Bottle Toss

Bottle Toss

Howard Odentz

October 2019 $15.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-958-2


 
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A beer bottle thrown carelessly at the windshield of a passing car sends the vehicle careening off the road, and the lives of high school seniors Denny Ford, his foster sister Jen McKnatt, and her sometimes boyfriend Brody Erwin, spinning out of control.

Over the next several days as the three experience increasingly bizarre, frightening, and seemingly unrelated events, they are forced to examine the ramifications of their actions and how their lives have been irrevocably altered.What they've done can never be undone.After all, it only takes one bottle toss to turn their world cockeyed forever.

About the Author:

Author and playwright Howard Odentz is a lifelong resident of the gray area between Western Massachusetts and North Central Connecticut. His love of the region is evident in his writing as he often incorporates the foothills of the Berkshires and the small towns of the Bay and Nutmeg states into his work.

In addition to The Dead (A Lot) Series, he has written the horror novel Bloody Bloody Apple, the short story collection Little Killers A to Z, and a couple of horror-themed, musical comedies produced for the stage.






"A simmering psychological thriller bolstered by a dynamic narrative voice and a few unexpected twists.” —Kirkus Reviews on What We Kill

"This author has a real knack for the weird and the wonderful.” —TheMostSublime.com




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1

THE SKY FADES from burnt orange to black, and there is a refreshing chill in the air.

This is the time of year when Sumneytown, Connecticut is check­ered with pumpkins and pimpled gourds. Corn stalks are tied to mailbox posts and homemade cemeteries dot rural lawns.

Death is a spectator sport here. Leaf peepers come from far and wide to watch our town die. It doesn’t matter that we are resurrected in the spring. Next year we die all over again. That’s how it’s always been. That’s how it will always be.

I am sitting with Jen McKnatt and Brody Erwin on the neat, white, fence just outside the entrance to Autumn Village, the elite retirement community that has recently sprung out of the tobacco fields and woods that dominate Sumneytown.

Kids used to party in the forest here. Now, the forest is gone.

Brody is drinking a beer. His wild hair and scruffy beard make him look twenty-seven instead of seventeen, but we all know that his mom is dead and his dad doesn’t know the first thing about teaching hygiene.

Mr. Erwin’s a pig.

Jen has dyed her hair blue. I don’t know if I think her new look is pretty or not. I don’t even know if I think Jen is pretty or not. We’ve both been in the same foster home for the past few years so I guess she’s sort of like my sister. At the end of the school year we’ll both be eighteen and age out of the system. I don’t know what’s going to happen to me then. Jen wants to go to culinary school, but she’ll need cash for that.

Brody will probably go to jail.

As the black night envelopes us, a dark sedan turns into the Village entrance from Sumneytown Road. The headlights hit us for a split second.

"Screw you,” says Brody and shoves his middle finger in the air, but whatever cataract-stricken resident of the Village is driving probably doesn’t see us. As the car passes by Brody mutters, "Ass-wipe,” and throws his bottle at the windshield.

I don’t know why. He’s impulsive. Twenty years ago his dirt-bag father would have most likely done the same thing.

"Brody,” Jen blurts out before the world turns cockeyed forever. The car swerves and heads for the tiny bridge that crosses over Peep Meadow Brook where kids used to catch painted turtles but can’t anymore because Autumn Village is here now.

In slow motion, we watch the driver miss the bridge entirely then disappear down the steep rock-lined embankment.

Jen and I both flinch.

"Wicked,” says Brody.

Jen says "Oh my God,” but God doesn’t have anything to do with what just happened.

The rear end of the black car is sticking straight up. She turns to Brody. "What did you go and do that for?” Jen holds her palms face up as though she thinks he’s going to drop an answer into them.

His satanic smile is all the answer she’s ever going to get.

"What do we do now?” I eke out. I’m not asking Brody. I’m asking Jen, but she has nothing to say. We’re not even supposed to be near Autumn Village. Everybody knows that. There is a huge notice hanging on a post next to the big, oval ‘Autumn Village’ entry sign that says:

PRIVATE PROPERTY.

FOR USE BY RESIDENTS AND INVITED GUESTS ONLY.

Brody licks his lips and stares down the road at the upended car. Reality sets in. He shifts from foot to foot and drags his fingers through his tangle of hair. "My dad’s going to beat the shit out of me.”

