TANYA GROTTER AND THE MAGICAL DOUBLE BASS
by Dimitriy Yemets
This unauthorized translation is by Maureen S. O'Brien, who should've
paid more attention in Russian class. Who knew?
Chapter 1: The Baby in the Case
On a bright autumn morning, when everyone gave the world a long look
and was disgracefully happy, and the foliage on the trees shone like
it was beaten out of gold leaf, out of the entrance of the multi-story
apartment house on Rublevskiy Highway peered a tall round-shouldered
man in a gray overcoat.
They called him German Durnev. He was the director of the Second-Hand
Socks Company and father of a one-year-old daughter, Pipa (short for
Stopping under the cover of the main entrance, Durnev looked around
disapprovingly. The sun, whose rounded features were as flat as a
pancake, had deserted the neighboring roofs as if he were lazy and
pondering whether he should stand up and rise further or just go down.
In a pile of leaves not far from the door reclined a woman in orange
overalls gazing into an open manhole. Her profile was regular and
Grecian in outline, but copper-red hairs bristled on her which
involuntarily called up memories of snakes. Inside the manhole someone
tempestuously romped and rattled. Sulky sparrows pecked something on
the asphalt, briskly bouncing back like rubber balls from passersby.
From window and cellar to playground and tiny park, on the tops of
the trees and in the sky hung with sponges of stormcloud, off cats'
eyes and women's purses, from automobiles' exhaust pipes to stores'
marquees and all of their summer visitors' scorched noses -- from
everywhere, rubbing its carrot-orange palms, stared the tiny young
But German Durnev was not affected in any way by all this beauty.
The weather, and nature in general, interested him only so much as it
determined his actions -- whether or not to grab an umbrella or place
spiked winter tires on a car.
He looked at his watch and took out a small box of homeopathic
"So rude, this sun! One, two... And it's not worth spit to him,
after all... Though if should they fade generally... unless on such a
day someone was in a working mood... Five, six... Early or late,
there's quite enough plaguing me...Or there will be... Seven...." he
mumbled, counting off marble-shaped pills and placing them under his
When the marbles had dissolved, Durnev had pondered enough and told
himself, "Well, now I will at least live to see lunch, if my new corns
plaster doesn't give me blood poisoning."
Naturally, Durnev did not suspect that he was being watched from
behind. Watched by a big, miserable bird -- gloomy, rumpled, with a
long molted neck almost without a feather, staring from on top of the
doorway behind him. In the bird's beak, it held a photograph cut
out of a magazine. It looked at this. Yes, this was him, German
Durnev, taken together with his wife Ninel and his daughter Pipa at the
International Suspenders Exhibition at VVTs.
Occasionally the bird dropped the photograph on a tin shingle and
set about comparing the actual Durnev with the photograph. Disgusting
greenish globs of goo dripped from its beak onto the picture.
You can imagine how astonished Durnev would have been if by chance
he'd raised his head and glanced at what sat on top of the door. However,
German Nikitich was not one of those who pay attention to birds -- unless,
of course, it was a boiled chicken laying on a plate in front of him.
Moreover, at the present moment, the shifty mind that led the Second-Hand
Socks company was busy deciding business, like how to sell two boxcar loads
of handkerchiefs as children's wear.
Durnev descended onto the porch and, stepping on the enchanting
bright yellow leaves, ground them under heel a few times with obvious
pleasure. This done, he passed up indifferently a great many other leaves
and settled in his new dark-colored car. The car puttered and caught. The
bare-necked bird heavily plucked itself from the peak and took off right
behind the car, obviously not prepared to lose sight of it.
Sitting on the lawn was a woman. The repairwoman thought for a
moment about this Durnev, then gave the bird a piercing glance and
muttered to herself under her breath, "Did I want to know that the
Dead Vulture was here? The last time I met up with it was when the _Titanic_
was launched. I don't think that a steamship will turn up here, but probably
there will be some kind of trouble."
She threw up her hand, on the middle finger of which was a shining
ring, and whispered in a low voice, "Sparkis frontus!"
At that very instant, a green spark shot out from the ring and
singed the bird's wing. Losing feathers, the Dead Vulture fell like a
stone onto the asphalt. Somehow it hoarsely crowed and took off again,
hurling itself over the nearest apartment building.
The mysterious person began to blow on the red hot ring.
"I hate those living corpses. It's impossible to kill them a second
time. Much better to have simply lounged around," she grumbled.
At that moment, in the manhole someone once again crashed to the
ground with a terrible din. Water splashed.
"A-choo!" sounded out of the manhole so deafeningly that even the
manhole cover jumped.
Forgetting about the bird, the repairwoman -- if, of course, this
_was_ a repairwoman -- anxiously bent over the manhole.
"Academician, you're catching cold! I beg you, at least put on your
"Meduziya, I won't act like a freak! A diver doesn't need a scarf!"
answered a voice at once.
But this didn't calm the woman at all.
"Bother the hair of Drevnir -- this is not sneaking into some gate! Only
picture it -- you, a member of the Academy of White Magic, head of the
Tibidox wizards' school, Sardanapal Chernomorov -- forced to lower
yourself to lying around doing warding spells! Where, may I ask, are
our junior magicians? Where are the assistants?" she asked, pursing her
The clattering in the manhole ceased. Onto the surface rose a short
fat little man dressed in orange overalls, from which water flowed
down. Not -- pardon me! -- not at all on his coveralls, but on his
cloak. His coveralls could only be seen by someone not paying much
attention at first glance. Exactly the opposite was true of the orange
cloak on her companion.
"A-choo!...Meduziya! All this is, really, such a cinch and gives
nobody any trouble...A-choo! I stood helpless for two years in a
magician's cabinet without practicing. It was too confining for even a
lazybones, and I couldn't turn into a pig without a ring. So no more
talk about the higher disciplines like theoretical magic, levitation,
evil eye removal or the making of talismans."
Ending this unbearable -- in his view -- argument, Academician
Sardanapal raised himself up on his tiptoes and looked around
animatedly. The right side of his mustache was green, but the left
yellow. Yet that wasn't the odd part; it was that these mustachios
were never for a second in a state of rest. They wriggled like two
living strings, then became entangled as they tried to entwine the
overalls' straps and pull them off the fat man right under his nose.
