My journal notes on The Strain by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan.
Flight 753 survivor Ansel Barbour huddled with his wife, Ann-Marie, and his two children, eight-year-old Benjy and five-year-old Haily, on a blue chintz sofa in the back sunroom of their three-bedroom home in Flatbush, New York.
Rather than going to the lawyer or the pop star, we see the return of the Joe Ordinary-man.
The pop star may have no immediate family, & although the lawyer might, she may be the kind of person to put career first. So, it’s no surprise that Ansel has the wife (Ann-Marie), two children (Ben and Haily), & two dogs (Pap and Gertie), almost the typical household. I get the feeling that out of the three discharged survivors, it’s mainly Ansel that I’m supposed to relate to.
His wife is borderline OCD, I understand that I’m not supposed to relate to her, empathise perhaps, but she’s a plot device to make the husband even more important to the family, and that his transition from human to “other” will be that much harder to bear. For his family and the reader.
In fact, Ann-Marie’s problems are mapped out, explained and rationalised, so that she becomes a reason for Ansel to have the left the hospital as quickly as possible. She needs him, she cannot function without him, and in turn he puts her needs far above the needs or demands of anything else in his life.
Ansel is already having problems, much like Captain Redfern, he’s feeling tightly wound, his neck muscles in particular seem to be like a coiled spring of muscles, each movement causing pain. His reaction to this level of pain is ibuprofen :
He popped six at once, the daily recommended dosage and was barely able to get them down.
I can only assume that he’s never experienced such pain before, and that he hopes the ibuprofen will act like a magic wand. He’s also assuming that, whatever it is, will go away soon. Not something I would’ve thought since no one knows how the other passengers died yet or what caused it.
Then, there’s the dreams he has later that night, and the thirst that seems unquenchable, the sudden desire for the blood from a meaty streak resting in the fridge.
He pauses out in the back garden, to cool the sweat from his to hot body, and yet his dogs outside have yet to pick up on any change. Animals are usually such a good indicator of changes. Ansel has had these pets for longer than he’s been married, so they are well attuned to their master. It’s strange that they don’t notice anything, unless they are simply too happy to see him.
Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Manhattan
There was no blood on the medical examiner who met Eph and Nora. That alone was a strange sight.
The medical examiner is Gossett Bennett, who is seems to be the Chief M.E. He explains that there are eight autopsies being conducted at present, and the next couple of paragraphs explains all the details of those autopsies in a clinical manner, but with broad strokes, rather than going into any minute detail. When I’ve watched medical or forensic documentaries, the details are nearly always blured out in such a way as not to be shocking to the audience, but the mind fills in most of the blanks anyway. The short descriptions here are almost a reverse of that. If you’ve watched those kinds of programmes like CSI (drama) or Medical Detectives/Forensic Files (factual documentary-style) then I’m sure your mind will fill in the visual blanks of dissection and investigation.
One particular sentence sticks out for me:
…a pathologist paring away samples on a cutting board like a cannibal preparing a platter of human sashimi.
Short but highly descriptive isn’t it.
Bennett tells Eph and Nora, that he started to take a closer look at the wounds on the necks of the victims. He seems to be as baffled as our CDC duo about what could have made such precise cuts, never mind why. I’m rather clueless about the cuts though, since I already know a vampire is the culprit, does the vampire use a finger nail or something. It certainly deviates from the usual two puncture wounds that is now firmly ingrained in modern vampire myth. Funny to think of it that way, modern vampire myth. Strange how some myths and ancient fears seems to have evolved into our so-called modern society. Mention a vampire or a werewolf to anyone from any country, and that person knows exactly what you mean. For instance, if I mentioned Quetzalcoatl, only a few would know what I was talking about, and most of those would probably remember it from a 1982 horror film (Q or The Winged Serpent), the minority having studied Aztec mythology.
In any case, the cut on the neck, I’m currently running with the finger nail theory, sorry for going off on a tangent 😉
From the initial findings of the autopsies, these people appear to have undergone some dramatic changes in death. Especially in the case of one person, their heart showing signs of a fatal abnormality.
