© Author Leonid Kaganov, original russian text here
© Translated by Dmitri Fomin
Far East has already long met the New Year, Siberia has just raised the glasses, inhabitants of the capital roamed the streets and were busy cutting the last vegetables; only here in this distant forest, the holiday was nowhere to be seen.
Iron gates were closed and a placard saying "Garden community VODNIK" was half covered by fuzzy snow. Nipping flurry swept across deserted road leading away from the gates through the forest and the fields. Hairy black firs surrounded small village in a ring as if plotting something evil.
All of a sudden golden car lights cut through the blizzard and white Niva appeared not simply riding but swimming as a white swan in the yule snow, steadily and neatly. Big and boxy, all covered in puffs of snow it resembled a big old Russian stove which upon leaving the house lazily whips along the iced road.
Niva was followed by two other smaller sedans and soon purr of the engines and muffled rhythms of music escaping from the cabins were heard.
Snow tires gently rustled over the crust and three automobiles lined in a row before the gates.
"Beeeep" loudly said the white Niva, "Bee-e-e-eep beeep!!"
The village was still silent and then a man jumped out of the car. He was young, red-cheeked with turned-up nose, his blonde hair were cut short according to the latest fashion and his eyes looked very alive and slightly mischievous.
"Hey-hey-hey!" he yelled merrily jumping up and down and flapping his arms, "Uncle Kolya, uncle Petya, New Year's Best to you! Open the gate, hurry up!"
The door of the shed opened and uncle Petya who evidently has imbibed quite a bit by that time, stepped out. Next followed bluish nose of uncle Kolya who decided not to leave the warmth but simply waved his arm in greeting.
"Wha..? Oh, yeah!" invitingly croaked Uncle Petya goose-stepping to the gates, "That you? To celebrate, right?". He jingled his keys, opened the gate and shook hands with the young man, "Hi Emelyan, New Year to ya too... where's your old man?"
"Folks are celebrating in the city!" happily reported Emelyan, helping the guard to push the gates wider.
"Oh, whole lot of friends then?" said Petya only just having noticed all three vehicles.
"Full dozen!" merrily replied Emelyan, "My former classmates, now colleagues!"
"Wow.. and girls too!" uncle Petya's face widened in a big smile looking at happy young people.
"Girls, boys, and of course, champagne!" Emelyan nodded, got back at the wheel and the cavalcade moved on to an inconspicuous small brick house in the middle of the village.
* * *
Emelyan was busily running around the yard shouting out directions. "Mitya, open my trunk, get beer lest it freezes up, move it quickly to the house! Dima! it's gonna fall, watch out! Waaa... let me , I'll help... Olya! Olik, my heart, go walk around here and find the fir tree to decorate, ok? Whatever you choose, my love!"
"There are just two of them..." said Olga in a low puzzled voice making a long face and flapping her eyelashes, "One at the outhouse, and the other one close to the window. I think it's best we decorate the one near the window so we can look at it from inside, am I right?"
"My sweetheart... she is so smart!" singsonged in reply Emelyan, "We all know you make all the right decision in our family!"
"Emelya! There is no electricity!" shouted somebody from inside the house.
"Main switch is at the entrance.. look to the right of the door!" yelled Emelyan in response while running inside, and almost immediately the light came on.
"Emelya, how do I get the fireplace lit?" next question came from the living room.
"Put an old paper there and splash a bit of gasoline, the bottle's standing next to it" called Emelyan back, once again submerged in the trunk.
"Emelya, there is no water!" came another yell from the kitchen.
"What? That can't be!" Emelyan was apparently taken aback; he dropped a package with food on the snow and rushed back inside. "Absolutely impossible" he repeated trying to jiggle the valve and feeling the pipes, "Man... we are screwed... the pipes are dead frozen."
"What are we going to do without the water?" Olya was puzzled and flapped her eyelashes once again.
"Well... what else... same as our fathers did or grandfathers... There is a bucket in the attic and there is a well at the end of the street" recovered Emelyan, "Just wait for me... I won't be a second!"
* * *
Under the layer of the first snow ice was pretty strong so Emelyan didn't walk to the well but rather merrily slid across the street on the soles of his beige shoes. At the well he put the bucket down, stretched, rubbed together his palms and breathed on them. After that he opened the cover, took the well's old and mangled iced bucket from the nail, took the handle and carefully unwound the clanking chain.
Bucket said "Boomp!" hitting water somewhere pretty close to the center of the Earth and Emelyan, bent over the well, pulled the chain up and then jumped back simultaneously letting the chain go.
