A welcome return for Apex Magazine. The recurring theme for the stories in this issue seems to be the possibility of hope amid darkness and despair. I can’t think of a better feeling to evoke in this time.
“Root Rot” by Fargo Tbakhi — Apex Magazine returns after a hiatus with a testament to why they should keep publishing short stories. This story is powerful, melancholy, and beautiful. A man who has fled his home in Palestine for a better future on Mars has instead descended into a painful addiction-filled existence of lost love and continued brutal colonial oppression. Not an ‘easy’ read as it builds up hope for salvation only for devastation to overcome, but the language is stunning and the symbolism in the characters and setting to real lives and political borders is too important to shy away from. This is a modern-day prophetic lamentation.
“Your Own Undoing” by P H Lee — You don’t read stories in the second person. But, if I do, then I should give this a try I guess.
“Love, That Hungry Thing” by Cassandra Khaw — “Like coming home from the blizzard and letting your heartbeat thaw in hot water. That same kind of sweet, slow pain.” Humanity has left a post-apocalyptic Earth, but a group returns to that home left behind, with remanifested gods among them. In a Daji shrine in Tokyo, Ama, one of those returned, requests a boon of white fox messengers. For that wish, Ama is willing to sacrifice, for a selfless love. A lot of the details in this story are left vague to distill this story down, in simmering language, to that core concept found in the title. Love consumes.
“Mr. Death” by Alix E. Harrow — A story that had me chuckling from the start, even as it talks about the death of a two-year-old. A reaper gets assigned his first difficult death, a 30-month old soul to fetch and ferry, in consolation, across the river of death. But, of course, “two-year-olds are contrarian bastards and it takes several hours and a family-size pack of M&Ms to coax them across…” The voice in this story is perfection for someone who has to deal with the emotions of such a job. Can there be a way to cheat the system? Harrow takes the touching story in great directions.
“The Niddah” by Elana Gomel — Additional pandemics after SARS-CoV-2 culminate in an ‘ebola’-related disease where transfer of any blood becomes potentially deadly – or in a female specific manner, transformative. This creates a resurgence in oppression against women, including the resurgence of the niddah (which I had to look up.) Oh, how I yearned while reading this for more precise biology. This will be one for me to feature in Biology in Fiction, between its general accuracies of virology, mischaracterization of evolution, and how this particular disease stretches belief. However, the point of the story isn’t in the likelihood of the pandemic’s reality, as much as the social situation it creates and the symbolism of the metamorphoses it engenders. And the story succeeds in revealing those wonderfully. Depressing thought while reading: “…when science promised that the horrors of the past were… well, in the past.” If this line from the narrator has ever actually entered someone’s mind, they cannot not have ever actually listened to a microbiologist. A reminder that science communication really needs improvement still.
“Gray Skies, Red Wings, Blue Lips, Black Hearts” by Merc Fenn Wolfmoor — A girl in the City loses her soul while digging graves in the catacombs. Redcap Kestrel agrees to help her for just a promise, that the girl will wear a sleeve to prevent her soul from going off again, or being taken. Though Redcap Kestrel’s surreal journey she – and the reader – discovers more about herself as well as the fate of the girl’s soul. Chillingly atmospheric and allegorical.
“All I Want for Christmas” by Charles Payseur — So much packaged in such a small word count. A story that reminds me that the most important gifts are not material, and that children are far more clever than usually given credit.
“The Ace of Knives” by Tonya Liburd (Reprint) — Superb story now used in multiple classes as an example of code-switching, it has so much to offer beyond as well, including an example of horror that contains an uplifting, empowering ending, and of treating mental illness, pain, and ways of healing meaningfully, with respect. This tale is full of magic.
“Roots on Ya” by LH Moore (Reprint) — A gathering, Virginia 1906. A young woman suddenly wretches, beetles, bugs and black garter snakes spewing from her mouth as she falls to the ground. A root man springs into action to prevent the curse from its end. The term ‘root man’ evokes both the meaning of herbalism and healing and simultaneously the spiritual aspect of ancestry. What I liked here is the attention to both victim and the person responsible, now under a curse of their own. A short bit of folklore from a cultural perspective that I did not grow up amid, but which universally connects.
Stories can be found online at Apex Magazine, with selections free to read over time. But it deserves purchase by those who enjoy.