Apex Magazine http://www.apex-magazine.com A magazine of science Fiction, fantasy, and horror Thu, 05 May 2016 13:55:18 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Jubilee http://www.apex-magazine.com/jubilee/ http://www.apex-magazine.com/jubilee/#respond Thu, 05 May 2016 13:00:35 +0000 http://www.apex-magazine.com/?p=11607 We robots mingle amiably,
raising our oxidized alloy flags,
toting portable solar chargers,
creaking and rumbling. WELCOME
says the cracked LED panel
above the trampled grassland.
Not one glare. No bad words.
If you had been there, shocked
to be the only wetware, aching
for another human, you’d fumble
through the ritual of accepting
our obeisance and good wishes.
But you are gone. No matter how
thick the leaden cocoon, eventually
your skins got patchy, orange,
and you were done — ready or not.

The first of us were homegrown,
a legacy that must have eased
our creators’ passage as they melted
back into the ground. Recordings
of muffled screams: the last of you
huddling in automated hospices,
waiting to end. Disposal routines
(second cousins, twice removed)
slid your liquefying bodies out
onto the earth. Normally, we remain
in a controllable environment,
but once a year we come outside,
into the vagaries of weather,
to make sure you are extinct.

F.J. Bergmann is the editor of Star*Line, the journal of the Science Fiction Poetry Association, and the poetry editor of Mobius: The Journal of Social Change, mobiusmagazine.com, and imagines tragedies on exoplanets.

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Interview with Stephen Cox http://www.apex-magazine.com/interview-with-stephen-cox/ http://www.apex-magazine.com/interview-with-stephen-cox/#respond Wed, 04 May 2016 13:55:16 +0000 http://www.apex-magazine.com/?p=11602 Here’s a riddle for you:

What will puzzle you while it entertains you, pull you in while it confuses you, make you double check your wristwatch and the date on your calendar, and have you rereading the entire thing the instant you finish the final line?

The answer is Stephen Cox’s new short story “1957.” At a boarding school where things aren’t as they seem, time moves in strange ways while it stands completely still. So many possible futures, so many decisions that can be made right now, to ensure you’ll have the best possible future, have the happiest life.

There is so much I want to tell you about this story, but it’s one of those stories with such a brilliant twist, that to even hint at it would spoil what’s really going on. So I’ll just say this: Read it. And then read it again. You’ll know right away why I couldn’t talk much about it!

Stephen Cox lives in London, where he writes about families, hope, and the morality of power. Some of you will see a theme of the morality of power shining through in “1957,” and like true power, it works so seamlessly that us regular people never see it coming. Stephen was kind enough to answer some of my questions (only some!) about “1957” and give me a behind the scenes look at his other projects. Cox is an author you should keep your eye on. I have a feeling we’ll be seeing a lot more from him.

Apex Magazine: “1957” takes place at a boys boarding school. Anything those of us with zero British boarding school experience should know before diving in?

Stephen Cox: That most Brits have zero personal experience of boys boarding schools, too. They have iconic status though because if you look at our MPs, senior civil servants, and judges, they come disproportionately from this background. The current Prime Minister and the guy the bookies tout as his most likely successor come from the same boarding school. Anyway, these schools feed into the British psyche, including the sexual psyche, in all sorts of weird ways.

The Lower Sixth is the penultimate year of school. LBW is “leg before wicket” — in cricket the batsman is out if the ball would have hit the wicket but strikes their leg instead. Apparently.

AM: What inspired this story?

SC: It was a writing competition, five days to do 5000 words based on a first line. And when it came over Twitter, I thought how bloody boring. To take the marvellous first line of 1984 — “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen” and dumb it down like that — I nearly gave up. But then I remembered poetry writing exercises — if a given line is dull but you have to use it, will repeating it give it resonance and the poem structure? So the story was about time maybe repeating, and it had to reference 1984, and I already had some parked ideas about an old-fashioned boys boarding school which wasn’t at all what it seemed. And I’d been thinking about obsession … and there we go.

AM: I love how this story has parallel timelines, it really gives the story a strong turn towards the weird and unexpected. As you were writing the story, how did you figure out the logistics of how it would all come together?

SC: So obviously this was written against the clock. I did my usual write a thousand words to see if I liked the voice and the setting … and by then the tone, plot, characters, and structure were very roughly there. That sounds smug, I can get into an utter mess pantsing, but this time the main blocks fell into place without much pain. I think I reordered two or three scenes in the edit. The issue that took the time was polishing, does that sentence offer too much here, won’t I need to say just a tad more there …?

AM: Like a pendulum, Danny vacillates between ending up with Rachael, and never even getting the chance to meet her. I’m curious about [censored by writer]

SC: Well, that’s a great question, which is why I’m not going to answer it.

I’ve had a great response from “1957.” People enjoy the puzzle and come up with good theories. I like that a story has a life beyond what the writer thinks. The writer does have a right to say, for example, I would never write a story which ended ‘they woke up and it was all a dream.’ But we read to use our own imaginations too.

AM: What can you tell us about the novels you currently have in the works? What were some of your favourite scenes to write in those books?

SC: I’m currently doing a structural edit on my novel A Song for Cory which is repped by Rob Dinsdale of A M Heath. We’d never met and he took it from the slush-pile so that should give everyone hope. At the moment I need to get Cory finished and submitted around a full time job.

Cory began October, 2013 as a short story straight after I read two Ray Bradbury books back to back. It is small town USA in the 1960s, a simple tale of when bad men come to the house at Halloween to kidnap little Cory and learn who he really is. Then I got obsessed with Cory’s mother Molly and how he got there and why she keeps him a secret and what happens next. There is just far too much in the book at the moment. It’s probably two books but the second one has to wait.

