A Cabin in the Woods

Ty Cronkhite

I couldn’t tell you whether I’ve been on this train for five hours or five days.  The snow never melts and the train never stops.  Nobody speaks my language.  This is about as remote as I’d like to get.

Vodka?  I understand that and yes please thank you now would be fine.  Later would be fine too.  Look at the snow, I say, and a boy stares at me the way boys stare at foreigners.  I’m deep into this and I’m not getting out anytime soon.  Thousands of miles away from where I came and thousands away from where I’m going.

The boy stares.  Titanium-dioxide, I say, you know, white paint.  Your country looks like it.  I want to jump off this train, but the chilled Vodka is warm in my stomach.  And this boy is my friend.

He talks to me into the night.  Into the afternoon, I don’t know.  Night passes same as day here, I never know what is what.  I can’t understand what he says, and he knows it, but he likes to talk.  I’m not sure if he is asking about my life in America or my wife in America, or anything even close to that.  I tell him I never had much luck with women, but that is all about to change. The train grinds to a halt.

They’ve run out of money.  That’s the word here.  It happens, I’m told.  The train just stops and when there’s enough money it starts again.  When I complain they charge me for more Vodka.  I buy a bottle and pass it around the compartment and now there is a line at the toilet. 

I look at the picture of my new bride, as beautiful as any of the women on this train.  Two hundred and sixty thousand Rubles, a little more than twelve hundred dollars.  That and the cost of her passage.  Could have booked a flight straight to Irkutz, but I thought a train ride would be romantic, give us some time to get to know each other on the way back and save money too.  I close my eyes and imagine her waiting on the boarding platform, sitting on a suitcase that holds her life.  Waiting.

I would have more money, too, if I wouldn’t have kicked in the extra sixty thousand Rubles for the fertility guarantee.  More vodka and the boy’s drivel is replaced by the attendant, blonde-haired, blue eyed.  She’s been relieved of her position, indefinitely or until the train starts moving again.  She has family in Irkutz, and a tattoo she’s not afraid to show me.  

We have sex in the luggage car and I think again of my wife sitting on her suitcase.  I return to my seat to take a nap.  I try to sleep until the train starts moving again but I can only manage about forty-five minutes.  The train doesn’t move.  My friend joins me again.  She pretends I am her rich American boyfriend and I go along with it.  I try to pay for something warm, but they don’t have anything except chilled vodka and they won’t change my ten dollar bill because it’s too old, nineteen ninety-five.  For a moment, I think I am happy with this Russian girl falling asleep on my shoulder.  I lean back, her head slides down my chest onto my lap and she dreams about titanium-dioxide horses while I run my fingers through her oily hair.

We wake up with frozen breath, bleary eyed, still together.  The compartment has emptied and we can see people waiting outside, some with luggage, some without.  We walk on the rubber legs of sleep.  The door is open and the air is crisp.

The snow along the length of the train has been trampled as attendants run back and forth dragging Samsonite this way and that.  They are not working for the Trans-Siberian Railroad any longer, they just need money to get home.  Twelve hundred rubles for my clothes and Litka is happy to take my nineteen ninety-five series ten dollar bill but he doesn’t have change.  I wave him along and he returns with a broken shell of the suitcase I got on the train with.  Some of the clothes in it are mine, some are not.  My friend, she stares at the white underwear size fifty-five and I grin sheepishly, shrug my shoulders.  She laughs and I pause because it sounds like Rachmaninoff. 

Taxicab, a distant voice and the faint rumblings of a small combustion engine over the rhythm of the train.  Yes, I’ll share the ride and that means I will pay as well, but I know that.  The car wasn’t designed for this and can only make a few furtive movements toward us before digging out each time. 

Thirty five more miles he says.  Every ten miles he says thirty-five and could you help me dig this out, it’ll only take a minute.  She has a certain style with throwing snow that renders me lazy and thoughtful.  Our driver likes to drive and he treats every curve with starved passion because they are rare.  He’s disappointed when we get to the main highway, but he thinks of the dollars in his pocket and makes plans to change them.  The speedometer wavers between thirty and ninety.  I twist my head to the blue sky and wonder how this place ever gets snow.

He demands more money.  My friend refuses categorically and the hand in my pocket melts around a twenty dollar bill.  The commies really had no sense of aesthetics, I say.  Then for the next ten miles our driver can speak only of football.  Football?  He fades back for a pass, the car drives itself.  Yes, he says and shakes his head violently as he plays air guitar.  The car drives itself into a bank of snow.  Rock and roll – you could help me dig this car out?  He hands my friend the shovel. 

