Them movin’ in from the city… it’s poisoning our town.
Breathing. Heavy, subtly terrified breathing. “Chief… you didn’t need to do that…”
Maxwell returns the handgun to the back of his pants and covers the butt with his red sweater, then turns and walks slowly back to the stairs.
“Chief,” Jim says again. The sweat is beginning to dry to his skin. It’s making him feel grimy. The condition of the basement isn’t helping. “I told you you can trust us… you didn’t need to give me the heart attack.”
“I think I did, Jim,” Maxwell says firmly.
The brains of the five officers shake around inside their skulls like Boggle dice trying to understand exactly what’s going on right now. Finally, one of them builds some words.
“You’ll have to explain that one, Dan.”
It was Officer Herm Billings. Suffice to say, he speaks for everyone involved.
“It’s simple, boys,” Maxwell casually explains, going as far as shrugging his shoulders. “None of you jumped on me, tried to stop what was going on. Even after the trigger clicked, none of you tried to attack me, pry the gun away, put a bullet in me.”
“Not that we’d’ve been able to,” says Vern, sweating just as much as Jim Hubert. “Gun’s empty.”
Maxwell raises an eyebrow. “You think so?”
Chief Maxwell brandishes the revolver once more. In one swift motion he aims, thumbs down the hammer, and unknowingly blasts one of Jonathan Knox’s three ceiling bugs into smithereens. The report of the shot is deafening, which is a good thing; everybody’s ears are ringing too loud to hear Billy Gene scream like a little pansy. He puts on a good show, that Billy Gene, but loud noises scare the man. Loud noises scare the man real good. As Maxwell puts the revolver back into his pants, everyone looks up to the hole in the ceiling.
“Like I said,” the chief murmurs. “Now I know I can trust you all.”
The five officers and their chief go on looking at the hole in the ceiling, at the phantom of dust and tiny pink fibres shrouding it, at the darkness of the upstairs where it leads to. By the time they can hear again the lightbulb chain swings no more. Nobody is displeased at that.
“All right then, Chief.” Gene Thorton. “You can trust us, now you know it. So what is this about?”
“Well, Fellers,” the chief begins, looking down at his feet. “I suppose there’s no easy way to say this… I called you all down here tonight to ask for… well, to induct you into a little group I’m try’n’a start.”
“Induct?” asks Herm Billings. “Don’t say induct, Chief. That makes it sound like you’re startin’ a cult.”
Chief Maxwell chortles at that, as though the thought has crossed his mind before. “Some might label it that way, sure… but the fact of the matter is, boys, that our little town’s… well, it’s been infected… or maybe invaded might be a better word, Herm, since you’re so keen about my diction tonight.”
Herm looks nervously to the other officers, then feels thankful for the fact they all look as perplexed as he feels. “I didn’t mean anything by it, Chief, I jus–”
“No’no,” Chief Maxwell says, waving him into silence with one pudgy palm, “it’s quite all right. I wasn’t bustin’ ya. Invaded really is the better word, Fellers.” A sniffle. The dust, along with the other shit floating in the air of this dungeon, is clogging his sinuses. He looks down at his feet again, then after a moment, back up to the faces of his boys. “There ain’t no easy way to say it, so I might as well just get it all out. Wuester ain’t the same as it used to be, boys. Our town has been invaded by aliens.”
“Aliens?!” Officer Hubert blurts out. The crystalline coating of sweat on his skin is beginning to melt back into liquid form. “D–… Chief, do you mean… the grays? ”
“No, Jim, I don’t mean the grays,” Chief Maxwell says gravely. “I mean the blacks. The browns. The colords.”
“The c–…” Billy Gene rapidly shakes his head a couple times. “Chief, are… you’re telling us there are beings from outer space in Wuester… right?”
Chief Maxwell says nothing, holding his steely stare.
“I think we all know damn well I ain’t talkin’ about no space aliens,” Chief Maxwell barks, reaching around behind him. All the cops think he’s about to whip out the gun, but in truth he just has an itch from the sweater. “This used to be a nice town, a quiet town. A peaceful, respectable town populated by God-fearin’ hard workin’ good ol’ white folks, but that all changed when the citiots started movin’ in. Puerto Ricans, Guatamelans, Mexicans and Cubans and the damn Haitians, and worst of all, the blacks.”