Truly, it wasn't that simple to do this, since the open holes didn't
hold on much to the handles, so long working loose so much in
As for the Academician's beard, its color was always indefinite,
since no sooner had it appeared than it hid. Only one thing could be
said for certain -- the beard was phenomenally long, so long that it
was tacked down to wind repeatedly around his torso, but its end
was concealed in his pocket.
Finally sweeping off his drenched cloak, the head of the magic
school muttered, "Firstus drumus!"
Steam piled out from the clothing, and a few moments after, it was
perfectly dried out.
"Ach, what an odd little fall day!" exclaimed Sardanapal, turning to
his companion. "It's just like the day they chopped off my head the
first time! Do you agree, Meduziya?"
The lounging teacher, Docent Meduziya Gorgonova, made a face and
waved fingers along her neck.
"Oof! From the stinky I expect only foul remarks. They chopped my
head off, too. Some hot-blooded type in winged sandals, staring into
his own shield. Back then I was a badly brought up witch with
nightmarish habits, and only you, Academician, re-educated me," said
Sardanapal's whiskers quivered with embarrassment.
"Stop! How many times will you thank me? Glueing your head back on
was merely a trifle. It wasn't anything new among serious mages, ones
fully experienced with spatial tranfer spells. Well, and if you gave
up your former habits -- praise and honor to you! My services
"How can you say that!" exclaimed Meduziya. "I only turned travelers
into sculpture! Anyone who looked at me instantly turned into stone!"
"Nonsense! That's not how I remember it. You were quite a young
girl with a complexion full of pimples. The pimples cast that horrid
spell, and by chance they caught sight of them. To speak frankly, I
understood you perfectly: those were the ancient Greeks, who stuck
their curious noses everywhere. You even moved to an island to get a
little farther from their eyes, but all the same they wandered about
nearby, waving swords. To me, all that was needed was to cure you of
pimples. Then what a beauty stood there! Even Koshchei the Undying
and his crowd turned red when you came flying into Tibidox on the
skeleton of your faithful horse...."
"Awful old man! Forty kilograms of silver-plated bones, a golden
skull, teeth of amber -- and all this in armor from Paco Grobann!"
"But you don't dispute that he was in love with you!"
Docent Gorgonova blushed with embarrassment. Lovely stains suddenly
blazed up in different spots on her cheeks, looking like something off
a cherry tree.
"Sardanapal! I only asked!" she exclaimed reproachfully.
The whiskers of the White Mage Academician sagged guiltily.
"Cursed spite! After that, though I by accident drank a tincture with
harpy poison, I couldn't get away from him in any way. I tried the
dragon's furnace, a half glass of green stuff with bitter basilisk
water in the morning and taking it in front of him -- nothing helped!"
"I'm not apologizing, I'm not taking offense. I simply don't love it
when you utter that name in my presence...." Meduziya relented.
"Better tell me now: did I really drag after you all this way from
Tibidox, just to visit this very smelly manhole, the odor of which you
breathe in so as to steal the keys and small change from passersby?
Just don't be tricky. We have, after all, known each other for three
thousand years already."
Sardanapal looked reproachfully at his companion and blew his nose
in a gigantic handkerchief decorated with stars, which he called into his
hand in some mysterious way. The stars on the handkerchief winked at
each other and formed intricate constellations. The resulting asterism
of the Altar tried to sneeze meteorites at the constellation Sagittarius.
"Meduziya, you reason like a magician. We delivered ourselves at the
man's usual place. Keys -- this is not highly suspicious. The man
deprived of keys has a real chance to spend the night on a small
bench and catch a head cold...like myself here, for example."
"You have a cold because you didn't put on a scarf when we flew over
the ocean...And the needs of the lopeared disturb me very little, in
this world filled with enchanted manholes, enraged turnstiles and
cellars that slam shut with a bang. We should protect them, not sit
with folded hands. Scarcely will we leave when _they'll_ be at this
manhole again, laying on incantations. And we can't do anything about
Seeing that his companion was beginning to get angry, Academician
Sardanapal began to blow on the handkerchief, and that began to fade
away on his palms, though first beginning to turn into a blue bath
"Pardon me, Meduziya. In recent days, I suspect someone also
enchanted my sense of humor. I can't reject the thought that the Tadjik
Genies hexed it when I forbade them to triple the dust devils...hmm...
You saw the man, the only one that he followed from the entrance?"
"I saw. But how did you? I want to say, they were above ground!"
Sardanapal mysteriously smiled:
"Oh, if I want to catch sight of something, a few meters of asphalt
don't bother me. And what do you think about them?"
"Extremely unpleasant types...brr...Even from the lop-eared you
normally expect more."
"Now, now, Meduziya, don't be so harsh. If only from respect for the
memory of Leopold Grotter."
"LEOPOLD GROTTER? He knew him?" exclaimed Meduziya, stricken.
"More than that. He's his heir. And even rather close -- Leopold's
the nephew of his grandmother's second cousin. Naturally among the
lop-eared, this relationship is even closer -- to them the seventh water
is sour -- but any of us, like you, would know the formula of mage-kinship
from Astrocactus Paranoidal!"
"He's a relative of Grotter! Then that's why we...."
"Shh!" The Academician suddenly raised a finger to his lips, ordering
Meduziya to hush. Both mustachios at once went taut and pointed at the
Nodding, Meduziya noiselessly advanced on the manhole and squatting,
sharply thrust her hands into it. For just a second, a disgusting
squeal was heard out of the hole.
"There it is! She grabbed me! But now....!" yelled the teacher.
When Meduziya's hand emerged on the surface again, her fingers
were firmly clenched in the ear of a tiny little woman with a prominent
violet nose and green hair. The feet of the hissing little woman were
very strange -- flat, like flippers -- and they waved around vigorously.
The prisoner hissed, spit, snapped her triangular teeth, and tried to
kick Gorgonova with her right flipper, then her left, then both in turn.
"I kill and hack-ga to get you back-ga! Unless you lets walk-gi the one
who talks-gi! Phooey-gi on youey-gi! And on youey-gi phooey-gi!"