… an undissected human heart. He pointed a gloved finger at where it would have joined the arteries. “See the valves? Almost as if they have grown open. Now, they couldn’t have operated like this in life. Not closing and opening and pumping blood. So this can’t have been congenital.”
I suppose all the victims could have evidence of similar abnormalities, but only one heart is offered as an example at this point in the story.
Bennett is clear on one thing, the pace that the autopsies are to be performed needs to slow down, and he’s bringing in more people to help. Otherwise, who knows what could be missed.
He brings to attention other abnormalities, like the blood.
This couldn’t be blood. Blood settles and congeals after death. It doesn’t drain out like engine oil.
Nor is healthy blood completely lacking in red blood cells. The bodies are still generating heat, somehow. Then there’s also a change within the larynx, something new that may be the thin needle like device that creates the cuts in the bodies, it may well be used like a straw for exsanguination. But I’m speculating again.
They (Eph & Nora) scrubbed up outside, more diligently than usual. Both were deeply shaken by what they had seen inside the morgue.
Hardly surprising. Even for two seasoned CDC doctors.
They briefly converse about what they’ve seen and the implications, but are interrupted by a txt from Zack about the custody hearing. Poor Zack, he probably wonders why his Dad forgot, not understanding the danger that is lurking, and unavoidable.
Although there could be a way to minimise the damage, according to Abraham Setrakian, who makes his introductions to the two doctors. He knows things, things that he really shouldn’t know, about the corpses, the bodies showing no signs of decomposition, and the coffin, the box and it’s occupant.
He’s not surprised that both the black ornate box/coffin and it’s owner have disappeared, but Setrakian does state that the victims of Flight 777 should be destroyed immediately. More to the point, he claims it should be done before night falls. It should be done now. He suggests to use an ultraviolet light to examine the victims, which strikes a major chord with Eph. Probably because of what he saw in the aircraft, the swirls of colours penetrating the interior of the passenger and cockpit areas.
The statement l found really interesting is about a truce of some sort.
…pleading his case directly to Nora and Eph. “A truce has been broken. An ancient, sacred pact. By a man who is no longer a man, but an abomination. A walking, devouring abomination.”
Truce between whom? Are humans a part of this truce? Or are we ignorant about it, save for a few like Setrakian?
A pitiful title for such an emotional chapter.
It concerns the debate over whom should have custody over Zack. Although the authors are careful to call it “the final custody issues” rather than a custody battle. It really does try very hard to pull at your heart strings (maybe a little too hard?).
In the end, it’s just feels like the final recommendation to the judge was inevitable right from the beginning of the novel. As soon as Flight 753 went dark, as soon as Eph and Zack were introduced, this was always going to be. Now Eph has something to fight for, when the fit hits the shan (move the f and sh around if you didn’t already know).
Going off on a small tangent. Why do they even use the phrase “custody battle“, it’s always the phrase I hear in these situations. A strange concept, a war between parents over their child/children, to win the right to have your child/children in your home, while the other merely sees them during “visitation rights”. Like the children are some sort of prize to be won. Or lost.
I hope I never find myself in such an awful predicament.
The First Night
Uh-oh. The title lets me know that things are about to get rough and very much the stranger.
Very strange indeed. Starting back in the morgue, with Dr. Bennett again. It seems he noticed something odd(er) about the “white blood” drawn from the victims earlier. He must have very sharp eyes, even with the circumstances now forced to become slow and detailed examinations.
It’s starts out feeling like that scene in “Jurassic Park” when the Tyrannosaur stomps and the vibration is seen reflected in the water.
Except, there’s no dinosaur, and only the specimen ripples, a glass of water by it’s side does not.
Dr. Bennett concludes that there must be something in the specimen that is moving, freely and if it’s own accord. Like it wasn’t enough that the blood samples are freakishly exsanguinated.
