The opposite bank of the
invisible river turned a sudden red and its waves glittered like
needles, throwing what looked like willows into stark silhouette. A
large crimson fire was burning in a distant field, its towering smoke
threatening to scorch the deep violet of the sky. The flame was more
transparent red than a ruby, more exquisite than lithium.
'I wonder what's causing
that fire,' said Giovanni. 'What could be burning to give off a flame
as red as that?'
'It's Scorpio's fire,'
replied Campanella, his head buried in his map.
'Oh I know about Scorpio's
fire,' said Kaoru.
'So what is it then?'
'Scorpio burnt to death.
My father told me millions of times that the fire burns to this very
'A scorpion's an insect,
'Uh huh, it is. But it's a
'A scorpion's not a nice
insect! I saw one in alcohol at the museum. He's got a huge stinger on
his tail, and the teacher said if he stings you, you die!'
'I know, but he's still a
nice insect. My father told me that a long long time ago Scorpio lived
in Valdola Vale and he survived by killing teeny bugs and eating them
up. Then one day he was caught by a weasel and it looked like he was
going to be eaten all up himself. He tried to get away with all his
might and he was about to be pinned down by the weasel when he saw this
well and he fell right down into it, and there was no way in the world
he could get back up, so it looked like he was going to drown for sure.
So then he began to pray...
Oh, I can't
remember how many living creatures I have killed in my lifetime, but
now I found myself trapped by the weasel and running for my own life.
Woe is me! Everything is so risky in life. Why didn't I just give my
body to the weasel and be done with it? If I had, at least he would
have been able to live another day.
'That's what he said. And
Scorpio saw his body turn bright red and burn into a beautiful flame,
lighting up the darkness of the night sky! And he's burning now too,
that's what my father said. That fire...it must be him.'
Dear God, please look
into my heart and in the next life don't throw away my life in vain
like this, but use my body for the good and happiness of all!
'Sure, look! The triangular
signs are lined up exactly in the shape of a scorpion.'
Giovanni could clearly see
beyond the tower of fire...three signs making up a scorpion's front
legs with five others nearer to him forming the tail with a hook in its
stinger. The red flame burned brightly without so much as a crackle.
As the fire receded gradually
into the distance everyone began to hear all sorts of indescribably
lively music, to smell what smelled like bouquets of flowers and to
hear a mixed murmur of voices and whistling. There appeared to be a
town nearby with some sort of festival in progress.
'Oh Centaurus, Let the Dew
Fall!' cried Tadashi, who had been fast asleep until then in the seat
Outside the window stood a
green Christmas tree, a fir or cypress, its branches swimming with
countless miniature bulbs, as if thousands of fireflies were swarming
'How could I forget? Tonight
was the Centaur Festival!'
'Yeah, this must be Centaur
Village,' piped in Campanella.
'I never miss a ball that's
thrown to me,' boasted Tadashi inexplicably.
'Momentarily we will arrive
at the Southern Cross,' said the young man to the children. 'Please
prepare to alight.'
'I'm gonna stay on the train
a little bit longer,' said Tadashi.
Kaoru stood up on shaky legs
and made preparations to leave. She looked sad to have to say goodbye
to Giovanni and Campanella.
'We must get off here,' said
the young man to Tadashi, closing his lips firmly.
'I won't! I'm gonna stay on a
'You can stay on with us,'
said Giovanni, unable to hold himself in. 'We've got a ticket that goes
'But we have to get off
here,' said Kaoru, sadly. 'This is where you get off to go to Heaven.'
'Who says you have to go to
Heaven? My teacher says that we have to create a place that's even
better than Heaven right here.'
'But our mummy's already
there, and besides, God says so.'
'A God who says that is a
'Your God is the phony one!'
'He is not!'
'What kind of God is your
God?' interrupted the young man, smiling.
'How should I know?' said
Giovanni. 'But he's not like hers! He's the only real God.'
'Of course the real God is
only one God,' said the young man.
'I don't mean it that way,'
said Giovanni. 'I mean the really real God.'
'That's what I'm saying too.
Let us pray that we will all meet someday in the course of time before
that real God.'
The young man humbly clasped
his hands together, Kaoru did the same, and all of them looked
frightfully pale and very reluctant to say goodbye to each other.
Giovanni could hardly contain his tears.
'Well now, are you ready?
We're nearly at the Southern Cross.'