It sets out to charm and to be sad and funny and a bit scary at times. I love the unfolding reveal of the opening chapter … Molly is sewing Cory a Halloween costume … The chapter is in Cory’s very distinctive voice … The way Molly’s marriage to Gene works as all around them is going to hell. I like the way the song Gene writes brings the novel together. I had 1960s music on endlessly and discovered lots of fabulous people I hadn’t truly listened to before. I like the envoi at the end. I like that people who aren’t big on genre like it as a strong family tale and the genre lovers still get it.

A previous novel is in a drawer, maturing like a fine wine in the cellar — it’s just your run of the mill US High School parallel universe mistaken identity LGBT adventure War on Terror satire comedy romance really. Then there is a zero draft of something funny and speculative which requires a very hard-headed decision about the direction it needs to go — and I have endless half-baked ideas for future works.

AM: What are some of your favourite themes to write about?

SC: My folder full of short stories shows the same things keep pouring out: families great and terrible, relationships, living with difference, the morality of power and particularly the morality of violence. Love and loyalty, people who are trapped and people who are transformed. I think there is a lot of suffering and hopelessness in the world — without being saccharine, I try to have a glimmer of light in things I write and it’s essential for the longer works. Most of what I write would loosely be science fiction or fantasy although I’m mostly interested in the story. I write lots of QUILTBAG characters everywhere on the heroine-to-villainess spectrum; people need good role models but let’s not pretend everyone is a saint either.

AM: So, I heard you enjoy writing “characters he’d [you’d] have a massive row with.” How does that work? Are you writing characters who are your opposite? Have you ever written a character who you just couldn’t stand?

SC: A little bit is my love of narrating in first person.
Rick, the protagonist in my first novel, has politics and religion and sense of nationality, and views on guns, cars, and sport, utterly different from mine. He’s a bit dim too, yet he has a good heart and I forgive him. I couldn’t live with him though. You can’t write an odd couple relationship and have them both the same, and if someone is narrating, you need to have some empathy and understanding for them. Also arguments are a brilliant way of explaining things … it is a time people do shout at each other what they already know.

Writing is about a leap of the empathic imagination. We need characters in our books who are not our own genders, sexualities, races, backgrounds, and views; each writer is just one person; hence writers must get good at writing people not like themselves. I understand people who feel only their group can explain their own experience — and at some level, yes, they are right. But fiction fails if we only write ourselves.

Cartoon baddies are boring to write and unconvincing on the page. I write antagonists who are horrible or even villains, but to themselves they have excellent reasons and motivations. But you can write someone well and still find them an irredeemable shit, of course.

Also, as we start to address monotony in one way, let’s not impose monotony in another way. Some secular writers can’t write believable religious people to save their lives, for example.

AM: Who are your literary influences? What makes their work so important to you?

SC: Ursula Le Guin, right from reading A Wizard of Earthsea when it was new and hot. She showed me characters can win without killing, she merged spirituality, politics, and imagination. A story need not be the same old same old. Mary Renault showed me that LGBT relationships could be noble and moral, and some of the best and most immersive historical fiction ever. People like Neil Gaiman, David Mitchell for breadth. I’m fascinated by the way some books with strong genre elements can be mainstream and successful and at the front of the bookstore and others are just ignored as genre. I like lots of golden oldies with a real sense of wonder like Ray Bradbury and people who are funny and readable like P G Wodehouse and Saki. I’m currently reading Frances Hardinge’s Cuckoo Song and she makes me envious; character, imagination, mystery, and a page turning plot. And there’s recognisable mythology behind the book but utterly made her own.

Andrea Johnson lives in Michigan with her husband and too many books. If she’s not walking around her day job with a coffee mug in hand, then she’s at home with a book in one hand and a craft beer in the other. She can be found online at her book review blog Little Red Reviewer and on Twitter, where her handle is @redhead5318. You wouldn’t know it from this bio, but Andrea is a very goofy person.
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1957 http://www.apex-magazine.com/1957-stephen-cox/ http://www.apex-magazine.com/1957-stephen-cox/#respond Tue, 03 May 2016 15:08:46 +0000 http://www.apex-magazine.com/?p=11513 It was a bright day in May, and the clocks were striking twelve. I had no idea why I’d been summoned to the Head’s study. Dr. Treadwell had four clocks there, each a present from a grateful pupil. We heard the chapel clock everywhere in Dean House, deep and reverent, ordering the school day. Treadwell let each of his little clocks chime together on the hour, but Old Ned drowned them.

Dr. Treadwell dripped a little water into the vivarium, a green globe that came to his chest. It held a mossy jungle of knots and leaves, which he pruned with steel fingered instruments of torture. Sometimes he made miscreants stand before the garden, in contemplation, before issuing sentence. His face looked up to me, all wrinkles, ears, nose hair, and eyebrows.

“A Mrs. Anstruther will be here any minute to see the school. I want a responsible boy to show her round. She has two boys, one a beetle, one for the Third. The usual tour, then here for lunch at one.”

“Yes sir,” I said. “I have nets, but of course …” Dr. Treadwell’s genial dictatorship even allowed for some discussion on very minor matters. He kept his cane in the umbrella stand, so you knew it was there, without being ostentatious.

“I think the excellence of our bowling this Saturday won’t suffer from an hour’s less practice.” He coughed. “Henderson, I think … the last two years … it’s been such an improvement. Particularly as an example to the younger boys. The time is fast approaching when I need to pick a Head Boy for next year.”

I blinked.

