Siberian Waste: journal entry 45 – Tarnished

How a man found truth by chasing a myth.


JOURNAL ENTRY 45 – Tarnished

“Stop you guys, we’re here.” Amanda pointed to a large, one-story cabin about a hundred yards away. Through my binoculars I saw a wooden plank hanging from the porch. The sign read Siberian Wildlife Preservation League. A small tiger was carved at the bottom.

“You two hang back, but stay out in the open. I don’t want this to look like some kind of ambush,” said Amanda.

“I don’t like you going up there by yourself,” I protested.

“Don’t be stupid,” said Amanda. “It’s better if I go alone.”

I knew she was right. “Alright. Just give me a thumbs up if everything’s okay, and…wave or something if it’s going south.”

“How about I just flip you off?” said Amanda, turning away from me without waiting for a response. She pulled back the hood on the bright orange parka she had picked up in Yakutsk. It reflected a citrus glow onto her pale skin and gold curls.

Noticing my apprehension, Bat put his hand on my shoulder to reassure me as Amanda walked toward the cabin. “She wouldn’t be doing this if she expected danger.”

I tried injecting my troubled thoughts with silver linings. I had been so focused on our efforts failing, I hadn’t given much thought to the slim possibility of success. If we managed to verify the existence of the Yeti, people would undoubtedly pay thousands for interviews or information about the animals’ habitat–maybe hundreds of thousands. Garnering such obscene amounts of money would carry a caveat–once the word got out about our find, the world would get smaller and more dangerous by the second. There were plenty of ignoble people who’d gladly trade our lives for the pelt and the map if they smelled a profit. Our simple goal of saving the wilderness would not come easy, even in the best of circumstances. The silver linings were tarnished.

Amanda knocked on the cabin’s door and it opened almost immediately. A tall, slim man in his late 30s stood in the frame. His short, messy hair was a mirror image of his beard. Even from a distance, I could sense the man’s tension as he pushed up his wire frame glasses. I wouldn’t have found him menacing in the slightest had he not been holding a large rifle.

I couldn’t hear a thing where Bat and I were standing. As Amanda talked to her “friend,” her body language became more pronounced. He was starting to back away, when he looked over at us with surprise on his face. Somehow, he hadn’t noticed us shivering in the distance.

All I could hear was a emphatic “NO” as the man closed the door in Amanda’s face. Her head dropped as she turned slowly away from the cabin. The man’s gun apparently wasn’t a credible threat. I breathed as sigh of relief.

Amanda made her way back over to us, looking dejected. Bat trudged closer to her. “What? What did the man say?”

Amanda shrugged. “I think Henry feels blindsided. Keep in mind, I’ve never actually met the guy face to face. He never suspected someone had railroaded him off his job. I think he’s in shock.”

“I understand the feeling,” I said.

Amanda shook her head slowly. “I explained who I was–in the vaguest of terms–and told him we needed his help to locate the biggest scientific find of the century. I offered to split 50 percent of the exhibition profits with him.”

“50 percent?” Bat looked deflated.

“It was a Hail Mary!” said Amanda. “It’s not like I have a lot of bargaining chips.”

“Will that come from your half of the publicity tour profits, or the half you’re leaving us?” I asked. I couldn’t help myself.

Bat looked like he might pass out. “Zail!”

“I would take it from my 50%… and yes, I think it’s fair, Bat!” Amanda was nearly jumping up and down in frustration. “Anyway, it hardly matters now…no one is getting jack shit!” She kicked a lump of snow and sent it sailing into a thousand sparkling particles.

Bat bumped right against Amanda’s chest and puffed himself up–although not to the terrifying degree I had witnessed earlier. “Surely, I want to save the land, but Bat deserves something for his part in all this!”

Amanda seemed unconcerned. “Save your bluster. It’s a moot point, you moron. Henry isn’t interested in helping us.”

I put my temple in my fingertips and groaned. “Bat, if this somehow works out, I’ll make sure you’re well-compensated. Fighting over invisible money is ridiculous.”

Bat threw his hands in the air. “Feh! Boovon tolgoi! You are the leader, eh? No matter, I have no need for this stinking pelt money. I will do as I promised, but I am done with you both! Khongordzy Batsukh already has riches you cannot fathom.”

Amanda pushed her finger in Bat’s chest then spouted some angry Khalkhan at him. She broke back into English without warning. “Listen one more time. It. Doesn’t. Matter. Henry said no. I’m sorry we’ve wasted all this time and energy but we’re just going to have to–”

“Come over here!” someone shouted. Henry was waving to us from the porch. The gun was nowhere in sight, which I took as a good sign. “All of you, it’s alright. Come on over and get some coffee.”


