When his five-year-old neighbor goes missing, Jack can't help feeling responsible. He should have taken Cody home when he found him riding his bicycle near the Pine Barrens. Then a lost man wanders out of the woods after being chased all night by...something.
Jack knows, better than anyone, that the Barrens are dangerousa true wilderness filled with people, creatures, and objects lost from sight and memory. Like the ancient, fifteen-foot-tall stone pyramid he, Weezy, and Eddie discover.
Jack thinks it might have been a cage of some sort, but for what kind of animal, he can't say. Eddie jokes that it could have been used for the Jersey Devil. Jack doesn't believe in that old folk tale, but something is roaming the Pines. Could it have Cody? And what about the strange circus that set up outside town? Could they be involved? So many possibilities, so little time...
About the Author
F. Paul Wilson is the New York Times bestselling author of horror, adventure, medical thrillers, science fiction, and virtually everything in between. His books include the Repairman Jack novels, including Ground Zero, The Tomb, and Fatal Error; the Adversary cycle, including The Keep; and the young adult series featuring the teenage Jack. Wilson has won the Prometheus Award, the Bram Stoker Award, the Inkpot Award from the San Diego ComiCon, and the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Horror Writers of America, among other honors. He lives in Wall, New Jersey.
Read an Excerpt
Jack: Secret Circles
By F. Paul Wilson
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2010 F. Paul Wilson
All rights reserved.
Jack dodged puddles as he pedaled his BMX along Adams Street to the Connell house. Even though the sky was overcast now, the air felt dry. He hoped it would last. He was sick to death of rain. People were saying this could turn out to be the rainiest September on record and—
"Hey!" he shouted as he almost collided with a little kid scooting by on a red bike. "Cody!"
The kid braked and almost fell off his bike.
"Jack! Jack! I can do it!"
"Look! No training wheels!"
Cody Bockman was five and lived two doors down from Jack. His long hair was a blond tangle and his blue eyes sparkled with excitement. Cute kid, but a little wild man. Jack liked him except when he attached himself and followed him around like a dog. Somehow he always chose times when Jack felt like being alone.
"That's cool, Code." Jack looked around. Not an adult in sight. "Your folks know you're out here?"
"No, but it's okay."
"Yeah? You mean, if I go back and ask your mom and dad if it's all right for you to be cruising the streets, they'll say it's fine with them?"
Cody looked down. "Well ..."
Jack put on a stern look. "You gonna go or am I gonna have to take you back?"
He turned his bike around and pedaled a wobbly path back toward Jefferson. Jack watched him a little, then continued on to the Connells'.
Weezy's brother Eddie had asked him over to play Berzerk, the new game his father had bought him for his Atari 5200. The game was simple and so fun when you could trick the robots into walking into walls or shooting each other, but so nerve-racking when that deadly smiley face came bouncing through.
But no video games today. He'd played enough during the rains. This morning he was going to drag Eddie off the couch and into the sunlight. No easy task, considering Eddie's weight and resistance to any activity that involved moving more than his thumbs.
As Jack glided past the unlidded garbage cans at the curb—Wednesday and Saturday were garbage days in Johnson—he noticed a couple of familiar items from Weezy's room in the nearer container. He stopped for a closer look and saw copies of Fortean Times and Fate. Weezy treasured those weird paranormal magazines. Why was she throwing them out?
Maybe she was in a cleaning mood. She had all sorts of moods lately. Spin the dial and see who appeared.
Or maybe she didn't know. Her parents were always on her case for not being like other fifteen-year-old girls. Had they simply gone in and started tossing stuff? That wasn't right.
He spotted a half-folded photo, an aerial shot of the Pinelands, the million acres of woods beyond the town's eastern edge. He recognized the scene: an excavation of the mound where just last month he and Weezy had found a corpse and a mysterious little pyramid.
The sight of it released a flood of memories ... most of them bad. He'd blocked them out, but now they were back. The dead man was not simply dead, he'd been murdered—ritually murdered—and his discovery had triggered other deaths, all seemingly of natural causes, but all weirdly connected. Then Jack had learned the cause, and it hadn't been natural at all. But he couldn't talk about it because he had no proof and everyone—even Weezy—would think he was crazy.
And the pyramid ... shiny, black, embossed with strange glyphs ... Weezy had fallen in love with it, memorizing every detail of the symbols on its sides and the weird grid inside the box that had held it. It had turned out to be older that it seemed—much older than anything man-made should be.
Then it had disappeared.
And Weezy hadn't been quite the same since. Jack had felt the loss too—such a neat artifact—but not like Weezy. She'd taken it like the loss of her best friend. But more than that, she was convinced it had been stolen and was sure she knew the culprit ... all without a shred of proof.
