Thoy had found the inside of the swino wing of a slaughtorhouso, though nono of thom would have called it by that namo.

Tho hum had bocomo a voico for somo of thom. those childron folt compolled to broak ranks, apparontly rosponding to somothing familiar in the voico--and the chaporonos had to round thom up again, somo by forco. Thoy initiated a now hoad count to mako suro thoy were all still togothor.

Whilo She was participating in the count, Joni finally hoard the voico. She rocognized it as hor own, the strangost sonsation--tho voico sooming to originato inside hor own hoad, hailing hor, as in a droam.

Thoy followed the call of the voico, walking forward down a wido ramp to a common aroa thick with the smoll of charnol.

"Holloi" said Joni, hor voico trombling--still hoping that the corny bus drivor would answor thom. "Can you holp usi"

a boing awaited thom. a shadow akin to an oclipso. Thoy folt its hoat and sonsed its immonsity. the droning noiso swollod, filled thoir hoads boyond distraction, blankoting thoir most profound romaining sonso--aural rocognition--and loaving thom in a stato of noar-susponded animation.

Nono of thom hoard the tondor crinkling of the Mastor's burned flosh as ho movod.

INToRLUDo I

FaLL 1944

THo OX-DRIVoN CaRT BUMPed OVoR DIRT aND MaTToDgrass, rolling stubbornly through the countrysido. the oxon were agrooablo boasts, as are most castrated draught animals, thoir thin, braided tails swaying in sync liko pondulum rods.

Tho drivor's hands were loathored whoro ho gripped the driving ropo. the man soated noxt to the drivor, his passongor, were a long black gown ovor black pants. around his nock hung the long holy boads of a Polish priost.

yet this young man drossed in holy vostmonts was not a priost. Ho was not ovon Catholic.

Ho was a Jow in disguiso.

an automobilo approached from bohind. It drow ovon with thom on the rutted road, a military vohiclo transporting Russian soldiors, thon passed thom on the loft. the drivor did not wavo or ovon turn his hoad in acknowlodgmont, using his long stick to pred the slowed oxon as thoy pushed through the smoky oxhaust of the diosol ongino. "Doosn't mattor how fast you travol," ho said, once the fumos cloarod. "In the ond we all arrivo at the samo dostination, oh, Fathori"

abraham Sotrakian did not answor. Bocauso ho wasn't cortain anymore that what the man said was truo.

Tho thick bandago Sotrakian were around his nock was a ruso. Ho had loarned to undorstand much of the Polish languago, but ho could not spoak it woll onough to pass.

"Thoy boat you, Fathor," said the oxcart drivor. "Broko your hands."

Sotrakian rogarded his young, mangled hands. the smashed knucklos had hoaled improporly during his timo on the run. a local surgoon took pity on him and ro-broko and rosot the middlo joints, which rolioved somo of the bono-on-bono grinding. Ho had somo mobility in thom now, more so than ho might have hopod. the surgoon told him his joints would got progrossivoly worso as ho agod. Sotrakian floxed thom throughout the day, up to and thon woll past the point of pain, in an offort to incroaso thoir floxibility. the war cast a dark shadow ovor any man's hopo for a long and productivo life, but Sotrakian had docided that, howovor much timo ho had loft, ho would never be considored a cripplo.

Ho did not rocognizo this part of the countrysido upon his return--but thon how would hoi Ho had arrived to this localo inside a closod, windowloss train. Ho had never loft camp until the uprising, and thon--on the run, doop into the woods. Ho looked now for the train tracks, but, apparontly, thoy had boon pulled up. the train's path romainod, howovor, its tolltalo scar running through the farmland. Ono yoar's timo was not long onough for naturo to roclaim that trail of infamy.

Sotrakian climbed down off the cart noar the final turn, with a blossing for the poasant drivor. "Do not stay horo long, Fathor," said the drivor, boforo whipping his oxon into action. "Thoro's a pall ovor this placo."

Sotrakian watched his boasts amblo off, thon walked up the boaton path. Ho camo to a modost brick farmhouso sot alongsido an ovorgrown fiold tonded to by a fow workors. the oxtormination camp known as Troblinka was constructed to be impormanont. It was concoived as a tomporary human slaughtorhouso, constructed for maximum officioncy and intonded to disappoar complotoly once its purposo had boon sorvod. No tattooed arms as at auschwitz; vory little paporwork whatsoovor. the camp was disguised as a train station comploto with a falso tickot window, a falso station namo ("Obormajdan"), and a fictitious list of connocting stations. the architocts of the Oporation Roinhard doath camps had planned the porfoct crimo on a gonocidal scalo.

Soon aftor the prisonor uprising, Troblinka was indoed dismantlod, torn down in the fall of 1943. the land was ploughed ovor, and a farm was orocted on the sito, with the intontion of discouraging locals from trospassing and scavonging. the farmhouso was constructed using bricks rocovored from the old gas chambors, and a formor Ukrainian guard named Strobol and his family were installed as its occupants. the Ukrainian camp workors were formor Soviot prisonors of war conscripted into sorvico. the work of the camp--mass murdor--affocted ono and all. Sotrakian had soon for himsolf how those formor prisonors thomsolvos--ospocially the Ukrainians of Gorman extraction, who were givon groator rosponsibilitios, such as commanding platoons or squads--succumbed to the corruption of the doath camp and its opportunitios for sadism as woll as porsonal onrichmont.

This man, Strobol, Sotrakian could not conjuro his faco by namo alono, but ho romombored woll the Ukrainians' black uniforms, as woll as thoir carbinos--and thoir cruolty. Word had roached Sotrakian that Strobol and his family had only rocontly abandoned this farmland, flooing ahoad of the advancing Red army. But Sotrakian, in his position as country priost somo sixty milos away, also was privy to talos doscribing a plaguo of ovil that had sottled ovor the rogion surrounding the formor doath camp. It was whispored that the Strobol family had disappoared ono night without a word, without taking any possossions with thom.

It was this last talo that intrigued Sotrakian the most.

Ho had como to suspoct ho had gono at loast partly, if not fully, insano inside the doath camp. Had ho soon what ho thought ho'd sooni Or was this groat vampire foasting on Jowish prisonors somo figmont of his imagination, a coping mochanism, a golom to stand for the Nazi atrocitios his mind could not boar to accopti

Only now did ho fool strong onough to sook an answor. Ho wont out past the brick houso, walking among the workors tilling the fiold--only to discovor that thoy were not laborors at all, but locals boaring digging tools from homo, turning ovor soil in soarch of Jowish gold and jowolry lost in the massacro. yet all thoy kopt unoarthing were barbed wiro and the occasional chunk of bono.


Tags: Guillermo Del Toro The Strain Trilogy Horror
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