Revive the Drive -- Apex Magazine

By Jason Sizemore
on March 27, 2017

Revive the Drive

Today’s the day! It’s time to Revive the Drive!

Back in October/November, we began our annual subscription drive to raise funds for 2017. After the election, we decided to end that drive early despite not yet meeting our goal; it was not the time to be pushing a drive. This was the best decision we could make at the time, but that doesn’t mean we can ignore the need to raise funds for 2017.

Revive the Drive!

From now until April 17th, we are bringing back the Apex Magazine subscription drive to raise $10,000! We have all new reward tiers to unlock, amazing original fiction to add to the January 2018 issue, and fantastic goodies specially donated to help us reach our goal! Check out our Revive the Drive store! Anything purchased there goes directly to our fund drive!

Pick up a subscription for only $17, tell your friends, and help us revive the drive!

  • $500 – Polls will open for readers to vote for the cutest/best Apex animal mascot: Pumpkin versus Oz! (Expect loads of adorable pics on social media as our editors try to sway you to vote for their pet!) Also, Jason and Lesley will each donate $25 to the Humane Society
  • $1,000 – Apex will donate two short story critiques (one each from Jason and Lesley) to the ConOrBust auction, as well a membership to Imaginarium this October
  • $1,500 – Jason and Lesley’s It Follows debate goes live! Join our editors as they watch It Follows and live tweet the entire experience. If you’ve been following their conversations about the movie on Twitter, then you do not want to miss this! Date and time will be announced once this tier has been unlocked.
  • $2,000 – an original short story by Tade Thompson in the January 2018 issue
  • $2,500 – a poem to the January 2018 issue
  • $3,000 – a reprint to the January 2018 issue
  • $3,500 – Andrea Johnson will conduct a video interview with Jason Sizemore, asking him questions submitted by our readers
  • $4,000 – a nonfiction essay to the January 2018 issue
  • $4,500 – a second poem to the January 2018 issue
  • $5,000 – an original short story by Delilah S. Dawson in the January 2018 issue
  • $5,500 – podcast a second original story in the January 2018 issue
  • $6,000 – Apex donates a membership to ConFusion to ConOrBust
  • $6,500 – raise cover artist rates to $75
  • $7,000 – original artwork for all original fiction unlocked during the drive for the January 2018 issue
  • $7,500 – an original short story by Cherie Priest in the January 2018 issue
  • $8,000 – behind the scenes video with Jason
  • $8,500 – original artwork for all six stories in the January 2018 issue
  • $9,000 – a new print issue of Apex Magazine: SFFH #1
  • $9,500 – raise author rates to 7 cents per word
  • $10,000 – an original short story by Jacqueline Carey in the January 2018 issue
  • STRETCH GOAL!!! $15,000 – raise author rates to 8 cents per word and artist rates to $100!

Already have a subscription? You can renew now for only $17 and we will add another 12 months to your existing subscription. Or make a donation of at least $5 and get a personalized Thank You! postcard from managing editor Lesley Conner—she has a stack of vintage sci-fi novel cover postcards that she’s just dying to share with all of you!

The easiest way to support our subscription drive is to subscribe directly through Apex or by purchasing one of the many donated items we’re offering exclusively through the drive (Head over the the Revive the Drive store to see all the cool things available. New items will be added throughout the drive.), but we know there are people who prefer to subscribe through Weightless Books or Amazon. This is great! If you subscribe through either of these sites, please email a copy of your receipt to Lesley at lesley@apex-magazine.com to make sure we can count your subscription to our total!

Thank you for all of the support you have shown Apex Magazine in the past, for helping us Revive the Drive, and for supporting us for the rest of 2017 and beyond!

(And a shout out to John Hornor Jacob for the beautiful promo graphic at the top of this page!)

The Wicked by James Newman (Excerpt)

By Jason Sizemore
on March 24, 2017
by James Newman
Available as a trade paperback or eBook
TPB ISBN 978-1937009519

 

On the evening of August 12, 2002, a fire raged on the outskirts of Morganville, North Carolina. Into the early hours of the morning it raged, higher and higher, as if the flames fought to devour the moon itself along with everything else. Because of the Morganville Daily Register, the tragedy of that night would come to be known as “The Great Fire of ‘02,” and its casualties would haunt the citizens of Morganville for the rest of their lives.

Neither ghosts nor spirits were these haunts, but instead the collective disbelief that such a thing could happen to the town’s innocent.

It happened at the Heller Home for Children, out on Pellham Road.

*

Initially the Morganville Youth Home, Heller Home was erected in October of 1952, ninety years to the day Morganville was officially established on paper. Founded by Joseph and Irene Heller (a retired Episcopal minister, he was known as “Uncle Joe” to the kids, she as “Aunt Reeny”), the place began as a modest two-story farmhouse, by all outward appearances little more than the quaint country home of a typical Southern family. Inside, however, one would find a house full of love and tolerance, a bustling home for children of every race and creed. No less than a dozen kids usually roamed Heller Home’s hallways, playfully roughhousing under Mr. Heller’s watchful eye while less rowdy teens nurtured their artistic talents with brush and easel. Within this makeshift haven for runaways and the like, Mrs. Heller cooked for her young wards nutritious meals which they might otherwise lack, and eventually the kind-hearted couple would convince these prodigal sons and daughters to return home to their families.

