I adore this passage. It’s well crafted and suspenseful, right on the mark. Peretti should have written fantasy horror rather than religious fiction; leave out the spiritual warfare crap and you might have the makings of a good book.
“Late into the night, Juleen Langstrat hovered in an inescapable trance, halfway between a tormented life on earth and the licking, searing flames of hell.”
Already the mood is set; it’s dark, and bad things are in store for the subject of this passage. Her waking life is tormented; at night, she resides in a sort of mental purgatory, hovering just above the flames that lick at her, searing her flesh where they make contact. Right off the bat, thanks to the terms “hover” and “trance”, I’m picturing a magician pose, lying on her back and literally hovering above fire like they lay on beds of needles. The next sentence reinforces that briefly, then shatters our expectations, replacing them with something grimmer:g
She lay on her bed, tumbled to the floor, clawed her way up the wall to stand on her feet, staggered about the room, and fell to the floor again.
The use of asyndeton here emphasizes the rapidity of the motion, the fact that each move happens on the heels of the one before. It continues through the paragraph, heightening the sense of suspense and urgency:
Threatening voices, monsters, flames, and blood exploded and pounded with unimaginable force in her head; she thought her head would burst. She could feel claws tearing at her throat, creatures squirming and biting inside her, chains around her arms and legs. She could hear the voices of spirits, see their eyes and fangs, smell their sulfurous breath.
The dull force of the plosives in “exploded and pounded” emphasizes the pounding rhythm in her head; reading it aloud, you can almost feel the pounding. Then there’s the sensory words: feel, hear, see, smell, painting an image more vividly. There’s the sibilance in “smell their sulfurous breath”, evoking a hissing sort of breathing that you might picture for a monster with halitosis.
The telephone rang. Time froze. The bedroom registered on her retinas. The telephone rang. She was in her bedroom. There was blood on the floor. The telephone rang. The knife fell from her hands. She could hear voices, angry voices. The telephone rang.
The short, choppy sentences and the focus on intimate details while forgoing the larger image drag us into feeling her confusion, as though the camera were whirling about, zooming in but refusing to resolve the fragmented images into a coherent picture. The repetition here is to good effect, helping us gauge how quickly this is happening, how long it’s taking her to pull herself together.
She was on her knees on the floor of her bedroom. She had cut her finger. The phone was still ringing. She called out hello, but it still rang.
I love that she is able to connect “phone is ringing” to “I should answer” but not “I need to find and lift the receiver”; it’s those sort of details that stand out when disoriented and confused. The phone’s continued ringing only seems to confuse her further.
We switch perspectives before we get a clear resolution on whether or not Langstrat is going to make it through the night or whether the slackening of the onslaught was merely temporary. Now we’re in Brummel’s room, as he hangs up the phone:
He flopped down on his bed and contemplated resigning, escape, suicide.
Having seen the passage a moment ago, now we understand why he’d need to kill himself to escape. The enemy is all powerful, and impossible to escape once you’ve joined; the enemy is displeased, and willing to express that displeasure violently. For once, a religious book that doesn’t make the bad guys seem more enviable to join than the good guys!