“I don’t want to jump.” Bruno wrapped his arms around his shoulders, and squeezed himself.
“It doesn’t matter what you want, man, it’s time to do it.” The Sigmas crowded around him, inches away from the cliff.
“I’ve never done this before. You’re sure it’s safe?” Bruno looked over the edge. At the edge of dusk, the water was black beneath him. He guessed the cliff was sixteen meters up, if not more.
“Time to start, pussy, let’s go!” Dan whooped. “We all jump off this cliff every year. It’s part of pledging.”
Ram pushed past Bruno, and started stripping to his underwear. “If you’re not going, I am. You assholes better have my clothes at the bottom.” He broke into a quick sprint and leaped, raising his arms in the air like an orchestra conductor and hanging in the air for a moment before he disappeared from view.
“If you don’t do it, you’re walking home, and don’t bother coming back to the house,” Fahroud growled. He left his sandals, dropped his jeans and pulled his shirt over his head. Bruno looked away. Fahroud was his age, but had chest hair, abs, and could grow a full beard. Bruno still looked like he was fourteen, even at the end of his Freshman year at New Gilead. He watched the swarthy Rhomian walk purposefully to the edge and disappear.
Dan turned to him. “You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to, but I think you can do it.” They were the final two at the edge of the cliff. Dan was the pledgemaster for Sigma, and Lula’s older brother, who was his best friend from high school, and fellow Gilead freshman. Bruno was there because he wanted to feel like part of something, for once in his life.
The wind blew a chill up his neck. They looked at the beach below them, and Ram was already running around in circles and miming obscene gestures up at them. The other brothers were dragging together logs to build a fire. As Fahroud emerged from the surf, Ram started pelting him with pebbles, “fuck you!” Bruno shut his mind off, and started undoing his belt. Daniel was acting like the house caretaker, gathering up all their clothes and phones and stuffing them into a big gym bag. “I think the other guys are going to go easier on you after this,” Daniel reassured as Bruno handed him his clothes in a stack.
“If I don’t break my fucking neck.” Bruno had always swam in pools, and this seemed really dangerous to him, stupid and a waste. But, he was already in his underwear. He fixed his eyes on the horizon, dark clouds over the Adonan sea, and almost believed he could see the coast of Caledonia. He decided to pretend he was walking to Golgonozza, the city where he always wanted to go, where every novel and movie seemed to be set. He felt his feet leave the edge, and he propelled himself as much as he could as the air swallowed him; he closed his eyes and tucked his head down. He considered that I was never a strong swimmer.
A moment before he hit the water, he remembered that he could break his back. I sank down, down, down, and didn’t fight at all. The hopes and dreams he had, of finding his way in college, of finding a different life, they all rushed away from him. Was this how it would end?
He hit the water, and his vision darkened. He began to feel peaceful. He prepared for the end to all of it. His mind cleared. He floated in a green void. He gradually reacquired his body, with a feeling of intense tingling in his lips and fingers, like pixelation. He could shift his consciousness from that intense sensation elsewhere, but it didn’t diminish. Then gradually, his body calmed. Everything was silent, and he opened his eyes. Everything was dark around him, but he could see.
He felt calm, strong and warm, like he had always been here. This was natural. Around him, the water was absolutely clear. He turned and saw large wooden beams at the channel base, among the rocks. He let the air out of his lungs, and sank to the bottom to stand on one of the beams. The sand was dark, and he could see the bar at the end of the surf area, leading to the Adonan. He stood up and stretched him arms.
He walked to the bar, and a chatter of clicks, whistles, and moans came to him. A pod of dolphins was coming to him. The sounds grew louder, and he knew they were asking him, “are you a man? You look like a man, but you don’t move like a man.”
He opened his mouth, and clicks and whistles came from his mouth and nose, intelligible to him. “I’m a man.”
The dolphin at the front turned to him, “I am Ketti. What is your name, man?” She had scars on Both sides of her back, and her fin leaned to the right.
“I’m Bruno.’” He looked at the dolphins swimming around them. Ketti remained still in the water, as if she were standing. Only her tail twitched.
“Will you come swim with us?” Ketti asked, straightening out and returning to her pod.
“I want to, but I have to go back. My friends will be worried if I don’t return.” He lifted himself from the channel floor to float at Ketti’s depth.
“Then I wish you good fortune, man.” The pod resumed its progress away from the surf zone. Bruno turned, and broke the surface of the water. The sky was an inky purple, and a bright full moon shone over him. He sighted the shore, now lit with flashing sirens and headlights. He began swimming, and reached the beach quickly. He emerged from the surf; Dan was talking with a parks officer, and there was a crowd of people around a bonfire, “Holy fuck!” Ram shouted and ran toward Bruno. Dan broke off with the parks officer as the Sigmas emerged from the crowd, encircling Bruno.
“Where were you, we were so worried! It’s been three hours!” Fahroud slapped him on the back. “We thought you were dead!”
Bruno blinked and breathed in. He felt overwhelmed by all the people; he just wanted his clothes and some space.
Dan stepped up to him and put him into a bear hug, though Dan was dry and Bruno wet. “You don’t even look tired or cold. What happened to you?” He looked Bruno over.
“I … got a little turned around. I was just swimming. Can I have my clothes?”
The Sigmas started to laugh, and Dan sent Ram to the truck for the clothes bag. “Just don’t do that to us ever again,” scolded Fahroud.
Read Chapter 2