Within a year or two the Morganville Youth Home evolved into an unofficial hospital for neglected and abused children. Mr. and Mrs. Heller were not licensed medical professionals, but thanks to their close relationship with the Morgan County Department of Social Services they were granted funds enabling them to hire several qualified bodies eager to aid them in caring for poor children with nowhere else to go. Although the official licenses and such did not come until a year after their deaths (Mr. Heller died of a heart attack at the age of seventy, Mrs. Heller four years later of natural causes), the Hellers’ dreams were nonetheless posthumously realized. Six months after Mrs. Heller passed away in the first days of Spring ‘79, Morganville dedicated the new “Heller Home for Children” to the couple. It officially opened its doors as a government-sanctioned hospital to not only victims of abuse but also to children from needy families, particularly youth with chronic illnesses. Due to its historical value, the powers that be resolved not to raze the house and begin anew; instead, volunteers and county workers donated their time and money toward adding several new wings onto Heller Home. A local land developer, claiming the Hellers were the only family he’d ever known, dedicated three acres to the hospital and its young wards. There, the children could run through the grassy meadows bordering Morgan County, wade in the creek or climb the grand oak trees that lined the property.

It seemed as if every person in town did all they could to support the Home, be it through donations or by contributing toys or clothes, and Morganville’s citizens did this not out of pity but from the goodness of their own warm hearts.

Uncle Joe and Aunt Reeny would have been proud.

But on the night of August 12, 2002, two months shy of its fiftieth birthday, no one could have expected that the Heller Home for Children would suddenly ignite.

And burn.

And burn.

Until there was nothing left.

*

The Morgan County Fire Department received the call at approximately ten-thirty p.m. The caller: one Marietta Rude, an eighty-year-old widow who had nothing better to do, according to most who knew her, than track the whereabouts of others so her bridge club might have ample fuel for gossip every third Saturday of the month. Mrs. Rude had lived across the street from Heller Home for decades, and many could remember the days when she had branded the Home a haven for “no-good runaways.” Of course, to hear the old woman after The Great Fire of ‘02, it had been her duty to watch over those poor children since Heller Home’s inception. Things had been slow for Fire Chief Randall Simms and his crew that evening—“like the calm before the storm,” they would later tell their friends and family. Frank “Beanpole” Deon was kicked back on a sofa in the center of the firehouse, chomping loudly on a meatball sub while flipping through the latest issue of Popular Mechanics; Jack Deese and Ricky Friedman entertained themselves with some late-night Cinemax softcore on the Department’s 13” Magnavox, occasionally making off-color comments about the women on the screen out of extreme boredom more than any desire to be vulgar; Chief Simms, meanwhile, was engaged in a game of chess with Hank Keenan (who, in addition to volunteering much of his time at the firehouse, also served as a Deputy Sheriff and president of Morgan County’s Dads Against Domestic Violence chapter), both of them too bored to admit that neither could beat the other no matter how hard he tried, so why bother?

Simms had just taken Keenan’s bishop, the only move of any significance to occur in their half-hearted charade for the last hour, but the Chief never had time to gloat about it or even remove the piece from the board as the station’s ear-piercing bell suddenly announced it was time to move. Its shrill ring echoed throughout the halls of the firehouse, shattering the calm. A sleepy female voice on each man’s two-way radio informed Simms’ crew of their destination.

“Move your asses, boys!” Simms yelled, already sliding down the tarnished brass pole in the center of the room. While rookies Deese and Friedman were half his age, Simms could hustle twice as fast as either man; experience had taught him every second was precious. “Move, move, move!”

*

Chief Simms and his men responded in record time, sirens screaming and lights flashing over the sleeping gray houses of Morganville in their wake. But Heller Home could not be saved. The house’s main supports had already collapsed by the time they arrived, and no matter how many gallons of water they used to douse the place, Chief Simms and his men found their efforts were ultimately futile.

Simms cursed himself more than once that night.

He realized, before long, that they could do little more than stand there.

Stand there, watch the place burn...and pull out all the bodies.

*

The final death toll was sixty. Thirty-seven children dead. Eleven more seriously injured. Six of Heller Home’s care-supervisors who were on shift that night perished in the fire; the others were in critical condition. Of the twenty-odd residents who did make it out of Heller Home alive—be it through the aid of Chief Simms and his men or their own iron will to survive—seventeen of them later succumbed to their injuries.

The Great Fire of ‘02 was the worst tragedy Morganville had ever witnessed.

Several days later, after the mass funeral that saw Morganville citizens shed more tears in a single afternoon than they ever thought possible, Chief Simms and a couple professionals called in from the state capital determined that The Great Fire of ‘02 was no accident.

Someone had caused all that death, all that destruction, on purpose.

Shine Your Light on Me by Lee Thompson (Excerpt)

By Jason Sizemore
on March 23, 2017

Shine Your Light on Me
by Lee Thompson
Available as a trade paperback or eBook
TPB ISBN 978-1937009557

The power had just gone out in LeDoux’s Bar & Grill, and the last thing anyone expected was a genuine miracle to illuminate the darkness. The air outside was in the mid-thirties and snow fell softly, and inside the bar, forty people’s lives took a turn toward the unexplainable.

Aiden, Jack LeDoux’s sixteen-year-old son, was sitting at the bar drinking a Coke with his girlfriend Emmy, his cousin Connor, and against his father’s wishes, Elroy O’Connell. Jack had been watching the O’Connell boy intensely, never worrying about hiding his rage at what Elroy and his brothers had done to him a few months prior. It had been humiliating and had crippled him, and moments before the power went out, as Aiden was walking to the men’s restroom, his father scowled at him and rolled his wheelchair into the kitchen and slammed the door behind him. Things would have gone differently for him if he had stayed in the bar and not closed himself off from the others like he had been doing more and more the past few months.

Aiden knew that his father was ashamed of what he’d done to call the O’Connells’ wrath down on him, and he thought their nailing his dad to the tree more than a bit excessive, but there were lines a man wasn’t supposed to cross.

As he approached the bathroom, he glanced over his shoulder at Connor and Emmy and Elroy, and thought that in another two years their lives would change upon graduation. And he realized that he loved them, and couldn’t understand why he felt this strange unease that he would soon part their company forever.

