After everything you went through… you took the money.
It’s a cold March night. The dark sky, a brooding shade of Prussian blue, boasts trillions of tiny glimmering white stars, each one dazzling to the young eyes of Jonny Knox who gazes up at them, chin dangling, from his bedroom window. His parents sent him up to bed at the same time they always do – eight o’clock, no later than eight’thirty, the reverent bedtime in the Knox household – and then went straight into the garage to get to work, but like most nights Jonny’s folks send him to bed before they hit the hay themselves, Jonny can’t quite fall asleep. His heart is thumping too hard in his chest, his brain is spinning at a restless rpm, he’s lying under his covers feeling precisely like a firecracker whose fuse is about to be lit just waiting for the spark so he can run downstairs and explode into the garage and see what his parents are getting up to tonight. What’s worse, Jonny’s bedroom is right above the kitchen, which is a mere doorjamb away from the garage, so he can hear everything going on down there. The sounds are all muffled, of course; his parents’ voices come through as a Peanuts-esque wah’wah’wah, and the chunking and blattering of the machinery at work comes through as just that, ambiguous chunking and blattering, but still Jonny can hear it all. Stuff is going down in that garage tonight, oh yes, lots of talkin’, workin’, and stuff in general, and Jonny wants to know what it’s all about.
No, it’s more than just a want. Jonny needs to know, he feels compelled to know, his fingers are twitching and his legs are kicking and he’s too warm under the covers, too warm in his blue pajamas with the red police cruisers, too comfortable under the thick comforter. The noises are coming through the floor as clear as sunrays on a cloudy day and lying here listening to them is getting Jonny all worked up.
Jonny Knox tactfully flips the heavy top blanket and accompanying light sheet off his body and slides himself down to the floor, his feet landing silently like a fallen piece of paper, toe before heel. He creeps stealthily across to the door, the thick carpet capturing the sounds of his little footfalls like sand at the beach in the summertime. His carpet is warm like the beach at summertime, too, but the hardwood floor in the hall isn’t so warm. Not so quiet, either; Jonny keeps to his toes as he passes the bathroom and heads towards the guestroom door, sat tightly closed, so rarely to be opened. Jonny’s folks once told him they used to rent out the second floor of their home in the days before Jonny came along. He asked why they stopped, and they said they didn’t want to inadvertently let any Knockin’ Jockers sleep up the hall from their baby boy. At the time Jonny simply giggled. It was a simpler time, a time before Jonny knew certain things about the world. Certain things which make the world a whole lot less simple and giggly.
Putting the door and the guestroom sealed behind it to his back, Jonny faces the dark downward corridor of the stairs. These are not a sturdy nor graceful stairs, oh no, quite the contrary; unless one rests his little feet on precisely the right spots the stairs will creak and groan loud enough to be felt through the entire house, even in the garage, even when the power tools are chunkin’ and blatterin’ away. The simple fact is that Jonny is supposed to be asleep in bed, his parents are very adamant about his bedtime and especially about him not going into the garage when they’re working, but Jonny Knox is sneaky. Jonny Knox can wiggle his way into the garage without them knowing – he’s done it before and he’ll do it again tonight – but the stairs are always a challenge, almost a gatekeeper of sorts. Looking down them makes Jonny feel like Hercules gazing down the path which leads to the Underworld; step carelessly and he’ll wake Cerberus and be chased back to his bedroom, likely with a scolding in tow.
But Jonny’s not going to step carelessly. Jonny isn’t all worked up, not quite yet. He can feel it pawing at him from the back of his mind like a mischievously curious cat who wants to see what’ll happen if it bats the brain, but he’s not quite there yet. With his hand vice gripped upon the thin railing Jonny steps down, his foot landing against the wall where the stairs are strongest. He makes his descent as such, looking like a sumo wrestler in his own mind, and there are a few times where he can feel the stairs shift beneath his feet, just a tiny bit, not enough to sing their tattling song but just enough for Jonny’s eyelids to stretch open a little farther. By the time he hits the last step the boy’s damn near forgotten how to blink, but then his foot feels the chill of the laundry room’s tile floor. Then he invokes a sigh of relief; the great labor of the night is finished.
