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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 Unemployed Imagination (57)

Friday
Mar172017

Los Irish

This short tale is only a small part of something larger, I'm hoping. Oh, and happy St. Patrick's Day. 

__________________________________

It was a scene right out of Chandler, except I'm no gumshoe. A rain-soaked back alley at night, distant neon smeared abstract by the tireless storm. She wore Docs and a faded cotton dress, some reptile print. Gators or iguanas or some shit. Close-cropped hair and makeup-less. Celtic eyes dark as oxbow tannin. Her dress in the downpour so thin she might as well have been naked.

Without a shred of lechery, I said, "Nice Brazilian."

Despite her instant "Fuck you," a corner of her mouth twitched in a phantom smile.

I passed her the thin package wrapped in plastic film and she slid it under her dress, smoothing it carefully against her lower belly like a newly expectant mom.

"If I'd known, I'd have brought a raincoat."

"Not a chance, mister."

"I meant an actual raincoat."

Again she smiled. Cursed at me without malice before leaning forward and whispering three words in my ear and then dissolving into the night.

"Yeah, bye, Sinéad," I called after her. Did I tell you I have a puerile sense of humor sometimes?

It earned me one last well-deserved "Fuck you," and I could almost see it trailing off like cigarette smoke and rejoining the shadows—tragic, arch, and funny, like its source.

Nothing compares, indeed. 

Friday
Nov042016

The Moon Dog

She waited for the first cold snap of the year and it came in early December. At first her nineties-model Ford pickup wouldn't start, and she almost laughed. Some might have read that as a sign and gone back inside to a warm, dry room, but she didn't believe in signs. Then the starter caught and none of that mattered.

The road was a favourite drive of hers. It snaked along a north-south valley that rose from flood plain into foothills, crossing dry creeks and ranch land, up toward Devil's Lake, but you took a right before the asphalt became a dirt logging road. She passed her favourite house: a log cabin set on parkland, huddled amid cedar and fir that were now strung with red LEDs. Festive. Cozy. Heart crushing. She grabbed the wheel tightly and tried not to feel.

As she'd guessed, the parking lot was deserted. It was late afternoon, and a light snow was falling. She doubted anyone would even show up to lower the barrier to the parking lot once the light had leached from the sky. It didn't matter.

She wasn't exactly dressed for it, a black T-shirt under a thin North Face fleece and Lululemons with sneakers, but a straight hike up to Cataract Falls would keep her warm enough for now. No danger of meeting the fashion police in this cold, remote place. The light was that combination of day and night that made visibility murky and strange, as if the veil between the two hinted at some other world entire. The mulch on the ground was hard and ridged, and mildew and ice made the rough cedar walkways and steps along the trail treacherous. In all directions, other than the faint rushing of the falls above, an anemic quiet had settled. Here under the canopy of the rainforest, the snowflakes were sparse, like the pallid ghosts of moths.

Fifteen minutes and she was at the falls, watching as half the deluge fell into a frothy bowl of slick rock, while the other half hung suspended, frozen, as if time itself was debating a cosmic pause and had been caught in two unfathomable minds. The sound now was thunderous, water at war with rock, and she could feel the icy spray of their combat on her face. This would be the last time she'd see the falls, and already the encroaching night was drawing a veil over them. She stayed, resting her arms on the railing at the viewpoint until full dark.

The cold seeping into her bones now, she headed north and up, crossing a ramshackle bridge where the trail joined a forest service road that switched back and forth a few times before eventually levelling out high in the mountains that stretched ahead for hundreds of miles, all the way to the playground of the rich and blasé, Whistler Blackcomb. 

Solitude is fertile ground for introspection, and she resisted. But as it often did, her mother's voice echoed in her head, a voice she hadn't heard in the world since she was eight years old:

"Remember, wherever you walk on this earth, you're always my moon angel."

Right. Got it, Mom. Whatever the fuck a moon angel is. I hope wherever you walk on this earth, it's even colder and lonelier than this, bitch.

She shook her head to clear both the settling snow and the voice of the woman who abandoned her to a father who in turn pimped her out to his greasy friends when she reached thirteen, prompting her to run away and divide her adolescence between group homes and the street. She learned resilience, albeit a brittle variant, and in her early twenties met Nils, a big Swede whose large heart fit her small one and somehow inflated it, began even to heal it. When she realized she was pregnant, the only cloud in her sky was a nagging fear she'd retrace the horrorshow of her own parents. She never got to find out. Baby Oliver died in his crib after four months and three days of life. SIDS. The shared grief that first enclosed them began to slowly divide like a cell, becoming two entirely separate and distant things, and she woke one day to an empty home and a dull hollow place where her heart had been.