"Look! A young kikimora -- a kikimorka! A curious specimen -- rather
large...." Chernomorov commented, examining Meduziya's catch with
"More of the undead!" squeamishly winced Meduziya. "Sometimes I start
to doubt that She-Who-Is-Not's really disappeared. First someone sent the
Dead Vulture on a secret mission, and now here is this scarecrow. But it's
just not that scary!"
"A-a-a-a! I scare myself-ga! Let me be-gi, you scum, you'll see-gi!
My own affair-ugi why I was there-ugi! Necessary-ugi to mess with me-ugi,
You ripped my pants-ugi with your nasty hands-ugi! Phooey-gi on youey-gi!"
screeched the kikimorka, not abandoning her attempt to kick Meduziya with
her flippers. This made Meduziya hold her up at a distance with her arms
outstretched -- which wasn't easy, since the kikimorka was pretty plump.
"Stop howling! Who sent you on a secret mission? Talk!" demanded Meduziya
"No way-gi I'll say-gi! Stupid witch-uga live in ditch-uga! Now I will
make-gi a curse you will take-gi! You go play in a grave-gu!" angrily
bubbled the kikimorka, trying to accompany her own words with well-aimed
Gorgonova sternly turned her own piercing eyes on the kikimorka.
"Try it!" said she with menace.
"I see-ga you need me-ga!" the sly kikimorka instantly reconsidered,
then lisped mournfully that she was a poor orphan and that she, an
orphan, might be treated badly by anybody.
"Aha, so someone wrongs you, little orphan!" said Sardanapal. The
academician made it look as if he wished to lift a finger to pat the
kikimorka, and at once her sharp triangular teeth snapped just like
a trap. If Sardanapal hadn't moved his hand away, he surely would've
had one finger less.
"She'll never tell us a thing. I know these people. But she's not
going about her own business here, I'm sure. Can we collect her for the
museum, so she can't blab to anybody" offered the Undead Management
teacher, shaking the kikimorka by her ears.
"A-a-a-a! I don't want to bide-ga in formaldehyde-ga! I'll live
quiet by it-ga! Promise to be quiet, quiet-ga!" piercingly screamed
"Don't bother, Meduziya. Keeping her in a jar is completely
unnecessary. Doing it this way will be enough." With an adroitness
you wouldn't expect from a slow and clumsy man with a round potbelly,
Sardanapal grabbed the kikimorka by a flipper and began to blow into
her ear, pronouncing under his breath:
After this he coolly relaxed his fingers and dropped the spy in the
grass. After some time the little green woman lost her head, shook
her hair, and was strongly confused. She looked at Sardanapal and
Meduziya bluntly and without curiosity. Making a few wobbly steps
along the lawn, the kikimorka slightly regained her senses, snorted
scornfully and, waddling to the manhole, leaped in there like a toy
soldier. Out from the manhole splashed a little fountainlet of water,
a few bad words could be heard -- then all was quiet.
"She swam away," said Sardanapal, the green whisker pointing the
"All these undead get terribly boring. Once upon a time, we'd lay
an incantation on her so she wouldn't intrude on the lop-eared. She's
disturbed the balance of forces, and now our whole operation may go
poorly." Meduzia tsked her tongue anxiously.
Sardanapal easily brushed it off. "Nonsense, Meduziya. As always,
you exaggerate. The undead -- this is a simple creature, springing
from chaos and partly preserved from the time of paganism. Yes, she
needs much protection, ten times more, from us mages -- white and
black. She never was in a position to have her say, between ourselves.
How much I myself must remember to always take care. She violated the
bans; she arranged dirty tricks for the lop-eared and shook the balance.
But for the time being, whole is the hair of Dvernir and the gate stands;
nothing threatens our world. Even on the side of the dark mages, whom
we have in no way smoked out from Tibidox."
"Except of course, She-Who-Is-Not?"
"I agree she was the only one who could succeed in organizing to
protect and set her against us. What is more, her getting away forces
us mages to hand over our position to her. If it were not for Leopold
Grotter and his newborn on the night...."
"Not just Grotter. You never were afraid of her, Academician! Even
when she was in power!"
Sardanapal bashfully turned pink:
"Oh, of course! I always was prepared to say her true name in
everybody's hearing -- Chuma del'Torte! See? CHUMA DEL'TORTE! And it's
never that terrible!"
The resounding voice of the Academician didn't have time to fall
into silence before something changed in the many-floored labyrinth
above them. As a glass loggia on the third floor was sprinkled with
shards, from there flew a rapidly reddening iron, lashing its cord.
With a sizzle splitting the air, it aimed right for Sardanapal's head.
Gathering up the folds of his cloak, the academician playfully jumped
aside and muttered something. In that same moment, the iron turned
"See? She-Who-Is-Not wanted to kill you!" exclaimed Meduzia with
"Trifles. My own aunts could have beaten that... Just one of the
old spells activating. She has a thousand of them scattered
everywhere." Sardanapal smiled and advanced on an escaped head of
cabbage which was trying to wind its own tie around his foot.
Meduziya pulled a face from loathing. Into her hand in some unknown
way sprang a lorgnette, with which she closely examined the parts of
the destroyed iron.
"What an abomination! The next nasty invention of the lop-eared...
Let's get out of here! There's nothing more for us to do here."
Chernomorov shook his head:
"But that's where you're making a mistake. She's given us time to
carry out my own unpleasant and serious part of our mission. I began to
talk about this, but they went crazy on us. We are the proper ones...
since for us this isn't so hard...to leave Tanya with the man you just
Meduziya Gorgonova recoiled. Her tousled copper-red hair rose on end
suddenly and hissed. If by chance a man did not know what Meduziya had
done in the past, he might well think that what he saw was a tangle of
"WHAT? Do I hear you right? You want to hand over the daughter of
Leopold Grotter to this miserable lopear? The little girl who in
some mysterious way survived the fight with She-Who-Is-Not? The little
girl whom She-Who-Is-Not disappeared after meeting?"
Catching a hint of anger in Meduziya's voice, the Academician
hastily turned away so as to avoid looking her in the eye as if
accidentally. Warding off ancient magics he could do, but she had
"Meduziya, for us there is no other way out," he said softly. "We
simply cannot act differently. I swear by the hair of Dvernir, I
would rather have permitted shaving off my whiskers and burning my
beard than hand over Grotter's daughter to this lopear. But...we
have to; we simply are obligated to do this for the good of all
"But why?" exclaimed Meduziya. "Why?"