Aside from the living room the first floor of the Knox household is all tile, cold stone squares with gritty grout between ‘em, cemento canals rough like sandpaper that are best cleaned with a toothbrush if and when they get dirty. A solid floor, in other words, one which our Jonny could skip and prance across without fear of his parents hearing him, but skip and prance he does not dare. Jonny keeps strictly to his toes through the dark house lit only by glowering nightlights plugged in low on the wall, their hazy orange bulblight diffused by opaque plastic sheaths, until he comes to the kitchen. He freezes when he comes to the kitchen, falling gently back on his heels.
The inside garage door is open. Wide open, in fact, as though it was inviting him in.
Jonny looks left and right, even swivels around to check his six. The kitchen is empty.
‘No way,’ Jonny thinks to himself, unable to move a muscle. ‘No stinkin’ way.’
His parents never leave the inside garage door open at night, not even when they don’t have any cars in there! Jonny is expressly forbidden from wandering around in there, it’s not a place for little boys. You never know what could happen, Jonny. All sorts of trouble could find you in the garage. Maybe so, Mom and Dad, but Jonny’s in a troublesome mood tonight. You sent him up to bed but he just couldn’t rest, if he stayed under the covers he would have gotten all worked up and never fallen asleep. You wan’a talk about trouble? Speak on an insomniac eight-year-old with enough unspent energy coursing through his veins to run laps around the neighborhood when the sun comes up. That’s trouble.
But it won’t have to come to that, not this time. Jonny got out of bed this time, he creeped down the stairs and stalked through the house and now he’s staring at his prize: the open inside garage door.
‘Got’a go fast,’ Jonny thinks to himself, advancing to the door. ‘Don’t wan’a get caught.’
Jonny moves with the grace of an antelope, sticking deftly to the shadows where the light spilling in from the promise land doesn’t touch, and stops behind the inside garage door. He peeks through the narrow crack and sees a whole lot of stuff he can’t quite identify, but no parents. No parents! Still, must be careful. Jonny grips the edge of the door and slowly peeks past it – no parents. There’s machinery and workstations with power tools and hand tools and all sorts of big metallic stuff that Jonny couldn’t identify if his life depended on it, and in the center of it all with its hood propped open and the engine exposed is a bona fide police cruiser, the same kind stitched into his pajamas except black and white and real instead of flat and red, and no parents. Jonny Knox just hit the jackpot.
Jonny wanders into the garage with eyes wide in an entirely different way than they were when he waddled down the stairs. The police cruiser beckons him, he feels pulled towards it like it has its own special gravity. He can hear a voice outside, a man’s voice, his Dad speaking on the phone, and were he paying enough attention he would be able to hear everything the man is saying, but he is not. His attention, his very consciousness is stolen by the big and glorious police cruiser. Jonny loves police cruisers, aside from fire engines they’re his most favorite vehicle in the whole wide world, and there’s one parked in his garage right now!
Right stinkin’ now!!
He’s not quite tall enough to see what there is to see under the police car’s hood, but he doesn’t need to be tall. Jonny has all the energy of that mischievous cat cooped up in the back of his head and all the inspiration he needs to take himself a peek. Jonny reaches up and grips the police cruiser above the grill, the feeling of the metal making him think he’s grabbing the teeth in a giant’s bottom jaw, and leaps up, catches his feet on the bumper. What stares back at him from the cruiser’s engine cavity is nothing short of a miracle; it’s a miracle Jonny doesn’t understand in the slightest – it looks as complicated as a writhing pit of snakes – but truly a miracle nonetheless. Jonny Knox is staring into a whole other world, one he’s going to spend the rest of his lif–
‘Aw cripes, I’ve been had.’
“What do you think you’re doing in here, Jonathan?!” shouts his Mom from behind him. “Frederick!!”
“What, hun?” calls Dad from outside.
“Get in here, Jonathan’s in the garage!”
Frederick Knox, father of the young Jonny, hustles lackadaisically into the garage holding a wireless phone, his hand cupped over the speaker on the bottom. Mom already has Jonny down on the floor, she’s sitting there with her arms wrapped tightly around his torso like a mother gorilla with an infant.
“Jonny,” says Dad, sounding not quite belligerently disappointed. “How did you get in here, buddy? What are you doin’?”
