Is there something killing Smalltown, USA?
For centuries, rural towns scattered across the country have fueled the engine that is America. But lately, these communities and their salt-of-the-earth populations have been steadily dying, slowly disappearing over the years to become mere shadows of their previous selves. Might there be something ominous lurking behind the tattered veil of country living that could spell doom for civilization? There most certainly is…
A sneak peek at “I Can Taste the Blood” by John F.D. Taff
The place was packed with people lined up to pay their admissions and get their meals. Eight dollars bought unlimited spaghetti—with vegetarian sauce, meat sauce or meatballs—an Italian salad and plenty of cheese garlic bread. Lemonade, tea—sweet and unsweet—soda, coffee and, of course, beer.
They knew everyone in line, everyone at the little desk where people took their money, everyone behind the counter who ladled out the spaghetti, dished out the limp salad with steel tongs, shoved a couple of hunks of bread, redolent of garlic, onto their piled plates. Merle went with Gun to the table where there were urns of coffee and pitchers of tea and lemonade, followed his friend’s lead in filling a Styrofoam cup with coffee the color and consistency of motor oil.
They waded through the crowd in the low, drop-ceilinged dining room of the VFW hall, nodding to this person, shaking a hand or two, bestowing kisses on the dusty, rose-scented cheeks of a few women who were their mothers’ contemporaries. Taking a seat at one of the rows of communal tables that filled the room, Merle set his plate before him, put the paper napkin on his lap, bowed his head and pretended to say a few silent words.
When a suitable period had passed he looked over at Gun seated next to him. The man’s lips moved, and Merle instantly felt both impressed that his friend really did seem to be saying pre-meal grace and somewhat ashamed that he hadn’t. He watched Gun finish his prayer, then pick up fork and knife and dive into his plate of food.
Merle, however, didn’t feel right, didn’t feel good. Instead of eating, he looked around the room. It was packed with people of all ages, each hunched over plates, shoveling food into their mouths. The room was dense with noise—voices chattering, children laughing, people slurping spaghetti, drinking, crunching bread. There was the sound of chairs scooting in and out from beneath tables across the scuffed linoleum floor. The squeaky sound of plastic knifes slicing across Styrofoam plates.
And chewing, chewing, chewing.
He absently scratched between the fingers of one hand, then the other.
“You gonna eat or what, man?” Gun asked.
Still rubbing his fingers, Merle looked down at his plate.
The food before him glistened under the jaundiced, yellow light of the fluorescents, shone as if it were covered with a layer of slime. Even the garlic bread shimmered as if sweating. The salad looked like greasy pieces of green construction paper heaped together with stringy strands of celery and red clots of pimento.
Merle’s stomach began to feel distinctly unwell.
Then, as he watched in amazement, the noodles on his plate moved, undulated like a mass of thin, pallid worms. The whole mound of his spaghetti heaved atop his plate, seemed to wind in upon itself.
And the sauce, the red sauce, began to look distinctly watery, distinctly biological, like blood and serum that had separated. He could see it bead on the bone-colored surface of each strand of pasta, like wax on the body of a freshly washed car.
Merle’s stomach folded inside him. His hands, still itching, went below the lip of the table and grabbed his gut, pushed in a little in an attempt to settle it.
But it got worse when he raised his eyes from the table.
He looked out over the crowd again, and now most of them weren’t people. They were monstrosities, horrors, deformed and twisted, hardly human.
Verrill McKay, one of the town’s biggest farmers, sat there large as life, a head atop a melting, squiggling mass of congealed flesh that brought to mind a Jell-O mold left too long in the sun, collapsing like a landslide over his chair. Merle could see inside the pinkish, opaque gel—dark internal organs and some things that might have been his bones, strangely limp and pliable. Other things, too, things that pooled in the center of Verrill’s body, where a stomach might be—a writhing mass that might have been the spaghetti and the curled body of what was, without a doubt, a cat.
More About I Can Taste the Blood
I Can Taste the Blood offers up five novellas from five unique authors whose work consistently expands the boundaries of conventional fiction. From Bram Stoker Award-nominated authors Josh Malerman, the newly minted master of modern horror, and John F.D. Taff, the “King of Pain;” to the mind-bending surrealism of Erik T. Johnson; the darkly poetic prose of J. Daniel Stone and the transgressive mania of Joe Schwartz, I Can Taste the Blood is a stunning volume of terror sharing five visions, one common theme and one terrifying nightmare that can only be contained within the pages of a single book.