Nobody is really sure what to say.
“They’re different than us, boys,” Maxwell continues, oblivious to the mood. “They think different, eat different, shit and piss different, they even breed different than us white folks. They’re poisoning our Wuester, Fellers… if I may call you Fellers, anyway.”
“You can call us whatever you want, Chief,” Jim says. Jim Hubert feels utterly at home right now. “And for the record, I for one agree with you.”
Everyone looks at Jim Hubert. Then, everyone looks away from Jim Hubert.
“That’s a lovely sentiment, Jim,” Chief Maxwell says, almost sadly, “but I don’t think you understand what I mean. When I say Fellers, I don’t mean fellas. I mean…”
Chief Maxwell trails off again, his eyes stuck on his shoes. Glances are shared with everyone but Jim Hubert, who can’t take his eyes off the police chief. Well, that’s not true; Jim can take his eyes off Maxwell, he just don’ wan’a, y’understan’?
“Chief… this uh, this group you wan’a start–”
“It’s okay, Herm,” Chief says, looking up with kind eyes. “You can call it a cult. That’s really what it is, after all.”
Herm swallows. His throat clicks. “This cult, then… uh… it doesn’t happen to involve… white robes, does it?”
Police Chief Daniel Maxwell assumes a fierce and flabbergasted look about his face. “White robes? What, do you think this is some Ku Klux Klan bullhockey, Herm?”
Herm does indeed think this is some Ku Klux Klan bullhockey, as far as the wideness of his eyes describes. In fact, all the officers in Chief Maxwell’s basement seem to think this is some Ku Klux Klan bullhockey, and only one of ‘em’s disappointed when Maxwell tells them not to be ridiculous.
“I know it may seem like the contrary, boys,” Maxwell continues, “but this issue I’ve brought you down here to discuss hardly has anything to do with race.” He thinks for a moment. “Well, it has to do with race, but…” A sigh, meaty and bellowed. “I ain’t no white supremacist, just to make things clear. I don’t think the whites are any better than the browns or the blacks; hell, I didn’t even think we were any different before I read what I read.”
“What’d you read, Sir?” asks Vern. Vern likes to read, he can’t help but ask.
“Well that’s why I brought you all down here,” Chief says, aware of the fact that he’s talking them in circles. Some things need to be circled a few times before they’re pounced on, it’s just the way it is. “You may have noticed my choice of clothing for tonight’s meeting is… different from normal.”
They did notice. Vern even mentioned it, but because he didn’t get an explanation when he first brought it up, he decides to keep his mouth shut.
“These clothes, the blue denim pants and the thick red sweater, this is… well, these are our white robes, so to speak. Our uniform. If you all agree to be Fellers, you’ll each receive a set.”
Lots of thoughts are racing through several minds. Nobody is sure of what to say. Then…
“I’ll be straight with you, Chief,” says Gene Thorton. “I think it’d be best for everybody if you just came out and said whatever it is you’re meanin’ t’say.”
A chorus of nods and yeah s and uh-huh s affirm this.
“A’ight, I s’pose I should.” He takes a deep breath, then gives it back. “Do you boys remember, back in August, when that meteor fell and hit that boat floatin’ in Lake Atacama on the other side of town?”
The boys remember it so well it could have happened not twenty minutes ago. A few folks even drowned. They were young; ‘twas a tragedy felt across the whole town.
“Well that night, on that very same night, there was a loud flash of light in my backyard–”
“A loud flash of light?” Vern asks. “How can a flash of light be loud, Sir?”
“Can it, VanDunk!” bleats Hubert. “Chief knows what he said!”
