Time to open your eyes.
Electric hands with pins and needles for fingers plunge into Jonathan Knox’s purged brain, surging him lividly back into consciousness. The sensation of burning ice floods through his body, down his arms to the tips of his fingers, through his internal organs and into his legs, finally stopping in his toes. He is awake, but his eyes do not open. Not yet. Not until the slimy hands release their hold on his head.
“It is time to wake up now, Jonathan Knox,” says a familiar voice to which Jonathan Knox cannot place a name. “Time to open your eyes.”
But Jonathan Knox doesn’t want to open his eyes. It’s not that he doesn’t know how – there are no memories in his head, no sense of a before, and this greatly disturbs him, but he is fully aware that he could open his eyes if he wanted to – he just doesn’t want to. Jonathan Knox doesn’t know where he is or how he got here, nor does he know who he is aside from his name, but he knows he isn’t home. When he thinks of home he thinks of a cozy place, somewhere warm and dark where he’s safe from those who wish to cause him harm, if such beings even exist. This place he’s in now, though… this place is dark, yes, at least from behind his closed eyelids it’s dark, but it is not warm. It is not cozy. He is strapped tightly to a cold, flat metal surface, and the air he breathes chills his lungs with every inhale.
“Where am I?” Jonathan Knox says, tightening his eyelids further. “Who are you, and what have you done to me? Why can’t I remember anything, why is it all so…”
He was going to say foggy, but trails off. Foggy isn’t the word. It’s not that memories are there and he cannot access them, they’re just… gone. Aside from basic control of his body, his name, and some arbitrary associations, it’s all just gone.
“All will be revealed; just open your eyes, Jonathan Knox,” says the familiar voice. “Resistance is futile – you cannot hide from reality.”
Jonathan Knox clenches his teeth, balls his hands into fists so tight his fingernails dig into his soft palms, threatening to spill blood… but the familiar voice is right. He cannot hide behind his closed eyelids, the reality is there no matter how hard he tries to hide from it. Slowly Jonathan Knox opens his eyes, then waits as his vision focuses through the lenses of the glasses on his face.
Before him is a man in a long black robe with buttons running in a line up the length and a white collar at the neck. The man is old with enough wrinkles and jowls alone to convince Jonathan Knox that he’s not a threat. He looks down and sees his own clothing, plain brown slacks and a white button-up longsleeve. Black sneakers. Nothing fancy, similar to the room they’re in, a kind of featureless blue metal dome with an excruciatingly pale light shining without a flicker from above.
“And thus all is revealed,” says the old man, bringing his hands together. There’s a grin on his face, but it’s not a particularly friendly grin. No, not particularly friendly at all. There’s malice in that grin, a ghastly and macabre kind of intention brewing beneath those disarming jowls and wrinkles. Something dark. Something utterly evil. “Welcome to your new home, Jonathan Knox.”
“My new–” is as far as he gets before the old man – a preacherman, as evidenced by his getup – backs to the wall and undoes one of the buttons halfway up his robe, reaches in, and removes what appears to be some kind of remote-control device. Jonathan Knox, his eyes shaking with tension, watches as the old man hits a button, then feels no less than nineteen different needles of varying sizes, all attached to the ends of translucent plastic tubes, plunge into his body from a myriad of varying angles. He shouts once in pain, then finds himself drenched in a strange tranquil mindstate. He is mellow. He is relaxed. He is comfortable, even.
“What,” Jonathan Knox says, “did you do to me?”
“Who, me?” says the elderly preacherman, returning the device from whence it came and rebuttoning his robe. “Well I simply pressed a button. The Compound did the rest.”
“The… Compound?” Jonathan asks, his words heavy in his mouth.
“Yes, Jonathan. The Compound ‘neath Atacama. You do remember Lake Atacama, do you not?”
His bottom jaw slack and his tongue lolling over his bottom lip, Jonathan Knox says nothing.
“There is a lake on the edge of the town of Wuester, Jonathan Knox – that’s the town in which you lived, and still technically live. It is called Atacama Lake, and in August of last year a small meteor fell from the sky and struck a boat, leading to the deaths of a handful of young adult human beings. A tragic loss for the community, I’m sure, and though their demise was as unplanned as the distribution of seeds carried out by the shit of a migrating bird, the falling of the meteor was not. That meteor was not a simple rock but actually a very complex machine, one designed to consume matter and break it down to its basic building blocks, and from those blocks the machine would build. For the past seven months that machine has been hard at work at the bottom of the lake, building and building and building away, and just recently it finished. The room we are–… well, the room I am standing in right now, Jonathan Knox? This is the bottom floor.” He raises his hands to the domed ceiling in triumph. “This is the Compound ‘neath Atacama! ”
“We’re…” Jonathan Knox mumbles, trying all too hard to make sense of this. “We’re at… the bottom of a lake?”
