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Read on for an exclusive extract from

THE LIGHTNING CATCHER

by Clare Weze

1

Moth Man

17th July

I’m not sure how you’re meant to start journals, but here goes: We moved to Folding Ford in April and now it’s July, and maybe it’s because we’re new here, but to me it’s completely obvious that this village is cracked. Today the weird ness got major, which is why I’m going to start writing it all down. If some thing happens to me, every one will know the facts, because of this journal.

Here’s what happened today:

Only little kids believe in giants, but that’s exactly what pounded down the hill, right at me. I was standing on the bridge at the edge of the village. It was dusk and I should have been home already.

He closed in fast, crazy white hair flying out, long string of a body, big coat swinging with every step, like a cloak. And, OK, so up close I could see he wasn’t a giant, but he was a ginormously tall man with a creepy face from a night-mare … and butter flies flap ping around his shoulders.

The road was empty, the houses quiet and still.

Tried not to stare, but he was too tall, the butter flies were just too strange, and his snarly mouth and angry, darting eyes made him look ready to spring at anyone for any reason. I pretended some thing had got stuck in the front tyre of my bike, but my eyes were glued.

He scanned my face, a split-second glare that sent chills pulsing down my spine, chills that didn’t stop, not even when he marched past me and away. And those weren’t butter flies. They were brown, thick-bodied moths. And each one was tied to the man’s wrists by a tiny thread.

He was taking them for a walk.

The giant with the moths is just the latest in a whole load of very strange things. Just in case anyone finds this note book when I’m dead, here’s a list of all the weird stuff that’s happened since we moved here:

1. A frozen puddle all by itself on a hot day in June. (Mum thought someone had emptied out their ice box on the pavement, but that was partly my fault. I shouldn’t have prodded it before showing her.)

2. Thick frost on one branch of one tree near the primary school. Brilliant white, totally arctic and completely impressive (especially for June).

3. A whirl wind in one of Dad’s beaten-up buckets, bubbling the water into demented spirals, and no wind anywhere else. (A salty smell came off it.)

4. A type of cloud I haven’t seen in any other place. It’s like a stack of pancakes with gaps in between.

5. My new best friend Sam’s trainers iced up right in front of his eyes. He’s been helping me look for clues ever since.

All those weather freak-outs have got to be connected, so Sam and I are on high alert for clues about this weird over-load. My new Moth Man discovery is completely different, but he’s linked – I’m sure of it. Sam and I will figure it all out and maybe get famous from it, and then this journal will be the official record of how we solve the mystery of Folding Ford.

 

2

Fight! Fight!

22nd July

A massive day for the investigation! Discovered a HUGE amount of stunning new know ledge. Mum dragged us to a point less jumble sale in the stupid village hall, and that’s how it started, because guess what? The Moth Man was there.

As soon as he walked in, the entire room went quiet. Everyone turned to stare. The same mad hair streamed down his back. The same coat flapped behind like a giant bat had got loose. But no moths.

I grabbed my sister. ‘Hey, Lily,’ I whispered. ‘Who is that?’

‘How should I know? But whoa – he is so completely gigantic. Imagine how long his innards must be.’

‘Remember the man with the moths I told you about?’ I pointed at the Moth Man. ‘Him!

Lily rolled her eyes. ‘Give it a rest, Alfie.’

‘For real. I swear.’

The hall was so quiet you could hear rain pouring off the roof.

I leaned closer to Lily. ‘Look at their faces. Nobody likes him.’

‘That lady does,’ Lily said.

The Moth Man was rummaging through a stall full of electrical junk run by an old black lady  – the only black person other than Dad that I’ve seen since we moved here – with silver beads threaded through her hair and a walking stick. He poked about impatiently, picking up an electrical extension cable without looking at her, even though she was talking nicely to him and smiling her head off.

The jumblers started to murmur again, softly, an up-and-down tune full of questions. Loads of eyes watched him hand money over, and he was every type of awkward a human can be. Kind of cross, but embarrassed, and also maybe in a massive sulk, like he hated the whole world. And he still gave me shivers.

‘Ugh – looks like he’s getting ready for some thing deadly. Someone so creepy shouldn’t be buying that much cabling,’ Lily said, like she was an expert.

‘Look at his coat,’ I said. ‘Looks like it’s made of skin.’

The Moth Man was on the move. This time, I had to follow. He’s the best clue I’ve seen since we moved here: a man who takes moths for a walk on a lead and turns a whole room silent. He must be some thing to do with the weird ness of this village.

‘What are you doing?’ Lily said, but I ignored her. The Moth Man’s coat still dripped. His hair looked like a dog’s fur just before it shakes off the rain, and people made a big gap to let him pass.

I was brave. I got sooo close. Could have reached out and touched. The coat wasn’t skin after all, but some oily fabric I’ve never seen before, and it smelt of horsey sawdust. He reminded me of a whop ping, untrustworthy spider, and I got all jumpy again. I quite like spiders, but that feeling doesn’t seem right for a human.

Mum blocked me. ‘Where do you think you’re going?’

