Something Wicked This Way Comes begins in October, "a rare month for boys." By October, school is already well underway, and young children cannot wait for Halloween. But this year Halloween cannot wait either. It arrives on October 24, at three in the morning, when James Nightshade is thirteen years, eleven months, and twenty-three days old, and his neighbor on Oak Street, William Halloway, is thirteen years, eleven months, and twenty-four days old. The next week will change their lives forever.
A lightning-rod salesman walks along the streets of Green Town, Illinois. In the distance behind him a great storm can be seen. He sees Jim Nightshade and Will Halloway lying on the lawn in front of Will's house. The man talks to them and tells them that they should take a lightning rod, because one of their houses will be hit during the storm. He tells them that his name is Tom Fury, and that he helps people gain protection from storms. His lightning rods are covered in strange symbols and words from many different languages to ward off lightning. Tom Fury predicts that Jim's house will be hit and urges Jim to put up the lightning rod. After the man leaves, Will convinces Jim that the protection of the rod is more valuable than the thrill of lightning striking his house, a conclusion Jim does not fully agree with.
After supper, the boys run to the library. At the steps Jim thinks he hears music, but it quickly fades. Inside the library, Will sees the old-looking janitor with white hair who happens to be his father, Charles William Halloway. Will realizes that his father is like an older version of himself. He remembers waking up late at night, seeing the library light on, and knowing that his father was still there, reading. Charles Halloway recommends books on dinosaurs for Jim, Will chooses some adventure novels, and the boys leave the library. Jim angrily points out that the storm has not yet arrived. He wants to see the lightning. Will assures Jim that the storm will arrive by morning. The boys run home.
Charles Halloway understands why the boys run and feels an urge to run with them. He thinks about the Will and Jim, and wonders why people are the way they are. He sees the boys as representatives of two different types. Jim will always see the blows coming and dodge them, while Will will be the one who gets hit and does not understand why the blows come at all. Jim knows why, not with his mind, but with his body. In his mind, Charles Halloway sees Jim breaking two windows because Will is around and Will breaking one because Jim is there. He thinks that in friendship each person tries to mold the other. Then he leaves the library and goes to the saloon for his nightly drink, not for him but for the boy that he once was.
Something Wicked This Way Comes begins with foreshadowing. We learn from the very beginning that Will and Jim are going to be changed forever during a week when Halloween comes early. The lightning rod salesman, Tom Fury, also seems to be foreshadowing some great event. Their is a storm following him, and he predicts that Jim's house will be struck by lightning. While such a prediction could seem like a bad omen, Jim sees it as added excitement. In fact, Jim does not want to put up the lightning rod because he thinks that would spoil the fun. Will convinces Jim to do it anyway. Whatever is coming, it does not scare Jim.
At the library, Will's father seems startling to his son. Charles Halloway is described as an old man, something that separates him greatly from the youthful Will and Jim. Yet he also gets along well with the boys and understands their desires well. After the boys leave the library, Jim shows that he is impatient for action, and he seems bored with everyday occurrences. But Will assures him that he will not have to wait long for the storm he eagerly anticipates. Once again there is strong foreshadowing indicating that something incredible is about to happen.
Charles Halloway ponders his son and his son's best friend, and his thoughts show that he is not as far removed from the youths as he seems. He remembers what it was like to run wild and free, and understands why they need to be that way. But he also understands more, and he sees in the two boys certain fundamental characteristics that shape them one way or another. He can tell that Jim is an adventurer, a risk-taker who understands the dangers of life without really thinking about them. And he also knows that Will does not understand those same dangers because he questions them and thinks about them. Charles Halloway knows that Will at some point will be hurt by blows that Jim is able to dodge. But he thinks that friends shape each other, he feels that Will and Jim are a good pair.
Charles Halloway goes to the bar nightly for one drink. He is a conflicted man, and he needs to calm down the boy inside of him. Charles Halloway is not content, for he looks to quiet the part of him that resembles Jim and Will, even though he fondly remembers the days when he was like them. It is almost as if those memories are painful for him and he wishes to divorce himself from the child he once was. But the youthful part of him is too strong for that to be possible, and it is clear that Charles Halloway lives a life of mixed emotions. He is a man, not a boy, yet this seems to be a false distinction, for one survives inside of the other.