Close to Irkutsk.  I’m holding her hand like a prom date.  What’s your name? Wigger, she says and I don’t think that sounds Russian.  Wigger?  She shakes her head, no time to explain through the language barrier.  She knows only phrases of arrival and departure.

We stop in front of the station in Irkutsk.  Our driver counts his money and shakes his head.  I give him a five and he opens the trunk.  I give him a twenty and he throws my suitcase on the ground.  Rock and roll, he says and drives away.  Wigger touches me with her lips moist in the dry air, then walks me to the boarding platform and points me to my wife.  She’s certain of the one, and somehow she’s right.  I introduce myself.

“Thanks for the ride,” Wigger says.  My wife is like her picture and to hold her is warm. 

“Thanks for the ride,” I say.


"My papers?"

Yes, of course.  I pull a bundle from my coat pocket and hand it to my new bride.  Is there someplace to eat around here?  I thought we could get something to eat and find a hotel for tonight.  I catch a glimpse of Wigger still standing behind me and I wonder what she's doing. 

"Your wallet."

"What about my wallet?"

"Give me your wallet."

I pull out my Washington driver's license and hand it to her, thinking she wants identification.  She grabs the wallet out of my hand instead.  She opens her suitcase and a life-size blow up sex doll unfolds, then falls onto the floor.

"Your wife."

I turn to look at Wigger, searching her face for an explanation.  Happy honeymoon, she says in English as she kicks me in the shin with a black, steel-toed work boot.  My wife shoves the metal suitcase into my face and follows Wigger across the crowded platform.  I stand up, grab the naked doll and run after them, but the doll is heavier than I imagined and difficult to carry. 

I get to the parking lot in time to watch my beautiful wife jump on the back of a Ducati right behind Wigger.  They disappear behind a bus and the sound of the noisy two-stroke fades away.  The blue sky is gone and snow is falling.

I sit on the curb, look at the doll more closely.  A tag tied to her wrist tells me her name is Babette and she can fulfill my wildest fantasies.  She is anatomically correct in every detail, crafted in Switzerland by a reputable company dealing in the latest erotic therapies.  Unlike her less expensive imitations, she has been constructed of a material similar in color and texture to real skin.  Stuffed, not inflatable as I first thought.  She's put together very nicely, but hardly worth the twelve hundred dollars I paid for that bitch who stole my wallet.

She has something written on her breasts in black permanent marker: Ural Mountains.  She's got a fucking map drawn on her, with roads and names of places and towns and lakes and rivers, here's Irkutsk right here, south of the Ural Mountains, but it should be North.  I turn her upside down and squint my eyes.

There is a red line from Irkutsk straight down lake Baykal to a location next to the shore, about forty miles past Babette's navel and marked with a red X. 

Several people stare at Babette splayed out on the ticket counter.  "I need to get here."  I point to the red x under her mound of fake pubic hair.  "How do I get here?"  The ticketing agent seems disturbed, she speaks very loudly and quickly, pointing to me like I'm some kind of freak.  Some people in line behind me are staring. 

"Listen, I'm not a head-case.  My wife gave me this and it's got a map on it, see!  She's a real joker, you know?"  Babette sits up on the counter and everyone can see she's got a map drawn on her torso.  They seem to understand that I'm not crazy, but the ticket agent is still in distress and the manager is helping me.   

"Listen, just forget it," I say to the manager, "Just point me to a copy machine."

"I'll show you," he says, happy to drag me away from anything he's responsible for.  He takes me to an office with a few people sitting at small metal desks and points to a copy machine.  I wrestle Babette onto the copy machine, close the lid on her back and press the copy button.  Nothing happens.  I check her position and slam the lid shut, which causes her to go into convulsions and say nasty things.  I can't find a switch to turn this feature off, and the batteries are behind a plastic panel in the small of her back, held in place by four phillips head screws.  She falls onto the floor and stops convulsing, talking only when bumped.

I'm informed by a security guard that the copy machine is not for public use, and anyway it's broken.  He points to the power cord, unplugged and laying on the wooden floor.   I pick Babette up and she says "Hey, big boy." 

The security guard motions to the doors in the front of the building.   


Must be around midnight.  The lights of Irkutsk bright in the distance, reflecting on the smooth white surface of the frozen lake.  I'm standing by a well-worn track used by truckers heading up the lake toward Sosnovka and Kurbulik.  In the winter months, the locals tell me, the trucks prefer driving straight up the lake to using roadways.

