Think of this facility as a place to be when there’s nowhere else to go.
The parking lot of the church – if it even is a church – is empty, just like it was last night. Jonathan parks in the exact same spot as he did when he came here to turn the lights off, but not on purpose. When he realizes what he’s done he begins to have a panic attack and flails about in his driver’s seat for more than a few minutes, but then he gets a hold of himself and calms down, moving his car to the back of the lot. This is no time to get all worked up.
Jonathan’s eyeglass case makes a slight bulge in his pocket, but it isn’t noticeable. Of course, Jonathan would think it wouldn’t be noticeable, he’s the one who would benefit from it not being noticeable. Feeling frightened and disgustingly self-conscious, Jonathan Knox turns sideways so his shadow is in profile rather than straight on. That confirms it – the eyeglass case does not make a noticeable bulge. Although he’s still sweating a little bit, Jonathan proceeds across the parking lot and steps into Saint Wuester’s Church.
Just like ‘twas last night, the church is empty. Rows on rows of double-pews bolted to the floor, not a single soul to sit upon them. Jonathan sat in one of these pews. Just last night Jonathan graced one of these pews with his sitting whilst the preacherman introduced himself and explained how this church is actually, in fact, not a church at all but rather a fake, a phony, a fraud, and that’s supposed to be okay? Jonathan Knox was just supposed to accept that?
How is Jonathan Knox supposed to accept that this church is not really a church when he can hardly accept himself? How? “How, God? How can I accept this church that isn’t really a church if I can’t even accept myself?! ” Jonathan’s up on the platform now, the wooden lectern to his back and the gigantic crucifixion mere feet away. He looks up at the slain Jesus, tears flowing from his eyes like the blood allegedly flowed from the many wounds Mister Christ was forced to endure because he was good and all the rest of the world was evil, because God is cruel and a farse, good and innocent Earthen folks are born just to suffer! Because houses burn down in the middle of the night and the only survivors are the dirty little children who get locked out of their garages because they’re dirty little nosy little eavesdroppers! How can I accept all of this without needing to find out more?! How, Jesus?!”
Jesus does not answer, because Jesus is not there. It’s simply a wall decoration that was too big to get rid of.
“How can I just sit in this car and listen to the rattling in the engine? How can I not look under the hood to see what’s going on? You tell me that, Jesus! You tell me! ”
But Jesus doesn’t tell Jonathan Knox a thing. He just hangs there immortally from the cross.
A wave of vertigo sweeps through Jonathan Knox’s system, sending him teetering backwards into the pulpit. Like the pews, the pulpit is bolted to the floor upon which it stands, and so Jonathan does not topple over in defeat but is caught, is propped up by this church that’s not a church, kept awake by the rattling in the engine so he does not swerve drowsily off the road and crash his car. Jonathan finds himself saved in this church tonight. His eyes dry up as though he instructed them to do so and he takes the eyeglass case out of his pocket. Opens it. Looks at the bugs. Closes it but does not put it back in his pocket, instead gripping it tightly in his hand. The wormy veins begin to emerge from his trembling noodle of an arm as he approaches the door to the little office.
Jonathan Knox freezes just as he’s about to grab the doorknob. There was a plan, he was supposed to follow the plan.
It was a simple plan, seemingly foolproof. Jonathan Knox would come to the church, creep through, and bug the office. Then, he would leave, and when he got back to his warm dark home he would man the desk and listen for fresh gossip, all without getting himself all worked up. It was a great plan. A perfect plan. The only plan. A plan that, at the time of conception, could not possibly be goosed up.
But Jonathan Knox goosed it up. Jonathan Knox got himself all worked up and things started going way too fast and he goosed it up, Jonathan Knox goosed the plan up, stinky Jonathan Knox goosed the whole plan up and now it’s all ruined and and an
“No,” Jonathan says, his voice rumbling in his throat. “It’s not all goosed up. I can do this.”
But that’s not why he stopped in front of the door of the preacherman’s office. When Jonathan Knox stopped moving, his brain sped itself up to avoid thinking about a particular variable of the equation of his foolproof plan that he had not conceived of when he came up with said plan, and that variable, of course, is the ol’ preacherman himself. What if the preacherman is in the church? What if Reverend Neil Campbell was sitting in his office and bore audial witness to the diatribe Jonathan Knox just embarked on? What if, behind this likely hollow wooden door Jonathan Knox is standing mere inches away from, there is a terrified old man afraid for his life because a crazy eavesdropper came into the church in the middle of the night – for the second night in a row – and started screaming at the crucifixions on the wall?
What if Jonathan won’t get to bug the preacherman’s office because he got himself all worked up?
‘Just go home, Jonathan,’ Jonathan thinks to himself in a snarling voice, a mean and rotten voice in which he’s never been spoken to. ‘You’re just a dirty little nosy little eavesdropper, that’s what you are. You’re just a man who likes to eavesdrop on his neighbors. Nobody likes a dirty little eavesdropper, Jonathan Knox. Why don’t you just go and get a life, you failure, you disgusting little insect!’