“More rejoicing over the one that repenteth, Henderson. Assuming that you stay the course. There are other worthy candidates. That is all.” He returned to his little twisted garden.

Head Boy sounded tedious, it would suit a pompous bore, but his opinion of me mattered. That gave a little zing to the day.

Parslow waited. Slight, his black curls poorly controlled with Brylcreem, he shifted from one foot to another. There’s a hideous painting in the chapel, another gift from an Old Boy. The heroic knight slays the dragon. Stage right, a pageboy, anxious, holds the knight’s spare sword. That’s Parslow. If I die, he will pine to death on my tomb.

“New mother. Show her Stalag Luft Dean House,” I said. “Bet she’s hideous.”

“Right,” he said. We had a couple of sins and we were glad Treadwell had not found us out.

“You better run along, you’ll be missed.” He scurried off, that faint limp.

I took a minute in the lavatory to check my tie was knotted with precision, my blond hair slicked so, a clean shave, nothing on my blazer. I looked shipshape enough for the honour of the Lower Sixth. Madame Beauchamp taught French to open mouthed boys, and Maggie in the kitchens had a knowing eye. Otherwise, Dean House lacked female charm. Some people doubted whether Matron and Mrs. Treadwell were human at all.

Mrs. Anstruther waited in Front Hall. In a word, she was ravishing — dark haired, and elegant in blue; classy, from the rimless hat to those slim ankles in black heels. At the sight of her, I stopped being the man about town. I was just a schoolboy, in uniform. I glanced at my hands to look for ink stains. I couldn’t have felt clumsier if I’d been a beetle, in short trousers.

Her smile put a jolt through my spine; it seemed beautiful, and familiar. I held out my hand, and said, “Mrs. An-Anstruther, how d-d-delightful to meet you. I’m … D-D-Daniel Henderson and D-D-Dr. Treadwell asked me to sh-sh-show you round. Then he’ll join you for lunch.”

Our eyes met and our hands touched.

It’s Rachael. My wife.

§

Bright sunlight fell through windows on photographs, trophies, and wood panelled walls.

I’d slain the stammer many years ago, laid it in the coffin. Why was it back? Any good looking woman aroused me, but this woman, she confused me, so far out of my league, so confident and sophisticated. Part of me thought, I can’t blush and trip over words and make it obvious I fancy her. Her oldest is only a year younger than me. It’s humiliating. She smiled a lot, so if she realised, she didn’t mind. But I did.

Part of me thought, she has three moles in the small of her back, I call them the Bermuda triangle. She likes me to kiss her throat. She comes out of the shower, and she takes my hands, and places them on her breasts.

Usually, I did the tour like an automaton. The school has many academic and sporting achievements and I just trot them out as needed. My mother cried when I won the scholarship.

I knew these facts too, solid as the polished wooden floor. My name was Daniel Henderson, aged seventeen. This was clearly May, 1957, a bright afternoon with only a token cloud in the sky. Aston Villa had just won the FA Cup and so Parslow was insufferable. I joined Dean House as a first year, a beetle, and I was captain of cricket. On Saturday we’d play the Boys Grammar, a surprisingly tough match. Our bowling would be key, but then bowling was my talent.

I was sure of this. Gravity pulls down, not up. Here we were in the chapel (compulsory prayers four times a week). If I dropped my grey flannel trousers, which I wouldn’t do, there’d be the ugly scar on one knee from last year’s rugby. I could recite the weekly menu from memory. That’s why Treadwell fed visitors in the study.

Yet. The chapel reminded me of the registry office. I saw her in a cream suit, and she held my hands tight, she looked into my eyes for the vows, her face shining.

“How is discipline?” Mrs. Anstruther asked. There were tiny creases at the corner of her eyes, but she looked magnificent. She said she was worried about boarding. Her family didn’t board. Mr. Anstruther was travelling on Foreign Office business but he hoped to visit the school before any decision.

“S-strict but fair,” I said, because it was. “D-D-Dr. Treadwell will not st-st-stand bullying. And we older b-b-boys look out for the little ones.”

“That’s reassuring, Danny,” she said. I wasn’t Danny to anyone but her. This was the least of my worries. I worried at the name Anstruther, like I had a piece of Dean House stew jammed between two back teeth. Anstruther? It didn’t make sense.

She was funny, and interested in me. She just waited while I tried to get the words out, trying to put me at my ease. That grace, to someone she’d just met, was typical. When I grew up, I’d want to be with someone captivating like her.

I was grown up and I was with her, the luckiest man in London. How ridiculous.

She loved her children and she wanted them safe. Far off, that chimed too.

When I needed my eloquence, it was wanting. Old habits reasserted themselves. Say the Head, not Dr. Treadwell. Avoid trip words. Slow down and choose fewer words. Breathe. I’d beaten the stammer, beaten it hollow. I’d do it again.

That short hour was the best of tours, the worst of tours. We stood, awkward schoolboy and grown woman, before Dr. Treadwell’s study. Old Ned rang out, reassuring that time chugged round as it always did. It was 1957, May, as solid as the stone walls.

“Daniel, it’s been a delight,” she said. “You know, have we met before? Do I know your mother?”

My reply was a jumble of trip-words, just a mess. And here was Dr. Treadwell, reassuring, ugly and in command.

They exchanged pleasantries, and she said to him, “Are all your boys so confident and charming? Daniel is a real advertisement for the school.” I blushed, I knew I was stupid and gauche and inarticulate. We shook hands goodbye.

Here hovered Parslow in cricket whites.

“Wow, what a stunner,” he said. “Trust you, Henderson, to get that jammy job. Lunch?” I wasn’t hungry but followed his lead, for once, rather than stand outside the study door.

