|Art by Ronnie Jensen|
It’s beginning to look a lot like winter in this latest issue of Apex Magazine, with three short stories that capture the feel of decline, loss, grief, and a desire to escape. The stories look at place, both in terms of physical location (a city, an island) but also in a more psychological sense. They look at people who feel trapped by their own thoughts and feelings. By the sense of loss or grief or decline around them. And they all yearn for escape, for release. How they go about working for that, though, is very different, and often quite dark. To the reviews!
“On the Day You Spend Forever with Your Dog” by Adam R. Shannon (3700 words)
No Spoilers: A scientist who specializes in time has a dog who is dying. Who is being put down. And it’s a moment loaded with years of love and guilt and sorrow. Told in second person, the scientist is the You of the story, and you can’t stand to be there when your dog, Jane, isn’t. You can’t stand leaving her behind. And so you figure out a way to travel back in time. Except that the nature of time travel isn’t like how it’s portrayed in the movies, and what happens is a strange cycle of grief and loss. The piece is powerful and devastating, focusing as it does on something that most people who have loved dogs have lived through—losing one.
Keywords: Dogs, Time Travel, Accidents, CW- Death of a Dog
Review: The story takes a very emotionally loaded moment and uses it as a way of breaking time. Only not like using a sledgehammer to just obliterate it—time is a bit more sturdy than that here. Instead, the grief of this moment becomes a source of power for the main character, for you, to revisit the past. Reliving over and over again the three years that you spent with Jane. And I love how the piece slowly reveals more and more about the details surrounding the accident that left her in a shelter, and ow she and you became linked. And wow, yeah, it really knows how to hit the emotional buttons, taking this really rending moment and playing it over and over again so that you can’t really avoid the impact of it. In some ways it’s a story about the ways people grief. The refusal to accept it, the anger, the bargaining, the trying to undo it, and finally the acceptance of what has happened. Of the nature of time. And the acknowledgment of the love that Jane and you share. Because that, for me, is what drives the story, this feeling of connection between the two. And the guilt and conflict that you feel because of that, because you feel responsible for Jane’s injury and her death. Because you can’t seem to let go until you’ve gone back again and again and seen that the love you shared was, ultimately, enough. And it takes this one moment and draws it out into a forever, capturing the weight of what is happening, and what needs to be accepted. It’s a heartbreaking and lovely read, and definitely worth checking out!
“Girls Who Do Not Drown” by A.C. Buchanon (2900 words)
No Spoilers: Alice is a fifteen-year-old trans girl living on an island where the girls are thrown into the sea. To sink or swim. To escape or to drown. After a beach party, she sits out drinking and watching the sea, only for a glashtyn to appear, a creature who is meant to tempt girls into the water to drown them by appearing human and offering gifts. Alice sees through the ploy, but there’s a part of her that wants the sea, that wants more than anything to escape the island and the fate she knows is waiting for her—intolerance, violence, and death. It’s a powerful story about longing and a refusal to accept the status quo. It’s a piece that finds Alice not only refusing tradition, but revealing that tradition in this case is deadly and unjust.
Keywords: Seas, Drowning, Temptation, Horses, Trans MC
Review: I love the way that the story handles the expected and the unexpected. How Alice is trapped by expectations—not just those that she feels acutely as a trans person aware how she’s perceived, but as a young person wondering what she can expect from her life. The story of the island is one that warn a deep groove in the lives of the people who live on it, defining their futures as tied to the sea, as someone who works upon it, flees away from it, or is devoured by it. Alice, in seeking to come to terms with the sea in her own way, is opening the possibility that other options exist. That it doesn’t have to behave like everyone says just because everyone says it must. Perhaps she’s uniquely placed to question norms and assigned roles, she’s able to push beyond the sea that everyone thinks they know, to find one that contains a lot more beauty and possibility than she can feared and been told. And it’s a freeing work for me in how it portrays the dangerous place that Alice is at, poised at the edge of something huge and dark, this future that she’s been told is going to claim her, and finding instead something amazing and affirming and good. And she is able to pass this on not through any intention of being a role model or brave or some sort of example (though she ends up becoming all of those), but merely by being herself in the face of the pressure to conform to something else. To the accepted narrative. And by standing up to that she shows how fragile it is, and how rewarding it can be to break through it into a world filled with more light and joy. It’s a fantastic read, and you should definitely go check it out!
“Captain Midrise” by Jim Marino (5400 words)
No Spoilers: The Golden Crusader in a superhero who has helped keep New York safe for a long time. In his prime he was a blur of motion and action. He sped into danger and saved people. He flew through the skies. Now...well, now he stil kind of flies. But it’s like he can’t go above or below six stories high, and he’s not exactly speeding around anymore. He’s still saving people, still patrolling the city, but the allure has in many ways been lost. The actual narrator of the piece is Conrad, a reporter who has covered the hero in the past, whose own wonder has been tarnished. Who has found himself wondering about the hero and what’s happened to him. Not that Conrad’s exactly ready to find out the truth...
Keywords: Superheroes, Powers, Flight, Reporting, Loss
Review: I love the way the story explores the ways that having a superhero can be inspiring and amazing, and yet seeing them decline and struggle can also be kinda traumatic, kinda depressing. Because despite the fact that the Crusader is doing the impossible, it doesn’t seem as impossible as what they’ve done in the past. There’s a definite sense of decline that the story nails, that comes through in the lack of energy the hero has for his work, and the effect that has on the city and its relationship to him. To many, he’s become a reminder of their own problems, when he’s supposed to be their hope and their escape. And it shows what heroes can be—figures who are supposed to give people faith in what humans can be. That people can be super. That they can be brave and fast and nearly perfect. And instead he’s showing people that even heroes have problems. That even this person who has powers is not above grief. Is not above those mundane things that make people human. Which doesn’t mean that he can’t save people, but it does mean that he _is_ grounded. That he’s bound by at least some of the same rules, and that the people of the city seem to resent him for it, even when he saves so many. A deep and wrenching read!