Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt
Every fall, when the orchards ripen and the leaves begin to die, there are murders. We know it, and we accept it. It’s the price we pay for living in Apple. Families mourn, but no one is ever caught. Now, there’s a body in the woods, and the cycle is starting again. People bruise easily in Apple.
Finding a murdered and mutilated girl plunges Jackson Gill into the middle of a decades-old horror. For Jackson, the newest murders become personal. His mentally ill sister knows far more about the murders than anyone restrained in a basement room should know.
When one by one, her sick, cryptic predictions prove true, Jackson will have to believe the unthinkable and stop what no one has been able to stop in sixty years.
He has no choice. He lives in bloody, bloody Apple.
Howard Odentz is a life-long resident of Western Massachusetts, where he divides his time between writing and tending a small farm. His love of animals, along with the lore of the region, often finds its way into his stories. The supernatural plays a major role in Mr. Odentz’s writing. He is endlessly fascinated by the psychological aspects of those who are thrown into otherworldly circumstances. In addition to Dead (A Lot), his first novel, he has penned two full length musical comedies. "In Good Spirits” is inspired by the real-life ghostly experiences of a community theatre group and their haunted stage. "Piecemeal” tells the backstory of Victor Frankenstein’s Hollywood-created protégé, Igor. Visit the author at HowardOdentz.com.
"This book is awesomely creepy. The author has a gift for making you really empathize with the main characters while giving you just enough detail so that there are always secrets hiding behind the next chapter. The ending was a surprise to me as well... often with murder mystery-type books you can guess the killer. This book is twisted and unique enough that I was surprised by the ending, yet it all makes sense when you think back at the road you took to get there." -- Shaykitteh at Shaykitteh’s World of Books
"Bloody Bloody Apple is a horror story and a thriller, but like the best and most enticing stories, it is, at its heart, a mystery. Odentz abidesby all the time-honored rules of the whodunit, playing fairly with the reader and planting clues as well as red herrings, but he’s never restricted by them…It’s a relentless, thrilling ride, and–to coin a phrase that’s woefully overused but that’s absolutely true here–it will keep you guessing all the way to the end." -- J.G. Walker at Court Street Literary
"This book is so incredibly excellent!! I'm glad for its publication on [October 17], so it'll be eligible for Best Horror in 2014. Very rarely do I discover a horror story with this depth of characterization; the only examples I can think of that are anywhere close are Joe Hart' s "Lineage" and Joe McKinney' s "Inheritance," but BLOODY BLOODY APPLE beats even those most excellent novels. Howard Odentz delivers not one, but three highly dysfunctional family groups…the entire town is asylum material!! And then the killer ending!! I want to turn back to page one and live it all over again!!" -- Mallory Heart Reviews
EVERY FALL, WHEN the orchards ripen and the leaves begin to die, there are murders. We know it, and we accept it. It’s the price we pay for living in Apple, Massachusetts. Our town carves up and spits out a few seeds each year. We all approach autumn with dread because nobody wants to be a seed.
The murders started this season the second week in September, right before people began putting pumpkins out on their front stoops and tying green stalks of corn to their lamp posts. We were just getting back into a routine of classrooms and homework when the senior class president, Ruby Murphy, disappeared.
Everyone took notice of the cop cars at school the next morning. In the fall, cops at school aren’t there to bust someone for pot or pills.
In the fall, cops at school mean death.
Ruby’s story spread through the hallways until we were all fat and bloated with the news.
Her body was discovered near the railroad tracks behind the strip mall. A meth-head named Junior Ziff found her there. Of course, the cops knew he didn’t kill her. Christ, even a kid at the state school over in Bellingham could see that Junior Ziff didn’t have the brain wattage to use a butter knife, let alone something sharp enough for murder.
Ruby wasn’t raped or anything messed up like that. Someone had just plain stabbed her—over and over again, sixteen times in all—to make sure that every last breath had escaped her body. Nothing about her death could be chalked up to a morbid sexual lust that wrapped blood and sex and gore all together into some maniac’s perverse fantasy.
In the end, no one knew why Ruby was targeted—or why she was the first.
As for the second murder, I guess there were more than a few people in town who breathed a collective sigh of relief when a brutal waste of space like Ralphie Delessio finally got what was coming to him. He liked to hit girls. Everyone knew it.
He was hung by his feet in one of the tobacco barns out on Street Road. His jugular was slit, and his life spilled out of him so quickly that he was probably dead before much of it had a chance to seep into the ground.