The greatest of mages went down on a pile of leaves and stretched
out his legs in their old-fashioned stockings. The last time he was in
the human world was at the time of Catherine the Great, and now,
trying to dress in fashion, he was a little off-target.
"I'll tell you everything like it was that night. You remember, that
three days before it all happened, those terrible thunderstorms burst
"...obviously of magical origin. Even now we don't clearly know who
sent them," interrupted Meduziya.
"Precisely. On that night, into the window of Tibidox's chief tower,
where, as you know, my alchemical laboratory was located, a little cupid
in red suspenders flew through the wet weather to me," reported
His mustachios immediately molded themselves into the shape of two
hearts. It pleased them to gently tease their master. Hiding a smile,
Docent Gorgonova licked her lips.
"A cupid? To you? But why a cupid? An Amor to someone not interested
The mustachios offendedly came to a standstill. The right one even
tried to flick Meduziya on the nose, but couldn't reach.
"It's beyond me to explain why that cupid was sent," dryly
pronounced Sardanapal. "I do not meddle with them, or with the harpies,
or with the house, or with the department heads of Tibidox about
dragon-aches. Yes, it will be known to you that the purpose of his
visit was far from romantic. In our boring century, love is all
too frequently declared over the telephone. The Arrows of Amor, still
more powerful than anything, are no longer effective -- fat skin
stops them easily. So here was the poor cupid who landed -- keeping
busy by handing out mail. They have to earn themselves nectar and
"So the little cupid wrung out his wet suspenders and delivered me
a letter from Leopold Grotter."
"Grotter's last letter!" exclaimed Meduziya. Her sarcasm evaporated.
"But you have never told anybody...."
Sardanapal's mustachios swished with the speed of a car's
windshield wiper, showing that this was a serious secret.
"Naturally, nobody. And you soon will know why. The truth only
those whom I absolutely trust need to know. I sent the little cupid to
warm up in the Russian bath -- realizing I was glad that the cyclopes
arranged it in the basement (although sometimes one of a pair
certainly tears things up) -- but I myself immediately stopped to read
the letter. It was very brief: Grotter reported that after a great
number of failures, he was finally successful in obtaining the
Talisman of the Four Elements."
Meduziya's pupils contracted. She looked anxiously around at the
manhole, checking if that curious prominent nose was climbing out.
"I should have bespelled her mind sooner," muttered she. "The
Talisman of the Four Elements contained in itself the power of fire,
air, earth and water! Given that, for the one who carries it, the
Talisman means enormous power. It's disturbing that whoever owns the
Talisman might indeed throw out a challenge himself...to She-Who...."
"Yes, Chuma del'Torte," bravely clarified Sardanapal, against his
will glancing upward. If there was still another iron, it did not
whistle. "Grotter wrote that to get the talisman he used one hundred
forty-seven various blended ingredients, among which, I believe,
serdolnik and a mouse's tears must be present without fail. Well, but
the secret of all the others he carried with him into the grave...."
"But his talisman?" anxiously asked Meduziya.
"The talisman was lost. It disappeared in a mysterious way. But you
aren't listening... Scarcely waiting for the thunderstorm's end, I got
on the jet divan and started flying to Leopold Grotter."
"You flew on the jet divan?"
Chernomorov was troubled. However, it was forbidden to say much.
"Yes, I understand, what you want to say: one of the pupils,
particularly of the "dark", might see and hold me up to ridicule.
Yes, indeed: the Academician, the laureate of the Magic Suspenders
Prize, the legendary head of Tibidox, flies on a ragged divan with
plucked chicken wings...A divan from which copper springs stick out...
It was already late, and noone could see me. Yes, and from where would
they look, unless someone stood looking up into the window? Hearing
nothing but a very small din...Mm...I nearly didn't plunge into the
stained glass window of the Hall of Two Elements, except the glass was
crumbling from time...All the same, it was seven hundred years
*What a nightmare! And I thought the stained glass was shattered by
lightning!* thought Meduziya.
"In the beginning I wanted to use the flying carpet, but setting out
on the carpet in such dampness was indeed a waste: it's moth-eaten. And
then, the jet divan is almost one and a half times faster...Well, and
I don't generally mention the fast-runner boots. Since they were
evil-eyed, their precision landings are off by almost 20 versts...Oh,
of course I could grab a mop with propellors or a flying vacuum cleaner,
but you well know that they're uncomfortable. In the long time flying
there, they'd make my back go numb, and the lack of a luggage rack
makes it a bother for one to carry even the smallest load."
The relaxing teacher sighed softly. In Tibidox they'd long ago
gotten used to the odd academician Sardanapal. It was entirely
possible for him to mix up epochs and give classes in a Roman toga,
or to burn up someone's earwax by mistake by confusing it with sulfur in
chemistry. And what about the affair of the guest from Bald Mountain,
when the academician plunged him into a three-month-long sleep by
happening to give him a chipmunk hibernation spell instead a welcoming
speech? But what was not said was that he was indeed the best White Mage
"Aren't you listening to me, Meduziya? In my opinion, you're
distracted!" The Academician looked reproachfully at his companion;
and she belatedly figured out that she'd forgotten to ward her own
thoughts with a safe-conduct spell.
When you have business with mighty mages, you can't lose your
concentration on any little thing.
"So I flew to Leopold," continued Sardanapal. "The wind was
favorable, so that I spent no more than three hours on the way. When I
had not yet reached the place, I discovered that the undead were crowded
around his house in large numbers. They behaved themselves very
oddly -- they muttered something, snorted, or walked in a circle,
and in general were somewhat crestfallen. Noticing me, after only a
few minutes the undead melted away. You well know the being who was
much to them that suddenly vanished at that same time...."
"And nobody was even trying to attack?" asked the startled Meduziya.
"Absolutely. I didn't trust my own eyes. Only Chuma del'Torte
could gather so many undead in one place, but indeed she would not
give up the chance to balance her accounts with me. Here is the
puzzle -- not long ago the undead were prepared to tear us into
shreds, but now for them it's as if we don't exist...They occupied
themselves with tiny squabbles."
"So then you figured out that Chuma del'Torte had disappeared?"