As if he was never interrupted, “I was up drinkin’, as this was after the wife left me and took my son… she took my Goddamned son! ” He accentuates the word son by striking the stairs with his fist. “What was I… oh. Right. So I was up in the livin’ room drinkin’, lookin’ out at the darkness through the slider my wife demanded me to have installed right before she left me and took my son… and so I’m drinkin’, lookin’ out there, and then it happens. The loud flash’a light, knocked me right off my couch. Didn’t spill my drink, though. It takes more than a flash of light for Chief Daniel Maxwell to tilt his nightcap. Had I known the meteor hit at the same time, then maybe, but…” Maxwell shakes his head. “I keep gettin’ off track!”
“It’s all right, Chief,” Herm hazards. “Take your time, we’ll be patient for you.”
“No, you don’t understand,” Maxwell says, holding his hands out in front of him. His trembling hands, sweat leaking from the palms. “The book said I would have a hard time tellin’ y’all about it… the book knew this would happen…”
The police officers feel uncomfortable again. All five of them. Yeah, even Jim.
“There was a book,” Dan Maxwell says when he feels capable, “laying in the grass, in a black spot. The flash of light burned a hole in my back lawn, the scorch mark is still there. But, the book… it was called The Tome of Rock, and it said… it…”
Suddenly, Daniel Maxwell doesn’t feel very capable anymore.
“Chief,” says Vern VanDunk, “what did it say? What did The Tome of Rock say? ”
“Everything…” Chief Maxwell mumbles, staring at his hands again. “It said the meteor that fell was an omen, called it The Precursor. Said it would only fall when our town was in danger of being mortally poisoned, and it mentioned our town by name. It said white folks are different than colored folks, said we’re children of the stars, said that colored folks have their colors from the dirt of the Earth, that they look the way they look because they’re connected to the Earth on a spiritual level. Us white folks, well our spirits are connected to the stars, boys, and for a long time Wuester was all white folks. Ain’t no ethnic folks in this town for the longest time, not even down towards the center, and that made Wuester special, made it into a kind of energy vortex… but boys… now that the colored folks… the Earthen folk…” He sighs. “Them movin’ in from the city… it’s poisoning our town. Disrupting the vortex.”
If the minds of the five police officers in Maxwell’s basement could be merged together and then translated into words, the translation would be this: “…what?”
“I now how it all sounds, but… the Wuester vortex… to keep it simple, boys, the Wuester energy vortex cannot be disrupted, it can’t be allowed to spin out. If the Wuester vortex is allowed to spin out, then… then…” Chief Maxwell seems to have a frog in his throat.
“Then what, Chief?”
Maxwell’s pupils dart to the outer corners of his eyes, facing opposite directions. His back straightens up, chest puffs out, fingers bend and contort in unnatural ways. In a voice foreign to his mouth, an ancient voice, deeper and vastly more garbled than his own, he says, “Calamity. Scourge. Destruction the likes of which yee mortal swine hath never before conceived of, shall never again live to see for your lives shall be ended, bodies withered to rot, minds scattered to the winds, intangible souls perished and consumed whole. Praise Thee, Rock! Praise Thee and fell unto our poisoned town! ” Chief Maxwell then closes his eyes and falls off the stairs, landing flat on his face.
Nobody says a word. Nobody makes a move. Nobody knows what the fuck just happened, and quite frankly, nobody wants to know. Even Jonathan Knox, snug in his heated smart car parked smoothly down the bend from Chief Maxwell’s house, chooses to pretend his equipment is responsible for what he just heard. The bugs must be malfunctioning; one of them got taken out, after all.
“D’y’see now, boys?” Maxwell grumbles as he picks himself up with shaky arms a full minute later. “This shit… this ain’t no joke. The book said that would happen, if and when I had trouble gettin’ myself to share with y’all its secrets, and it said I could share its secrets with only you five. Mentioned y’all by name, too, as it did me.”
For a few tense, uneasy moments the microphones scattered throughout the chief’s basement pick up only quiet breathing.
“What else did it say?” Herm asks, looking at Maxwell squarely. “How are the… Earthen folks–” The word feels like sludge spewing out of his mouth, black and glumpy sludge. “–disrupting the vortex? How is their being here poisoning Wuester, Chief?”
