CHAPTER TEN

In the middle of a dream I was awakened by a flash. It exploded from the front of the train and soldiers from the forward sections were shot out of the boxcar. A bench seat on the left, its wall end hanging seesaw over the side, swung to the motions of the train as a frantic soldier, at its precarious end, tried reaching for a hand rest safe within the confines of our racing compartment. His eyes were glazed with fright as he looked at me, probably hoping I would come to his aid.
"Give me your hand!" he screamed, but I could not get out of my chair. Fear pressed me into its leather restraints, and I felt safe within its soft embrace.
From below, there came the screech of the brakes being put onto the wheels to stop its rapid acceleration, and as the train began to decelerate, I saw pine trees outside the front quarter, passing by like livid pillars, bordered with the gaping hole now ripped into the front of the box car. The man screamed terribly from his perch, his last grip of survival slipping away from the cut wood of his seat frame.
"Schutze!" he screamed. "Help! Give me an arm! I can't hold much longer!"
His eyes were glazed with fear and the tense wrinkles in his face were reddening with worry. It was easy to save him. Only two steps and a reach over the side would insure the soldier's survival, but my legs felt anchored to the floor, and I could not stand.
Blood and debris littered the compartment and I turned to Hermann to see if he had been injured. His head hung between his legs, a stream of blood gushing down. I threw my hand to his jugular to stop the bleeding, but the red streams poured through my fingers in torrents.
"Can't you see I'm falling! Please, I don't wan't to die!" shouted the dangling soldier. His words were filled with such entreaty that it pained me to remain there next to an already dead comrade, one who could not be saved unlike this man who called for a hand of deliverance.
I thought of mother and how she would react if in saving this fellow soldier, I died in the attempt, and arrived home in a casket. Such a catastrophe would destroy her. Then there was this other soldier, who probably had family of his own back home. What would they think if they found out his survival had rested upon a fellow comrade sitting not far away. If I failed him, it meant failing his children, his wife, and other siblings, and that was worse than to sit stagnant. Resolved that such a fate was better than cowering in my seat, I got up, ran over to the soldier holding onto the unstable chair outside the train, and reached out to grab for him. He avoided the swipes from my hand and his fearful reaction to my offer of assistance struck me with confusion.
"Grab on!" I shouted to him, but as I reached out again, he shifted his body to the right, almost falling off his perch.
"Don't you want help?" I asked.
He veered away from my attempts. I continued to grab at the open spaces near and around his form.
"What's wrong with you?" I asked. The soldier stopped his motions and my hand caught hold of his sleeve.
"I got you now," I said in triumph, yet as I pulled the cloth, black tufts blew out from underneath his cuffs. They flew at me in feathery clouds. What was wrong? Maybe the man had a lamb's wool coat behind his uniform? It was so strange and when I continued to pull at him, more of these black feathery tufts shot out. I looked into his face. A dark beak struck out of his skin, then his forehead busted out with feathers, and the layers of flesh which made up his demeanor, were cut away by an emerging birds head. It was the raven. The transformation came so suddenly, that it kept me standing at the edge of the box car, my body paralyzed in the position it had taken in the retrieval of this mutant bird. It was too real to be a dream, but something in my head began to say, " this is false but genuine all the same."
I stumbled backwards. The raven clung on the edge of the bench seat, staring into my eyes with beady receptors to a hidden truth that I did not understand. Shocked by this sudden transformation, I let go and stumbled back. The raven flew off the seat, the flap of its massive wings pushing me to the floor, and vanished into the forest.