In The Great and Secret Show, one of the great storytellers brings us the first volume of the Art Trilogy, taking readers to a place they’ve never been before. This book is not a fantasy book, not a horror novel, or a science fiction story; and at the same time it’s all these and much more. Barker takes you to a new plane of existence in The Great and Secret Show where you’ll laugh and cry, smile and scream; where unimaginable horrors and triumphs await!
Randolphe Jaffe is a loser who’s going nowhere fast, that is until he gets a job for the post office working in the dead letter room in Omaha, Nebraska – the nexus of the country where all lost and undeliverable mail ends up. Going through thousands of pieces of undelivered mail per day – money and everything of value is surrendered to his boss – he begins finding clues of an undiscovered power in existence beneath the realm of society. It takes time, but he puts the pieces together until he has a good idea of this power known as the Art, where he then receives a medallion, the very symbol of the Art. While it means little to him at first, he knows it is an important piece of the puzzle. Naturally, his boss wants the item and it is then that Jaffe takes the first step down his new path and kills the man in cold blood.
Collecting the important evidence together, with the medallion, he travels across America, living on the whim of the Art, letting it guide him where it will. Innocent bystanders are used by him, sensing the power of the Art and agreeing to whatever Jaffe tells them. It is in an alcohol- and drug-infused stupor that Jaffe conducts his pilgrimage into the desert and finds the Loop: a place out of time, and meets Kissoon, the last member of the Shoal. The Shoal was the group appointed to protect the Art. For the world is part of the Cosm, and beyond this is the Metacosm where the sea of Quiddity lies – a place visited by all when they are born, the night with their first love, and when they die – and within Quiddity lies the island of Ephemeris, the dream land. More importantly at the far edge of the Metacosm lie the Iad Uroborus, a great evil that is always looking to consume the Cosm. The Art is a way of getting to Quiddity. Kissoon tells Jaffe that he must occupy his body so he can leave the Loop and defend the Cosm. Jaffe suspects otherwise and flees, embarking on his own mission of discovery with Richard Wesley Fletcher as they research the Art in its entirety. Fletcher soon discovers a liquid form of the Art known as nuncio, testing it first on a chimpanzee who becomes a human with the ability of speech and thought, known as Raul. The nuncio will force the being to the next evolutionary step, but Richard also knows if Jaffe were to use it, it would focus on his urges of murder and revenge, making him into a serial killer. But it is too late, for Jaffe discovers the existence of the nuncio and in a fight both are infected by it and become higher beings – The Jaff and Fletcher.
And then a great war is fought in the skies of America between these two gods of power until they are spent and plunge into a lake in Palomo Grove, California. There they both rest until four unsuspecting girls go swimming and are inseminated by The Jaff and Fletcher to create subjects to regain their power. And so the town is irrevocably changed forever as the four girls are all changed, becoming pregnant, giving birth to the offspring of these deities. Only three survive: a son of Fletcher and twins of The Jaff, and it is when, years later, that Fletcher’s son and The Jaff’s daughter meet and fall in love at first sight that the gods are awakened and the town takes a turn for the worst. Using the life-force of a recent victim, The Jaff is able to regain his power and begins collecting minions that he calls terrata from the people of Palomo Grove, sucking out their souls and using their rage, evil and anger to fuel his creatures. Fletcher is left with the dregs and is barely able to leave the crevasse where the lake used to be and find out what has happened to his son; then in a heroic effort, he gives up his life, spreading his power through the minds of the people of the town, who then have their dreams of meeting celebrities come true. These are the allies who must battle against the terrata in the mansion on the hill.
With help from a pulp reporter, Grillo, and his friend, Tesla, Fletcher’s son Howard with The Jaff’s daughter – who despises her creator – confront The Jaff and his son in the big showdown. Only the evil god takes it all to a whole new level when he rips a hole in the fabric of reality with the power of the Art, opening a widening doorway to Quiddity. Soon everything in the room is being sucked into this other realm, with only The Jaff, Grillo and Tesla making it out of the room alive. As the rest of the world comes to comprehend the catastrophic events taking place in Palomo Grove and take notice, a decision must now be made with how to solve this whole horrible mess, as the Iad Uroborus are on their way at high speed to pass through this rip and take over the world.
Time is of the essence, and Tesla – who has visited Kissoon herself – puts it all together and manages to move this trans-dimensional hole to the land of the Loop where time is stuck. Realizing that Kissoon chose Trinity, New Mexico – the location of the first detonation of the atomic bomb, where no one would think to check – she must kill Kissoon, who has already broken free due to his taking over of Raul’s (yes the evolved monkey) body, and with Kissoon gone, all that remains in the Loop is Raul’s body. The only solution, which Tesla goes forward with, is for Raul to occupy her body: two spirits, two consciences in one body, but it works. The Loop collapses, time starts moving again and just as the Iad Uroborus begin spilling into this world, there is the bright light and giant mushroom cloud, and the world is saved this time, but the power of the Art is not over. The adventures of Grillo, Tesla and this crazy wacky and incredible world Barker has created continue on in the Second Book of the Art, Everville.
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Originally written on February 13th, 2007 ©Alex C. Telander.