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 dangerous―a 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...
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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.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Little Cody Bockman disappeared on a rainy morning.
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 ...
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