Siberian Waste: journal entry 38 – Muddled

How a man found truth by chasing a myth.

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JOURNAL ENTRY 38 – Muddled

I shuddered at the thought of returning to Oymyakon. I could already feel the ice crystals closing my nose and burning my lungs. I pictured Yemme–perfectly preserved–judging me from the comfort of his icy grave. There’s no way he would approve of this muddled journey. This exercise of uncertainty. My pendulum was swinging wildly.

We packed ourselves into the cabin of the puke green charter truck. Our driver, Peter, filled a large tank in the back with just enough fuel for our journey. He told us once the engine was started it would stay running to keep the fuel lines from succumbing to ice. Frozen lines have to be thawed by torches held under the vehicle—an incredibly dangerous and time consuming process. A botched thaw had started the truck fire that killed Yemme’s family so many years ago.

All four of us were crammed together on a long bench seat. Peter didn’t seem to care, but it was incredibly awkward for the rest of us. I was forced to hold Amanda on my lap as Bat resigned himself to holding tight to the pack containing the hidden pelt.

Amanda felt rigid as a tombstone on top of me. “Don’t get any ideas, and if I feel anything stirring down there I’m going to cut it off!”

“You’re giving yourself way too much credit,” I told Amanda, “now just sit down and shut up.”

“Switch places with me.”

“What?”

“You heard me!”

Before I knew it I was sitting on Amanda’s lap. She was too stubborn to let her discomfort show. Bat laughed and grinned at Amanda. “Is this how Americans flirt?”

Amanda snapped her head toward Bat. “You, you shut up! I’ll personally rip your knee caps off like scabs and leave you in the snow to crawl home!”

Amanda was turning deep red. I’m sure I was flushed too. Bat eyes were gleaming.

Our driver Peter giggled to himself and shook his head. He put on a pair of massive head phones and pulled out a bright yellow box emblazoned with the word “walkman” on the side in block letters. He shoved a dusty cassette tape into the machine and clanked it closed. When he hit play I recognized the muffled croon of Frank Sinatra.

Peter turned to me and yelled “Sinatra is best! Best American!” He gave me a big thumbs-up and cranked the key in the engine. The starter labored until the engine finally roared to life. A halo of black smoke surrounded us.

“Off we go!” Peter pulled out of Matvei’s cathedral to shipping and pushed up the mountain. “We will take the road built by Gulag prisoners. Very safe, very nice!”

“Is this really happening?” I mumbled.

Bat elbowed me in the side. “Next stop, Oymyakon!”

 

To be continued:

yeti-sm

Artwork by Skinner
http://www.theartofskinner.com/
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: www.nrdc.org
Environmental Working Goup: www.ewg.org
Friends of the Earth: www.foe.org

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Siberian Waste: journal entry 37 – Worries

How a man found truth by chasing a myth.

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JOURNAL ENTRY 37 – Worries

Once the gnome’s sweaty hand was filled with cash, he led us next door through a cramped pass-through carpeted in shag from floor to ceiling.

I whispered to Bat as we walked. “You forked out a hell of a lot of money.”

Bat shrugged. “You’re lucky we’re getting passage at all.”

Amanda puffed her cheeks. “Auntie? Really?”

We stepped into a colossal, pristine garage, standing in stark contrast to the cramped and dingy office. The walls were lined with shining, stainless steel plates and the floor was lacquered to a lustrous black finish. There were six hulking trucks inside, each waxed to a blinding glow—their hoods swollen with ridiculous chrome-plated engines running on a 50/50 testosterone/petrol fuel mix.

Matvei was still counting the cash I gave him. “I will not risk one of my new vehicles being lost or stolen. You will take this one.” He pointed to a seventh truck hidden behind the rest—an old, battered, rust trap looking like it had sat in a snow bank through most of the cold war. “Do not worry…she is old, but reliable.”

Matvei shouted in Russian to the end of the garage. Seconds later, a thin man looking nearly as weathered as the truck shuffled over. He smiled at us kindly and nodded.

“This is Peter, your driver,” said Matvei. “He also has family in Oymyakon. It will be good for him to visit. He’s yet to see his sister’s kids, right Peter?”

