Apex Magazine #29, October 2011

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Apex Magazine #29, October 2011

“I Am Thinking of You in the Spaces Between” by Shira Lipkin
“To The Mistress of the Labyrinth Give Honey” by Heather McDougal

Reviewed by Richard E.D. Jones

The apex is the top, the very best of something, this higher and no farther. With that in mind, it takes a lot of hubris to name your fiction journal Apex Magazine. Well, let me tell you this, with the current issue’s lead story, “I Am Thinking of You in the Spaces Between” by Shira Lipkin, the magazine certainly lives up to its name.

The story takes place in bed, during the early morning hours after the night before. Instead of a warm, willing, wonderful body and mind lying next to the unnamed narrator, there is, instead, a worn blue notebook. Opening it in the hopes of finding contact information, the narrator instead finds a bizarre confession.

Sarah and thirteen others survived the first passenger trip to use a gate Between; basically teleporting covering the intervening distance by using a trip through different dimensions. Things don’t go as planned. The fourteen survivors come back changed at the cellular level. Because of their trip Between, Sarah and the others can now walk between realities.

The Walkers can travel to worlds with different histories, or fold space and travel somewhere on our world. Of course they’re all swept up by the government and used as a national and strategic resource. Why the Walkers don’t just walk off or away from the government isn’t really addressed, but, strangely, I didn’t actually mind.

While on her trips to different realities, Sarah always goes to one certain bar. And something in her calls to something in every version of her true love. And that true love comes to the bar, where they meet and spend the night together. Sarah, however, is keeping a secret from “her” version. Well, two secrets. And these are secrets she must unburden to her love, so she leaves her notebook with the latest and perhaps last version.

Written in a spare, haunting first-person, the majority of the story concerns the recent history of Sarah Walker, interdimensional traveler, government courier and lover. This is a beautifully written story. Lipkin does a fantastic job of drawing us into the story, using an almost plain style to make the fantastic seem as if it’s only a job.

It’s only because the story grounds us with its style that we can come to care for Sarah and feel for her predicament. Her inability to talk to her true love really rings true, as does her desire to unburden herself to one of the alternates. Very good story with strong characters, good prose and an engaging plot. Definitely worth checking out.

Things take a turn for the dreamy with “To the Mistress of the Labyrinth Give Honey” by Heather McDougal. Using the metaphor of a labyrinth to stand in for the dreaming consciousness of a man asleep in his bed, the unnamed narrator describes her journey into the wild, dark depths of the man’s hidden desires.

Beginning prosaically with cars and streets and past homes, the labyrinth quickly changes to something with a darker tinge, something based around a secluded drawer full of hardened rubber tubing and sharp edges of silver. Things are not right in the sleeping man’s mind.

The man’s wife, lying next to him, sleeping habitually with her back to her husband, has a labyrinth of her own, one fuzzy and full of denial. No, things are not right in that bed. But that pleases the narrator, who travels the labyrinth in search of the dark heart of the sleeping man’s desires.

Once found, these dark desires provide nourishment for the narrator and the sharp spike of fear for the no-longer-sleeping man.

Obviously, this isn’t really that much of a straight-forward story. Told more in dream logic with descriptive allusions rather than exposition, McDougal does a nice job of conveying the atmosphere of a sleeping, possible murderer. Or not. The ambiguity of the story is a nice compliment to the prose.

Can we trust anything found in dreams? Is the narrator reliable? Or even real? All good questions to trouble over as McDougal takes us down the winding path of the labyrinth.