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 44 – Treehugger

How a man found truth by chasing a myth.

siberian waste title

JOURNAL ENTRY 44 – Treehugger

It was an unusually warm one-degree day. We packed what we needed and headed off on foot to find Amanda’s contact on the outskirts of town. My leg wasn’t in great shape since the wolf attack, but I was starting to get used to the dull thump of pain.

Amanda remained silent as we trudged through the snow. She refused to give up any details about her mysterious friend, or their ability to decode the journal and map. I was growing more impatient with each slap of my snowshoes.

“Amanda…shouldn’t we have let this guy know we’re coming?” I asked between frozen breaths.

Bat whistled a tune and marched a little faster to get some distance between us.

Amanda glared at me over her shoulder. “When we get there, I expect you to sit down, shut up, and wait patiently while the code gets broken. You got it?” Her curtness had returned.

I was fuming. I couldn’t hold back. “So, we’re back to treating me like shit? That didn’t take long. You’re the one who jumped on me last night, remember?”

Amanda stopped in her tracks, shaking. Bat swirled around on his heels and pointed a fat finger at us. “Ah ha! I knew it!” he said with a cartoonish grin hanging between his ears.

Amanda turned toward me. I was expecting to see her face red with rage. Instead, tears were welling in her eyes.

You’re an idiot, I told myself. I went to Amanda and wiped off her face gently, remembering the warning I had received at Yemme’s funeral. “Don’t cry, it will frostburn your cheeks.”

Amanda lowered my hands and held them tightly. “Of course I think about the people I’ve screwed over in my line of work,” she said, finally answering the ill-timed question I had blurted in the bedroom. “I pretend to be this iron-clad bitch but I’m not. I thought one more job might finally turn me into the sociopath I needed to be, so I wouldn’t have to feel anything anymore–especially regret. You just had to come along and fuck it all up.” She looked into my eyes and smiled softly.

I smiled in return, disturbed and relieved all at the same time.

Amanda kissed me quickly with her chapped lips. “The guy we’re meeting is brilliant,” she said, changing the subject. “He knows ten different languages and crunches long strings numbers in his head faster than a TI-84. However, he’s also someone I completely fucked over a few years back. I pulled a lucrative contract out from under him—a pipeline rerouting project in the Ukraine. He’s probably more apt to kill me than help me, but there’s no one more qualified to help us decode the damn journal.”

“So, essentially, we’re just wasting our time?” I groaned.

“Maybe not. Last I had heard, he left engineering behind to establish a nature preserve in the area. Sound familiar?”

“Really?” I said with surprise.

“Yeah, you’re not the only treehugger around here. Hearing you wax on about your precious critters reminded me of him. If he doesn’t end up shooting me, I think he’ll be fairly sympathetic to our cause.”

“No way,” I protested. “There has to be another way we can—”

“Where the hell is Bat?” Amanda interrupted, looking over her shoulder. “Come on, we better catch up with him.”

I slumped in the snow. There was no use arguing with Amanda once she had her mind set on something. I had a sneaking suspicion I would soon end up injured again.


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 43 – Faces

How a man found truth by chasing a myth.



I walked out of the bedroom a few minutes after Amanda (she wouldn’t want me to call her “Harriet” here) and made my way to the kitchen for breakfast. Noticing all the seats at the table were occupied, I sat at a card table next to the little girl. I asked what her name was but she didn’t respond. She locked her icy eyes on mine and drank a tall glass of milk with one gulp—finishing with a dramatic gasp. I gave her a look of amazement I suspected she’d enjoy. Her milk mustache lifted with a smile.

Bat grinned at me—somehow the bastard knew what Amanda and I had been up to. I decided to ignore his goofy, probing looks.

The lumpy teen boys flirted and flexed for Amanda all through breakfast but she kept her own against their advances. It wasn’t long before the young men’s disappointed faces revealed their emasculation. I held in a laugh as I sipped my coffee.

The defiant little girl giggled and made faces at me from across our tiny table, unconcerned with any of the adult drama filling the kitchen.


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 42 – Harriet

How a man found truth by chasing a myth.


JOURNAL ENTRY 41 – Harriet

I sat up with a sigh as reality enveloped us once more. Amanda hopped to her feet and I could tell the stiff silence between us had returned. We reburied ourselves in our unsexy thermal layers then sat on the bed together. Both of us wore a smile but were unable to look each other in the eye.

