Siberian Waste: journal entry 89 – Lever

How a man found truth by chasing a myth.

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Something massive and metal scraped across the floor above us until it completely blocked the exit the blown-off iron doors had once covered. The hulking mass was industrial equipment of some kind–rust-repellent green and covered in rivets. Our only escape route had been blocked. We were too late.

“Shit!” I ran up the stairs and pushed against the metal hunk with all my might. Nothing. Henry gathered himself and rushed to help. We couldn’t budge it an inch.

“This is it. We’re done. Sorry, Vollus,” said Henry, on the verge of tears.

“Get back up there!” Bat cried out. He lowered Galina to the floor carefully, as far from the flames as possible. He joined us and we all shoved as hard as we could. We managed to lift the machine a few centimeters before our strength gave out.

“It’s not enough!” I yelled.

“You need leverage, you idiots!” Amanda searched the room frantically for a moment then dug her finger tips under the edge of a loose floor board. She strained and pulled until it finally gave way, popping loose of its rusty nails. She groaned as she dragged the heavy board up the stairs to us. “Hoist the machine up again!”

We all yelled loudly and pushed once more, our arms straining in a chorus line of pain. Amanda jabbed the end of the board under a small gap our combined heft had created. “Yes! Now, push down hard on the other end of the board and hope it holds!” We were all coughing and gasping for air as we shoved the board to the floor. The metal monstrosity on the other side of the lever lifted about a foot and a half.

“Hold it as long as you can!” Amanda ducked down and pushed her body through the small opening.

“Amanda, no!” I yelled, as my muscles began to buckle. The board was bowing to the breaking point. I heard her yell out in frustration as wooden splinters dug into her abdomen.

Amanda’s hips were stuck. “Fuck!” she screamed.

My arms were starting to give out. I was wheezing in desperation.

“Galina?” I heard Bat say with surprise. She had dragged herself up the stairs, trickling blood along the way. Panting, she put her hands on Amanda’s heels and pushed with all her might. Amanda shot through the opening with a loud grunt. The board immediately snapped, sending Henry and I falling halfway down the stairs. My ears rang as the machine slammed down with a massive metal clap.

Bat let go of the board in time to catch Galina as she collapsed.

“I’m okay!” Amanda yelled from above.

I gasped in relief. I heard Amanda’s frantic footsteps above me before they faded away. I hoped Lumb hadn’t left any of his cronies behind in the factory.


To be continued:


Artwork by Skinner
Used with permission. © 2017 Skinner

Underneath its pulpy trappings, Siberian Waste is a story about conservation. Consider donating to one of the following Earth-friendly organizations:
Natural Resources Defense Council:
Environmental Working Goup:
Friends of the Earth:


Siberian Waste: journal entry 88 – Jackpot

How a man found truth by chasing a myth.

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JOURNAL ENTRY 88 – Jackpot

I made the mistake of dating a professional activist in my early twenties. A few days before we broke up, I found myself at the front lines of a WTO protest in Seattle. It ended up breaking into a massive riot which provided an unwanted lesson in the police’s crowd control tactics. I had learned the hard way about tear gas, bean bag rounds and flashbangs.

That’s how I knew someone had tossed a stun grenade into the basement with us.

A bright, white blast had temporarily obliterated my vision and left my eardrums throbbing, making the surrounding screams sound as if they were underwater. A gunshot finally snapped me out of my stupor. I coughed violently, desperately waving away a cloud of scorching dust. I tried to stand but lacked the balance.

Someone dragged me into the main room and I was thrown into a pile with my compatriots. The ledgers leaning against the walls were on fire—perhaps from the explosion. I crawled over to Amanda and took her in my arms. “Are you okay?”

Amanda groaned. “I…I’m not sure.”

“Henry?” I called.

I heard Henry cough. “I’m here.”

Galina was gritting her teeth, fighting back a scream. She had been shot in the leg above her knee.

Three figures in black were standing over us with AK47s. Another man was behind them, making his way forward. His gray, tailored suit seemed severely inappropriate for exploring underground catacombs. A white smile beamed through the dust. Ryan Lumb.