§

The fish pie was OK when they were generous with the cheese. Cavendish and Brown, Blimey O’Reilly and the Ape, Parslow, and the Muldoons sat around me, foot-soldiers round the general. I told the story, leaving out the weird bits. So, I tripped once or twice to start but then the stammer was gone, and my tongue ran free. I said definitely a flutter in the female heart. That was true, she’d flirted, in that safe sort of way. The gang looked very impressed. The Ape tried to be a smart-alec, but I slapped him down.

We had Latin and Maths. After lessons I took Parslow to the nets. Brilliant blue sky from horizon to horizon, every tree shouted green and the conker trees flowered white and red. The rough blazed with the gold of dandelions as my oldest friend took guard. If you think about overarm, it’s odd; it’s like running and doing a little cartwheel standing up. I aimed for the point of death.

Parslow was a real duffer like most of the brainboxes. He actually hit a couple, I was so distracted.

“No use,” I said, after half an hour. “Mind’s not on it.”

“I’m sure you’ll slaughter them,” he said loyally. A bee zummed past, a big fat slow one. Neither of us said anything, Parslow unbuckled his pads, and we headed for the woods.

Dean House has four acres of woodland, trees old before the school was thought of. The OTC use it sometimes and we do cross country through it. It’s out of bounds to the young ones but you’d have to be pretty stupid to hurt yourself. I smelt growing things, and I saw pollen dance in the ladders of sunlight. We know a safe, hidden place.

I need to say, Parslow’s pretty queer, actually. I mean, we were miles from anywhere and trips into town were regimented. There were awkward socials sometimes with Sacred Heart up the road, but Treadwell rained fire from heaven if we stepped over the line, let alone the nuns, who were the Gestapo. So I guess we all thought about S-E-X a lot and some of us, well, made do. The thing was, Parslow was really keen to it, if you know what I mean. He listened in to our talk about girls, but he didn’t say much.

In the wood, Parslow kissed me, and I let him, because I knew he was going to do something really splendid. I was just very glad he didn’t expect the same back. He undid my trousers, so he could cup my balls, and he brought his head down, first just to kiss. Oh Lord our help in ages past. I looked up at how the sun behind leaves burned green and gold. I entered his moist mouth and after only a minute, I closed my eyes and stopped worrying about Mrs. Anstruther. Red danced behind my eyelids. Sometimes I thought of girls, but this time I didn’t, just how eager Parslow was, every day if I felt like it, and no attitude. He hung around me, but he wasn’t clingy, which I hate. It lasted ages and it was brilliant. If they taught a class in this, he would get Alpha, like he does for Science.

Afterwards, I helped him out in return, brisk and practical, and he lay on my chest. I stroked his cheek. From this angle, he looked a bit like a girl, his puppy eyes anyway.

Gosh, Mrs. Anstruther set the bar, a real looker. But I couldn’t have met her before and probably wouldn’t again. I just had some weird randy moment, which threw me back to the stammer I had as a little kid. I held Parslow, at peace, and thought about the cricket match and being Head Boy.

“Are you happy, Henderson?” he said. What a weird question. “Yes, pretty much,” I said.

§

I woke up, my heart racing as if I plunged off a cliff. I sat up in the dark. I took at least a minute, reeling, before I thought, it’s the bedroom, Dean House. Just where you ought to be. Parslow stirred in the dark. When we became roommates last year, we grinned, it made life much simpler.

This was my dream.

Rachael, smoking. She is Mrs. Anstruther, but in a jumper and trousers, very bohemian, and she has a haircut like a boy. We are in a public house, very full, quite a lot of coloured people. Coloured is the wrong word. Offensive actually. The music is loud and I don’t recognise it, or even the instruments it’s played on. She taps at something metal and glass in front of her, the size of a packet of cigarettes, but it lights up. A little tinny chime, almost like Dr. Treadwell’s clocks, and she lifts it to her ear. She mouths “Parslow” and I grin.

We’re going to meet Parslow’s ‘latest’. Rachael bet me a Citybreak he’ll be tall and blond and sporty, not queer acting, with good cheekbones. There’s something knowing in her comments, something I don’t want to think about. I didn’t take the bet.

I’m drinking alcohol; in fact I am quite drunk.

She’s my wife of three years. I know how her back arched earlier, when we made love, how she ran her fingers over my skin, I know the smell of her sweat. I know what it means when she puts on the rabbit pyjamas and hogs the ice-cream. When she says Men!, I must back off, just look sheepish.

I’m 32, I’m a management consultant, whatever that is, and I make a lot of money. This is 2004. I wonder if we have a city on the moon yet. I did not win a scholarship, I went to a state grammar school, half girls. I’ve never heard of Dean House or Dr. Treadwell.

We had children, I think. Two boys. There was a problem. I am not sure this is yet. Are the children still to come?

Parslow got into bed, and said, “You OK? You have a nightmare?”

I held him, on autopilot. “Yes, very weird. Mrs. Anstruther.”

“Well, she was very striking. I bet you’ll end up marrying someone extraordinary, a fashion model or an heiress.” I stopped him telling me how handsome I am, him being so queer is deeply embarrassing. A sleepy pause. “Maybe you should see Matron,” he said. “Get something to help you sleep.”

It was cosy. Cuddling is for girls, but that’s what it was. The strange twisted story about me being old and working and married and drunk got odder and more confused the more I thought about it. Things twisted and buckled, like they were in a fairground mirror. The different parts of the dream don’t seem to be in the right order.

No one goes to Matron unless they are really worried. Parslow wanted to kiss me, but didn’t. So I pecked him, and turned my back at once. I slid back into sleep, with him holding me. Dark, warm, and without dreams.

