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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)

Saturday
Apr282018

Personal Attorney

The Man

When the ocean vomited him onto the beach, himself vomiting brine, there came a great wind rushing through the palms on the cusp of the jungle, making them twist in an agony of ecstasy.

The same cruel funnel of cloud that had left him shipless now drove the trees to flex and dance against their will. Vast phantoms reared up from the beach and sandblasted his eyes, and he cried out and staggered. Blinking, he turned seaward and saw only more approaching storms, great thirsting probosces of some terrible parched sky-thing intent on drinking the sea entire.

The sounds of the trees in the winds and the turbulent surf and the lashing skeins of rain were like the end of something halfway lamented. Flapping limbs of palm were torn away to sail like spurned beseechments toward some inarticulate doom.

Materials from what had once been his sailboat—pieces of fiberglass hull, part of an antique wooden porthole, and bizarrely, the keyboard half of a laptop—were flung upon the shore in random fusillades.

His clothes were mostly gone, a series of ragged strips on his bloody skin, but he didn't discard these sorry remnants, retaining enough wits to consider them at least minimal insurance against the eventual heat of a reemergent sun.

The tempest felt endless. His choice: endure the raw salt excoriation of the sands, or head away from the beach and risk blunt force violence from a freshly liberated branch amid the foliage. He chose the latter, found a hollow by a rock, covered his head with his arms, and waited out the bombardment.

Squatting there, he thought about his predicament. Assuming the storm would pass without further injury to his person, he knew this was a remote island far from any regular shipping lanes. Its fecundity augured well, in that fresh water must surely be accessible. He considered possible food sources… coconuts… fish… until a moment came when he realized the march of cyclones had passed and a strange still silence had closed in.

He stood. Like a deer alert to hunters, he balanced on shaky legs and took in the subtle currents and eddies of the suddenly quiet air. His neck crawled with the visceral sensation only prey animals know. He was being watched. Of that he was almost certain.

Then he heard it. The song of a woman, coming from the adjacent beach. Having slowed in the new silence, his quickening heart rate returned, only this time with hope not terror, and, imagining paradise, he began to walk in the direction of the songstress.

The Women

They were two, both women, and they were beachcombing in the wake of this latest storm, one of the pair singing a melancholy song that recalled her childhood far away, in a land whose name now sounded strange, before this catastrophe had left them stranded. They separated so as to cover a larger area more quickly and sang to each other across the distance. Every now and again, one would hear a sound from the breathing greenery beyond the beach and stop and straighten her back and listen, before bending again and singing once more, in clear fragile tones. 

In makeshift hessian slings across their naked shoulders and chests, they carried firewood, bowl-like shells, other detritus from the ocean they gauged might be useful. 

Their tangled locks were blond, their skin darkly lush as young golden rain trees. 

It was late afternoon, but evening fell like a drawn shade here, and they would soon have to return to their shelter to build and nurture a fire for the coming night. 

"Going back," said one.

"Me too," her sister answered.

And still they sang. 

The Man

Upon hearing the second, answering song, he picked up his pace. Two women. But how? Another recent shipwreck? A freakish conjunction of serial misfortune? He could almost make out the words now, what sounded like "sail away" in wistful English—English!—a wishful sorrow thing. 

An easily navigable natural bulwark of loose rock now stood between him and the women. They would have food and water, also shelter, and they would welcome him in other ways and he somehow knew they were statuesque and eternally lovely in form. Anticipation filled his guts and his groin.

How had such dire circumstances turned so completely? Even his decision to escape another fate by sailing in the first place, cutting his ties with everything and everyone he knew in order to evade the tightening investigation into legally dubious payoffs and misappropriation of campaign funds, seemed to have been a desperate error once his vessel had been reduced to its component parts, and yet now…

The Man and the Women

Beaming, he clambered over the rock promontory onto the new beach, ready to embrace this next chapter in a bizarre adventure. And he stopped. And gaped.

There was no one else. Only another identical beach, littered with the detritus of his and probably other wrecks, the myriad disgorgements of the abysmal deep. He sensed the fairytale collapsing around him. The mythology with all its potential risks and rewards. Sirens. Mermaids. Naiades. Ondines. He desired that vision with such intensity that he could almost believe a glimpse of corded blond, a gleam of nut-brown calf, a lyric fragment borne on layers of balmy air. He wanted to cry and wondered what was even stopping him, here with no witness to his unmanning.

But wait. There was something at the head of the beach where the sands turned to bush. He approached with care. The weathered remains of what once had been a shelter. And what looked like human bones, scattered and bleached and gnawed by animals. (Which animals? His knowledge was by no means exhaustive, but he knew of no dangerous predators inhabiting these remote archipelagos.) Farther into the darkening jungle was a mound marked with a rough Christian cross. Moving closer, he saw a name and a single date scratched into the wood: Eudora circa 1967. Two dead people, one buried. It appeared one's death had preceded the other's, after which no one had been able to bury the second. Moved to pity and forgetting his own predicament, neglecting even to dwell on how he'd somehow heard their songs, the man resolved to perform those long-neglected rites for the unnamed person who must have died in grief and alone. As he began to gather the bones, his foot struck something mostly buried in the sand, which he dug from the shifting ground. A giant turtle shell. He flipped it over and saw more words etched into its concavity. 

Voice almost gone. Laryngitis? Can no longer sing. Delirious with lack of sleep. They will find me soon, the things in the trees, and I will find my sister again beyond the veil. Stranger, if you find this, you must sing. It keeps them at bay, soothes them even. They have the power of mimicry, which will chill you. But keep singing, "Stay away! Stay away!" I hope you are not one but two, since you must take shifts. When you stop, they will come for you. My last fervent hope beyond a painless death is that no one's unkind fate will lead them to read these words, my last. Keep singing. Eudora, I will see you soon. Ida circa 1968. 

Night was upon him now, with its attendant chill. He stood and let the bones fall, knowing he must find a way to stay warm, perhaps build a fire and even a rudimentary shelter from the remains of the ruined one. Survive this first night then explore and gather. 

Poor lonely Ida. Gone half a century ago. How she must have missed her sister. How the endless days of tropical heat punctuated only by violent squall must have weighed on her and slowly uncoupled her mind. Women were frail creatures at the best of times; he of all people knew the truth of that after decades of paying them for their silence. Nonetheless, as he worked, he found himself singing under the glimmering stars amid the strange hush of the island. And in that vast, quiet, ageless bowl, the starlit ocean placid at his back, he heard from the trees ahead the first echo of his own song.

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.