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Reed Alexander’s Horror Review of ‘Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women’ 2020, Edited by Lee Murray and Geneve Flynn

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Roots, bloody roots…

In order for me to consider an anthology good, it needs at least three solid stories that are worth the purchase. The only exception, my review of the Creeping Corruption Anthology, where I mentioned that The Being by J. M. Striker, was worth the cover price, alone!

And yes, the first three are worth the cover price. They’re not just good, they’re fantastic! Even the second, Kapre, which I had the most difficulty with as a critic, was marvelous in its own right and is arguably the best of the first three. Though, I favor the first story merely as a personal preference for its stylization of science fiction.

Importantly, there wasn’t one story I didn’t like. In fact, the whole collection is fantastic and I made every effort possible not to spoil them or even swear if I could help it. But fuck’s sake, I tend to swear even more when I like something this much, and I had to work it out of my system.

I absolutely recommend this anthology! In fact, I can’t recommend it enough. My few complaints are easily ignored and wholly irrelevant. Most importantly, this anthology has a power to it! Every story is a gut punch that’s hard to recover from!

Pick up a copy: Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women


SPOILERS!!! (While I did my best to avoid them, take care reading beyond this point.)

THE GENETIC ALCHEMIST’S DAUGHTER by Elaine Cuyegkeng

A sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” ~ Arthur C. Clark

The depiction of this technologically advanced society sounds more like a work of fantasy, as well it should. We can grip to every detail with scientific plausibility, and yet it will sound like pure fantasy. It had a master-crafted setting that defines magnificent details but doesn’t labor on them.

The tense is a little jarring. It’s like someone reciting present tense from memory. Not a third person present tense, or a narrator describing it to the reader, but like a person describing a memory like it’s happening right now.

The premise is simple. What if you could correct independent and disobedient women with modified clones. Kinda like The Stepford Wives. No spoilers, it will leave you shooked!

KAPRE: A LOVE STORY by Rin Chupeco

The opening is difficult to digest and a bit rambling. I had to read it more than twice, and each attempt caused more confusion. Thus, it bucked me from my reader’s trance. Most of the first paragraph was a mess and didn’t flow naturally until the fourth sentence.

However, I will implore you to read on, as I did. After, I consumed each word no less eagerly than the previous story. It’s so rare to get a glimpse into the nightmarish tales of other cultures. Certainly rare enough to be able to immerse myself in those nightmarish machinations.

Outside of its initial hangups, this is a fantastic story.

A PET IS FOR LIFE by Geneve Flynn

A few word choice issues here. I know it’s difficult to stand out without being poetic, but you can lose the reader. Statements like “…prickled with recognition” made me tilt my head and caused me to stop reading. I know we mean goosebumps, and I know statements like “feeling eyes on you” are cliche’, but there’s nothing wrong with that, and no need to reinvent the wheel with words. Though, as a writer, I’m guilty of this, myself.

I’m also not sure if the perspective hopping worked. I didn’t struggle with it, but it did stumble at least once. However, neither this nor the prior mentioned word choices were reason enough for me to stop reading.

The rest of the story is quite compelling. It’s a creature feature of a sort that pits two mythological supernatural beings against each other, only one I’m particularly familiar with. Either way, it was a fun read.

PHOENIX CLAWS by Lee Murray

This touches me so deeply. Being married to a Filipina woman, I had to formally request her hand in marriage from the father. So much cultural significance went into this, my (eventual) wife was a nervous wreck. I remember the inward sigh I took when my (now) father smiled and asked me to tell his wife, my (now) mother. While I remained stoic, I wanted to faint!

I especially love this story’s focus on food. My father seemed especially excited about my generalist appetite and eagerness to try new things that would make most white guys turn green (like Balut… look it up)!

Is foodie horror a thing? Yeah, it works. Shows like Bizarre Foods International wouldn’t exist if it didn’t. This even has deep cultural significance and if horror is for anything, it’s calling out existing power structures. In fact, I found myself deeply offended when the character Fin turned his nose up at Luce’s culture. At one point, even pulling that reverse racism crap. Which I must flatly state, is not a real thing. Racism requires a power structure, a system to enforce it. Outside of that, it’s just white people being whiny.

