The Moon Stealers and the Quest for the Silver Bough

The Yorkshire town of Parsley Bottom has a problem…

Peter Crisp, a boy with an unusual gift of being able to see things that others cannot, goes missing after spending the night in a graveyard. Two of Peter's school friends, join forces with a Knight of King Arthur to attempt to find him but come across some mysterious engravings which propel them on an adventure beyond their imagination.

Meanwhile MI6 operative Steven Knight is sent from London to investigate a meteor landing site, but Steven is advised by his own boss not to trust the puppeteers that hold the strings to his investigation. Within the core of the meteor is an alien bacteria that evolves at an alarming rate that not only puts Steven's life at risk, but the entire human race.

By unravelling ancient codes and riddles the children journey within the bowels of Edinburgh Castle as they attempt to find the key to Peter’s disappearance. The children not only need to save Peter, they need to save the world while they’re at

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5. The Statue of Saint Vitus

Parsley Bottom Church was not far from Max's house so it didn’t take them long to reach the hanging gate that led into the graveyard. They lay their bikes on the sloped grass verge off the road and looked over the small stone wall.

'Doesn’t look like anyone’s here,' said Max.

'No,’ replied Joe. ‘It’s very quiet isn’t it? Why is it that graveyards always seem to be so quiet? I can’t even hear any birds.'

A cold stale smell mixed with the earthy scent of damp decaying leaves drifted across the graveyard towards Joe and Max, heavy like a sheet of fog floating across the sea. Joe leant on his hands as he tried to peer further over the wall. The evening frost had melted in the morning sun leaving the soft moss cold and wet against his skin. He quickly removed his hands from the wall and wiped them on his jeans.

'Peter!!!' shouted Joe, his voice echoed off the side of the church, 'It’s Joe Allen. Where are you?'

A rustling sound from the grass verge on the opposite side of the lane made Joe and Max turn around suddenly, thinking that Peter was behind them, but they couldn’t see anyone.

'Come on,' said Joe as he started to push the gate open. The bottom edge of the gate bit into the overgrown ground leaving a deep scar in the mossy earth. Joe entered first, followed more slowly and nervously by Max.

'Peter!' Joe shouted again. 'Are you sure he was coming here?' he asked Max as he constantly looked around him, expecting Peter to jump out.

'Definitely. Look over there.' Max pointed to the corner of a blanket poking out from behind a gravestone. They walked round only to find an untidy bundle of fabric made up of what looked like a blanket and sleeping bag. 'If Peter’s not been here then someone else certainly was.'

'If that is Peter’s sleeping bag, what’s it covered in? Look at that!' Joe prodded a silvery covering of slime with the end of a stick. It seemed to be all over the lower part of the sleeping bag as well as around the bottom of some of the gravestones. 'It looks like the frothy spit from a dog’s mouth.'

'Maybe he brought his dog with him?'

'I don’t think he has one,' replied Joe.

They followed the slimy trail towards the side of the church nearest to the river. The ground around here appeared to have been dug recently and there were scratch marks in the mud as if a dog had been digging in the wet soil. Some of the ground had been moved away from the lower stones in the church wall and around the edges of this an opening had been created. The slime appeared to be thicker in the entrance to the opening.

Joe leant down and tried to peer into the hole but the smell that came from inside was harsh and felt like it was burning the back of his nose. He quickly pulled his head away and held the collar of his shirt over his mouth and nose to prevent himself from breathing in any more.

'Could you see anything?', asked Max from a safe distance behind.

'No,' said Joe, 'but it smells really bad in there and it’s too small for anyone to climb into. Maybe a fox has got trapped and died,' he added unconvinced. They both turned away and started to walk back towards the bundle of clothes they had found behind the gravestone, not realising that they were being watched.

‘Look over there,’ said Max to Joe, ‘what’s that?’ He pointed towards a brown shape with a red stripe near to the thick wooden door of the church. They both moved towards it, bypassing the jumble of blankets near the gravestone. Max was beginning to feel uncomfortable and guilty about being there. He looked all around the graveyard hoping that no one had noticed them; the last thing he wanted was to get into trouble.

‘Shouldn’t we go back and tell your dad?’, Max said hopefully.

As they approached the brown shape, it began to look more recognisable as a teddy bear. Joe picked it up.

Dudley,’ he read the name on the label that stuck out from behind the red scarf on its neck. ‘Mrs Crisp said that there was bedding and his teddy bear missing from his room at home.’

