Me and Mishka were so busy before the New-Year party! We had been preparing for it since long, gluing our own paper garlands, cutting out bunting and making different decorations for the New-Year tree.
All went well until Mishka came across a book called 'Chemistry for Fun', which tells you how to make your own sparklers.
From that moment, our life was never the same again! Day in, day out, Mishka pounded sulphur and sugar together in a mortar, made aluminium shavings and tested the mixture trying to set it on fire.
Our whole apartment block was folded in smoke, and it stank of some stifling gas.
The neighbours were cross too, but we still could not make the sparklers work.
However, Mishka kept cheerful. He had even invited to his New-Year party a lot of kids from our class and boasted to them that there would be sparklers at his party.
— They are brilliant! — he said. — They sparkle like silver and splash fiery sparks all around.
I said to Mishka: — What have you done? You've invited the kids along, but you won't have any sparklers.
— Why not? I will! There's still plenty of time. I'll manage, don't worry.
On New Year's eve, he came to me and said: — Look, it's time to go and get some fir-trees, or there won't be any left if we're not careful.
— It's too late today, — I replied. — We'll go tomorrow.
— But tomorrow we'll be decorating them already.
— No problem, — I said. — Decorating will be done in the evening, but we'll go during the day, straight after school.
Me and Mishka had long decided to get the fir-trees near the village of Gorelkino, where we once stayed at Auntie Natasha's summer house. Her husband was a forest ranger, and as early as the summer he had invited us to come to his forest for the fir-trees.
I had even asked my mother in advance to let me go to the forest.
The next day, I came to Mishka's place after lunch and found him pounding his sparklers in a mortar again.
— Couldn't you do this earlier? — I asked. — It's time to get going, and you're still messing about with it!
— I've been doing this earlier as well, but I, probably, didn't put enough sulphur in them. They are hissing and smoking, but I can't make them burn.
— Leave it then, it won't work.
— No, I think it should work now. I just need to put in a bit more sulphur. Pass me that aluminium saucepan on the window-sill, will you?
— Where do you see a saucepan? There's only a frying pan here, — I said.
— Frying pan?.. You wally! It used to be a saucepan. Give it to me.
I passed the frying pan to him, and he began to work on its edges with a rasp.
— So your saucepan has turned into a frying pan? — I asked.
— Well, yes, — said Mishka. — I kept filing it with a rasp, so it turned into a frying pan. But never mind, a frying pan is handy in a household, too.
— What did your mother say?
— Nothing. She hasn't seen it yet.
— And when she sees it?
— Well... What can I do? I'll buy her a new saucepan when I grow up.
— She'll have to wait too long until you grow up!
— Never mind.
Mishka scraped some metal shavings, mixed them with the powder from the mortar, poured in a bit of glue and stirred it all up, ending up with some putty-like dough.
He made out of this putty a lot of longish sausage-shaped strips, twisted them around pieces of wire and left them on a plywood board to dry.
— That's it, — he said, — they'll be ready when they get dry, but I must hide them from my dog, Druzhok.
— Why hide them from him?
— He'll gobble them up.
— How can he gobble them up? Dogs don't eat sparklers, do they?
— I don’t know. Others, maybe, don't, but my Druzhok does. Once I left them to dry, then came back and — he was gnawing away on them. Maybe, he thought they were candies.
— Well, hide them in the oven then. It's warm in there, and they'll be out of his reach.
— I can't put them in the oven either. Once I hid them in the oven, then my mother came and lit it up, and they burnt out. It's better to put them on top of the cupboard.
Mishka climbed up on a chair and put the plywood board on top of the cupboard.
— You know what Druzhok is like, don't you? — said Mishka. — He always grabs my stuff!
Do you remember how he once dragged away my left boot and we couldn't find it anywhere? So I had to wear my high felt-boots for three days until we bought me new boots.
It was so nice and warm outside, but I had to wear my high felt-boots as if I was frost-bitten!
When we bought me new boots, we, of course, chucked away the remaining old boot because it's no use keeping just one boot if the other boot is not there!
But after we'd chucked away this one, we found the other one. It turned out that Druzhok had pushed it under the oven in the kitchen.
Well, we chucked away this boot too, because if we hadn't chucked away the first boot, we wouldn't have chucked away the second boot. But as we'd chucked away the first one, we also chucked away the second one.
So we chucked away both.
I said: — Enough of chattering! Get dressed quickly, we need to shoot off.
Mishka got dressed, we took an axe and rushed to the railway station. But the train had just left, so we had to wait for the next one. Never mind, we finally got on the next train.
We were travelling for a long time and at last reached our destination. We got off at Gorelkino and headed straight to the forest ranger.
He gave us a receipt for two fir-trees, pointed to the plot where it was allowed to cut down trees, and we went into the forest.
There were lots of fir-trees around, but Mishka did not like any of them.
— This is what I'm like, — he boasted. — If I go to the forest, I must get the best fir-tree, otherwise it's not worth going.
We ended up in deep forest.
— Let's cut down a fir-tree quick, — I said. — It'll start getting dark soon.
— But there's nothing to cut down yet!
— Look here, — I said. — Here's a nice fir-tree.
Mishka examined the fir-tree from all angles and said:
— It's nice, of course, but not quite. To be honest, it's not nice at all — skimpy.
— What do you mean — skimpy?
— It has a clipped top. I don't want this fir-tree even for free!
Then we found another fir-tree.
— And this one is lame, — said Mishka.
— How can it be lame?
— It can. You see how its leg is curved at the bottom?
— What leg?
— The trunk, I mean.
— Trunk! Of course, it's a trunk!
We found one more fir-tree.
— It's bald, — said Mishka.
— You're bald yourself! How can a fir-tree be bald?
— Of course, it's bald! Its fir is thinning. You can see through it. There isn't much there apart from the trunk. It's not a fir-tree, it's a stick!
He found a fault with every fir-tree: one was bald, another — lame or something else!
— You know what? — I said. — If we go by what you say, we'll be looking for a fir-tree until night-time!
I found myself a decent fir-tree, cut it down and handed the axe to Mishka: — Cut it down quick, it's time to return home.
But he seemed to be prepared to search the whole forest. I was first begging him, then telling him off, but nothing helped.
At last he found a fir-tree to his liking, cut it down, and we headed back to the railway station. We walked and walked, but the forest seemed to have no end.
— What if we're walking in the wrong direction? — said Mishka.
So we started walking in a different direction. We walked and walked, but again the forest seemed to be endless!
Now it was getting dark. We wound this way and that trying to find the way home. Finally, we got completely lost.
— You see what you've done! — I said.
— What have I done? It's not my fault that it became dark so quickly.
— Do you remember how long you spent on choosing a fir-tree? And how long you were messing about at home? Thanks to you, we may have to spend the night in the forest!
— No way! — said Mishka in a frightened tone. — Today the kids are coming along. We need to find the road.
Soon it became totally dark. The moon was glistening in the sky. The black tree-trunks stood like giants around us. We fancied there was a wolf behind every tree.
We stopped scared to walk any further.
— Let's shout! — said Mishka. And we started shouting together: — Hey!
"Hey!" answered the echo.
— Hey! He-ey! — we shouted again as hard as we could.
"Hey! He-ey!" repeated the echo.
— Maybe, it's better not to shout? — said Mishka.
— Why not?
— The wolves may hear us and get over here.
— I don't think there're any wolves here.
— But what if there are! Let's get out of here quick.
I said: — Let's walk straight ahead, we might find the road quicker like that.
We resumed walking. Mishka looked back all the time and asked:
— How do you go about it when you're attacked by wolves and you've no gun?
— You should throw some firebrands at them, — I said.
— But where would I get the firebrands from?
— Start a bonfire, and you'll have firebrands.
— Have you got matches?
— Can they climb trees?
— Wolves? No, they can't.