I mean seriously, would eating one fucking claw have really killed him?

OF HUNGER AND FURY by Grace Chan

Writing you can feel on your skin. If you don’t feel sticky and icky after the first few pages, you ain’t human! It’s so assaulting on the mind, I swear I could taste it. That’s a solid form of body horror; making the reader’s body feel grimy. Every descriptor in this short is about texture. The kind that repulses, but penetrates primordially.

This story’s refusal to praise the male protagonist for “not being an asshole,” is just so right. He does the minimum and is even condescending about it. He doesn’t treat Fang like an equal and he certainly doesn’t treat her culture as equal. There is a lot of complicated layers here. The main character feels like she abandoned and was simultaneously abandoned by her culture. She’s so estranged from her family and her heritage, it seems that she doesn’t know her own father has died.

It’s hard to place the spirit that haunts her. Is it the spirit of a dead girl lost from an unsolved murder? Is it the spirit of the main character’s existential dread? Is it the spirit of her severed heritage yearning to be recognized? Maybe all of the above. Maybe the spirit of that dead girl felt so deeply for that existential dread, for the yearning to be recognized, it just became about that.

SKIN DOWDY by Angela Yuriko Smith

This reminds me of the YouTube short, Doll Face, and for context please watch it: Doll Face

I’m not against body modification. Quite the opposite. There is no better or more obvious way to show control over your own body. And through this, one can easily express how they feel, how they want to shine. However, it’s important to remember the heightened social standers women are systematically expected to hold. Often for the pleasure of men.

Absolutely brilliant how this story depicts that concept in such an interesting cyberpunk setting.

TRUTH IS ORDER AND ORDER IS TRUTH by Nadia Bulkin

Okay, don’t get me wrong, this is a FASCINATING exposition on a foreign, almost alien culture. It did become a bit of a slog, though. I felt like I should be taking notes. However, the slog seemed sort of understandable. This story does begin with an epic pilgrimage- a literal slog. Perhaps an exposition slog is perfect to depict the sensation of a literal slog.

My god, all I can say about this is that it’s a fascinating epic. It’s downright biblical. Much as the concepts are all foreign to me, they are all easily digestible in ways I can understand. Concepts I read for the first time flowed naturally when they should likely seem strange. A fantastic read!

One final note, I’m deeply happy the foreign cultures H. P. Lovecraft so dismissively pissed on, are taking their culture back from the blaggard. Don’t cancel… re-appropriate.

RITES OF PASSAGE by Gabriela Lee

The idea of ‘future tense’ is always a bit of a struggle, but I thought it was fun how this reads like a prophecy. It was a bit of a stumble when it landed in the now, and again when it further moved to past tense. It’s actually interesting as the tenses are reversed. The future tense depicting “when the child was born,” the present tense being “What the child did,” and the past tense being “what the child will do?”

While this is extremely experimental for English, it really worked well. When the future tense describes the past, I didn’t lose sight of that, even when the tense changed again. And while it made me tilt my head contemplatively, it didn’t stop me from reading, nor jar my reader’s trance.

THE NINTH TALE by Rena Mason

This story did seem to stagger on even though it felt like it was over. I kept reading, wondering what more there was to say, being pleasantly surprised that what was said next made needed to be said.

I’m a little familiar with the legends of fox spirits, though, this expanded on them beautifully. I love how well the myth is depicted as terrifying, even unforgiving, but somehow fair. It’s not good, but it’s not even evil, and though a little serendipitous, still seemingly natural and without malice. Like a fox eating a mouse for sustenance. It’s good that Xin and Zhang seem to deserve their fate, but even if they didn’t, it would still seem oddly appropriate.

I also love how this is a commentary on traditional Japanese foot binding. As mentioned initially about the story SKIN DOWDY, it’s important to remember the heightened social standers women are systematically expected to hold.

VANILLA RICE by Angela Yuriko Smith

Every moment of this story made my heart ache. This mother just wants her daughter to be loved and accepted. Unlike the first in the collection, which was about modifying women to control them, this is about how existing social controls already modify them. It’s like the Chinese practice of eye-widening so that women and men seem more ‘Caucasian.’ The prevalence of western domination has deeply scared these cultures where even levels of white supremacy psychologically affect them.