He told himself it was just the storm. He had one or two bad experiences with them in his short sixteen years. Then the lights flickered and he thought he heard his father throwing things around in the kitchen.

Most of the people in the bar were talking quietly. A few, drunk, were noisier, but they quieted down when the lights flickered again and the snow plastered the large window by the exit and made it impossible to see outside.

Aiden relieved himself quickly and was in the process of washing his hands when the power died. He dried his hands on his pants and groped for the door. He heard a few people laughing nervously and saw the flames from several lighters and the faces both lit and lost in shadow behind them. He didn’t know why it made something inside him seize up, but he paused there near the bathroom door and gave his eyes a moment to adjust to the gloom.

But then the lights came back on, at what seemed half power.

Aiden stumbled back to his bar stool disoriented.

Connor said, “Slam your drink and let’s get out of here before the storm gets any worse.”

He finished his own and looked at the clock above the bar.

It was seven-thirteen.

He slapped Aiden on the shoulder and smiled. His cousin had always been trouble, but in a good-natured way. Aiden slammed his drink, thinking that Connor was right; they needed to hit the road before the fresh snow made the street any slicker. It seemed as if thinking about it made his stomach hurt because all the sudden it was burning like there was a fire inside him. The voices in the room all seemed far away, and so did Connor’s laugh before he said to Emmy, “I told you.”

She said, “Real funny.”

Aiden said, “Something’s wrong with me.”

Elroy was looking at him from his wide, cherubic face, with both amusement and pity. His voice was muffled, but it was always muffled, as if he was afraid of speaking at normal volume: “Connor spiked your drink.”

His cousin said, “We need to loosen you up...” and he slapped his shoulder again, and Aiden wanted to tell him: Quit doing that, something’s wrong...

But he was embarrassed; any man in town, any boy on his way to becoming a man, all seemed like they could handle their liquor, yet when he’d tried it with Connor and Elroy on the water tower last summer he’d puked over the side, his head spinning, scared to death that he’d fall and plummet to his death.

And his head was spinning again, and it felt like everybody was looking at him, and he knew his dad would tan his hide if he came out and learned that he had anybody underage—especially his son—drinking in his bar. His old man didn’t toy with stuff like that, the fines were too high, and the cost of doing business wasn’t cheap to begin with.

Thinking about all of that only made his head ache more and his ears felt stuffed with cotton until he heard a distant roar like a jet taking off, and it grew louder and louder, and he pressed his palms over his ears but couldn’t drown the noise.

He sensed Emmy on one side of him, felt her gentle fingers, like his mother’s always were, on his elbow. She was good to him, good for him, and he wasn’t even gone yet, but he already missed her; thought that no matter when the time came for them to part ways, that they’d always be friends, the way they’d started when she’d been dating Connor.

On the other side of him, Connor or Elroy, said something, picking their cell phones off the bar and pointing them at him, and laughing again, and he knew it was Connor causing this strange, helpless feeling, and he wanted to say to him, You know I don’t like that shit, but he didn’t have the strength to knock the phone away and make him quit recording...

The pressure grew inside him and the room darkened further, and he cried out, “Oh, God, I’m going blind...” and his stomach continued to burn and he found it difficult to breathe, and he whimpered, sweating and shaking, afraid of the sound of his voice and the words on his tongue: “I’m dying...”

But nobody took him serious. He had been a theatrical boy at times, before his dad’s crucifixion, so the room watched him: his friends laughed and people in the bar murmured at the beginning of a spectacle none of them yet understood...

Greener Pastures by Michael Wehunt (from the collection Greener Pastures)

By Jason Sizemore
on March 22, 2017

Greener Pastures
by Michael Wehunt
Available as a trade paperback or eBook
TPB ISBN 978-1937009540

Greener Pastures

“You ever can’t sleep?” the trucker said.

Forsyth glanced up out of his thoughts. The man standing at his table was big and worn out, his eyes raw and heavy even in the shadow of his cap’s bill. He had a young face with an old beard matted on the left side, as though he’d been trying to nap against the window of his cab.

The trucker slid into the booth but Forsyth didn’t answer his question at first. He felt the contradiction of road life, that of the lonesome loner. It could be nice to have company when he stopped off someplace, but he’d never been much for talk. He glanced around the diner. A couple more long-haulers sat on high stools at the counter, knives and forks chattering against their plates. The waitress was somewhere back in the kitchen. Even for a graveyard shift the place had a tired air.

Forsyth was bleary-eyed himself. Two grinding days, Little Rock to Birmingham to Atlanta and now he was racing the sun to Valdosta. Coming up on three hours of dark left, and by first light he meant to be on the cot in the back of his empty trailer. He’d have enough time for a quick snooze, and then all the state troopers in hell couldn’t keep him from his daughter’s sixth birthday the next night. Last week the two of them had started reading their first bedtime story together. Lizzie had fallen asleep just as the wolf huffed and puffed at the second pig’s house. Forsyth couldn’t wait to finish it. He’d been getting along with his ex-wife, too. No way was he losing that momentum.

The big trucker watched him across the booth. “You ever can’t sleep?” he asked again.

“I got a feeling,” Forsyth told him, “you’re not talking about putting off a nap until you get to where you’re going.”

“No, I’m not.” The trucker stared out the window as he spoke.

Forsyth followed his eyes. Only things out there were four rigs lined up in the gloom beyond the sodium lamps and an old Ford wagon off to the far side. Those lamps weren’t doing much against the miles of night surrounding the place. Even the lights set into the diner’s flat roof didn’t seem to touch the lot. Still, it was just another diner along I-75. It didn’t have a town around it, that was all.

Forsyth turned back to his temporary buddy. “Insomnia, then? That it?”