“Oh no, Jonathan Knox,” the man says, rubbing his hands together greedily. “The top floor is at the bottom of the lake. We’re we are now… well, let’s just say we’re deep enough.”
Jonathan Knox breathes heavily through his moist and dangling mouth.
“Are you comfortable now, Jonathan Knox?” the man says, approaching Jonathan Knox to place a moderately slimy hand on his left cheek. “Oh, I hope you are. Because you’re going to be here for quite a while.” He snickers, takes his hand off Jonathan Knox’s face, wipes it on his robe. “In fact, you won’t ever be leaving.”
“Why… not…?” Jonathan Knox asks slowly, not quite struggling but not having an easy time, either.
“Why, because of the tubes, Jonathan Knox,” the man says, smiling broadly. “You’re all hooked up, those tubes will keep your hateful body healthy and clean, in tip-top condition. You no longer have a need to eat, drink, sleep, shit. You don’t even need to breathe if you don’t want to. You don’t need to do anything anymore, Jonathan Knox, and you’ll stay perfectly alive for… ever. Indefinitely, until the tubes are disconnected.”
“Why… how…?” Jonathan Knox doesn’t feel the need to swallow, so he doesn’t. “What… does… all this… mean?”
“It means your life is over, Jonathan Knox,” the man says gravely, his aged and kindly face suddenly warped into a terrible gruesome scowl. “You invaded my church and hid your bugs so you could listen. You hid bugs in the houses of all your neighbors, but not those of your friends as you had no friends, just like you have no friends here. During your life you went through some horrible trials, Jonathan Knox, and you used those trials as an excuse to commit shameful, disgusting crimes to the ones around you. From the inhabitants of this town, you took away the right to a private life. So in return, Jonathan Knox, I am taking from you the right to a private death. You will not eat, drink, sleep nor dream, but you will live forever strapped to that table, unable to move, unable to escape. This is your fate, Jonathan Knox, and you have no choice but to accept it.”
“But… why…? How…?”
The scowl devolves into a grimace and the man steps back. “Allow me to show you.”
Moving calmly and oh so patiently, the preacherman unfastens his black robe one button at a time, starting at his neck and going all the way down to his feet. He then throws his arms back, removing the robe with a single gesture. The skin hidden beneath the robe is not wrinkly and covered in spots like Jonathan Knox expected but tight and perfectly smooth. No nipples, no naval, no penis nor testicles hanging between his legs. His head is the head of an old man, as are his hands, but everything else… it hardly even looks real. If Jonathan Knox wasn’t so serenely numb from the chemical compounds flooding his system he supposes he would be perplexed, perhaps even terrified.
The preacherman then kneels down and bows, his arms stretched flat on the floor in front of him. His back arches in a jerk, putting him on his palms as his fingers curl so tightly the knuckles turn white. Then, the fingers straighten and relax, then they appear to deflate as two masses move squelchingly up his deflating arms into his shoulders. His head strikes the ground then and caves, deflating like an untied balloon with a gut-wrenching slopping noise that might cause Jonathan Knox to vomit were he not hooked up to the eternal life-support system. The preacherman-thing’s legs then spread and his ass rises up towards the ceiling, and with a sick symphony of wet, slopping, squelching noises, something emerges from the gaping hole, which is mercifully facing away from Jonathan Knox’s face. It’s a slimy mass with dark blue skin and what appears to be a ridge of neon green running along its center. The preacherman’s body, now an empty sack of skin and viscous clear liquid, flops out on the floor, and the freshly molted creature stands up behind it.
It’s about four feet tall, the creature, bipedal with a broad head and legs that bend twice between the hips and the webbed feet. The hands with their long fingers ending in thick fleshy pads are also webbed, the webbing the same bright green color as the ridge on its back which is not a ridge, Jonathan Knox sees, but a fin running from the top of its head to the base of its waist. The creature’s soulless black eyes are massive, disproportionately large for its face but yet just the right size for its mouth, which resembles that of a grouper eel but with lips. Grotesque lips covered in thick, scaly scales. Great viscous globs of translucent slime dribble and drip from every inch of its figure and it gives off an ambient bubbling sound, almost as if the fleshy scarlet gills on its neck were gargling the slime.
“An… alien…” Jonathan Knox groans. “But… why… are you… humanoid?”