The snow had ceased and the sky had cleared enough to ensure subzero temperatures and to display the shoddy detritus of the last weekend warriors: spent shell casings and broken glass on all sides of the trail, twinkling like fallen stars. Good. Let the tawdry indifference of men be among her last sights.

Now that the road had levelled off she began to look for someplace suitable. The cold was gripping her now, turning her slowly to stone. Off to her left was a hollow between two large boulders, sheltered by low scrub, all topped by frosting that glittered under the clearing sky like dark confection. This would be the place. She removed her backpack, sat lotus style in the snowy hollow, and grabbed the two-six of amber Bacardi from one of the pockets. No sense in suffering; let her feel the warm ironic buzz while her body cooled. She uncapped the bottle and took a lingering gulp. Which was when she heard it: the sound of an animal moving nearby. Her entire skin crawled and she stopped breathing. Not large enough to be a bear, but a cougar? She hadn't come all this way only to be mauled to bloody ribbons. No, too small. Raccoon? She heard a distinctly canine whine. Coyote? She couldn't imagine a lone coyote would come anywhere near an adult human, so instinctively she called it: "Here, boy. What's up? It's okay, I'm not gonna hurt ya."

Out of the gloom, a dog appeared, tail curled rigid between its trembling legs, ears flat on its sleek, emaciated head. She guessed it had once been a border collie, but now it was a fright, something too pitiable to be seen. The animal whined again and glanced at her and looked away quickly, its head dropping. Slowly, she extended her hand and made reassuring sounds, and the dog, hesitant and skittish, approached. She let it sniff her hand. Its muzzle was torn and bloody. After a long moment, the dog came all the way forward, whined again, and climbed into her lap. She smoothed his mangy hide, feeling a ribcage like lattice under burlap. The dog watched her and somewhere they met each other on the darkling plains of a land called Abandonment. She knew her plan was in ruins. If she succumbed, she would effectively be killing the pitiful creature, and she knew she couldn't do it. She wanted to scream into the night, but she didn't want to spook the dog, so she wrapped herself around him and they drew warmth from each other.

When they had both stopped shivering, she gently stood and petted the dog, telling him she was going to head back down the trail and he should follow; he looked at her with a wary, heartbreaking faith, bringing her to tears that froze on her raw cheeks.

She propped the rum against one of the boulders for the next lost soul and set out back the way she'd come, and the dog followed.

Her truck was still the only vehicle in the parking lot, hunched and oddly dangerous-looking, like a musk ox on a frozen lake. As she'd thought, the barrier hadn't been touched. She unlocked the driver's side door, threw her pack behind the seat. As she went to unlock the passenger side, she hesitated. She looked up into a sky now dominated by an electric moon, and she gasped at the halo surrounding it. Moon angel. But no, she might now believe in dogs, but she still didn't believe in signs. 

She helped the collie into the cab of the pickup and went back around to the driver's side. As she climbed in, a thought occurred to her. "Now what am I gonna call y—?"

She blinked. There was nothing there but the cold, scuffed pleather of the passenger seat.

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."

Friday
Jul222016

Little Apples of Death

Never forget. I forget. I always forget. What indeed is memory?

The ceiling fan flickers in the rearview screen of my keys. They sit bunched on my desk alongside an overfilled wallet straining like an enlarged organ, an unfashionable cell phone, and an open notepad filled with jottings and appointments and TV quotes and titles of movies I want to catch, like silvery fish, all written in green.

Only recently I quit talking on my phone to Gabriella, my most recent ex. In a red leather diner, art deco no less, I think I became amorous and whispered, "Let your petals unfurl for me," and now in shame I'm trying to forget this. She hung up, of course. But strip away the poetry and pretension and I think I meant it.

That quiet rural road at night, the scant light a weak spill from the sky gilding powerlines.

Gas stations bathed in jaundiced pools.

I met Gabriella in a small Guatemalan village where we came to know the little apple of death in a mangrove swamp. That is not a metaphor. We came to know each other beneath the wicked limbs of a manchineel tree, unmindful of everything but each other's crevices and tastes and folds and fragrances, until our innocent choice of love nest revealed its terrible weeping teeth. A sudden squall washed its glutinous sap onto our exposed bodies, which erupted in yellowish domelike clusters of scalding pus. I won't even try to describe the torment. Enough that we lived. Scarred but alive.

The next time we kissed, I felt your newness. You, not Gabriella. I hardly want to say your name for fear of breaking some spell. But Nastassja, I guess, let's say that. It wasn't even an amorous kiss. More sibling friendly and full of love. I recall you smelled of the fresh rain in summer, sprinkled over the sweet dust of berries. That is always your smell, my love, will never not be. The things we scratched in the dirt have become signs, sigils, symbols, license plates, catechisms, wreaths, and leis, the heart-pause moment your fridge hiccups and your lights twitch and trouble flickers your brow.