"Well, I hadn't already guessed, but I had decided. I reached
Leopold's house; I knocked and got not a sound in answer. Then I
pushed on the door and it opened. Not even opened -- it simply fell at
a single touch. In the house everything had been turned upside down.
The inner walls were caved in, the banisters charred, the furniture
nothing but splinters. Similarly, someone controlling monstrous magic
forces had pronounced a spell full of destruction. I threw myself into
the laboratory. It was damaged worst of all. Even the granite boulder
that served Leopold as an experiment table crumbled into powder at the
barest touch..." Sardanapal's voice shook. "Grotter and his wife
Sofya...it was already impossible to help them in any way. Not even I
could do it, although, as you know, Meduziya, I know a little about
"But here is the miracle -- in the middle of the laboratory, on a
pulled-out spell rug amidst sprinkled bits of plaster, lay the
instrument case for a double bass, and in it -- a tiny little girl,
"We knew the Grotters very well, Meduziya. They were people of art,
mages in lofty subjects. Magic and music -- they lived for them. For
a child of theirs there was no baby carriage; he always used the double
bass case. Fearing that the little girl also was dead, I bent over the
case, and -- o miracle! -- she slept peacefully, and in the palm of
her hand was held the silver scorpion of Chuma del'Torte."
Meduziya straightened abruptly. Her copper-red hair began to hiss
"What? That same assassin-scorpion which She-Who-Is-Not sent on
secret missions to sting her victims when she wanted to enjoy their
"Yes. But the did not seem to hurt the little girl, although I
noticed two red spots on the tip of her nose. It looked like the scorpion
stung her right in the mole. Even a light sting usually would be
enough to kill an adult magician... And she, who is a little one, it
would simply overwhelm. A one-year-old girl dealt with the silver
scorpion and wasn't even woken up."
"All the same, it's unbelievable that she survived. Maybe the
scorpion didn't use its poison? Or had made use of it before?" asked
Gorgonova with incredulity.
"No, there was plenty of poison. And Chuma del'Torte doesn't keep
an old scorpion. But even forgetting about the scorpion, the rest
remains: a spell of destruction -- this was a fearsome white flash
that burned up everything in a sphere around it -- also did not seem to
cause Tanya harm in any way. But to a mage it looked like it wasn't
because it was directed selectively. It took out everything and everyone
who was near, with the exception of the one who uttered the spell."
Along Meduziya's cheek rolled a tear which fell onto the pile of
maple leaves. The leaves began to smoke. The unknown Russian
storyteller who first called women's tears 'burning' gave this sign
that that someone was also one of the magicians.
"Poor unlucky Grotters! And that was indeed the Talisman of the Four
Elements?" sniffled Meduziya.
"I didn't succeed in discovering that," said Sardanapal. "It wasn't
with Leopold, his wife Sofya, nor the child...It was not anywhere in
the house. Most likely, it was destroyed by spells together with all
the other Grotters. From the beginning I suspected that the truth was
that he did something to Chuma del'Torte, but if indeed that is what
happened, we already knew about it. No, she completely disappeared,
and the strange behavior of the undead -- this was a better
confirmation. I don't know what happened in the Grotters' house, but
this is a tiny little girl who did what not one magician could do...
She stopped She-Who-Is-Not...."
Only now discovering the hot leaves under her own feet, Meduziya
pronounced a short spell, accompanying it with its sign, which her
magic ring inscribed straight in the air. The fire went out. A trace
of Meduziya's sign for some time still hung in the air, faintly
wavering. Gorgonova irritably wiped off her palms.
"But why do you want to give the little girl to Durnev? Why send
her out into the world to the lop-eared? What is it to us to raise her
in Tibidox?" she asked with vexation.
"Meduziya, you forget. What's behind the site of Tibidox? Already
it's 'Who? who?' and the child that did it means completely nothing.
Only imagine -- Tibidox -- and suddenly there's a child. What if the
Eyeless Horror surfaced? Or, tell me, what if the Dumpling Maker let his
Coffin Covers escape, and they watched on dark stairs for late-arriving
pupils, like they did last time? And the cyclopes, running wild every
full moon? And Torn-Apart, whom, incidentally, you dragged completely
in vain from the red-hot cavern in the Earth's core where he was
"He promised that he'd give up all his habits and would be our
gatekeeper. You yourself know that it's hard to rely on the cyclopes.
Those dimwits' heads are like a sieve," said Meduziya,justifying herself.
"And why...well, you yourself know that's because...."
"That's it exactly...Along Tibidox's corridors walks the invisible
Torn-Apart, wheezing and creating sticky traps, and we can't even
catch him because he can be reflected only in the Mirror of Fate, but
he doesn't show himself or his nose around there!" shouted Sardanapal
angrily. "And you want me to bring the Grotters' daughter back to
"But I could lay on warding incantations! Powerful guard spells,
across which could step neither Torn-Apart, nor Karachun, nor the
Ancient Baba, nor the Eyeless Horror. And the Empty Invalid's Carriage
and the Flying Coffin Lid -- these are usually trifles, really. They
are only able to cause harm to novice students who are not familiar
with repulsion spells...." Meduziya spoke without thinking.
"And a little baby girl, in your opinion, could pronounce them?"
"No, of course not. But Sardanapal, we could make amends for the one
in the Drained Bath, and then...."
The White Mage academician interrupted her.
"Yes, I agree. We could. The Coffin Lid -- this is a trifle. The
Carriage also. The freeze traps and Strangler-Statues are also,
possibly, trivial. But the Nameless Basement? Well, and the Vanishing
Floor, is that also a trifle? We don't know how many fools have
managed to sneak in there up till now. And finally, what do you say
about the Gruesome Gate?"
"You're right, Sardanapal," she said, crushed. "I didn't remember
about the Nameless Basement and the Gruesome Gate...But this is the
Grotters' daughter! The little girl who was able to survive an
encounter with She-Who-Is-Not and pulled out...."
The Academician interrupted her.
"We don't know how she did it, but we know what it cost Leopold and
Sofya. And to expose the little girl to danger again...Except for
that..." Here Sardanapal made a long pause. "There's still one other
reason...It's extremely important, and it's why Tanya must not be
found in Tibidox in any way. Just in case, since that might not have
to appear for a long time...."