"Ya think?” Jen growls even though Brody getting the shit beaten out of him by Mr. Erwin is a regular occurrence. He whips his head around and stares at the two of us but mostly at me. In a second, he’s right in my face and curling his fingers around the collar of my shirt. A soupy mixture of anxiety and fear that I always carry around in the pit of my stomach begins to froth.

"Listen, foster-boy,” he snarls. "Say one word, and I’ll kill you.”

"Get off him,” barks Jen and physically squirms between Brody and me. She pushes him away. "Don’t be a douche.”

"I mean it,” Brody snarls with one finger pointing at me. Then he says, "I’m outta here,” and takes off into the empty tobacco field to the left of the Village entrance. He heads toward the old barn that sits up against Sumneytown Road because that’s where he’s stashed the rest of his bottles.

As for me, I begin to sweat and my skin starts to prickle.

Someone is in that car. There are so many names that come to mind but they aren’t real names. They’re the names that we’ve made up to describe the people we sometimes see outside the retirement community,shopping at Grafton’s Grocery in the center of town or picking up pizza at DiNapoli’s. Names like Rat Face, or Captain Zoom Zoom, or Queer Eye, because everyone assumes that the tall guy who dyes his hair an unnatural shade of orange to match the color of his dog, is queer.

"Denny,” Jen says to me because I haven’t moved. I have an image in my head of someone’s face buried into the blown out airbag, with blood oozing everywhere. "We should go.”

My legs are rooted to the spot.

She pulls at the sleeve of my shirt and I flinch. "But... but... we can’t just leave,” I whisper.

"Yes,” she says. "Yes, we can.”

I want to believe her. I want to follow her, but I can’t. In about the most heroic gesture someone like me can muster, I bite my lip and say, "No.”

Jen puts her hands on her hips and stares at the ground. She knows she can make me leave. She’s bigger and stronger than I am.

She’s everything better than me, and I’m nothing.

"Fucking Brody,” she finally hisses and turns toward the upended car a few hundred feet down the road.

Somehow I make my feet follow hers. I don’t want to look, but I’m going to have to look. I’m going to have to take whatever horrible image we discover and find an out-of-the-way spot in my brain to dig a hole and bury it.

"Oh no,” Jen says as we reach the edge of the embankment leading the ten feet down to Peep Meadow Brook. My eyes start to well up.

The car door is open and there is a man lying face down on the rocks. At least I think it’s a man because sometimes older women wear man-pants and cut their hair short because they don’t care anymore.

I don’t know if the body is ever going to move again.

Jen swears—a couple times.

We should call the police. That’s the right thing to do. Unfortunately,that simple thought ushers in a whole host of others.

If we call the police, we’ll get in trouble.

If we get into trouble, we might lose our spots in our foster home.

If we lose our spots in our foster home, we’ll end up back in the system.

If we end up back in the system, I’ll be sent to one of the group homes for older boys where someone even grosser and hairier than Brody will make me his bitch because I’m small, and quiet, and don’t know how to fight.

My head is reeling with the worst thoughts imaginable while Jen keeps telling me that we can’t do anything and we have to leave. Then above her words I hear something that sounds a million miles away but right next to me at the same time.

"Help me,” a muffled voice begs. "Help.”

There’s somebody in the passenger seat of the black car. Whoever is there is probably caught in the seatbelt unable to move, trussed up like a turkey for Thanksgiving.

In a move that is wildly out of character for me, I hurry down the rocks, trying not to look at the body splayed out there. Still, I can’t avoid seeing the moon reflected in a little puddle of black growing around its head.

"Owwwwww,” I hear a mournful cry from inside the car. My heart is beating out of my chest. I want to run away, but I can’t. Instead, I go to the open door and bend down to look.

I don’t know what I’m seeing. The driver’s deployed air bag is limp and lifeless. It’s smeared with red because the light in the car is on, and I can see colors. The person in the passenger’s seat is tiny and mostly swaddled in a patchwork quilt that is painted in red, too. The windshield on that side has a bullseye crack.

The passenger’s face is broken and bloody. It must be kid, but I don’t know if it’s a boy or a girl. I can barely even tell it’s human.

The thing sputters as it fixes one eye on me because the other one looks as though it has been mashed into a pulp. A string of blood and saliva falls from its ruined mouth. "Don’t tell Daddy I ate yummies,” it gurgles.

Don’t tell Daddy I ate yummies.

I stand up straight, turn around and scramble up the rocks and back onto the road.

"Who is it?” Jen asks, but I don’t know how to answer her. Instead, I grab her hand and start running, just like Brody did.

In some warped way, I feel like we are running for our lives.





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