After everything you went through… you took the money.
The sturdy back wall of the prison closet in Mister Sir’s main hallway and the top of Jonathan’s skull meet like two bighorn rams duking it out over the ewe with two different colored eyes. There’s a moment where he feels the collision, feels the plates of his skull buckling against the immovable surface and spreading slightly apart to air out his cranial cavity, but then he feels nothing. Then he’s just floating in a dark, featureless void, consciously unconscious, adrift in neither the past nor the present but in some strange in-between time which might not even be a time at all, might not even exist in the first place.
It occurs to Jonathan Knox that he might not even exist in the first place, that perhaps his life isn’t real, that he might just be a catchy name printed in a ridiculous book written for the same reason a human being might find themselves sitting in a pew at St. Wuester’s Church: because it’s a place to be when there’s nowhere else to go.
‘But if I’m not real,’ Jonathan thinks to himself in a voice that is two voices mixed, the high-pitched shrill of his youth and the droning bleat of his current self, ‘then how am I thinking right now?’
The darkness doesn’t fade when Jonathan opens his eyes, but the sensation of being ungrounded drops away so hard he doesn’t realize he ever experienced it. There’s a pounding ache in his head and probably a bracelet of bruises on his wrist from Mister Sir’s firm, strong grip, but none of that matters. Mister Sir has never thrown Jonathan so hard, which is just what he thought the last time he was locked in the closet, and the time before that, and the time before that, and even the time before that.
‘It’s…’ Jonathan Knox, ‘getting…’ thinks, ‘worse,’ in fragments, each word intensifying the migraine like the raging beeps of an alarm clock during a hangover. ‘He’s…’ tears, ‘going…’ trickle, ‘to…’ down, ‘kill…’ Jonathan Knox’s, ‘me…’ face, and he suddenly lets rip a scream of bloody agony so loud and harsh it splits the migraine in half. The pain he feels during the split is utterly excruciating, like being scalped and lobotomized with nothing but a rusty spoon and a constant drip of adrenalin to keep the patient awake throughout the procedure, then it’s gone. Then it’s just Jonathan Knox locked in the closet with sweat on his skin and his own heavy breathing in his ears.
“This is the last time,” Jonathan whispers to himself, as if Mister Sir might be listening with his ear pressed against the door, as if Mister Sir could hear Jonathan even if he did have his ear pressed against the door.
A year ago this notion of being locked in for the last time would have seemed like a fantasy. When Mister Sir first started locking Jonathan Knox in the hallway closet there was nothing but coats and shoe boxes to keep the boy company. As time went on and the locking-ins kept happening, Mister Sir provided some provisions for his prisoner: a bottle of water, a box of saltines, a little head lamp and a book, a thin mesh of electrically charged wire set into the door to prevent Jonathan from bashing his head against it over and over and over in an attempt to escape – the look on Mister Sir’s face when he saw all the blood coming out of Jonathan Knox’s nose after his first overnight stay in the closet was pure astonishment, and Jonathan found it a tiny bit endearing; Mister Sir does care about Jonathan, if he didn’t care then he would have just shrugged it off. He might lock Jonathan in the closet over and over and over and over again, but he does care about Jonathan – and, admittedly, the rations have only improved as time’s gone on. Now Jonathan has a whole case of water, along with a case of juice boxes, a reservoir of homemade beef jerky along with a literal cornucopia stuffed with bushels of fresh fruit likely procured from the local farmer’s market this morning, a laptop with a CD/DVD drive and a whole crate full of movies to watch, and no more books! All things considered Jonathan’s internment is not that bad. Definitely could be worse… but that’s beside the point. This isn’t right, being locked in a closet for no reason whatsoever by Mister Sir’s mute evil twin isn’t normal, it isn’t healthy. Mister Sir isn’t Jonathan’s dad, he’s not even the boy’s father; what he is is Jonathan Knox’s guardian, and locking Jonathan in a soundproof closet with an electric fence for a door so he can’t get out and nobody can hear his screaming is not something a boy should be subjected to by his guardian. Not even a dirty little eavesdropper like Jonathan Knox.
But this time is the last time. Jonathan will never be locked in this terrible and roomy closet again, he’ll never have to sleep through an endlessly dark night under a blanket of winter coats with a balled-up sweatshirt as a pillow. The odds are against Jonathan in every way, or so it might seem to mean ol’ Mister Sir. This time, Mister Sir isn’t the only one who prepared the prison closet for Jonathan’s imprisonment. This time, Jonathan prepared some provisions for himself.
Coattails brush against Jonathan’s head as he crawls to the pile of shoe boxes opposite his rations. One by one Jonathan takes them down, tossing the empties from the top of the pile carelessly over his shoulder and building a wall in front of the door with the full ones so he doesn’t accidentally shock himself like the last few times. When only one box is left, Jonathan tenses and chokes on his breath as the bleak darkness of the prison closet morphs into the even bleaker pale light of the prison room where Reverend Campbell is forcing Jonathan to undergo this strange confessional session. The slimy fingertips of the preacherman have left Jonathan’s face entirely, leaving what feel like thick and greasy globs on his temples.