This woman was so psychologically sacred by cultural erasure, she seeks to erase it from her own daughter. I can think of no better name to spoof than Vanilla Ice, a white rapper who tried to appropriate black culture. White culture basically appropriated this woman’s daughter, after all.

An absolutely beautiful read with elements of body horror. Bravo!

FURY by Christina Sng

This one also starts off with a full paragraph of awkward sentences. This time it was almost enough to make me stop reading. Were it not for my duties as a critic, I would have. Importantly, I did not regret that I kept reading or I would have stopped, duties be damned (it might not be fair, but it’s honest).

Beyond the awkward opening is a somewhat generic zombie horror. However, it was still pretty good. It had all the right elements of survival, struggle, and a sense of sacrifice. It was good, and that is good enough.

This was a little long though fast-paced enough to keep me moving. A lot of it reminded me of 28 Days Later (2002) with the pulse-pounding stylization. The ending, which I won’t spoil, reminded me of I Am Legend by Richard Mathison.

THE MARK by Grace Chan

There’s a constant theme in this anthology about white men who ‘land’ Asian women, only to become bored and dismissive of them by the time the story opens. This must be a consistent issue with their culture, something I’ve had first-hand experience with. I married my wife because she was the perfect partner. Our personalities meshed well, we came from similar backgrounds, had similar likes, and a similar sense of humor. I felt it vain at the time that I was marrying the female version of myself. I was shocked to discover that even my more liberal friends were more preoccupied with the fact that I’d ‘landed an Asian.’ Enough so, over time I even systematically cut those friends out of my life. This is so pervasive, it still comes up to this day and I’m never sure how to address it. Though I’m sure I’m always visibly annoyed when it comes up. People (primarily men) often treat my wife as a fetish, when I see her as my best friend.

The protagonist in this book describes her husband as an imposter, and I think I know why. Far too often are women treated like trophies, conquests that the shine has faded from. I can’t imagine how this reflects on ‘exotic’ trophy wives. This woman’s husband was always an imposter. James was the fabrication, replaced by the robot that was always there.

FRANGIPANI WISHES by Lee Murray

This is like a poem, with emotions and meaning made visual through word. Actually, it’s a fantastic expression of emotions and visual things through word. This is broken by short little poems that separate each moment in the body of the work. The story flows beautifully. There is even a rhythm to it.

Here’s the thing, the story is fascinating, gripping in fact, but it’s not horror in the classical sense and isn’t my usual jam. However, the rhythm, flow, and illustration through the written word were so damn compelling, it hardly mattered. I didn’t just consume this story, I devoured it. I don’t even consider it the best of the anthology, but I clung to every word of it.

That being said… the ending. GOOD LORD that ending hits like a freight train. The rhythm builds up this force and when it finally stops, it’s like a bullet to the sternum.

LITTLE WORM by Geneve Flynn

I’m not sure if anyone reading my literary reviews is familiar with my movie reviews, but I’m kinda well known for one specific review… well, a rant really, about The Taking of Deborah Logan and how it missed the point of its own story. Deborah is succumbing to dementia and as her mind leaves, something else begins to take over. The problem is, the whole concept of isolation and loss is completely destroyed by un-fucking-watchable shakey camera. They had this beautiful thing, wrapped up in a compelling story, and ruined it with a silly gimmick.

This story gives me what The Taking of Deborah Logan, should have given me. It gives me the full blunt force trauma of that loss and the slow isolation of being robbed of one’s faculties.

But what’s eating this woman isn’t dementia or just some random demon. Its a spirit of all her deepest regrets, her hopes, and dreams that have been lost over the years, made manifest.

Closing

Once again -and seriously, I can not stress this enough- this collection is fantastic. It’s beyond worth the cover price, it’s an instant classic and I’d be damned shocked if we never hear from these writes again.

Please read these stories. If you have any regrets after doing so, you need to take a good hard look at your life.

~Reed Alexander

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Reed Alexander’s Horror Review of ‘Cube’ (1997)

Simple, violent, brutal.