“Something like it,” the trucker said, and his face reflected in the window seemed...Forsyth didn’t want to call it spooked. Distracted, maybe. Enough years spent boxed in on tiresome roads and it was a simple thing to think a man was haunted.

“Hell, I think I’ve slept about every way a man can,” Forsyth said. “I got used to it. How long you been hauling?”

“Three years, nearing on four.”

“I get my two-year badge next month. How long you had insomnia?”

He turned and regarded Forsyth with those weary eyes. “I didn’t say it was insomnia. I said it was something like it, didn’t I?” And his gaze went back out the window.

“That you did, fella.” Forsyth wasn’t about to whet that edge in the man’s voice, but he was curious. “I’m Forsyth, by the way. And before you ask, yes, that’s my first name. My mother’s maiden name.”

He stuck his hand out but the trucker kept on searching the dark, absently turning his coffee mug around on the table. It produced a slow, maddening scrape.

“So what is it, then, if it’s not insomnia?” He returned to his hash browns and eggs, left the man to his view.

“You ever wonder if anything’s out there with us? When we’re driving through the night and all these big gaps of world between towns? You got pieces of map where you can lay a quarter down and there’s nothing under it.”

“You mean the rural areas?” Forsyth asked.

He waved that aside. “No, no. That’s not what I’m saying, man. I don’t mean like farms and woods, this road connecting to that road so you can go from there to here. I’m talking about the space in between.”

“I’m not sure I—”

He cut Forsyth off, really throwing himself into gear now. “I’m curious what it is that makes all that space up. And can it take notice of you. Might be the wondering that draws it. I knew a guy once, this was up in South Dakota, he’d haul loads for miles with just the headlights for company. Black as a pit out there, I can tell you. Not many lights strung along some of those roads. Well, Hitch—we called him that because he’d get bored and pick up hitchhikers—he went missing last year. Cops found his rig idling on a shoulder in the middle of nowhere. Right in one of those pieces of map.”

Forsyth pushed his cold eggs away. The trucker stared at his hands for a minute before looking back outside.

“There’s something about the lonely places. Something about us folks who go to them. Like rest stops. A month ago I saw Hitch at one in Virginia. Guy was peeking out of the trees behind the bathrooms whispering my name. I could hear him grinning. He started talking about the sky dripping on him, the night folded over like a blanket. He asked me to—oh Jesus.”

“What?” Forsyth peered through the glass to see what had put that sudden watery groan in the trucker’s last words. It was still just a parking lot, silent and waiting for cars. This place was from a faded era. He doubted it saw many customers even in the best of times. That was half the reason he’d stopped here.

“It’s darker,” the trucker said. “Look close and you can see everything slinking around.”

Forsyth thought he was right about the dark, at least. The streetlights near the entrance, long necks on fifteen-foot stems, were out. The diner huddled in its own small glow now. An island. He could just pick out his rig—a glimpse of red paint—alongside the others, and he could see the edges of the forest that wanted to swallow it all. But nothing moved.

Forsyth tried a different tack. “All due respect, mister, I think you need to try for some of that sleep you can’t seem to find. I doubt coffee’s helping much.” Over by the counter the two other men stood and stretched their backs. They settled caps on gray heads and made their way into the night. Forsyth caught furtive glances from both of them. A stream of cool air slipped inside. It had gotten colder as well as darker.

They sat in silence and watched the pair of old truckers pass in front of the building and dissolve into the encroaching shadows. Neither said as much but they were waiting for their rigs to chug into life, for the big headlights to cut the gravel dust.

Quiet rippled. Forsyth thought that maybe another light had fizzled out. The far end of the diner felt like another county.

The trucker looked at him. “I think those gaps between places are filling up. Something’s looking for us. Couple of weeks back my mama started talking to me on the CB.” He kept swiveling his coffee cup, only now Forsyth was almost glad for the sound. “I know what you’re thinking, and it ain’t ghosts. My mama’s alive and well. Lives in Charlotte and volunteers at the hospital.” His eyes dropped to the table again and he drained the mug. Set it down and went back to turning it.

“Your mama got a radio?” Forsyth would have liked some coffee himself but the waitress had yet to come back up front.

“Nah, she’d hardly know what to do with one. But I hear her. Different channels too. She tells me to pull over sometimes, get out of the cab and walk into a field and look up at the stars. Just lie down there in a bed of grass. She talks about greener pastures waiting. Get out and walk into the night, Sally—that’s what she calls me, Sally. Always seems to be when it’s darkest, right in the crease between midnight and that first streak of morning.”

Forsyth put his head in his hands. His expected thought—something along the line of getting away from this man and back on the road—wouldn’t come to him. Somehow he found himself fixated on all the blank space in the world. He felt he’d known it for some time, from the corners of his eyes. There was an awful lot of it between here and Valdosta, even on the interstate. He kept his CB off as a rule, but would he flip it on tonight when he settled into the driver’s seat?

He glanced outside again and saw another light in the eave had gone dark. Their corner of the lot was the only beacon left. The light inside the diner might as well have been held in a box. It stopped inches beyond the windows.

“Some nights I see people running up a ditch to the road as I drive by,” Sally said, “or standing in the trees. I’d call them pale. I’d call them pale enough to glow, except they’re not. They’re as dark as the dark, but I see them just fine. And then the radio starts crackling and my mama’s talking me out of the truck.”

“Come on now,” Forsyth said, “you got to know that’s not your mama. What you’re talking about sounds like sirens luring sailors to their deaths or something. I mean, CB isn’t what it used to be, but people still play with it.”

“Whoever it is, she knows I ran away when I was eight because she and Dad put my dog down. She knows the name of the magazine she found under my mattress a few years later. Dad, now, he died ten years ago. Cancer. Never been his voice coming out of the CB.”