"What reason?!" heatedly exclaimed Meduziya.
Sardanapal looked at her reproachfully.
"For the time being I can't tell you, even though I trust you more
than anyone. But this is the same reason for which Grotter did not
stay living in Tibidox, and took Sofya and the child to that
wilderness where, except for marsh kikimoras, werewolves and the undead,
they never ran into anyone. And this was Grotter, with his beautiful
capital-educated manners and his habit of holding daily music gatherings.
You understand, Meduziya?"
Docent Gorgonova nodded dejectedly, realizing that the reason
driving Grotter into the wilderness and compelling him to forsake
Tibidox in the flower of his career had to have been very weighty.
"And so, the decision...This very night we return here with the
child and slip her to German Durnev and his wife. It cannot be that
seeing the poor orphan would not touch their hearts...Let them raise
her together with their own daughter. The little girls are the same
age; they will be happier together. Let's go, Meduziya. It's time!
A-a-a-a-choo!" Suddenly the academician sneezed so deafeningly that
all the constellations were blown off his handkerchief at once, and
the telephone booth that stood by the apartment house came tumbling
down on one side with a crash.
"I already said it; you've caught a cold!" said Meduziya
"Nonsense!" said an angered Sardanapal. "Stop watching over my
health! That someone who's had his head chopped off three times
should be afraid of an ordinary cold...A-choo!"
The White Mage Academician wrapped himself up in his orange mantle
and, decisively walking after his beard, pointed past the apartment
house toward the not too large public garden. His restless mustachios
beat time to his steps: one-two, one-two. Meduziya followed after them.
Greatness was passing, filling the street in that hour when it was
forced to walk along our works; little attention was paid to them.
And indeed, what would have attracted curiosity, when only a shaggy
mongrel and, a short distance away, an elegant borzoi with a long muzzle,
could be seen? For the two experienced magicians did not need to cook
up a pair of warding spells.
Having taken thirty steps, Academician Sardanapal awkwardly bounced
up and down, cracking his knees, and, muttering spells. dissolved into
thin air. Unlike her teacher, Meduziya did not have the power to
disappear instantly from the human world. She shrewdly went up to the
public garden and from the bushes extracted a child's rocking horse,
painted patterns on its crest. Checking the seat for all twelve
talismans without which the pony simply couldn't take off, she
clambered onto it with a little work and, abruptly soaring, vanished
in the middle of cumulus clouds.
The curious thing was that, even on a funny children's pony, Docent
Gorgonova managed to look majestic as she looked out over her own bird.
If somewhere on the way she came across the Dead Vulture, the poor
devil was going to be the worse for wear. But then, he was also dead
already, so to lose his life was nothing special.
The sun lazily yawned and rose over the roofs. The unusual day
German Durnev was a man of 117 bad moods. If the first mood could be
characterized as slightly bad, the last, the 117th, equated to a good
gale force storm. It was in this 117th poor mood that the leader of the
Second-Hand Socks company came back to the apartment house that day.
On the way home, it constantly seemed to him that the other cars were
driving too slowly, and he began to hit the horn with his palm.
At this it twice seemed to him that the honking sound slowly softened,
and then, leaning his head out the car window, he screamed, "Hey, what
are you towing? Drive around him, drive around! You want me to walk out
and nail you one? You want to give a sick man a heart attack?"
The sick man that Durnev spoke of, naturally, was himself. The basic
reason German Nikitich's mood deteriorated so severely was the feeling
that they were after him, and that some sort of strange and mysterious
forces secretly were making fun of him. It all began that very morning
when he'd just set out for work. Along the way something in the trunk
clattered so loudly that it made the car jump, but when he got out to
look, he found that nothing was in the trunk. When Durnev got back
behind the wheel, he found stuck to the windshield his own picture from
a magazine. It seemed to him that a page should be puddle-soaked if it
was thrown onto the glass by the wind.
The director was so over-excited that, when he tore off his picture,
his fingers trembled; and he unexpectedly tore off from the photograph
the part with his head and ears. Keeping an eye on this bad omen for
himself, German Nikitich swallowed thirty tablets of "Tranquility" all
at once and washed them down with a small bottle of valerian drops.
All the same, when he had arrived at work he discovered that the
trashbasket in his private office was overturned, and all the trash
from it had been shaken unceremoniously onto the carpet. And not
simply shaken out, but also had had something stinky spilled over it.
Becoming enraged, Durnev immediately fired the cleaner, then
announced that he was not taking calls.
Opening the safe so as to get his seal, he saw a pale mushroom on
a thin stem. When German Nikitich pulled it out, it spread across his
papers, leaving behind a sticky slime. After this accident Durnev
collapsed in his chair and went to his duties: the mail and clicking
his teeth with a small steady beat.
"25...26...I am not the least bit nervous. What are you staring at?
Get to work! Really, I didn't ask you to bring me the price of an old
toothbrush," he began to scream at a subordinate who timidly looked
in. The poor manager slipped into his own crumb-sized private office,
where it smelled like he was being swallowed by motheaten sweaters
and threadbare jeans, and, collapsing into his chair, barely managed
not to die from fright.
No need to explain that, by evening, Durnev was quite tipsy.
"Give me anything to drink...You see, here's the latest foul thing
that's happened!" he groaned, barely finding his way to the apartment
Unlike the office, full from floor to ceiling with literally
downtrodden marked-down old junk and things to wear, in his own
apartment house everything of Durnev's was completely new.
German Nikitich's wife -- Ninel -- was indeed as stout as her
spouse was skinny. When she slept, the crushed skin of her cheeks
crawled away along the pillow, and her blanket-covered body looked
like a snowy mountain you could ski.
"Ach, Germanchik, you imagined it all! You didn't go through all
that! You're as green as a New Year's tree! But you'll better if I
kiss you on your little cheek!" cooed Ninel in a lush bass voice,
with a cheering pat on her husband's back from her ring-studded hand.
"Phooey! Stop this lovey-dovey stuff!" growled German Nikitich.
However, his bad mood lifted a little, jumping from #117 to #66, and
then up to #50.