… he thought he saw something ride the spill from the first jar to the second. Something very thin, no more than an inch and a half in length, if indeed he saw what he thought he saw.
A worm. A fluke. Was this a parasitic disease?
All the while he keeps hearing sounds. Of course, at this point I already know what’s making those noises, but Bennett, rationally dismisses it as either rats or his own more base, human psyche reacting to the human remains seemingly going against the natural order of decay and decomposition.
But there’s a reason why fight or flight is seemingly hard coded into our DNA.
Being a rational man, and not like me, he actually opens the door to the refrigerated storage. Alone. With no one the wiser to these incidents.
Me, I’d rather look slightly foolish and wait ’till tomorrow, when everyone comes back into work. After all, the dead are dead, locked in a freezer, why not wait. No harm done to wait.
Of course, this is where the authors chose to cut to another scene, leaving me hanging with a cliffhanger, a dark fridge and Bennett alone with the monsters. Hellfire, there’s no need for these kinds of tactics :-!
So, cliffhanger done, I am now reading about Joan Luss, one of the survivors and the lawyer of the bunch. Why is it, that lawyers are nearly always portrayed as somewhat predatory, almost as if no one had anything good to say about them. It makes me wonder if any lawyer has ever won the Nobel Prize, or at least been nominated. I think I’ll have to look into that sometime.
Joan though, is all about the massive claim, for herself and on behalf of all the passengers, alive or dead. But she comes across as meaning that winning any damages from the airline, would garner prestige for her law firm, of which she is a partner. No matter that she obviously shouldn’t have left the hospital.
Besides, take it from one who knows. That whole hospital thing was an insurance ploy on the airline’s behalf. All for their benefit, mine.”
Someone who knows…, nothing apparently. She’s faring no better than Ansel Barbour, nausea, swollen neck & glands, difficulty swallowing solid food. Although she’s not having as many issues swallowing pills as Ansel. Yet. But then again, this chapter is named “The First Night”, there’s more going to happen to Joan. Very soon.
Another thing that strikes me is that so far, both Ansel & Joan have families, children, and yet they casually discharge themselves from hospital care without any consideration to the welfare of their belovedfamilies.
I get the feeling this chapter will be zig-zaging a bit more.
There’s a naked fat man on the loose, with regular police trying to find him. Guess the dead got out of the morgue, because this particular naked man is sporting a fashionable red toe tag. I can guess what happened to Dr Bennett, but hopefully I’ll be wrong, as I kind of liked him a bit. Even if he was a little stupid for handling a live, but as yet, unidentified, parasite.
Gabriel Bolivar returned by limousine to his new home in Manhattan, two town houses undergoing extensive renovations on Vestry Street, in Tribeca. When finished, the home would encompass thirty-one rooms and fourteen thousand total square feet, including a mosaic-lined swimming pool, servants’ quarters for a staff of sixteen, a basement recording studio, and a twenty-six-seat movie theater.
If I ever became rich, I’m sure I wouldn’t need so many rooms or square feet, I’d need a map or GPS just to find the nearest bathroom.
Gabriel must need it to fill with people, so he won’t feel so, alone maybe?
There’s a snapshot, vignette, a sketch if you will, of Gabriel the man. What he thinks & feels, about his career, his longevity in the eyes of his fans, his audience. This is all for naught, but it allows some insight into his change from man to other as well. His interaction with three young ladies is revealing, his lack of sexual libido is replaced with a libido of other origins. For other obsessions.
I particularly enjoyed the part where he dismisses the ladies, and starts to remove his, almost always worn, make-up, and how he starts to see the ongoing physical changes. As if the make-up & eye contacts had become permanent, etched forever into his flesh.
The pupils were dead black. Almost as though he still had the lenses in, only more textured now, more real. And, when he blinked, he noticed further activity within the eye. He got right up against the mirror, eyes wide now, almost afraid to close them.
Zag to Augustin “Gus” Elizalde.
He’s still feeling guilty for the van, for whatever was inside it. And of course, earning what he’s now calling dirty money.