In the deep recesses of my mind where no one can see, I hold a bitter thought that Ralphie Delessio deserved something more sinister than a humane slice of the throat.
Over the years, murders in Apple have been much worse. Ralphie didn’t live through the agony of having each finger cut off and arranged neatly in a halo around his head. Ralphie wasn’t violated with a miniature statue of The Virgin Mary. Ralphie didn’t have his skin flayed off while he was crucified with screwdrivers to a tree in the woods.
Ralphie was killed like a lamb or a cow would be, and in the most compassionate way possible.
Ruby and Ralphie—murders one and two.
Now there is a third body in the woods, propped up against a tree. It’s a girl, but I’m afraid to look. I’m afraid that I’ll know her.
The wind picks up, and leaves swirl around Newie, Annie, and me as we stand on the path that we cut through between the high school and the middle school every day after school. Off to our left, much of the greenery has turned color or fallen to the ground so we can easily see through the thicket of trees. I’m immediately afraid, and a familiar burning sensation spreads across my chest and up my neck. I feel hot and nervous and excited all at the same time.
"Jackson, what the hell is that?” Newie asks, but I can tell by the waver in his deep voice that he already knows what it is but doesn’t want to be the first to say it.
Annie grabs my hand and squeezes it tightly. I wrap my arms around her, and she buries her face in my shoulder.
"Shit,” I whisper.
"I can’t look,” she says.
I don’t want to look either, but my curiosity trumps my fear. I push Annie gently away and step off the path into the woods. The leaves crunch under my feet, and it occurs to me that I’m being loud. I don’t want to be loud. A fresh corpse is like a newborn monster. I don’t know why, but I feel as though it can be wakened from death with the slightest noise, only to come back as something putrid and evil.
Newie follows me, his big feet making even more noise than mine. Every step he takes makes me cringe. I have a sick feeling inside. What will it be this time—a maiming? Asphyxiation? Something worse?
It is something worse.
The dead girl has no eyes. They’re missing from her face as though someone has forgotten to draw them in. Black blood weeps from the dark, vacant holes. Her skirt is pushed up, but not too far, and her legs are twisted at odd angles. Her lap is filled with dead leaves, and her hair has a bright yellow one stuck in its dead tangles.
She is decorated by death.
My mouth goes dry. Even without eyes, I know her. She’s that girl who sits alone in the library and doesn’t talk to anyone. She’s not pretty. Her eyes are too far apart, and her hair is too straight. Her mouth is always curled into a frown. She’s one of the unnoticed—destined to live out high school without ever going to a party or eating an ice cream cone with friends—or hanging out at the strip mall.
Unnoticed—and now that she’s dead, she’ll only be remembered for one thing—the act of dying—the act of being murdered.
"Fuck,” Newie manages before he moans and barrels away from me and the dead girl. I don’t turn around, but I know he doesn’t make it all the way back to the path before he vomits. It comes up out of him in a torrent that he can’t control. He coughs and moans and coughs again. "Shit.”
"Who is it?” Annie cries, but I’m not sure how to tell her that I don’t know the dead girl’s name. She’s always just been there, living at the edges of our lives but never touching them. We’ve seen her since kindergarten with her ugly, wide-spaced eyes and her straight hair. I feel sick and shallow and horrible, all at the same time—for never noticing her—for never knowing her name.
"It’s that ugly girl from history,” sputters Newie. "The one with the bug eyes.”
Annie stamps her foot on the carpeted path of dead leaves and starts to cry. I don’t look, but I know her tears are spilling out of her eyes, and her black eyeliner is dripping down her soft cheeks.
"How?” she sobs.
In Apple, we never ask why a murder has happened. We ask how.
"I can’t,” coughs Newie. "I can’t.”
Annie moans. I don’t turn around to look at her because I have to stare at the body with the missing eyes and the twisted legs. I owe her that much. It occurs to me that I wish I could somehow turn back time and be nice to her—even once. I wish I could go back and say hi to her in the hallways at passing time, or maybe ask if she wants to sit with us at lunch. I know, if given the chance, I won’t do any of those things. Still, I wish I could be offered the opportunity. It would help me make sense of everything—of her—of murder.
After a minute or two, I turn from the dead girl, help Newie to his feet, and go back to Annie on the pathway. Her arms are crossed. Her face is streaked with black as I imagined it to be.
"What do we do?” she asks.
"Tell someone,” I say.
Newie closes his eyes and shakes his head. "We have to tell the police.”