“Goddamn, what a mess!” said Lumb, waving smoke away from his face. “Galina, why did you have to go and start kicking around? You got lucky against two guys back at the gulag, but three men with guns? You never had a chance.”

Galina was raging. “I’ll see you dead yet, you stinking piece of subhuman filth!”

Lumb flared his nostrils. “Phew! You’re one to talk, you smell like shit.”

The fire was getting larger but Lumb didn’t seem to care. “See what’s back there,” he ordered, directing his men toward the hidden room. Two of his cronies piled inside. They came back out with the pelts. The teeth. The bones. Everything.

Bat cringed at the sight. “No! Iruugai avaj nuruugai maijmar, ilgai avaj bogsoo archmar!”

Lumb snatched one of the pelts and twirled it lovingly in the air. “Jackpot!” He laughed like a little boy on a sugar-high. He was back in the candy store again. “Teeth and bones too? Son of a bitch! Amazing. Simply amazing.”

Bat redirected his attention to Galina. He tore a piece of his shirt off and tied it around her leg. It soaked through with bright red blood immediately, so he tied on another.

Lumb finally took his eyes away from his plunder and addressed us. “Poor Galina. I know you’re probably wondering ‘how could this happen twice!’ The truth is, I’m just better than you.”

Galina was too weak to respond.

“You’ve crossed the wrong woman, Lumb,” I warned.

“Two of them!” added Amanda.

Lumb coughed. “Well, I’d love to stay and gloat, but I’m afraid this fire is getting a little out of hand,” he said before quickly retreating to the tunnel. I saw one of the mercenaries stick something on the big iron door then back away with his pals.

“Everyone, get down!” I shouted. Amanda and I helped Bat pull Galina underneath the thick oak table. Henry pushed in beside us right before an ear-thrashing explosion filled the room. I heard chunks of debris and shrapnel embedding into the wood above us. The table settings flew away as if caught in a hurricane; plates shattering violently against the wall. The huge doors ripped off their hinges and clanged down the stairs.

As we huddled together in the smoke, Lumb and his crew rushed back inside. He addressed us from behind his gunmen. “Ah, the C4 worked. I just heard from my top-side associates there’s an abandoned factory above this basement. Boy, it would have saved me some time knowing that!” Lumb coughed again. He couldn’t help blathering, even when threatened by a rising, toxic cloud. “It’s a can-opener factory. How could they possibly get by just making can-openers? No wonder it was abandoned.”

I tried to ignore Lumb and assess the state of everyone under the table. Henry was unconscious, but alive. Amanda couldn’t stop coughing, but seemed alright otherwise. I was fine. Galina’s bleeding had slowed.

Lumb laughed. “Did you think I wouldn’t check in on my babysitters at the gulag? I may not care about you people, but I certainly don’t want to get ripped off! When I didn’t hear from them I assumed the worst.”

“This isn’t over. You’ll never get out of Russia in one piece,” moaned Henry. He was regaining his spark as Galina lost hers.

Lumb ignored Henry and turned to one of his hired guns. “I thought for sure this trove would be a few fathoms down. I suppose we could have extrapolated the location and just walked into this stupid basement using the stairs. Oh well, live and learn. Sorry about making you trudge through the sewers.”

The mercenary growled, seemingly displeased.

Lumb dumped his new trophies inside a huge aluminum case. The thick pelts strained against the hinges as he sat on top of the box, latching it closed. “Take it up,” he instructed, pointing to one of the grunts. A hulking figure grabbed the case and made his way up the stairs.

“We have to do something, before it’s too late,” I whispered to Amanda.

Amanda grabbed my wrist tightly. “No! he has a gun, you idiot,” she scolded.

I noticed the holster on Lumb’s hip as he pushed a massive, smoldering bookcase over in front of the tunnel entrance. The brick doorway instantly became engulfed in flames and fill the room with an orange glow. The walls were darkening with soot.

“Bastard!” I howled, standing up to face Lumb. He drew his pistol and sent a few shots into the tabletop, forcing me back down below.

