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I'm Not Afraid...

Children's Story
Andrew was hanging about on the age of the group, as usual. He hadn't many friends at this new school, even though he was already in his second term. The boys were playing their favourite game of "truth or dare", but nobody had invited Andrew to join in.

Nobody ever bothered much with the "truth" part of the game, they all preferred to concentrate on the "dares". And the "dares" were growing sillier and sillier. Not that Andrew noticed that at the time, but when he looked back later at the whole incident, he realised how very silly they had all become.

Chas, who was the biggest and tallest and strongest boy in the class, was way out in front of the field. It seemed he would dare to do anything, and everyone was gazing up at him admiringly. They had all played chicken, darting across the road in front of oncoming cars, but Chas had actually played it across the dual carriageway, where the cars tore down at great speed. Privately, Andrew thought that was really stupid, but he wasn't about to say so. Instead, he found himself egging Chas on just like all the others, daring Chas to worse and worse acts of stupidity.

"I bet you wouldn't play chicken across the railway line," Andrew said. He was rewarded by Chas actually looking at him with some interest.

"Go on then," ordered Chas. "Tell us what you mean." But he gave a sideways turn of his head and rolled his eyes. All his friends giggled. Andrew felt a hot blush spreading up his neck and face, suddenly aware that somehow or other he'd made himself a target of humour yet again.

He thought desperately. Then, to his horror he heard himself saying, "I bet you wouldn't walk along the actual rails, with a train coming."

Chas laughed, a little unpleasantly. He boasted, "It wouldn't be the first time!" Then he added with a sneer, "But why don't we really make it fun? If I walk along the rails while a train is coming, you have to walk along the wall of the bridge over the railway. Is it a deal?"

Andrew felt sick. The bridge was 60 ft high, and carried the rush hour traffic. He hated even walking along the footpath, and the thought of balancing on the top of the high wall with traffic rushing past and the train thundering below, made him feel really ill. But already the boys were laughing and jeering at him, certain he'd refuse the challenge.

Andrew didn't know what to do. If he refused, he'd lose so much face that he'd never be included even on the outskirts of the group again. That felt like a very lonely future. On the other hand, as many of the boys well knew, he was terrified of heights and not very good at balancing. But he couldn't think straight. All he could visualise was a future without friends. With a great show of bravado, he nodded. "'Course I will," he said nonchalantly, and before he could change his mind swaggered off in the direction of the railway.

The wall of the bridge was very high for safety reasons, but by forming a human ladder the boys soon had Andrew hoisted on to the top. "Don't look down," urged one boy softly, but the rest cheered and shouted and laughed as they egged Andrew on. Andrew was terrified, but he was even more afraid of being regarded as a failure by his classmates, so with his heart in his mouth he began one or two faltering steps along the wall, certain he was going to die. Just then, a terrific screech of brakes followed by a crash and the tinkling of broken glass, caused him to wobble precariously. The next moment an adult hand had dragged him off the wall and to safety.

The crash was entirely Andrew's fault, and caused a pile-up of traffic on the bridge which took hours to sort out. Andrew was marched off to the police station, where everybody was very angry with him. And he had to wait for his parents to collect him, knowing how furious they would be. He had a very uncomfortable time, and spent it wishing he'd never set eyes on Chas or any of his friends, all of whom had melted away at the first sign of trouble, leaving Andrew to face it all alone. By the time all the adults had finished telling him how stupid he was, Andrew was crying like a baby. But he'd realised two things. He realised that it wasn't worth risking his life just so that he wouldn't lose face, for his life was far more important than what other people might think of him. And he'd realised that true friends never ask you to put yourself and other people into danger just so that a few silly people can have fun.
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