The Crows

Professor Westfield searches for an understanding of the waste of the Great War and a release from his existential crisis.

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“But I will continue with my tale. And then the journey rattled shrilly on iron bridges, cracked sometimes like the blasts of a cannon, and then passed again into the eternally empty noise of a barrel-organ. Like it also happens in life. For dreams mirror our existence. And my dream probably also lies in the shadow of my life. —

I travelled and travelled and had the feeling it had already lasted weeks, months, years. The train was endless. An entire people lay sleeping contained within it and were being transported into the unknown. Into another world. Across the borders of existence.”

He interrupted himself. For his wife was sitting with a crease in her brow, her head bowed and looking at her interlocked hands, obviously with her thoughts elsewhere.

“Manja,” Weitfeld said, “I am telling you my dream.”

“Yes, yes. I am listening. Just keep talking,” she answered with a soft start, raised her head and looked at him with a mocking smile.

“You know,” Weitfeld continued speaking, “and as I thus experienced the entire journey, awake and sleeping at the same time, curled up on the hard bench, shivering, I recognised like lightning that myself and all of us in the train were being transported into chaos. And my apprehensiveness grew to be unbearable.

Finally I couldn’t stand it anymore, sprang up and elbowed a path to the window, stepping over the backs and legs of sleeping men and the heads and shoulders of those curled up.

This shaking off of my lethargy, this flaring up out of an all consuming dullness had taken possession like a wildfire of the souls of all the inhabitants of this endless train. As far as I could hear, the noise of awakening men arose in all the wagons. Each wanted at first to be by the window. In silent, dogged hustle, everything became entangled.

Then unexpectedly a metallic rattling broke forth in my wagon, and not only did the windows towards which everything was being shoved come down, but the entire side of the wagon flipped outward with such a sudden jolt that the men forcing towards it could not stop anymore, instead slowly falling out. By some unholy law of that unholy train, whereby nothing was to escape, those toppling out were drawn under the wheels, which raked in the human bodies with almost perverse enjoyment, here a leg, an arm, a head separated, bodies torn up, torsos cut through, in short executing every type of conceivable mutilation on the men.

Meanwhile the opposite side of the wagon had also flipped open, and while the compartment was emptying in this gruesome way on the one side, ever new passengers were climbing on the other side in full motion, their eyes shut, faces pale and still, hypnotised or cataleptic men walking with irresistable, devoted steps past me, and falling like the others under the devouring wheels.

As in our compartment, so it was happening in all the cabins of the endlessly long train, and the railroad embankment and the land next to it were sown with bloodied men shaking with pain, fated to die. No, the entire earth. For in every direction, you could hear the wheezing and stamping of passing trains.

I had up to now been able to hold myself on a protruding beam by utilising all my strength. Finally overwhelmed by horror over so many terrible things, even I weakened. Though I could have held on anyhow for a while more. But one of the men climbing in from the other side, a fattened, blond, unpleasant looking fellow, abandoned his hypersomnia on the way to certain misfortune. He tore his eyes open and looked at me, emitted a wild scream of hate, and threw himself at me all at once. I lost my hold from the impact and, balled up in fury, for I was defending myself desperately, we fell out and ended up like all the others under the wheels.”

The Professor had been speaking softer and softer. Now he paused, overwhelmed by the recall of the situation in his dream.

And his wife said, looking rigidly at the floor in front of her, “Gruesome … ugh … to dream such a thing!”

But when she raised her head and looked at her husband, her frisson turned into fright. For Weitfeld was no longer sitting. He was standing, his entire body trembling as though chilled, and looking at her steadily and persistently with a greyish white face and rigid, yet flickering eyes.

At the same time, he repeated almost soundlessly her words, “Gruesome — not so, Manja! Ugh, to dream such a thing! But to live such a thing … what do you call that? — Hey, Manja?”

He gave the impression of a man over whom madness had taken hold and, after ending his question, lowered his head entirely in the manner of a madman who has overcome an attack, and looked emptily and incuriously at his bare feet. Mrs Weitfeld rose inaudibly and stretched her hand out for the key on the bedside cabinet, so as to escape out of the room with a spring past him.

Weitfeld lifted his eyes and said coldly, “Let the key lie. — I warn you. — We are not yet finished.”

And as she was still standing, he added as well, “Sit down and keep listening.”

Then, without paying attention to the carrying out of his order, he settled down onto the bed and began rubbing his thigh again. At the same time, he said with a derisive laugh, “The dream is in fact not at an end. If you must know … hahaha …”

Then, pausing, he spoke, stooped and pushed on by a clenched chest with a low voice as if he were alone in the room, “By summarising the visible implications, an intellectually understandable, exact differentiation of the events for the purpose of insight into the vital factual circumstances is at least possible. But then the intellectual synthesis never aligns with the synthesis of life, final clarity remains a painful play of mere approximations.”

Then he sprang up, wrung his hands and cried painfully begging, “Manja! … Manja! … Manja! …”

Mrs Weitfeld broke out into sobbing tears and covered her face with her hands.

The Professor saw her full, beautiful shoulders shaking and between her fingers swelled the golden yellow locks of her somewhat disordered hair.

He tiptoed to her, drew her hands from her face with restrained force and said, holding them in his own, “Yes, dear woman, it is about life and death with us.”

And since she did not answer, but continued crying mutely with lowered face, he let her hands slowly slip away from his grasp again and continued speaking calmly, pursuing the content of the agitation and his dream, “You know, I fell from the carriage and my arm, leg and head were removed from me by the wheels. So that only the trunk remained. But I could not die, not like the other men who had been pulped by the wheels like me. The train carried on and left us mutilated ones behind. But when everything was still in the land, we rose, and as we had lain there, an endless chain of shredded men, so we began a pilgrimage as an endless, unearthly procession through the land, at the same time, the further we advanced, a great fervour took possession of us, and before any of us knew what this feeling in himself meant, everyone was singing enthusiastically, ‘Deutschland, Deutschland über alles.’

I, moving myself forward at the end of the bloody troop in a mysterious way, without arms and legs, sang the loudest of all, nevertheless I did not have a head. But from my bloodless arteries, from my wounded heart, my bowels roared and sang it. Every twitching fibre of my deformed trunk had a shrill, but hymnal voice. Even now in waking, it seems to me as if I felt in my body the rhythmic echo of that dreamsong trembling. It was the most terrible thing that I have ever heard, and when I turned around, I noticed that I was not the last of the troop. For behind me came the blond, fattened fellow who had pushed me out of the wagon, fallen with me under the wheels and yet had remained perfectly whole. His mouth flung open so that his impertinent, waxed moustache trembled, he sang like all of us cripples, ‘Deutschland, Deutschland über alles.’ He sang it lustily, with dancing gait, and the woman who walked by his side and was embraced ardently by him exulted as well and every time the pair’s looks fell on my pitiful trunk which could only sing with its bloodless arteries and its half dead, exhausted heart, they broke out into ringing lauhter.

Hahahaha! — Hahahaha … haha … haha … and as I looked closer at who the woman was walking by Körten’s side — yes think, the fellow was none other than the Assessor Körten … by Körten’s side, arms interwoven, one with the other, perfectly whole, who this woman was — — — I recognised you … — Manja! and awoke in fright.”