‘Just—’

‘Oh no you don’t. Mind your own business.’ She gave me the stare of destruction.

The Moth Man was stomping off on heavy boots that would probably have liked to kick a few legs on the way out. Slipping away. Soon there was no sign of anyone towering and battishly cloaked.

‘Can we just go, then? Home? This is for old people.’

‘Nope. We’re here to stay, and it won’t kill you. We’re still the new ones round here. We have to show our faces.’

‘As if anyone’s even noticed us—’

‘Don’t argue with me, Alfie Bradley. Stay where I can see you. Don’t break anything – in fact, don’t touch anything. And don’t forget to say “please” and “thank you”.’

Lily popped up behind her. ‘Yeah, Alfie, zero touching. Got it?’

What was I supposed to do? I toured the hall, but there was nothing cool in the entire room, just stinky clothes piled on tables like junk mountains. Boring  – until Lily came up to me, giggling behind her hand.

‘There’s a full-on shouty-crackers fight in the kitchen,’ she said, signalling me to follow. It didn’t look like a Lily wind-up, and Mum was bending over a stall.

‘They’re arguing about your giant,’ Lily said. ‘He rescues weird animals from abroad and they keep escaping and Mr Fuming says it’s dangerous and Mrs Cranky says it isn’t.’

‘Who? Who?

She took me to a tiny corridor between the main hall and the kitchen. The kitchen door wasn’t completely closed, and through the gap we could see the old lady from the electrical-junk stall leaning against the counter. She was the one rowing, and she was doing it with an old man I hadn’t seen before, and because the noise from the main hall was like a million murmuring penguins, we were the only ones listening.

This new old man was red in the face and bulgy in the neck, with bristly white side-hair sticking up round the edges of his bald head like a brush. Lily was right – they were having a fantastic blow-up, shouting over each other like we’re not supposed to at school. All I under stood was, Don’t ever invite him to a parish event again! (The old man spat that.) And, Don’t you dare tell me who I can and can’t invite! (The old lady yelled this.) And then they stopped and glared at each other.

‘You missed the best bits,’ Lily said. ‘She kept telling him to get knotted.’ She put her earbuds back in and skipped away.

I got into perfect secret-listening position, like a detective: body hidden in a corner, head angled round. See without being seen.

The old man started up again. ‘This village hasn’t been the same since that miscreant came back.’

The lady rapped her fingers along the counter and gave him an impressively fatal scowly look.

‘As head of the parish council, I have a duty to police his mess and botching.’ His voice was croaky, and deep, like a walrus. ‘We’ve had enough of his marauding animals – they’re always escaping. That monstrous bird on the allotments last summer  – the damage it did! Spiteful-looking creature. Vermin! Folding Ford is no place for zoo rejects.’

Then he aced it. ‘All the children are afraid of him and it’s not the sort of thing we want in this village. Experimental animal breeding, warped hybrids – it’s not right. Hellish goings-on at that house.’

The lady made a superb lip-puckered face at him and said, ‘Ash House is an animal sanctuary, not a—’

‘Don’t play the innocent,’ he snapped. ‘We’ve both seen what’s escaped from there. A stampede of giant mutant guinea pigs last spring! Ash House is a charnel house!’

The lady looked at the ceiling and groaned. Whatever a charnel house is, she doesn’t like them.

Ash House. The last house in the village. I knew it straight away – we drove past when we were still exploring new places to live, just before we moved here. It’s big, white, and stands on its own with huge fir trees in the garden. Those trees are the best ever. They sway in the wind, leaning together like they’re whispering.

More shouting. More muddle. I couldn’t see what was so bad about bringing things into the country from abroad and making wind traps and messing about with stuff and inventing junk – sounded cool to me – but the old man thought it was bad, bad, baaad.

‘… you name it, he’s dragged it back with him like a bagful of Beelzebub’s beetles.’ He stopped to snigger at his own cleverness, then went on even more spit tingly than before. ‘Greasy, poisonous things – all those spit ting frogs. And now he’s tampering with the electricity supply! All those contraptions of his should be smashed and stopped. Every last one of them.’

‘Don’t be ridiculous!’ the lady said. ‘Nathaniel Clemm is harm less. You’re the one who needs stop ping.’

So the Moth Man was called Nathaniel Clemm.

‘Harmless? Spinal cords lying around the place, and you call that harm less?’

Spinal cords!

‘Well,’ the lady said, ‘vultures have to eat.’

‘Vultures!’

‘Just one vulture,’ she said, drumming her fingers again.

Her nails flashed silver, like Christmas decorations. ‘And she didn’t stay long – he was just sheltering her between zoos. He’s a conservationist, not a butcher. You want to round up anyone who’s not the same as you, don’t you? You can’t stand people who are different.’

With a ridiculous walrus-like ‘Harrumph!’ the old man turned his back on the lady and stomped out of a side door. The lady looked like she might come my way, so I sneaked back into the main hall and blended in like a total spy. The investigation was going better than I could possibly have hoped, but what was the next step?

Suddenly it was obvious: I’d go and look at this spooky old charnel house myself.