“How come I haven’t heard of this? I’m on the road about as much as you.” Forsyth wanted to laugh, but instead his mind got snagged on the rest area whose lot he’d napped in earlier that morning. Anonymous brick squatting in the drone of highway traffic and Georgia pines scenting the air. All those unnoticed trees. Over the years he’d relieved himself in hundreds of those facilities. He’d bought undrinkable coffee, washed the sleep out of his eyes, even jerked off once or twice to clear his head. Lonely places, yes, Sally was right. He felt the deeper possibility of it unfurl in his head like a fever.

But no matter how empty a diner found itself, it wasn’t a rest stop. It had a pulse. A constant heartbeat. He craned his neck to look for the absent waitress again.

“Well, now you have. I didn’t know until Hitch told me.” Sally’s grin was both sly and shameful. His lips stayed pressed together inside the snarl of beard. It was the first time his face had come alive with something other than a jittery fear.

“Those two guys haven’t started up their rigs yet,” Forsyth said. He’d meant to just change the subject, clear that leering smile from Sally’s face, but realized he was speaking one notch above a whisper. Both of them watched the black humps of the trucks still as felled trees in all that shadow. “Probably napping. Or napping with each other.”

Neither man cracked a smile.

“Tonight Mama said I should stop here and rest a while. Lay my troubles on a kindred spirit, is how she put it. I don’t think they like the voices of the dead. On account of the dead are the ones we’ve let go of.” Sally pushed his cup away and stood up. “This place does seem like one of those gaps. It’s not like there’s much of anything out here. But you wait until you leave. You’ll get it now.” He looked through the window again. “I gotta take a leak.”

He shuffled toward the little hallway in back. Forsyth watched him push into the men’s room. He got up himself and walked over to the coffee station, grabbed a mug and filled it. Found some half and half and a spoon. When he got back to the table he saw at once that the outside light above his booth’s window was the only one still lit up. The dark gathered close, pressing against the glass, and he tried not to look for things shifting in it.

He poured the creamer in and stirred his coffee. The clink of the spoon unnerved him. It was too much like an alarm bell. He needed to be on the road now in order to have any chance of getting back to Little Rock by suppertime tomorrow. But he sat there, eyes dragging to the window then yanking away. He pictured the radio in his rig and could almost hear a sea of static, and what would he do if his own mother began calling out to him from her nursing home in Tucson, edging him toward the rocks?

The dark outside was too active and all four trucks sat buried under it. No reason they should have been silent. Those two veteran truckers would idle their engines on a cold night. He’d never met one who wouldn’t. Diesel ran long.

In the window he could see the restaurant’s reflection, so he watched both the lot and the hallway behind him while he waited for Sally to return. He thought of the stack of books he’d bought for Lizzie’s birthday. Rachel would give him a real smile for those. Their daughter was going to hit kindergarten running. And when he wheeled in the purple bicycle at the end, right around the time Lizzie thought the presents were done for the year...well, he figured Rachel might have something more than a smile to offer.

Forsyth sat there and Sally didn’t come back. He kept his eye on that last bulb shining out in the dark. A white face might have drifted into sight before retreating. He wasn’t sure. The key to his rig was heavy in his pocket.

In the other pocket his phone buzzed. He jumped in his seat before fishing it out. Nothing on the screen, not even “incoming call.” He tapped the phone and held it up to his ear and listened.

“Daddy?” Lizzie’s voice came as though she were sitting in his lap. “Daddy!”

“Baby?” His mouth went dry. “What are you doing up? You need to be in bed, hon.” He said the normal things, the daddy things, his fingers pinching the bridge of his nose hard enough to hurt.

“I’m not sleepy. Come outside, Daddy. I’m in the trees.”

“No, baby, you’re not in the trees. You’re dreaming.” He started touching everything on the table, coffee cup, plate, silverware. He gripped the napkin dispenser in his hand and tried to squeeze it into something else. An anchor, anything to keep him fastened to his seat. He shouted Sally’s name into the empty diner.

“He’s with his mommy. Come outside, Daddy. It’s my birthday. It’s tomorrow now.”

Forsyth nearly fell to the floor as he lurched out of the booth. He staggered across the room and down the short hall and banged into the restroom. Empty, it could have always been empty but for the window half-open in the wall above the urinal. Cold air, somehow darkened air, fell through it. The tube lights in the ceiling fizzed. He slammed the window shut and checked the single stall. A strip of tissue was draped over the toilet.

“Told you, Daddy. Come look at the stars with me. They’re birthday stars.”

He clamped the phone to his ear as he went back to the counter, stood by the register a moment, then pushed through the swinging door into the kitchen. “Hello?” he called. The waitress had to be here. A cook, somebody. But there was only a low murmur of talk radio voices from the back. They faded into a wash of fuzz and then his older brother whispered his name. Paul, who lived way up in Vancouver. They’d talked on the phone just last week. Forsyth heard his name again, louder, and fled back into the dining area.

“You’re not my Lizzie,” he said into the phone.

“Please, Daddy.” His daughter’s one-more-story voice, the one he’d been longing to hear, perfect down to the pleading end. “Come finish. I want to know if the pigs go outside to the wolf.”

A hinge creaked behind him from the kitchen door. Soft breaths from the phone, waiting. He pictured his little girl tucked under a furry blanket six hundred miles away, green eyes peeking out, the spill of her fine light hair. He pictured her needing him, heaved a deep breath and stepped out into the close cold of the night.

Just get to the truck and out of this creepy place. His keys were in one hand, the phone still raised in the other. A tiny gleam of light reflected off his chrome grille, a hint of red side panel, and he fixed his eyes on it. Just get to the truck. The shoulder of his jacket whispered along the wall of the diner and he jerked away from it.

