By Charles Matthews

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

5. The Passage, by Justin Cronin, pp. 164-208

The PassageI. The Worst Dream in the World, 5-1 B.V., Eleven-Fourteen
Realizing the futility of trying to outrun the state troopers, Wolgast decides to surrender. Doyle agrees, so they turn back to the small town of Randall, Oklahoma, where they find a deputy sheriff eating breakfast at a diner. He takes them to the sheriff's office, where they're locked up while the sheriff calls the state troopers. But before the troopers can get there, Richards arrives, shoots everyone else in the sheriff's office, takes Wolgast, Doyle and Amy to the waiting helicopter, and, when the troopers arrive, uses a rocket to blast the remaining piece of evidence, the Tahoe, to bits.

Thirty-four days later, Wolgast is alone in a closely guarded room at the compound, having been there, separated from Amy and Doyle, since they arrived. Sykes appears, looking disheveled and worn, to ask Wolgast's help. They think Amy is dying and that Wolgast may be able to communicate with her. He is taken down to the subterranean observation room where he sees Amy on a hospital bed, connected to tubes. He's introduced to Fortes, who also looks exhausted. Fortes tells him that Amy is in a coma and they want Wolgast to try to talk to her. He refuses to wear the hazmat suit into the airlocked chamber: "It's not going to help if she wakes up and sees me in a space suit." Sykes authorizes the breach of protocol.

Grey has continued his routine as a sweeper, but like everyone else he is showing signs of stress. He notices Paulson in the commissary, looking "like shit, his skin stretched so tight over his face you could see the edges of his bones." Davis, too, on the security level, looks bad. Grey asks himself, "What is everyone so afraid of?"

Carter has become Number Twelve. He has lain there feeling sick as the virus takes effect: "something was happening to him, but it wasn't happening fast enough for the men in the suits." He also begins hearing voices, and realizes that there are twelve others like him. Finally, he breaks the restraints that hold him and attacks the tech, Pujol. "Anthony fell on him swiftly, from above. A scream and then the man was silent in wet pieces on the floor. The beautiful warmth of blood! He drank and drank."

Richards watches the video of the attack on Pujol, and observes that Carter had been taking the same form of the virus that they had been giving Amy. They had brought Carter under control by shining lights on him. Richards decides that Project NOAH is ready to become Operation Jumpstart: they will move the "sticks" to White Sands where the military will prepare for their use as weapons: "Just imagine what one of these things could do, say, in the mountain caves of northern Pakistan, or the eastern deserts of Iran, or the shot-up buildings of the Chechen Free Zone." Richards thinks it's "the stupidest idea he'd ever heard of in his life," and Sykes agrees, but he's following the orders from Special Weapons. Lear, Sykes says, doesn't know about it: "He still thinks he's trying to save the world."

Richards had killed the nuns, except for Lacey, who was still at large, and is preparing himself for liquidating the sweeps, techs and the soldiers. He spends his time watching the monitors, looking at Wolgast, who has sat by Amy day after day, and subject Number One, Giles Babcock, who stares at the camera as if waiting for the day when he can kill Richards. Then a call comes from the front gate that a black woman with an accent is there, looking for Wolgast.

Wolgast has been talking to Amy, and he tells her the story of the death of his daughter, Eva, who died of a heart defect three weeks short of her first birthday. When he tells Amy that when he found her "It was like she'd come back to me" and asks her to come back, she opens her eyes.

Lacey, who has made her way to the compound, sometimes riding, sometimes walking, and unerringly finding places to stay, is now running through the woods with the guards firing at her. She manages to escape and clamber on board a truck carrying a cargo of explosives.

Richards goes to the room where Doyle is being kept and orders him out. As they're walking across the parking lot, Doyle asks if Lacey is here yet. Astonished, Richards asks how he knows. Doyle says, "I could hear her coming."

Grey, on L4, hears Zero telling him "It's time." He enters the chamber, "and as Zero's bite found the soft place on his neck where the blood moved, he knew at last what the tenth rabbit was. The tenth rabbit was him."

While Richards is distracted by the sound of the alarm, Doyle escapes. Richards runs to the monitors and discovers that all of the chambers holding subjects were empty. They had all been released by the sweeps. On the monitors he sees Davis, dead, and watches as Paulson blows his brains out on camera. He tries to seal off the level, but there is an explosion in the elevator shaft and the lights go out.