After which we met Tyrell, a tiny whipped dog who finally bit back but bit all the wrong people. He lived in a motel in Sedona, but his dreams and his history leaked from the sun-bleached door and proclaimed themselves tendrils of dreamstuff, larger and more real than their origins. Tyrell wasn't a dog, though; he was a man. But he was hurt and squalid and swollen and famished. His footprint was tiny, yet his presence was vast. We witnessed a microburst, listened to a bell chime, made a clear date with him, and left.

After which we committed atrocities, of which I will not speak.

We headed north, Seattle bound, shunned, and I became Sylvain and you became Nathalie. We became the universe's secret scheme by which to gaze upon itself. In the shadow of a needle, we sucked each other's essence through our germy, blistered genitals.

Kept going. My god, my love, this late summer evening, an apricot and charcoal sky, the dense stand of trees across from my window thick with gelatinous greens, mutinous quiet, and still as an inbreath, a 3-D painting, that moment we know we're finally betrayed.

Right before we cotton to it. Before backwash. Before we are fully tarnished.

And now we all meet at the cabin by the lake, one by one or in small groups, you and your sister, the crippled geek, the quiet killer, the queen bitch, the whipped dog, the selfless children, the drastic the guilty and the laughable, as ordained, as determined by the warfaced nun and the sneering gypsy we couldn't shake loose in the French Quarter that unnaturally humid spring, by the cosmonaut with all the juicy conspiracies, by the Japanese artist daubing graphic manko portraits in defiance of her culture. My gentle Yukio. My profane Monique. My abandoned mermaid. My coconspirators.

The lake water is still, and the greens drip and mix like virgin oils on a canvas. A loon succumbs to laughter. The Milky Way begins its gentle rise across the darkness, a smeary cosmic vulva. A single coyote yips and then stops. All the trees, like bronchi in a vast lung, exhale as one. Sweet sacred oxygen.

We are here. We are seismic. This could be our moment. We might take flight. Grab our keys and wallets and light out. Then a fight erupts in the cabin—"Fuck you, what is this?" "I'll hurt you!" "Stay away from me!"—and suddenly the world weighs heavy and the moment lies wounded and defiled, stunned immobile by the sudden draining of all hope.

See my alien scars. Features of exotic worlds shaped by impossible forces. Come closer. Trace them with trembling fingertips. Smell my carnation scent. Hurt me as I ask to be hurt. And bring me home. Bring me home.

And if I die, please, if only once in a while, please fucking dream of me.

Friday
May272016

One Act Play

What had possessed her to do this she couldn't have said. Alone. Out of shape. And in deep winter. By the time she'd made it up to the cabin—quads, calves, and lower back muscles trembling with fury at her impromptu masochism, heels sanded raw by her ancient hiking shoes, her every breath a vast torment—much of the light had gone from the sky and the cedars were ink-black against a layered gray backdrop of mountain ranges and thick cloud.

There'd been snow at the trailhead, so no surprise to see more of it here, almost two hours' near-vertical hike later, burdening the branches and drifted like cold-bleached dunes against the walls of the cabin. She shivered and dug in her pack for a spare fleece. At least she would likely be alone, no partying hikers to interrupt her monastic night.

No sooner had she formed that thought than a sound reached her, startling in the silence: the crisp snap of twigs, something moving in the trees.

Bear? Cougar, even? It was a hot and a cold thought, both, and her skin a crawling electric skein, she backed toward the cabin.

***

"Just one night's all I'm asking." She kept her face still.

"Okay. Fuck. So we get used to one night, then you sneak out for another 'just one night,' some point after. So what then? It's a slippery fuckin' slope, ain't it? Plus, how do I know you're gonna go where you say you're gonna go, even now? Huh?"

"Because it's true."

"True like what? Like Area 51? Like Sandy Hook? Like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion?"

"Nah, true like truth. Like love."

"Oh, what a pleasant little poet you turned out to be. What a lovely, perfect, dreamy little cunt. Please, tell me more!"

"Hon, you're scaring me."

"I'm scaring you? Bitch, you don't even know what fear is. Get ready, though."

She could never anticipate the exact moments; she was doomed to parsing tendencies, which neither flashed on the immediate nor lit on the specific. His right hand, with its cracked and knobby joints and its futile zirconian angles, hovered like a distant thunderhead until it was suddenly upon her, catching her square in its cyclone drama, plying its special breed of junkyard mean. The inked knuckles, left to right, fist-forward: T-R-U-E G-U-T-S. Though P-U-R-E R-A-G-E would probably have been more truthful.

