• 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
    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 Vancouver (7)



You clamber down the embankment, under a squeal of rail. A blaring assemblage sparks and screams above. How soon until your ears bleed?

Jaquinta knows your story. For a good price, she might even give it up.

Things might escalate, although they might not. 

Love the aftermath. The silent hiss of conifers, under a windless sky. Why is it they still hiss, even in stillness? Their very tops somehow moving while the evening settles so quiet, a scattershot of dogs barking hollow in the throat of this dry valley. 

Back in my dream, Jaquinta, you told me something, and I heard it, and to this day I want that story spilled over eggshells crackling alive, overrun with raccoons ruining a coop.

“I don’t care where you bin,” you say, so quietly, and a cloud of bright parakeets flutter from a nearby roof, and you dream the same hoarse breath. “I just care where you at.”

Ain’t none of us one thing. 

These glittering cities. Emerald Seattle. Quicksilver Vancouver. The glistening infernal Bay. The bristling, stockpiled western edge of the continent. We rooted them in beauty. We sang their swollen choral praises. And they abandoned us. We, the workers, the dreamers, the pragmatists, the saints: you don’t get to hate a thing until you love it. 

The shriek of the train trails into a lingering tail, a dwindling lonesome coda echoing across the hallowed plain.

This is a story clinging to the coattails of another, and one day I’ll muster the cojones to tell that one too.


After the Riots

© Janet TernoffHard to believe there had been riots here only last summer. The street seemed so ordinary. The pavement still carried the sheen of an earlier rain squall, but was now trickster-bright under the great dome of our planet's sky. A city street, with towering glass buildings, random nodes of pedestrians, and a blossoming row of Japanese maples every fifteen metres or so.

She hailed a cab but no cab stopped. She'd lost her phone in the park, after those one-armed boys had chased her, so Uber was not an option.

A crow on a streetlight glared at her and screeched "cuntlicker!" just once.

She flinched and bowed her head. Tried to recall the transit map in her brain. Bus or skytrain?

Maybe she could walk. She only had to go a couple blocks. Or wait, was it two klicks? She could never remember. Was there even a difference?

The pulsating sun was turning yellow-orange and crimson, swirling like a candymaker in an emerald sky. A man emerged from the knots of passersby, stretched his neck and whole face toward her, looming like a thing from perdition's carnival, and spat in her mouth. She tasted spoiled mackerel and she gagged, vomiting out a small dead rodent on the fur-lined sidewalk along with the pitiful remains of her lunch, a soft taco.

"Help me," she said, although not loudly, and kept walking.

"Cumbucket," said the crow.

A woman laughed in an alley closeby. 

A rusted old Chevy sedan slowed and kept pace with her. She couldn't make out the driver, seeing only a silhouette that suggested a misshapen head far larger than a man's. Ponderous, untamed, hirsute, bovine.

She heard distant music to the west: French horns, glockenspiels, bassoons. As if some ghost parade had been carried on the storm, had become unnerved and had left for the coast, was fading as it passed over the edge of the wide Pacific, gathering in its heartbroken wake only the good things of the world.

Crying seemed appropriate, but she resisted.

"Suck me," offered the crow.

The car tracked her every move; she even stopped to test it. After a minute or so of this dance, something made her suddenly brave, and she opened the passenger side door. An immense shriek so loud it cracked windows and stripped blossom from the maples blared from inside the vehicle, and a voice that sounded like something malignant being boiled alive said, "Get away. Close the door. We will chew off your limbs. We will obliterate everything you've ever loved."

She recoiled and collided with a younger woman, who hissed at her and made a sign with her fingers. "Are you here?" the young woman asked. "Is anyone here? Am I here?" Her faded bluejean eyes rolled into her skull and instead of whites, the orbs were without light and colour, darker than the underwings of the sleek and ribald crow.

"Goatfucker," suggested the crow.

The air was filled with cherry blossom and its fragrance was cloying.

She tried to answer the woman, but her throat was coated in something sweet and gluey. Her mind filled with a roomful of mewling fetuses, their stick limbs waving and clutching like tiny tentacled ocean things, pellucid amphibian eyes mostly sightless, dark stilted beings looming and striding among them and plucking morsels as they trod.

What is all this? What happened to me? she thought, a moment before something impossibly vast and inconceivably dark dimmed out the world and everything truly went to hell.