“No!” Jonathan Knox uproars. Suddenly he’s able to see again. “I’m not a–” then stops when he realizes he’s shouting at himself. “I’m not a failure. My life has been a rocky road, but I kept on truckin’. Sure, my engine’s made all sorts of noises, but that’s okay. I like listening to the ruckus that goes on under the hood. I don’t mind it at all.”
Feeling good about himself now, Jonathan reaches out and knocks on the door to the preacherman’s office. If Neil Campbell winds up being in there, Jonathan will calmly tell him not to be frightened, that he just had some things to work out. Everything is going to be okay. In this moment in the church that’s not a real church, Jonathan Knox is completely sure that everything is going to be okay. The fact that nobody answers the knocking on the office door helps with that immensely.
Jonathan Knox enters the office and shuts the door behind him. He’s tempted to turn off the lights again, but then thinks better of it. It would be too hard to place the bugs with the lights off. That’s how he did it in The Gin-Guzzling Ginger’s cellar – what a nightmare. Jonathan broke at least eight of the man’s bottles. He tried to pick up the pieces of the first one but then a shard of glass poked him in the finger and he felt his finger get all wet. He thought it was blood wetting his finger so he popped his finger into his mouth to keep the blood off the floor but it wasn’t blood, it was just alcohol, and the alcohol tasted just ghastly. Jonathan had never drank before that night and he’s never drank since that night, and that’s just the way he’d like to keep it, thank you very much.
“Stop it. Get focused,” Jonathan whispers to himself in the privacy of the preacherman’s tiny office. He has to admit, he sort’a likes it in here. He feels like he can say anything, that he could confess to any crime – any sin, since he’s in a church, even though it isn’t a church – and it would be okay. “I confess that I forgot my rubber gloves, but that’s not the heart of the problem. The heart of the problem is that I keep getting myself all worked up. It’s really starting to mess up my life.’ Jonathan chuckles at that, despite himself. “Starting to mess up. Yeah. Because my life is just totally peachy-keen as it is.”
The preacherman’s tiny office gets really quiet then. There aren’t a whole lot of places to hide the bugs in here. He managed to slip one inside the computer tower, one on the underside of the chair cushion, and one between the desk and the wall, but he still has three left. He can’t just leave with these three bugs, placing six bugs is his thing. He always places six bugs.
Jonathan Knox didn’t bring his rubber gloves. He left fingerprints everywhere. If Reverend Campbell finds one of these bugs and calls the police, they would find the prints. And they would come to Jonathan’s house and bust the door down, letting all the warm air escape out into the cold March atmosphere, and they would arrest him. They would throw him in jail, or better yet it would be the damn dirty cops who come and investigate, Chief Maxwell and his Fellers would invade and desecrate the sanctity of Jonathan Knox’s home and abduct him and sacrifice him to Rock so the town of Wuester wouldn’t be poisoned. Yes, Jonathan Knox is white, Jonathan Knox’s skin isn’t of Earthen tone, but that would hardly matter to the damn dirty cops.
Nothing matters to the damn dirty cops. Nothing but slaughtering children with dirt in their skin.
It’s suddenly excruciatingly difficult to breathe. The walls of the preacherman’s office are closing in around Jonathan Knox, suffocating him, grasping him by the windpipe and squeezing until there’s no room for the air to flow. He needs to get out of here, he needs to get home, he needs to go into his basement and never leave again, he’ll just put on his headphones and listen to the dozens of households he’s bugged for the rest of his life until he’s all out of canned soup, and then he’ll go food shopping and he’ll have food and Rocky Road again and he can go back into his warm dark safe basement and eavesdrop on his neighbors and everything will be okay, everything is going to be okay, he just has to go home. Jonathan just has to place the rest of these bugs and then he can go home to where it’s safe and warm and dark and safe.
Jonathan Knox dumps the rest of the bugs between the desk and the wall. There’s a knock at the door.
The Universe ceases its expansion for a moment, just for a short moment. Stars stop burning, the planet stops spinning, cells take a breather from multiplying through division. Everything is still, perfectly still. It’s as if time itself has stopped. Someone knocked on the door.
Someone knocked on the door to the preacherman’s office.
The preacherman isn’t in his office. Jonathan Knox is in the preacherman’s office. Jonathan Knox is not the preacherman.
This place isn’t a church. It’s not affiliated with any religion and it’s not a church, it’s just a place to be when there’s nowhere else to go. The lights are always left on because the doors are always open, and here’s Jonathan Knox with nowhere else to be, standing dirtily inside the preacherman’s office. And there’s a knock at the door.
There’s a knock at the door.
There’s a knock at the door!!
Jonathan almost screams, but then he bites down on his lip hard enough to make it feel like the skin might break if he bites down even a little bit harder. He shuts his eyeglass case, letting it close first on his finger so it doesn’t make a sound, and slips it into his pocket. He looks around the office for a mirror to make sure his hair isn’t too messed up from all the raving, but there’s no mirror in here. There’s hardly anything in this tiny office aside from the bugs he just placed.
‘Oh, Jonathan,’ Jonathan Knox thinks to himself in a moment of realization. ‘What have you gotten yourself into, Jonathan? You’re lucky there’s no mirror in here, you know that? Then you’d have to look yourself in the eye.’