I've seen two trucks pass in clouds of blowing snow.  This third one sounds like it might stop, the big diesel blowing black smoke as the driver shifts down through the gears. 

"Tee chtoh, sloni svalyeelseh??"

I can feel the warmth inside the truck.

"I don't speak Russian."

"Where are you going?"


I climb into the cab, dragging Babette behind me.  The driver is old and bent into his seat. 

He is wearing glasses with thick lenses and frames made out of baling wire.  There's something weird about his eyes – maybe it's just the glasses.

"Thanks for stopping."  

His hand finds the shifter and he grinds it into gear.  The truck shudders violently as it starts to move again and I can't get my door shut until he shows me the rubber cord that holds it in place.  I try to stuff Babette onto the floor, but she doesn't want to bend the way I want her to.

"OOOh, I like it rough!" she says.  I step on her head with my foot.

"Give it to me, baby!"  she says.

"Who's your friend?"

"Her?  She, well my wife, I mean the doll's not my wife.   My wife gave me the doll.  Look there's a map.  She gave me this doll with this map on it so I could find her later.  She's real pretty."


"It's like an adventure, a honeymoon adventure.  I need to find this place, up the lake about a hundred miles."

He leans over to look at the doll, real close, so his nose is touching her.  The truck veers to the left, but there's nothing to hit for at least a half mile so I keep my mouth shut.

"Babushka's cabin."  he says.  He puts his nose back on the windshield and corrects his course.  He's got one bad eye, a wandering eye.  I think I'm looking him in the eye and it ends up being the wrong one.  The real one's watching the road, but I think he's half blind in that one because we keep losing the trail so he starts driving in a huge S pattern from shore to shore until he finds the tracks again in the patchy fog.

"Old grandmother lived there twenty years ago.  Froze to death try'in to catch a fish one winter.  Old trucker found her there, still has her fishin' pole."

"Who lives there now?"

"No one. Vacant."

I can't see through the windshield anymore.  The defrost clears a small hole in the driver's side window, where he has rigged a second plexiglass window about two inches from the glass. 

"Might be snowed in.  Will be tomorrow fer' sure if it ain't already."

"I gotta get there tonight."

I feel like sleeping.  I shift my weight, lay my head against the window.

"I am so wet!" Babette says.

"Do you need a towel?"

"No, uh, no thanks.  She just talks.  She just says things like that.  I'm getting used to it."


"Straight up through those trees, not too far.  About fifty paces.  I can't get you any closer."

"Right, thanks."

I fall out the door.  Babette follows me and the truck sends a column of black smoke into the air as it moves on.  The frozen carcass of a chicken falls off the truck and lands in the snow a few feet away from us.  I can see a faint flickering light in the distance.


The chicken under my arm is colder than the wind.  There is a cabin in the clearing just ahead, three snowmobiles parked in front.  I look for the Ducatti and it makes me wonder about my sanity.  Who would drive a motorcycle to a place like this?  I feel good about thinking this.  Insane people don't question themselves.  They don't question their sanity.

"You drive me crazy!" Babette says.

The three snowmobilers seem friendly enough.  They are dressed in wool and cotton fibers.  I'm surprised when the short one swings a lead pipe at me.  It doesn't hurt very much.  I feel myself falling.  I hear them tearing Babette.  She thinks they like her. 

I see Russian currency swirling in the wind and snow.  Laughter.  The sound of three snowmobiles fading and then silence. 


Babette is deflated, slumped in a distorted heap of erotic tatters on the wood-frame couch.  The fire turns to embers, the wood is gone, and snow covers the plexiglass windows.  I lift her carefully to the floor, and kick the arm of the couch.  It creaks and I can tell it will give way with enough effort.  I think about my wife, my money.  My face is hot, blood is burning and I want to scream.

The couch splinters.  Babette stares into the fire.  You bitch.  You whore.  I throw the splintered wood into the fire.  Worthless piece of cheap ass rubber swiss cheese.  The wooden legs give with little effort and are placed on the fire with gentle rage.  Flung.  Cheesy twelve hundred-dollar garbage don't look at me like that.

Babette looks better stuffed and patched but I wonder if it would have been better to destroy the table first.  We stare blankly into the fire and I feel romance.  I put my arm around Babette and remember I forgot to call and report my credit cards stolen.

Ty Cronkhite lives in a tent in the National Forest somewhere east of Albuquerque while he teaches English classes at the University of New Mexico and works toward an advanced degree in English Literature. He has published or is about to publish short stories and poems in spaces like Doe-se-Doe, the Xavier Review, The Stray Branch, miller's pond, and Four Ties Literary Review.