“Is that all you got? I wonder how you even found this place,” said Lumb, lowering the gun. He hacked into a handkerchief as the smoke grew thicker. “Even with the map, we were all stumped. The boys had to blow a hole through the floor of some old urchin’s shack to get into the tunnels.” He hurried to the base of the stairs to avoid the heat. “I doubt the authorities will notice the smoke in time to save you. Your charred corpses will take the fall for my exploits…if there’s any part of you left to find. Farewell Galina.”

I ducked out of cover and rushed Lumb, hoping to buy us some time. A fresh bullet grazed my shoulder and I collapsed in pain. I heard Amanda screaming my name.

“Please, Vollus. I’d rather not kill you directly—that sort of thing keeps a man up at night.” Lumb dashed up the stairs through the hole in the floor. “You…take them out. I don’t want to take any chances,” I heard him say to an unseen man as soon as he reached the top.

“Fuck you, do it yourself.” It was the gruff-sounding mercenary again, and he seemed annoyed. “After making me wade through a fucking sewer for no reason you’re lucky I don’t kill you.” I heard his heavy footsteps walking away.

“Hey, come on, help me push this at least!” I heard Lumb cry.

I stood up and returned to my friends. “We have to get out of here…now! If we rush them, we might have a chance!”


To be continued:


Artwork by Skinner
Used with permission. © 2017 Skinner

Underneath its pulpy trappings, Siberian Waste is a story about conservation. Consider donating to one of the following Earth-friendly organizations:
Natural Resources Defense Council:
Environmental Working Goup:
Friends of the Earth:

Siberian Waste: journal entry 87 – Children’s Folly

How a man found truth by chasing a myth.


JOURNAL ENTRY 87 – Children’s Folly

I could barely contain my excitement as the dust settled. “Anybody find anything yet?”

Amanda searched with her light. “I don’t see anything spectacular so far.”

“I see no gold,” said Bat, swinging his head back and forth.

We were inside a large but sparsely-filled room. Everything was layered in fine dust. It became obvious that no one had visited the place in a long time.

“I think we’re in the basement of some old factory.” I saw a stairwell in the back of the room leading up to a massive, horizontal, metal door in the ceiling. Steam heating pipes were jutting out of the walls, tangling with each other like mad snakes. There was a thick oak table in the middle of the room covered in dishes and metal cups with places set for about ten people. The chairs were askew, with some laying on their sides. The remnants of a meal sat in tin trays on the table, reduced to nothing but black dust. The place had been abandoned in hurry.

Galina found another lantern and lit it. She immediately ran up the stairs to see if we had a viable escape route. I heard chains rattling as she shoved and rammed her shoulder against the door. “It’s locked from the outside. We can’t get out this way.”

Amanda was flummoxed. “Henry, are you sure this is the right place?”

“Yes, this has to be it,” Henry reiterated.

I searched for anything of value. Stacks of books and loose papers filled the corners of the room, reaching to the ceiling in some places. Seeing most were in Cyrillic script, I quickly gave up trying to decipher them. Henry took my place, and began sifting through the random, brittle sheets while sneezing in the dust.

I turned my attention to the walls. They were covered in propaganda posters of some kind, also in Cyrillic. There were several versions of the prints, each packed with images of an abandoned counter-revolution. Men and women with defiant faces held clenched fists in the air. Sharpened bayonets clashed at obtuse angles. White doves flow over a fading orange sunset. Broken hammers and sickles lay strewn across a battlefield. The posters I liked most contained goofy cartoon renderings of Stalin, Lenin and Nikita Khrushchev in various states of woe. Every piece was anti-socialist and anti-Soviet; looking to have been printed sometime in the 60s. I noticed the equipment used to make them sitting in the corner.

I turned to Batsuk for answers. “Bat, what do these posters say?”

Bat looked around the room and read out random lines. “’Down with Soviets.’ ‘The revolution…was a lie.’ ‘Usher the new revolution.’ Um…‘World Peace beckons.’ ‘Nuclear war is upon you.’ ‘The secret police is watching you.’ Ah, this one…‘Khrushchev, the people are coming for you.’ What is all this?”

“I’m not sure.” I continued to scan the room. I saw piles of folded cots; a towering shelf of canned food and jarred preserves; a thick desk was covered in radio equipment similar to what I saw back in the gulag–nothing seemed to hold any relevance to our search.