“That was probably a mistake,” blurted Amanda, her jagged demeanor returning. “Those people have been so nice to us and we defiled their home.”

“I wouldn’t say defiled. Anyway, what’s done is done,” I said.

“Is that what you always say after making love?” Amanda quipped.

I laughed. “Of course. What’s done is done, baby.”

“Gross,” groaned Amanda. I could tell she was stifling a laugh. She pulled her wavy platinum hair away from her eyes and tucked it behind her ear in a gentle motion. “Harriet,” she croaked.

“What?” I asked with confusion.

“My real name is Harriet, okay? Happy now? I don’t want you to feel like you’ve just banged a complete stranger.”

“Harriet?” I squeaked out with a small laugh. Her fist slammed against my shoulder. I rested my hand on her knee. “Sorry, I’ve just gotten used to Amanda.”

“It’s fine, just shut up okay? Everyone calls me Amanda. I’ve been wanting to change my name formally for years, but Harriet was my grandmother’s name and—anyway—Bat knows if someone calls me Harriet they’re going to be limping the very next second. You’ve been warned.”

“I like it,” I lied.

“Shut up. Now, this is the moment you reveal your real name isn’t Vollus,” said Amanda with hope.

I frowned. “Please. I know you’ve already seen my birth certificate.”

“Fuck. You called my bluff.”

I plucked the air-mail journal of my pack and fumbled around with it, nervously.

Amanda grabbed the book from my hand. “What’s this?”

“My grandfather gave it to me. He wanted me to send him letters detailing my adventures.”

“Oh, am I your latest adventure? It doesn’t really seem like something you should tell grandpa.” Amanda flipped through the blank pages then looked at me with a raised eyebrow.

“No! I had no intention of jotting down our…whatever,” I said, blushing. “Besides, I haven’t filled out a single page yet.”

“You’ve been slacking.”

“My grandfather passed away before I could send him anything. The journal’s become more of a good luck charm than anything else.”

Amanda smiled softly. “Sorry.”

“It’s fine, really.”

More silence.

“So, about us…is this a thing?” I eventually blurted. My heart hadn’t stopped racing since the sun came up.

“I don’t know what this is, but let’s not make it a big deal. Let’s just see where we end up.” Amanda, Harriet, seemed nervous. She wasn’t one to open up quickly.

“Alright,” I said. “Let’s just play it by ear.”

“I hate clichés.” Amanda groaned as she lifted herself off the bed, dragging my hand dramatically. “Kiss me one more time and then it’s hands-off for the rest of the trip.”

I didn’t argue as we traded a kiss. It lingered longer than we intended.

“Do you ever wonder what’s happened to the other engineers you’ve crossed?” The words just spilled out of my mouth as the kiss ended.

Amanda said nothing; ignoring me as if she were deaf.


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 41 – Antithesis

How a man found truth by chasing a myth.


JOURNAL ENTRY 41 – Antithesis

Succumbing to fatigue, Amanda and I said goodnight to our hosts and made our way to our shared room. I let Amanda go in first to undress and get settled in the bed. When I heard her knock on the wall, I came inside and quickly stripped down to my long johns and took my place on the floor amid a pile of blankets. The room was surprisingly warm, or perhaps it was just the alcohol and anxiety flowing through my blood.

I stared at the ceiling, unable to sleep. I heard Amanda shuffling above me, trying to get comfortable. An uncomfortable silence hung in the room between us, punctuated by the howling wind outside the window. A new type of tension was building–like static energy tingling on your arm hairs before receiving a jolt. You know the zap is coming. It’s inevitable.

“Goodnight,” I said, hoping to dissipate the energy.

“’Nite,” said Amanda. The air was still humming.

Sometime in the early morning Amanda rolled off the bed and landed directly on top of me. Zap. I awoke with her blond hair spilling over my face and her mouth tight against mine. She leaned up with a nervous smile, giving me just enough time to adjust to the panic inside my heart. I stared up at her agog, enthralled by her pale, nude body. Strips of morning light were filtering through the window against her skin, illuminating the bruises and cuts lining her limbs from our fall off the tower.

Once coherent, I embraced Amanda fully—kissing her with urgency. Her skin reminded me of tulip petals as my fingertips traced her curves. The heat of her body radiated through my regrettable neck-to-ankle thermal underwear and for the first time in months I didn’t feel cold. She kept herself close as our kiss broke, brushing her lips back and forth across mine until we managed to catch our breath. After murmuring a frustrated noise, she peeled off my cotton husk with remarkable speed. Our naked bodies pressed tighter and we made love twice without uttering a single word.

