'You must never tell lies. And you mustn't blacken other people's names. You must tell the truth, especially to those who are younger than you. The truth, always. Before men, before the Lord God, and before yourself.' He sounded like a priest delivering a sermon.
'Didn't he even pee in the house?' Barbara persisted.
Melichetti tried to shake his head, but the collar prevented him. 'He was a well-behaved dog. Great mouser. God rest his soul.' He pointed towards the drinking trough. 'If you're thirsty there's water over there. The best in the whole area. And that's no lie.'
We drank till we were bursting. It was cool and sweet. Then we started spraying each other, and sticking our heads under the spout.
Skull said Melichetti was a piece of shit. And he knew for a fact the old fool had fed the dachshund to the pigs.
He scowled at Barbara and said: 'I'll get you for this.' He walked off muttering and sat down by himself on the other side of the road.
Salvatore, Remo and I set about catching tadpoles. My sister and Barbara perched on the edge of the trough and dipped their feet in the water.
After a few minutes Skull came back, all excited.
'Look! Look! Look at the size of it!'
We turned round. 'What?'
It was a hill.
It looked like a panettone. A huge panettone that some giant had placed on the plain. It rose in front of us a couple of kilometres away. Golden and immense. The wheat covered it like a fur coat. There wasn't a tree, a crag, a blemish, to spoil its outline. The sky around it was liquid and dirty. The other hills, behind, were like dwarves compared to that huge dome.
Goodness knows how none of us had noticed it till that moment. We had seen it, but without really seeing it. Maybe because it blended in with the landscape. Maybe because we had all had our eyes glued to the road looking out for Melichetti's farm.
'Let's climb it.' Skull pointed at it. 'Let's climb that mountain.'
I said: 'I wonder what's up on top.'
It must be an incredible place, maybe some strange animal lived there. None of us had ever been up so high.
Salvatore screened his eyes with his hand and scanned the top. 'I bet you can see the sea from up there. Yes, we must climb it.'
We gazed at it in silence.
Now that was an adventure, damn Melichetti's pigs.
'And we'll put our flag on the summit. So if anyone climbs up there, they'll know we got there first,' I said.
'What flag? We haven't got a flag,' said Salvatore.
'We'll use the hen.'
Skull grabbed the bag with the bird in it and whirled it round in the air. 'Right! We'll wring its neck, then we'll put a stick up its arse and fix it in the ground. The skeleton will be left there. I'll carry it up.'
An impaled hen might be taken as a sign of witchcraft.
But Skull pulled out his ace. 'Straight up the hill. No curves. No following each other. No stopping. Last one there pays a forfeit.'
We were speechless.
A race! Why?
It was obvious. To get his own back on Barbara. She would come last and would have to pay.
I thought of my sister. I said she was too small to race and it wasn't fair, she would lose.
Barbara gestured no with her finger. She had twigged the little surprise Skull was planning for her.
'So what? A race is a race. She came with us. Otherwise she has to wait for us down here.'
That wasn't on. I couldn't leave Maria. The crocodile story kept going round and round in my head. Melichetti had been kind, but it didn't do to be too trusting. If he killed her, what was I going to tell mama?
Excerpted from I'm Not Scared by Niccolò Ammaniti. Copyright Niccolò Ammaniti 2002 all rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Canongate Publishing. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the publisher.
A Man Called Intrepid author dies aged 89(Dec 03 2013) William Stevenson, a journalist and author who drew on his close ties with intelligence sources to write two best-selling books in the 1970s, A Man Called...