Home > The Strain (The Strain Trilogy #1)(3)

The Strain (The Strain Trilogy #1)(3)
Author: Guillermo del Toro

"Regis 7-5-3, this is JFK tower, come in, over."

He waited. Nothing, not even a radio click.

"Regis 7-5-3, this is JFK tower, are you reading me, over."

A traffic assistant materialized behind Calvin Buss's shoulder. "Comm problem?" he suggested.

Calvin Buss said, "Gross mechanical failure, more likely. Somebody said the plane's gone dark."

"Dark?" said Jimmy the Bishop, marveling at what a near miss that would be, the aircraft's gross mechanicals shitting the bed just minutes after landing. He made a mental note to stop off on the way home and play 753 for tomorrow's numbers.

Calvin plugged his own earphone into Jimmy's b-comm audio jack. "Regis 7-5-3, this is JFK tower, please respond. Regis 7-5-3, this is the tower, over."

Waiting, listening.


Jimmy the Bishop eyed his pending blips on the dish-no conflict alerts, all his aircraft okay. "Better advise on a reroute around Foxtrot," he said.

Calvin unplugged and stepped back. He got a middle-distance look in his eyes, staring past Jimmy's console to the windows of the tower cab, out in the general direction of the taxiway. His look showed as much confusion as concern. "We need to get Foxtrot cleared." He turned to the traffic assistant. "Dispatch somebody for a visual."

Jimmy the Bishop clutched his belly, wishing he could reach inside and somehow massage the sickness roiling at its pit. His profession, essentially, was midwifery. He assisted pilots in delivering planes full of souls safely out of the womb of the void and unto the earth. What he felt now were pangs of fear, like those of a young doctor having delivered his very first stillborn.

Terminal 3 Tarmac

LORENZA RUIZ was on her way out to the gate, driving a baggage conveyor, basically a hydraulic ramp on wheels. When 753 didn't show around the corner as expected, Lo rolled out farther for a little peek, as she was due her break soon. She wore protective headphones, a Mets hoodie underneath her reflective vest, goggles-that runway grit was a bitch-with her orange marshaling batons lying next to her hip, on the seat.

What in the hell?

She pulled off her goggles as though needing to see it with her bare eyes. There it was, a Regis 777, a big boy, one of the new ones on the fleet, sitting out on Foxtrot in darkness. Total darkness, even the nav lights on the wings. All she saw was the smooth, tubular surface of the fuselage and wings glowing faintly under the landing lights of approaching planes. One of them, Lufthansa 1567, missing a collision with its landing gear by a mere foot.

"Jesus Santisimo!"

She called it in.

"We're already on our way," said her supervisor. "Crow's nest wants you to roll out and take a look."

"Me?" Lo said.

She frowned. That's what you get for curiosity. So she went, following the service lane out from the passenger terminal, crossing the taxiway lines painted onto the apron. She was a little nervous, and very watchful, having never driven out this far before. The FAA had strict rules about how far out the conveyors and baggage trailers were supposed to go.

She turned past the blue guide lamps edging the taxiway. The plane appeared to have been shut down completely, stem to stern. No beacon light, no anticollision light, no lights in the cabin windows. Usually, even from the ground, thirty feet below, through the tiny windshield like eyes slanting over the characteristic Boeing nose, you could see up and inside the cockpit, the overhead switch panel and the instrument lights glowing darkroom red. But there were no lights at all.

Lo idled ten yards back from the tip of the long left wing. You work the tarmac long enough-Lo had eight years in now, longer than both of her marriages put together-you pick up a few things. The trailing edge flaps and the ailerons-the spoiler panels on the back sides of the wings-were all straight up like Paula Abdul, which is how pilots set them after runway touchdown. The turbojets were quiet and still, and they usually took a while to stop chewing air even after switch off, sucking in grit and bugs like great ravenous vacuums. So this big baby had come in clean and set down all nice and easy and gotten this far before-lights out.

Even more alarmingly, if it had been cleared for landing, whatever had gone wrong happened in the space of two, maybe three minutes. What can go wrong that fast?

Lo pulled a little bit closer, rolling in behind the wing. If those turbofans were to start up all of a sudden, she didn't want to get sucked in and shredded like some Canadian goose. She drove near the freight hold, the area of the plane she was best acquainted with, down toward the tail, stopping beneath the rear exit door. She set the locking brake and worked the stick that raised her ramp, which at its height topped out at about a thirty-degree incline. Not enough, but still. She got out, reached back in for her batons, and walked up the ramp toward the dead airplane.

Dead? Why did she think that? The thing had never been alive-

But for a moment, Lorenza thought of the image of a large, rotting corpse, a beached whale. That was what the plane looked like to her: a festering carcass; a dying leviathan.

The wind stopped as she neared the top, and you have to understand one thing about the climate out on the apron at JFK: the wind never stops. As in never ever. It is always windy out on the tarmac, with the planes coming in and the salt marsh and the friggin' Atlantic Ocean just on the other side of Rockaway. But all of a sudden it got real silent-so silent that Lo pulled down her big-muff headphones, just to be certain. She thought she heard pounding coming from inside the plane, but realized it was just the beating of her own heart. She turned on her flashlight and trained it on the right flank of the plane.

Following the circular splash of her beam, she could see that the fuselage was still slick and pearly from its descent, smelling like spring rain. She shined her light on the long row of windows. Every interior shade was pulled down.

That was strange. She was spooked now. Majorly spooked. Dwarfed by a massive, $250-million, 383-ton flying machine, she had a fleeting yet palpable and cold sensation of standing in the presence of a dragon-like beast. A sleeping demon only pretending to be asleep, yet capable, at any moment, of opening its eyes and its terrible mouth. An electrically psychic moment, a chill running through her with the force of a reverse orgasm, everything tightening, knotting up.

Then she noticed that one of the shades was up now. The fine hairs went so prickly on the back of her neck, she put her hand there to console them, like soothing a jumpy pet. She had missed seeing that shade before. It had always been up-always.


Inside the plane, the darkness stirred. And Lo felt as if something were observing her from within it.

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