Having met up with his friend, Felix, he considers just wasting the money rather than giving the ill gotten gains to his mother. Why he should feel the money is cursed is strange, but I guess he’s still shook up from listening to the inside of the van.
So, Gus & Felix go off into the New York nightlife, maybe to look for some fun, Gus being a little depressed or morose, maudy. The search doesn’t last long, as the naked fat man crosses their path and things spiral out of control. Funny how the police don’t show up until afterwards. Being a major tourist destination, I would’ve thought that Times Square had more police per square foot than any other area in New York, even inside a book of fiction. Or maybe it’s like everywhere else, you never see the police when you are actually in desperate need of them. Sod’s Law, or Murphy’s Law, depending on your geographic location.
Gary Gilbarton, I’m unfamiliar with this person, but he’s introduced as a grieving father. His daughter, Emma, was on the plane, as was his wife, but he doesn’t seem to care about losing her. Or maybe he’s just emotionally short-circuited at the moment.
He was more focused on Emma than he was Berwyn, his wife, because children are our second selves. He loved Berwyn, and she was gone. But his mind kept circling around his lost little girl like water circling an ever-emptying drain.
It’s a well written introduction to the man. Finally alone after family, extended family & friends have left him after their attempts at consoling him. No words are ever enough though, are they. Unfortunately for Gary, his little girl is not as dead as he thinks. It’s almost like Stephen King’s Pet Cemetery, where the grief stricken parents bury their little boy, Gabe, only for him to come back as something not-Gabe & utterly terrifying.
Gary’s thoughts of suicide will be unnecessary, doubt he’ll last long enough to see the memorial playground built and named in Emma’s honour. Doubt the playground will be built at all, the world will have bigger priorities to deal with before the end of this book, or even the chapter. There were a lot of people on Flight 753, I can only presume that the strain of parasite that has infected these poor folk, is inordinately fast at taking over the entire body. And then there’s the “Master”to worry about.
These things are beyond Gary, he doesn’t understand how, but he has his little girl back. Sort of. She’s there in body, but not in spirit, even though he makes her favorite waffles, there’s no response from her.
Her eyes are devoid of any recognition, either of her father, or of her surroundings.
A tear slipped from Gary’s eye and rolled down his cheek. He knew by now that something was terribly wrong with his daughter. But he shoved all that aside.
She was here now, she was back.
Makes me wonder how she managed to find her way home at all.
Instinct maybe, like birds migrating using the same path year in, year out?
But then, what of the toe-tagged undead man in Times Square, he seemed to not know where to go, blundering his way about. Perhaps New York was not his home?
But if Emma’s instinct was to go to her father, her home, what of Berwyn? Where did his wife go to?
Then again, she’d be too late to infect her husband, Emma has dibs on that.
I can’t help wondering where all the others will go to. Three out of four of the survivors are at home already, the fourth staying quarantined. The morgue seems to be compromised, and Dr. Bennett’s fate is currently undisclosed. So, how apocalyptic will the first night’s events be?
To Zack Goodweather.
A phrase came to mind as I was reading this bit, “Be careful what you wish for, for it may come true.”
Obviously Zack is not faring well, insomnia being just one physical & psychological effect of his parents divorce, and the subsequent “custody issues”. From his point of view, everyone seems to know what’s best for him, I’ve yet to read any mention of anyone asking Zack what he thinks. But I don’t suppose anyone really cares, so long as they seem to be doing their job, right or wrong.
Here’s a brief glimpse at what Zack really thinks:
At least, he hoped, now the army of concerned adults would finally screw out of his life. Therapists, judges, social workers, his mother’s boyfriend. All of them keeping him hostage to their own needs and stupid goals. All of them “caring” for him, for his well-being, and none of them really giving a shit.
I get the feeling that, if given the choice, he’d prefer to be with Eph. He is his father’s son, even if his mother doesn’t like it. Which may be why, when Zack sees the monster in the dark he’s been praying for, his first reaction is not to hide, but to analyse. It’s only when he sees the nude man’s chest that he thinks to hide away and pray instead for the sunrise.
