A bit of a strange issue from Apex this month with two very short stories and three regular sized stories, plus the regular assortment of poetry and nonfiction. Plus a reprint that I will not be looking at. It makes for a packed table of contents, but you won't see me complaining. Anyway, with so much to look at let's jump right in!
"Requiem, for Solo Cello" by Damien Angelica Walters (1170 words)
A story about a woman who is transformed by a male cellist to be his instrument, to play his song. The woman, believing him a great musician, allows this to happen, realizes too late that he is a fraud, that he does not have the talent she thought at first. And though he is unable to get her to sound the way he wants, after he leaves her behind she finds her own music, her own worth and power, and leaves, escapes from him and out into the world with a vision and a music that can't be contained. It's a great story, with music and emotions twirling together. It seems to be about not letting yourself be turned into an instrument for another, and especially for women not to give up their own dreams and skills of men. At least, that's the most common story, because so much of music is dominated by men because women were not allowed the same authority. Are still not, really, but t here is a call that it needs to change, that women need to forge ahead, forward, unrepentant and sure of themselves. To hear their own songs.
"Heirloom Pieces" by Lisa L. Hannett (4600 words)
A woman must face the end of her life as she gives her body away to her ill daughter in this story. The woman, Cat, knows what is coming, but there is some question as to whether or not she really wants it. I mean, obviously she doesn't, because it means dying. The law requires she to undergo the operation that will give her body most of Cat's body, though, and allow her to live a normal life at the cost of Cat's. For all that it is required, Cat also loves her daughter. I didn't get the sense, though, that she wanted to go. She wasn't expecting to have to make that sacrifice. Like many things with being a parent, she had hoped it would go well. And it hadn't. There was risk, and she was unlucky. She still goes through with it, still makes sure to do the best she can, but there is still an unfairness to it, a tragedy about what she has to do. I wanted there to be a better way, because it seems so unfair. It's a well constructed story, and Cat has a nice voice, a bit unreasonable, a bit cutting, but real and human. What happens to her is no less tragic because she can be angry, mean, perhaps slightly shallow. She still deserves to live. It's a rather unsettling story, and done well with a great deal of complexity.
"Foreknowledge" by Mary E. Lowd (4100 words)
Another story about children and loss, this one is about the old idea of what happens when you sort-of know how you and everyone else is going to die. In this case, a young couple is having a child and finds out that it will die of SIDS. Not that it means it will die from it, but that it will cause its death. The lack of knowing exactly when and exactly how haunt the mother, the main character, who can't really move on from the knowledge that her daughter could die at any moment, It causes strife with her marriage, and it does come to pass that it kills her daughter before the age of one. It's not exactly a happy story that way. I really felt for the characters, though, for the pain that the mother goes through and Chad's more practical nature. And I liked how they choose to go forward, how they turn to adopting a child who also seems like will die very early. Because they have experience with it they are ready to do what they can, to love the child for however much time there is. It was a nice ending, and not really the one I was expecting.
"Inhale" by Rhoads Brazos (950 words)
An interesting look at the world stuck in reverse. Literally. Everything goes backwards in time, without choice because backwards is without the mystery of forward. It's all been done and then is undone, drawn back to the source of all things and it's an interesting story for it. Really the part that I found most fascinating was the ending. The thought that this is all something of an inhalation of some deity. And that is rather neat, because on the one hand the story seems to be saying that the inhalation is purposeful and that it's because we've done something wrong. Which is all right but not as interesting as if it's just the natural function of the god, that time is their breath and so long as they blow out it goes but when t hey breath back in it all comes back. Not exactly a do-over but a sort of cosmic cycle, like it's not even up to them that it happens, that it's just part of their breath. But that reading isn't exactly well supported by the text. In any event, it's a short story and an interesting one with some great lines and an ending that left me with lots to think about.
"The Best Little Cleaning Robot in All of Faerie" by Susan Jane Bigelow (4700 words)
This story is all about voice and action. It's sort of a bizarro sci-fantasy. It is weird and it is rather hilarious, the story of a cleaning robot, a fae, and a sergeant from a space ship all traveling through the Faery Realm to defeat the Nightmare Duke and save the rest of the crew from certain death. It's a frantic story, action after action, things having a sort of cartoonish logic that just sort of works. It is charming, with the cleaning robot Ms. Clean and Sgt. Ndala acting as Team Science while the fae, Hob, acts as Team Magic. He's normally annoyed because Ndala and Ms. Clean don't really follow the rules of his land. But rules are made to be broken. And in the end this is a fun story, full of energy and violence and swearing and cleaning and it might not really provoke all that much deep thought but with some of the other stories in this issue it comes as a much needed break. It's weird and charming and worth a look.
"Werewolf's Aubade" by Leslie J. Anderson
This is a sweet little poem about (I hope) the transformative power of love. The speaker of the poem was a wolf and then meets a man who believes in them and that belief changes the wolf (who was probably not actually a wolf) into more of a person. Or at least comforts them. Of course, it could be that this is actually a werewolf and the guy is just being kind of full of himself and his own authority and she's going to bite out his collarbone anyway. That's possible too. The lines are short and leave a lot of open space on the screen, allowing for the possibility that there's a lot going on that's not being said. But really it just seems like a sweet poem about these two people being in love. I think. I hope.
"Second Mouth" by John Phillip Johnson and Salvatore B Lombard
This is a creepy little poem about a person with a second mouth, one on their throat that spews abuse. It's a nice commentary on how some people are, the voice for the things they aren't really saying but are actually saying. The way of visualizing that voice, that biting and hurtful voice, is great, as is the way that the speaker doesn't seem aware of what they're doing. That having that sort of abuse in them is so intrinsic and internalized that they wouldn't be able to see the mouth even in a mirror. This is a short poem, really giving that one image and letting it linger. It's well done and provides a rather dark look at how we communicate.
"what we eat when" by Michelle Muenzler
Another rather creepy story, this one of some force, most likely supernatural and demonic, that has invaded the home of a couple and killed them (or is still killing them) in grisly fashion. The imagery evokes the rot and decay that comes with the creature or creatures, the way it spoils everything that it comes near. And the scene at the end, the way it took care of the protections the couple had managed, is chilling in its detail. It's definitely a dark poem, with lines moving around the page like the creatures are seeking, restless. It hits with solid force, and made me glance over my shoulder to make sure I was still alone in the room.
"Supposedly True (but Probably Not, and That's OK) Weird Tales" by Ed Grabianowski
These are just some fun stories sort of like the Believe It or Not things that I used to watch (minus Dean Cain, more's the pity). They are some neat stories and fodder for speculation for what really happened during those events. Mormon Bigfoot is probably my favorite of the anecdotes. Quite fun, and some light fare to wrap up a good issue.