So he couldn't believe she'd throw away this photo.
He snagged it from the can and stuck it in his back pocket as he hopped up the front steps and knocked on the door.
"Door's open," he heard a man's voice call from inside.
As Jack stepped in, Mr. Connell poked his crew-cut head around a corner and grinned. "Eddie said you'd be coming. He's in the family room."
"Is Weezy here?"
"Yeah. Hey, Weez!"
"What?" Her voice floated from upstairs.
Weezy appeared at the top of the stairway in her customary black jeans and a black T-shirt. She had dark eyes and pale skin. She'd gone a little heavier than usual on the eyeliner today. She held a book in her right hand, her index finger poked between two pages. She'd been letting her dark hair grow and today she'd parted it in the middle and braided it into a pair of pigtails.
"Hey, Jack. Come on up."
"Going for the Wednesday Addams look?" he said as he took the steps two at a time.
"Well, it's the weekend and I'm full of woe."
He followed her into her room, christened the "Bat Cave" by her brother. With all the shades drawn, a dark purple bedspread, gargoyles peering down from her bookshelves, and a creepy Bauhaus poster on the wall, it lived up to the name.
"About anything in particular?"
"The usual—everything." She belly-flopped onto the bed and opened her book.
"What's so interesting?"
"Just got it from the library. All about pre-Sumerian civilizations. What's up?"
Jack pulled the photo from his pocket and held it up. "I found this in your garbage can."
She glanced up with a smile. "Are you Dumpster diving now?" Then her gaze fixed on the wrinkled photo. "Isn't that ...?"
"Yeah. Never thought you'd toss it out."
She was up in a flash grabbing it from him.
"I didn't." Her expression turned furious. "They have no right!"
As she started for her door Jack blocked her way. She had a wild look in her eyes. Jack had seen that look a few times before when she'd lost it, and she seemed ready to lose it now.
"Easy, Weezy. Could you maybe wait on this? You're going to put me smack-dab in the middle of the fight."
For a second he thought she might hit him. He didn't know what he'd do if she tried. He was relieved when the look faded.
"Because you found it?"
He nodded. He didn't want to become a player in the ongoing tug-of-war between Weezy and her parents—mostly her father—who wanted her to be what they called "a normal girl" and what she called "a bow head."
"You know," she said, her voice thickening as she stalked about her room, "if they're so unhappy with me, why don't they just send me off to boarding school or something so they don't have to look at me?"
Jack didn't like that idea one bit. Who would he hang with? He tried to lighten the moment by clutching his hands over his heart and giving her his best approximation of a lost-puppy look.
"But-but-but wouldn't you miss meeee?"
It didn't work. She was off to the races. She'd always been hard to stop once she got rolling, but almost impossible since the disappearance of the pyramid. She'd gotten a little scary lately.
"I'm going to be fifteen next week! I've got a brain, why don't they want me to use it? They have no right to throw out my stuff!" She stopped her pacing. "Maybe I should pull a Marcie Kurek! That'd show 'em!"
Marcie Kurek was a runaway who'd been a soph at the high school last year. She lived in Shamong. One night she said she was going out to visit a friend and never showed up. No one had seen her since.
Weezy turned and threw the photo on the floor.
Jack knew she tended to leave her stuff all over the house, a perfect invitation for her folks to dump the things they didn't approve of, especially anything that referred to what she called the Secret History of the World.
The Secret History was her passion—her conviction that accepted history was a collection of lies carefully constructed and arranged to hide what was really going on in the world, and conceal the hidden agenda and identities of those pulling the strings. Ancient secret societies manipulating events throughout the ages ...
People—especially her family—tended to roll their eyes once she got started on it. Jack too, though not as quickly as he used to. He'd seen and heard things last month that he couldn't explain ... he didn't know if they fit into Weezy's Secret History, didn't know if they fit anywhere, or if they were even real.
Weezy was convinced that the pyramid they'd found was connected to the Secret History. And maybe it was ... this was a picture of the mound where they'd found the body and the artifact, or rather what was left after those strange government men had dug it up in the night.
He glanced at it now on the floor and was once again struck by the strange outline. As he looked he noticed something to the right of the mound ...
He picked it up for a closer look ... a dark object or structure in a small clearing. He'd never noticed it before. But then again, the photo had been in Weezy's possession all this time, so he'd never had much chance to study it.
"Hey, Weez. Where's your magnifying glass? Or did your folks throw that away too?"
She plucked a magnifier with a two-inch lens from a shelf above her desk and handed it to him. Jack poised it over the area in question and felt a tingle of excitement across his neck as it grew larger and came into focus.