After supper Durnev cheered up, so that he wanted to play with his
one-year old daughter Penelopa, or Pipa, as her parents gently called
her. From Mama she inherited her knitted brows and figure like a small
suitcase, and from Papa little eyes set in little holes, ears that
stuck out, and sparse whitish hair. Naturally, the Durnevs didn't see
anything wrong with her, and believed their Pipa was the most beautiful
person in the world.
The heiress of the family sat in a playpen and with concentration,
broke a doll. Three beheaded poppets already rolled around on the rug,
and their heads were planted on the rattles topping the decorated
"Such a bright little girl! She'll be Director, just like her
Papimple!" said Durnev, moved.
He leaned over the playpen and made attempts to kiss Pipa on the
top of her head. His daughter's right hand grabbed Papa by the hair;
with the left she squeezed a plastic shovel and began to saw Papa's
neck in two, obviously prepared to do the same thing to him that
she'd done with the dolls.
"What a little paw! A miraculous child!" said Papimple.
With work he freed his hair and in any case stepped a little
farther from the playpen, where she could not reach and could not
walk so far. With strength, Pipa threw the shovel after him, but
got a scolding only for hitting the little glass on top of the
television set, followed immediately by songs of praise for her
readiness to spread breakage.
"Oh, how strong our daughter is! What good aim!" rapturously
"Careful...she took off a shoe!" said the biased Durnev, just in
case putting his head in his hands so as to dodge this rather
At that instant, the doorbell of the apartment rang. The doorbell,
normally an echidna's peep, now emitted a loud, almost exultant trill.
Durnev and his wife immediately winced.
"Are you expecting anybody, ratling?" asked Ninel.
"No, nobody. And you?"
"Also nobody...." answered Ninel, after German made his way by her
to the peephole.
Pipa threw a shoe after them, but its shoelace had wrapped itself
around her hands, and the shoe, rebounding, hit her on the nose.
Pipa yowled like a steamboat whistle.
By that time German was looking through the peephole. Nobody was
visible through it, though the doorbell did not fall silent and
continued to demand persistently that they open it.
"Hey, who's there? I'm warning you, I don't like this joke!"
bellowed Durnev, and arming himself with a hammer, looked out onto
the landing. Suddenly his face look like the old woman's who
mistakenly petted a Nile crocodile instead of a poodle.
In front of the door, barely fitting onto the narrow landing, lay
the enormous case for a double bass. The case was exceptionally old,
covered on the outside with thick rough leather looking something
like scales. Had German Nikitich been a little more erudite or had the
habit of leafing through books in the first place, he easily might
have thought how painters always depicted such skin on dragons.
Moreover, on the bulging handle of the double bass case was riveted
a little copper label on which was written:
"...shebnye...trumenty maga Feo...:
...barabany,...trabasy i dr."
But Durnev had not the smallest wish to examine either the case
or that additional label upon it. He only figured out that someone
had abandoned a large and suspicious item on his threshold and that
those who'd abandoned it were now getting away quicker than anything.
German Nikitich awkwardly leapt over the case, and jumping out
onto the stairway, screamed across, into echoing emptiness:
"Hey, you there! Well, and take away your suspicious stuff -- I'll
call the militia! Secretly placed bombs are nothing of mine!"
At this yell, nobody answered. Only at that moment Durnev,
sticking his head between the banister rails, seemed to flash a
shadow a few floors below. Then the outside door slammed, and all
became quiet. The director of the Second-Hand Socks company figured
that the rascals who'd slipped him mysterious stuff had run away.
Still yelling out vaporous threats, German Nikitich came back. The
case was still in the same place. Not walking up the next few steps,
Durnev squatted on his hams and propped his head on his palms.
"Ninel, Ninel, come here -- look, this is what they've left us!"
he called plaintively.
From the apartment peered his spouse's head. Ninel's hands clutched
a Tfal frying pan aimed at her husband, armed with a hammer.
"Looky -- a case!" she said, surprised.
"Don't take it into your head to touch it! There's a bomb in there
for sure!" yelped German Nikitich.
At this moment from the case came a strange sound. The Durnevs
decided that this was the alarm of a timing mechanism.
"Now run! Down!" the leader of the Second-Hand Socks company
screamed, and quickly began to crawl away. His spouse flopped onto
the linoleum, shielding her head with the Tfal skillet.
But the expected explosion did not follow. Instead of this, from
the case was heard a child's demanding crying. Exchanging amazed
glances, Durnev and his spouse crept up to the case. He flicked the
old latch, the lid was pushed aside....
"Aah! Did you see? This is a child!" exclaimed Ninel, running into
her own spouse.
"Better a bomb!" moaned German Nikitich.
Inside the case, on a thoughtfully fastened red blanket, lay a
tiny little girl with curly hair. On the tip of her nose was a
not over-large -- it was the size of a buckwheat grain -- mole. The
little one had overslept and now cried loudly from hunger,
energetically drumming her arms and legs against the double bass case.
Ninel squeamishly made a face.
"No! I won't have her in our apartment house! She's probably
infected with something? Contagious for certain, even! Look at this
suspicious blemish on her nose! Indeed, my innards would lurch
with loathing if she were found in the same bed as Pipa. But we also
can't leave her here. Run fetch the neighbors...."
"Oh, of course we won't abandon her! We are humane people! We will
hand over the little girl to an infant home, and when she grows up,
they'll send her to a children's home! There they'll train her to paint
fences, sweep streets, and a hundred other wonderful professions!"
Gathering himself to fly over the landing, he then shuffled to the
telephone, as suddenly his wife exclaimed, "Look, ratling, that's a
letter! Here, tied to the child's wrist!...Stop swinging your arms,
little frog, I'll have it just the same!"
Bending over, Ninel disdainfully freed the envelope. In it was
enclosed a photograph. Looking at it, German Nikitich was covered
with the sweat of indecision. In the photos were shown two boys --
one emaciated, with a sour and mean face, and the other thoughtful
and sad, with a big nose and red curls.
"Oh, no!" groaned Durnev. "This is me and Lenchik Grotter, my
third cousin on my grandmother's side. Here, look: I tried to smack
him alongside the truck, and he stared into his blasted telescope!
For some reason today reminds me of that bad day. Is this little
girl really his daughter? If so, we must take her, or it'll put an
end to my political career. You well know, Ninel, that I want to run
for the Chamber of Deputies...."
