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Translated by Irina Zheleznova
Illustrated by M.Churilov
Ant climbed to the very top of the birch tree and looked down. He sat down on a leaf and said to himself, "I'll rest here for a while and then climb back down again."
The rules of an ant family are very strict: as soon as the sun begins to set all the ants must hurry home. If an ant is late, he has to spend the night outdoors.
"I have plenty of time. It won't take long to run down," he said to himself.
The leaf he was sitting on was yellow and dry. A sudden gust of wind tore it off the branch and carried it over. Ant hung on to the leaf for dear life.
The wind carried it to a meadow and there it fell, right onto a rock. The bump hurt Ant's legs. "I'll never get back home now. If my legs didn't hurt. I'd get back home in no time..."
Ant looked around and saw an inchworm. It had legs in front and legs in back.
"Won't you take me home? All my legs ache," Ant said.
"All right. Get on."
Ant climbed onto Inchworm' s back. Inchworm curved his back and brought his rear legs forward. He set them down behind his front legs so that his tail was right behind his head. Then he suddenly raised his front legs off the ground and into the air. Then he flopped down. And that is how he moved forward. Meanwhile, Ant was flying up and down, up and down, legs up and head down over and over again. "I can't take this any more! Stop or I'll bite you! "
Inchworm stopped and stretched out on the ground. Ant jumped off. He could hardly catch his breath. He looked around and saw a meadow covered with mown grass. Daddy-long-legs was walking along there. His legs were like stilts and his head bobbed up and down between them. "Spider, won't you take me home? All my legs ache."
"All right, get on."
Ant had to climb up Spiders' leg as far as the knee, and then slide down his knee to his back. Spider began moving his stilts every which way, one here, the other there.
Ant soon got tired of this kind of a piggy-back ride. He was just getting ready to bite Spider when they reached a smooth, even path.
Spider stopped. "Get off. See that beetle? It's much faster than I am."
Ant got off. "Beetle, Beetle, won't you take me home? All my legs ache."
"All right, get on. You can come along for the ride."
No sooner had Ant scrambled onto Beetle's back, than they were off at top speed. The six-legged steed galloped along as smoothly as if it were flying. They soon reached a potato field.
"Get off. I can't manage these up-and-down rows. They're too steep for me. You'd better find another horse."
He had to get off. The potato vines might just as well have been a jungle, It would have taken him a whole day to cross the field, even if his legs did not ache. Then Ant heard a squeak: "Come on. Ant, get on my back and we'll be off! " Ant turned to see who it was. He saw a little flea. "You'll never get me off the ground. See how small you are! "
"You think you're so big? Come on, get on."
Ant finally managed to get himself seated on Flea's back, though his legs hung over the sides.
Flea tucked his strong hind legs under him. When they were folded up they were just like little springs. Click! Flea hopped to the top of a row. Click! They were on another row.
"Can you hop over the fence? " Ant asked.
"No, it's too high. Ask Grasshopper. He can."
"Grasshopper, won't you take me home? All my legs ache. "
Ant got on Grasshopper's back.
Grasshopper folded his hind legs in half and then quickly straightened them out. This sent him high into the air. But then Grasshopper suddenly opened his wings with a great crackling sound and flew over the fence. They settled to the ground on the other side.
"This is as far as I'm going. You'll have to get off here."
Ant saw a river ahead. He would never be able to swim across it. The sun was much lower now.
"I can't jump across the river, either. It's too broad. But wait! I'll call Waterbug! He'll ferry you across," Grasshopper said. He made a sawing sound.
Soon a little boat on legs came gliding. When it got closer Ant saw it was not a boat at all. It was Waterbug. "Waterbug, won't you take me home? All my legs ache."
"All right, get on."
As soon as Ant had got on Waterbug' s back, he set off across the water, just as if he were walking on land. "Can't you go any faster? Please try. They won't let me in if I'm late."
"I'll try," Waterbug said and scurried along as fast as he could, shoving hard with his hind legs and then sliding along as if he were skating on ice. They reached the other bank in no time.
"Can't you walk on land? "
"No. It's awfully hard, because my feet don't glide there. You'd better find yourself another horse."
Ant looked up. The sun had gone down behind the trees. Alas! He would never be home on time.
"There's a horse for you coming our way," Waterbug said. Indeed, there was big clumsy Maybug. No, that sort of a horse would never do! Still, Ant took Waterbug's advice and said, "Maybug, Maybug, won’t you take me home? All my legs ache."
Ant climbed up Maybug's hard side.
"Where are you?"
"On your back."
"Silly! Get on my head." Ant climbed onto Maybug's head. It was a good thing he did, because a moment later Maybug's back split in two to make two hard wings that were just like two upside-down scoops. Then a pair of silky, transparent wings opened up from under them. They were longer and wider than the hard top wings.
"Huff, huff, huff! went Maybug, puffing away as if he was starting up a motor.
"Can't you hurry, please? Please?" Maybug did not reply. He just went on huffing. Then his transparent little underwings began to move. Faster and faster they went. Zzz! Zzz! Tuck-tuck-tuck! Maybug rose straight up into the air. Ant saw the rim of the sun touching the earth. Tuck-tuck-tuck! Maybug cut through the air like a bullet.
Then there was the birch tree and the anthill at it's foot. Maybug turned off his motor and plopped down on one of the branches.
"How will I get down? My legs ache. I'll surely break my neck."
He said, "I'm not going to take you down. You ants bite too hard. So you'd better manage as best as you can."
Ant looked around, but all he saw were leaves and branches. He would never reach home in time. And he couldn't dive down!
Suddenly he saw Caterpillar on a leaf close by, spinning a silken thread and winding it around a little twig. "Caterpillar, won't you help me get down? I'll have to spend the night outdoors if I'm late."
"Don't bother me. Can't you see I'm busy?"
"Everyone helped me. No one chased me away. You're the only one who doesn't want to." At this Ant jumped at Caterpillar and bit him.
Caterpillar was taken by surprise. He curled up and rolled off the leaf. Ant held on tight. They didn't fall far, because something jerked and held them. The thread was attached to a twig high above them. Ant and Caterpillar swung back and forth and the thread kept getting longer and longer, stretching, yet never tearing.
Meanwhile, all the ants in the anthill were busy covering up the entrances to their tunnels.
Soon all but one were closed.
Ant scrambled off Caterpillar and dashed inside.
At that very moment the sun set.
Author: Bianki V.; illustrated by Churilov M.
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