Lincoln in the Bardo

Lincoln in the Bardo

by

George Saunders

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Hans Vollman Character Analysis

A former printer who now exists in the Bardo. When he was still alive, Hans became a widower at a relatively young age, at which point he started drinking heavily and visiting prostitutes. Then, during a party on New Year’s Day when he was forty-six, he fell in love with Anna, a much younger woman whom he eventually married. On their wedding night, Hans couldn’t bring himself to consummate their marriage because Anna was so visibly nervous, so he proposed that they simply behave as friends instead of lovers. Before long, though, the couple’s affection for one another grew, and Anna revealed that she wanted to have sex with Hans. The next day, Hans was struck by a beam while working at his desk. Indeed, he died on the very day he was to make love to Anna, though he maintains for the majority of the novel that he’s merely “sick,” upholding that he’s merely waiting to recover so that he can return to Anna. Because his lusty excitement is what keeps him in the Bardo, he manifests as a naked man with an enormous erection. When Willie Lincoln arrives in the Bardo, Vollman bands together with his friends Roger Bevins III and the Reverend Everly Thomas to encourage the boy to move on from this liminal realm. Along with his companions, he does everything in his power to convince Willie that children aren’t meant to “tarry”—he even enters President Lincoln’s body in the hopes that the president will be able to sway the child into leaving. By the end of the novel, though, it is Willie who convinces Vollman that he should depart, and Vollman succumbs to the matterlightblooming phenomenon in a valiant attempt to free Elise Traynor—a girl who stayed too long in the Bardo—from her eternal captivity against the iron fence that marks the limits of where the Bardo-dwellers can roam.

Hans Vollman Quotes in Lincoln in the Bardo

The Lincoln in the Bardo quotes below are all either spoken by Hans Vollman or refer to Hans Vollman. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Unity Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Random House edition of Lincoln in the Bardo published in 2018.
Chapter 1 Quotes

And that is how we lived. We became friends. Dear friends. That was all. And yet that was so much. We laughed together, made decisions about the household […]. To see her brighten when I came in, find her leaning into me as we discussed some household matter, improved my lot in many ways I cannot adequately explain. I had been happy, happy enough, but now I often found myself uttering a spontaneous prayer that went, simply: She is here, still here. It was as if a rushing river had routed itself through my house, which was pervaded now by a freshwater scent and the awareness of something lavish, natural, and breathtaking always moving nearby.

Related Characters: Hans Vollman (speaker), Anna
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 13 Quotes

I want ed so much to hold a dear Babe.

I know very wel I do not look as prety as I onseh. And over time, I admit, I have come to know serten words I did not formerly

Fuk cok shit reem ravage assfuk

[…] I did not get any. Thing.

Was gone too soon

To get

Only forteen.

Yrs of aje


Plese do come again sir it has been a pleasure to make your

But fuk yr anshient frends (do not bring them agin) who kome to ogle and mok me and ask me to swindle no that is not the werd slender slander that wich I am doing. Wich is no more than what they are doing. Is it not so? What I am doing, if I only cary on fathefully, will, I am sure, bring about that longed-for return to

Green grass kind looks.

Related Symbols: The Iron Fence
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 36 Quotes

We are here by grace […]. Our ability to abide by far from assured. Therefore, we must conserve our strength, restricting our activities to only those which directly serve our central purpose. We would not wish, through profligate activity, to appear ungrateful for the mysterious blessing of our continued abiding. […] We must look out for ourselves […]. And, by doing so, we protect the boy as well. He must hear nothing of this rumor, which would only serve to raise his hopes. As we know, only utter hopelessness will lead him to do what he must. Therefore, not a word. Are we in agreement?

Page Number: 123
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 45-46 Quotes

Why will it not work. What magic word made it work. Who is the keeper of that word. What did it profit Him to switch this one off. What a contraption it is. How did it ever run. What spark ran it. Grand little machine. Set up just so. Receiving the spark, it jumped to life.

What put out that spark? What a sin it would be. Who would dare. Ruin such a marvel. Hence is murder anathema. God forbid I should ever commit such a grievous

Related Characters: Abraham Lincoln (speaker), Hans Vollman, Willie Lincoln
Page Number: 150
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 48 Quotes

Everything nonsense now. Those mourners came up. Hands extended. Sons intact. Wearing on their faces enforced sadness-masks to hide any sign of their happiness, which—which went on. They could not hide how alive they yet were with it, with their happiness at the potential of their still-living sons. Until lately I was one of them. Strolling whistling through the slaughterhouse, averting my eyes from the carnage, able to laugh and dream and hope because it had not yet happened to me.

Related Characters: Abraham Lincoln (speaker), Hans Vollman, Willie Lincoln
Page Number: 155
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 61 Quotes

I have been here since and have, as instructed, refrained from speaking of any of this, to anyone.

