Chapter 1 begins with the approach of Tom Fury, a lightning-rod salesman. He is somewhat less than ordinary, characterized as wearing "storm-dark clothes" and a "cloud-colored hat pulled down over his eyes." He brings with him Bradbury's foreboding statement that "somewhere, a storm like a great beast with terrible teeth" is on its way. This storm, as well as any references made to it, must be carefully considered by the reader, for the impending storm is later realized to be the carnival itself. Tom Fury attempts to sell Jim and Will a strangely designed lightning rod, one etched with strange languages, pictures, and designs. This rod, the salesman declares, will protect the boys from the coming storm. He has, however, one boy specifically whom he wishes to have the lightning rod — Jim Nightshade. Only reluctantly, though, does Jim attach the rod to the roof of his home. Jim's Halloween birthday is of significance in Tom Fury's choice of a victim, and Bradbury will elaborate on this idea later in the novel.
With the arrival of the salesman, the sky suddenly becomes very "old," and the air "blows grey." The rest of the action in this novel occurs against a background of dusk or darkness. This setting of darkness is most important. It serves as a metaphor of the spiritual malaise for which the characters must seek a remedy, and it establishes the emotional atmosphere that will surround the carnival itself once it arrives.