You love Halloween.
You know why?
Because you don’t know why. It’s all about surprises. Nasty ones, that, you hope, leave you breathless with fear and giddy with the strange laughter of relief.
You go from door-to-door, house-to-house, stranger-to-stranger. What motivates each one to give you sweet gifts? Generosity?
We both doubt that.
The perfect Halloween is the One Nightmare you’ve always dreamed of having.
Now consider each of the five disturbing visions of I Can Taste the Blood as five different houses in a wildly unfamiliar neighborhood, and you’ll see what I mean:
Mr. Josh Malerman lives in that weird home over there, made of mud-bricks. An open courtyard enclosed by sturdy walls and many small bedrooms. He only comes out at night. There is always a whiff of desert and demons wafting out from this place . . . And as you mount the stairs, they feel like how sand would feel if sand was made of water . . . Will he come to the door with tricks or treats? Either one will taste like blood—and worse . . . You rush away, panting with this tale of devils and dust inside your candy-bag, watching it kick the dead-like fabric into the grotesque, pointless escape-attempt motions of the abducted for good . . .
You reach the next house, an ancient theater from New York City. Ah, Mr. J. Daniel Stone lives here. I would reconsider if I were you. This building has been in darkness for over 30 years. You step closer. Etched onto the entrance doors is a hideous insignia: a syringe filled with globules of blood. The doors open. Dressed up as an old man whose decadence overflows the dams of his eyes, he holds out a silver platter for you, heaped with movies. Atrocities.
You grab one—or does it grab you? —and stuff it in the bag alongside this night’s first terrifying treat.
As Stone’s vision grunts and burns in there, it hits you that the candy-bag is your brain.
You run straight into Mr. Joe Schwartz’s humble home. You are foolishly reassured by the reality of the place: A motel on the cusp of deterioration. It needs everything—paint, windows, a new roof, the works. Still, it’s a motel. You have stayed in motels. Not like this one. “Trick or Treat!” you cry, and the door opens so fast you wonder if it’d been there at all. A man who couldn’t be more than 40 but moves twice as slow, reeking of cigarettes as though he’d just bathed in an ashtray. You wait. He doesn’t give you anything. He just says “How do you keep a dog from biting you on a Monday?” You run away, fast, but somehow the maniac’s answer shouts out from the bag: “You kill him on a Sunday!”
Only two more houses to go.
Ah. Godamnit. Erik T. Johnson’s place. It’s in a mess of decrepit buildings called Episode Lake. Before you can ring the bell a boy comes stumbling out, something having surgically cut round the perimeters of his face so that, should he be horrible and look you in the eye, his face would fall. You dare not refuse the three-legged, albino crow that swims into your candy-bag and quivers there like maggots on amphetamines. You are lost in a valley walled by factories, useless rows of industrial venturing, ruins of temples and massage parlors buried under padlock landslides . . .
Thank God, a light ahead!
Unfortunately, it belongs to John F.D. Taff. Somehow the light, like a wicked Will-’o-the-Wisp, leads you into the inside of a water tank. You smell the tang of steel, the rust that weeps from the walls, the condensed minerals that scar every surface in thick weals. This must be a TRICK. Someone opens the top of the tank.
Eagerly you scramble for the proffered helping hand. But the hand that feeds bites. It is closing, curving, your fingers sever as it throws sweets that stink like spoiled meat into your bag. Whatever it is, the devils, the evil old man, the dead-souled, murderous creep, the three-legged crow, fight over it. They gag and cackle and you turn the corner.
You close the book.
You’re home. That was a quite singular Halloween adventure. Most people empty their candy-bag when they get home from Trick-or-Treating, to enjoy the spoils. For the same reason, you keep all the treats and tricks in yours.
See what I mean?
I CAN TASTE THE BLOOD: The perfect Halloween, whenever you celebrate it.