I couldn't follow the walls. I would have to cross that bridge. The beams supporting it couldn't be in a much better condition than the others.
I was paralysed in the doorway. I couldn't turn back. They would taunt me with it for ever more. What if I jumped down? Suddenly those four metres that separated me from the cowshed didn't seem so far. I could tell the others it was impossible to reach the window.
The brain plays nasty tricks sometimes.
About ten years later I happened to go skiing on the Gran Sasso. It was the wrong day - it was snowing, bitterly cold, with an icy wind that froze your ears and a thick mist. I had only ever been skiing once before. I was really excited and I didn't care if everybody said it was dangerous, I wanted to ski. I got on the ski lift, muffled up like an eskimo, and headed for the slopes.
The wind was so strong that the lift motor switched off automatically, and only started again when the gusts died down. It would move ten metres, then stop for a quarter of an hour, then another forty metres and twenty minutes without moving. And so on, ad infinitum. Maddening. As far as I could make out the rest of the ski lift was empty. Gradually I started to lose all feeling in my toes, my ears, my fingers. I tried to brush the snow off me, but it was a wasted effort, it fell silently, lightly and incessantly. After a while I started to get drowsy and think more slowly. I pulled myself together and told myself that if I fell asleep I would die. I shouted for help. Only the wind replied. I looked down. I was directly over a ski run. Suspended about ten metres above the snow. I thought back to the story of that airman who during the war had jumped out of his burning aircraft and his parachute hadn't opened but he hadn't been killed, he had been saved by the soft snow. Ten metres weren't all that far. If I jumped well, if I didn't stiffen up, I wouldn't get hurt, the parachutist hadn't got hurt. Part of my brain repeated to me obsessively: 'Jump! Jump! Jump!' I lifted the safety bar. And I started to rock backwards and forwards. Luckily at that moment the ski lift moved and I regained my senses. I lowered the bar. It was incredibly high, at the very least I would have broken both my legs.
In that house I had the same feeling. I wanted to jump down. Then I remembered reading in one of Salvatore's books that lizards can climb up walls because they have perfect weight distribution. They spread their weight over their legs, stomach and tail, whereas human beings put all theirs on their feet and that's why they sink into quicksand.
Yes, that was what I must do.
I knelt down, lay flat and started to crawl along. At every movement I made, bits of masonry and tiles fell down. Light, light as a lizard, I repeated to myself. I felt the beams quiver. It took me a full five minutes but I reached the other side safe and sound.
I pushed the door. It was the last one. At the other end was the window that overlooked the yard. A long branch snaked across to the house. I had made it. Here too the floor had fallen through, but only half of it. The other half had held. I used the old technique, walking flat against the wall. Below I could see another dimly lit room. There were the remains of a fire, some opened cans of tomatoes and empty packets of pasta. Somebody must have been there not long ago.
I reached the window without mishap. I looked down.
There was a small yard skirted by a row of brambles and the wood behind it pressing in. On the ground there was a cracked cement trough, a rusty crane jib, piles of masonry covered in ivy, a gas cylinder and a mattress.
The branch I had to get onto was close - less than a metre away. Not close enough, however, to be reachable without jumping. It was thick and twisty like an anaconda. It stretched over more than five metres. It would carry my weight. Once I reached the other end I would find a way to get down.
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.
Translated from the Italian by Jonathan Hunt.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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