Set in the 1950s, Thomas is a nervous eleven year old boy starting at his new boarding school. Every new boy is given someone older to look after him, but Thomas isn't sure what kind of 'looking after' mysterious Jackson will do.
The first day of term is always bad. It’s even worse if it’s the first day of the year. But the most horrific is the first day of a new school. The happy days of the local primary school are over. As smoke from the approaching train floods the station, you focus your attention to the ground. No matter how many times your brother told you the stories he told you last year aren’t true, you’re still praying the breakfast your mother forced down you will stay put because those new shoes may never be that shiny again.
I thought back to the summer. ‘I’ll protect you. It’s not too bad,’ my brother insisted ‘honest.’ I could always trust Zach but now I wasn’t sure. He used to delight in telling me tales of hellish masters and blood-thirsty prefects. When I received my letter of acceptance to his school, he absent mindedly launched into a gruesome story of the boy who disappeared one night. My mother had to nudge him and point at my heart-broken expression to make him stop. And Zach was a Lower Fifth Former, so when would I ever see him?
After dinner on my first terrifying day, we were called, one by one, to Mr Newbury’s study, who was the Head of Fourth Form. I knew about this. Each Lower Fourth Former was given an Upper Fourth Former and told he is our guide to the school for the first year. This is balderdash. The reason for these boys was that the Head Master hadn’t the time to cane Lower Fourth Formers if they misbehaved, so he got Upper Fourth Formers. Mine was called Jackson Oatridge.
‘I am pleased to meet you, Thomas,’ He held out his hand and I took it gingerly. ‘It is simply wonderful to have another Riddley. I am a huge fan of your brother; he is an excellent cricket player.’ He was smiling but the look in his eye panicked me. He looked like a snake waiting for his prey to relax so he could suffocate it. The master gave me the same speech he’d given the others and sent me away. I didn’t sleep that night.
I managed to stick to the rules for almost a week. Half the boys in my dorm had been caned already and it sounded horrendous. On Sunday, I went into town with my friends, Michael and Pete. The sweet shop keeper only allowed four children in at once and there were three already. Pete and I waited outside. Almost instantly, Jackson Oatridge and his friends walked past. When he saw me with Pete, he smiled.
‘Good afternoon, Riddley and ...Wadsworth is it? There’s just the two of you. You know you’re only allowed to leave school premises two other students. I’ll see you in my dorm immediately after dinner. Who is your Upper Fourth Former, Wadsworth? I’ll ask Mr Newbury.’ He was gone in a blink.
Most Upper Fourth Formers caned in the dorm, but Jackson took me into the privacy of the nearest toilet. He told the others it was his first beating and he was feeling self conscious. Then he laughed with them until the dorm door was shut. He was silent until we were alone.
‘I’m letting you off this time, Riddley. Just don’t tell anyone, understand? Not even your own mother.’ He looked deep into my eyes until I nodded. I daren’t speak. He darted away and I trailed to my dorm, acting as if my backside was on fire, as I’d seen others do.