What would be the point? For any of us here, it is too late for any alteration of course. All is done. We are shades, immaterial, and since that judgment pertains to what we did (or did not do) in that previous (material) realm, correction is now forever beyond our means. Our work there is finished; we only await payment.

Related Characters: The Reverend Everly Thomas (speaker), Hans Vollman, Roger Bevins III
Page Number: 194
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 74 Quotes

I was in error when I saw him as fixed and stable and thought I would have him forever. He was never fixed, nor stable, but always just a passing temporary energy-burst. I had reason to know this. Had he not looked this way at birth, that way at four, another way at seven, been made entirely anew at nine? He had never stayed the same, even instant to instant.

He came out of nothingness, took form, was loved, was always bound to return to nothingness.

Related Characters: Abraham Lincoln (speaker), Hans Vollman, Willie Lincoln
Page Number: 244
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 93-94 Quotes

He must (we must, we felt) do all we could, in light of the many soldiers lying dead and wounded, in open fields, all across the land, weeds violating their torsos, eyeballs pecked out or dissolving, lips hideously retracted, rain-soaked/blood-soaked/snow-crusted letters scattered about them, to ensure that we did not, as we trod that difficult path we were now well upon, blunder, blunder further (we had blundered so badly already) and, in so blundering, ruin more, more of these boys, each of whom was once dear to someone.

Ruinmore, ruinmore, we felt, must endeavor not to ruinmore.

Our grief must be defeated; it must not become our master, and make us ineffective, and put us even deeper into the ditch.

Related Characters: Roger Bevins III (speaker), Hans Vollman, Willie Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln
Page Number: 306
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Lincoln in the Bardo LitChart as a printable PDF.
Lincoln in the Bardo PDF