Either way, she might not have known precisely what it meant, or its specific ETA, but she damn well knew exactly how it felt.

***

She backed up the four wooden steps into the doorway, ready to slam and bolt it against whatever moved out there. The last light draining from the world. All breathing suspended everywhere. The mountain itself seeming vast and hollow, as if its fragile crust might fracture and pitch everything into some unthinkable chasm beneath. As if the earth itself was nothing, a dewdrop, a snowdrop, quivering, an unanswered echo in the interstellar dark. As if catastrophe didn't matter, on a scale she could never quite absorb or countenance.

Gracile as a new doe, a girl emerged from the blackness between the trees.

An anime shock of corvid hair, fuchsia Hello Kitty T-shirt, powder blue shorts, and colorless flip-flops.

An impossible girl.

"What the—?" She went to her and draped her fleece over the youngster's angular shoulders and ushered her into the rude one-room wooden structure that had served so many wanderers before them. "Girl, let's get you inside, you'll catch your death."

***

He didn't look right. His face was off, askew, as if the bones had been shattered in some terrible conflict and he had covered the devastation with synthetic skin.

"You think freedom will make you a better wife?"

She didn't want to answer, since a trap lay in either response.

"Well?"

"No idea." She hated herself for vacillating, but his knuckles had grown in her mind, and were now made of adamantium, and he was named Logan, and she was fucked if he decided on violence.

"You're trying my patience."

"I'm sorry."

"You really fucking will be."

***

After she stopped trembling, she said her name was Christy and that she remembered being chased in a dream by a police car with no driver and had found herself wandering here, near the top of the peak. Her clothing made it clear she couldn't possibly have hiked the steep trail, yet here she was, and the likelihood of her stumbling on the cabin a moment before nightfall was equally absurd. Yet here she was.

"Christy, I have some food and there are sleeping bags and camping foamies, so let's settle here for the night and hope tomorrow isn't bad weather."

"You got any booze?"

"Um, no, maybe. Why?"

"Why'd you think?"

"You're way too young."

"Oh, please, grandma."

"Okay, whatever, but please get warm first, okay?"

"Deal." 

"How old are you, anyway?"

"Sixteen."

She cracked a twenty-six of Silent Sam, took a long pull, and passed it to the girl, who'd huddled inside a sleeping bag that reeked of mold.

"Wasn't excepting company, so I left my tumblers at home."

She found a hatchet and some cedar that she could split into kindling and some newspaper that wasn't too damp, and she began a fire in the tiny woodstove, smiling when she spied a small stack of stove length birch logs. She felt the girl's eyes on her as she worked.

"You don't mind me asking, why ain't you at home, anyway?" Christy said. "It's a cold night and vodka martinis and Game of Thrones and a cozy fireplace gotta be better than this lonesome place, no?"

"Maybe I needed lonesome."

"Yeah, but why?"

"Hey." She squinted at the girl, trying to get the measure of her. "Does it matter?"

"I'm guessing your guy ain't the gentlest."

"What would you know about that?" As soon as she asked, she noticed the girl's shadowy bruises in the yellow lantern light. Near her neck, on her upper arms.

"Since you asked, I lost my momma when I was real young, and my daddy brung me up, and he was fine at first, even though he was sad. Then he met my step-momma and she was mean and he did nothing to stop her, and when I tried to tell him, he started drinking more and ended up matching her for meanness." She coughed out a laugh, but her gaze was downward and distant. "A story so familiar I got it fully memorized."

"They hurt you?"

"Every way you can prolly imagine." She made eye contact and reached for the bottle.

"Well, I'm sorry for you. And for me. We make a fine pair of sorry strays, don't we?"

"We don't have to."

"Don't have to what?"

"Act like strays. Victims. We can stand up."

"Yeah, if this was a story we'd ride back into town on a white charger and confront our tormentors. Except it isn't a story."

"What if we acted like it was?"

She decided she liked this Christy chick, and they ate crackers and cheese and talked long after the vodka was gone, long into the silence of the night and eventually, like the snow outside, she let herself drift against the wall of the cabin and slept the tentative sleep of the cautiously hopeful.

Dreamed of a riderless bone-white charger and righteous hooves crushing tattooed fists.

When the eastern light began to limn the milky layer of mist in the valley below, she awoke with a start to the keen absence of her new friend in the cabin; newly certain of her solitude, she stepped from the spider gloom into the sharp, icy hush of the fledgling day to feel its cold bright power and to see if Christy had done likewise. She took in everything at once, and her breath caught on the edge of a sudden question, one that led to another, each more chilling. Since there had been no fresh snow in the night, why was there only a single set of footprints leading to the cabin door? And why was she afraid to check the pattern of the soles?