I remember when this indie came out, I actually rented it on VHS at a Blockbuster Video (that’s how old I am, people). It was sorta the first indie to really escape the Hollywood trap. Even The Blair Which was purchased and distributed by a major (while small) studio. Cube was the first movie I found out about on the ‘World Wide Web.’ For anyone under the age of 30, that’s what the ‘www’ stands for. So yeah, I found out about this movie back in the days of message boards and AOL. I guess that kinda makes it the first viral horror movie. If this bad boy ever saw theaters, it was one of those privately owned theaters that plays artsy foreign garbage.

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Reed Alexander’s Horror Review of ‘Color Out of Space’ (2019)

When the whole movie goes full Cage!

Back in my review of Mandy, (2018) I complained that I didn’t get the ultimate Nick Cage experience I was promised. I was told it would be full force, category 5, Nicolas Cage. I was expecting Cage to deliver the ham of godly proportions. The reason this was so important to me, is that it was litmus test for this movie, Color Out of Space (2019).

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Reed Alexander’s Horror Review of ‘Suspiria’ (2018)

My. Fucking. God…

Where do I even begin? What an absolutely stunning movie! Everything from the dance choreography to the setting, to the story. There was only a solitary moment that was out of place and I’m really pulling hairs to be critical of even that!

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Reed Alexander’s Horror Review of ‘Event Horizon’ (1997)

Not given enough respect by its director

I’ve always wondered to myself why Event Horizon isn’t higher on my list of top 10 horror movies. It’s not that I don’t firmly stand by my current position for it at #7. It’s just that I never considered why it wasn’t better as I haven’t bothered to go back since I started reviewing movies. So, by this day, November the 14th, year of our lord 2019, eight years after having started my career as a movie critic, I returned to one of my all time favorite movies to give it a closer look.

It’s here I figured out what’s wrong with this movie. The directer phoned it the fuck in. He had something special, but it was delivered by trash studio Dimension Films who lost their cred and simply didn’t take production seriously. There is so much about this movie that was flat out lazy. Paul Anderson must have been siting on his fucking thumbs, blowing bubbles the whole time. Or maybe he was just always a hack. Look at his track record. AvPMortal CombatResident Evil. This man is the king of shameless cash grab, trash films. I feel like the only time he got anything right, it was by accident. And the more I think about it, the more I realize that everything he’s had a hand in almost has a signature sense of over processed laziness.

And it’s a damn shame too because this movie was fucking amazing regardless of how carelessly it was handled. The cast was epic. I mean, Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill, Kathleen Quinlan, Joely Richardson? There were fewer names I didn’t know than names I did know. The acting was just fucking marvelous. Not quite award winning but damn good all the same. The set and FX were amazing, the atmosphere stunning, and again, I really don’t believe the director was even trying. Thank fucking god his set crew was. The design and attention to detail was every bit as impressive as Alien (1979). I wish they’d used more modeling as apposed to CGI, but it was still really fucking good. The ship Event Horizon, was constructed with agonizing care that you can seriously feel. And the story is just fucking griping.

I have a feeling writer Philip Eisner is a Warhammer 40k fan. What’s presented by the design and function of the gravity drive for the ship is in many respects similar to the gravity drives in the 40k universe. It’s not a new concept, one that was even used by the TV series Babylon 5, but one that isn’t used often and certainly never to this degree. More on that in the spoilers.

This movie was something truly special. Everything came together perfectly like the stars were fucking aligning or something. Sadly, it was largely overlooked by audiences when it came out. But again, it was Dimension Film. Hellraiser: Bloodlines had come out the year before and largely destroyed their reputation. Bloodlines was a highly anticipated film in a beloved franchise that turned out to be an obvious thoughtless cash grab which deeply disrespected the fans. For that reason, fans largely spurned Dimension Films, and rightly so. I almost didn’t see Event Horizon in the theaters because I took one look at it and wrote it off as the ‘new Hellraiser in space.’ I was dragged by a friend and good damn thing too. I did not regret it the way I expected to.

Like I said, the fact that it was a hit seemed like almost an accident. When I watched it this time, it was like every scene I found myself saying “That’s the take you went with?” Not that it was bad but the cutting just didn’t have the same level of care as the acting, the FX, the design, the set, or the writing. It just felt like the director didn’t give a shit. Like some of the forced comic relief from two of the characters. Like the director confused the concept of good horror, and ‘So Bad Its Good’ horror. Like Richard T. Jones who played the role of Cooper. He seemed like he was supposed to be a stand in for Ice Cube from the movie Anaconda. He did an amazing job, which is significant, because his role was nigh embarrassing, completely irrelevant to the plot, and mostly existed for comedic filler. But he’s one of my favorite characters from the movie because he owned that role and made it work.

But I digress, even with the director seemingly making no effort in this movie, it’s #7 on my all time top 10. That’s a feat in of itself. Had there been proper care put into this movie, it could have been #2 or #3. Everything about it was right. So much so that it didn’t matter it wasn’t perfect.

This movie is a must watch AND required viewing for Horror Heads. It delivered on something Dimension Films clearly had no intention on delivering ever again and haven’t sincen.

SPOILERS!!!

It was such a fascinating concept which easily spans both horror and Sci-Fi. The idea that, if there is a point in space beyond space, what is it and what’s in it? As I mentioned before, the concept was touched on in the Warhammer 40k back in the 80s. A concept that was simply called ‘The Warp.’ The bridge between points in folded space was another dimension altogether, and in every respects, what we call hell. Only the Event Horizon doesn’t have the special field to protect it from the demons in the warp like the ships of Warhammer 40k. The ship becomes possessed, seemingly alive, with its own persona and motivations. It appears to have killed its former crew and is back for another one.

Anyone it can kill on the ship basically becomes a part of its retinue. It uses their guilt to control and manipulate them while they’re alive. It can mess with their minds in deep and meaningful ways. The crew of the Lewis and Clark aren’t killed by the Event Horizon, so much as they systematically get themselves killed due to their frantic missteps and hallucination. The only crew member that the ship directly attacks is Justin, when it sucks him into the gravity drive’s gateway. Even still, Justin goes mad from his encounter with ‘hell’ and tries to kill himself. You could argue that the ship possessed him to do it, but ultimately, Justin blows himself out an airlock.

It finally gets hold of Neill’s character Weir, and has him go on a killing rampage. As a mater of fact, only one character dies before Weir starts killing the rest. The rest of the blood and gore is mostly cut scenes and video scrambles; setup for the rest of the movie.

I really do recommend this film. Its special almost because it was nearly destroyed and still managed to be amazing. Imagine that I’m this harshly critical of this movie and yet it’s still #7 on my all time top ten. Absolutely watch this.

Hey horror fans! If you like my reviews and want to support me, share them on Facebook and Twitter. Or, like and leave comments here on MHP. OR, buy a book in the shop by me, author Reed Alexander. You can also donate to my reviews by leaving a ‘Tip.’ Simply follow the link below!
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Reed Alexander’s Horror Review of ‘Slither’ (2006)

A return to the killer ‘B’

You know what was ballsy about this movie? Someone saw Night of the Creeps and said, “I can make that funnier and scarier.” And maybe it takes someone like James Gunn to pull that off. If you’ve ever seen Night of the Creeps, you know it’s one of the all time greatest intentionally bad movie. In fact, it was one of the first. The late 80’s into the 90’s was all about revolutionizing horror as an industry. Movies like Critters and Leprechaun were proving that horror didn’t have to be good, to be entertainment. Directors like Mark Jones and Fred Dekker realized that half of the movies they enjoyed as kids, were actually garbage, and that’s half the reason for loving them. B-Horror helped define the industry.

So, while directors like Carpenter were taking the old classics and giving them a serious upgrade, directors like Jones and Dekker were defining the ‘New B.’ What made Slither so damn right, was that it carried the traditions of the ‘New B’ into the millennium. And THANK FUCKING GOD!!! 1999-2009 had to have been the worst fucking decade in horror! Gems like Dawn of the Dead and Slither were few and far between. They were keeping the industry alive, and, interestingly enough, they were remakes. And, like Dawn of the Dead, Slither was actually better than the original.

Don’t get me wrong, Night of the Creeps was fantastic. It was funny, cheesy, made fun of it’s own damn self, and still managed to be pretty good for horror. But Slither just had better acting, better FX, a more interesting plot, an even cooler creature, and was every bit as funny. The only thing Slither didn’t have, was the capacity to poke fun at itself and the genre as a whole. That was slightly disappointing. They had all the proper tropes that make for good riffing, it would have been kinda fun if it riffed itself from time to time.

I mean, the movie opens with a meteor crashing into the planet. And what did we learn about that? It’s the perfect signifier for the audience to suspend all disbelief. Basically, any movie after The Blob (1988), if your monster rides in on a meteor, everyone knows not to take the plot seriously.

Here’s the thing though. You don’t have to be a Riffer to enjoy this movie! Horror Heads and even general adult audiences will likely enjoy this movie.

SPOILERS!!!

So, what really sets this movie apart from Night of the Creeps, is the gestation of the parasite. Night of the Creeps went for simplicity and literally delivered the parasite as an alien biological weapon. But the little fucker in Slither is a planet killing hive mind. It’s almost cosmic horror. So the old parasites from the original just eat brains and reproduce like a normal parasite. This one is fucking interstellar. It has to get off planet and out into space. That means the main parasite -the hive mind- has to operate in several stages. There’s the hive mind itself, which takes a host and alters its biological chemistry, mutating the host to start producing it’s secondary function. The secondary function is to add minds to its collective. It does this by impregnating a secondary host with worm like parasites which are an extension of its consciousness. These are exactly like the worms from the original Night of the Creeps. They enter through the mouth and take over the host’s brain. Unlike the original, they don’t eat the brain, they simply zombify the host, using it to collect new secondary hosts, and food for biomass. The primary host then begins to collect biomass by either eating, or reabsorbing secondary hosts, as sort of a third stage. This leads us to the fourth and final stage, collecting enough biomass to expel itself into space.

That, is some fucking fascinating National Geographic shit right there. James Gunn didn’t just shlock out some lame B movie excuse for brain eating zombie parasites. He created a whole damn system of parasitism. And that’s what truly sets this apart from Night of the Creeps. This might have been intentionally silly, it might have gone for all the feel of the ‘New B,’ but it was actually pretty serious horror. Gunn could have, in all honesty, made this a seriously dark horror movie. This could have easily matched John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982). He chose not to. He wanted to make the ‘New B’ for the new millennia.

Listen, this movie deserves WAY more credit than it gets. It only barely pushed itself out of cult status back when it came out, and it’s better than that.

Give it a shot!

Thank you for you continuing support!  You can see more of my great horror reviews like this on horror.media.
https://horror.media/authors/reed-alexander

You can also pick of a copy of my new novella “Inhuman Error,” coauthored with James Lief.  Check out the sample below!  Pre-orders are on sale for only $2+tax!
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Milk by Evelyn Deshane Pt. 3

In honor of Pride Month, we are so happy to offer this story about a young transgender man by author Evelyn Deshane. This story was originally submitted for the Body Horror anthology, and we didn’t think it fit that theme, but we knew that it was an important story, and one we wanted to be able to tell the world. We have broken it into three parts, and one part will be offered each week of the month. Enjoy!

Editor

P.S. due to multiple deaths in the family we were forced to postpone the fantastic conclusion of this fantastic story, Enjoy.
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Madness Heart Radio: Jeremy Megargee, a Short Story Master

Find our anthologies with Jeremy’s stories below!

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Reed Alexander’s Horror Review of ‘Dagon’ (2001)

‘Evil Dead 2s’ fucked up flipper-baby cousin.

The movie was awful and campy and tropey as fuck! AND IT WAS FUCKING AMAZING AND I LOVED EVERY SECOND OF IT!!!

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Milk by Evelyn Deshane Pt. 2

In honor of Pride Month, we are so happy to offer this story about a young transgender man by author Evelyn Deshane. This story was originally submitted for the Body Horror anthology, and we didn’t think it fit that theme, but we knew that it was an important story, and one we wanted to be able to tell the world. We have broken it into three parts, and one part will be offered each week of the month. Enjoy!

Editor
Continue reading Milk by Evelyn Deshane Pt. 2