Peter nodded again.

“My family are all pigs,” Matvei added with a grunt. He looked up from his cash and flashed a fake smile at Amanda. “Good voyage, madam. Accept my condolences for your dear, dead auntie. If I do not hear from you in 72 hours I will contact the authorities to pull your frozen corpses from my truck…if they can find it.” He walked off laughing as Amanda dug invisible knives into the back of his greasy head.

Peter came and patted her on the back in an honest attempt to console her. “Oh, he jokes, no worries! We very likely will be fine. Let’s load up your things.”

I had already been on this journey once and made it back alive, so I knew it was possible, but the little bastard still freaked me out a bit.

 

To be continued:

yeti-sm

Artwork by Skinner
http://www.theartofskinner.com/
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: www.nrdc.org
Environmental Working Goup: www.ewg.org
Friends of the Earth: www.foe.org

Siberian Waste: journal entry 36 – Gnome

How a man found truth by chasing a myth.

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JOURNAL ENTRY 36 – Gnome

Seeing no way to enter the warehouse, we all crammed through a flimsy door into the RV. We were surrounded by calendars of illustrated, naked pinup girls; each holding automotive parts of varying obscurity and obscenity. After admiring the wallpaper, I noticed a repurposed Christmas card taped to the desk. The card’s holiday greeting was crossed out and replaced with huge block letters reading RING BELL WAIT. I did as instructed.

Before I could clap the bell again, the narrow door at the end of the corridor behind the counter opened as if pushed by a ghost. A gnome of a man—plump yet energetic—came into view. I say gnome, not as in an insult to little people, but as an accurate descriptor of the man’s pinched appearance. He was wearing a red rayon shirt embroidered with flames and slick slacks pulled up to his nipples. After climbing a stool behind the counter he looked me directly in the eye. “I am Matvei. What do you want?”

“We want to travel to Oymyakon,” I said. “Someone told us a truck could be chartered at this address.”

Matvei began to grind his teeth. “Oymyakon? I was born in that desolate hellscape! Traveling there is not safe or cheap. What is your business there?” he asked, questioning our motives.

“It’s none of your business you shriveled grape!” Amanda growled.

Matvei looked at Bat, ignoring Amanda. “Tell your wench I run the only freight, travel, and tourism service in a hundred kilometers that will even LOOK in the direction of Oymyakon! If your woman can’t harness her tongue, I’ll have my dogs escort all of you out.”

Amanda bit her lip hard and balled up her fists. She pushed her way past us and went back out the door, cursing as soon as it shut.

“Please, sir,” said Bat, taking on the look of a gigantic puppy, “Forgive her, she is mourning. You see, her great aunt just died and they were quite close. She has to traveled from America to come and collect the estate, for she is the sole heir.”

I did my best to keep calm as Bat wove his tale.

“A large estate, eh?” said Matvei, his interest piqued. “The rude woman is lucky I have a soft heart!”

Bat nodded, his eyes wide. “Yes, quite soft and so large! We require transportation to Oymyakon so she can collect the inheritance.”

Despite the fragility of the situation, I could barely keep myself from laughing.

Matvei squinted. “I must be well compensated to even consider such a thing. 100,000 rubles.”

My eyes bugged out. The diminutive man’s price exceeded all the money we had left.

“Oh yes, very fair, very fair,” said Bat. “We will pay 50,000 now, and 50,000 more when we return with Auntie’s estate.”

The gnome snorted. “No. All of it now. Up front or nothing.”

“Sorry to waste your time, kind sir.” Bat had obviously haggled extensively in his journeys.

His bluff called, Matvei began to sputter. “Fine, 50,000 now, and 50,000 when you return!”

“Good day, sir.” Bat smiled over his shoulder. I was shaking.

“Okay okay! 40 each way!” Matvei yelled as I opened the door.

Bat pressed his luck. “Now 30,000 seems like a more reasonable offer, don’t you think?”

The little man turned red and went motionless. He was lost in thought for a moment, staring at a naked lady groping a muffler. “30,000 now, and 40,000 on your return, but, you’ll get what you pay for!”

