It’s cold tonight. Dark, too.
Chills scurry up his back, across his drooping shoulders, down his narrow arms like the legs of a cockroach across a gritty basement floor. He shivers. It’s cold tonight. Dark, too.
Jonathan sits stationary staring out his window like a fly caught in a spider’s web, shivering every now and then as a cold breeze blows against the glass. He can’t feel the breeze but he can hear the rushing whoosh, taste the frost, he can damn near smell winter encroaching on the frigid gust. It’s a cold and empty smell. Peaceful, almost, like the scent of falling snow.
But the snow isn’t falling yet, nor has the winter that brings it arrived. Sure, sometimes it snows in October, but this October isn’t one of those Octobers. Not yet it isn’t, but it might be; too early now to tell. It’s still the beginning of the month, that special time when nobody can notice the faded leaves falling from the trees like spilled drops of stale paint because they’re too busy watching out for the police hidden in the woods alongside the unshouldered streets. See, all cops have quotas to fill, a certain number of tickets they need to give out every month, a certain amount of loose change they need to dredge up from the pockets of the townsfolk because the taxes they pay just aren’t enough to cover that big flatscreen the cops need in their station’s recreation room, or that new stove they need installed in the station’s kitchen because the old one got gross, or that new cruiser that’s little more than a sportscar with a paintjob so black you can’t see the word Police emblazoned on the sides in black stencil letters.
The glasses begin to slide down Jonathan’s nose. He pushes them back with his middle finger, then clutches his elbows and continues to shiver. It’s cold tonight. Dark, too… but not as dark as it is inside the house.
It’s always dark inside of Jonathan’s home. Morning, noon, night, doesn’t make a difference. Jonathan keeps his upstairs windows tamed with blackout shades and duct tape, not that he’s up there very often. He spends most of his time in his basement. There are no windows in his basement, though. There’s not much of anything in his basement, truth be told, aside from his desk. And his computer. And the darkness.
There’s a specific kind of darkness Jonathan likes, the warm kind, like during the summer when the hot sun sinks below the horizon and the lightning bugs are flying with the mosquitoes and the bats swoop low to snatch them clean out of the air without a sound, a tranquil kind of darkness where no wind blows, where there’s only the soft humming of the computer’s fan. Sometimes he’ll sit in his basement for minutes, for hours on end with the monitor off, the lights off, his eyes closed just listening to the soft, mellow hum. The soothing hum of the computer fan in the warm, tranquil darkness of Jonathan Knox’s basement… there’s nothing more serene in the world.
The other darkness, though, Jonathan doesn’t like so much. The cold, harsh darkness of an empty house, of a cloudy night where the moon and stars don’t get to shine. The wind blowing against the thin windows, creaking the foundation. The echoes of tiny paws and brittle legs scratching against bleak, callous floors of concrete and unstained wood. The ceaseless ticking of the baseboard and plug-in heaters trying with no success to dispel the lingering chill of heat obligations unfulfilled. Jonathan’s home never gets that kind of dark. Jonathan Knox has air ducts in his walls and ceilings, he’s got carpet over his floors. Jonathan Knox’s home is the warm kind of dark, just the way Jonathan likes it. But this house…
This house is not Jonathan Knox’s home. This house, sitting hollowly across the street, this ghost ship sailing upon waves of dead brown grass and cracked, crumbling asphalt… this empty house is certainly not the home of Jonathan Knox. A man lives in this house, used to live there with a wife and a kid, but now he lives there alone. Not that he spends too much of his time there, especially not at the beginnings and the ends of the months. Why stay home when the police station has everything you need? A kitchen, a shitter, a recreation room with a great big flatscreen television, and a whole fleet of cruisers to hide around town in. SUVs, sedans, and sportscars alike. All the better to harass the townsfolk with.
That’s where he is tonight, Jonathan bets. Sitting in the woods off the side of some shoulderless road waiting for an unsuspecting someone to drive by just a little too fast, their windows tinted just a little too dark. Or maybe it’s not their windows that are too dark, maybe it’s their complexion, the skin on their bones. Either way they’ll be pulled over and given the business.
Well tonight Jonathan Knox is going to be the one who gives the business. Tonight, Jonathan Knox is going to make that cold, dark house across the street his house. Tonight, Jonathan Knox is going to be the one who sticks his nose where it doesn’t belong, and if he doesn’t want to get caught he has to make his move, and make it now.
With gloved hands Jonathan checks his pockets. In the right is the flashlight, in the left is the eyeglass case. He’s got loafers on his feet, a pair just slightly too large, and his laptop’s sitting on the passenger seat, but he doesn’t need his laptop yet. He doesn’t need it at all, really, he can do everything he needs to do from his computer desk in his warm, dark basement back at home, but he doesn’t want to come back here if at all possible. He’s well practiced in his trade, like a cricket when it comes to chirping, but Jonathan Knox is no fool. Mistakes can be made no matter how carefully he acts, but he’s getting ahead of himself. The work is still to be done.
