Todays post is the first chapter from The Moon Stealers and the Quest for the Silver Bough. Enjoy!
Chapter One – The Graveyard
It all begins with Peter Crisp….
It was eerily quiet in Parsley Bottom graveyard, and very, very dark. The reassuring light from the street lamps did not reach this part of the village, making everything look like a scene from an old black and white film. The white glow from the moon picked out the cracked and crumbling edges of the gravestones that stuck out of the ground, bent and unattended after so many years of neglect. An occasional stone was half covered by clumps of long grass or the skeletal remains of bunches of flowers long forgotten. A rusty gate clung to an old stone wall by one hinge, leaning on the dirt for support, unable to move. The bats, which had been known to put on quite a show for the locals in the past, had tucked themselves beneath the eaves of the church roof, shielding their heads beneath their leathery wings, aware of the evil presence that stirred amongst the gravestones below. Tonight, Parsley Bottom graveyard was not the place to be – unless you were already dead of course.
Peter Crisp lay on a blanket behind one of the larger gravestones not too far from the stone wall of the old decaying church, trying to shield himself from the cool air that drifted off the river at the bottom of the graveyard. The frosty night air had already started to make the grass around Peter crisp and stiff. The white stones shimmered magically as small crystals of water froze into dustings of ice that glimmered in the moonlight.
One night, he thought to himself, that’s all I have to do. He tried to convince himself that it would be easy to stay there as he nervously hugged the sleeping bag tight against him, pulling it up high beneath his chin.
One night, he said to himself again. Hearing his voice inside his head reassured him that he was not alone.
But, during his whole life Peter had never been alone, not truly.
He pulled his hand up so that he could just see his wrist-watch without heat escaping from inside the sleeping bag.
The luminous clock face read:
Twenty-eight minutes past midnight.
It would be at least six hours until the sun started to come up. By then he would have proved to everyone at school that he was as brave and tough as Jimmy Cox, not to mention winning Jimmy’s new skateboard in the process. If he didn’t manage it and went home early, he would remain the school weirdo that no one wanted to know. This was the dare of all dares: stay in the graveyard for one night.
Peter wasn’t what you could call a popular twelve year old boy. His mother never managed to keep up with his growth and as a consequence his clothes always appeared to be two sizes too small. His thick brown hair grew too quickly and would often cover his spectacles making him feel like he was constantly looking out of a window with the curtains half drawn. Peter was different to the other children at school: he could see things that they couldn’t, which often made them stare at him or call him names. On the brighter side, he could run fast. The other kids at school would often be impressed with the speed he could run, until his long uncoordinated legs would cause him to trip over his own feet. Then they would laugh at him and mock the way his legs got tangled up amongst themselves. Jimmy, by contrast, was popular. He lived in a pub with his parents, was good at sports and always had clothes that fitted. In fact, some of them weren’t even strictly part of the school uniform, but Jimmy always seemed to be able to get away with it.
It’s just like camping. Peter told himself, trying to keep positive. That afternoon he had collected a few items from home to bring with him and help him through the night. He’d told his mother he was staying round a friend’s house. To occupy his mind he mentally went through his list for the twenty third time, just to make sure he had everything:
Blanket and sleeping bag
Thick coat and hat
Can of Fizzy Orange
Peter squeezed his left arm reassuringly against his chest, making sure that Dudley, his favourite bear, was still there. He would never admit to owning a teddy bear at his age, but he’d had Dudley since he was one year old.
A sharp crack echoed around the graveyard making Peter forget about his list and remind him exactly where he was. Instinctively he sat upright and twisted towards where the sound came from. He stopped breathing and started to shiver; the sleeping bag had slipped down slightly around his shoulders.
He waited for another sound, but nothing happened. It felt like ages until he felt confident enough to relax again.
Probably just squirrels or hedgehogs moving about in the bushes looking for food. That’s all it was, he thought, trying to convince himself that the sound was nothing to worry about as he lay back down.
He decided to cough loudly, hoping to scare any small animals away, then waited again. No other sounds disturbed the night air so he snuggled into his sleeping bag, lifted the zip up as high as he could and closed his eyes. To stop himself from hearing other sounds, he began to hum a nameless tune to himself until he slowly drifted to sleep.
The arrival of the bright moon in the starry night sky had, unknown to Peter, begun to wake up another occupant in the graveyard, one that preferred to do its hunting beneath the black cloak of night. Two hooded shapes slid slowly across the muddy grass from amongst the shadows of the stones. Their movement was so slow and smooth that they could have been travelling on wheels or skating across a frozen lake.
They moved towards Peter.
Peter was sleeping lightly, his ears subconsciously tuned in to the sounds of the graveyard. Occasionally, he would hear the rustling sound of wind as it blew through the trees, or a gentle splash from the shallow river, all of which he accepted and dismissed as normal. But there was another sound now, one he was unfamiliar with, that made him open his eyes. He lifted his head above the gravestone and looked around. Everything was black except for the moon that reflected off the cold white surface of the gravestones. But something was different and he couldn’t tell what it was. To start with, he had heard a sound that seemed out of place, a sound that reminded Peter of thick gravy bubbling in a pan ready for a Sunday dinner. There was also a strange smell like a mouldy sandwich that had been left in his school bag for too long.
He took the flashlight from the bottom of his sleeping bag, turned it on and swung the light around him like a beam from a lighthouse. Everything looked normal, although the noise now seemed to have stopped. Reassured that everything was normal, he switched the light off and snuggled back down inside the sleeping bag once again.
After a few seconds Peter thought that he heard the thick bubbling sound again, but this time it seemed to be nearer; so close in fact that it almost sounded like it was coming from somewhere at the end of his sleeping bag.
‘I don’t scare that easily, Jimmy!’ Peter shouted into the night, his voice echoing around the gravestones. ‘You need to try harder than that if you want me to go home early.’ Peter thought it was probably Jimmy or one of his friends trying to scare him, but he wasn’t going to be put off that easy. He switched the flashlight on again and placed it on the grass beside him so that the beam shone towards his feet.
Once again Peter settled down inside the warm sleeping bag and closed his eyes. He didn’t know if there was enough power in the flashlight to last through the night, but he was sure Jimmy would get bored quickly and go home. Peter soon drifted back into a light sleep in the hope that the next time he opened his eyes the sun would be coming out.
The hooded shapes waited before moving closer towards Peter. In the middle of the night most people were fast asleep and could do nothing to help him. His screams and cries remained unanswered leaving behind a tangled sleeping bag in a heap behind a gravestone.
Or is it?
If you enjoyed that, download the first three chapters from the book.