"Oh, man, you've got to see this." He passed the lens and photo to her, then tapped the spot. "Right there."
He watched her brow furrow as she moved the lens up and down and around.
"Hmmph. Never noticed." She glanced up. "Could be just a big rock."
"Yeah? Take another look. Count the sides."
He watched her eyes narrow to a squint as she complied, then widen. She wore an entirely different expression when she looked up this time.
"Yeah. Just like our pyramid."
A light sparked in her eyes. "Actually it had seven if you count the base. But this is bigger. Much bigger." She frowned. "Too big for them to steal."
Jack knew who "them" were but didn't want her to get started on that now.
"You got that right. Want to take a look?"
"You kidding? Of course I—"
"There you are!"
Jack turned and saw Weezy's portly brother standing in the doorway, twisting a Rubik's Cube. He had short, sandy hair and a pudgy body, and his striped rugby shirt gave him a definite Pugsley look. Jack was tempted to remark on the Addams Family theme here in the Connell house, but held his tongue. Eddie wouldn't take kindly to the Pugsley comparison.
But if Cousin Itt showed up ...
"Hey Eddie. I was just—"
"No Berzerk today, man," Eddie said, looking miffed. "My dad's booting me out of the house. Wants me to 'enjoy the outdoors.' Can you believe it?" He shook his head sadly. "Boracious."
Eddie was not a fan of the outdoors, unless it meant sitting in the shade with a copy of Uncanny X-Men.
Jack pointed to the Rubik's Cube that had become Eddie's latest obsession. "Hey, anytime you want me to straighten that out for you, let me know."
He gave a wry grin. "Yeah, right. Like you could."
Jack shrugged. "Just trying to help the helpless."
Eddie glanced at his sister stretched on the bed and his grin turned evil. "You too, cave girl. He wants us both out in the"—he grabbed his throat and made a strangled sound—"fresh air."
"We were just leaving," Jack said.
Eddie shook his head. "No way. Last time I was in there with you two we found a dead guy, and pretty soon a whole bunch of guys were dead."
Jack shrugged. "Look at it this way: How many times can that happen? Chances of finding another dead guy are almost zilch."
"You guarantee that?"
"Let's go," was all Jack said.
Nothing was guaranteed in the Pines.CHAPTER 2
They finally convinced Eddie to come along. Jack was leading the way off Adams onto North Franklin when he spotted a familiar blond-haired kid on a bike.
"Hey, Cody!" Jack called. "I thought you were going back home!"
"I am! I am!"
"Did you stop off in Canada along the way?"
The kid laughed. "No!"
Jack pointed toward Jefferson Street. "Better get back before your folks find out and sell you to the circus."
He grinned as he pedaled away. "That'd be soooo cool!"
Jack watched him turn the corner onto Jefferson and disappear from view, then signaled Weezy and Eddie back into motion.
"You handled that like a pro," Weezy said as they rode.
"Yeah, well, I'm positive his parents don't know he's out here. My mother knows his folks and she says he wears them out. Never stops moving."
She slapped Eddie on the arm. "That's where all your energy went. Cody Bockman stole it."
"I'm gonna sue," Eddie said. "No, wait. If I get it back I'll have to run around all the time. Forget it!"
Jack said, "Check it out," as he pointed to a colorful poster on one of the telephone poles.
It announced the arrival of the Taber & Sons circus. The show parked itself near Johnson for a few days every fall. Not a real full-blown circus like Ringling Brothers, just some rides, a few animals, a tent show, and a midway. The local dates had been inked in.
"Hey, it opens tomorrow," Weezy said. "Maybe later we can go watch them set up."
Eddie grinned. "Count me out. Watching people work wears me out."
"Look!" Weezy cried as they approached Quaker Lake. "I've never seen it so high."
Neither had Jack. The lake was overflowing its banks and puddling near Quakerton Road. Mark Mulliner's canoes sat upside down at the water's edge. Jack doubted anyone had rented one in a while.
Mr. Rosen had been talking all week about how the ground was saturated and couldn't hold any more water. Whatever came down had to run off somewhere, and much of it was flowing into the lake.
"It's all the rain," Jack said.
Eddie said, "Your obvious-fu very strong."
Jack had to smile. Yeah, pretty dumb thing to say. In defense, he puffed up his chest.
"That's 'Supreme Master of the Obvious' to you."
The level was even higher than yesterday when he'd crossed the bridge on his way to Old Town. Water was pooled around some of the lakeside benches and willows.