‘Well, Peter was definitely here then. Can we go now Joe? Graveyards give me the creeps,’ Joe asked, trying not to think about all of the dead bodies under the ground.

‘Wait, the church doors are open. He may have changed his mind and gone to sleep inside instead of staying out here all night.’ The grain on the old wooden doors was worn deep and cut into the wood like claw marks on a tree. It was studded with black iron rivets, some of which had gone rusty and leaked a dark stain in the wood beneath them. There was a small plastic sign screwed onto the door above the handle telling them that the church was closed and that visitors should go to Manor Cottage to obtain the key. But today the door appeared to be already open.

Joe pushed against the heavy door which, despite its weight, swung smoothly inwards. There was a metallic grinding from the hinge and the metal knocker made a loud clang as it swung back and hit against the door, echoing inside the empty church.

Joe took a step inside the stone porch of the church where the air seemed cold and slightly damp. ‘Come on. Let’s check in here. If there’s no sign of him we’ll go,’ he said to Max who was still standing outside.

‘Are you sure we’re allowed in there, the sign says it’s closed? It’s not a Sunday or anything, so maybe we shouldn’t go in. What if someone finds us. They may think we’re vandalising it or something. My dad would kill me!’

‘But the door’s unlocked. Don’t worry so much. We’re only trying to find Peter,’ Joe reassured Max as he pushed the door shut behind them before opening the inner door to the church.

Max took small steps behind Joe who now stood behind rows and rows of wooden benches. On the table in front of Max were piles of hymn books stacked neatly, as well as an empty metal collection plate and some printed pieces of paper with information about the Church. The air inside the tall space smelt stale and dusty.

‘Peter,’ shouted Joe once again, but slightly quieter than he had outside.

‘Careful where you’re standing,’ Max warned Joe as he looked down at the floor. Beneath Joe’s trainers was a similar clear slime on the floor to that which they had seen around the hole and sleeping bag outside.

‘It goes down here,’ said Joe as he pointed to a trail of slime that led down between the benches. ‘Come on.’

Max lifted up the bottom of his shoes to make sure he hadn’t walked in anything then followed, being much more cautious about where he stood than Joe, and gingerly stepped around the trail of slime towards the far end of the church.

The giant empty cavern of the inside of the church made each sound echo all around them. Occasionally they would hear the odd creak or crack from the wooden beams supporting the roof above which would make them look up nervously. Stone carved faces looked back down at the two boys disapprovingly and the stained glass window at the far end of the church cast twisted coloured shapes onto the stone walls.

The slime looked like it had been dragged along the smooth stone floor towards a separate part of the building to the right of the main length of the church which is where Joe now stood in front of a large stone statue. A lot more slime had collected around the grey stone base and above was a statue of a young boy towering over Joe. Around the boy’s head soft faced angels flew weightlessly, frozen in stone. Looking down from the angels Joe noticed that the boy seemed to have the lower part of his body inside a round pot with solid stone flames licking up from around the bottom.

‘Saint Vitus,’ said Max reading from the brass plaque at the base of the statue. ‘Who’s he? And why is he in a cooking pot?’

Joe looked down at the slime around the base of the statue, ignoring Max’s questions.

‘Anyway, it looks like Peter’s not here either,’ said Max.

‘Why would there be a lot more of that slime around this statue and not the others?’ thought Joe aloud as he crouched down to take a closer look.

‘I don’t know. Maybe some dogs came into the church and dribbled on the floor?’ Max was getting nervous again and wanted to go as soon as possible, so he just said the first thing that entered his head. ‘Maybe they all sleep in here or were waiting for something.’

‘It all seems a bit strange to me. It smells like the slime from around that hole outside. And anyway, how would a dog open the front door?’

‘Well, someone must have let the dogs in and maybe they followed the person to here? What are you doing now?’

Joe had started to climb onto the stone base, but his trainers were slippery from standing on the slime so he kicked them off. The loud slapping sound they made as they hit the floor rebounded off the church walls making Max jump and nervously look around. Joe managed to get his left foot onto the thick lip of the cooking pot and by pushing his back up against the church wall he levered his right leg up and around the statue. He was now standing behind the statue with his feet on the edge of the pot and his arms around the neck and shoulders of the stone boy. First he looked down towards Max, who was now telling him that standing on statues was a really bad idea and God would probably punish them both for it, but then he looked around the statue itself. There was a mark on the wall just above his head. It looked like a badly drawn circle with several lines sticking out from the edge. He traced his finger in the shallow scratch then noticed that there were also two scratched letters inside the circle. Although there was a slight shadow cast underneath the wall, Joe was sure that the letters were P and C.