Hans Vollman Character Timeline in Lincoln in the Bardo

The timeline below shows where the character Hans Vollman appears in Lincoln in the Bardo. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Vice and Virtue Theme Icon
Empathy and Equality Theme Icon
“On our wedding day I was forty-six, she was eighteen,” begins Hans Vollman, who explains that, contrary to all expectations, he did not consummate his marriage because he... (full context)
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Continuing the story of his wedding night, Hans Vollman explains that he told Anna—his bride—that she should pretend to everyone that they consummated their... (full context)
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After Anna left her note, Vollman explains, the couple spent a joyful night kissing and cuddling in bed. The next day,... (full context)
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“Per the advice of my physician,” Hans Vollman says, “I took to my—A sort of sick-box was judged—was judged to be—” He falters... (full context)
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Hans Vollman admits that, though he has somewhat come to terms with the fact that he must... (full context)
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Resuming his story, Hans Vollman explains that he eventually reentered his sick-box. “[I was] weeping in that way that we... (full context)
Chapter 9
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...enumerating them now as he remembers the world he’s left behind. “Sir. Friend,” interrupts Hans Vollman. “Am I—am I doing it again?” asks Bevins. “Take a breath. All is well. I... (full context)
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...waxes poetic yet again about the many sensory delights of life on earth. “Friend. Bevins,” Vollman interrupts, stopping him once more. (full context)
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Vollman explains that Willie Lincoln observes Bevins from the roof of his own “sick-house” (a “white... (full context)
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...boy only stares at him blankly. “No doubt you are feeling a certain pull?” asks Vollman. “An urge? To go? Somewhere? More comfortable?” Despite these urgings, though, Willie merely says, “I... (full context)
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Hans Vollman shakes his head somberly, telling Willie that his parents may indeed come, but they won’t... (full context)
Chapter 10
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Bevins, Vollman, and the Reverend explain that young people “are not meant to tarry.” Indeed, they have... (full context)
Chapter 11
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Vollman tells Willie to follow him, Bevins, and the Reverend. “There is someone we would like... (full context)
Chapter 12
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As Willie walk-skims with Vollman, Bevins, and the Reverend, a woman joins them and lists off the names of various... (full context)
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...uninhabited wilderness of some several hundred yards that ended in the dreaded iron fence,” Hans Vollman says, and Roger Bevins III explains that this is the “noxious limit beyond which” they... (full context)
Chapter 14-15
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Leaving Elise Traynor, Willie asks Bevins, Vollman, and the Reverend if the same thing will happen to him if he stays, and... (full context)
Chapter 16
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Turning around, Vollman sees that “an exceedingly tall and unkempt fellow” is making his way toward the white... (full context)
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...assumes the man must have done “many times when the boy was—” Interrupting his friend, Vollman says, “Less sick.” (full context)
Chapter 20
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...of that which he [holds].” Overwhelmed and not wanting to witness something so “private,” Hans Vollman and Roger Bevins III leave the white stone home, though the Reverend stays, “transfixed” and... (full context)
Chapter 24
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...would be difficult to overstate the vivifying effect this visitation had on our community,” Hans Vollman says regarding Lincoln’s time in the cemetery. As the man interacted with his son’s body,... (full context)
Chapter 26
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It isn’t long before a crowd of souls surround the white stone home. Everybody, Vollman explains, wants to associate themselves with Willie, hoping to know what “this apparently charmed being”... (full context)
Chapter 27
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“Good Lord,” interrupts Hans Vollman. “He is in fine form tonight,” Roger Bevins III remarks. “Bear in mind, Lieutenant,” says... (full context)
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“Enough,” the Reverend says to the Barons. Vollman agrees that these two souls are too vulgar to speak to Willie. “Drunk and insensate,... (full context)
Chapter 28
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...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... (full context)
Chapter 29
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“They entered in lengthy procession,” Vollman says. “each of us apprehending them in a different guise,” adds the Reverend. Vollman, for... (full context)
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...“tired” for a long time. “I believe I will come with,” she says. Nearby, Hans Vollman hears a shout “of terror or victory” and then the “familiar, yet always bone-chilling, firesound... (full context)
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...are a wave that has crashed upon the shore,” says another. Meanwhile, a bride asks Vollman when he’ll “know the full pleasures of the marriage-bed.” Another bride answers this question, saying,... (full context)
Chapter 30
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After the “onslaught,” Vollman, Bevins, and the Reverend try to determine which three souls departed, since they heard three... (full context)
Chapter 31
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As Vollman, Bevins, and the Reverend approach the white stone home, they’re astounded to see Willie sitting... (full context)
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Willie reminds the older souls that his father promised to return, but Vollman insists this won’t actually happen. Reverend Thomas adds that they’ll explain to Willie’s father why... (full context)
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Vollman suggests that there has “historically been some confusion” regarding whether or not they can communicate... (full context)
Chapter 32
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Vollman, Bevins, and the Reverend have seen this tendril before. Indeed, they witnessed Elise Traynor become... (full context)
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Thinking about the effect of the tendril on children depresses Vollman, Bevins, and the Reverend because it reminds them that they did nothing to help Elise... (full context)
Chapter 34-35
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Vollman, Bevins, and the Reverend start digging at the tendrils wrapping around Willie. Above, the Three... (full context)
Chapter 36
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The Reverend sees that Vollman and Bevins are “intrigued” by the news that Lincoln is still on the premises. Gesturing... (full context)
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Vollman and Bevins mutter their agreement, and the Reverend makes his way back to the roof.... (full context)
Chapter 37-41
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Bevins and Vollman zoom out of the white stone home and make their way across the grounds, passing... (full context)
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On their way to Willie’s father, Bevins and Vollman come across a group of souls standing around “a freshly filled sick-hole.” Approaching the crowd,... (full context)
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...Feeling as though the soldier didn’t even “give this place a proper chance,” Bevins and Vollman move on from the crowd, resuming their quest to find Willie’s father. (full context)
Chapter 42-44
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Vollman and Bevins walk-skim across the grounds, taking note of the many “home-places” of souls who... (full context)
Chapter 45-46
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When Bevins (who is younger than both Vollman and Lincoln) enters the president, the man experiences a rush of youth, suddenly remembering his... (full context)