“Find anything interesting?” asked Amanda, walking up to me. “I sure haven’t.”

“I think this hideout was once used by some kind of anti-Soviet organization,” I told her. “These rebels must have been a real thorn in the side of the communist party.”

Amanda was spinning in circles. “None of this makes any sense.”

“It does make sense,” said Henry from the floor. “The rebels called themselves The New People’s Democratic Movement. These are manifests, schedules, letters to action and conspiracies in progress.”

I felt somehow encouraged. “The rebels were obviously in a rush to leave this place. I don’t think anyone else has been here since. Nothing looks to have been confiscated. If anything of value was left here by the rebels, it must still be here.”

“I found dossiers on several of the group’s members,” said Henry. He waved some papers in the air. “Including Sasha’s and Lydia’s.”

“Why does that sound familiar?” asked Amanda.

Henry smiled. “They’re the biologists who made the journal and the map! This is their file!”

“What does it say?” I ran over, skidding across the wooden planks of the floor.

Henry skimmed over the words. “Sasha and Lydia Teterev. Here’s their date of birth…the year they got married…no children.” His finger slid down the page as he read. “We already knew they were under the employ of the government and stationed at the cabin…wait, I didn’t see this before! Some kind of symbol.”

I bent down, trying to see the page in the dim light. In the corner of the page was a small red stamp in the shape of a foot. I looked up at Henry. “A foot?”

“Bigfoot! Yeti!” said Bat, his eyes lighting up.

Henry shook the page in frustration. “It doesn’t say anything else.”

“Over here.” Galina had her flashlight beam pinned against one of the walls. Through the swirling dust a small red symbol was visible–easy to miss. “Is this the same red foot?”

Before anyone could respond, Bat began pushing on the wall against the small emblem of the foot. The bricks gave way, revealing another hidden door, only smaller. He shoved until the whole door collapsed, then dove inside the tiny room without hesitation. I heard him cough and then gasp loudly. We all hurried to join him.

I helped Amanda in and up to her feet. Galina squirmed in with the lantern, bathing the room in warm light. Bat was still on his knees.

There wasn’t enough space for Henry. “What is it?!” he called.

“Oh my God.” Amanda covered her mouth and stared wide-eyed. I’m sure my expression was similar.

Bat let out a hearty laugh. “I knew it! Treasure!”

The shallow room was mostly empty except for a sturdy table leaning against the back wall. There were three folded pelts on top, seemingly identical to the one from the cabin.

Bat picked up one of the skins and shook it out to confirm my suspicions. “Mogoi!” he cried happily. I savored the awful aroma coming off of the pelts.

“There’s something else,” I said, moving closer. Under the table I found five metal tins and a few wooden crates. I quickly pried the lids off the cans and discovered they were all full of huge teeth. The largest crate held a collection of bones—human-looking, but again, far too large. The remaining boxes contained more files and a collection of tools.

Galina knelt beside me to examine the find. There were tears in her eyes, but not of joy. She grabbed one of the pelts and smashed the fur roughly between her fingers. “Goddamn my father and Ryan Lumb. Goddamn these… yetis! Monsters! Children’s folly! I have your ludicrous grand prize, you treacherous pigs. What are you going to do?”

Her burst of anger took me by surprise. Bat was still hopping around in joy, but I was left speechless.

Amanda snapped us back to reality. “We’ve got to get this stuff out of here!”

Galina rushed out of the room without another word.


To be continued:


Artwork by Skinner
Used with permission. © 2017 Skinner

Underneath its pulpy trappings, Siberian Waste is a story about conservation. Consider donating to one of the following Earth-friendly organizations:
Natural Resources Defense Council:
Environmental Working Goup:
Friends of the Earth:

Siberian Waste: journal entry 86 – Temples

How a man found truth by chasing a myth.

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JOURNAL ENTRY 86 – Temples

A deep thump resonated behind us, sending flecks of dirt falling from the ceiling of the tunnel. I sent a flash light beam in the direction we had just traveled, but saw nothing unusual.

