St. Joshua’s Academy: Chapter One

The bright morning light trickled over Martha’s bed as her consciousness brimmed to the surface, with a groan she burried her head under her pillow and tried to ignore the intrusive arrival of day.

‘Good morning, good morning…’ her alarm began to sing at her, she used to think Gene Kelly would make mornings easier but she was wrong. Reaching a well practised hand out into the cold air she swiped her alarm to silence and huffed a defeated breath, peeping her nose out of her cocoon like a mole emerging from its hole she sniffed indignantly and stuck a foot out to test the idea of getting up. As conscious thought started ticking through her mind, the realisation that it was Wednesday fluttered into her head — on Wednesday’s there was bacon.

Ten minutes later Martha was dressed in her grey and green uniform of pleated skirt, white shirt and blazer, had scrubbed the sleep out of her eyes and, if somewhat haphazardly, piled her hair into a messy bun atop her head. She shuffled out into the cold morning air and was at the canteen in less than ten long paces, with another five and a shuffle she was in the queue being served a soft warm roll, packed full with steaming salty bacon-y goodness, by Mary her favoured dinner lady due to her generous portion size distribution. Life was good today, tomorrow would probably be a different story however, tomorrow was her birthday, tomorrow she turned sixteen and was officially an adult. Shuddering the thought away as she plopped herself down at an empty table, opened her mouth and brought her nashers down on the butty in her hand. Her lips were instantly coated in the soft powdery flour as the delicious smoked bacon attacked her taste buds. She let out a sigh and licked her lips gratefully.

As she was finishing the last morsel and considering the level of grossness that would be licking each finger completely clean, her usual breakfast crew rumbled in to sit around her. She was very thankful for the group of mis-matched boys that surrounded her, she knew that once she made it back to her room the mirror would reveal what a terrible bundle of frizz and blotchiness her face was, but the motley crew never made her feel anything less than one of the lads. There was Gerald with his shock of red hair and wonky nose, Jake with his stylishly quaffed nut brown hair and haphazard demeanour and Kai her flamboyant bestie who always looked so well put together no matter the time or place.

“You are down early Marth!” Kai said with mock shock and a wiggle of his artfully tweezed eyebrows.

“Bacon was calling me” was all she said in response. They all nodded in unison at her statement.

“Are you coming to climbing today?” Jake asked.

“Is it Wednesday? Of course I am!” Martha rolled her eyes at the silly question, yet every week without fail she knew Jake would ask the same thing.

“Yeah I know, I was just checking I guess.”

“First I have to go get my choir boy on, see you in a bit lads” she said as she pushed herself up from the table and waddled with a satisfied air back to her room.

She had of course been right about the mirror, the cruel slab of glass reflected her worst fears back at her as she sighed and tried to brush her hair into compliance. Her hair was long, right down to the base of her back, it had always been this way and she had never had the inclination or the desire to cut it — much to her sister’s dismay. She French plaited it into a thick rope and tied the ends. She plastered diprobase onto her delicate face and applied a thin layer of mascara and that was her beautifying over with. She had never been much of a girly girl, she wasn’t sure she ever would be, Martha was a practical sort.

At the age of four she was selling lemonade by the glass to the neighbours on her road in the small village where she had grown up, by eight she was making apple crumble using the apples from the tree at the bottom of the garden and selling those and charging extra for a hand delivery service. At nine she was due to play an evacuee in her school play, unsatisfied with the costume offered to her, she set to work making her own dress from a red and white striped vintage fabric. At the age of ten she lost the best lady in her life, her Nana. Being the stoic sort she was the one to comfort her older sister as she cried at the funeral. At eleven and having inherited a sum, she turned to her sister and said, “Do you think I should go to St. Joshua’s Academy?” To which her sister replied “You have to do what is in your heart, but yes I think it is a better school than any around here and you would get a much finer education than I had.” And so off she had trotted to St. Joshua’s, trunk wheeling behind her small frame as she waved good bye to her parents who made sure she knew that they would only be two hours away by car should she want to come home.

Martha loved many things about boarding school life, the unusual subjects like latin and shooting and the more conventional ones too like drama and music, dorm living however was not one of them. Girls were tricky, they could be hard work and terribly emotional not to mention clingy and squawky! There was one thing she valued above food (which held the top spot in her heart most of the time) and that was her sleep, sharing with other girls who liked to squeal and bounce and chatter late into the night had been the hardest change to come to terms with. Luckily for her she had always gotten on with those older than her, so when she had arrived to complete year eleven her head of house Ms. Phillips had turned to her with a twinkle in her eye and said,”Martha, I am so sorry but I have had to put you in the room with the spare bed for day students, I hope you won’t be too lonely.”

The bell reverberated from the chapel across the lawn, signalling the beginning of the day and Martha took a final glance at her sorry reflection before donning her bag, tightening her tie and heading over to the chapel itself.

Wednesday’s were one of Martha’s best days of the week,  not only was there bacon, there was chapel choir, music, photography and climbing. Aside from the very silly red and white tunic that she had to wear even for practice, choir meant singing and she loved singing. The rest of the day passed in a blur until the time came for one of her favourite subjects, climbing. A quick change into her black leggings and hoody and a short mini-bus ride later she was in the climbing centre. Her tethering partner was Jake and as she hooked on her gear she saw him already waiting for her over at her favourite wall. It was the tallest in the centre and slightly tilted so always took all her strength and cunning to climb.

“Do you want to go first or shall I?” She asked as she chalked her hands and fastened her fingerless gloves around her wrists.

“It’s OK, you go first” Jake smiled back at her.  He didn’t need to offer twice, silently she clipped her harness to the rope with her pink carabiner. She stood at the base of the wall and glanced up, assessing her first few moves before reaching up purposefully with her right arm and pulling herself confidently on to the grey scratchy surface.

Before long she was half way up the wall and her arms and legs were tingling in that warm, exerted way and her breath came in deep steady huffs. Climbing felt so exhilarating, she didn’t particularly like heights but as long as she was attached to something solid she had no reason to fear falling. She glanced back down to Jake and saw him muttering to himself, his eyes darting nervously around the room “What are you doing?” She called down at him.

“Oh…Erm just…singing?” He said it like a question he was expecting her to confirm.

“Well, can you sing when I am not dangling from the end of a rope five metres in the air?” She joked?

“Sssorry…yes…of course.”

Was that a blush she saw on his cheek? What a weirdo she thought, rolling her eyes and turning back to her task at hand. Right hand, right foot, left hand, left foot, she repeated the process as she carefully chartered her course to the top. Just as she was reaching the last few feet of climbing she heard a ruckus below her, to her dismay a tall man dressed from head to toe in black had zeroed in on Jake, with a venomous scowl across his pale face. From her perspective they looked to be having a heated debate. She was too high up to hear what was being said and a mild panic began to flutter in her belly as the man attempted to grab the rope away from Jake, the rope began to thrash around like an angry snake and the reverberations travelled up the length, setting Martha’s balance off kilter. Irritated, Martha began weighing up her options, would help or make worse the situation if she were to shout down? Maybe she should detach completely and free climb? She shuddered at the thought. At that moment Billy, one of the climbing instructors, started making his way hurriedly across the floor, his eyes assessing the disruption and the danger, Martha’s heart stuttered in relief. Unfortunately for her, before he could get there, the black clad vagabond, now clutching her the rope,  gave it one final tug and out from Jake’s grip before letting it go completely as he shoved Jake with the force of his whole body. Martha began to wobble, her fingers straining to hold on and suddenly the air was rushing up around her…she was falling.

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