Standing on the precipe I peered over the edge. It was a long way down. I kicked a pebble, and listened to its sad whining as it plunged towards the dark pile of rocks below. I imagined it was my head, splitting open like a watermelon so my parents wouldn't even be able to recognize their own little girl.
He was relentless. His breath smelled like charred licorice. His body smelled like desperation. He breathed warm in my ear "For a dollar, I will push you off this cliff." He meant it. I couldn't see his eyes but felt them boring into the back of my skull.
This boy was Henry. Henry was dark and greasy and nobody liked him. His father drank, his mother worked two jobs and didn't protect him. Henry took his rage at being given such crappy parents out on the schoolyard and terrorizing us in the neighborhood.
The ravine ran behind a row of neat colonial homes with tall pine trees that divided the literal "other side of the tracks" where Henry's parents eeked out an existence in the shabby trailer park.
The ravine was where bad things happened. The ravine was where little boys and girls went to die. Or so the legends ran.
At one part a culvert had been built up and the concrete walls stemming the road above it sorted the water into a causeway that broke apart outside a big hole. This hole was a source of endless speculation for the neighborhood children. As we grew, the monsters who came out of it grew alongside us. When we were very little it was dragons, then ghosts, then shapeless things we didn't understand, and then finally the scariest monters of all: bad people. Serial killers, people who did bath things to small kids and small animals, unspeakable. So of course we all had to go check it out as often as we could taunt each other.
This time was different. We'd all noticed that Henry hadn't changed his clothes in a while. The school was talking about an intervention and putting him in foster care. He was morose and becoming meaner.
I don't know to this day what I did to upset him, but somehow I became the target of his rage and this is how we ended up standing on the precipe, staring down at my untimely death. He laughed. His laugh sounded like Satan himself coughing to my young ears.
A few hangers-on were hovering by the edge of the woods where the neat lawns ended and the wild forest began. They were snickering, slapping hands and bumping fists for the spectacle in front of them. I instinctively knew this was worse because egged on, there was no stopping Henry - he was getting the attention he so desperately craved. Even my childhood brain sensed this.
"I'm gonna' push you, you little slut. You're gonna' fall and die down there. You think your mommy and daddy are gonna' save you?" he snickered.
I started to panic. I didn't want to plunge down there. I didn't want my brains scattered around for the birds to pluck at. I squeezed my eyes and thought "THINK Adara, THINK!"
"I'll give you five dollars to let me go." I breathed out the words, not daring to open my eyes. If I saw his hand reaching for me, I might have jumped to avoid giving him the satisfaction.
He sucked in his breath and finally moved his head away from mine. I hoped he was considering it.
I started to panic again. Where was I going to get twenty dollars? Even if I broke apart my little piggy bank there wasn't twenty dollars in there. I had a savings account my grandma had set up but I'd only been to the bank once.
"I don't have twenty dollars!" I protested the injustice. I was going to die because of twenty bucks?
He grabbed my arm, hard. "I said twenty dollars, you little whore."
"Ok, ok. I'm going to have to steal from my parents though. I don't got twenty dollars!"
He let go and I stumbled slightly, the panic rising as more dirt fell over the edge. I scrambled backwards as far as I could, but Henry still blocked my escape.
"Twenty dollars. By tomorrow."
He turned his back and walking towards his followers he high-fived them. I ran home as fast as I could and told my parents what had happened.
They talked to the principal, the principal sighed and told them there wasn't much they could do given Henry's home situation and all. They brought him and talked to him and suspended him for three days, of which all 3 I saw him lurking by the edge of the woods.
A few days later my mom came into my room holding my backpack. She turned it inside out and showed me a secret pocket she'd sewn. Inside was a twenty dollar bill. She gave me the lecture of not giving into bullies and that Henry shouldn't bother me, but I think inside she too had had the same thought, "I was gonna' die over twenty dollars?"
The following school year Henry was gone. Moved, in jail, I never found out. My mom never asked for the twenty dollars back and eventually I outgrew that backpack and used the money to buy something stupid. Something a little girl would like.