It was at that instant....far
downstream, emerging like a single tree out of the invisible water of
the river, a cross studded with lights of blue, bitter-orange and every
colour under the sun and crowned with a pale white halo of cloud. There
was a great hustle and bustle inside the train as all the passengers
stood to attention and prayed, just as they had done at the Northern
Cross, and cries of joy, like the ones you hear when children grab for
a melon, were heard...and deep pious sighs.
Eventually the cross came
into full view outside the windows with the white halo cloud, more
white than the flesh of an apple, revolving gently around and around it.
Their voices rang out
pleasantly in chorus as they heard the crystal-clear call of a bugle
from the remotest part of that cold remote sky. The train rolled slowly
through a long series of signals and electric lights, crawling to an
eventual stop directly in front of the cross.
'Well, everyone off!'
The young man took Tadashi's
hand and made his way toward the exit.
'Goodbye for now,' said Kaoru
to the two boys, looking back at them.
'Goodbye,' said Giovanni in a
brusque voice, only because he was trying to hold in his tears.
She looked back at them once
more, her eyes wide open with suffering...then silently, left. The
train was more than half-emtpy...then, before they knew it, there
wasn't a soul left in it at all. A vacant wind blew through t
The boys looked outside. All
of the people had come together, forming rows in humble prayer,
kneeling on the Milky Way's sand in front of the cross. A godlike
figure in white robe was crossing the invisible water, coming toward
them with outstretched arms. But at that very moment the glass whistle
blew, the train inched forward, and a silver mist came streaming up
between them and the river. Nothing was visible there now save for a
grove of walnut trees, their leaves gleami
ng, and a cute little electric squirrel with a golden halo who kept
poking his face, blinking, through the mist.
When the mist finally began
to lift they could see a wide road lined with electric lights skirting
the track for some distance then leading off into the blue. The little
pea-coloured lights blipped off as the train approached, as if
acknowledging its presence, then blipped back on again as it passed.
The cross had shrunk so small
in the distance that it looked like you could pick it right up and hang
it on your chest, and there was no way on earth of knowing whether the
little girl, the young man and the others were still kneeling on that
white sand or had already gone off to their heaven.
'Campanella,' said Giovanni,
sighing deeply, 'we're alone again. Let's stay together till the ends
of the earth, okay? If I could be like that scorpion and do something
for the benefit of all people, I wouldn't care if my body burnt up a
hundred times over.'
'Me too,' said Campanella,
his eyes welling with the clearest tears.
'But what is real happiness,
'Don't ask me,' he answered
'We'll keep our spirits up,
won't we?' said Giovanni, taking a deep breath and feeling a new
strength gushing through him.
'Hey, there's the Coal Sack!'
cried Campanella, pointing to a spot in the Milky Way and leaning back
as he did so. 'It's a hole in the sky!'
Giovanni shivered in fright
as he looked at the Coal Sack. It was a huge black gaping hole in the
river, and the longer he stared and squinted into it, the more his eyes
smarted and he couldn't tell how deep the bottom went or what was down
'I'm not scared of all that
dark,' he said. 'I'm going to get to the bottom of everything and find
out what will make people happy. We'll go together, Campanella, as far
as we can go.'
'Yes we will, Giovanni. Oh
look over there,'cried Campanella, pointing to a distant field. 'That
is the most beautiful country I have ever seen. Everybody's there.
That's the real heaven. Look, my mother's there too. Look!'
Giovanni looked, but what he
saw was all milky white and blurry, not at all like what Campanella was
describing. He felt indescribably lonely as he peered out, catching
sight only of two telegraph poles on the opposite bank
, their red crossbeams linked, like arms.
'Campanella,' said Giovanni,
turning toward him, 'we're going to stick together, okay?'
But there was no Campanella
where Campanella had been sitting, only the black shining velvet seat.
Giovanni bolted up like a
rocket, leaning far out the window so that he wouldn't be heard as he
screamed into the sky, pounding his chest hard and crying out with a
throatful of tears.
Everything seemed to go black
all at once.
Giovanni opened his eyes.
He had fallen asleep exhausted in the grass of the hill. He felt a
strange burning sensation inside as cold tears streamed down his cheeks
and he sprang to his feet.
The town below was bound
together by countless lights, just as before, yet now they were somehow
more radiant mellow. The Milky Way where he had just dreamt himself to
was still a hazy blurry white mass smoking above the black southern
horizon with the red star in Scorpio twinkling beautifully to the right
beside it. The stars in the sky did not appear to have changed position
very much from before.