“The door was open,” Jonny confesses, on the verge of tears. “I heard you guys makin’ all sorts of noise and the door was open and I wanted to see!”
Samantha Knox sighs. “I ran inside to use the ladies’, I must have left the door open.” She presses her forehead into the back of Jonny’s head. “You scared the bejesus out’a me, Jonathan. You could have hurt yourself.”
“Not-uh!” Jonny says, believing it ain’t so.
“Yuh-huh,” Mom argues back. “What if the hood fell down on you with your head under it? You could’ve got crunched, buddy.”
Dad hunkers down, puts a hand on Jonny’s shoulder. Never once has Jonny Knox felt a hand so heavy. “You wanted to see the police car, huh buddy?”
“I didn’t even know you guys had a police car in here,” Jonny snivels. He looks back at Mom. “How come you didn’t tell me?”
“We just got it tonight, sweetie,” explains Mom. “They dropped it off after we sent you to bed. We were go’n’a show you in the morning.” She kisses his forehead in that way she does. “Promise.”
This doesn’t stop the tears, but Jonny does feel a little better. When she first grabbed him he felt the tingling, the ceaseless batting of the brain cat’s paw, but he won’t get all worked up. He’s sure of that now.
“Listen, buddy,” says Dad. “It’s getting late, and you have school in the morning. Me and your mom have a lot of work to do, why don’t you get back up to bed?”
“I don’t wan’a go up to bed,” Jonny says, although bed sounds pretty good right about now. The outside garage door is wide open, and now that he’s been caught and the tunnel vision has fully subsided Jonny can feel the crisp night air blowing in from outside, poking him through his police pajamas like tiny little icicles. “I wan’a help you guys, I wan’a work on the police car.”
Frederick and Samantha share a brief smile.
“You’re not old enough, little one,” says his Mom. She lets him go and stands up, as does his Dad, to enunciate this nonverbally. “If it makes you feel better, this won’t be the last police car we work on.”
“Really? You mean it?” Jonny Knox beams, suddenly bubbling with excitement again.
“Really,” Dad assures him. “The way things are going out there, we’re probably going to be working on cruisers for the next two decades.” He doesn’t sound particularly thrilled about this, for whatever reason, but Jonny feels enough thrill for the both of them. Plenty enough. “Maybe when you’re a little older we’ll let you sit in and watch us work, okay?”
“How much older?” Jonny asks. He’s about an inch from jumping up and down. “How much, how much?”
Knox the elders consider this for a moment. Then, from Mom, “Thirteen.”
“Thirteen?? But I’m not even ten yet!”
“You sure aren’t, little man,” agrees Dad, hunkering down again. “Listen, Jonathan. There’s a lot of dangerous machinery in here, lots of ways for a little guy to get hurt if he doesn’t know what’s what. We’ll teach you when you’re older and ready to learn how to work with your hands, but not yet. You’re just too young, okay? Do you understand?”
“No,” Jonny says, refusing to understand. “Why can’t I stay up and watch tonight?”
“Because it’s past your bedtime,” Mom says, taking his hand, “and you have school in the morning. Come on, Jonathan, let’s go up to bed.”
“NOOOOOO!” Jonny howls, trying to spin and lunge towards the police car and its glorious engine, knowing in his heart that if he can just place a finger on the shiny white paint that he’ll be free of his Mom’s grasp, that he’ll be able to stay in the garage and watch them work all night long. But his Mom’s grip is tight, and Jonny Knox goes nowhere. “I wan’a work on the police caaarrrr! ”
“I know you do, buddy,” Dad acknowledges, taking Jonny’s other hand. “And you will, when you’re a little older. Come on, it’s time for bed.”
And so Jonny is brought back up to his bedroom and tucked in by both of his parents. He hears them walking down the stairs, hears the inside garage door close, and listens intently when the machines and power tools start to chunk and blatter. Deep inside his head things start to spin around, and as the night goes endlessly on, Jonny Knox gets no sleep. Instead he gets worked up, he gets all worked up, and when the sun finally rises Jonny runs six laps around the neighborhood whilst his parents tiredly sip coffee and wonder where he gets all that energy.
Hello Commons, this has been the first subchapter of the fourth 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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