Thought I’d got past Mum easy. She was trying to make Lily eat a cupcake, which is just about impossible because Lily hardly eats anything since she got bullied super badly when she moved up into Year Eight last year. (That’s why we had to move here, to get Lily a brand-new life.) Anyway, Lily and Mum were in a cupcake standoff, but Mum must have clocked me, and just as I reached the door, she struck.

‘Where do you think you’re off to now?’

Never even knew she could creep up on people.

‘Need fresh air,’ I said. Then a brain wave happened. ‘And can I meet up with Sam? I’ve done nearly an hour here.’ Sam would freak when I told him about Nathaniel Clemm and Ash House. We could recce the place together.

She looked at me suspiciously.

‘It’ll give me more exercise …’

Her mouth stretched into a straight line with dimples at each end, which meant I’d won but she still disapproved. ‘Go on then. But you’re going nowhere without this.’ She pulled out my blue padded monstrosity of a coat from nowhere that made any sense.

‘Not that puffy thing! It’s hardly even raining now.’

‘No coat, no go. You will need it, and you will take it.’

I grabbed the evil thing and cleared out.

 

3

The Cloaked Strider
 

Persuading Sam to come with me was easy – at first. Went home for my bike, then texted, Meet me at Eggshell Bench. Got intel!

Sam: What intel?
Me: Too long – tell you in person

(That sounded professional. I’m getting good at this.)

Eggshell Bench sits at the top of stone steps on a steep grass banking, and you can hide there because it’s always over grown. It’s one of our best places. The back of the bench curves over like a smooth plastic eggshell – like it got dropped on the way to a children’s play ground – and that’s how it got its name.

By the time I’d biked there the stupid rain had stopped, so never even needed my sense less puffer coat. I was tying the horrific thing to the saddle when Sam arrived. I thought he’d be excited, but even when I told him my whole entire intel, he wasn’t up for going to Ash House.

‘Can’t see what it’s got to do with the weird weather what so ever.’

‘But, Sam, this is our best clue yet. This might be the source of all Folding Ford’s secrets,’ I said majestic ally and watched him thinking. He’s in the top set in all subjects at school, and some times you can hear his brain working. ‘And it’s a charnel house.’

‘A what?

‘Yeah, sounds awful. Needs looking up.’

Sam got it done before I’d taken my next breath and said, ‘It’s a house full of bodies or bones, or death!’

‘Whoa. See?’

‘Still don’t fancy it,’ he said. He stared at his front bike wheel, scraping it with the toe of his trainer.

My belly felt like beetles were crawling in it and I went hot all over. ‘Why not?’

‘He’s well scary. We call him the Cloaked Strider, because he walks round in that big long coat like a total randomer. Roan used to have night mares about him.’

Roan is Sam’s little brother. ‘So the giant on Beggar’s Hill with all those moths – that was the Cloaked Strider?’ I said. ‘You never told me.’

‘You didn’t mention any cloak. You were all about a giant with moths on threads – which is impossible, actually. Moths shed scales if you even pretend to touch them.’ Sam lives on a farm; he knows the most amazing stuff about any animal. ‘If you tried to tie threads on moths, they’d slither away leaving you totally scaled up.’

‘Which doesn’t stop it from being true that day. I know what I saw.’

He shook his head at me, slowly. ‘Anyway, he’s properly weird. Dodge Cooper’s brother says he comes out at night like a bat, and never sleeps. I’m not going near him.’

‘But if we just do a little spy work from the road,’ I said, rolling my bike down the steps and hoping he’d follow. ‘It’ll be fine. Come on – he won’t even know.’

‘There was no Cloaked Strider when my trainers iced up,’ Sam said. ‘The cold was just suddenly there and I stepped right into it. I’d have seen him.’

‘That old guy made it sound like he does things from a distance. We might be able to see his long-range weather-warper machines through the hedge.’

Sam’s face went very still and he scanned the village below us, like he was connecting things in his head. Like bits of curiosity were sprouting in his brain. I could  almost hear them glooping together.

‘We totally need to find out if that old guy’s on to some-thing.’ I’d reached the road by now. ‘Need to find out what a miscreant is. Sounds like some thing worth seeing – probably a deformed monkey, or some thing.’

‘Nope. Not what it means. A miscreant is a kind of villain.’

‘Only you would know that,’ I said, but he pretended he hadn’t heard and let a long sigh bubble out through pressed-together duck lips.

‘A villain!’ I said. ‘Even better. Even more likely to be up to weather-warping business … especially if he’s breeding dodgy animal mixtures. Weird goes with weird. Maybe he’s planning to whip up a massive storm of mutant clouds that can push through doors and windows and suffocate every one. Maybe he’s lacing them with chemicals. And there are spinal cords lying around up there and everything!’

‘Spinal cords? Where? How?’

I shrugged. ‘Could be anywhere.’

Sam rolled his bike chain forward and back. It didn’t need any fiddling, so I knew his brain was chewing through things. Then he bombed to the bottom step, did an excel-lent wheelie and skidded on to the road.

‘Right,’ he said. ‘Are we going or not?’

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