Amanda was still beside me when I woke up an hour later. Her sleeping form was the antithesis of the tightly-wound woman I knew. It soon became too difficult to merely observe her and I placed a gentle kiss on her forehead. She awoke slowly, wrapping herself to me in protest of the building morning light.


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 40 – Cousins

How a man found truth by chasing a myth.


JOURNAL ENTRY 40 – Cousins

As the miles wore on, the cramped cab felt more and more like a sardine tin. Amanda woke up a few times yelling “DON’T!” before passing out again. I couldn’t tell if she was talking in her sleep or delivering a warning to me. I did my best to stay motionless next to her, hoping to avoid another outburst.

The steadily sinking sun only added to my discomfort. The thought of Peter navigating the rutted roads in the pitch black night filled me with dread. Sensing my anxiety, Peter took off his headphones and flashed a crooked smile at me. “We’re nearly there. Oymyakon is just around the bend.”

The forest soon parted, revealing a flat expanse interrupted by the simple geometry of utilitarian homes. We had officially arrived in the middle of nowhere. The truck rumbled over empty streets made invisible by the snow, occasionally passing cars completely shrouded in jagged icicles. In the distance, I could see a pair of sturdy horses nibbling on dry tips of grass from a hole dug in their pasture. I was relieved to finally see a sign of life.

There was no welcoming committee to greet us when the truck stopped. We idled in place for a time until a few bundled-up people emerged from a modest, bright yellow house and shuffled closer.

“Who’s that?” I mumbled, mostly to myself.

Peter patted my shoulder. “My sister and her family. Goodness, the kids are so big now!”

Amanda woke up with a snort. “Huh? Are we actually there?”

“Yup,” I said. “Wake up Bat so we can get out of this damn truck.”

Amanda had to elbow Bat a few times before he opened his eyes. “Ah, why do you ruin my nap?” he said, rubbing drool off his cheek. “Hey, we’re here!”

“Get out, jerk!” said Amanda, shoving the big man.

We spilled out of the cab, stretching our limbs with no shortage of groans. The cold quickly extinguished the joy of escaping the truck. After signaling us to stay put, Peter walked closer to his relatives and traded a few sentences in Russian with them. The family sent blank stares through all of us as they talked.

“What are they saying?” I asked Bat.

Bat shook his head. “I cannot hear.”

Peter turned to us with a smile. “We have been offered a hot meal and a place to sleep. I accepted on your behalf.”

“Yes, thank you,” I said through chattering teeth. Thankfully, the family’s stone-faced facades hid benevolent hearts. We followed them up the steps to their house, stepping around frozen piles of fish and flesh. Their porch served as a natural walk-in freezer during the long winters. Peter informed us the residents of Oymyakon subsisted primarily on wild game hunted or fished during their short summer season. How none of the townspeople suffered from nutrient and vitamin deficiencies was never explained.

After clomping the snow off our boots, we stepped into the oak-paneled living room. The walls of the home were mostly unadorned, but in such extreme conditions all it takes is a warm hearth to make things feel cozy. Peter told me all the homes in the area shared a system of steam heat, fueled by boilers needing constant maintenance. To further combat the chill, a wood burning fireplace in the center of the house blazed all winter long.

Peter began introducing his family once we were all inside. “This is Adam, my brother-in-law,” said Peter, patting the imposing man on the back. Amanda and I flashed our politest smiles. Bat laughed and said something in Russian but Adam remained stoic.

Peter stepped closer to a petite woman with fiery eyes. “This is my lovely sister Taisia. I have not seen her in many years.” Without warning, Peter was pulled into a tight embrace by his sister and they both wept openly. Their reunion was touching, if slightly awkward for the rest of us to witness.

After wiping his eyes, Peter seemed to forget about us and greeted his niece and nephews—a stout little girl about five years old and two lanky teenage boys. Despite the lack of a proper introduction, we received a quiet level of acceptance from the family–as if we were cousins who had always lived next door.

We milled around the living room for a moment until Taisia motioned for us to follow her. I could smell something delicious luring me to the kitchen. After being ushered to a large pine table, we were treated to a feast of venison and potato hash. I attempted to remain polite, but everything was so delicious I felt as if I couldn’t get it into my mouth fast enough.

After dinner, Peter refused to impose himself upon his sister and left the house to secure a room at the local inn. I shook Peter’s hand before he walked out and offered him a large tip he promptly refused. He told us he’d be back in two days to pick us up in the truck. As soon as Peter left, we were given our sleeping arrangements. Believing Amanda and I were married, Adam and Taisia offered us their bedroom. Bat suggested we accept without protest, lest we appear rude. I could tell he was enjoying every pained expression Amanda and I broadcasted.