Bat smiled politely and leaned in to receive the paperwork. I was sweating through three layers of thermal padding.

“No fake names! I don’t trust you lot. I will need to verify your identities with your passports.” Matvei demanded.

I was hoping we could stay as incognito as possible but we didn’t have much of a choice. Bat looked back at me for instruction. I nodded at him and he produced our papers from his pack and handed them forward for inspection.

As I backed away and leaned against the wall, I saw Amanda peeking through a crack in the doorway. The gnome continued to complain profusely as he checked our papers. “Americans think the world unrolls like a never-ending carpet for their smooth, pasty feet! I will have my partner take you to Oymyakon, but you will have to pay the tourism tax, I’m afraid.”

Amanda stormed back inside the RV. “’Tourism tax?’ as if anyone in their right mind would take a holiday to the devil’s iced-over asshole!”

Matvei smiled at her. “Plus a hardship rate.”

Bat pushed Amanda back out the door before she could inspire Matvei to improvise some more fees. He turned slowly and calmly toward the little man again, his expression morphing into the most frightening stare I had ever witnessed. All of the air seemed to suck out of the cramped corridor. I felt thankful I wasn’t the recipient of Bat’s evil eye.

Bat silently walked closer until he was a roach’s antennae away from Matvei, who had already began shrinking from view. From behind the counter I heard the gnome’s quavering voice. “All fees are included in the initial payment of 30,000 of course!”

The big man returned to his happy demeanor—the darkness lifting from him in an instant. His piano key smile was shining again. “Of course.”

Bat signed the contract and I handed over our money. Matvei did his best to look unaffected as he hopped off his stool, but I’m sure he had a little bit of piss in his little pants.

 

To be continued:

yeti-sm

Artwork by Skinner
http://www.theartofskinner.com/
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: www.nrdc.org
Environmental Working Goup: www.ewg.org
Friends of the Earth: www.foe.org

Siberian Waste: journal entry 35 – Charter

How a man found truth by chasing a myth.

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JOURNAL ENTRY 35 – Charter

As dusk fell we spotted the old-timers’ mining camp. I felt relieved to see the collection of make shift shelters and grey outbuildings breaking through the haze as we approached. As usual, there were few signs of life, but I was hopeful we’d find a semi-friendly face at the bar.

The camp was wrapped up tight for the night. Even the bar was closed. I couldn’t stop shaking. I craved heat.

Amanda hopped off the snow machine and scrambled around the camp. She searched between buildings and peered over messes of black electrical wires and scrap heaps of rusting tools. “Damn, there’s no one here!” I wasn’t too surprised. This is a place where old men came to drink away the day, they didn’t stick around past dark. When night fell, most crawled their way back to whatever family member would still tolerate them. We knocked on the few doors that looked like they might belong a permanent resident, but this was not a place receptive to strangers.

“Fuck this.” Amanda broke open a utility box with a rock she dug out of the snow. The whole door sprung off its hinges and landed with a metallic clap against an oxidizing truck axle jammed halfway into the permafrost. She pulled out a bulky orange phone inside the case and punched the thick buttons, hoping to reach her contact in Oymyakon.

“Shit, nothing,” groaned Amanda. “Just automated gibberish. The phones must be down.”

“Maintaining a communications network in the middle of nowhere isn’t easy,” I said. “That’s why POROS sent me here.”

We took many, many pulls from Bat’s flask, trying to stay warm and agree on our next move. We decided we were too impatient to wait for a mail truck to deliver our inquiry to Amanda’s contact then wait for a response (if one came at all).

Using her utility rock, Amanda broke a rusty padlock on an abandoned shipping container. We repurposed the metal box into a makeshift shelter, huddling together for the night. Bat scraped together enough scraps of food from his pack to make a stew which we all shared with a tin cup. It was a long night against the cold walls.

On my first trip to Oymyakon, I had traveled with Yemme’s old drinking buddies in a fleet of trucks. I didn’t give a second thought to where the vehicles came from or who they belonged to. I guessed one of the local oldsters probably had a truck we could use or rent, but the camp remained deserted well into the morning. We didn’t have time to waste waiting around for someone to show up. When another round of door-knocking brought no results, we moved on.

