“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 a hundred feet 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, 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 young man 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. 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.
“When’s it ever going to be enough, Dan? I pledged so I could be friends with you guys, I work my ass off all the time and they just give me shit for it. It’s all just a waste. You don’t respect me, and I feel more miserable than I was before it even started.” Bruno hung his head and stared off into the distance.
Daniel walked over and clapped his hand on Bruno’s shoulder. “Listen, what do you want me to tell you here? That it’s all in your head? That you’re just like everybody else, and that you just imagine that you’re persecuted? The truth is, you’re weak. You’re a sissy boy who’s been taken care of by your momma your whole life. Now you’re here and you want to be strong, so you hang around with us, and we feel sorry for you and don’t kick you out. We do all make fun of you. You are worthless. It’s never going to get any better. Jump off that fucking rock or walk home in your underwear, I don’t really give a shit.”
Bruno stumbled back as if Daniel had spit in his face. “Fuck you, Daniel,” he mumbled, as he lurched toward the edge of the cliff and tumbled into nothing. The air swallowed him; he closed his eyes and tucked his head down.
He hit the water, and his vision darkened. He 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. 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 sea. 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 what 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.
“Bruno, we know you. From long ago. Come with us.” Ketti said, straightening up and tilting her head to the side.
“You… know me? How? I’ve never swam here before.”
“You are from the water. Your mother and father carried you when you were a babe. Neither have we seen them for many years.”
“My parents are both dead.”
“Not possible, man. We would know if such as they died. Come with us and we will show you all.” Ketti turned toward her pod. Bruno swam next to her.
“Wait, my friends will worry about me. They’ll think I drowned. I can’t just follow you.”
“Man, I promise you, none up above are friends to you. How could they be? They are clay, and you are water and spirit.”
Bruno kept pace with her as she gained speed, joining her pod. He remembered Daniel’s words, their harshness, and how alone he’d always been. Ketti promised that there were others like him, a family. He knew it must exist, for how could he have a longing if there was no way for it to be satisfied? He swam on into the dark sea.