They’re coming for him, look, they’re reaching for their guns, they’re reaching for their fists and their guns and their eyes are the color of the smoke from the chimney and the earth smells like burnt flesh and he stumbles over a bone, but it’s not bone, it’s one of his old bunkmates, David, the same name as his cousin, but older much older, almost fifty, and he died a year ago but here he is, alive, staring up at Max, reaching out for him with those thin fingers, which turn skeletal as he reaches for Max, his flesh dripping off like water and his mouth opening like he’s about to scream but nothing comes out because he’s dead, and still they’re coming for him, guns and fists, and he tries to rip himself away, but David won’t let go and he has to rip away and he has to rip away and he does and then David falls down, his bones come apart, they drizzle on the ground, and Max is a murderer, he’s a killer, and it’s his gun, and it’s his fists, and it’s his eyes the color of the chimney smoke –
When he gasps awake, he sees someone else’s back in his bed and he knows where he is: Dachau, concentration camp, Arbeit macht frei. Tears pressing against his skull, Max forces himself to even his breathing, because if anyone tells on him to the Kapo, then the Kapo will tell the soldiers, and then there’ll declare him ‘ unfit ‘. As if he’s the only one with nightmares here. No, he hears them crying in their sleep, and he sees the turning bodies of those who can’t fall asleep at all.
Such as the body in front of him now, it’s turning, and Max can’t see much in the dark but the outline of this body is surprising. This body is strong, muscular, fed. Maybe not as much as it should be, but it carries more fat than any body Max has seen for almost two years, and when Max, with his eyes, trails the line of the bicep, the shoulder, the neck, the jaw, he finally sees a head of hair. Hair. Nobody has that here, not past the length of a pinky’s nail. And Max suspends his terror to reach up and touch the hair, feel the way it’s real on his skin, which he somehow didn’t expect, and he blinks.
Then he recoils, pulling himself into a tight ball, and closes his eyes. Something’s wrong, and he can’t place it, but he keeps seeing prisoner-David’s face, and his fingernails come up to dig at his left arm where numbers have been written onto him forever.