I don’t normally review short fiction but I do hope to change that in 2021. Why? Well, because short fiction can be utterly amazing and move you to tears. Some of my new favorite authors are those I first came across because of their short fiction. One of those authors is Alix E. Harrow whose short story “A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Short Compendium of Portal Fantasies” from issue 105 of Apex Magazine won the Hugo Award for Best Short Story.
Harrow has written a number of short stories the last few years and I eat them up. Her latest, “Mr. Death” comes in the recently relaunched Apex Magazine issue 121. For those who don’t know, Apex Magazine went on a hiatus in 2019 due to health issues experienced by its editor-in-chief. After a Kickstarter campaign in 2020 the zine has been relaunched with 6 new issues coming this year. The first issue (no. 121) dropped last week.
I was super excited to download my copy of Apex 121 last Tuesday night. I’d been waiting for months for the relaunch and I was looking forward to reading stories by some great authors including Cassandra Khaw and Malka Older among others. But first I wanted to read “Mr. Death.” It seemed fitting since it was another of Harrow’s shorts that introduced me to the mag in the first place.
Reader I was not prepared…
Yeah…I was sitting in my reading chair with tears going down my face. Why? Why you ask? Well because Harrow wrote a story that will both squeeze your heart and have you begging her to stop writing as you cry tears of sorrow, then release it and and have you taking deep breaths as tears of happiness roll down your face. It runs the gamut of those emotions in just a few short pages.
“Mr. Death” is a story about a relatively new reaper, someone tasked with ferrying souls across the river of death. Don’t think of this as one single grim reaper with dark cloak and scythe, but rather an office employee with a suit and briefcase taking assignments from his supervisor. Until now this reaper’s jobs have been relatively easy and straightforward; expected even. But all of a sudden he gets an assignment he knew would come at some point, one he’d been dreading, and once faced with it he has a decision to make. It’s a story that hits on themes and emotions of life, death, and love and what happens when we are faced with them.
I really was hating Harrow for a minute there. Her writing always hits me in the feels, but this one. Oof. Right in the feels with force, and then she twisted it around kinda slow like to draw out what I knew was coming. But in the end she closes the story out beautifully right in the very last lines, like saying ‘shh…it’s gonna be all right.” And reader…it was.
Apex Magazine releases the content of each issue periodically between installments. So you can wait until this story is available online, or go pick up a copy for yourself. I recommend the latter. Either way, go check out “Mr. Death” by Alix E. Harrow. You won’t regret it.