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...Hence is murder anathema. God forbid I should ever commit such a grievous—” Without warning, Vollman and Bevins sense something troubling, feeling something distressing lurking in Willie’s father. As the man—and,... (full context)
Chapter 49
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Bevins and Vollman continue observing Lincoln’s thoughts, seeing that he feels “distraught” as he prods the far reaches... (full context)
Chapter 50-52
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...“in some bright place, free of suffering” or “resplendent in a new mode of being,” Vollman and Bevins find themselves saddened by Lincoln’s hopes for his son. As such, they try... (full context)
Chapter 53
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Inside Willie’s father, Bevins and Vollman try to “persuade the gentleman.” Thinking about the white stone home and about Willie, they... (full context)
Chapter 54-55
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Bevins and Vollman are astonished at their success. When Lincoln stands, he leaves them sitting inside one another,... (full context)
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Not only do Hans Vollman and Roger Bevins III now know seemingly everything about one another, but they also know... (full context)
Chapter 61
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...am different, yes,” the Reverend admits, though he doesn’t say this to Willie. Unlike Bevins, Vollman, and everybody else in this place, he knows “very well” what he is. “Am not... (full context)
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...Willie’s situation has worsened, the tendrils having engulfed the boy. As he notices this, Hans Vollman and Roger Bevins III come sweeping up to the white stone home, declaring triumphantly that... (full context)
Chapter 63
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...takes Willie’s coffin from the wall, puts it on the ground, kneels, and opens it. Vollman, Bevins, and the Reverend watch this until they hear Willie cry out from the roof,... (full context)
Chapter 64-65
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...quickly. “All craved the slightest participation in the transformative moment that must be imminent,” says Vollman, and Bevins notes that the souls have “abandoned any pretext of speaking one at a... (full context)
Chapter 67-68
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...“There is a state called Minnesota,” he informs the Reverend. “We are at war,” says Vollman. “At war with ourselves. The cannons are greatly improved.” (full context)
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...they return together. Manders agrees and steps outside to wait. This entire ordeal strikes Bevins, Vollman, and the Reverend as a “catastrophe” because Willie hasn’t gone into his father yet. In... (full context)
Chapter 69
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When Vollman steps into Lincoln once again, he discovers that the man is trying “to formulate a... (full context)
Chapter 71
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Inside Lincoln, Hans Vollman bears witness to the man’s thoughts, as the president says to himself, “Well, what of... (full context)
Chapter 74
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Immersed in Lincoln’s thoughts, Vollman realizes he’s neglected to convince the man to stay. “Stay,” he thinks. “It is imperative... (full context)
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While Lincoln grapples with his grief, Vollman listens and tries to tell the man that Willie can still benefit from his help.... (full context)
Chapter 75-76
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...he weakly sits on the floor, where more tendrils wind around him. At this point, Vollman convinces Bevins and the Reverend to follow Lincoln, saying that he was unable to convince... (full context)
Chapter 77
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...to free the boy from the tendrils, he “renounce[s]” his oath and joins Bevins and Vollman inside the president. (full context)
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Vollman, Bevins, and the Reverend swoop through the crowd and jump into Lincoln. Intrigued, several other... (full context)
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...activities, interacting with other people in many different circumstances. “My God, what a thing!” says Vollman. “To find oneself thus expanded!” The Reverend, for his part, wonders how he could have... (full context)
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...look at one another and are astonished to discover that their physical appearances have changed. Vollman, for instance, is no longer naked, but clothed, and his member is a normal size.... (full context)
Chapter 78-79
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...refuse to do this. Losing hope, the many souls exit Lincoln and, upon doing so, Vollman, Bevins, and the Reverend remember they’ve left Willie at the white stone home. (full context)
Chapter 80-81
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When Vollman, Bevins, and the Reverend reach the white stone home, they find Willie on the floor,... (full context)
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...these hell-dwellers can make an exception—a suggestion that invites nothing but laughter from the carapace. Vollman insists that Willie is a “fine child,” but the hell-beings say, “We have done this... (full context)
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As the hell-beings drone on about their “predispositions,” Vollman looks at the Reverend and detects a “flicker of resolve” or “defiance” in his face.... (full context)
Chapter 82
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...in an attempt to secure Willie, they capture him, too. “And they had him,” says Vollman, who—along with Bevins—follows behind. Too late to do anything, they hear the Reverend shouting out... (full context)
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...beam of light from the Reverend’s departure temporarily damages the tendrils. Kicking the now-viscous vines, Vollman and Bevins extract Willie. While digging, they find an imprint of the Reverend’s face and... (full context)
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“I know this place,” says Willie inside the chapel. Vollman isn’t surprised to hear this, since everybody has passed through the chapel, the final place... (full context)
Chapter 87
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...Willie says inside his father, confused by the man’s thoughts. Watching this scene play out, Vollman sees the child grow “more upset than comforted” by what he’s hearing. “Come out,” Vollman... (full context)
Chapter 91
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Willie stands and exits his father. Looking at Bevins and Vollman as a crowd of souls gathers around the chapel—many of them even squeezing inside—his face... (full context)
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...souls scrambles to leave the chapel—some of them visibly on the verge of departing for good—Vollman reasons with Willie, saying he must be wrong. After all, who is the boy talking... (full context)
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Looking at Vollman and Bevins, Willie says, “Oh, it was nice. So nice there. But we can’t go... (full context)
Chapter 93-94
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...having set him free.” On his way out the door, he passes through Bevins and Vollman once more, and they sense that he has made a somber kind of peace with... (full context)
Chapter 100-101
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Meanwhile, back in the cemetery, souls start disappearing at an alarming rate. Amidst the chaos, Vollman and Bevins rush out of the chapel, passing Lieutenant Stone and Elson Farwell, who are... (full context)
Chapter 102
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“Suddenly Mr. Bevins did not look well,” Vollman says, looking at his friend and noticing that the man’s flesh has thinned. Bevins remembers... (full context)
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Vollman denies Bevins’s words, but his friend pushes on, recounting Anna’s visit to the cemetery. She... (full context)
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“Ah, God,” Vollman says as he too begins to flicker, moving from a “fresh-faced apprentice in an ink-stained... (full context)
Chapter 103
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When Vollman and Bevins reach Elise Traynor, she is in the form of a “smoking wreck of... (full context)
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The train explodes with Vollman’s departure, throwing Bevins to the ground. When he stands, he sees that the iron fence... (full context)