It’s been awhile since I’ve shared weird, dark stories that get under my skin. But I am trying to keep up on my reading better. This should be something so easy for a writer to do. I love stories. I love reading and listening to stories AND it’s research for my career. Yet reading is always the first thing to fall by the wayside when time and energy crunches hit. When I have limited resources, writing always comes first.
That being said, this past week I’ve been at the beach a lot. Writing isn’t an option, but I can occasionally get a short story in while the kids build sand castles. This allowed me to at least finish reading issue 124 of Apex Magazine. Okay, I’ll tell you the truth. I skimmed the non-fiction and skipped the reviews and interviews because when reading time is so precious, I feel the need to devour as much fiction as I can.
This issue had a lot of good stuff in it. But there are a few stories that really resonated with me, and I think you need to check out.
How to Be Good by R Gatwood
First, I have to say this story basically has all the trigger warnings and for good reason. The material is dark. The story follows a sociopath sadist who controls his urges to hurt others in order to please his mother and be good. His life is one of strict restraint. But he has found a “good” outlet for his urges as a professional torturer for an intelligence agency. He’s one of the good guys, saving the world, and still able to indulge in his base desires. This would be enough to pull me in. I love stories that show people can overcome or control their desires to fit into the morality of our society.
But it gets better. Because the story cleverly weaves in memory erasure, easily one of my favorite psychological themes to explore. It also looks at systematic evil, and the power of the state, clouding the concept of goodness vs. loyalty. That is a LOT to fit into a short story.
The entire time I read it, I was filled with dread. And in the end, a certain amount of sorrow. It’s not a story that will be for everyone, but it definitely ticked all my boxes.
What Sisters Take by Kelly Sandoval
This story follows three sets of unexpected twins from birth to high school, which are really three cuckoos and the humans they are feeding on. Teenage angst, first love, loyalty, mind control, questioning reality, and “there can be only one” pack the story with a lot of tension and drama. It’s far from light, but the bittersweet ending left me with a sort of happy sensation. So, I wouldn’t say it’s as dark as some of the other stories I suggest.
I don’t have a sister and wasn’t particularly close to my brothers, so I can’t say whether this is a metaphor for siblings, especially twins, and the push and pull of love and rivalry they feel. But I can say the jealousy, the control, the cruelty, the inhumanity of the cuckoos and the desire to exist by all the characters felt realistic in a way only fantasy can.
The Fine Print by Chinelo Onwualu
This was a reprint, originally published in New Suns. It is the story of a village but also the story of an individual. It involves a supposedly benevolent djinn who grants wishes in return for boons. But unlike an ordinary fantasy djinn, this one works as a businessman downtown with an entire office building filled with “spells” made from the bodies of women given to him as boons.
It looks at the ways we choose the lesser of two evils and sometimes even thank/worship our oppressors for “freeing” us. It examines freedom and what it means to owe someone (or a society). It also explores the concept of contracts and how we can or cannot enter into contracts if we don’t know who or what we are. As an examination of identity and consent, it is particularly poignant.
While there were other good stories in the issue, these were definitely my favorite three. Which ones did you like this month?