— In that case, if we're attacked by the wolves, we'll climb a tree and stay up there till morning.
— No way! We can't stay up a tree till morning!
— Why not?
— We'll freeze and fall down.
— Why would we freeze? We're not cold, are we?
— We're not cold because we're moving, but try and sit up a tree motionless — you'll freeze straight away.
— But why would we sit up a tree motionless? — said Mishka. — We can sit up there and dangle our legs.
— It's very tiring to dangle your legs up a tree all night long!
We floundered through the dense thicket, stumbling on stumps and getting stuck in the knee-deep snow. It was harder and harder for us to walk.
We were very tired.
— Let's get rid of our fir-trees! — I said.
— It's a pity, — said Mishka. — Today the kids are coming along. How can I do without a fir-tree?
— Now we should think about how to get out of here, — I said. — I wouldn't worry about the fir-trees!
— Hang on, — said Mishka. — I think one of us should walk in front and pave the way. This will make it easier for the other one. We'll take turns.
We stopped to get a bit of rest. Then Mishka walked in front, and I followed him. We walked and walked...
I stopped to shift my fir-tree onto my other shoulder. When ready to walk again, I looked around and — Mishka was not there! He had disappeared as if he had fallen right through the earth together with his fir-tree.
I yelled: — Mishka! He didn't reply.
— Mishka! Hey! Where're you gone? No reply.
I walked cautiously a bit forward and saw — an abyss! I nearly fell down the abyss. I looked down — something dark was moving there.
— Hey! Is that you, Mishka?
— It's me! I seem to have slipped off a hill!
— Why were you not answering then? I've been calling and calling you...
— How could I answer if I've hurt my leg!
I climbed down to him and saw the road. Mishka was sitting in the middle of the road and rubbing his knee.
— What's the matter?
— I've hurt my knee. I've sprained my leg, you see.
— Hurts! I'll sit a bit.
— Well, let's sit a bit, — I said.
We sat down in the snow. We sat and sat until we felt a deep chill.
I said: — We can easily freeze out here!
Let's start walking along the road, shall we? It'll take us somewhere or other: either to the railway station or to the forest ranger or some village. We don't want to freeze to death in the forest!
Mishka tried to get up but groaned and sat down again.
— I can't, — he said.
— What shall we do? I can carry you on my back, — I said.
— Are you sure?
— Let me try!
Mishka stood up and began to clamber onto my back. He puffed and puffed, and finally he was sitting on my back. Heavy! I was almost bent over on my hands and knees.
— Well, carry then! — said Mishka.
Hardly had I made a few steps, when I slipped over and — thump! — landed in the snow.
— Ouch! — screamed Mishka. — My leg hurts, and you chuck me in the snow like that!
— I didn't do it on purpose!
— Why start something that you can't do!
— What a pain you are! — I said. — At first you were messing about with the sparklers, then looking for a fir-tree until it was dark, and now you've hurt yourself... I'll perish out here with you!
— You don't have to perish!..
— What do you mean?
— Leave me here. It's all my fault. It's me who talked you into going to the forest for the fir-trees.
— How can I leave you by yourself here?
— That's all right. I can manage. I'll sit here for a while and start walking when my leg stops hurting.
— Forget it! I'm not going anywhere without you. We came here together, and we must return together. We need to think of something.
— What can we think of?
— Maybe, we should make a sleigh? We've got an axe.
— How can you make a sleigh out of an axe?
— Not out of an axe, you wally! We can cut down a tree and make a sleigh out of that tree.
— But we've no nails.
— Let me think, — I said.
I started thinking, and Mishka kept sitting in the snow. I dragged a fir-tree closer to him and said:
— You'd better sit on the fir-tree, or you'll catch a cold.
So he sat down on the fir-tree. At that moment, an idea flickered in my head.
— Mishka, — I said, — what if I drag the fir-tree with you on top of it?
— What do you mean — on top of it?
— I mean: you sit down on the fir-tree, and I will be dragging it by the trunk. Come on, hold on to it!
