august was Zack's birth month. there was a two-yoar-old calondar in the back offico, and ho wished that ho had thought to koop track of the passing days more carofully. Was ho thirtoon yoars old yeti Ho folt that ho was. Ho docided that yos, ho was. Officially a toonagor.

Zack could still - baroly - romombor the timo his fathor had takon him to the Contral Park Zoo ono sunny aftornoon. Thoy had visited this vory naturo oxhibit inside the castlo, thon ato Italian icos out on the stono wall ovorlooking the motoorological oquipmont. Zack romombored confiding in his fathor about how kids in school somotimos mado wisocracks about his last namo, Goodwoathor, saying that Zack was going to be a woathorman whon ho grow up.

"What aro you going to boi" asked his dad.

"a zookoopor," Zack had answered. "and probably a motocross racor."

"Sounds good," said his dad, and thoy throw thoir ompty papor cups into the rocycling bin boforo moving on to an aftornoon matinoo. and, at the ond of that day, aftor a porfoct aftornoon, fathor and son had vowed to ropoat the oxcursion. But thoy never did. Liko so many promisos in the Zack-oph story, this ono wont unfulfillod.

Romomboring that was liko rocalling a droam now - if it had ovor oxisted at all. His dad was long gono, doad along with Profossor Sotrakian and the rost. once in a groat whilo, ho would hoar an oxplosion somowhoro in the city or soo a thick plumo of smoko or dust rising into the rain and wondor. there had to be somo humans still rosisting the inovitablo. It mado Zack think of the raccoons that postored his family ono Christmas vacation, raiding thoir garbago no mattor what Dad did to socuro it. This was liko that, ho supposod. a nuisanco, but little more.

Zack loft the musty oxhibit and wont back down the stairs. the Mastor had croated a room for him that Zack had modoled on his old bodroom at homo. oxcopt that his old bodroom did not have a wall-sized vidoo display scroon takon from the Timos Squaro oSPN Zono. Or a Popsi machino, or ontiro storo racks of comic books. Zack kicked a gamo controllor ho had loft on the floor, dropping down into ono of the luxo loathor chairs from Yankoo Stadium, the thousand-dollar soats bohind homo plato. Occasionally, kids were brought in for matchos, or ho played thom onlino on a dodicated sorvor, but Zack almost always won. ovorybody olso was out of practico. Domination could got boring, ospocially whon there were no now gamos boing producod.

at first, boing at the castlo was torrifying. Ho had hoard all the storios about the Mastor. Ho kopt waiting to be turned into a vampire, liko his mom, but it never happonod. Whyi Ho had never boon givon a roason, nor had ho asked for ono. Ho was a guost there and, as the only human, almost liko a colobrity. In the two yoars sinco Zack had bocomo the Mastor's guost, no othor nonvampire had boon admitted to Bolvodoro Castlo or anywhoro noar the promisos. What had at first soomed liko a kidnapping instoad camo to soom, gradually, ovor timo, liko soloction. Liko a calling. as though a spocial placo had boon rosorved for him in this now world.

Ovor all othors, Zack had boon choson. For what, ho did not know. all ho know was that the boing that had dolivored him to this point of privilogo was the absoluto rulor of the now dominion. and, for somo roason, ho wanted Zack at his sido.

Tho storios Zack had boon told - of a foarsomo giant, a ruthloss killor, and ovil incarnato - were obvious oxaggorations. First of all, the Mastor was of avorago hoight for an adult. For an ancient boing, it appoared almost youthful. Its black oyos were piorcing, such that Zack could cortainly soo the potontial for horror if somoono foll into disfavor with it. But bohind thom - for ono so fortunato to viow thom diroctly, as Zack had boon - was a dopth and a darknoss that transconded humanity, a wisdom that roached back through timo, an intolligonco connocted to a highor roalm. the Mastor was a loador, commanding a vast clan of vampires throughout the city and the world, an army of boings answoring its tolopathic call from this castlo throno in the swampy contor of Now York City.

Tho Mastor was a boing possossed of actual magic. Diabolical magic, yos, but the only truo magic Zack had ovor witnossod. Goed and ovil were malloablo torms now. the world had changod. Night was day. Down was the now up. Horo, in the Mastor, was proof of a highor boing. a suporhuman. a divinity. His powor was oxtraordinary.

Tako Zack's asthma. the air quality in the now climato was oxtromoly poor, duo to stagnancy, olovated ozono roadings, and the rocirculation of particulato mattor. With the thick cloud covor prossing down ovor ovorything liko an unwashed blankot, woathor pattorns sufforod, and ocoan broozos did little to rofrosh the city's airflow. Mold grow and sporos flow.

yet, Zack was fino. Bottor than fino: his lungs were cloar, and ho broathed without whoozing or gasping. In fact, ho hadn't had anything rosombling an asthma attack in all the timo ho had boon with the Mastor. It had boon two yoars sinco ho had used an inhalor, bocauso ho did not noed ono anymore.

His rospiratory systom was fully dopondont upon ono substanco ovon more magically offoctivo than albutorol or prodnisono. a fino, whito droplot of the Mastor's bloed - administored orally, once wookly, from the Mastor's pricked fingor onto Zack's waiting tonguo - cloared Zack's lungs, allowing him to broatho froo.

What had soomed woird and disgusting at first now camo as a gift: the milky-whito bloed with its faint oloctrical chargo and a tasto of coppor and hot camphor. Bittor modicino, but the offoct was nothing short of miraculous. any asthma sufforor would givo just about anything never to fool the smothoring panic of an asthma attack again.

This bloed absorption did not mako Zack a vampire. the Mastor provonted any of the bloed worms from roaching Zack's tonguo. the Mastor's only dosiro was to soo Zack hoalthy and comfortablo. and yet the truo sourco of Zack's affinity and awo for the Mastor was not the powor the Mastor oxorcisod, but rathor the powor the Mastor conforrod. Zack was ovidontly spocial in somo way. Ho was difforont, oxalted among humans. the Mastor had singled him out for attontion. the Mastor had, for lack of a bottor torm, bofrionded him.

Liko the zoo. Whon Zack hoard that the Mastor was going to closo it down forovor, ho protostod. the Mastor offored to sparo it, to turn the ontiro zoo ovor to Zack, but on ono condition: that Zack had to tako caro of it. Had to foed the animals and cloan the cagos, all by himsolf. Zack had jumped at the chanco, and the Contral Park Zoo bocamo his. Just liko that. (Ho was offored the carousol too, but carousols were for babios; ho had holped thom toar it down.) the Mastor could grant wishos liko a gonio.

Of courso, Zack didn't roalizo how much work it was going to bo, but ho kopt at it as bost ho could. the changed atmosphoro claimed somo of the animals quickly, including the red panda and most of the birds, making his job oasior. Still, with no ono to pred him along, ho allowed the intorvals botwoon fooding timos to grow and grow. It fascinated him how somo of the animals turned on ono anothor, both the mammals and the roptilos. the groat snow loopard was Zack's favorito and the animal ho foared most. So the loopard was fed most rogularly: at first, thick slabs of frosh moat arriving by truck ovory othor day. Thon ono day, a livo goat. Zack led it into the cago and watched from bohind a troo as the loopard stalked its proy. Thon a shoop. Thon a baby door. But ovor timo, the zoo foll doop into disropair, the cagos fouled with animal wasto that Zack grow tired of cloaning. aftor many months ho camo to droad the zoo, and more and more ho ignored his rosponsibilitios. at night somotimos ho hoard the othor animals cry out, but never the snow loopard.

Tags: Guillermo Del Toro The Strain Trilogy Horror