He clearly sees that this man has the distinct Y shape scar of an autopsy.
It’s okay to dreams off heroes and monsters in the dark, nothing better to do than daydream when insomnia takes you, but it’s something else in it’s entirety to actually see the devil in the dark.
His first thought, as hides under the covers of his bed, is “ZOMBIES”. He’s not far wrong though. As the household across the street is about to find out, to the tune of breaking glass.
If he were a local man or a neighbour, I’m sure Zack would of recognised him. Seems this man doesn’t have Emma’s homing instinct either.
Back to Ansel.
Pain, unbearable. Nothing is working and he’s scaring the living daylights out of Anne-Marie. His children are even a little frightened, keeping their distance.
Ansel’s doing his best, but the pain is driving him spare, snapping at his wife & waspish.
She and the children know something is wrong, but they think it’s because he’s sick. The two digs, on the other hand, they know. They’re even growling at him now, as I expected them to do at the beginning of this chapter. Pap and Gertie are now reading him as a threat, rather than their beloved master, friend, pack-member.
He eventually, purely by accident, finds something to sooth what ails him, but it’s only a glimmer of relief from the hunger & the thrum-thrum-thrum pounding through his ears, his body. This just leads to guilt & remorse, his dogs are the first. Now he just needs to stop himself from attacking the rest of his family.
Their blood. Calling to him. Ansel shuddered and let his focus fall on the dog’s stake in front of him. Buried six feet deep, set in a solid block of concrete. Strong enough to keep two Saint Bernards leashed during a summer thunderstorm. Ansel looked to the wall shelves and saw an extra chain collar, price tag still attached. He felt certain he had an old shackle lock in here somewhere.
He waited until they were a safe distance away before he reached up and pulled down the steel collar.
A decent idea, but I doubt the stake will hold. This isn’t going to end well.
Poor Captain Redfern. There’s nothing Eph or Nora can do for him. Being in a hospital should have given the pilot some comfort, that he’s in a place of healing, that he can be helped, cured. I think it’s too apparent to everyone, including Redfern, that he’s doomed. Since the moment that black ornate box was loaded onto his aircraft, they were all doomed.
But, he is being observed, giving our hero a chance to unravel the mysteries before him. For instance, being a “strain” of vampirism, it is susceptible to light, particularly UV light. This is shown when Eph passes a UV black light over Redfern’s skin, the reaction being of something inside him flinching away from the light, as if hurt by it.
Although, this reaction is thought to be more movie myth than vampire lore. As far as I can recall, vampires were thought to attack at night purely because of the vulnerability of their sleeping victims, but I’m no expert.
Nora has some updates for him though, as the author’s put it, she is equally excited & bewildered, and little wonder. Turns out the cabin of Flight 753’s little Pollack display was the result of raw plasma being sprayed everywhere.
“Raw plasma. And a whole load of enzymes.”
Eph held his forehead as though taking his own temperature. “As in digestion?”
“Now what does that remind you of?”
“Excretions. Birds, bats. Like guano.”
But this new information will have to be processed later. Redfern has gone missing from the MRI test room.
He hasn’t gone far though, and it’s Jim who spots him first. Although Jim seems to have another person to report to, and he prefers to be alone when he calls this mysterious person. Redfern though, interrupts this phone call update and I doubt Jim will ever make updates again.
Nora is the second to see Captain Redfern, and it’s clear the pilot has fully changed. The Strain has him now. Eph discovers them just as Nora is attacked, only to become the new focus of Redfern’s attackin less than heartbeat.
His lower jaw descended and out wriggled something pink and fleshy that was not his tongue. It was longer, more muscular and complex and squirming. As though he had swallowed a live squid, and one of its tentacles was still thrashing about desperately inside his mouth.
A fight ensues and as this slightly longer chapter ends, it’s clear that it’s the start of a long path for Eph and Nora.
They need to talk to Setrakian. Soon.