The village of Zelenoye is just another one of the thousands of nondescript, tiny villages which can be found hidden away here or there in the dense evergreen forests of Siberia. Indeed, from the main road you wouldn't even know a town existed if not for the tiny, poorly maintained dirt road and hand-made sign. Not much of an indication that at least a dozen or so people lived in the dense wood, but at least enough for a postal worker to know about. The town its self is not the topic of this story, though I could probably spend at least a week recounting the various local legends and superstitions that thrive in that tiny, closed society...
It was about the end of January when my girlfriend's brother, Alexi suggested that I might enjoy a visit to an abandoned train station. He knew I had a particular interest in urban exploration (left over from my days in California). After one of Babushka's various story nights where she would recount the local folklore, she mentioned members of the family who had worked for the local police and who had reported ghostly figures and sounds from inside closed down depots. For decades, it was a common past-time for the imperial family to send "undesirables" by train, coach, or by foot into exile deep into Siberia. Many of those locations still exist, and one of them is a short way from a tiny village called Zelenoye.
We were advised to pack "light" though by now I was well aware of the tone of sarcasm in Russia. I expected "light" meant to come prepared for a sled dog race, though when I showed up at Alexi's home, I found most of the group in jeans and hoodies. It was no warmer than 1 degree centigrade... I pictured a quaint little town locked among the pines, snow hanging heavy on the branches and children and villagers milling about preparing their wares for a farmers market. Nope, totally wrong. The turn-off for the village quite literally is a notch in the tree line, with a "dirt" road meandering through. The snow was more like a dense freezing slush due to a warm rainstorm which had hit the area a couple days before, leaving massive puddles the size of our tiny Isuzu dotting our path. Alexi was quite accustomed to the conditions though, navigating those pitfalls like a New York taxi driver escaping rush hour traffic. The road was long, and winding, and the insulation from the DENSE forest kept every sound hidden until we were practically in the middle of town.
We parked next to an abandoned soviet-era Militziya checkpoint shack, sort of an unofficial marker to designate the boundary of the village. The trip from the main paved road to this location took almost an hour to traverse, though it was only about 2km in distance... Strapping on our backpacks we made out in a seemingly random direction, there were no markers and no trails to guide us - only the experience of Alexi our guide who had been to this spot before. The frozen soil was slippery, and tended to collapse under our weight as we sloshed our way deeper into the darkness of the overgrowth. Eventually, we came to a clearing, though one that was obviously man made. A narrow trough, about 20ft wide and running in a mostly straight line. Kicking at the frozen muck on the clearing floor, Alexi managed to clear a small section of railroad track. The steel was in an advanced state of decomposition as, according to Alexi, the track had not been used in 75 years (actually closer to 90). Years of annual thaw, heavy storms, and complete abandonment had made this once busy railroad corridor just another part of the forest.
Following in the direction of the tracks, and after hiking for what seemed like another eternity, we finally came across the station. It was far more substantial than I had expected. Being from Cali, I'd seen frontier train depots from this same era in the 1870's and they were usually thrown together from whatever materials they had available locally. This structure was somewhat large, about the size of a large house and made from limestone, covered in a shell of what was probably once a polished green granite. The front of the station had what was once an extremely ornate facade, covered in granite with a large clock and what looked like gilded Cyrillic lettering spelling out "Train Terminal." As is typical of abandoned property in that era, almost no effort was made to secure the building against people entering. There were no boards up over the windows and the heavy wooden doors had been secured with just a single chain and padlock (which had been broken long before our arrival). Officials pretty much closed up shop one day and never returned.
Down the middle of the structure was a large hall, with vaulted ceilings and what remained of a brass gas chandelier. At some point in the early soviet era they had hastily converted this room to electricity with exposed wires dangling from holes in the plaster and drooping in long, menacing loops toward the floor, cobbled together with a tarnished electric light fixture here or there. Along either wall were rows of benches, still showing their antique lacquer and highly decorative iron scroll work feet and arm wrests. This was obviously the waiting room, with two large platforms on either end. The platforms were at one point glassed in, though the heavy hand-made glass panels had apparently rotted from their sashes and collapsed inward years ago. The platforms, through years of exposure to the harsh Russian elements were sad, sunken pits with rotten planks growing small ferns and mushrooms. We didn't try to make our way out there as the flooring was dubious to begin with.
At the back of the long central waiting area was the ticket booth, and a door leading to a set of spiral stairs. Taking the stairs up we found the old station master's residence along with storage for the station's supplies, and large brass kerosene tanks which still had something in them... Also in this room we found a series of tickets and ticket stubs, the dates on them ranging from 1880 to March of 1929. Of course, I wanted to keep them, but was told by the others in the group that taking things from "haunted places" was very bad luck. "Things will follow you," they said over and over again. I of course was thinking... Hmmm Souvenir! I ended up taking their advice and left empty handed.
The upper floors, being a residence had a lot of personal touches. Framed black and white photos on the walls, brass candle sticks still sitting on the mantle of a coal fireplace. In the main room of the station master's apartment, we could hear what sounded like crying. It was rather loud, and something that none of us expected. So loud in fact that we all started searching, expecting to find someone lost and looking for their parents. It didn't dawn on us until after we had completed a search of the entire property that we were quite alone... Making our way back upstairs to continue our exploration, we heard the crying again. It definitely sounded like a child, and most of us swear they were saying something softly in Russian though we couldn't make out the actual words. We took several shots with our phone cameras, hoping to capture an orb or a dark spot. Unfortunately, our moving around in these spaces kicked up considerable dust and every image was hampered by clouds of it. If people are interested, I'll see about posting a couple of the images here. Maybe you'll catch something we didn't.
After coming back downstairs, we explored the main hall/waiting area. The sensations in this room were profound, the air felt "heavy" like we were actually at the bottom of a swimming pool... The wait of the invisible water pushing down on us from all sides. One of Alexi's friends who had come along on our adventure had to leave the room as he was feeling quite unwell. He stood outside in the sub-zero temperatures for over an hour while we continued to look - unwilling to come back inside. The room had an overpowering smell of wood aged for over a century. The same smell you get after opening a long closed cedar chest, or walking into a store in an old-west town. It was a powerful odor that we actually didn't get used to over time, and our clothing carried the smell with us after leaving. Near the back however, just around the gate to the ticket booth, the smell changed. The only way I can describe it is a dense floral perfume. It was the dead of winter, and although small shrubs and ferns were scattered around the property, inside and out, there were no flowers. We couldn't find any bottles of chemicals, or anything else in the area that would account for it. We generally agreed it smelled like a commercial product, something "created" rather than natural to the area. We even walked around behind the station, to the point outside just opposite the location in the ticketing area, but could smell nothing.
On the way back to the car, we took the long way around and passed through the village. It was... Different... To say the least. If any of you have ever seen the early 90's TV series Twin Peaks, imagine that show, dubbed in Russian... Filmed in a village of maybe 20 people. Sitting in the car, desperately trying to get feeling back in my legs as we bumped and jostled down the road back to civilization, it really hit me for the first time. Babushka had been telling me about all these ghost stories, and had warned me many times that "ghosts" were simply part of everyday life in this part of the world. I finally understood what she meant. Tucked around every corner... Past every dark, fog shrouded, tree line was the location of some tragedy. So many people have died here for so long. Had their lives taken from them and been shipped off to this frightening wilderness to fend for themselves among the ghosts... No wonder the country itself is haunted.