—we called her Trashy, soon shortened to Trash. We meant nothing bad by that. "Trash panda" was a nickname for raccoons, and that was all we meant. But Trash—Raylene—heard only bad. Today we'd call it slut-shaming, only we weren't slut-shaming anyone. Yet she felt slut-shamed. 

I still remember her room, the three dreamcatchers: the obvious one over her bed; another in the exact centre of her small window; and the other hanging from the doorframe, like mistletoe meant to stop dreamers dreaming bad things instead of lovers kissing good ones. 

She never knew it, and even I only figured it out far too late, but I was her sister. 

Trash was skinny and chill as a frappuccino straw. She liked to eat but she often couldn't. Her moods precluded co-option of solid fuel. In fact, that's even how she would have said it back then: "My moods preclude co-option of solid fuel." Her speech was unique. Like she began her thought in English, heard it in Venusian, then translated it hastily back into English.

I secretly adored her eyes. Not the shadows that made me think of future ghosts scribed in hindsight, but the marketplace of colour shimmering in those irises, even when her will held them steady as edicts. Her face was its own proclamation, the golden emerald eyes an enactment within. 

You might have actually loved her too.

I'm making it sound like she died. Far as I know, she never died. She simply left. Left us. Joined someone else, far as anyone knew. On cold nights, I try to warm myself with the thought of Trash, surviving, articulating her offbeat vision to some spellbound soul.

But yes. Trash never laughed, though she found some kind of humour in everything. She told me how often this bothered people around her. Related this story. She was small, maybe seven or eight, and her mom won some local contest and they went on a trip to London, a hardscrabble momma from the American South and her no-account daughter, first time either of them left America. Some point, she was sitting on a barstool in some dark pub that smelled like unfiltered tobacco smoke and cheese and onion crisps (she remembers her first taste of English chips even while she's forgotten the endless flight itself or Heathrow or the narrow streets or the tiny houses) and her mom was chatting with three men who seemed smitten by her voice, by her look, by her difference. And Trash, quiet, alone, stared ahead at the array of bottles, all that bright-hued glass, and thought about why adults seemed so sure they were in control when most times the opposite was true. And she nearly smiled, but she didn't want to give reality the pleasure of agreeing with it, so she decided to remain stoic. A girl of stone, perhaps more limestone than granite. Emotion was real to her, but expressing emotion felt like a luxury. Seemed one of the men noticed her reserve and came over to her, and she never forgot this, but he touched her upper arm where it was also her shoulder, not sexual or creepy in any way, and he looked in her eyes—his were the palest blue and you wouldn't gainsay someone who called them grey—and said, quietly yet not secretively, "Cheer up, darlin', it might never happen." Then he went and rejoined the other men serenading her mother, and Trash tried not to think about it but failed. It might never happen. What might never happen? It was too open-ended and infinite. Too soaked in plausible. It made her mind feel like all life shrank to a point, a point at which it must decide on cheering up or cheering down. Like it was a sinkhole hoping to warn the neighbors. Like a graffitied road in an abandoned mining town.

How do I know all this? It's like we switched places, traded pasts. It's like Trash stayed and I left. Maybe I'm mistelling it or misrecalling it. 

One thing she knew that no one knew is this: everything aspires. A moth seeking light and dancing ungainly around it, tracing some newfound poetry in the expectant night. A two-lane road between cedars. Drunken songs after hours. A comet. Fresh-hatched turtles clambering over sand. The winning goal in a World Cup final. Migrants. Warmed cognac. The sun melting on the blazing rim of this world. Midnight mass. Laughter.

Though I don't know this, I know this: Trash is there still. On that blazing rim. Sipping Rémy Martin. Faking laughter at the exertion of turtles. Loving angrily yet secretly. Living within the penumbra of borders. Trying not to notice the chainlink. Trying not to cry.

Friday
Oct202017

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.