"Whumps!" said the bucket, this time getting some water into it and drowning deeper and deeper it began to draw the chain. Finally the well stopped creaking and the handle ceased to rotate so Emelyan rubbed his palms again, took the handle and started raising the bucket. The first dozen of circles it was pretty easy but then the process slowed down so that Emelyan thought to himself that the bucket was never going to appear again. Then it was there finally, rocking and splashing, with some strange black log inside.
"What is this ...?" mumbled to himself Emelyan.
"Who's there?" suddenly replied the log and visibly stirred.
Emelyan's jaw fell open and he almost let off the handle. Then he came to, carefully squeezed the bucket's sides and put it on the ground. Now, in the light of the moon, it was clear that the log was in fact a huge pike sticking out of the bucket.
"Who goes there?" threateningly questioned him again the pike, making hissing sounds with her toothless maw.
"Emelyan" introduced himself Emelya, "And...you?"
"Oh, trouble..." yawned the pike. "What's the year now around here?"
"Still the old one" said Emelyan, looking at the wristwatch, "The new one is still about one and half hour away..."
"So which is the new one? Ah, who cares..." the pike glowered at him. "Know the rules? Ask what's your pleasure and be done with it, make it fast!"
"Wow! So.. how many wishes? Three?" Emelyan was excited but quickly became serious and business-like.
"Three? Are ya kidding? One is more than enough!" snapped back the pike.
"Just one..." Emelyan had to think quickly. "How about I want to be able to make all my wishes come true?"
"Who stops ya? If you want to do them yourself..."
"No, no! I mean so that they were done magically".
"Huh! Smartass! I told ya - one wish and that's it!"
"One is not enough" in all seriousness objected Emelyan. "How about two? Huh? Shake hands?"
"Shake your ears, pal!" bellowed the pike, "One means one!"
"But really... come on! Still... how about two?" Emelyan asked sadly.
"Well... it is possible. But the price is too high".
Emelyan was now back in his business mode.
"Of course! How much, name the amount! Let's talk about it".
"Amount!" pike snorted disdainfully. "I won't take money for that, you'll have to pay with a serious misfortune".
"What do you mean misfortune?" Emelyan inquired guardedly.
"No idea. Whatever will come, my friend - it's like a lightning. When the wish is done, it comes. But I should warn you... ehhh, hmmm... what's your name again?"
"I have to tell ya, Emelya, cross my heart - you won't like it".
"Uh-huh" Emelyan said thoughtfully. "And how about three wishes? What are the conditions?"
"Death" answered the pike simply, "As the third wish comes true, you're gone".
"Got it. And four wishes?"
"What four?" exasperatedly cried the pike, "You are dead already!"
"Right, right. That's absurd" nodded Emelyan. "Ok, three is not so bad. I am ready then!"
"Stu-u-upid... Young and stupid!" the upset pike clicked her tongue. "Oh well, give me your first, then".
"Right now? Can I do that later?"
"Whatever you want. Now is now. Or just throw me back in the well and when you are ready just say by the pike's will, by my wish. Nothing to it."
"Uh-huh. And can I make a wish that my friend gets lucky too?"
"Just like me. So that he gets three wishes as well"
"How's that?" the pike was clearly stupefied. She tried to help herself to think by rubbing her head with the fin but couldn't reach over her head.
Emelyan politely extended his arm and used the pinkie to rub her cold and slippery nape.
"Thank you" absentmindedly nodded the pike. "Getting old, ya know. Arthritis... So I don't get it, whose wish to do - yours or your friend's?"
"Hmm... " Emelyan quietly coughed. "You see, one of my wishes is that my friend also gets his three wishes. Just like mine".
"Can do. But just one, not three".
"Why? One of mine will be spent for that!" convincingly objected Emelyan and went on. "You already will be doing two wishes! One of mine is to make three wishes for my friend and then one of his. It's not fair if you take one of mine to create a wish for my friend and then not to do that new one for him!"
"Brrgghh!" the pike splashed around in the bucket, kicking around just like a wet dog. "My head is spinning! What are you talking about, what's this babble? Got me all confused."
Emelyan raised his finger to be more convincing.
"That's right! That's what I am talking about - so that we don't get confused my first wish would be that you simply grant three new wishes to my friend. Deal?"
"Oh! I see..." the pike was now thinking it over. "I can do that. Just like yours... means one free, one for misfortune and one for his life?"
"Should have said that from the beginning. That I can do.. why not, right? Can do."
"And what if this friend is myself?" asked Emelyan quietly. "I am certainly not my own enemy, right? Friend, right? So...?"
"No!" the pike said firmly. "Not you. Only somebody else".
