The Fearless Travellers’ Guide to Wicked Places by Pete Begler

Disappearing people…evil clouds… dark and mysterious happenings… Nell needs to figure it out and fast!

Chapter 1
In the week since the bruise-coloured cloud had appeared over the tiny coastal town of Mist Falls, three mothers had disappeared. The first while riding her bicycle down a leafswept street, the second while sitting in a parked car drinking a cup of coffee, and the last from her bedroom while her new baby napped beside her. Not a single person had witnessed the cloud take the women, but Nell Perkins knew it was true.

Even now, as she piloted her bike along the damp streets, she felt the grim cloud watching everyone from above. One had only to glance up to see that this cloud was different. It didn’t float along aimlessly like other clouds, but moved with slow scheming purpose, and while it had first appeared over the trees wispy thin, it had grown fatter with each passing day, like a bloated tick filling with blood.

Nell rode carefully, keeping a watchful eye on the leafy shadows on the cracked sidewalk, making sure to stay within their protection. She tried to tell herself that it was silly. It’s just a cloud. But another voice inside her whispered for her to stay hidden from its dark wisps, which reminded her of a ball of cotton candy lying burnt and alone in an abandoned fairground.

The truth was this wasn’t the first time people had disappeared from their small town. Over the years almost a dozen people had simply vanished. Most were young women, though one was a boy Nell’s age named Max. They had just started to become friends when he vanished four weeks ago. He was funny and daring and liked to play the trumpet. They had the kind of friendship built on nothing more than a love of weird jokes and an obsession with chocolate. He didn’t vanish in the same way, though it felt the same to Nell. One night he went to sleep and he didn’t wake up. He had fallen into a coma. They took him to the hospital, where he was still asleep.

As Nell pulled her bike into the schoolyard, she had the strangest thought. Maybe the cloud was behind it. Maybe it had drifted over his house while he slept and kidnapped a part of him. The thought sent a shiver up her spine and she quickly locked up her bike. The normally busy yard was empty. A few teachers were hustling the late students inside.

“Attention, students and staff!” Principal Green’s voice crackled over the loudspeaker as Nell entered. “All students and faculty are not to go to their classrooms. Report directly to the school auditorium for a special assembly.”

Nell’s stomach was tight with nerves. The assembly was her chance to tell everyone what she knew to be the truth. The cloud had kidnapped the women and maybe Max as well.

I am going to look like an idiot, she told herself, but it was too late. She had decided she did not have a choice. Nell had seen a crime and the town needed to know about it, no matter how strange it would sound. It had happened quickly and was so weird that even remembering it now caused her heart to beat loudly and her breath to quicken. She recounted the facts as though she were telling them to a policeman.

A few days ago Nell had been at the town library until nearly dinnertime, reading about whales and secretly eating chocolate-covered raisins. Perhaps she would leave that part out when she told it, but, she reasoned, it did show that she was thinking clearly and had an eye for detail. When the library closed, Nell walked outside. The sky was free of clouds and the streets empty of people. She got on her bike and headed home. As she rode she felt a great burst of happiness, like she was the last person on earth and free to do anything. Summer was coming and she had books to read and the ocean to dash into.

The mist was drifting off the sea, caressing her cheeks and dancing across her lips. Nell liked the briny taste of the salty air. She stopped her bike at the corner of Sea View and Stone Lane Road, and was taking in the view of the waves violently crashing upon the black rocks of the shore, when a high-pitched shriek rang out in the sky. Looking up she caught sight of a strange purple cloud, rising quickly from behind the large Victorian house at the end of Stone Lane Road.

The horrible cloud rose with a rumble, as if it were an animal Nell had surprised in the act of feasting on a fresh kill. All was still and utterly silent. Nell wanted to turn away, to ride as fast as she could in the other direction, but her eyes were locked on the cloud as it rose higher and higher.

As she stared, Nell wished for several things. She wished to be home, she wished she wasn’t afraid, she wished she wasn’t alone, and in a few seconds she would wish forevermore that she had closed her eyes. But her eyes were open, and Nell watched as from out of the purple cloud fell a woman’s shoe, bright white and dotted with red marks that could only be blood. Alone. A single shoe and nothing more, spit out as if it were a part not worth eating. The shoe dropped slowly, twirling as it tumbled through the air, and without a sound disappeared into a clump of leafless trees.

 

What does the word “piloted” mean?

Why is the cloud described as “scheming”?

Why did Nell think there was blood on the shoe?

Why were Max and Nell friends?

Why did Nell wish that her eyes were closed?

 

If you fancy reading the rest of chapter 1 and finding out more about this exciting story, click here.

 

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