Hearing that the little girl could stay with them, his wife swelled
up with anger so far that she could hardly fit on the landing.
"You NEVER told me about LENCHIK GROTTER!" yelped she.
Durnev began to cough with embarrassment.
"Well, I always...that is, he's not Lenchik but Leopold...my
grandmother called him Lenchik...Oh, this was me, of course, not
Grandmother, naturally, and this is Grotter! In childhood, we
detested each other fiercely. Tearing into pieces every time we met.
To be more exact, that is, I beat on him, and he more sat through it
in a corner or leafed through his idiotic little books. He was
always busy with all sorts of nonsense -- playing with hedgehogs,
studying to speak the language of cats -- but they held him up to me
as an example! And what do you think? At ten years old, he
hotwired his first motorcycle, and at twelve he robbed a bank! Then,
too, I thought he was lying low after all this."
"A twelve-year-old boy robbed a bank?" said his spouse, not
believing her ears.
"Without any rigmarole. He did it by computer, not even leaving
his apartment house, but they found him. When the militia pinned
him down, he simply, simply vanished. Everyone thought that he was in
his room; they broke open the door, and nobody was there. They looked
for him, but they couldn't find him, either. They even thought that
he'd been killed. I was happier than anyone, because you know where
that crazy kid transferred all his money? To a benefit fund for
stray dogs! Not to give it to me, his own third cousin, but he...
to some little dog...."
Durnev turned red from outrage. It seemed that his ears and nostrils
were about to gush steam.
"Well, all right, he disappeared and disappeared," he continued,
not calmed down any. "And now hear me continue further. Fifteen
years passed, and from this character I got a New Year's postcard
with an idiotic postmark picturing a winged monster. I read it,
tossed it on a chair, and it immediately vanished someplace before
I had time to look at the return address. And now here is this baby!
Interesting, but why would Grotter send me his own offspring?"
"Look, here's a newspaper clipping!" exclaimed Ninel, having
decided to look inside the envelope once more.
TRAGEDY IN MOUNTAINS
A year doesn't pass when avalanches of snow
don't carry off new lives.
This time their victims were archaeologists
Sofya and Leopold Grotter, exploring burials of
prehistoric animals in the Tien-Shan Mountains. A
huge snowslide literally smashed their tent, which
they carelessly had pitched on a dangerous part of
the slope. The bodies of the brave archaeologists
were also not found. Sofya and Leopold are survived
by a daughter, Tatyana, who now evidently will be
raised by a distant relative.
It is known that not long before the tragedy
the Grotters had succeeded in finding the well-
preserved remains of a sabertooth tiger.
"Poor tiger! Found by those two! Still, he's lucky he was dead!"
exclaimed Durnev with feeling.
This was the only pity which German Nikitich expressed upon
finding out about the death of his third cousin. The little girl
lying in the double bass case had quieted down for the time they
read the note, but afterwards began to cry twice as loud.
"Oh, how she's burst into tears, just as if she understood something!"
said Durnev. "I swear, when she grows up, she'll land in jail! Just
for that, for the pleasure of watching that spectacle, we'll legalize
her guardianship! Feed her, Ninel! In the refrigerator there's some
kefir that's past its expiration date. Just the same as throwing it
So German Durnev and his wife Ninel became Uncle German and Aunt
Ninel. Under these resounding titles they became known in their own
time and in the reference book _One Thousand Very Unpleasant Lopears_.
German: pronounced Gair-mon. In Russian it means "native".
Nikitich: Nikitovich (son of Nikita, probably). Nikitich is how
it's said (and spelled in the book). This is German's patronym.
His full name would be German Nikitovich Durnev. His daughter's
name would be Penelopa Germanovna Durneva. (Tanya has a foreign
last name so she's Grotter, not Grottera.)
Durnev: from "durnoi", evil or bad. 'Descendant of Evil', more or less.
Ninel: A popular Soviet girl's name for partymembers' children. It's
Lenin spelled backwards. No, I'm not kidding.
VVTs: A big exhibition hall in Moscow.
Sardanapal Chernomorov: Sardanapalus was a legendary king of Assyria,
known mainly for his disreputable life and death and the cats
named after him. Chernomor means Black Sea. There's also an evil
magic dwarf named Chernomor in the story of Ruslan and Ludmila:
Docent: equivalent to assistant professor.
She-Who-Is-Not: Ta-Kovo-Nyet, in the original
Koshchei the Undying: Koshchei Bessmertny. There's a picture of the
old geezer here: http://www.uky.edu/~jrouhie/fairytalepix.html
kikimorka/kikimora: The book says 'kikimorka', which is a diminutive.
'Kikimora' are also mentioned later on in the story. Most of the
contemporary Russian kikimora material refers to a green-skinned critter
who lives in swamps (or sewers, in this case). The chicken-like
kikimoras who lived near the house and made a fuss about bad
housekeeping they are not. All of kikimora's remarks rhyme (except 'go
play in a grave!') and are followed with -gu, -gi, -ga, -ugi or -uga.
Contemporary Russians' green swampy kikimora:
A domestic chicken-type kikimora (probably scanned in
from the old edition of Larousse's Mythology):
Chuma-del'-Tort: "Plague of Cake". Or "Plague of Wrong", if you take
the legal meaning of Tort. And since we learn next chapter that Chuma
del'Torte disappeared about the same time the Soviet Union became
glass loggia: Russian apartment dwellers often have glassed-in balconies
which they use as sunrooms/greenhouses in good weather, and as one big
honking piece of window insulation in the winter. There will be a quiz
"the seventh water is sour" -- Russian Orthodox marriage law traditionally
prohibited marriage between cousins up to the seventh (or even the tenth)
serdolnik: I have not a clue what this means.
mushroom: Kikimoras are associated with them. It's a clue that she and
the Dead Vulture both were spying on German Durnev. (She must've been
the critter in the trunk.)
New Year's tree: Along with (Orthodox) Christmas or Epiphany, Russians
have long celebrated New Year's Day. They used to decorate the first
sheaf of grain harvested (kept around the house for good luck), but
nowadays they have New Year's trees instead of Christmas ones.
Grandfather Frost and the Snow Maiden are also associated with this
militia: what they call the police in Russia.
kefir: liquid yogurt. A very popular drink.