Think of this facility as a place to be when there’s nowhere else to go.
Immediately upon stepping inside the building Jonathan knows exactly why the lights were left on. He does not understand the reason, but he knows it all too well: this house is a house, yes, but not a house like all the other houses. This is not a house where mortal men make their home. This building at the end of Madison Avenue is a church, a house of God, and Jonathan is alone inside it.
It isn’t an immaculate building. Plain sheetrock walls painted an inoffensive cream beige. Lights in the white ceiling, baseboard heating crowning the wooden floor, a couple framed pictures of Jesus Christ dotting the walls here and there between the crosses, some of which are Christless. Rows upon rows of old pews built together so whoever sits in them have to share the middle arm rest. One aisle leading up to the tiny stage upon which sits the unstained wooden pulpit. Might not even be made out of wood, might just be particleboard. Jonathan doesn’t want to know.
Behind the pulpit there’s a large crucifix, the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ hanging dead by his wrists because all the others did so much evil that he had to pay their price. Because that’s just how the world works. Jonathan Knox is not a religious man, nor is he sure that God exists, nor does he understand how a God could exist in a world where the good and innocent pay heavily for the crimes of the evil and guilty. Oh yes, Jonathan understands that little facet of reality very well, all too well, and perhaps that understanding is what keeps him on the high fence regarding his belief in God. Perhaps the fact that the good fall for the sins of the evil time and time again without fail is a sign that God is real, that God designs this reality, although without too much intelligence. Perhaps that’s why the dirty cops are going to get away with sacrificing that child to their Rock, because God wants it to happen, and perhaps that’s why Jonathan felt compelled to come to this church tonight. Perhaps God wants Jonathan to understand that bad things have to happen all the time, that there’s no hope in this poisoned world where houses burn down in the night, this world where the only ones who survive are those who cannot hope to properly fend for themselves…
Or maybe Jonathan was brought here to realize that his work is not done. He got all worked up and fled the police chief’s house, but the night is not over. The gas is still in the can. The matches are no longer in his pocket, but that’s only because he took them out and put them in the cup holder. Houses burn down in the night all the time… all Jonathan Knox has to do is start the fire.
But first and foremost there’s the business of all these lights. Jonathan came into this church because he was going to turn the lights off, and how perfectly fitting that would be. Burning down a man’s house is inarguably an evil act, but evil has to happen for this poisoned world to keep spinning. God is supposed to be good, but perhaps that’s just a big facade. It certainly seems that way from where Jonathan is standing. A holy place of worship and holiness decorated with recreations of an innocent man hanging from crossed pieces of wood, nailed miserably through the wrists; there is no goodness in the business of God, no righteousness in his oh so mysterious ways. It’s all a lie, a ruse, a grift under the kindest of lights. Well maybe that’s the problem, maybe the lights are kind to the point of being misleading. There is no goodness left in this world. There was no goodness in it in the first place, churches like this one are just misguided attempts by the foolish to make the world seem like a better place. Well it’s not a better place. It’s not a good place at all. This world is a world in which houses burn down in the night, and even a house of God shouldn’t be any exception… but Jonathan Knox isn’t going to burn down this house. No, he’s only going to turn the lights off. Then someone else could burn it down.
Yeah, then someone else could burn it down. And this time, Jonathan Knox won’t be inside.’
Suddenly Jonathan Knox realizes he started to drool at some point. He wipes the dribble off his bottom lip and dries his shirtsleeve on his pants, then turns and looks about the wall behind him. More gaudily framed pictures of the innocent and damned one along with the thing used to damn him, but no light switches. He looks along the side walls and sees more of the same, then walks down the aisle in the prayerway to check out the pulpit. Maybe there’s a secret light switch inside the lectern.
There isn’t, which surprises Jonathan Knox, because churches always ask for donations from their patrons, especially churches like this one where the facilities are shabby to keep up the appearance of being not so well off when, in reality, the dirty folks in charge are rollin’ in the dough. Sure, the place may look like nothing special, may look like a humble household if ever there were one, but in reality the place is wired up so all the preacherman has to do it press a button and the lights all shut off and the blacktop out front opens up like a mouth to reveal a secret subterranean garage where all the sportscars are stored; hell, the police department probably has a bunch of their cruisers down there too, the government conspiring with the church, what else is new? It’s all a conspiracy, they’re all working together to get Jonathan Knox, they’re all in cahoots and they have all the money in the world to set Jonathan Knox up and finally catch him but they hide it in plain sight, just like the light switch hidden inside the church’s pulpit… except there is no hidden light switch.