Out of immediate options, we traveled a few more kilometers on the snowmobile and overpaid an off-season ferryman to transport us over the Lena River to Yakutsk. Once in the city, we started looking for a charter service to take us to Oymyakon. I was starting to feel comfortable with my new cohorts even though Amanda still hadn’t apologized for attempting to sabotage my career.

We paused our search for a moment to indulge in some espresso and doughy pastries at a local café. The wrought-iron chairs we plopped ourselves into weren’t too comfortable, but they felt like cushy leather recliners compared to the vibrating seat of a snow mobile. The faux-French décor of the place was really throwing me off. Bat looked absurd with a tiny espresso cup in his bear paw.

“Do not judge me! I drink hot lava out of a boar’s skull back home!” Bat bellowed.

Amanda and I shared a laugh. “Bat, your pinky is sticking out.”

Bat tried to tuck in his finger, but it was too calloused to slip into the hold of the tiny cup. I clapped my hands twice and leaned back in my iron chair with amusement. The owner glared at us over his thin mustache, so we promptly left to avoid scrutiny and locate the nearest transport company.

A plane left Yakutsk for Oymyakon every week, unless the weather was too harsh. Unfortunately, air travel was out of our price range. Even if we could scrape the money together, we’d be waiting days for the next flight or even longer if the plane was grounded by a storm. Truck travel would have to do.

We asked the owners of a few nearby shops about local charter services and eventually we were directed to a depot a few kilometers away. There didn’t seem to be much competition in the area. After a decent walk, we arrived at the address we were given, where we found a rusting RV sitting on top of a concrete slab. The back end of the vehicle was welded directly to a massive, modern warehouse.

“Is this really the place?” I asked.

“The sign on the caravan says office,” Bat replied.

 

To be continued:

yeti-sm

Artwork by Skinner
http://www.theartofskinner.com/
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: www.nrdc.org
Environmental Working Goup: www.ewg.org
Friends of the Earth: www.foe.org

Siberian Waste: journal entry 34 – Hogs

How a man found truth by chasing a myth.

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JOURNAL ENTRY 34 – Hogs

We left at first light after giving our wounds a fresh dressing. My body ached from head to toe, and I’m sure Amanda was similarly sore.

I sacrificed quite a bit of gear to compact the massive pelt into my bag. Amanda kept the map, and Bat the journal. We all agreed we wouldn’t have much time before POROS’ pawns came with questions about the collapsed tower.

I looked back on the cabin with a sigh as we left. We had trashed the place looking for clues and I hoped the ghosts wouldn’t be too upset.  I felt wistful as I closed the door, knowing I’d never be back.

Amanda and I had sank ourselves into as many layers as we could stand to combat the chill, but we were still miserable as we made our way to my snow track. Bat was irritatingly cheery–the cold never seemed to affect him.

I hurried into the cab of the vehicle and turned the key but was rewarded with nothing but an empty click. “Shit, something’s wrong.”

“I will take a look. I’ve resurrected my snow machine more times than I can count,” said Bat as he opened the engine compartment.

“So, like five times,” said Amanda through the fur of her hood.

Bat ignored Amanda’s snark but his mood quickly darkened. After fiddling with the engine for a half hour, he threw up his hands in frustration and let out a string of Mongolian curse words. With the snow track dead, we had no choice but to leave on foot.

I held my face in my hands as we hiked, peering through my gloves. Just the wind speed of walking was enough to irritate my skin. We trudged half a mile to a white tarp in the snow, which Bat uncovered to reveal his snow mobile. It looked well-worn and at least a decade old, but it started up instantly. We all piled on, too close for comfort, and sped off with a lurch and a black belch of smoke. My face was numb, so our speed wasn’t an issue.

We tracked down Amanda’s snow machine which had been hidden in a similar fashion a few hundred yards away. She dove head-first into her secret snow cave like a deranged rabbit to collect her stash. I couldn’t believe she had holed herself up in there while spying on me.