Wolgast hears the commotion and the explosion, and when the emergency lights go on he makes his way to Amy's bed and disconnects her IVs. He is trying to decide what to do when the airlock opens and a long-haired, bearded, disheveled man appears. He talks about what has happened -- "the way they swooped down from the trees. Like the bats." But Wolgast doesn't understand what he's talking about. He introduces himself as Jonas Lear, but Wolgast has never heard the name. As Lear leads them, Wolgast sees Fortes's body and then others. Finally they encounter Grey, covered in blood, who collapses after saying, "I said to myself, Grey, you are having the worst dream in the world." Lear urges Wolgast to leave Grey behind, and leads Wolgast, carrying Amy, to a ventilation shaft with a ladder that goes to the surface. But when they enter, Lear closes the door, staying behind.

Richards makes his way through the turmoil to Sykes's office, where he finds the colonel wounded and vomiting blood. At Sykes's request, Richards shoots him.

Lacey has jumped from the truck and hidden in the woods, where she watches one of the "sticks" jump from an upper window and land in the trees a hundred yards away. Then others appear, and "one by one the demons fell upon the soldiers and they died." She leaves the woods, and when a soldier orders her to halt, a "demon" lands on him. She runs toward the building.

Wolgast is daunted by the task of carrying Amy up the ladder, holding her in one arm as he uses the other to climb, but he starts the attempt.

Richards exits the building and sees the truck carrying the explosives.

Doyle has been hiding in a first-floor office when Lacey appears. She tells him she knows where Wolgast and Amy are. He tells her that he heard her, "All these weeks." She tells him, "It wasn't me you heard, Agent Doyle."

Wolgast reaches the top of the ladder, but now faces the problem of getting Amy and himself into the duct next to the ladder. He manages to wake her enough to help him swing her into the opening, but he loses his balance and begins to fall, managing to save himself by grabbing the ridge of metal at the opening with his fingertips. He hoists himself into the opening and they scoot along the duct until they reach a grate. It is bolted from the outside, and Wolgast is about to lose hope when he hears Doyle say, "Chief?"

Richards makes it to the truck and finds a grenade launcher, which he loads and carries outside, calling, "Here kitty, kitty!"

Doyle finds a penknife and opens the grate. Wolgast is surprised to see Lacey there. Doyle tells him, "Trust me, I don't get it either." At the front entrance, they see more dead soldiers. Doyle goes outside where he finds a silver Lexus with the keys in it, as well as a gun. He gives the keys to Wolgast, who realizes that Doyle and Lacey will stay behind, if necessary, to let him and Amy escape. They leave the building, with Doyle leading, running toward the car.

Richards, carrying the RPG, encounters Carter, but misses because Carter is already leaping into the air. The grenade explodes into the building as Richards "experienced the sensation, utterly new to him, of being torn in half."

The exploding grenade knocks Wolgast down and deafens him in one ear. He also loses his grip on Amy, but when he finds her she is unhurt. He puts Amy in the back seat of the Lexus and starts the car just as Carter lands on the hood. He backs up quickly and dislodges Carter, who leaps into the air and disappears. The passenger door opens and Lacey gets in, holding a gun, which she drops on the floor. Doyle is running toward the car, yelling, "Just go!" There is a thump on the roof of the car that Wolgast knows is Carter, so he hits the brakes, sending Carter onto the hood. Doyle fires at Carter, but the bullets have no effect except that Carter notices Doyle and sails through the air. "Wolgast turned in time to see the creature that had once been Anthony Carter fall upon his partner, taking him in like a giant mouth."

They speed away, but Lacey tells him to stop: She is bleeding and "They will follow the blood." She tells him to take care of Amy and gets out of the car. He watches in the mirror as she waves her arms to attract the "demons" and they descend on her.

[It's clear that Cronin knows the conventions (not to say the clichés) of the thriller: The scene in which Richards walks into the sheriff's office and methodically shoots everyone appears in dozens of movies and TV dramas. So do the self-sacrificing good guys (Doyle, Lacey, possibly Lear). The various explosions -- the torpedoed Tahoe, the blasted elevator shaft, the RPG destroying the building and knocking Wolgast off course -- seem like instructions to the screenwriters for the inevitable movie. (Ridley Scott has the rights.) Even Wolgast hanging by his fingertips in the ventilation shaft -- and for that matter, the escape by ventilation shaft -- evokes a sense of déjà vu. (Has anyone in that predicament ever really been able to hoist themselves up to safety?) This is not to denigrate Cronin's skill in using them, however. Just a wish to see something new.]

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