I stood up on the window sill, crossed myself, and threw myself arms first, like a gibbon in the Amazon forest. I landed face down on the branch. I tried to grip it, but it was big. I used my legs but there was nothing to get hold of. I started to slip. I tried to claw onto the bark.
Salvation was right in front of me. There was a smaller branch just a few dozen centimetres away.
I steeled myself and with a sudden lunge grabbed it with both hands.
It was dry. It snapped.
I landed on my back. I lay still, with my eyes closed, certain I had broken my neck. I couldn't feel any pain. I lay there, petrified, with the branch in my hands, trying to understand why I wasn't suffering. Maybe I had become a paralytic who, even if you stub out a cigarette on his arm and stick a fork into his thigh, doesn't feel a thing.
I opened my eyes. I gazed at the vast green umbrella of the oak that loomed over me. The glittering of the sun between the leaves. I must try and raise my head. I raised it.
I threw that stupid branch away. I touched the ground with my hands. And I discovered I was on something soft. The mattress.
I had a flashback of myself falling, flying and crashing down without hurting myself. There had been a dull, hollow sound at the exact moment I had landed. I had heard it, I could have sworn it.
I moved my feet and discovered that under the leaves, the twigs and the earth there was a green corrugated sheet, a transparent fibre-glass roof. It had been covered up, as if to hide it. And that old mattress had been put on top of it.
It was the corrugated sheet that had saved me. It had bent and absorbed the force of my fall.
So underneath it must be hollow.
It might be a secret hiding place or a tunnel leading to a cave full of gold and precious stones.
I got down on my hands and knees and pushed the sheet forward.
It was heavy, but gradually I managed to shift it a little. A terrible stink of shit was released.
I swayed, put one hand over my mouth and pushed again.
I had fallen on top of a hole.
It was dark. But the further I shifted the fibre-glass sheet the lighter it became. The walls were made of earth, dug with a spade. The roots of the oak had been cut.
I managed to move it a bit further. The hole was a couple of metres wide and two, two and a half metres deep.
It was empty.
No, there was something there.
A heap of rolled-up rags?
No . . .
An animal? A dog? No . . .
What was it?
It was hairless . .
white . . .
a leg . . .
I jumped backwards and nearly tripped over.
I took a deep breath and had a quick look down.
It was a leg.
I felt my ears boil, my head and arms hang heavy.
I was going to pass out.
I sat down, shut my eyes, rested my forehead on one hand, and breathed in. I was tempted to run away, run to the others. But I couldn't. I had to have another look first.
I went forward and peered over.
It was a boy's leg. And sticking out of the rags was an elbow.
At the bottom of that hole there was a boy.
He was lying on one side. His head was hidden between his legs.
He wasn't moving.
He was dead.
I stood looking at him for God knows how long. There was a bucket too. And a little saucepan.
Maybe he was asleep.
I picked up a small stone and threw it at the boy. I hit him on the thigh. He didn't move. He was dead. Dead as a doornail. A shiver bit the back of my head. I picked up another stone and hit him on the neck. I thought he moved. A slight movement of the arm.
'Where are you? Where are you? Where've you got to, you pansy?'
The others! Skull was calling me.
I grabbed the corrugated sheet and pulled it till it covered the hole. Then I spread out the leaves and earth and put the mattress back on top.
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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