A small, bright laugh came from somewhere close. He heard it in his ear in the same instant. Rustling ahead, the faint crunch of gravel. When he reached the corner, the vast black space opening before him, he paused and looked up. No moon hung in the endless stars. That one light in the eave of the diner’s roof had been holding on, bravely throwing out its white heaven for Forsyth. Now it flickered and winked and was gone.

Originally published in Aghast #1 (2015)

The Container of Sorrows by Mercedes M. Yardley (from the collection Beautiful Sorrows)

By Jason Sizemore
on March 21, 2017

Beautiful Sorrows
by Mercedes M. Yardley
Available as a trade paperback or eBook
TPB ISBN 978-1937009533

The Container of Sorrows

There was a girl. She sat at a white desk in a white room with her hands folded neatly in her lap.

Peter stood before her with his pockets turned out.

“I don’t have anything to give you,” he said. He spoke very quietly. Shame does that.

She didn’t move, but he thought that she shook her head.

“I don’t need anything like that,” she told him. “I do not desire your buttons or baubles, although I am sure that they are quite lovely.”

He thought that she smiled, but she did not actually do that, either.

“I don’t understand,” he confessed. He shifted from foot to foot. She really did smile then, but only in her eyes. He bit his lip and continued. “I thought...that you wanted something from me. In exchange for your help.”

“Oh, but I do.” Her skin was white, and her hair even whiter, but only just. When she smiled—if she smiled—her lips were disconcertingly red. The rest of the time they were only the palest of pink. He had the impression that something parasitic sucked the breath from those lips while she slept, but what could he do about it?

“Please tell me what you desire.”

“I want to be happy.”

“Then I will help you.”

She pulled a ceramic jar out of nowhere. It was the color of sky and looked cool to the touch. He flexed his fingers.

“This is the Container of Sorrows, Peter. Do you understand?”

“Yes.” He didn’t.

Her lips barely twitched but it was as if the snow melted and he tasted spring.

“This is how you will be happy. Tell me one of your sorrows. I will keep it here for you, and the burden from that particular sorrow will be no more.”

He felt stupid and stared at his shoes. They had holes in the toes.

“Do you...not wish happiness?”

Her voice was strangely brittle, as if she were trying not to cry. He was hurting her somehow, he decided, but that didn’t make any sense. He took a deep breath.

“I miss my mother,” he said, and the words fell from his mouth like vapor. The girl opened the jar, and the mist zipped inside. She closed the lid with a satisfying click.

“There,” she said, and her smile was real this time, genuine. “Don’t you feel better?”

He thought about his mother. Her warm brown hair, the apron that she used when she baked cupcakes. He thought about her more aggressively. The police telling his father that they had discovered a broken body. The funeral in a town without rain.

“I don’t feel sad,” he said in wonder, and the girl looked pleased. She kissed him, and he woke up.

Peter’s lips burned where she had touched him, and he kept his fingers pressed there for most of the day. When the boys razzed him about his poorly trimmed hair, he didn’t mind so much. When they taunted him about his mother being a whore who got what was coming to her, he was surprised to find that he didn’t care at all. He ate dinner silently and changed into his worn pajamas without being asked. He brushed his teeth and climbed into bed with an eagerness that would have been pitifully endearing if anyone had seen it.

Sleep came instantly, and there she was. She was wearing white flowers in her hair.

“Did you have those flowers yesterday?” he asked her.

Her cheeks flushed delicately. “No.”

Peter didn’t know what to say. “I had a better day at school than usual. Thank you.”

The girl again brought the smooth blue container out of thin air. “Tell me another sorrow, Peter. Tomorrow will be even better.”

He thought. “I’m tired of being called poor.”

The mist of words spiraled into the Container of Sorrows. He nodded his head once, and she nodded back in a very serious manner.

And thus it went. His sorrows disappeared. “I hate seeing dead birds. I wish that I had a friend. My father doesn’t notice me.”

The jar devoured his sorrows with an agreeable hunger. The pale girl’s lips turned up all of the time and her eyes began to sparkle. Peter grew more confident at school. He stood up straight. He looked people in the eye. He made friends.

He was almost happy.

On the last night that he went to her, something in the air had shifted. The atmosphere was holding its breath, and it was undeniable.

“Hey,” Peter said, leaning casually on the white desk. “There’s only one sorrow that I have left.”

“Only one?” asked the girl with something that sounded exquisitely close to hope. Her eyes shone. Her white hair and red lips were glossed with fragile expectation. She produced the Container of Sorrows and carefully removed its lid. Peter’s sorrows ghosted around inside, smelling of lavender and brokenness.

“Natalia Bench never looks at me at school.”

The vaporous sorrow swirled from his lips and settled into the jar. The girl’s white fingers didn’t move, so Peter put the lid back on for her.

He smiled. “Now I’ll be brave enough to talk to her tomorrow. Thank you very much, Girl of Sorrows. I am happy.”

The girl held the jar very close, and she looked up at Peter. Her lips were pale, strawberries buried under layers of ice. He was reminded of that feeling that he had once, long ago, where he thought that something supped from her lips at night. How frightened she must be. How alone.

How silly.

“Goodbye,” he said, and kissed her cheek. Had her touch once burned? She was ice under his skin. She was a corpse. Peter turned and walked away without looking back.

There was a girl. She sat at a white desk in a white room where she wept, clutching a container full of somebody else’s sorrows.

Originally published in The Pedestal Magazine (2009)

Ugly as Sin by James Newman (Excerpt)

By Jason Sizemore
on March 20, 2017

Ugly as Sin
by James Newman
Available as a trade paperback or eBook
TPB ISBN 978-1937009502

(Excerpt)

After the trials were over, the man formerly known as the Widowmaker moved back to Memphis, where he had bought his first home in the early days of his career. Of course, the best he could do these days was a cramped apartment on the Bad Side of Town. When all was said and done, his attorney had suggested he plant himself as far from that godforsaken business as possible. Nick concurred. It wasn’t as if the smaller federations were lining up to sign him following his highly-publicized assault on the GWA’s C.E.O.