"Ok, ok. No means No, I get it." Emelyan happily rubbed his hands together and circled the bucket. "My first wish! By the pike's will, by my wish, I wish that you, grandma pike, were in great health and full of energy!"
"Wha..? Are my ears..." the pike almost fell out of the bucket. Then opened her huge maw in wide smile and splashed her fins in genuine surprise. "My dear! What a wonderful young generation we have! Kind! Smart! Decent! Never in my life, not one signle bastard ever said a kind word to me mush less helped me... I myself am not allowed!! And look here... out of the blue... Gladly! Gladly will do this one!"
The pike stilled herself, listening to the changes flowing within her body and happily stretched herself left then right.
"Oh, my god, how wonderful! Even arthritis is gone! So... what's your second wish?"
"Second one?" asked Emelyan. "Look, there are two of my friends coming over."
"Where?" squinted the pike.
"Over there. Look they are waving to us!"
And indeed two small figures - Mitya and Dima - were getting closer.
"Emelya!" they yelled from the distance. "Are you ok? Thought you were lost or something! They sent us to find you!"
"Get here right now!" shouted Emelyan quickly gesturing them to come closer and then turned to the pike. "So my second wish is for my friend Mitya to get his own three wishes!"
"Same conditions!" carefully reminded the pike.
"Goes without saying!" confirmed Emelyan.
"Done. Well, now you just wait... something bad is gonna happen to you, Emelya"
"But only after all Mitya's wishes are done, right?"
"Yep. And after that you just wait! Tell me the third one if you want it now".
"Three!" announced Emelyan, "I want the same for my friend Dima here! Same three wishes!"
"Oh, you young people" the pike sadly rocked her head, "Everything for a friend! What a guy! Wasting himself for nothing...". A tear rolled out of her eye and dropped into the bucket.
Mitya and Dima finally were there and stood in stunned silence with their mouths open.
"Well? What do you need?" the pike turned to them. "Tell me your wish, then".
"Stop! I will tell you what they want!" Emelyan hastily raised his hand "The
first Mitya's wish is that by the pike's will by his wish, he wants you to grant three wishes to one of his friends on the same conditions".
"What, which friend?" asked the pike.
"That would be me" smiled Emelyan modestly.
"Whoa! But I am not completely done with your first three yet!"
"Doesn't matter. Plus three more..." Emelyan smiled again and opened his hands.
"But that's not fair!"
"Why ever not? That was the deal, right? You can't give three more wishes to yourself but you can to a friend on the same conditions - one free, one for misfortune, one for life"
"Ow... but then you'll be twice dead" slowly said the pike.
"Well... actually three times. Dima also gives me his first wish".
"Why would I..." started Dima but Emelyan raised his finger as a warning and continued, "And my first wish from this new triad is that the water pipes in my house started working. Second and third are simple - give three wishes to my wife Olya and her sister Varya."
The pike appeared to be deeply thinking about something by putting her fins on the edge of the buckets to support her head.
"Seems like everything is right, by the rules" she said finally. "And still something's fishy here. Just can't put my fin on it..."
"Nothing to bother your old head about!" responded Emelyan "As long as we are healthy and willing, right? So how about those pipes?"
"Done, done already!" the apparently annoyed pike swatted his question away. "Some Varya... and Olya... alright... hey, you two! Come closer, let's deal with you now! Who is Mitya?"
"So I have two wishes left?" inquired Mitya.
"Shh-shh!" Emelyan stopped him. "Don't even think about it! You can't make any wishes yet! I will tell her for you!"
"Relax, Emelya, I understand, no worries! Got the system." Mitya winked to Emelyan and turned to face the pike. "My second wish is for my wife Lena to get same three wishes. And my third wish is for her lover Pasha to get the same."
"This is just awful!" cried out the pike and started trying to jump out of the bucket splashing water all around her.
"But of course!" quickly said Emelyan taking the bucket and making a step toward the well. "No need for you, grandma pike, to freeze yourself to death here. I'll let you go in a second... we really don't need you here anymore. The formula ... we know it now... so we can proceed without you, we'll just say the words, right?"
Emelyan started to simply pour the bucket out into the well but then stopped himself out of politeness, put it carefully inside and gradually let it slowly slide by unwinding the chain until they heard the splash from the deep of the well.
"All the best in the New Year to you! Be healthy!" yelled Emelyan with feeling, bending over the edge of the well.
"Lowlifes!" was the muted but emphatic answer from the well.
* * *
The New Year's celebration was happy, energetic and delicious. Salads were consumed, salted pickles crunched in hungry mouths, juicy shish-kebobs were prepared in the fireplace, glintwein was done on the stove. Dances and giggles, champagne, snow fights, not to mention wonderful fireworks covering the entire night sky! Fireworks were not planned beforehand so they had to be ordered from the pike.