Despite looking 20 years newer than Bat’s, the engine of Amanda’s snow mobile refused to turn over. “This alliance is already cursed!” complained Amanda, kicking her vehicle. We all crammed on Bat’s machine again, and continued on our mad path.

“You sure you know where we’re going?” I shouted ahead of me.

Bat’s booming voice trailed back. “Of course! I could make this journey blindfolded and weighted down by two wriggling hogs!” Amanda elbowed him the back and he laughed.

 

To be continued:

yeti-sm

Artwork by Skinner
http://www.theartofskinner.com/
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: www.nrdc.org
Environmental Working Goup: www.ewg.org
Friends of the Earth: www.foe.org

Siberian Waste: journal entry 33 – Map

How a man found truth by chasing a myth.

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JOURNAL ENTRY 33 – Map

We collectively gasped. I reached down and snapped the old twine harnessing the journal to the cabinet. After picking up the book, I fulfilled a childhood archeological fantasy and blew off the dust dramatically.

“Open the damn thing!” ordered Amanda, rolling her eyes.

I opened the cover and saw the name “Sasha” written on the inside. “This might be the memoir of one of those Russian scientists,” I said, carefully turned the page. “It’s all Russian.”

 

Bat took matters into his oversized hands and grabbed the journal. He sighed after flipping through a few pages. “Yes, this too is Cyrillic, but–”

I peeked over Bat’s shoulder. “But what?”

“It’s gibberish,” said Bat, shaking his head.

Amanda clapped her fingers against her palm impatiently. Bat handed her the book. “Hmmm.” She flipped through the yellowing, brittle pages hen groaned, “No fucking way.” Amanda glared at the first page again. “I’m not great with Cyrillic, but I know a code when I see one.”

Bat glowed. “Of course! Its message is hidden! I know these characters, but, code breaking? Not my strong suit I fear.”

“I think I know someone who can help with this,” said Amanda, “but we’re going to have to travel to Oymyakon. It’s a real hell hole.”

I shuddered, realizing another frigid journey was in my future. “Wonderful. My favorite place.”

Just then, a folded piece of paper fell out of the journal to the floor. I picked it up. “It’s a map! The locations on it seem to be using the same type of code. Bat, do you recognize this land mass?”

Bat grabbed the map with surprising daintiness “No, this is much too vague. Too crudely drawn to be of use without knowing what these markers mean.”

I took a closer look. The map unfolded to nearly a meter wide, but did not appear to depict too huge of an area–maybe a mountain side or valley. A confusing network of paths or roads crisscrossed in every direction. Above them was a jumble of coded words, phrases and bizarre symbols. It was nearly illegible.

Bat clapped his hands together with purpose. “’Manda, we must leave at first light and discover our destiny. You too, my new friend.” He side-hugged both of us simultaneously and laughed.

A skeptical look was wiping across Amanda’s face. “Why would those biologists leave clues to what they hid so carefully? Why leave a trail to be followed? It doesn’t make sense.”

Her questions were valid. I thought for a moment. “Maybe something went wrong here. Maybe they had to leave in a hurry. Maybe they couldn’t trust their handlers, but they wanted someone to eventually follow their trail.”

“Or maybe it’s some kind of trap,” replied Amanda.

“Perhaps someone was to meet them wherever this map is pointing?” Bat added with hope in his voice.

“Who knows? We need someone who can give us some answers, who can translate this,” I said.

“I told you I know a guy. Pack some shit, but keep it light. Let’s go!” Amanda was ready.

I lacked confidence in our tenuous alliance, but I was out of options and had to take a chance. Free from the pressures of career or money, I found myself desperate to save the valley. I had a chance to swing the pendulum of my destiny in a meaningful way. Deep down, I still wanted to convince Yemme of my worth. It was time to fill the pages of the air mail journal my grandfather had given me with something worthy of his memory.

 

To be continued:

yeti-sm

Artwork by Skinner
http://www.theartofskinner.com/
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: www.nrdc.org
Environmental Working Goup: www.ewg.org
Friends of the Earth: www.foe.org