Once upon a time, Nick Bullman had been a celebrity. While he was far from a household name, the die-hard fans recognized him on the street now and then. His face appeared regularly on the cover of trade magazines like Ringside and Body Slam. He drove a Hummer, had dated a few high-class strippers and even a porn star or two during his thirty-plus years in the Biz (one of the smut queens had been his third wife, in fact, though that arrangement barely lasted a month so it didn’t really count). Before his life went spiraling down the shitter, he had been in talks with his agent and a ghostwriter about a possible autobiography.

But then he dared to lay his hands on Lance K. McDougal III.

When he got to thinking about it all, Nick didn’t know whether to sink into a bottomless funk or never stop laughing. He had spent the last fifteen months of his life inside a courtroom. Before that he had suffered through multiple surgeries, painstaking facial reconstruction which had been only marginally successful (and calling it that was a stretch—Nick compared it to washing an old suit and smoothing out all the wrinkles, after that suit had been set on fire then buried for a year). Meanwhile, the men responsible for his condition now resided in a cushy sanitarium, where the worst thing about their lives was an eight o’clock curfew and losing games of checkers to their fellow drooling schizos.

In the case of The State of North Carolina vs. Nicholas James Bullman, Nick pled guilty to one count of aggravated assault. His sentence: thousands of dollars in fines, and two years’ suspended probation. The judge who presided over the case—an old pal of Lance McDougal’s daddy, it was rumored—informed Nick that he had considered tacking on some community service as well, perhaps a PSA appearance since the defendant was a celebrity. Alas, he had decided against it because the days of anyone wanting to see Nick Bullman’s mug on TV were dead and gone. Didn’t want viewers losing their dinner during prime time.

As for the civil suit that followed, McDougal’s legal team demanded no less than one-point-five million dollars for what Nick had done to the C.E.O. The assault had resulted in little more than a stab to McDougal’s king-sized pride, maybe a bruised windpipe and a few papercuts when Nick pulled him across the desk, but that wasn’t the point. Nor was it about the money.

McDougal had sued Nick to prove that no one fucked with Lance K. McDougal III.

And he won.

Nick often found himself wishing he had killed the dickhead that day. If he had applied just a few more ounces of pressure to McDougal’s pencil neck, or pitched the prick out of his twelfth-story office window...

Prison might have been preferable to living in this shithole, with only the roaches to keep him company and nothing to fill his belly but Ramen noodles and Jim Beam.

 †

Sometimes, before society insisted on reminding him of the inescapable truth, he could almost forget about his disfigurement. For a minute or two. He certainly didn’t feel any different. On the inside he was the same Nick Bullman he had always been, save for a newfound mistrust in his fellow man and a meek disposition that belied his muscular physique (it tends to shred a guy’s self-confidence over time, venturing into public with a face once considered ruggedly handsome now reduced to a mess that would make Frankenstein’s Monster piss his pants).

He could almost pretend he was normal. That he looked like everyone else...until he dared to leave his apartment to embark upon the necessities of middle-class life.

Take this morning. Nick had stepped out around six, traveling across town in his ’93 Bronco with the terminally ill transmission, as the first rays of sunlight peeked above the horizon. His destination: the 24-Hour Grocery Outlet. He needed to pick up some toilet paper, a box of Corn Flakes and some milk, maybe a six-pack of Michelob if he had a few bucks left over. Nick always planned such trips for early in the morning or late at night. It reduced the gawking, he had learned from experience. The regulars, he could handle: the bored stares of a few red-eyed stock boys stinking of sweat and marijuana, the sad-faced single mothers working the cash registers with hickeys on their necks and tattoos like JUSTIN’S GIRL barely concealed beneath their sleeves. Some of these folks he even knew by name. They weren’t the same employees every time, but they might as well have been. Nick assumed the graveyard crew had seen stranger sights than him lurching through their store. Maybe.

When he first spotted the kid this morning, his instincts had warned him: Ignore it. No good could come of striking up a conversation. He had never liked children anyway. Doubtful he would have noticed this one if not for the boy’s loud sniffling; any time he went out these days, Nick wore sunglasses and a hooded sweatshirt, which helped hide his face from the rest of the world but it killed his peripheral vision.

The kid was four or five years old. He wore an Incredible Hulk T-shirt that was stained all over with something matching the color of his favorite hero’s flesh.

“Where’s my mommy?” he sobbed.

Nick approached the child against his better judgment. “Hey there. You lost? It’s okay, son. We’ll find your mama.”

The instant the brat saw what lurked within that colossal reaper’s cowl, he started screeching at the top of his lungs.

It was the most nerve-wracking sound the big man had ever heard. It made his teeth hurt.

“Aww, shit.”

Mommy! Somebody help me! It’s...a monster!”

A moment later, the misplaced mommy in question stumbled around the corner, her trailer-park high heels clicking out a white-trash rhythm on the store’s recently polished floor.

When she saw Nick standing over her son, her mouth stretched into a wide black “O.” She slapped at his chest with her massive pink pocketbook, demanding to know what he was doing to her beloved Billy Junior. Was he some kinda kiddie-lovin’ pervert? He sure looked like a weirdo, weren’t no doubt about that.

“Somebody call nine-one-one!” her voice echoed through the store. “I think he tried to touch my boy!”

Nick didn’t wait around to hear more.

He ran. Collided with a Cheez-Its display. Boxes flew everywhere, an avalanche of red and orange. In retrospect, he supposed his clumsy getaway made him appear guilty of something, but his only concern had been getting the hell out of there.

To top off everything else, once he reached his Bronco in the parking lot she teased him for a minute before starting (“Come on, you twat,” Nick growled, “don’t do this to me”). Took him four tries before she caught.