Huh. There’s no light switch inside the pulpit, it’s just plain wood. It’s actual wood, too, not particleboard made to look like wood. Just plain ol’ actual wood, exactly as it appears.
The wall the gigantic crucifix is hanging on extends out from the back wall, almost as if it was built to conceal a cavity of sorts. Jonathan walks around to the right side of the wall and finds another door. An unlocked door, behind which sits a small, desolate office. A particleboard desk – and it is particleboard, too, Jonathan can tell from the large chip in one of the legs – with a computer sitting on it and a rusty metal chair with a cushion that’s surely sat many asses in its time. No pictures of babyboy Jesus Christ hanging dead from crossed wood on the walls, but there is a light switch. Three light switches, actually. One for the office, obviously, so the other two must be–
The church goes dark, darker than night. Sure, it’s a warm darkness, but that’s only because of the baseboard heating and the insulated walls. There’s no carpet here, this house of God is nothing like Jonathan Knox’s home. Nothing.
Jonathan Knox hits the third light switch, presumes he shut off the outside light, and then leaves the office to stumble blindly through the prayerway and back out to the parking lot. There are no windows in this church, so maybe it’s a little bit like Jonathan’s home, but… but that’s the only way the two are similar.
The ornery old pews let Jonathan know they’re still there by clocking him unforgivingly in the shins after he stumbles down the steps between the pulpit’s platform and the lower floor. He finds his way into the aisle and starts down it, then freezes as the front door creaks open.
“Hello?” a weak voice calls into the dark church. The speaker is a shape, a creature shrouded in black, a long silhouette of darkness which stands out even against the dark night. “Is there someone in here? Please, I… I don’t want any trouble.”
An old creature, by the sound of its voice. Jonathan can take it on, if it comes to that, but he hopes it doesn’t. There’ll be enough blood on his hands when he’s through with Maxwell’s house, but then again what’s one more lamb to the slaughter?
“I’m going to come in,” says the man – it has to be a man, it sounds old and weak and old women speak in a certain crooning way that this fellow does not. “Please, I don’t… if anyone is here please do me no harm, I am a simple man of the cloth.” Then, with a smile Jonathan can hear, “I only wish to let there be light.”
“I’m here, I–… I uh, I am… eh… I’m in here,” Jonathan says, stumbling orally.
“Who’s that now?” says the self-proclaimed man of the cloth as the door swings shut. “I don’t recognize your voice.”
“You wouldn’t,” Jonathan Knox says, then thinks to himself, ‘Nobody would.’
The sound of feet falling softly on the wooden floor. Not a single heel is dragged.
“No, I suppose I’d not,” is chuckled after a moment of dark walking. “I’m sorry it gets so dark in here, whoever you are. I’m looking into getting some windows installed but our funding is a little bit low at present. We recently opened back up.”
Jonathan doesn’t know what to say to that, so he says nothing. He simply shimmies into a row of pews and sits down, then feels thankful he landed on a seat and not an armrest. Goodness, would y’look at that – Jonathan Knox feeling thankful inside of a house of God. This man of the cloth, this preacherman is good… too good.
“Just a moment,” says the preacherman despite the fact that Jonathan didn’t ask how long it would take.
Jonathan hears his feet climb up to the pulpit without kicking into the stairs or denting his shins on anything. It’s almost like he knows exactly where he’s going, like he doesn’t need the light to see, but that doesn’t make any sense. He said they just opened back up, he can’t have been here for long. Who is this suspect preacherman?
The lights flash on. Jonathan’s hands fly to his face to block the beams and the bridge of his glasses digs into his nose. Were the pew he’s sitting on not bolted to the floor, Jonathan Knox would have fallen over backwards.
“There we are. Now, where… ah!”
After fixing his thick-rimmed glasses back into their precise position with both of his hands, Jonathan looks up to the side of the crucifix and sees the preacherman. He’s an old boy done up all nice in his black robes with the little white collar. All gutsied up in his little uniform, just like the Fellers. ‘Just like the cultists.’
“Hello,” says the reverend as he’s coming down the aisle. “I’m Reverend Campbell, but you can call me Neil.”