Well, there’s only one thing Jonathan can do now. He made a plan and then executed it, even though he goosed it up. At the end of the day the bugs got placed, and now Jonathan’s about to be caught in the act… or is he? It could be anybody behind that door. This isn’t a church, after all, it’s just a place to be when there’s nowhere else to go! There are no signs saying that the office is off limits, that the common folks can’t lock themselves in here if doing so makes them feel safe. And it does make Jonathan feel safe, it does… or at least it did. At first.
The knocking continues on unabated. The knocker holds a steady pace, not speeding up nor slowing down, not pounding harder nor softer. There is no impatience in the knocker’s knock.
Yeah, Jonathan Knox just came in here because he had nowhere to go and he wanted to feel safe, and that’s not so far from the truth, is it? No, Jonathan Knox doesn’t think so at all. He was getting himself all worked up and he needed a small, quiet place to slow things down and mellow out, and that’s what he did. ‘That’s exactly what I did, too! I really did it!’ He was all worked up before he stepped into this office and he got even more worked up after the door was closed, but now he’s calm. Now there’s someone knocking on the door from the outside, now Jonathan Knox is caught in the act of his bad little habit of placing bugs and eavesdropping on his neighbors and he’s not freaking out, he’s not going too fast, he’s not all worked up. Jonathan Knox is calm, calm and stable like the knocking on the door.
And there’s only one thing he can do now.
Jonathan Knox answers the door and meets the eye of Neil Campbell.
“Ah, Jonathan!” Neil says with a gentle smile. “You know, I had a feeling it was you I heard in here.”
“You heard me?” Jonathan asks, acting as though he didn’t just berate himself for getting all worked up and yelling at the crucifix a few minutes ago. He rubs his left tricep with his right hand and says, “I’m sorry, Reverend. I guess I got myself a little worked up.”
“It’s quite all right, Jonathan. Quite all right indeed. What are you doing in my office, though?”
Jonathan Knox knows just the thing to say. “Well, I got myself all worked up, things were going a little bit too fast up here,” he points to his left temple, “y’know? I had nowhere to go so I came here, and your office was just the place I needed to be. I’m feeling a whole lot better now, Reverend Campbell.”
The smile on Reverend Campbell’s face is brighter than Heaven itself. “Well that’s wonderful, Jonathan!” He claps Jonathan on the shoulder. “I’m very happy to hear that. Are you going to be staying long tonight? I could make us some tea if you’d like.”
“No, thank you,” Jonathan Knox declines, taking the opportunity to leave the office and scoot by the reverend. “I’d actually like to get home now, getting all worked up spends a lot of energy. I think a good night’s sleep in a warm bed is in order.”
The reverend nods understandingly. “Of course, of course, I understand completely. I’ll walk you out.”
Jonathan smiles at the reverend, not saying a word. He thinks being walked out is a fine idea. You know, he might even start coming here during his free time. God knows he has a lot of it; Jonathan has so much money left over from the old gig that he’ll never have to work a single day for the rest of his life, all his time is free time. That’s why he bugs his neighbor’s homes and eavesdrops on their conversations, he has nothing else to do and he’s usually too worked up to even consider making friends. But maybe Reverend Campbell will be his friend. Maybe if Jonathan Knox starts coming to this church that’s not a real church more often he’ll meet some other folks too, maybe even some of the folks he listens to. Then he can get to know them over the hood, too. Yeah, maybe he can get to know them over the hood. Jonathan likes that idea. Jonathan Knox likes that idea a lot.
As Jonathan Knox is descending the two stairs down from the pulpit’s platform, he hears Reverend Campbell’s footsteps stop. They’re very quiet, as the reverend wears slippers, but still Jonathan heard them stop, so he starts to turn around and ask the preacherman why he stopped walking him out.
Reverend Campbell brings the hardback bible down on Jonathan’s head, hitting him clean in the right temple. He meant to clock the freak in the back of the head, but the freak had to go and turn around at the last minute. Oh well, he’s out cold regardless. Campbell wipes the sweat off the back cover of the old bible, cleans his hand off on his robe, and replaces the tome on the lectern, then goes into his office and takes a look behind the desk to find four archaic listening devices piled up on the floor. Then, he proceeds off the stage to the prayerway and examines the unconscious Jonathan Knox.
“Oh yes, I had a feeling you’d be back. I have a great many feelings about you, Mister Jonathan Knox. I’d like to see you suffer, you sniveling creeper; I’d like to see you bloodied and whipped and lynched from a dead tree, I’d like to see you roasted on a spit and devoured, but do you know what I want most of all?”
The unconscious Jonathan Knox hasn’t the foggiest idea what the preacherman wants most of all.
“Most of all, I’d like to know what makes you tick.”
The reverend bends at the knees and lifts Jonathan into his arms, then slings him over his shoulder like he was a sack of grain. There is no change in his footing as he does this, no increase in his pulse, not the slightest strain in his muscles. To Campbell, Jonathan’s body feels light as a feather.
“You get yourself awfully worked up, Jonathan Knox. I think it’s time we take a peek under the hood.”
Hello Commons, this has been the last 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.
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~