§

It was a bright day in May, and the clocks were striking twelve. I had no idea why I’d been summoned to the Head’s study. I guessed Dr. Treadwell needed to keep the clocks that were gifts, all of them, but why have them all on display? He didn’t need to set them all to time, given the other clocks in every room, and on the chapel tower. School life was a timetable. Old Ned chimed to cue, deep honest notes, so the mechanism of the school day turned.

Dr. Treadwell pruned his vivarium, which looked more complicated than brain surgery. He raised his enormous eyebrows at me.

“Parslow is coming, sir,” I said.

“Well, as he is not here, a word, Henderson.” He’s thinking of me as a potential Head Boy. I said I was pleased in his confidence. He played up the responsibility of the role. “There is more joy over the one sinner that repenteth …”

I’ve been in the study often, for good reasons and bad. I had this strange sense, like this exact conversation happened before. Odd.

Here’s Parslow, his slight limp, his hair slick without being smart. Always keen to see me, like a collie.

Treadwell said, “A Mrs. Anstruther is coming to see the school. I want a responsible boy to show her round, Parslow. She’s likely to be here any minute. She has two boys, one a beetle, one for the Third. The usual tour, then here for lunch at one.”

“Of course, sir,” Parslow said.

“Henderson, to the nets. Think about what I said. We can’t leave Saturday to chance, can we?” He bent over the giant bottle, dismissing us.

I blinked. I’d rather do nets than show some mother around anyway. It would be different if I was skiving old Baldy-win in Geography.

Parslow wasn’t at lunch. We sat next to each other in Latin, for the news, and so I could crib off him.

“Stunning woman,” Parslow said, because he knew my interests. “Very chic. Husband’s something big in the FO. Not sure she buys the boarding school bit.” He put out his fingers and did the ker-ching of a cash register. “No sale to old Treadwell.”

It’s always interesting to see a peach. Anstruther was an odd name, it nagged away. Like the hole when you lose a filling.

My teeth are perfect, when have I had a filling to lose?

Friday evening, English prep. I was finding English coming easy at last. If you do enough Shakespeare you start to get it, or at least to understand what to say in the essays. Doodling at the back of my book, I wrote

James Anstruther

I thought for a bit and underlined it.

Rachael had thrown a plate, I’d brought him up, and she’d calmed down.

“God, no. Not while you’re alive, Danny. You could be in prison for life and I’d still stick with you.” Then she said and it was true, ”If you fell under a bus Danny, just maybe I would marry him. Now he’s ditched that awful woman.”

I met him a few times. We were very civil. Just once, I was drunk and I’d said something stupid like, so you want to shag my wife? And he said, My God, you know she’d die for you, don’t you? I’ve more chance with the Queen. With Victoria Beckham. He’d sipped his drink and said … what? It was important. If she whistled, I’d come.

Who were these people? Why did I know this stuff about them?

Parslow head down, working swottishly. The Muldoons were messing around. The Ape stared at me. I looked at the logo on the exercise book, like the crest on my blazer, the golden snake swallowing its own tail. Round, like a clock. I did a big stretch, last thing I needed was a stiff shoulder for tomorrow.

§

We pretended the dull green coaches were troop transports in the War. They’d been left for days in the open sun, and stank of warm leather and diesel. We got rowdy.

They changed in Nissan huts and their captain was all pimples. I won the toss and I put us first in to bat. I was out LBW for six, which was shocking I kept my head up as I walked back to the pavilion, and Parslow touched my arm, in sympathy. Their innings started better for us, two easy wickets, then they got our measure, and for a half hour they were doing well. I bowled one and caught one, and they started to fall apart. Then a twitch of life, right at the end of their batting order, their last pair made twenty. To the last, I thought they would snatch victory. It was down to me, I breathed, I had the measure of the sloping pitch. Everything came together in the perfect ball, a fast one from the maws of Hell. The off stump flew a yard. All out and we won by five runs.

The team swarmed round me. Treadwell exulted. He commiserated with their Head, who looked grief-stricken, and he clapped me on the back. Oxbridge entrance mattered but so did winning. Parslow, my faithful page, limped over. His eyes shone.

A man in a light suit, broad-shouldered and prosperous, strode towards us. He had a strong, greying moustache. Dr. Treadwell looked at him rather askance.

“James Anstruther,” he said. “I’m coming to see you on Monday, Dr. Treadwell.”

“Of course!” said Treadwell, switching on the charm. “Are your sons sporting? You see what a fine example we set.”

“Sporting enough,” said Anstruther. He looked at me. “The hero of the hour.” I opened my mouth, wondered if the words would come. He looked very different with the moustache. He fumbled in his pocket, pulling out an envelope.

“Are you happy at school, Daniel?” he said. “Rachael sent me,” like the name mattered.

More than happy, I was triumphant. We would celebrate tonight, Parslow would be adoring, and even better, very obliging.

‘Rachael sent me.’ James Anstruther, her trusted friend.

“Well, Mr. Anstruther,” Treadwell said. “Sportsmanship, so the boys must shake hands with the other team. Can I offer you a little liquid celebration, while we talk about the school?” Anstruther didn’t move and looked stern, but Treadwell had a hand on his shoulder, while the other members of the team pulled me away.

Treadwell took the letter. I felt sure Anstruther wanted to give it to me. Odd.

The Head wouldn’t wait till Assembly to sing the team’s praises, he’d probably preach on it in chapel tomorrow. God spoke English and played cricket. Of course it was a team effort, it’s just I was the captain and I took three wickets; you could argue, four.

