St. Joshua’s Academy: Chapter Two
Martha’s instinct clicked into place as she took the mental path towards practicality and processing her thoughts, instead of the path to panic as it threatened to devour her, the ground seemed to be coming toward both inconceivably quickly and in painful slow motion. She had twirled her body to the side to see what was going on before the fall and so her trajectory would mean hitting the ground on her right side, this was better than on her back or on head so that was a good start. She could try to angle her feet down so that she could roll once she hit the ground, they always did that in movies and she was sure that there was something about it dispersing the force enough to reduce injury that must hold some scientific weight. Her eyes caught a black line slither past her face as she realised she was now level with the other end of the rope, it was still attached at the top of the wall so if she grabbed it she might be able to swing forward and around to the right to grab on to the lower, medium wall and then climb down. There was a crash mat at the bottom of the medium wall as it was technically classed as a learning wall and so even if she fell again it would be a much better landing. Her intuition took over and with visions of George in the Jungle she thrust her hand out and grabbed the other end of the rope, whilst simultaneously looping her other hand on the rope attached to her belt, her body straightened in mid air before she hit the learner wall with a thud and a whoosh, the air in her lungs was forcefully expelled as she bounced off the surface and was propelled outwards into the middle of the room. Hovering above the crash mats, but barely, she let go of the ropes in her hand and glided feet first down to the floor. With another whoosh and a gasp for air she made a haphazard attempt at a drop and roll and slid head first off the edge of the mat and onto the hard rubbery floor with a loud crunch.
Blinking lazily she looked up at two be-legginged legs, taking longer than she should to realise they were attached to her, and a sea of faces all of which were spinning around in cruel circles and making her feel dizzy and sick. She felt very sleepy and thought that a nap was probably a good idea, her eyelids fluttered as black spots began to swim in her vision. Before she fell in to a concussed doze she saw a shock of nut brown spikes and vivid green eyes rush towards her, concern etched on every corner of his traitorous face, and then the blackness sucked her into a dreamless, hollow sleep.
The distant echo of someone coughing filled her ears, a throbbing sensation permeated her entire skull, the sharp tang of disinfectant and the softer aroma of washing powder invaded her nostrils and the light, filtered a dark pinky-orange through her closed eyelids, began to blur into white as they struggled to open. The high, beamed ceiling of the Sanatorium came in to view in between stuttering blinks and she was aware of someone sitting next to her, they smelt of peppermint and fresh air and roses — Ms. Phillips her groggy mind prompted her. She made to turn her head but couldn’t, a thick ring of foam surrounding encased her neck and supported her heavy head, her hands shot up to take it off, or at least they would have shot up if they didn’t feel like leaden lumps on the ends of spindly arms.
“Martha, try not to struggle dear you are perfectly OK. The collar is just a precaution.” Ms. Phillips’ soft voice murmured beside her.
“I’m gonna kill that Jacob Jenner when I see him” Martha croaked.
Ms. Phillips chuckled as Martha winced, her use of her vocal cords bringing a fresh wave of pain through her head. There was a prickling sensation in her arm and suddenly Martha was back in the land where blackness prevailed, this time accompanied by vivid dreams in which she was running to escape, from what she could not tell but it was massive a dark and all consuming.
Martha had a strong sense of déjà vu as Gene Kelly coaxed her awake and she shot her arm out into the cold air to shut him up. She felt groggy and disconnected from her body as she stuck her leg out of the covers to test the air. Her foot connected with something and she heard a sharp intake of breath which she returned in kind and sat bolt upright in her bed. Except that she wasn’t in her bed, she wasn’t in the San either. Ms. Phillips was at her side however and she realised that she had just kicked her head of house, “Miss I am so sorry.” Martha mumbled.
“That is quite all right Martha, and why don’t you call me Claire for now.”
“Um OK.” Martha responded, if somewhat confused by the prompt for informality.
“Martha, what do you remember of your fall?”
Martha frowned and tried to piece together the goings on the day previous, she assumed the day previous as the dawn light was filtering in from high slit windows and if it was the next day it was her birthday today, she was sixteen. She groaned as the realisation caught up with her and Claire looked at her expectantly.
“Oh, sorry I actually just realised its my birthday. As for yesterday?” Claire affirmed her suspicion of time passing with a nod and so Martha continued “I remember that I need to kill Jake for dropping me the little weasel.”
“Anything else? Do you remember why he dropped you? Did you see anyone…suspicious? Do you remember how you got yourself out of falling thirty foot on to a hard floor?”
“Errr…No? No and I dunno, it just kind of happened?” Claire paused and took in what Martha was saying, trying to decide what to say next.
“Martha, there aren’t many fift…sixteen year olds who would have managed what you did. The headmaster is in a total tizz that a student nearly died, he’s harping on about health and safety and threatening to cancel all forms of P.E. save tennis and football.”
“Noo! Miss he can’t, they are the worst ones! It was only an accident and I am fine!” Martha cut in, at the same time attempting to stand, wobbling around on one foot and huffing back down into a seated position on the end of the bed clutching her spinning head.