‘Humanoid?!’ the creature which once resembled a kindly old man rages in Jonathan Knox’s mostly empty head. ‘How so typical, how so humanly arrogant of you! I should not be surprised, though – you told me, before the purging procedure, that you never told anybody about the trauma you went through, Jonathan Knox, and quite a bit of trauma that was. But why would you? Why would a creature so despicably arrogant as a human being ask for help? No, you’ll do it all on your own, you’ll drive yourself far past the point of insanity because of your arrogance and pride and nothing else, and it will all be for nothing. I’ve only been on this Earth for a short time now, and in that time I have found myself to be utterly disgusted with the human race and how pathetically it misunderstands and misuses the gift of life, how disgracefully ignorant it is about the planet which hosts it.’
The slimy creature smiles then, stretching its thick scaly lips to speak.
“You are correct, though,” it says in the voice of Neil Campbell. “I am an alien, an extraterrestrial ambassador from the planet Neptune. A–”
“But… Neptune… is a gas… giant… there can’t–”
‘Not that Neptune, you oblivious fool.’ The creature’s smile widens despite the undying rage it feels for being cut off by such a petulant creature as a human. ‘And with your arrogance comes stupidity – you don’t even realize your planet is floating in a different star system than it once was. You probably don’t even realize this isn’t the Universe’s original Earth. Perhaps that is the fault of your government, perhaps the ones in control of your species found out but kept it a secret… but perhaps it does not matter. My superiors will be here tonight, their ship is due to reach the surface of Lake Atacama in a matter of hours, and the secret invasion will begin. In due time the Neptunian High Race of the Dali Straits will rise from the waters of Atacama Lake and eradicate all humans from the small town of Wuester, and from there we will take the world and colonize it as our own. So congratulations, Jonathan Knox. You’re actually quite lucky, you know. You’ve been allowed to have the awareness of the fall of your disgusting, petulant species. In fact, you should feel quite honored. In due time, you’ll be the last human left.’
The slimy ambassador of the Neptunian High Race of the Dali Straits, having properly rubbed Jonathan Knox’s nose in its race’s superiority to humankind, goes through the horrific and squelchy process of donning its human disguise. When it buttons the last button of the reverend’s robe, it turns to leave. Jonathan Knox stops it with noises he makes with his mouth.
“What did you say?” says the thing which calls itself Reverend Neil Campbell.
“I… said… why? Why… are you… doing… this…?”
The thing in the skin beneath the robes crosses the small prison room so he may look directly into Jonathan Knox’s vacant, sleepy eyes, so Jonathan Knox can smell his putrid, fishy breath. “Because I hate you, Jonathan Knox. I hate all of wretched humanity. Humankind is a race of evolutionary vermin, inferior in every way to the genetic perfection that is the Neptunian High Race of the Dali Straits. You are a plague, you are a disease. You are insects, Jonathan Knox, you and every last one of your sniveling apish kind are nothing but insects with soft yet disturbingly dry shells, and me?” He sneers. “I’m a boot, the first of many which shall soon come marching across your misfortuned land to crush every last one of the dirty lifeforms known as human beings. Every last one aside from you, that is. You get to live when all the rest die, all because you’re a dirty little eavesdropper.
“I hope you’re comfortable, Jonathan Knox. Welcome to your new home.”
A man who goes by the name of Exurb1a once said in the introduction of a novel that some creative ideas welcome themselves into your home and, if you’re kind enough to be hospitable, they will more or less bring themselves to fruition with very little effort on your part. Other ideas, though (and I’m paraphrasing here), are a big ol’ pain in the fuckin’ ass, and they need to be throttled repeatedly with an iron switch in order to just show up at the table, let alone to get working.
The idea responsible for this novel was both.
Some days, specifically in specific parts of the book, I would open my laptop and take a look at Scrivener and the words would literally be typing themselves, invisible fingers literally danced across my keyboard, and then on other days the idea made me do all the work, throttling me repeatedly with an iron switch until a hundred words were typed and I fell unconscious from being repeatedly throttled with an iron switch.
What I’m trying to say is Saint Wuester’s Church is a place to be when there’s nowhere else to go. Furthermore, Jonathan Knox’s home is on a road called Burnout Strip. I do not regret making this book, as it helped me through a cold six weeks of winter, but at the same time I’m aware of what it is. Universe W-2222 just ain’t the main event.
I’d like to thank Sudz for the creative contribution – you did more than you might know. And the hypothetical reader as well; if you’re there, thank you for being there.
February 12th, 2021
Hello Commons, this has been the epilogue (and Bookmaker’s Note) 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~