"No,” blurts out Annie. "What if the killer finds out that we’re the ones who found her? He’ll come after us.” She starts shaking, so I pull her to me and put my chin on her head.
"It doesn’t work that way,” I whisper, thinking of all the other people in all the other years who found bodies in September and October. "People who find the bodies don’t seem to get murdered here.”
"Why not?” she sobs.
I don’t have an answer for her, so I just shrug.
THE POLICE STATION is in the center of Apple, next to a doughnut place. The spectacular cliché isn’t lost on any of us. Doughnuts and cops seem to go together—doughnuts and cops and death.
When we walk in, we’re all pretty freaked out. Annie’s makeup has smeared into deep, dark bruises on her white cheeks.
"Newton,” Officer Randy nods from behind his desk. It’s common knowledge that next year Newie’s going to take the entrance exam to become a cop. Being a cop is genetic in Newie’s family. His father is a cop, and his grandfather was a cop, too. That’s why Officer Randy knows him.
Life’s going to be weird when Newie’s finally wearing a badge, but he’s still getting wasted with us out at Rattlesnake Ridge or down at Pulpit Rock Lake. It’s not going to be the same. I can already feel time stretching thin around us, getting ready to snap the umbilical cord between whatever kind of life we’re living now and adulthood.
I’m not sure any of us are ready, but I don’t think we have a choice.
"Are you okay, miss?” Officer Randy asks Annie. She only shakes her head. A few fresh, blackened droplets splash to the floor.
I turn to Newie, expecting him to say something—anything—to Officer Randy, but he just looks scared. Officer Randy is the cop who’s always at school assemblies, lecturing us about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. He’s the cop who goes to reading-time at the Apple Library and warns the kiddies not to accept candy from strangers. He’s short and fat, with a round, bald head. I try to picture him running down a shoplifter at the strip mall or a bunch of delinquents writing graffiti underneath the railroad bridge on Gully Street, but I can’t do it.
"Um, is my dad around?” Newie finally asks, but his words come out like he’s a little girl instead of the captain of the football team.
Officer Randy looks at the three of us for what seems like forever, but mostly he’s checking out Annie’s tear-soaked face. Finally, he puts down the newspaper he’s reading and says, "Okay—sure. Wait here a sec.”
He heaves his bulk out from behind his desk, rearranges himself in his baggy pants, and heads off down the hallway to Chief Anderson’s office. There’s a box of tissue paper sitting on Officer Randy’s desk. I take two of them and hand them to Annie.
"Here,” I tell her. "You look terrible.”
"Nice,” says Newie. "You’re a freaking saint.”
Annie doesn’t say anything. She takes the tissues from me and wipes her face without the benefit of a mirror. It doesn’t work too well. By the time Chief Anderson comes walking in, looking every bit like a Sasquatch—all six feet and ten inches of him, with a huge barrel chest and a great head of shaggy black hair—Annie probably looks worse than before.
"What’s this?” Chief Anderson barks, looking directly at Annie’s face. Something terrifying flashes in his eyes, and he curls his meaty fists into hammers. "I don’t need trouble from you in the fall, Newie,” he hisses at his son and takes a huge step forward. "What did the three of you do?”
Newie’s not often afraid to speak, but in the shadow of his father he’s ten years old all over again. The giant man, with his giant gun, hanging from his giant belt, is the stuff of nightmares.
Annie starts crying even more, so I put my arm around her. My throat is dry, and I can’t quite get the words out.
"Answer me, goddammit,” demands Chief Anderson. His very presence sucks the air out of the room.
"Um,” Newie starts, but can’t seem to let the words free from his mouth, either.
Finally it’s me who blurts out, "We found another body.”
Chief Anderson’s arms fall to his sides. They look like massive tree trunks. I can’t help but notice that his right hand grazes the butt of his gun, and I swallow something thick and goopy.
"Where?” he says.
Newie finds his voice, but it comes out with a crack. "Behind... behind the middle school.”
Chief Anderson runs a large hand through his hair. It’s exactly like Newie’s. It occurs to me that, twenty years from now, Newie Anderson is going to be standing in this very same room. There will be three new kids telling him that they’ve found a body. It will be September or October, and rows of colored in scarecrow drawings will be taped to the cinder block walls. They’ll be from one of the third grade classes, thanking Officer Randy for his discussion on Stranger Danger.
"Shit,” mutters Newie’s dad. Little veins pop out on his forehead, and the sour stench of sweaty-stress rolls off of him. "Show me,” he says, as his lip curls in disgust.
So that’s what we do.