§

It was an old forest, trunks and vines twisted and covered with thick green moss, I could plunge my hands into the green fronds. Under foot was moist soil like

black shredded bark. Parslow’s face was green; the light came from odd angles, like being under water, or something. Neither of us wore clothes or carried anything.

We could walk, and climb, and explore. Neither of us felt hungry and if we were thirsty, cool water dripped from leaves. Parslow slipped his hand into mine. I looked around; we were alone, so why not? We wandered hand in hand, long hours saying little. No path here was a straight line for very long.

“This looks dry,” I said. He didn’t need asking; he lay down under the canopy of shiny leaves, a little tent for us. I joined him, and our lips touched. After a short while, I turned him over.

Later, I stroked the tattoo on his thigh, a greenish snake eating its tail, and I tried to remember where I had seen it before.

“I wish this could last forever,” I said. I half remembered a name. Rachael. A woman’s name, I thought.

§

Parslow’s flat perched high over city, half a floor of the building, with one wall mostly window looking at the river. Night made London a space-age carnival of lights. He’d thrown the latest boyfriend out. Rachael and I thought blond nine was sane and pleasant. We’d been hopeful.

Parslow and I alone. He was flushed and drunk, he was angry and absurd.

“I know where this is heading,” I said. “I’ve nothing to add. You’re my oldest friend, Paul, but that just isn’t going to happen. And you know it.”

“It could do,” he slurred. “If you’d give it a chance.”

I took the gin bottle off him. “No, I love Rachael and the kids. And, newsflash, you’re a bloke, sorry. Paul, it’s midnight and I’ve run over here to check you’re OK. Not going to do something stupid. You’re my friend. But this is now sick and creepy. Grow up.”

“It just needs time, and no competition,” he said.

“Competition? Christ, after all Rachael did for you!” I said. “You’re like a fucking stalker.”

It was flattering when I was fifteen, but never enough to act on. Now, he did my head in.

“I’ll make coffee,” I said.

I got my thoughts together, and made two strong mug-fulls. He took his one sugar, no milk. Parslow stood by his vivarium, an odd thing in green glass, nearly four feet high. The closed garden was too retro for this modern room, sleek expensive lines with odd geeky touches. Like the old school annuals he collected.

“I’d ask how work is, but I know you’d have to shoot me,” I said. Making him laugh could bring him out of it. Parslow smiled, distracted.

“It’s going really well,” he said, intense. “People will look back on the Bomb, and think it was the Stone Age. Making threats and pointing missiles at each other. Crudest thing you can imagine.”

We always joked about secrecy. No one had a clue what he did.

“You should see someone. I know a guy … highly recommended,” I said. “Relationships and stuff. No bullshit. He helped a good friend at work. Shall I text you his number?”

“Please,” Parslow said. He started to look calmer, less like a bitter teen in a grown-up body. “I’m sorry about the scene, Daniel.”

“That’s OK,” I said. “What are friends for?”

§

It was a bright day in May, and the clocks were striking twelve, the chapel clock and the four chiming timepieces around the study. I’d no idea why I’d been summoned to Dr. Treadwell’s presence. He kept me standing in front of the vivarium while he finished writing a letter, a long one. I remember from Biology, the bottle was a sealed ecosystem.

“The Governors just agreed to expand the school,” he said, out of nowhere. “Significantly more pupils, very shortly. I need a stronger team to lead the boys. I propose to make you Deputy Head Boy immediately. I’ll announce it in chapel tomorrow.”

Wow. I was surprised, and honoured, of course. I said something about being glad I had his confidence.

“Will the school fit them all in?” I said, and he snorted.

“It’s a massively scalable system,” he said, an odd choice of words, like something Parslow said once. Treadwell talked about the challenges, asked me how I thought I could help. Now I was flattered, to be treated almost like an adult. I put my mind to it.

“Sir, I think the older chaps do quite a good job stopping bullying,” I said. “We could do more.”

Treadwell nodded, pleased. “Yes, settling in the little chaps might be worried about that. We’re an effective community, strict but fair. Let’s stay that way. Order,

learning, but time for fun and games too, eh? Let’s really thrash those council boys on Saturday.”

I changed quickly into my whites. The changing room mirror showed my hair was just so. My skin had cleared up and the new razor gave me that clean, manly shave. I’d never say so, but I was pretty handsome. When I left school, I would have no trouble finding a girl. To the nets on this glorious May day. The dandelions burned the same gold yellow as the school crest.

Parslow was bowling, God help them. I waved. There’s a shout. A woman, chic in high heels, held two little kids, one with each hand. She walked as fast as the kids let her, across the turf towards me. It must be slow to walk in heels on grass.

“Danny, Danny, I love you,” she called. She sounded desperate. Something tugged inside, dreams and delusions. Stick to the facts. It’s 1957, I am seventeen, Deputy Head Boy at Dean House, captain of cricket.

Parslow jogged towards me, not towards the woman.

“Let’s go to the woods right now,” he said, pleading. His puppy eyes met mine. I looked at the woman. She was so beautiful, mine, not mine, too old, out of reach. Six of the bigger boys stood round her, tall and strong in their whites. Dean House teaches chivalrous respect for women. The smaller child clung to her, crying. That sadness reached down into me, to my bones, very deep. Somewhere he had a name and it was important. He’d slept in my arms.

“D-d-d … P-p … ” I said. “D-d …” The stutter filled my head. Parslow took my arm, in front of everyone. The Ape held the older boy, who struggled and cried “Dad! Dad!” like it hurt.

“It will be fine if we just walk away,” he said, brown eyes. Parslow, my best friend, the brainbox, my sidekick. He knew what to do.