A story in a single sentence:

Shaky after two days' release from the psych ward, she wants to "put it all behind her," as the genial yet guarded advice had gone, so she takes the Skytrain to go ask about rental costs at a nearby Enterprise office whose bleak geometry squats in a grim patch of stilted highways, loose rubble, and territorial chain link somewhere near where Vancouver borders Burnaby, but she gets cold feet at Renfrew Station, turns around and scurries back to the library near her home on East Pender, where she searches Google Maps and decides Swift Current is the loveliest place name she's ever heard, especially in contrast to that of its province, which is all brittle stalks and wheat sheaf angles (Sask-atch-ew-an), and wants to visit for that reason alone—Swift Current, that is; a name that evokes homecoming sockeye vigorous and sleek as distance runners' quadriceps—although the furthest she's ever driven was Vancouver to Hope, ironically when she'd been at her least hopeful, and even then she'd had a tire blow somewhere near Yarrow, nearly killing her, and the towtruck and repair costs had been so high she'd had to turn back, out by many dollars and by even more self-worth, given all her struggles with what some might call mental health issues yet she chooses to term emotional difficulties, since the former still contains a tiny jab of stigma, and dammit, it's hardly her fault, given her early life with Uncle Giorgio and then those grey-stuccoed group homes and weary, spiteful foster parents, let alone the haunted jaundiced nightscape of the Downtown Eastside and her disaster-recipe life with Gunther, he of the one-part lavish confectionary largesse and two-parts savage fists, but she is free now, aside from the medication she needs to remember, while something about Swift Current calls and calls like babbling headwaters to a downstream eddy, urging her to spawn, to take this step that might mark a new chapter in a thus-far chiefly sorrowful tale, one charged with the possibility of something other than grim nights shivering with cold or dread and warmer nights sleepless with mosquitoes or regret, so she finds somewhere online that calculates the cost of gasoline, which comes to a little over a couple hundred bucks for the three thousand kilometre round trip, and she feels a heartsurge of joy until she sees the carbon footprint she'll be leaving—one thousand three hundred and fifty pounds, to be exact—which sounds so appalling she immediately scratches out this new life at its source—indeed, guilt and eroded morale have long perfected her inner Scratch 'n Lose—erasing the evocative names of Shuswap and Salmon Arm, Golden and Banff, Dead Man's Flats and Medicine Hat from a future that might have held something other than the pitiless tidal ebb of try then turn back, try then turn back, the balance of which has always seemed impossibly, monstrously weighted.


Elephants and Starfish

And we're in the bay, strolling on the boardwalk that juts into the bay, the haphazard jumble of townhouses and shabby greenspace and rusted wharf buildings that overhang the bay barely giving us a glance. A disinterested late summer afternoon.

The water below us is clear, hubcap-sized starfish the colour of aubergines and mandarins splayed on dark rocks. 

"There was never a moment when I believed it," you say. "But never mind, tell me something kind."

I've forgotten what we were talking about, although I love the rhythmic husk of your voice and its easy rhymes. To our left a statue of a dancer, or perhaps a yogi in one of the warrior asanas, seems to move. From the corner of my eye I see you blink, distracted. A herring gull literally screams. Loneliness steals in like a silent comet through Neptune's frigid orbit. The quiet of the air is like the sudden removal of the air and we stare at each other, contemplating panic.

Did you know elephants cry salt tears? That life is so tenacious that there are electric bacteria that eat electrons? That tigers cannot purr? That sleeping on your stomach is more likely to make you dream of sex? That there are more stars in the known universe than all the grains of sand on every beach on earth? That there is a town named Okay, OK?

"I can't breathe," I say.

Your eyes are huge. Galactic centres. Amoebas. Your terror of tsunamis, I think, randomly, is almost phobic. Suddenly, more than anything else, I want to love you.  

Then there's the roar. Local airport, I think, has to be. It's a plane taking off; sometimes they catch the air currents in such a way that it sounds like the coming apocalypse, and with this head-on angle appear like rockets seeking to escape the grip of this teeming globe.

But all the other baywalkers and tourists, weedlovers and West Coast saunterers, they've all stopped in their tracks while the roar only roars more, howls more, filling up the whole dome of the world that used to have air, and we follow everyone's gaze northward. No airplane with rocket dreams. No, we see the roiling infected stems and boiled brain heads of three mushroom clouds where presumably Vancouver once stood, that new-ruined jewel, that universe of memories, that charnel city calling me blindly home while moaning its futile requiem.

Still not able to speak—for what is left to speak about?—we embrace, look out upon the water, read each other's thoughts, and together climb the railing. O starfish. I hope you're okay with unexpected company and more salt tears.