“What happened?” Jonathan asks. No answer. “Re–”
“Quiet,” warns the reverend’s voice. “Make another sound and I’ll slit your throat.”
Jonathan Knox doesn’t make another sound. A most eerie silence follows. Jonathan Knox gets the strangest feeling that in other timelines his life ends right here in a pool of blood which drips noisily off the metal table he’s strapped to.
Then, “Someone is there.”
Jonathan is too afraid to ask what the preacherman means. Too afraid to even think it. Then, ‘Where?’
“In the church, you asinine fool,” Campbell clarifies. “I’ll be right back.”
Footsteps move away from Jonathan. He begins to ask if the reverend should tell him not to go anywhere, but after the first few words Jonathan loses his train of thought. A wretched sound comes to his ears, a slopping, squelching sound, a wet and horrific and nauseating and good God Jonathan Knox is going to puke, he’s going to vomit straight up into the air and it’s going to get caught in his throat and he’s going to die in this timeline, he’s going to die in the right here and the right now without the preacherman even having to slit his throat and then it’s over, the noise is gone, more footsteps and the sound of a door opening and closing on some sort of hydraulic system.
Then, Jonathan Knox is alone with the pale light and featureless blue metal walls.
Then, Jonathan Knox closes his eyes and waits for the barrage of thoughts moving all too fast, he waits for himself to get all worked up, he waits for his heart to start beating psychotically out of his chest and his muscles to start twitching and contracting uncontrollably, waits for his stomach to start stinging and for the need to urinate to hit him despite the fact that he hasn’t had anything to drink, he waits for the featureless metal walls and ceiling to close in around him until the spotlight is right in his face, so close that he can’t even close his eyes against its hopeless glow… but none of that happens.
Jonathan Knox waits for himself to get all worked up, but he just doesn’t. His breathing remains stable, the light stays right where it is in the curved blue ceiling, his heart doesn’t bruise itself against his ribcage. His brain doesn’t spin like a centrifuge, no mean-spirited voice eggs him on from the back of his mind. Jonathan Knox doesn’t get all worked up.
Seconds pass. Seconds turn to minutes, and they pass too. Perhaps an hour goes by, or perhaps two, or perhaps none; Jonathan feels so calm and at peace with himself that the monotonous passage of time slips giddily out of his awareness. Eventually the door slides open again and the preacherman – at least, Jonathan Knox assumes it’s the preacherman, although it really could be anybody – walks in. The door doesn’t close behind him.
“Who was it?” Jonathan Knox asks comfortably.
“Vermin. Just like you, Jonathan Knox.”
Jonathan Knox hears what sounds like buttons being pressed and dials being precisely adjusted. Cold bands of metal emerge from the tabletop, closing over Jonathan’s hips, stomach, chest, and neck. The table then begins to shift forward until Jonathan’s feet are mere inches from the floor, blue and metal and just as featureless as the walls and ceiling. Before him stands Reverend Campbell, looking defenseless and clergic in his long black clergy robe with the white collar.
“Wait, what’s happening?” Jonathan Knox asks. “We never finished reliving my daring escape from Mister Sir’s prison closet!”
Reverend Campbell drops his bottom lip and bares his teeth whilst rolling his eyes in wild irritation. “No, we didn’t. I’m afraid–… well, no, I’m not quite afraid, in fact I’m positively overjoyed to say that something has come up, Jonathan. Our session is over.”
“But… we didn’t finish…”
“You seem better,” the reverend says. “I’m not lying, either. Normally my patients don’t exhibit the kind of tranquility I’m sensing in you now until after the purging procedure is endured. Speaking of which, it’s almost time to begin the purging procedure, but first I have a question for you, Jonathan Knox. Before I ask it, though, I need you to understand that I’m doing so for my own knowledge and not because I care for you at all – do you understand that, Jonathan?” Reverend Campbell reaches and grips Jonathan Knox by the bottom jaw with his right hand, his slimy r–… but it’s not quite as slimy as it was when Jonathan couldn’t see the reverend. “Do you understand that, Jonathan Knox? I don’t care for you very much at all; I lied to you earlier – this confession was carried out more for my gain than for your benefit. The question I’m about to ask is not an attempt to connect or empathize with you. Blink if you understand, because I don’t even want to hear your shrill and nasally croon of a voice.”
Jonathan Knox blinks, and does he feel like crying? No, no he doesn’t. He doesn’t feel all worked up, either. Not even a little worked up. The cat would be so proud… if only it didn’t leave him when his parents’ house burned down. But that’s okay. Jonathan Knox could have died that night, but he didn’t. He went on and lived, and all things considered, his life didn’t turn out too horribly.