I grabbed it by the trunk and dragged. What a brilliant idea it was! The snow on the road was firm and trampled, so the fir-tree was moving smoothly, with Mishka sitting on it — like on a sleigh!
— Great! — I said. — Here, take the axe.
I handed him the axe. Mishka made himself comfortable on the fir-tree, and I started dragging it along the road. Soon we reached the edge of the forest and right away saw the lights in front of us.
— Mishka! — I said. — The station!
We could even hear the approaching train in the distance.
— Quick! — said Mishka. — We'll miss the train!
I started running as fast as I could. Mishka shouted: — Faster! We'll miss it!
The train was already pulling into the station. We had just got there too. We rushed to a carriage. I helped Mishka to get in. The train began to move, I jumped onto the step and dragged the fir-tree in.
Passengers on the train started telling us off for our prickly fir-tree. Someone asked:
— Where did you find such a shabby fir-tree?
We started telling them what had happened to us in the forest. Then they all became sorry for us. One lady helped Mishka onto his seat, took off his felt-boot and examined his leg.
— Nothing serious, — she said. — You only hurt it.
— I thought I had broken my leg, it was hurting me a lot, — said Mishka. Someone said:
— Don't worry. You'll be as good as new by your wedding day!
Everyone laughed. One lady gave us a pasty each, and another one gave us sweets. We were very pleased because we were starving.
— What are we going to do now? — I said. — We've got one fir-tree between us.
— If you let me have it for today, we're sorted, — said Mishka.
— What do you mean — sorted? I dragged it across the entire forest with you on top of it, and now I won't even have a fir-tree?
— But it's only for today. Tomorrow you can have it back.
— You're smart, aren’t you! — I said. — All the kids will be celebrating the New Year, and I won't even have a fir-tree!
— But can't you understand? — said Mishka. — Today the kids are coming along! What will I do without a fir-tree?
— Well, you'll show them your sparklers. Do you think they've never seen a fir-tree?
— But the sparklers might not work. I've tried to make them twenty times already — nothing happened. They just get smoky, that's all!
— But they might work today!
— No, I won't even mention the sparklers. The kids might have forgotten all about them by now.
— Of course, they haven't! You shouldn't have boasted in advance.
— If I had a fir-tree, — said Mishka, — I'd make something up about the sparklers and find some excuse, but without a fir-tree, I just don't know what to do.
— No, you can't have the fir-tree, — I said. — It's never ever happened to me that I'd be left without a New-Year tree.
— Be a true friend, help me out! You've helped me out many times before!
— Do you expect me to help you out all the time?
— Well, just one more time! I'll give you anything for it. Take what you like: my skis, skates, magical lantern or stamp album. You know yourself what I've got. Choose anything you like.
— All right, — I said. — If so, I want your dog, Druzhok.
Mishka paused to think. He looked away and remained silent for a while. Then he looked at me — his eyes utterly miserable — and said: — No, I can't give him away.
— How come? You said "anything you like", and now...
— I'd forgotten about Druzhok... When I said that, I meant things. But Druzhok isn't a thing, he's alive.
— So what? It's just a dog. He's not even pedigree.
— It's not his fault that he's not pedigree. He still loves me. When I'm not at home, he thinks about me, and when I come back, he's so happy and wags his tail...
No, I don't care what may happen! Let the kids laugh at me, but I won't give Druzhok away, even if you offer me a huge mountain of gold!
— All right then, — I said, — you can have the fir-tree, and I don't want anything for it.
— Why not? I promised you any of my things, so you can have any. Would you like my magical lantern with all the pictures? I know you wanted a magical lantern very much, didn't you?
— No, I don't need a magical lantern. You can have the fir-tree, I just give it away.
— But you've made so much effort to get this fir-tree — why give it away like that?
— It doesn't matter! I don't need anything.
— Well, I don't need this fir-tree either if you just give it away, — said Mishka.
— But I'm not exactly giving it away, — I said. — I’m doing this for the sake of our friendship. Friendship is worth more than a magical lantern! Let's share this fir-tree.