Summer Long

Summer decided that summer had gone on far too long.

The kids were back in school, the university halls packed with the heady pheromones of possibility. Labour Day already a waning memory. Yet someone had forgotten to inform the actual seasons. Achingly blue skies still dominated, the city's abandoned splash parks and outdoor pools turquoise daubs of melancholia beneath the bright gold of an endless late summer.

Unlike the season, however, Summer—for her part—did not intend to overstay her welcome. This had been a summer that only reinforced her belief that such a stark world was not, nor ever had been, designed for one so fragile as she. The name bestowed upon her at birth by a sympathetic nurse now doubled as an ironic millstone around her metaphorical throat. A cosmic joke.

As befits someone abandoned as a newborn in an alleyway somewhere between Chinatown and the Downtown Eastside, her story had followed a sadly predictable script. Foster care and group homes. Occasional violations from clammy fingers. Or foreign objects. Alternate schools, petty crime, counseling, addiction, an adolescent eating disorder surprisingly conquered in adulthood, a rare and welcome rainbow in otherwise stormy skies. Summer's twenties were a grey blur between polarities. She was still only twenty-seven, although she felt seventy-two.

Nothing had worked. Friends—all gone, via indifference or betrayal. Boys—pretty much the same script. Losing herself in drugs, booze, loveless sex. Sometimes cleaning up. Transplanting her various addictions onto the narcissistic rows of ellipticals and stationary bicycles, smeared wall-length mirrors as tawdry witnesses. First World problems. Trapping her nonetheless. McJobs, unemployment, McJobs. Leaving any one of these dull shifts, she would walk the evening streets toward her bleak one-bedroom apartment and wonder how many others felt this same emptiness tinged with horror at an approaching future that apparently bore only more heartbreak. How many other heads contained nothing but one vast, endless scream.

Now, she sat on a bench on the waterfront, overlooking the deep blue inlet and the north shore mountains. Sapphire and teal, azure and jade. This wasn't her turf, never would be; this was a pretty land of wealth and poise, of audacious cocktails on sunset balconies, of condos, candelabras and Cadillacs. Wheeling overhead, a gull laughed harshly, as if in agreement. There were days when she didn't see the beauty. Couldn't, even. Or saw it, yet didn't absorb it. She tried now. The dog walkers, the cyclists, the tourists, the floatplanes gunning their takeoff roars, the cruise ships and barges slicing the sparkling waters, the container ships massive and rusted silent in the deeper waters, watching. The slick, wet terrier heads of harbour seals, bobbing like buoys. Surface-skimming cormorants. An SUV behind her, blasting hip-hop beats, or dubstep. Nothing. She felt nothing. Except a trickle of sweat down her side, an ineffable sadness like a lodestone in her heart.

"So unhappy." A voice, approaching her. She started. And saw a man, a plain man with rodent-brown hair, possibly in his mid-30s. Uninvited, he sat beside her.

"I'm fine." She shifted away from him.

"If you are fine, then I too am fine, sister."

To which there was no sensible reply, so she sat Centurion-straight and stared out at the waters, counted sailboat masts in an effort to slow the odd sense of panic fluttering in her chest.

At length, he spoke again, his voice marble cool.

"A beautiful day. This city..." A sigh and a shake of his head, sensed more than seen. She kept her eyes on the inlet. "Later today, I'm going to jump from the bridge to my death."

Automatically, her gaze shifted beyond the dark conifers and gathered bulk of the park to the evergreen suspension bridge that connected the latter's steaming mass to the north shore. She felt her heart draw itself tighter. Then she looked back at him. His pale face was that of a mime, no sign of mischief, mockery, or pain.

"I don't know why you'd say such a thing, but I'm in no mood to hear it. You want me to feel sorry for you, is that it?"

"Not at all. I want you to mark my passing. See me go over the edge. Not in the literal sense, necessarily. But there is no one else, and you look like someone who knows."


"This feeling. It's both numb and heavy, freezes the love right out of you while weighing your insides down. You know what brings us here. Like lemmings."

"There is no us." Her own face a mask. To hide the jackhammer of her heartbeat. Summer could feel more sweat trickle down her sides, wondered if it showed on the forget-me-not blue of her dress. For a second, she cared about that, didn't want to be seen so pitiably human. Her resolve made of her frame a mannequin; no stranger would rob her of that adopted insouciance, however forced its genesis.

"I disagree."