“Uh, hi,” Jonathan says, staring up at this Reverend Campbell, ‘but I can call him Neil.’ “I’m Jonathan Knox.”
Campbell puts his hand out as if he wants Jonathan Knox to shake it. “Good to meet you, Jon.”
“Jonathan,” Jonathan says as he cautiously takes the reverend’s hand in his. He’s got a firm grip, the reverend, very secure and firm. A handshake very much like that of a man Jonathan Knox once knew. Jonathan stared up at that man, too, but not because he was sat down when they first shook hands. No, Jonathan was just a boy back then. Just a small child, lost and full of hope and delusive beliefs about the world. “It’s not Jon, it’s Jonathan.”
“Jonathan, then,” Reverend Neil Campbell says with a smile. Their hands are still together, shaking. Jonathan very much wants his hand back now, this preacherman’s hand feels slimy. All sorts of wrong and discretely slimy. “Well it’s a pleasure to meet you, Jonathan.”
“Yeah,” Jonathan polites, hastily taking his violated hand back and shoving it into his pocket so it can dry.
The reverend chuckles then, sounding a bit like he walked into a surprise party for someone else. “So, eh… what brings you here to Saint Wuester’s Church tonight, Jonathan? I don’t often get visitors so late in the eve’.”
“The lights were left on,” Jonathan says flatly. “I was coming up the road and everyone else’s house was dark, but your lights were left on. I thought this was a normal house.”
Still smiling, the reverend asks, “So… you came in and shut them off?”
“Lights cost money, Reverend Campbell,” Jonathan recites. “Even closet lights run on electricity. There was nobody in the parking lot, I thought the place was empty. I was just being a good neighbor.” Time to spring it on him. “Speaking of which, just where is your car, Reverend Campbell? What, do you just live here? Is that it? Do you live in this house of God?”
“As a matter of fact, Jonathan, I do,” the preacherman answers calmly. “I have a small dormitory back behind the building.”
Jonathan Knox is at a loss for words, and he shows it. The reverend smiles.
“Are you all right, Jonathan? You seem troubled.”
Heart racing. Pulse beating in his temples. ‘I need to get out of here.’
“You seem a little worked up, if you don’t mind me say–”
“I do!” Jonathan blurts loudly. The sound of his voice echoes slightly against the walls. “I… I’m sorry, Father, I need to get home now.”
Reverend Campbell holds a steady hand up. “Please, Jonathan, I am not a Father. This is a church, yes, but we are not affiliated with any specific religion. I only go by Reverend because… well, to be completely honest with you, we stole it from the clergy.”
“Well I’m sorry Reverend,” Jonathan says sharply as he springs up and sidesteps his way into the aisle, “but I really must be going now.” He gets halfway to the door, then, “Wait, what…”
Reverend Campbell is still smiling when Jonathan turns to face him.
“If you’re not affiliated with any religions, why do you call this place a church? And why do you have so many crucifixions?”
Campbell shrugs suspiciously, his face an aged mask of honesty. “They were already here when we acquired the building, taking them down seemed like it would be a hassle. Especially that big one,” as he hawks a thumb over his shoulder. “As for why we call it a church, well… I suppose we stole that word, too. Think of this facility as a place to be when there’s nowhere else to go.” He spreads his arms in a gesture which certainly has some kind of intention behind it. “You’re more than welcome to stay if you’d like, Mister Knox. I left the lights on for a reason, after all.”
Jonathan Knox’s entire body is suddenly shaking. He doesn’t know what’s going on, he doesn’t know who this Reverend Campbell thinks he’s supposed to be, but he does know one thing: he needs to get the fuck out of this church. This alleged church, that’s not affiliated with any religions yet is decorated on all sides by pictures of Jesus Christ and the cross by which he was hung. It’s too much, it’s all too wrong and slimy and just… it’s just too much.
“Goodnight!” Jonathan shouts over his shoulder as he turns and barrels out of the dirty church, whipping his arms like he was performing a hundred-meter dash.
The front door swings open, then shuts. The hum of a smart car coming drowsily out of a short slumber, the screeching of tires spinning too fast to immediately gain traction. The reverend Neil Campbell looks around like he isn’t sure any of that just happened, then shrugs and mutters something to himself under his breath on his way out.
Hello Commons, this has been the third subchapter of the second chapter 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.
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If you’re there, hypothetical reader, thank you for being there. Be well Commons~