While we were talking, the train pulled into the station. We did not even notice when our journey came to an end. Mishka's leg did not hurt anymore. He was just slightly limping when we got off the train.
I first popped in at home so that my mother did not worry about me, and then I rushed to Mishka's place — to decorate our common fir-tree.
The fir-tree was already in the centre of the room, and Mishka was patching up the damaged parts of the trunk with pieces of green paper. We were still decorating the fir-tree when the kids started coming in.
— How come you invited us to your New-Year party and haven't even finished decorating your New-Year tree? — they sounded offended.
We started telling them about our adventures in the forest, and Mishka even lied a bit saying that we had been attacked by the wolves, and that we had hidden from them up a tree.
The kids did not believe him and started laughing at us. At first Mishka insisted that it was true but then gave up and started laughing too.
Mishka's mother and father were celebrating at their neighbours', but for us his mother had prepared a big jam pie and other different tasty stuff so that we, too, could have a lovely New-Year party.
We were alone in the room now. The kids felt at home immediately and were running about like mad. I had never heard so much racket in my life! Mishka was the noisiest of them all.
Well, I knew, of course, what it was all about. He was trying to ensure that the kids did not remember about the sparklers, so he was inventing more and more different tricks.
Then we switched on the multi-coloured electric lights on the New-Year tree, and suddenly the clock began striking twelve o'clock.
— Hooray! — shouted Mishka. — Happy New Year!
— Hooray! — the kids joined in. — Happy New Year! Hoo-ray!
Mishka already thought that it had all gone well and shouted: — Now, guys, get your seats round the table, we're going to have tea and a jam pie!
— But where are the sparklers? — someone shouted.
— Sparklers? — Mishka looked lost. — They're not ready yet.
— How come you invited us to your New-Year party, promised us sparklers, and... It was a lie!
— No, guys, honestly, it wasn’t a lie! I've got some sparklers, but they're still a bit damp...
— Come on, let's see. Maybe, they're dry now. Or, maybe, there aren't any sparklers?
Mishka reached reluctantly for the top of the cupboard and nearly fell down along with his "sausages". They had already dried up and turned into firm sticks.
— You see! — shouted the kids. — Completely dry! Why did you lie to us?
— They only seem dry, — pleaded Mishka. — They need a lot longer to dry. They won't burn.
— We'll find out in a minute! — shouted the kids.
They snapped up all the sparklers, bent the wire ends into hooks and hung them on the New-Year tree.
— Hold on, guys, — shouted Mishka, — we need to test them first! But no one was listening.
The kids brought matches and lit up all the sparklers at once.
It created a lot of hissing as if the whole room was filled with snakes. The kids sprang off. Suddenly the sparklers flared up, blazed and started splashing fiery sparks all around.
That was real fireworks! No, not fireworks — northern lights! Volcanic eruption! The whole tree was glowing and dispersing silvery sparks around. We stood still staring at it as if enchanted.
At last, the sparklers burnt out, and the whole room was filled with some pungent, stifling smoke. The kids were sneezing, coughing and rubbing their eyes.
We all rushed into the hallway, but the smoke from the room was chasing us there. So the kids grabbed their hats and coats, preparing to go home.
— Guys, what about the tea and jam pie then? — insisted Mishka.
But no one was paying attention to him. The kids were putting their coats on and leaving, coughing. Mishka seized my arm, snatched my hat from me and shouted:
— At least you don't go away! Stay for our friendship's sake! We'll have tea and a jam pie!
Me and Mishka were alone now. The smoke slowly cleared up but not enough for us to return to the room. So Mishka covered his mouth with a damp handkerchief, ran back to the room, grabbed the pie and brought it to the kitchen.
The water in the kettle had already boiled, so we started to drink tea with the jam pie. It was a very tasty pie, with home-made jam, but, sadly, it smelt of smoke from the sparklers. But never mind.
Me and Mishka ate half of the pie, and Druzhok finished off the other half.