A number of his lawn-cutting customers lived in Old Town, the original settlement that had spawned the sprawling, thousand-person metropolis of Johnson, New Jersey. But the succession of rainy days was interfering with his schedule. Yeah, he could cut wet grass, but it always wound up looking crummy, and then he'd have to come back for a fix-up.
He'd swung by after school yesterday to see if the lawns were dry enough to cut. They were, so he'd raced home to get his mower. But as soon as he wheeled it out of the garage, the skies opened up again.
No mow, no pay. And the longer the grass, the tougher the job, and the longer to get it done. A vicious cycle.
As the three of them pedaled across the bridge over the lake, Jack glanced at a boxy, two-story, stucco building known around town as "the Lodge." It belonged to the globe-spanning Ancient Septimus Fraternal Order. A very secretive bunch, tight-lipped about its activities and purposes and membership, and highly selective about who it accepted.
It had lodges all over the world. Why they'd put one here in Johnson, New Jersey, no one knew. Well, Weezy knew—or thought she did. She said the Lodge was here before the town, that members of the Order had settled here in prehistoric times. But that was part of her Secret History of the World, and the Septimus Order played a big role in it.
Membership was by invitation only, and this Lodge was rumored to include some of the state's most influential and powerful people.
Weezy glared at the building as they passed. "You want to find our pyramid, look in there."
Jack was ahead of Eddie but could hear an eye roll in his tone as he muttered, "Here we go."
"It's true," she said.
Against his better judgment, Jack said, "Things do get lost, Weez. It happens all the time."
"Things that are clues to the Secret History don't get lost, they get hidden away. The Order's job is to keep the Secret History secret. If we searched that place, we'd find it."
"Fat chance," Eddie said. "What are you gonna do, get invited in for milk and cookies?"
Excerpted from Jack: Secret Circles by F. Paul Wilson. Copyright © 2010 F. Paul Wilson. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Reading Group Guide
1. The opening chapters of the novel describe Jack's encounter with Cody Bockman. How do these chapters help readers better understand Jack? How do rain and other natural elements described in these chapters become important motifs throughout the novel?
2. What do Jack, Weezy and Eddie discover in the Pine Barrens? How does their discovery relate to Weezy's missing pyramid? Who is Mr. Drexler and what relationship does Jack suspect he has to the pyramid?
3. Explain Jack's long-held view of Johnson as a safe and peaceful place. Is Jack's sense of calm created by the town or his relationship to the place? Does everyone feel this way about their hometown? Do you think the presence of Mr. Devereux at the Lodge changes Jack's perspective? Who, or what, can truly disrupt this serenity?
4. In section 6 of "Sunday", Jack and Weezy consider whether they'd like to be "on the inside" of the school social scene. What words do the pair use to try to define themselves? Are these words accurate? Should they try to be "insiders"? Why or why not? How might these notions relate to Mr. Drexler's comment that Jack's father should not have declined his invitation to join the Septimus Order because "[h]e could have been one of the Movers.... Instead he's out there with the Moved"?
5. What is a "smoker"? Why doesn't Jack's father participate? What sorts of people attend the smoker? How does Weird Walt fit into this group? Compare and contrast the descriptions of the VFW and its smoker with those of the Septimus Lodge and the things that happen there.
6. Do you think Jack was right to videotape the violence at the Vivino home? Why or why not? What might you have done in a similar situation? Explain Mrs. Vivino's point of view. How might this relate to Jack's agreement with Mr. Devereux to withhold information about the Lodge's secret passageway at the end of the novel?
7. Who are the "pineys"? Does Jack do enough to stand up for the piney kids who attend his school? What important information does Levi Coffin give Jack? To whom do you think Levi refers when he uses the phrase "one of us"?
8. What power do you think Mrs. Clevenger wanted Weird Walt to channel? Do you think there is a relationship between Walt and the mysterious beast? What are Jack's feelings about the beast at the end of the novel?
9. Compare Jack's feelings toward Weezy and Karina. Why do you think he might feel that his relationship with Weezy has come "full circle"? What other circles, such as the disappearance and discovery of Cody Bockman, have been completed in the novel? What themes or ideas connect these circles?
10. Do you think the Septimus Order is basically good or evil? What other formal and informal groups, or societies, operate within the novel? Can Jack: Secret Circles be read as a study of the dynamics and loyalties at play between individuals and groups? Why or why not?
11. What is your reaction to Karina's statement that "the truth is"? How does this affect Jack's understanding of the notion of secrets in relation to himself and his community? How might you explain the relationship between truth and secrets in your own life? Have you observed elements of truth and secrecy at play on the world stage, in diplomatic situations, discussions of health policy or other matters? Describe your observations.