“Holy shit. Did one of the tunnels collapse?” asked Amanda.

“No, that was definitely an explosive,” said Galina. “I’m guessing Ryan failed to find the entrance to the tunnels so he opted to breach the system from the surface…reckless idiot.”

After the rat swarm, I had almost forgotten we were being followed. “We better pick up our pace.”

Galina nodded. “Another blast like that could bury us alive.” She marched past me to Henry. “Are we close?”

“Unbelievably close,” said Henry. “We just need to keep following this upward slope.”

We continued our brisk pace until the tunnel widened into a shallow cavern, revealing a series of massive, rectangular columns.

“Ancient ruins perhaps!” said Bat, marveling.

“Formed of concrete and red brick? I don’t think so,” I replied. Still, I was baffled. “Who built this all the way down here?”

Amanda scanned the area with her flashlight. “There’s at least six of these structures. They’re all reaching beyond the ceiling. Damn it…I don’t see any doors.”

Henry shook his head. “We’re fairly close to the surface again. These must be the foundations and basements of several above-ground buildings. This space was dug around them.”

Bat groaned. “Suddenly, these temples seem less exotic.”

The tunnel system had come to an end. We snaked around the structures, trying to find a way out.

I was following Henry when he abruptly stopped between two of the buildings. “What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Nothing…this is it! I’m one hundred percent sure.” Henry patted a conspicuous, bright yellow brick in the wall beside him. “Think back to the original map–there was a yellow rectangle at the end of the route!”

“We’re here! We actually made it!” Amanda shouted excitedly. “Now what?”

We all huddled near the wall and stared at the yellow brick.

“Whatever we’re searching for has to be somewhere inside this building.” I pushed on the yellow block like it was a button. Nothing. I pushed as hard as I could to no avail. Even with Bat helping me, nothing budged. “Shit, we need the hammers!” I said, falling to my knees.

Amanda looked behind us nervously, her enthusiasm already waning. “What exactly is the plan here? Lumb and his favorite brand of hired murderers are right behind us. He said he’d kill us if he found us again! We don’t have any weapons or even an escape route.”

Galina eyes darted back and forth. “If we hide somewhere in the tunnels there’s a chance we’ll get lost down here for good. Once we’re inside the building it should be easy to find an exit to the street. We will grab whatever is behind this wall then get the hell out!”

“Uh, hello! We can’t even get inside!” Amanda retorted.

Bat had been kicking the yellow brick and pushing his body against the wall in vain the entire time we brainstormed. He puffed in frustration. “Vashka wall!”

“Wait.” Henry looked down at his map then turned his attention to the brick wall behind us on an adjacent building. He spun around, put his hands on the wall and shoved with all his might. Dust ejected from cracks between the bricks. Something had shifted. He moved his hands to the left and pushed again. A small section of wall swung open slowly on a pivot, gritting and grinding as Henry continued to push. My adrenaline was pumping so hard I worried my heart may give out. The door swung perpendicularly to the wall, revealing a secret room—our treasure trove. We all ducked inside as fast as we could and blasted our flashlights into the darkness, coughing as dust rose into the air.


To be continued:


Artwork by Skinner
Used with permission. © 2017 Skinner

Underneath its pulpy trappings, Siberian Waste is a story about conservation. Consider donating to one of the following Earth-friendly organizations:
Natural Resources Defense Council:
Environmental Working Goup:
Friends of the Earth:

Siberian Waste: journal entry 85 – Luxury

How a man found truth by chasing a myth.

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Henry confidence had been shattered. He led us down several more dead ends, wasting precious time in the process. Losing patience, Galina took his place in the lead. Our anxiety was only matched by our exhaustion.

We eventually entered an elongated, sloping tunnel we suspected would put us back on course. It was nice to not have to worry about making a wrong turn for a while. Despite our aching muscles we kept a hurried pace. Stopping for a break was out of the question.

I walked with Bat at my side, following Amanda and Galina. Henry took up the rear. I heard Amanda ask Galina a question and my ears perked up. I couldn’t stop myself from eavesdropping.

“How do you make your living, Galina?” asked Amanda. “What kind of gangster are you…specifically?”