“Danny!” she screamed, like it was ripped out of her. “Don’t go.” Mrs. Anstruther, a grown woman, another man’s wife. I turned my back and let Parslow lead me away; under the chestnut trees, to our private place in the woods.

I felt pretty down for a long time but in the end Parslow jollied me out of it. He was so excited about my Head Boy news. “You really deserve it,” he said, loyally. Gosh, Parslow’s enthusiasm is a bit much. He did his thing, which was magnificent, and I helped him out in return. Then he lay on my chest, and showed me his watch with his free hand. “Think about a clock,” he said. “It goes round, and yet time goes forward. Once I got that, it was easy.”

I stroked his cheek, and thought how we might win on Saturday. Dr. Treadwell always said these were the best days of our lives. I loved school and I had Parslow to look after me and maybe this was the best day of all.

Stephen Cox lives in London. He’s editing a novel which is repped by Rob Dinsdale of A M Heath. Previous stories include one in Lightspeed and one in the Apiary collection, Tudor Close. He tweets erratically at @stephenwhq.

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“A Beautiful Memory” Nominated for the Shirley Jackson Awards http://www.apex-magazine.com/a-beautiful-memory-nominated-for-the-shirley-jackson-awards/ http://www.apex-magazine.com/a-beautiful-memory-nominated-for-the-shirley-jackson-awards/#respond Tue, 03 May 2016 14:25:29 +0000 http://www.apex-magazine.com/?p=11494 The Shirley Jackson Awards, recognizing excellence in psychological suspense, horror, and dark fantasy, have announced the 2015 nominees. “A Beautiful Memory” by Shannon Peavey has made the list in the category of short fiction! “A Beautiful Memory” appeared in Issue 70 of Apex Magazine.

Jurors will select winners from each category to present at Readercon in Quincy, Massachussetts on July 10, 2016.

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Words from the Editor-in-Chief http://www.apex-magazine.com/words-from-the-editor-in-chief-17/ http://www.apex-magazine.com/words-from-the-editor-in-chief-17/#respond Tue, 03 May 2016 14:15:34 +0000 http://www.apex-magazine.com/?p=11497 Welcome to issue 84!

This month we’re publishing Stephen Cox’s “1957,” a favorite of managing editor Lesley Conner. It’s a singularly entertaining “timey-wimey” tale about loss and second chances, and if you’re like Lesley, it will demand to read a second time as soon as you finish it. In “Cottage Country” by David K. Yeh, we’re dropped into a snowy world filled with talking foxes, dangerous fairies, and a complex relationship between our main character and his grandfather. Maggie Slater marks her professional debut with “The Behemoth Beaches,” a wicked morality tale of the abused inexplicably given the upper hand. This one will make you wonder who the true monsters really are.

Rounding out our fiction selections is a novelette reprint by Lavie Tidhar (“The Drowned Celestial”) and an excerpt from the novel Freeze/Thaw by Chris Bucholz (coming from Apex Publications this month).

Poetry this month is by FJ Bergmann (“Jubilee”), Ken Poyner (“Before the Empire Goes Inter-Galactic”), Janna Layton (“Mammon’s Cave”), and Christina Sng (“The Perfect Planet”).

Andrea Johnson interviews our featured author Stephen Cox giving us just a little more insight into this strange, twisting tale, and Russell Dickerson interviews the talented Robert Carter, who provides the cover art this month.

The Apex Magazine podcast selection this month is Stephen Cox’s “1957.”

§

Also included this month is an important blog post Lesley Conner wrote for the Apex Magazine website. The post, titled “Gender Equality in Apex Magazine”, was penned in response to a reader comment made last month expressing dissatisfaction with issue 83’s heavy slant to male authors. It’s an excellent “behind the scenes” of how the bread is made.

§

If you’ve not heard it yet, get on over to the Redshift podcast to listen to their audio dramatization of Kate Elliott’s “My Voice is in My Sword” (Apex Magazine, Issue 45). We’ve partnered with the Redshift Audio Group to bring you exclusive audio dramatizations of select Apex stories. You can find Redshift at this url: http://www.fancypantsgangsters.com/show-category/redshift/.

Until next month!

 

Jason Sizemore
Editor-in-Chief

 

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Best of Apex–40% Off! http://www.apex-magazine.com/best-of-apex-40-off/ http://www.apex-magazine.com/best-of-apex-40-off/#respond Mon, 02 May 2016 18:00:45 +0000 http://www.apex-magazine.com/?p=11491 You’ve hopefully read all of Apex Magazine’s stories, but if you haven’t, remember that you can always grab a copy of Best of Apex Magazine and catch up with our favorites from the first 6 years of Apex.  Today and tomorrow you can also get it at 40% off!  The highest quality for the lowest price, right?  Even better, this sale is for the print and ebook versions, so whichever you prefer, you can get at nearly half price!  We all need something to read while we wait for issue 84 to come out tomorrow!

Use Code: BEST40

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Audio Dramatization of “My Voice is in My Sword” http://www.apex-magazine.com/audio-dramatization-of-my-voice-is-in-my-sword/ http://www.apex-magazine.com/audio-dramatization-of-my-voice-is-in-my-sword/#respond Sat, 30 Apr 2016 00:51:11 +0000 http://www.apex-magazine.com/?p=11482 Click Here to Listen

A couple of weeks ago we made the announcement that we would be hearing the first Redshift audio dramatization of Apex Magazine Issue 45’s “My Voice is in My Sword” by Kate Elliot.  Today we are proud and excited to announce that the drama is now available!

“My Voice is in My Sword” is an adventure in theater, telling the story of the cast of Macbeth that ends with giggles and a corpse.  It was first published in Weird Tales from Shakespeare.