Where Joe’s own feet were balanced on the statue he could see some muddy marks and down at the base of the cooking pot behind the statue, was what looked like a metallic chocolate bar wrapper catching a little of the light that came through one of the small leaded windows above.

‘Peter’s definitely been here, his initials are scratched on the wall and there’s a chocolate wrapper down here.’

‘The wrapper could have been there for ages,’ replied Max.

‘But there are muddy foot marks here too, and the mud’s still soft.’ Joe almost slipped off the statue as he heard the clang of the metal door knocker bang against the outer door.

Someone was entering the church.

‘Come on,’ said Max in a quiet shout as Joe leapt off the statue to land next to his friend. He quickly grabbed his trainers from the floor then they both crept to peep past the side wall and look down the length of the church towards the entrance. Joe could almost feel the pulse in his neck pumping so hard that it made his head shake. They couldn’t see anyone but they could hear that someone was now inside the church by the loud wheezing breaths they took and the knocking sound of a wooden stick against the stone floor.

‘What are we going to do? I told you we weren’t allowed in here.’

Joe continued to look down the church. A figure of an old man slowly walked into view; he was dressed in a neat brown suit and had a white goatee beard that rested in a point on his chest.

‘Who’s he?’, whispered Max into Joe’s ear.

‘I don’t know, but Mrs Crisp said that she had seen a white bearded man watching them. Do you think that could be him?’

A faint whisper echoed near to where Joe and Max were.

 ‘Pssst.’

Joe looked at Max with a confused look on his face and silently mouthed the words, ‘what was that?’ Max shrugged his shoulders. He had heard it too.

‘Hey!’ The whisper was slightly louder and Joe realised where it was coming from. On the opposite side to their hiding-place was a small wooden door where a red-haired girl was signalling for them to come over to her.

‘Who’s she?’ asked Max.

‘Whoever she is, I think I’d rather go with her. That must be another way out.’

To get to the door would mean crossing the centre of the length of the church, where no benches would hide them. Joe had an idea. He crouched down until he could see all the way to the other end of the church by looking underneath all of the benches. If he could see the feet of the person who had just come in, he would know where he was and which direction he was facing so that they could cross to the red-headed girl.

They waited.

He could see the feet at the table with the hymn books on but then they shuffled and disappeared behind a thick stone pillar. A few seconds later they reappeared at the hymn book bench again but a sheet of paper fluttered down to land on the floor next to the feet. Joe froze. If the person bent down low enough, they would be able to look back at Joe and their hiding-place would be discovered. He held his breath not daring to move. With an obvious effort, the person slowly knelt down and rested their body weight on a long bony hand whilst the other scratched at the corner of the piece of paper to make it easier to lift.

This was their chance. Quietly Joe and Max crawled quickly along the length of the bench across the open central area and back behind the benches on the other side of the church. On their knees they then crawled towards the red-haired girl who opened the door a little wider to let them through.

Back at the hymn book table the man suddenly stopped wheezing and lifted his head above the bench to look intently towards the small door that Joe and Max had just passed through. The face was old and wrinkled with small blue eyes staring out from underneath the thick white eyebrows and, despite the appearance of the aged body, there was an inner strength that seemed to radiate from it. He took a long sniff of the air before standing upright and following the trail of slime down the centre of the church towards the statue.

Joe and Max ran down a narrow dark passageway, towards a light that came from another small door that led outside. No one dared say anything until they were out in the fresh air, then Max let out a long gasp of nervous breath.

‘Thanks,’ said Joe, who was still holding his trainers, to the red-headed girl.

‘You're welcome,’ she said smiling. ‘I’m Scarlet. I saw you looking around the graveyard from up in that tree. That’s my dad’s land over there,’ she pointed to the wooded area across the river. ‘You looked like you had lost something, so I thought I’d come over to see if I can help. What’s wrong with your trainers?’

Joe looked down at them. The rubber soles under the trainers seemed to be melting. Carefully he scraped them against the side of a gravestone leaving a trail of soft black rubber on the edge.

‘It looks like they’ve melted,’ Scarlet said.

Joe lifted them up to sniff them then pulled his face away from the acidic smell.

‘It must be the slime you stood in,’ Max said to Joe, who had now begun wiping them on some wet grass. All that was left of the sole was a thin layer of rubber where, in patches, it was bare to the white lining on the inside.

‘This is getting stranger all the time,’ said Joe, ‘and where is Peter?’

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