“My father is a true Bratva gangster, but I am not like him,” replied Galina. “I have found ways to sate my desires without utilizing the crude tactics he prefers–most of the time.”

“You seem to desire a lot of leather and guns,” said Amanda.

Galina shook her head. “Guns are a necessity in my world. Money and power can turn men vicious and depraved. Sometimes, only a bullet can persuade them. Violence is my birthright, but I endeavor to build relationships with respect, rather than fear.”

“Yeah, well…those gangsters at the gulag certainly feared you,” said Amanda.

“Sadly, my patience has limits. I refuse to suffer fools.” Anger dripped from Galina’s voice.

“Your childhood doesn’t sound like it was a happy one,” said Amanda. “Sorry, I don’t mean to pry.”

Galina’s posture stiffened. “Yes, you are prying, but I have no fear of discussing my past. It has made me strong.”

Amanda, seemed relieved. “Good. Talking to you is taking my mind off those armed men closing in behind us.”

“Understandable,” said Galina. “I was nine years old when my mother finally escaped my father’s fists. She’d visit me in secret whenever she could but our time together was limited. During her brief visits, she tried to teach me the value of living an honest, unassuming life. My father did his best to turn me into a monster, but my mother’s lessons preserved a measure of my humanity.”

Amanda seemed surprised by Galina’s candidness. “You’re no monster. I’m a far worse than you.”

Galina’s laugh echoed through the tunnel. “Surely, you must be joking.”

“No,” said Amanda. “I’ve been carving my path through life by skirting the law and screwing people over. I enjoyed the feeling of total independence but it wasn’t sustainable…guilt caught up with me in a big way.”

“Sparrow, you’re a criminal?” asked Galina with a doubting smile.

“I was more of a white-collar hustler. I sabotaged the projects of other engineers and stole their livelihood. I put a lot of people through hell. That’s all over now, though.”

“You’re an engineer? And your boyfriend as well?” Galina cut her eyes at me over her shoulder.

“Yeah,” said Amanda, blushing.

Bat elbowed me and gave me a shit-eating grin. He had been listening too.

“Ugh. I’m surrounded by nerds,” said Galina with a pinched face. “So, you’ve moved on from that chapter of your life. It’s probably for the best…isn’t that what I’m supposed to say?”

Amanda shrugged. “You were trying to escape your old life too, weren’t you? How else could a prick like Ryan Lumb get his hooks in you.”

“Astute, if presumptive,” said Galina with a sigh. “Yes, I acted against my true nature to please Ryan. I thought the bastard could get me out of Russia and away from my father for good. A traumatic childhood had twisted my heart cold. Knowing it was impossible for me to change, I forced myself to abandon my constant need for control and put Ryan in charge of my destiny. It was a mistake.”

Amanda became more hushed. “Those instincts you developed are painful to face, but I think you need them.”

Galina turned her face forward to the darkness. “Lumb made a mockery of me and he will pay dearly.”

“The asshole deserves it,” fumed Amanda.

“And you…I’m sure you were a plump and privileged child, no?” said Galina, changing the subject.

Amanda laughed. “Yeah, I was a happy child, but everything changed when I was a teenager. My Dad left us with nothing but a mountain of carefully hidden debt that utterly devastated the family. We lost our home…everything. I was forced to drop out of college. The world suddenly made no sense. I hated the universe for being so indifferent to my pain.” She paused for a moment and groaned. “I probably sound like the typical, self-absorbed American.”

It was a little shocking to hear Amanda open herself up so much to Galina. I didn’t know if it was a byproduct of exhaustion, or if she felt a kinship with her on some level. Hearing her describe her pain made my entire body tighten.

“Everyone, everywhere, is self-absorbed,” said Galina. “Besides, strength is born from pain. My heart has been hardened by ordeals no one should endure. Be thankful your unscrupulous past now weighs heavy on you—it means your soul is still intact.”

“I hope so.”

“Go on, sparrow. What led you here?”

“After everything fell apart, I packed a handful of things and decided to travel the world. I ended up in Mongolia, just a sack of bones in loose skin. Meeting Batsukh helped renew my faith in humanity to a degree, but I still had a chip on my shoulder. I thought if I could make my heart numb I wouldn’t have to hurt anymore, but my plan backfired.”