No cars coming up the street, no cars going down it. Cannonball Road is lifeless at this time of night, at this time of month. Lots of the town’s police officers live out here, Jonathan is sure. Cannonball Road is a straight shot into the center of town where the station is. Jonathan’s never been to the center of Wuester, nor has he been to the Wuester Police Station. Nor does he ever plan to.
White clouds of cooling steam puff from Jonathan’s nose as he moves across the street. His breathing is swift, almost erratic; he can feel the blood retreating from his hands and feet, feel the skin turning white with frost, feel the aches springing up from the knuckles. The gloves on his hands aren’t the kind of gloves that protect from the cold, and his loafers are not snug.
There isn’t much of a lawn in front of the house, but Jonathan doesn’t risk walking across and leaving tracks. He creeps up the driveway, hops from steppingstone to steppingstone, climbs greedily up the steps, and then he’s there. The front door. It’s unlocked, just as he thought it would be. Who would break into a cop’s house? Without a sound Jonathan pushes it a foot open, steps out of his loafers, slips in like a gnat through a window screen, and rests the bolt on the curved part of the catch behind him.
Cold. Dark and cold. An empty house that hasn’t been a home in a long time. He takes his loafers inside.
Jonathan casts a yellow beam unto the floor. Carpet, but not the same carpet as his carpet. It’s a thin carpet, a hard carpet. A carpet that your feet won’t sink into. He doesn’t look into the rooms, at the walls. He doesn’t want to see the inside of this house; it’s bad enough that he’s in here at all, but he must be in here. He has work to do, and so he shall do it.
The basement isn’t hard to find. It’s a hollow door, not solid like the rest. The knob is cheap and old, covered in scratches and dents. Turning it is a fight. Rickety steps delve into the darkness before him, a darker darkness than the night, than the darkness of a cold and empty house. A sick kind of darkness. A darkness where fungus grows and bugs crawl over top of it. He puts his loafers back on. Grinding his teeth together with every creaky step he takes, Jonathan Knox makes his descent.
It’s just like Jonathan imagined it: the floor is rubble, covered in cracks and chunks of debris. The walls aren’t much better, all patchy slabs of sheetrock with wet stains decorating them like framed pictures. The air is musty, dense with the olid reek of mildew, and the ceiling? All splintered rafters and ratty pink insulation flecked with little brown dots. Mouse shit, if mice even live down here. If they can even survive down here.
Biting the flashlight by the shaft Jonathan reaches into his left pocket and takes out the eyeglass case. Plain brown leather, like his computer chair back home. Every breath he takes is laced with anticipation and subrural decay; he’s been in here too long already, his stomach is beginning to sting. Time to get this done.
Jonathan Knox opens the eyeglass case and places his bugs. One in a deep crack in the floor, two in holes in the walls, three buried deep in the ceiling insulation. Six bugs is plenty enough. He has more back home, could have brought three dozen and still not made a dent in his cache, but six is plenty enough. Standing in the center of the dank basement Jonathan Knox peels off his rubber gloves and snaps his fingers half a dozen times in rapid succession, then quickly wrestles the gloves back on. It’s always hard to put the gloves back on, especially when they’re sticky with sweat. But that doesn’t matter now, the work is done. It’s time to go.
Three steps at a time Jonathan hops up the stairs and closes the hollow door behind him. He takes his loafers off to move through the house, as to leave no rubble from the ruined basement, and plops them down outside the front door so he may step into them. Closes the front door, leaving it unlocked. Climbs down the steps, hops the steppingstones, and without checking for traffic races to his little car in a sprint, his heart smashing against his ribcage, his pulse thumping against his temples, every breath of frozen air spiking his lungs with tiny crystals of ice. One hand shuts the door as the other fetches the laptop. It’s already powered on and logged in, DoorKnox is already running, and a recording is already captured. Eyes as wide as a giant squid’s, Jonathan Knox rolls his finger across the trackpad and saves the file, then opens it in Windows Media Player. Lip bitten between his teeth, Jonathan presses play.
Six snaps in rapid succession, followed by a pair of loafers climbing a distant staircase three steps at a time.
Jonathan closes Windows Media Player and deletes the test file, empties out his recycling bin, and clears the recording from DoorKnox. The laptop bounces to rest on the passenger seat as Jonathan’s smart car whirs to life. He checks his windows and mirrors: no cars coming up the road, no cars going down it. Rubber gloves gripping the steering wheel and a broad smirk spreading across his face, Jonathan Knox takes off.
Hello Commons, this has been the prologue of Under the Hood: The Imprisonment of Jonathan Knox, a novel about a man who likes to eavesdrop on his neighbors.
Under the Hood: The Imprisonment of Jonathan Knox is the second book in the W-2222 series, a series of books which take place in Universe W-2222.
Under the Hood: The Imprisonment of Jonathan Knox is available to read for free in its entirety on my website. Click here to check it out.
I’ve written a few other books, too. Click here to see the list.
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If you’re there, hypothetical reader, thank you for being there. Be well Commons~