“The vortex formed because of us white folks, boys. Our being here elevated the town on a metaphysical level, made Wuester higher in a sense, but all the Earthen folk moving in is lowering us back down, and if Wuester is allowed to touch the ground again–”
“Then the vortex will spin out,” Jim says, as if a great epiphany has occurred to him which finally explains his upbringing. “And… and we’ll all perish.”
“That about sums it up, Fell–… boys. That about sums it up.”
It takes a few minutes, but it all soaks in.
“So how do we stop it?” Gene asks at the same time that Billy opens his mouth to speak.
“We don’t,” Chief Maxwell says flatly, rousing looks of confusion. “Rock will.”
“Rock,” three of them say, do not ask but say.
“See, the meteor that came in August, The Precursor, that was an omen. It, along with the appearance of The Tome of Rock, was meant to signify that Rock is coming, that Rock is on Its way here. See, Rock is a much bigger meteor than The Precursor. A smarter meteor, too; when Rock lands, Rock is go’n’a send out a massive radioactive shockwave that’ll turn all the Earthen folk in Wuester into piles of dirt, leaving the children of the stars alive and the vortex undisrupted. But as smart as Rock is, Rock can only get so close to Earth before It needs to be guided. That’s where we come in.”
“So we’re meant to summon Rock, then!” Jim Hubert says enthusiastically. “That’s what you’re go’n’a say, ain’t it, Chief?”
“It is,” Chief nods. “Boys, The Tome told me that on the sixth day after the sixth week after the sixth month after The Precursor landed, Rock would be in our planet’s orbit; that day is the day after tomorrow. To herald– nay, to fell Rock unto our town and cleanse our little patch of Earth of all the dirty Earthen folk, we need to make a sacrifice. An Earthen child, one who was picked out by The Tome just like you all were, just like I was.”
Somber silence sets in as the gravity of the situation drops its full weight on the shoulders of the five Wuester police officers and their sweaterclad chief. For the love of Christ, this might actually be real.
“Can we see the book?”
“‘Xcuse me, Herm?”
“The book, this Tome of the Roc–”
“It’s The Tome of Rock, Billings!” snarls Jim Hubert. “You heard Chief say it just as well as all of us!”
Herm blinks at Jim a couple times. Then, to the chief, “You got’a understand, Chief, this shit you’re tellin’ us…”
“I know,” Chief admits. “It sounds ridiculous, sounds like some horsecock conjured up by a braindead hillbilly who had one shot of unfiltered gasoline too many one too many nights in a row.”
“Well put. So uh… you understand that… now I don’t wan’a speak for everybody here, but I know for myself… I just cannot possibly proceed without seeing the book.”
“That’s just the thing, Officer Billings,” Chief Maxwell says, shaking his head slowly with shame. “That’s just the fuckin’ thing. I can’t show you the book. The very first page said that only I can read its words, that anybody else who reads it, who so much as peers between the covers will spontaneously combust, as will any and all of their loved ones.”
Herm Billings looks suitably disappointed.
“I’m sorry, Herm. You’ll have to take my word for it… and look, I’m not a smart man. I’ll be the first one to admit that about myself, I ain’t no vallid dicktorleyan, a’ight? I don’t know if I could make all this up… all I know is what happened to me, what I found in my yard, what I read. And what I read was instructions… instructions I have no choice but to follow.” Maxwell stands then, looks down at his boys. “I don’t like it any more than any’a’you do, but I think we got’a do what we got’a do this time. Boys, will you do me the honor of joining me as Fellers so we can save our precious town from the Earthen threat?”
None of the officers say anything for a minute. They don’t look at each other, either. In the driver’s seat of his smart car Jonathan Knox is clutching his chest with one hand, his left ear with the other. Not even the vermin are running through the walls.
“Just to be clear,” Herm finally says, “you want us to join your cult, wear the blue denim pants and the thick red sweaters with the blobs on ‘em–”
“This ain’t a blob,” Maxwell says sternly, gesturing to the blob. Upon closer inspection under the dim orange glow the officers see that it indeed ain’t a blob but rather a polygon of some sort, with rigid and uneven edges. “It’s a silhouette of Rock, and for your information, I did not buy this outfit, nor did I make it. It was delivered to my house, along with the rest of yours. Found the box sitting outside the back slider.”