No, Jonathan isn’t feeling all worked up. He doesn’t love the feeling of the preacherman’s somewhat slimy hand squeezing down on his bottom jaw, but it’s almost time for the purging procedure, whatever that may entail. He’s not comfortable right now, but it won’t last forever. What else can he do but wait?
“Good,” says Campbell. He releases Jonathan Knox’s bottom jaw and wipes his hand on Jonathan’s button-down white shirt. “Now, I only want a one-word answer: Have you ever spoken to anybody about all the trauma you’ve experienced?”
Jonathan Knox blinks a few times, as if he doesn’t understand the question.
“Am I the only one outside of those directly involved who knows about what you’ve been through, Jonathan?”
After considering this for a moment, Jonathan nods. “But y–”
“One word!” Reverend Campbell shouts, accentuating the One with a backhand strike to Jonathan Knox’s right cheek. He wipes his hand off on Jonathan’s shirt again, then fixes him with a glare. After a moment of silence, the preacherman says, “Well go on, say what you were going to say.”
Jonathan allows his bottom lip to quiver twice before taking a breath and steadying himself. “You don’t know it all, though. You didn’t get to see how I escaped.”
The reverend rolls his eyes again. “Just tell me, and make it quick. I need to get in contact with my superiors as quick as N–… as quick as humanly possible.”
“Excuse me?” Jonathan asks. “What were you going to say just now?”
Campbell balls both of his hands into fists and grits his teeth. “I said make it quick.”
Hint taken, “In the bottom shoe box I had a Cee’Dee for a computer program. There was a little secondhand shop in Barnable – that’s the town I lived in when I was staying with Mister Sir – and the owner always got the coolest stuff in. Right around the time Mister Sir installed the electrical door, a whole cache of spy equipment got dropped off at the shop, and… there were audio bugs, and the Cee’Dee. It took me a few months to save up for it, but I bought the stuff and planted bugs all over Mister Sir’s house, hid the Cee’Dee in the shoe box so he wouldn’t see the program if he checked the laptop – it was an audio surveillance program, Reverend. When I installed it and started to listen, I found out Mister Sir was part of a child trafficking ring that cleaned out orphanages and sent the kids off to be used as sex slaves all over the world. I saved all the recordings on a thumb drive and called the cops and showed them the evidence, the eFf’Bee’I got involved, and a couple days after Mister Sir and his associates were put in prison the government swooped me up and gave me the job I mentioned. I won’t get into it–”
“Good idea,” commends the preacherman.
“Yeah… so, I was working with the government for a long time, I even developed my own audio surveillance software, and then one day I get a letter in the mail. It was from Mister Sir, and it explained how he only ever locked me in the closet to keep me safe. It said that the men who recruited me into the government were actually his old bosses, as in the ones in charge of the secret branch of the government ran the child sex ring. That’s why they recruited me so young, Reverend Campbell, because they wanted to make sure I never talked. So I bugged all of their offices – I learned how to make the bugs myself over the years, as you probably can imagine, and they sync up with my program DoorKnox, too – and when I had enough dirt on them I presented them with all the evidence. They gave me a choice: either I would die, or I could take a large sum of money and walk away clean with my mouth glued.”
“And so you took the money,” the preacherman says with what might be a hint of amazement in his voice. He shakes his head in disbelief, blinking all the while. “After everything you went through… you took the money.”
“I took the money,” Jonathan Knox confirms. “I’ve been living in Wuester ever since. This is a small little town with a lot of weird folks living in it, and a lot of them give me bad feelings, so I bug their houses and listen in, just to make sure they don’t get themselves into anything too horrible.”
“B–… bad feelings,” Campbell says. “I gave you a bad feeling?”
“Yes, when we shook hands,” says Jonathan. “It felt… slimy, in a way. Not as slimy as when we were reliving my memories, but still slimy. So I bugged the church.”
“And now you’re here,” says Reverend Neil Campbell of Saint Wuester’s Church. “I suppose you’re wondering how this all works, how I have the ability to allow you to relive all your memories, aren’t you, Jonathan Knox?”
“I am,” Jonathan says, “but I don’t think you’re going to tell me.”
The reverend smiles then. “You’re right, Jonathan. I’m not.”
Reverend Campbell grabs Jonathan’s head with both hands, digging his fingers into Jonathan’s crown and staring deeply into his eyes.
“It’s time for the purging procedure, Jonathan Knox. I’ll see you on the other side.”
Jonathan means to say something, but his voice slips away. His perceptions slip away. His mind slips away.
Everything slips away. Then, there is only darkness.
Then the darkness slips away and there is nothing left.
Hello Commons, this has been the last 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.
If you like Under the Hood: The Imprisonment of Jonathan Knox and would like to help support my work, click here and buy an autographed copy of the book (or anything else!) from my store. Alternatively, you can snag a cheaper (and unsigned) copy from Amazon by clicking here OR you can buy the ebook for even cheaper here.
If you’re there, hypothetical reader, thank you for being there. Be well Commons~