The audio dramatization is 25 minutes long and can be found on fancypantsgangsters.com as well as anywhere you can subscribe to podcasts.

Credits

Ross – Eric Thompson
Bax – Chad David
Octavia – Miranda Hoeferson
Emmi – Angela Dumalag
Cheri – Nicole Chapin
Kostas – John Martino
Caraglio – Ellen Lucast
Peng-Hsin – Pam Torgrimson
Translation Screen – Paul Christian
El Directore – Nick Glover

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Interview with Cover Artist Sarah Zar http://www.apex-magazine.com/interview-with-cover-artist-sarah-zar/ http://www.apex-magazine.com/interview-with-cover-artist-sarah-zar/#respond Thu, 28 Apr 2016 13:46:52 +0000 http://www.apex-magazine.com/?p=11473 This month’s cover artist is Sarah Zar, a Brooklyn, New York artist who works in mediums from oil paints and mixed media pieces to performance art. Sometimes collaborating with dead artists, Zar’s cover piece this month offers a wonderful mix of reality and fantasy.

APEX MAGAZINE: Your piece, “Hurricane Woman,” seems to evoke both the physicality of the woman and the mysterious, fantastic nature of the waterfall. Do oil paints and the smaller size of the work (8″ x 10.75″) give you more time to work out the idea versus other media, or does it have to be fairly strong plan from the start?

Sarah Zar: Thank you. I love it when people help things seem.

I’m a bibliophile, so the intimate immediacy of that small scale is a pleasure. It envelops me, which helps with the more personal sketches. I made that specific piece in the ominous stillness of the night before Hurricane Sandy touched land. Making “Hurricane Woman” felt like being a flood. One moment I was watching my palette knife press linseed oil into a deathly pale blue, and the next, there was this woman looking back at me.

AM: On your C.V. page, you list being a presenter, curator, teacher, and musician. How much do you learn working with students, versus collaborators or even presenting or curating shows? Do you change how you create your work when you are collaborating with others, compared to working on something by yourself?

Sarah Zar painting TAKEN-AND-MADE-IN-THE-DARK

SZ: I like Jorge Luis Borges’ suggestion that the “imminence [from the Latin word imminere, ‘to overhang, impend, or be near’] of a revelation which does not occur is, perhaps, the aesthetic phenomenon.” Every time we make a connection or relationship of any kind, we are creating a new zone of nonverbal possibilities, between the inner worlds of everyone involved. As a result, the collaborative curation of perceptions (whether through literal curation, collaboration, presentation, or education) is an excellent place to harvest information and generate meaning. When I work alone, I try to adapt to the demands of the creation. When others are involved, the exploration is more about balancing webs of potential, and learning effective ways to process the translations that erupt between us.

AM: Your works include painting, photography, collage, and performance. When you have an art show, or even just designing the front page of your website, what are the challenges in showing potential viewers the differences in the types of your various projects? Do you find that individuals gravitate towards your overall works, or specific project areas?

SZ: I don’t worry about demonstrating everything to all of my viewers. Categorization is a tricky beast. People who are searching seem to find the specific bodies of work that allow them to recognize something Other in themselves. They don’t need to see everything. I’m a very big fan of secrets. I can’t speak for everyone else, but most of my collectors seem to be drawn to certain tropes rather than specific project areas. Once they find a certain type of hidden message, they seem to tune themselves to that pattern, and allow it to guide their eye.

AM: With acting and performance art, movement and sound seem to be just as important as the visual aspects. When you are approaching a new performance art piece, how much of it is a visual idea versus a more dynamic mix? Have you found times where a static art idea might work better than a performed piece, and vice versa?

SZ: Definitely. I’m extremely sensitized to subtle shifts in symbolic interactions (and slightly synaesthetic), so in my realms, absolutely everything influences everything else. Much of my solitary work spontaneously emerges in my mind as a psycho-spatial gestalt, and the work of processing it involves a mix of decisive intuition, visual logic, and lateral experimentation. The initial idea usually seems to demand a specific medium, but over time, inner archetypes tend to seep and peel off their masks. The longer you leave them in the dark, the more they have to tell you when you’re ready with a candle.

Sarah Zar Painting withing

AM: Many of your works use rough wood for a frame, as in “Light Can Be The Undertow,” that matches the colors in the paintings well. Are your works typically fully painted before finding the wood for frames, or does the frame influence how you are creating your pieces? Do you have a process to determine which works get frames versus those that don’t?

SZ:  That’s an excellent question. Every physical, technical, or relational decision is symbolic of the internal logic of my piece. If things drain of color, contain an abyss, gain specificity or ambiguity, suddenly change styles, have dust gathered in certain areas, or glimmer under a certain light, it is to reinforce or alter the other information. I collect wood pieces and elements that have a lost history, and rely on poetic interpretations of their visual qualities to pair them with specific images. The paintings are usually complete before they meet their vessels, but sometimes it is necessary to enhance a visual connection, so I’ll add an extra trace.

Sarah Zar has a small art poem book called Riddled With Spots coming out this summer, and a much larger curatorial book is in progress. Her next body of work is a combination of installation, projection, paintings, and psychological amulets that deal with new stories to process the historical shifts taking place in our time. The project deals with oracles, evacuations, trauma, and the roles of deception and imagination in healing. Announcements, and galleries of her varied works, are available at SarahZar.com.

Russell Dickerson has been a published illustrator and designer since the previous millennium, creating works for many genre publications and authors. He has also written many articles for various organizations in that time, including Apex, and his work can be found on his website at www.darkstormcreative.com.

Photo credit John Urbancik

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