"Look. I don't know you. I don't care if you agree or disagree. I was sitting here alone and I'd appreciate it if you would leave me that way. We all have our crosses to bear. Mine's heavy enough, I can't carry yours as well…" She bit her tongue. Already she had said more than she'd meant to.

"Ah. I knew it. As I said: so unhappy. Misery has an instinct for its wounded kinfolk."

Instead of eliciting a screaming, as she'd intended to do, something in his words touched her. A certain dark poetry. She felt her obduracy dissolve.

"Why are you jumping?" she asked, quietly.

"I can't answer that, but probably similar reasons to why you also intend to bow out, wouldn't you agree?"

"I don't know." Her head dropped. She felt the acid heat of uncried tears. Heard the distant howling of eternity, as it prepared to rush toward them, heard the world creak on some cosmic fulcrum. Sensed that if she gave in to the deep sob, a vast, trapped bubble yearning for the ocean's surface, she might avoid some fate she'd hitherto seen as fixed, unavoidable. She let them come, the tears, the hiccuping sobs, the deep-sea bubble, a ravaged young woman in a powder blue dress jackknifed by grief on a public bench beside a quiet stranger. She let them pass through her; the images, the sounds, the smells, of betrayal and cruelty. A face misshapen by rage. Calling her a cunt, a thundercunt. Inserting something into her. Hurting. Hot breath stinking of onion, sour mustard and oatmeal stout. Another face, mismatched eyes, laughing cruelly. Indignities. Mockery. More names: savage, bitter, merciless words... Might as well have been aborted, sucked out of her whore mother dripping pink-red ropy gouts in that same rain-drenched alley. Oh, there's more, always more. In a way, she had been aborted. First the rending pain, then the dull, hollow loneliness of it all.

He sat and waited. For the summer squall to abate. Which it did, and almost always does: tempest to gale to breeze to stillness.

"So, how were you going to do it? Fill your pockets with rocks and walk into the water? The Virginia Woolf method?"

"I have no idea who Virginia Woolf is. And no."

He stood, suddenly. As if he were a lockpicker and pins and tumblers had shifted and clicked into place. A look of stubborn surprise spread across his face, and he blinked.

"You know, now feels like a good time. Though I got a bit of a walk ahead of me. Will you walk with me, even for part of it?"

She looked at him. At his eyes. They were eroded to blanks by whatever unasked-for pain had been his burden. But she was no lemming. The camaraderie of annihilation was not for her. She would ache for this nameless man when she heard the news reports of a jumper on the bridge, but she would not throw in her lot with him, hitch her fate to his.

And he saw it. For a second, she saw the blankness in his eyes melted to pure pain, the realisation of his utter aloneness descending once more, as it no doubt had done when he'd made this call in the still, small hours, or whenever that awful moment had arrived in which his tenuous ties with life had finally come undone. He winced, paled further.

And she stepped forward and hugged him. It was all she could do. Held him as he sagged against her. Her route through the tangled undergrowth was not to be his. No two of us are alike, it seems.

When they parted, set out in opposite directions, one toward loud car stereos, dog shit, bar fights, perimenopause, film, sinks full of dishes, sleepless nights, music, abandon, spiritual inquiry, aching tender love, g-spot orgasms and sporadic health concerns—life, in other words—the other toward quiet, irreversible oblivion, something made Summer stop and turn and say:

"Oh, right. Yeah. I was gonna grab a 40-pounder of vodka, go home to a drawerful of Xanax, make a low-class cocktail of sorts and watch the sunset. Worked for Whitney, apparently. Although she was high class, I guess, but still..."

And with that and the most rueful of smiles, she turned and walked away.

Summer had lasted too long. But it was a false thing, really; however cunningly it faked it, there was no hiding the steady, earlier encroachment of darkness each and every day, a slow imperative. Either way, she would set out now into its still-warm, sticky glare and wait to see if fall, in its acceptance of that darkness, would yet prove a more bearable season.

*     *     *     *     *

Ed Lorn has written an excellent response to this piece on his blog, Ruminating On. Anyone wanna tackle winter? ;)

Update, 18 September, 2012: JD Mader stepped up to the plate for the winter segment and the ball is still somewhere in the stratosphere collecting ice. This has turned into a fantastic exercise, a new Four Seasons for the 21st Century. Who needs Vivaldi? Okay, that was stupid. But this is very cool.

Final update: Jo-Anne Teal rounded this whole thing off beautifully. Thanks, all, what a fantastic exercise.