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One of those rare, unforgettable novels that are as chilling as they are insightful, as thought-provoking as they are terrifying, award-winning author Connie Willis's Passage is an astonishing blend of relentless suspense and cutting-edge science unlike anything you've ever read before.
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--Goethe's last words
"I heard a noise," Mrs. Davenport said, "and then I was moving through this tunnel."
"Can you describe it?" Joanna asked, pushing the minitape recorder a little closer to her.
"The tunnel?" Mrs. Davenport said, looking around her hospital room, as if for inspiration. "Well, it was dark..."
Joanna waited. Any question, even "How dark was it?" could be a leading one when it came to interviewing people about their near-death experiences, and most people, when confronted with a silence, would talk to fill it, and all the interviewer had to do was wait. Not, however, Mrs. Davenport. She stared at her IV stand for a while, and then looked inquiringly at Joanna.
"Is there anything else you can remember about the tunnel?" Joanna asked.
"No..." Mrs. Davenport said after a minute. "It was dark."
"Dark," Joanna wrote down. She always took notes in case the tape ran out or something went wrong with the recorder, and so she could note the subject's manner and intonation. "Closemouthed," she wrote. "Reluctant." But sometimes the reluctant ones turned out to be the best subjects if you just had patience. "You said you heard a noise," Joanna said. "Can you describe it?"
"A noise?" Mrs. Davenport said vaguely.
If you just had the patience of Job, Joanna corrected. "You said," she repeated, consulting her notes, "'I heard a noise, and then I was moving through this tunnel.' Did you hear the noise before you entered the tunnel?"
"No..." Mrs. Davenport said, frowning, "...yes. I'm not sure. It was a sort of ringing..." She looked questioningly at Joanna. "Or maybe a buzzing?" Joanna kept her face carefully impassive. An encouraging smile or a frown could be leading, too. "A buzzing, I think," Mrs. Davenport said after a minute.
"Can you describe it?"
I should have had something to eat before I started this, Joanna thought. It was after twelve, and she hadn't had anything for breakfast except coffee and a Pop-Tart. But she had wanted to get to Mrs. Davenport before Maurice Mandrake did, and the longer the interval between the NDE and the interview, the more confabulation there was.
"Describe it?" Mrs. Davenport said irritably. "A buzzing."
It was no use. She was going to have to ask more specific questions, leading or not, or she would never get anything out of her. "Was the buzzing steady or intermittent?"
"Intermittent?" Mrs. Davenport said, confused.
"Did it stop and start? Like someone buzzing to get into an apartment? Or was it a steady sound like the buzzing of a bee?"
Mrs. Davenport stared at her IV stand some more. "A bee," she said finally.
"Was the buzzing loud or soft?"
"Loud," she said, but uncertainly. "It stopped."
I'm not going to be able to use any of this, Joanna thought. "What happened after it stopped?"
"It was dark," Mrs. Davenport said, "and then I saw a light at the end of the tunnel, and--"
Joanna's pager began to beep. Wonderful, she thought, fumbling to switch it off. This is all I need. She should have turned it off before she started, in spite of Mercy General's rule about keeping it on at all times. The only people who ever paged her were Vielle and Mr. Mandrake, and it had ruined more than one NDE interview.
"Do you have to go?" Mrs. Davenport asked.
"No. You saw a light--"
"If you have to go..."
"I don't," Joanna said firmly, sticking the pager back in her pocket without looking at it. "It's nothing. You saw a light. Can you describe it?"
"It was golden," Mrs. Davenport said promptly. Too promptly. And...
PassageBy: Connie Willis