Bat opted to sleep on a couch near the fireplace. Adam and Taisia chose to sleep in their daughter’s room and set up cots in the living room for the children. I briefly fought with Amanda over who would get the bed before I relegated myself to a spot on the pinewood floor.

After dropping off our packs in the bedroom, Amanda and I returned to the kitchen to rejoin Adam and Taisia. Bat was busy in the living room, keeping the youngsters rapt with some spurious tale of adventure. Once at the table, Adam passed around mugs of the best mulled wine I’ve ever tasted. We indulged wholeheartedly and played drunken charades until our cheeks and noses became mottled with red bursts. Amanda’s tough shell cracked open in front of me. I loved the sound of her laugh.


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 39 – Scooby-dooby-doo

How a man found truth by chasing a myth.

siberian waste title

JOURNAL ENTRY 39 – Scooby-dooby-doo

I stared the heavy pack on Bat’s lap. Bat didn’t trust me to hold it after I had ripped up his journal. I suppose I didn’t blame him. He seemed content to cram against the door while Amanda and I languished in a purgatory of awkwardness next to him.

When Amanda couldn’t take my weight anymore we opted to smash together, side by side–her bony hip biting against mine. Realizing I had gone deaf to her constant complaints, she gave up her verbal abuse and went silent. All the excess body heat in the cab served well to augment the truck’s clanking heater as the temperature dipped.

Scooby-dooby-doo, crooned Frank.

Peter seemed oblivious to everything but the road as his headphones blared in his ears. Bat was snoring. Amanda and I hadn’t spoken a word in nearly an hour. I decided it was a good time to chip away at the wall of anxiety between us. “Why are you doing this?” I asked her.

“Doing what?” growled Amanda.

“Why did you decide to come along? I can understand Bat’s excitement–he’s a man of nature after all. I know why he’d want to try and save the valley. Your only motivation seems to be money.” My tone was serious but not overly-confrontational. I looked over at Peter. He kept staring straight ahead and humming.

Amanda tightened up. “I’m not in the mood to chat.”

“There’s no better time,” I returned.

Amanda stared into my eyes. “Fine, I’m not some monster you know? I love nature and critters and…all that shit! Unlike you, I didn’t need some grand epiphany to start appreciating the world around me. I was starting to warm up to your proposal to preserve the valley–you did patch me up after all–but now you’ve pissed me off. I want half.”

Her words dug into me. “Wait, half? You want half of the pelt?”

Amanda cracked her neck. She was getting frustrated. “No, you idiot. I don’t want to chop up the biggest zoological find of the century! I’m telling you I want half of any cash we make from the its sale. If you’re smart and listen to me, there’s a lot of profit to be made.”

“I don’t think—”

“Hell, we don’t even have to sell the pelt,” interrupted Amanda, “an actual yeti skin promotes itself! People will pay in droves just to see the damn thing. Don’t worry…even after giving me half of the profit I’m sure you’ll still have enough cash to buy your precious snow drift.”

Amanda was being overly loud and we both realized it too late. Her eyes got a little wider as we both peered over at Peter. He seemed totally absorbed with his music as he navigated the ruts in the road. I was relieved to see his disinterest.

“I’ve got you, under my skin,” sang Frank.

We both sighed collectively and lowered our voices after the slip-up.

Bat kept snoring. I wondered how he could sleep so soundly as we bashed and bumped over the icy road.

“If all you want is a payout I’m fine with that. But the…thing…isn’t leaving my side,” I said in a hushed tone.

Amanda crossed her arms. “I’m not going to steal it. I don’t need that kind of stress. I’m only here to make sure you don’t fuck this up. When the cash starts rolling in, I’ll be gone. You’ll never have to see me again.”

I sighed. “Come on. I doesn’t have to be–”

“Whatever, tree hugger. You can keep talking but I’m done.”

Despite her annoyance, Amanda seemed more relaxed. Our argument had served to alleviate some tension. No matter how hard I fought to preserve my hated of her, it somehow proved unsustainable.

Even the torn-up, pitted road couldn’t keep Amanda from succumbing to exhaustion. Her head bobbed a few times then slumped to my shoulder. After all we had been through, she still smelled like lavender and pine. My entire being felt confused by her continuing presence in my life. I chose not to over-analyze my thoughts.

I looked over at Bat. His head bounced on the window with every bump. Peter was humming along to a tinny melody I could barely make out. I was too tense too sleep.


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: