Despite the fact that the three of them were watching me, I squinted.
I inched my feet towards the edge and some of the looser rocks fell away from the cliff face, shattering on to the boulders below. That was a decent enough reason to shut my eyes. I kept them closed, not because I wanted to shut out the fear, but because I wanted to pay attention to its source. My feet were sending signals to my legs, telling them that standing on the edge of the cliff was a terrible idea. My stomach was sending similar signals to my brain and my arms refused to unhinge themselves from being wrapped around my stomach. It was obvious that my body was against the act of jumping into Stanton River. For these reasons, I started thinking about how I had found myself in this situation.
The four of us had drawn straws to decide the order for the leap into the river and I was the third to jump. Michael was first. His father regularly brought him down to this area of Greenvale, so it wasn’t too surprising that, within seconds of Charlie plucking the final stick out of Billy’s hands, Michael had pulled his white T-shirt over his head, thrown it on the ground and ran towards the cliff’s edge. Without the slightest hesitation, he leapt, and we could feel the silence as he drifted through the air, his arms moving in tiny circles to help him maintain his posture. He fell for long enough that the three of us had time to make our way to one of the boulders and see him land in the water with as much confidence as he had jumped. The split second before he reappeared lasted an eternity, but the reward of seeing his grinning face break the surface of the water was worth it. He’d set a benchmark that the rest of us were going to find difficult to reach.
If anyone could reach it, however, it was Billy Coates. He was notorious for discovering the daring activity in an otherwise calm environment and he had a reputation for never backing down from a challenge. Charlie and I were still congratulating Michael through a series of war cries that echoed from one bank to the other as Billy cracked his knuckles and headed to the edge of the cliff. Charlie walked over to one of the boulders to help direct Michael climb his way back up the cliff face. Billy was looking down into the water without smiling while strands of his hair started flicking backwards and forwards in the breeze. He was scared. I’d never seen Billy be concerned about anything before, so I instantly started to feel my own fear building. I almost felt privileged to be one of the only people to see Billy Coates consider his actions so thoughtfully. By the time Michael joined us at the top, Billy was preparing for his run-up. He found his way to the edge in three giant steps and launched himself out from the cliff face. Just to show off, Billy completed a mid-air spin as he fell towards the water and, after landing safely, he resurfaced, laughing and mocking the next jumper.
There was no way I was going to run up like the other boys, so I stood close enough to the edge that my toes could still feel the ground and squinted. I only opened my eyes because Michael was mocking me; saying he was going to tell Amy Sandal that I was too chicken to jump. I responded that I had a much bigger chance of jumping off this cliff than he did talking to someone like her. He had a point, though. I didn’t want to jump. And, as I looked down into the water a part of me thought that maybe Amy thinking I was chicken was the lesser of two evils. My heart jumped up into my throat when I saw a shadow move under the water. The water was crystal clear so there was no doubt in my mind that something was there. It reminded me of a whale. A whale with wings instead of fins. I looked over at Billy, silently asking him if he had seen the same thing. He grinned knowingly and told me to stop me such a chicken.
I looked back down into the water and whatever was there was gone. I shrugged it off as clouds moving overhead, casting a shadow on the surface of the water. I was exhausted from being so scared anyway. I took a deep breath, bent my knees and set myself free from the constraints of the cliff.
My name is Gregg Savage and, every night when the house is quiet, I write and publish a free children’s story at dailytales.com.au for you to share and enjoy.
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