Giovanni sprinted down the
hill. All he could think of was his mother who was waiting until he
came home before having her dinner. He passed through the black grove
of pine trees, turned by the faintly white pasture fence a
nd came to the front entrance of the darkened cowshed. It looked like
someone was in now, because he saw a cart with two barrels of something
loaded on it.
'Hello, anybody here?'
A man in thick white pants
emerged, adding, 'What can I do for you?'
'Well, we didn't get our
milk delivered today.'
'Oh, I'm terribly sorry.'
The man immediately went
in back and returned with a bottle of milk.
'Really sorry about this,'
he said, handing the bottle to Giovanni and smiling.
'This afternoon I was pretty careless and left the gate to the calf pen
open. The little devil made a beeline to his mother and drank up half
'I see. Well, I'll take
this home then.'
'Please do. Terribly sorry
Giovanni went out the
pasture gate with both hands wrapped around the warm bottle of milk.
He walked a distance
through a heavily treed part of town, coming out onto the main road,
and when he reached the crossroad, he could see to his right the
turrets of the big bridge standing tall in the hazy sky over the river
where Campanella and the others had gone to float lanterns.
Small groups of women who
had gathered on the corners of the crossroad and in front of the shops
were looking toward the bridge and speaking in hushed tones. The bridge
itself was swimming in all kinds of light.
Giovanni, feeling a
strange chill inside, shouted to the people close by...
'Is something wrong?'
'A child has fallen into
the water,' said one of them, and they all turned at once toward him.
Giovanni ran for his life
toward the bridge. The river was invisible for all of the people on the
bridge. A policeman in white was among them.
Giovanni reached the end
of the bridge and flew down to a wide section of river bed. Many lights
were moving up and down along the water's edge, and a number of lantern
flames could be seen roving the dark embankment on the opposite bank as
well. Between them the river, with no lantern to illuminate it now,
flowed in a single gray tranquil stream with little more than a murmur.
People were standing in a
black mass at the farthest point downstream where the river formed a
sandbar. Giovanni quickly made his way there, bumping into Marceau, who
had been with Campanella earlier.
'Giovanni,' said Marceau,
running toward him. 'Campanella's fallen into the river.'
'Zanelli was trying to
push a lantern down the river from the boat, and that's when the boat
tilted and kind of dumped him into the water. Campanella dove right in
after him and he pushed Zanelli back to the boat, and Kato got ahold of
him, but then nobody could see Campanella after that.'
'But everybody's looking,
'Yeah, they all came right
away, Campanella's father too. But nobody can find him. They took
Giovanni went to where
everyone was waiting. Campanella's father, his jaw angular and pale,
wearing a black suit, was staring at the watch gripped in his right
hand. He stood tall, encircled by students and townspeople.
Everyone's eyes were fixed
on the river. Not a soul was saying a word.
Giovanni's legs trembled and
quaked. The ripples of the black water flashed and glistened as
acetylene lamps came and went on the river, just like at fishing time.
Downstream, the Milky Way
was reflected from one edge of the river to the other as if there were
no water there at all but only sky.
Giovanni felt that by now
Campanella could be nowhere but on the very farthest edge of that river
of only sky.
But everyone still wanted
to believe that from somewhere among those waves Campanella would
appear and say...
Boy, did I ever
...or that he would be
standing on a sandbar that the people didn't even know existed, forced
to wait for someone to find him.
All of a sudden Campanella's
father spoke up emphatically.
'It's no use. It's been
forty-five minutes since he fell in.'
Giovanni raced up and stood
I know where Campanella
went. I travelled with Campanella.
That's what he wanted to
say...but the words just stuck somewhere in his throat.
Campanella's father, thinking
that Giovanni had come to offer his sympathy, peered for some time
straight into his eyes and said politely...
'You would be Giovanni, isn't
that right? Thank you for coming tonight, Son.'
Giovanni bowed, unable to
'Has your father come back
home yet?' He was still gripping the watch in his fist.
'No,' replied Giovanni with a
slight shake of his head.
'I wonder what could have
happened? Just two days ago I had a wonderful letter from him. He
should be home by about today. The boat must have been delayed, that's
it. You'll come to our home tomorrow after school with every
one else, won't you, Giovanni?'
With those words Campanella's
father gazed far downstream where the galaxy was part of the river
Giovanni had no words for the
many feelings that filled his heart. He left Campanella's father and
went home to take the milk to his mother and tell her about his
father's homecoming, running as fast as his legs would carry him along
the river's bed toward town.