That morning we had gone off on our bikes.
Usually we went for short rides, round the houses. We cycled as far as the edges of the fields, the dried-up stream, and raced each other back.
My bike was an old boneshaker, with a patched-up saddle, and so high I had to lean right over to touch the ground.
Everyone called it 'the Crock'. Salvatore said it was the bike the Alpine troops had used in the war. But I liked it, it was my father's.
If we didn't go cycling we stayed in the street playing football, steal-the-flag, or one-two-three-star, or lounged under the shed roof doing nothing.
We could do whatever we liked. No cars ever went by. There were no dangers. And the grown-ups stayed shut up indoors, like toads waiting for the heat to die down.
Time passed slowly. By the end of the summer we were longing for school to start again.
That morning we had been talking about Melichetti's pigs.
We often talked about Melichetti's pigs. Rumour had it old Melichetti trained them to savage hens, and sometimes rabbits and cats he found by the roadside.
Skull spat out a spray of white saliva. 'I've never told you till now. Because I couldn't say. But now I will tell you: those pigs ate Melichetti's daughter's dachshund.'
A general chorus arose: 'No, they couldn't have!'
'They did. I swear on the heart of the Madonna. Alive. Completely alive.'
'It's not possible!'
What sort of monsters must they be to eat a pedigree dog?
Skull nodded. 'Melichetti threw it into the pigsty. The dachshund tried to get away, they're crafty animals, but Melichetti's pigs are craftier. Didn't give him a chance. Torn to shreds in two seconds.' Then he added: 'Worse than wild boars.'
Barbara asked him: 'But why did he throw it to them?'
Skull thought for a moment. 'It pissed in the house. And if you fall in there, you fat lump, they'll strip all the flesh off you,
right down to the bone.'
Maria stood up. 'Is Melichetti crazy?'
Skull spat on the ground again. 'Crazier than his pigs.' We were silent for a few moments imagining Melichetti's daughter with such a wicked father. None of us knew her name, but she was famous for having a sort of iron brace round one leg.
'We could go and see them!' I suggested suddenly.
'An expedition!' said Barbara.
'It's a long way away, Melichetti's farm. It'd take ages,' Salvatore grumbled.
'No, it isn't, it's not far at all, let's go . . .' Skull got on his bike. He never missed a chance to put Salvatore down.
I had an idea. 'Why don't we take a hen from Remo's chicken run, so when we get there we can throw it into the pigsty and see how they tear it apart?'
'Brilliant!' Skull approved.
'But papa will kill me if we take one of his hens,' Remo wailed.
It was no use, the idea was a really good one.
We went into the chicken run, chose the thinnest, scrawniest hen and stuck it in a bag.
And off we went, all six of us and the hen, to see those famous pigs of Melichetti's, and we pedalled along between the wheatfields, and as we pedalled the sun rose and roasted everything.
Salvatore was right, Melichetti's farm was a long way away. By the time we got there we were parched and our heads were boiling.
Melichetti was sitting, with sunglasses on, in a rusty old rocking chair under a crooked beach umbrella.
The house was falling to pieces and the roof had been roughly patched up with tin and tar. In the farmyard there was a heap of rubbish: wheels, a rusty Bianchina, some bottomless chairs, a table with one leg missing. On an ivy-covered wooden post hung some cows' skulls, worn by the rain and sun. And a smaller skull with no horns. Goodness knows what animal that came from.
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.
Blood at the Root
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