As the souls crowd around Willie, “certain familiar signs” hint at the fact that “trouble [is] brewing.” First, a “hush” falls, then comes the sound of winter branches scraping against one another, followed by a “warm breeze” bearing enticing, comforting aromas. Each person smells a different array of scents, “each being differently comforted.” Next, flowers emerge “fully formed from the earth” and the trees produce whatever fruit a person wants in that moment. Before long, a flood of water provides each “sick-mound” with its own “tributary,” which converts into “coffee, wine, whiskey, and back into water again.” “All of these things, we knew, comprised merely the advanced guard, so to speak, of what was coming,” the Reverend says. Amending this statement, Vollman adds, “Of who was coming.” These luxuries, they explain, are sent to have “a softening effect.” “Strength now, all!” Vollman shouts as he himself hunkers down.
The pleasures that affront the Bardo-dwellers in this moment play upon each person’s predilections and irresistible vices or weaknesses. When Vollman and the Reverend explain that these things—whatever they are, since Saunders has not yet revealed the nature of this attack—are supposed to have “a softening effect” on them, readers intuit that whatever is about to bombard the Bardo-dwellers has something to do with convincing these stubborn souls to finally depart. As the Bardo-dwellers prepare, readers get the sense that something is trying to convince them to leave, and this ultimately reinforces the notion that tarrying in the Bardo—that stasis—is unnatural.