“Don’t worry about that for now. Do you like climbing?”
“Yes, I love it!”
“And what about shooting?”
“Sure, beats Tennis” Martha grimaced.
“Martha, you have an astonishing record, you are proficient in not only climbing and shooting but at kayaking, sailing, coasteering, skiing, horse riding and gymnastics although dance doesn’t seem to be your forte.” She said consulting what looked like an iPad but thinner and more translucent in design. “You can read and write latin and can apparently swear in ten different languages including Russian…” Martha blushed at this comment, fairly embarrassed if not confused as to how and why Ms. Phillips knew this last fact about her. “…You are top of your class in photography, drama and religious studies. Geography and history are perhaps not as good as they good be and you have an aptitude for leadership after successfully winning the house cup for drama with a house that is for the most part purely academic and not at all artistic. My point is, we have been watching you for a little while, you are self sufficient and have more gumption than many your age, we had thought it best to wait until your school days were behind you however the events of yesterday have given us a premature nudge if you will.” She paused dramatically and looked at Martha meaningfully, Martha was entirely confused and wondering if in fact Ms. Phillips had been the one to hit her head when the door behind her swung open and a tall gentleman, for he was undoubtedly a gentleman, a smart tailored three piece suit and round metal framed glasses balanced on the end of his long nose, strolled into the room tapping his cane on the stone floor as he went. He stopped in front of an agape Martha and surveyed her expectantly.
“Miss, I hope you don’t mind me asking but what the hello kitty is going on?” Martha stuttered. The man with the long nose flared his nostrils and she thought he might be getting ready to shout at her for being so rude to Ms. Phillips, when he let out a loud and blasting guffaw. Martha looked from each of the grown ups even more confused than she had been before.
“Martha, may I introduce Agent J, Director of the Covert Conundrum Bureau. J, this is Martha Silvester-Wild, the young lady I told you about”. Agent J, proffered a hand at Claire’s introduction, Martha however was having a moment of enlightenment.
“Ha, ha. You nearly got me! Annabel you can come out now! This is a very funny birthday joke, although I am not sure Mum will be impressed when she finds out you pulled this stunt on me when I have a head injury. Miss I can’t believe you would go along with this!” Martha was back on her feet now and pacing a small circle around the two adults in the room, both of whom were looking at her with a cocked eyebrow and a look of consideration.
“Martha, I am not sure what you think is happening and I know it is a lot to take in but we really do work for CCB and we would like you to join us as a junior agent.” Claire persisted.
“Miss! Give it up, my sister is always winding me up about how I am doing ‘spy training’. This joke is too on the nose even for her!” She giggled, still looking around and expecting her sister Annabel to jump out at any second, her headache all but forgotten.
“Perhaps, I might offer a hand in convincing you…” the gentleman introduce as J said in a soft gravelly voice which betrayed no discernible accent. He reached into his pocket and produced a small round glass ball, it was a clear marble for all intents and purposes and he dropped the cold sphere into Martha’s outstretched palm. She rolled it around unimpressed. The heat of her hand began to permeate the ball and it slowly changed from crystal clear to a misty red. It must be a mood stone she thought, like those mood rings she loved to get in the seaside trinket shops for a pound. But as she stared at it and the ever deepening colour she realised it was vibrating and, quite astonishingly, becoming larger and larger. There was a popping noise and the room was engulfed in a cloud of thick, red smoke. Martha squawked, like so many of the girls in her year that she hated, and ducked down onto the floor instinctively rolling under the bed. Martha knew that hot air rose and cold air sank and so avoiding the smoke by getting to the ground she knew she would be able to find her way out more quickly. Before she could make her way towards the door however there was a loud clicking and then a whirring as a blast of cold air came from all around her, the gaps in the stoned floor blasted a frosty gust into her face and forced her to roll out and up from her hiding place just as the last of the red smoke disappeared into concealed vents in the ceiling.
“This is bananas, are you sure you aren’t winding me up?” Martha said hopefully.
“Why don’t we go for a walk” J said as he turned and strolled back out of the door. Martha followed him down a corridor that she didn’t recognise before turning the corner to a dead end. She went to turn around and go back the way she had come when he pulled out a harmonica from his inside pocket of his blazer, she was just thinking this was an odd time to start playing when he slotted it into a gap in the brick work she hadn’t noticed, at about his eye height, and pressed each end simultaneously. A red light flicked inside the mouthpiece of the harmonica and he levelled his eyes to the light. There was a click and a quiet rumble like giant stone cogs turning and the wall moved backwards, opening up a space in the floor in front of them large enough for three people to clamber inside. A platform raised to the top of the hole and the grinding sound stopped. With a feeling of unease she followed J on to the platform and looked expectantly at Claire. Claire smiled reassuringly and unfixed the harmonica passing it to J, as soon as she removed it the wall began to grind back into place and she was suddenly aware that she was plummeting downwards, blue and white light flashed past her face as the she, J and the platform gained speed, faster and faster, down into the ground.