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A man selling lightning rods arrives in Green Town, Illinois in October. Behind him, lightning storms are raging.
The salesman arrives at a front lawn with incorrectly cut grass.
The salesman realizes the grass looks wrong because two boys "of a like size and general shape" (1.3) are lying on the grass carving twig whistles.
He greets the boys and asks if their families are home. The boys shake their heads. The man asks if they have any money. They shake their heads again.
The salesman walks around, sniffs the air, and returns to the boys. He asks one for his name.
The blond-haired boy replies, "William Halloway."
The salesman asks the other boy, who pauses before replying. This boy has wild dark hair and green eyes. He answers that his name is "Jim Nightshade."
The salesman nods.
Will explains that he was born one minute before midnight on October thirtieth, while Jim was born one minute after midnight on October thirty-first. Jim chimes in: "Halloween."
The speaker notes that the boys' voices indicate that they've told the story all their lives – of their mothers running to the hospital to give birth minutes apart to one fair boy, one dark. Each year Will lights candles on a cake at one minute to midnight and Jim blows them out one minute after midnight.
Will relays the story to the salesman while Jim assents silently.
The salesman looks from one boy to another and asks about money. He reaches into his bag and pulls out an iron rod. He offers it to the boys for free, warning that one of their houses is going to be struck by lightning.
Will darts forward to grasp the rod. He exclaims that it is "funny-looking."
Jim turns his head to look as well. The rod is covered by mysterious symbols. Jim points one out as being Egyptian and another as Phoenician. He asks the salesman why.
The salesman responds that the different languages enable the rod to beat any type of thunder and lightning, no matter the nationality.
Will asks the salesman which house is in danger.
Jim asks how the salesman can know lightning will strike the area.
The salesman responds that he has "a nose, an eye, an ear." He tells the boys that lightning will strike tonight. Jim is cheered by the news.
We learn the salesman's name is Tom Fury. He examines both Will and Jim's houses before telling the boys that Jim's house will be the one struck by lightning.
Jim looks proud.
The salesman tells the boys he has to get going, and warns Jim to hammer the lightning rod into the roof, otherwise he will be dead in the morning.
On that cheerful note, the salesman leaves.
Jim and Will sniff the air to see if they have the salesman's gift of smelling electricity.
Will tells Jim to nail in the lightning rod.
Jim replies that he has no intention of putting in the rod.
Will cajoles him, finally running to grab a ladder. He tells Jim to think of his mother.
Jim follows Will up to the roof. The boys agree the air smells fresh and raw up there.