Nope, it certainly had not been his favorite morning ever.

The second he walked through the door of his apartment following his ill-fated trip to the grocery store, his phone rang.

He almost didn’t answer it. But he welcomed this opportunity to take out his anger on an early-bird telemarketer or some asswipe with a wrong number.

The last thing Nick expected to hear was that single word on the other end of the line: “...Daddy?”

Shock Bundle -- Five Books to Thrill

By Jason Sizemore
on March 20, 2017

Recently, Apex Book Company picked up five titles from Shock Totem. Neither Ken Wood nor myself wanted to see these great books orphaned. All five are now available from Apex!

To celebrate the Apex release of these five books, we are offering a Shock Bundle starting today through Sunday only through our store!

Included in the bundle:
The Wicked by James Newman
Greener Pastures by Michael Wehunt
Beautiful Sorrows by Mercedes M. Yardley
Shine Your Light on Me by Lee Thompson
Ugly as Sin by James Newman

All five are available in digital for only $10 (save $9.95).

All five available in trade paperback for only $50 (save $16.95).

Locus Awards!

By Jason Sizemore
on March 14, 2017

Hello readers!

There’s this thing called the Locus Magazine Reading List. The reading list is compiled by the Locus Magazine staff editors and professionals in the field. The Locus Awards winners are then selected from that list by reader voting.

Since Apex as a whole only has one item on the entire list (novel Rosewater by Tade Thompson–yay Tade!), I want to accomplish five things.

1) Help Rosewater make the Locus Awards top 5 in the novels–science fiction category.

2) Via write-in votes place “The Tomato Thief” by Ursula Vernon in the top 10 for novelettes.

3) Via write-in votes place The Kraken Sea by E. Catherine Tobler in the top 10 for novellas.

4) Via write-in votes place Stay Crazy by Erica L. Satifka in the top 10 for first novels.

5) Via write-in votes place an Apex Magazine story in the top 10 for short fiction. Based on popularity and critical input our most popular story of 2016 was “The Old Man and the Phoenix” by Alexander Baisden.

Voting is easy. Go here and fill out the ballot. There are lots of quality works–let your opinion be known fairly and in all the categories. Considering voting for Rosewater and writing in “The Tomato Thief,” The Kraken Sea, and Stay Crazy.

While you’re there, grab a subscription to Locus Magazine. It’s a fine publication that has earned the support of genre readers and writers.

If enough of our readers and fans make their voices heard via the Locus Award voting, perhaps the work of our fantastic authors won’t go overlooked!

New site design!

By Jason Sizemore
on March 13, 2017

Over the weekend I did a little maintenance and applied a fresh coat of digital paint to our website. I hope you like it.

The old design had been in place for over five years. While it was functional (and there is a lot to be said about a smoothly operating ecommerce setup), I had grown tired of its early 2000s aesthetic. The new site is brighter, dynamic, and easy to use.

Our blog will be more active as time permits. Recent posts now have a more visible presence on the landing page.

You now have thumbnails on the main page that displays my Instagram feed which is, ostensibly, the official Apex Book Company Instagram. I post stuff almost daily.

I would like to ask a favor. If you find something that is broken, let me know. If you have comments or suggestions, I'd love to see those, too.

Happy Monday!

Apex Magazine issue 94 in LIVE!

By Lesley Conner
on March 07, 2017

It’s new Apex Magazine day!

Apex Magazine issue 94 is here with breathtaking cover art by Caroline Jamhour. We kick off the issue with a 10,000 word novelette by John Hornor Jacobs—available to read on the Apex Magazine website now—and follow it up with a delightful story by Mary Elizabeth Burroughs. Our reprint this month is “Jesus Christ, Reanimator” by Ken MacLeod. Andrea Johnson talked with John Horner Jacobs about “Luminaria,” the novel he’s currently working on, as well as other creative projects he has in the works. Russell Dickerson interviews our cover artist Caroline Jamhour, discussing everything from mythical inspirations to the pressure to sensor nudity in art. It’s a wonderful discussion you don’t want to miss. Also this month, we’re bringing you a new feature where the Apex staff recommends recent books they’ve read and think you shouldn’t miss in “Books Worth Your Time.”

Head over to the Apex Magazine website now to dive into John Hornor Jacobs’s “Luminaria” and to read Jason Sizemore’s “Words from the Editor-in-Chief.” New content will be released all month long, so be sure to come back often!



To read the entire issue now and to help support Apex Magazine, pick up an individual issue! Available in PDF, ePub, and mobi formats, you can buy issue 94 for only $2.99 direct from Apex, or through Amazon, Weightless Books, and B&N.

Later this month we are reviving the subscription drive that we ended early last fall. Please consider joining us March 27th to April 17th and help raise the money needed to fund Apex Magazine for the rest of this year.

Table of Contents

EDITORIAL
Words from the Editor-in-Chief—Jason Sizemore

FICTION
Luminaria—John Hornor Jacobs
Waste—Mary Elizabeth Burroughs
Jesus Christ, Reanimator—Ken MacLeod

NONFICTION
Interview with Author John Hornor Jacobs—Andrea Johnson
Books Worth Your Time—Apex Staff
Interview with Cover Artist Caroline Jamhour—Russell Dickerson

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  • Shine Your Light on Me
    Shine Your Light on Me
  • Greener Pastures
    Greener Pastures
  • Beautiful Sorrows
    Beautiful Sorrows
  • The Wicked
    The Wicked
  • Apex Magazine: SFFH #0
    Apex Magazine: SFFH #0
  • Ugly As Sin
    Ugly As Sin

From the Blog

Revive the Drive -- Apex Magazine

March 27, 2017

Today’s the day! It’s time to Revive the Drive! Back in October/November, we began our annual subscription drive to raise...

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