“Regret is a luxury,” said Galina.

“Do you just make these one-liners up ahead of time, hoping to get a chance to use them?”

Galina just smiled.

I felt a little guilty for hearing all this information second-hand. Once we were finally away from the constant conflict surrounding us, I wanted to truly get to know Amanda…not to mention Harriet. We had more in common than I once believed. Both of us had been filled with deep reservoirs of hopelessness; I avoided mine by maintaining my meaningless momentum, while she used hers to constantly restoke her anger. I had a thousand questions to ask.


To be continued:


Artwork by Skinner
Used with permission. © 2017 Skinner

Underneath its pulpy trappings, Siberian Waste is a story about conservation. Consider donating to one of the following Earth-friendly organizations:
Natural Resources Defense Council:
Environmental Working Goup:
Friends of the Earth:

Siberian Waste: journal entry 84 – Wrong Way

How a man found truth by chasing a myth.

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JOURNAL ENTRY 84 – Wrong Way

All eyes were on Henry as he perused the map. “The map is woefully ambiguous regarding this junction.” Henry pointed to the passage on his left. “We either need to take this tunnel, or the one beside it.” He checked his compass again. “I think…yes…it’s this one.”

“Take the lead, Nerd.” Galina’s voice was dripping with doubt as she gave Henry the lantern. He walked briskly into the tunnel, looking a little too eager to prove himself correct.

“At least we can stand up in this one,” said Amanda, as we entered the passage.

The smell in the tunnel was somehow different; dry and sweet. Rotting support beams were stabbing erratically from the dry, dusty earth. The uneven floor was scattered with large stones, making navigation difficult. A few hundred meters in, Henry stopped in his tracks.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“It’s a femur! A human femur!” Henry pointed the lantern down to illuminate the moldering remains of someone’s leg.

“I don’t like this,” said Amanda, gripping my arm. We stepped over the shattered bone and kept moving.

Less than a hundred yards later we stumbled across more remains. A few ribs. Half of an arm. Toes. Fingertips. A smashed hip. A skull cap.  “Damn it Henry, we’re going the wrong way,” I said, feeling my heart race.

“No, this has to be right!” Henry reiterated.

“Just keep moving. Don’t stop,” said Galina.

The shaft eventually widened, revealing a large, natural cavern. Our flashlights lifted and trained on a massive pile of bleached bones.

Amanda was trembling. “Dammit Henry, you led us straight into a mass gave!”

“I knew these graves were down here but…my God…there’s so many bodies. Hundreds!” said Henry, turning pale in the lamp light. He dropped the lantern and turned around in a panic, running past us without a world. Galina picked up the light.

“What the fuck, Henry?” yelled Amanda.

I shook my head. “We have to go back, there’s no way out of here.”

A fresh cloud of dust drifted into the light of the lamp. Clicking noises stirred from the pile of corpses. Tiny scratches. Amanda took a step back, her tensed body colliding against me. The bones were beginning to move.

“Run!” Amanda cried, and we did.

I looked over my shoulder as we fled, sprinting back toward the hub. A profusion of dark shapes was wriggling from the pile of bones and flooding toward us.

Rats. Thousands of them.

I held Amanda’s wrist and pulled her through the darkness with me. My toes smashed against several rocks but I ignored the pain and kept moving. Galina and Bat were following close behind.

Bat yelled and thrashed his body as he ran. “They’re nipping at my feet!”

Amanda and I erupted from the tunnel and fell to the ground beside each other. Henry was a few steps away, clinging to the wall. Galina emerged from the gloom and grabbed our arms. “Get up!” she screamed, pulling us to our feet. Bat blasted past us and hit the ground with a grunt.

As I stumbled away with Amanda, Galina spun on her heels to face the approaching horde. She threw the kerosene lantern in a short arc and it exploded, engulfing the tunnel entrance in orange flames. Wild shrieks resonated from the shaft as fire and smoke halted the rats’ gnashing stampede.