Only after everybody got tired from dancing and singing, they sat down by the fireplace and got out their cell phones. Emelyan brought his laptop from Niva and they finally got to the serious business.
"Guys!" began Varya, "I suggest multi-level pyramid. A client gives away his wish and gets the payoff not immediately but only after six iterations. The plus is that we get a whole lot more..."
"What's the advantage?" asked Artyom.
"Varya is right" explained Emelyan, "First, we expand the operational field...".
"But the risks are increased as well since they do not get the payoff right away!" Artyom was still suspicious.
"Not true!" objected Varya. "Controlling interest grows after six iterations and therefore the risks are lower!"
"But we'll need the buffer for the entire six iterations..." entered the discussion Pasha. "Varya, draw the schematics!"
"Sure! This is classical Donson's scheme... the only issue is to make sure that the pyramid's boundaries converged to...Hey, anybody got a pen?"
"Hey you!" Valeriy snapped his fingers, "By the pike's! Sheet of paper and a pen for Varya! We need another couple of people for this!"
"Uncle Kolya and Uncle Petya, the attendants!" remembered Emelyan, entering their names into the laptop's worksheet. "Dima, go get them!"
"Can I call my folks?" Olga asked her husband. "Mom and pop would be glad to help!"
"Of course, sweetie!" Emelyan replied without turning away from the computer adding his in-laws to the growing table. "Just... you got the idea, right?"
"No, I didn't" muttered Olga. "Well? Come on, let go of your laptop, tell me!"
"What?" Emelyan made an effort and turned to his wife. "You still don't get it?"
"No!" she replied with offended expression.
"It's easy, my love. The trick is that you cannot spend even one of your wishes on yourself, got it? The first one, the free wish, you pay back to your predecessor, that is, to the one who generated your three wishes."
"Hold on, have a little patience. The second and the third wish carry with them misfortune and death if they ever are fully carried out. Therefore you must pass them to some other people thus expanding the pyramid, and after that they spend their first wish on you so you get a new triad. Like I did with Mitya and Dima and now I have not one but two new triads."
"So if anybody breaks the chain you will die?"
"No honey" shrugged Emelyan, "I don't care what is going on there on the lower levels of the pyramid since I have the control back. Look, I spent my misfortune wish on Mitya so he has three wishes and he spent his first one on me granting me the new triad. So regardless of however stupidly he deals with his other wishes... even if he dies, his three wishes are never completely carried out since his first is with me and I will look after its branching."
"But I still don't understand" continued Olya, "So you can never spend any wish on yourself? What's the point then?"
"No, no, you can! Just not the very first time, since the free wish goes to your upper link, understand? But as soon as you get new triads from your friends on the lower level then and only then you can spend the first wishes on whatever your heart desires. And of course, the second and third have to go to your friends again. You can even use the same people! Then again you get kickback triads from them, and again and again... ad infinitum. Now you get it?"
"I think so..." Olya nodded intelligently, "But why is it so complicated?"
"This is actually the simplest scheme possible" grinned Emelyan. "There is no simpler one. The main thing is to remember the pike's rules... you have to bring your luck home and watch for the trouble at the same time..."
Right at this moment somebody knocked at the door. Everybody fell quiet. Emelyan took the laptop off his knees, stood up and opened the door allowing a blast of really cold wind inside.
The pike was standing on the porch shifting from one side to another looking just like a big tamed circus seal.
"What are you doing, you bloody nogoodniks!" she immediately started shouting while wobbling on her fins. "If it were just two or three of you, well, a dozen, maybe...I can understand that. But this now... who gave you the right?"
"Shh-shh!" Emelyan put a finger to his lips and carefully as if dealing with a child took the pike into his hands.
She started to try and bite his nose but he gently moved his head away and pressed her jaws to his shoulder.
"By the pike's will by my wish" he cooed quietly, "I wish that you grandma were always of good cheer and calm heart. Add my two friends - my neighbor Gena and his wife what's-her-name, I'll call them in a minute..."
"Oh, my goodness" moaned the pike sounding much calmer. "Where do they find folk like you, you bastard? How old are you"
"What do you do? Stove-maker, I bet... they are the devious lot... besides them only millers are smarter..."
"Grandma, I am a business manager, an economist." Emelyan gently stroked her wet head and put his coat on. "Let's go, I'll put you back into the well... you have to rest now. The new year's just begun and there is so much work ahead... a lot, really... Happiness for everybody, come and get it!
oct 2004, Moscow
© Autor Leonid Kaganov, original russian text here
© Translated by Dmitri Fomin