Herm sighs. “You want us to join your cult and help you sacrifice a black kid so a meteor will come and kill the rest of the… the Earthen folk, living in this town. Am I gettin’ all’a’this, Chief?”
“Yes, you are,” Chief Maxwell says without missing a beat. “You are indeed, Officer Billings.”
Billings shakes his head. Even chuckles to himself. It’s a defeated chuckle, a very Fuck it, I guess so chuckle. “Count me in, then.”
“Me too,” says Jim, lowkey angry that he couldn’t be the first to join the cult.
“Me three,” says Gene Thorton.
“Me four,” says Billy Gene with a dash of reluctance.
Vern VanDunk says nothing, and so everybody looks at him, scrutinizes him maliciously, expectantly.
“Got somethin’ to say, Vern? ”
“Well…” he says, “it’s just that…”
“It’s Tad,” Hubert says, further prodding him. “Ain’t it, Vern? Faggoty Tad.”
“Thaddeus is a good man,” Vern says. “He’s Earthen, but he’s a good man. My sister loves him very much. I don’t know if I can bear to see him killed.”
“It’s him or it’s us, Vern.” Chief Maxwell has folded his arms. “I hate to make it that simple, ‘cause this ain’t no simple thing, but that’s what it comes down to. It’s him or it’s us, and I choose us. Your fellow officers here – your brothers – choose us. So what do you choose?”
Vern seems to think for a moment, although not a thought crosses his mind. He’s merely stretching this out as long as possible – it’s a pretty easy decision, is it not? The hole in the ceiling tells Vern that it’s a pretty easy decision, but it’s not the decision itself that’s troubling him. It’s the making of the decision, the choosing to value his life over that of another human based solely on the words allegedly printed in a book he’s unallowed to read.
“Who was it written by?” Vern finally answers.
“The Tome of Rock,” Vern says. “If it’s a book it had to be written, so who was it written by?”
Again, without skipping a single beat, Chief Maxwell says, “Chalak.”
The room goes so silent it’s as if the lightbulb broke upon the uttering of the word.
“S–…say again, Chief? ”
“I don’t know if they’re a man or a woman, and I don’t know if they came from Earth or somewhere else, but that’s the name signed at the end of The Tome. And they sure seem to know all about us. Chalak. And you know what?” He folds his arms tighter, pops his thumbs up out of his armpits. “Maybe Chalak is enough. I’m about as involved as I can be, but I don’t think I want to know any more about all this than I need to, y’follow?”
“I follow,” Vern admits, mourning his brother-in-law who will never be. “A’ight. A’ight, fine Chief. I’ll do it. For Wuester I’ll do it, I’ll… I’ll be a Feller.”
Maxwell nods, satisfied. “Good. Now that we’re all together on this, I’d like to get started straight away. I feel like it would be best to waste as little time as possible on felling Rock to Earth. Ain’t no tellin’ how far Wuester’s dropped already, how close the vortex is to spinnin’ out.”
“We need a plan, then,” says Jim Hubert, rubbing his hands together.
“And we got one,” Maxwell says, sounding relieved. “Chalak took care of everything, Fellers. The Tome has a plan, has every detail down to the minute of the day, and it said I can share it with you… but before I do, I need to warn you. This one’s a doozy.”
“This one is a doozy?” Jonathan Knox asks himself. “What about all the other ones, you sick deviant pigs,you damn dirty cops? ”
“We can handle it, Chief,” Vern says, looking around at the nodding faces of his fellow Fellers. “Anything The Tome says we got’a do, we’ll do.”
“I know y’will, Fellers. I know y’will.” Chief Maxwell draws a loud breath through his clogged and snotty nose, then opens his eyes back up and exhales it between his chapped lips. “A’ight, now lis’en up. As of tonight we are The Fellers of Rock, and we have a duty to perform, steps we must complete. The first goes a little something like this…”
Hello Commons, this has been the third subchapter of the first 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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