Most of the creatures retreated to their city of bones, but a few kept barreling through the flames. “Bogsnei amsar!” cursed Bat while stomping rodents under his boot–some still burning. The remaining furry stragglers finally scurried away into the dark of the adjacent passages.

The smell of burnt hair invaded my nostrils. “We’re okay, now…everyone’s okay,” I told Amanda, seeing the alarm on her face.

Bat scraped his boot on the ground then grinned at Amanda. “All is good now.”

Amanda threw her arms in the air. “We were nearly devoured by flaming rats in a mass grave. Oh, and we all still reek of shit. Yeah, everything’s great!”

“Sorry…wrong way,” said Henry with a quavering voice.

Galina approached us with a yawn. “Let’s try the other tunnel.”


To be continued:


Artwork by Skinner
Used with permission. © 2017 Skinner

Underneath its pulpy trappings, Siberian Waste is a story about conservation. Consider donating to one of the following Earth-friendly organizations:
Natural Resources Defense Council:
Environmental Working Goup:
Friends of the Earth:

Siberian Waste: journal entry 83 – Lantern

How a man found truth by chasing a myth.

siberian waste title

JOURNAL ENTRY 83 – Lantern

We began an awkward descent into the bowels of the smuggling tunnels. Henry was in front with the map, followed by Bat, Amanda, then myself. Galina took up the rear. The dirt shaft narrowed as soon as we entered the passage, propped up by nothing more than a few pillars of rotting pine. The ceiling steadily lowered until we were forced to crawl on our hands and knees. Without the hired guns on our tail, I doubt I would have been able to will myself into the darkness.

We continued crawling single file until we were deep enough to safely turn on the flashlights. The foul odor of the thin, musty air was exacerbated by the sewage saturating our clothing.

“Jesus, we’re going to die in here,” said Amanda, starting to panic.

I patted Amanda’s legs from behind. “We’ll be okay, try not to worry,” I said, waiting for someone to tell me the same thing.

“This should open up again soon,” said Henry with a cough. I had no choice but to believe him. We kept moving, doing our best to shuffle our way forward while sweating inside our winter gear. It was surprisingly warm underground. I thought about the poor souls who had smuggled goods, or even themselves, through these tunnels.

The tunnel finally expanded again, allowing us to stand. We took a moment to stretch and collect our breath. I scanned around with my flashlight and saw we had arrived at a six-way intersection.

“This doesn’t bode well,” I said. “Henry, how far do these damn tunnels stretch?”

Henry pulled a small compass out of his little orange bag and tapped on it a few times. I was disturbed by the puzzlement on this face as he looked at his charts. “There’s no telling. Only a portion of the system is represented on our map. Smugglers expanded upon existing passageways used by the Bolsheviks to dispose of bodies. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a hundred miles of tunnels down here.”

“A clever, if morbid way to move contraband,” said Galina. “No one else would dare approach those mass graves.”

“Yeah, only idiots like us would do that,” said Amanda, rolling her eyes. She pulled out her canteen and doused her coat. “I can’t take this smell!”

Everyone quickly followed suit, scrubbing as much sewage residue off our skin and clothing as possible. It was probably stupid to waste the water, but no one complained at the time.

There were eerie signs of human activity near the juncture. Broken wooden crates and glass bottles littered the ground. Bits of fading, brittle newspaper pages were scattered here and there. The fading edges of old footprints were still visible in the dusty earth. A pile of kerosene lanterns enshrined in spider webs were leaning against a dirt wall.

Galina brushed off the webs and flicked away the spiders, only to discover most of the lamps were broken. She finally found one still containing some kerosene and sparked its wick with her cigarette lighter. The rusty lantern came to life, giving us a 360 degree view in the darkness as she held it aloft by its squeaking handle.

“Built to last,” marveled Bat.

“When do you suppose the last person was down here?” I asked Amanda.

Amanda shook her head. “It’s probably been decades.”


To be continued:


Artwork by Skinner
Used with permission. © 2017 Skinner

Underneath its pulpy trappings, Siberian Waste is a story about conservation. Consider donating to one of the following Earth-friendly organizations:
Natural Resources Defense Council:
Environmental Working Goup:
Friends of the Earth: