I Can Taste the Blood edited by John F.D. Taff and Anthony Rivera
Grey Matter Press, 2016
Available: Paperback, Kindle edition
This anthology contains five stories, or “visions”, all written with the same title: I Can Taste the Blood. The editor gathered five authors, each presenting a unique take on the phrase, which originated from graffiti in the bathroom of a dive bar, which read “I can taste the blood.”
The first vision, by Josh Malerman, is the story of Rab, a traveler who begs for help at the home of Madmannah, Sammi, and their child, Aart. It is a windy night when the desperate traveler knocks on their door and demands shelter for a short time. At the encouragement of their visiting friends, they admit the stranger into their home. Rab then tells them the story of how he came to be in their humble abode, what is chasing him, the horrors that he faced in this person’s presence… and what he has done. Everything is not as it seems with the traveler, or with the entity pursuing him.
The second vision, by J. Daniel Stone, is one of violence, underground snuff films, and heroin. Bok can’t escape the clutches of Laurenz, an elderly German man with a taste for extreme violence who creates films to feed his urges. Bok discovers, through his lover Jared, that the old German’s films hold a transformative contagion. As a warning, this story is extremely explicit in its depiction of bloody violence, snuff film material, and sex.
Joe Schwartz presents a vision of a man who earns his keep as a hired strong-arm for someone known simply as Caretaker. The man and his partner, Joe, kidnap a young woman as she leaves her home. We get a series of short memories of crimes he has committed when he first started in the “business,” and snapshots of his personal life. As the story returns to the present, and the kidnapped woman, things don’t quite go as planned for the dastardly duo.
Erik T. Johnson’s vision tells of Canny, who is trying to cope with his strange mother and her death… I think. I read and reread this story a few times, and I’m still not sure what to make of it. It reads like a stream of consciousness piece, and Canny’s thoughts are incredibly disjointed. There are subtle, perhaps too subtle, connections between his thoughts. At times I felt like I should be getting more from this story than I was, but things just weren’t connecting for me. I will say it is very poetic, and there is a lot of rich imagery in this story. Just be prepared for an exercise in attempting to follow a lost man down the rabbit hole.
The final vision in the anthology, by John. F.D. Taff, is probably my favorite out of the anthology. Merle, a divorced father of one, lives in the small town he was raised in, where he knows everyone and everyone knows him. One evening at the local bar, his friend, Gun, points out a bandage on his arm. Merle doesn’t remember giving blood, but the alcohol he loves so much tends to make him forgetful. Things change that night, when the two men venture to the VFW for the weekly spaghetti dinner. Merle gets very sick, and experiences disturbing and hyper-realistic hallucinations. What happens to him in the following days is enough to make anyone crazy. He struggles with his illness, he sleeps for days on end, his ex-wife is a constant nag, and all he wants to do is see his daughter. Oh, and his hands are growing teeth.
I Can Taste the Blood is an incredible anthology, full of nightmare fuel. I don’t recommend it for squeamish readers, though. There are times where the material delves into uncomfortable themes, or it just gets gross. If you don’t like transgressive dark fiction, this won’t be your cup of tea. If you do, dig in. You won’t be disappointed. Recommended.
Contains: blood, gore, sexuality, torture, rape, body horror
Reviewed by Lizzy Walker