His new friends were urging him on. What could go wrong? They had all done it a million times before. That was an exaggeration of course, but he had watched them many times from a distance, chewing his lip, longing and fearing to be an accepted member of the gang. Now they had invited him to join them. This was a kind of initiation ceremony though no-one had actually said that. It was just that he knew he would be judged by his reluctance or otherwise. For so long he had wanted to be acknowledged and now was his opportunity to prove himself, to show them that he was at least as courageous as them, even if he was not as strong or clever.
Imagination was his enemy. His brain ached as he tussled with all the doubts and fears that threatened to overcome him. All he had to do was think of nothing and then it would be easy. His pulse sounded in his ears, his veins felt too weak to contain his wildly pounding blood. Could they see his panic? Was it true that fear could be smelt? Sweat was sliding down his back in rivulets, his hands were clammy and cold in spite of the heat of the day, his legs shook.
The boys were becoming impatient. They were tiring of encouraging him and were beginning to jeer. He knew it was a tactic to spur him on, to make the adrenaline pump. He must do it, he must commit himself or they would never bother with him again. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and jumped. His stomach lurched and he screamed as the water seemed to rush towards him. The shock of the cold sea made him gasp as he plummeted under the surface.
When, after a few seconds, he had not surfaced the boys became uneasy, muttering to each other, wondering what they should do. One suggested diving in but the others restrained him. Another boy rummaged in the piles of clothes on the sea wall and found his mobile phone. His fingers fumbled on the keys but at last he punched in 999.
It was difficult for the operator to make sense of the words the caller sobbed out. Quickly ambulance and police appeared at the scene. His older brother, one of the gang members, was pale and incoherent with grief. Now he and his friends understood only too clearly why it was forbidden to jump from the sea wall.
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