The same damned recurring dream. He was dressed in his dirty Union blues again and still carrying the old Springfield rifle. The bayonet was bloody and there was fire all around him and the stench of death strong in his nostrils.
Everything moved fast. Too fast. But it was exciting! The fire raced in his young blood and pounded in his head. Oh, such a thrill, almost as if a Fourth of July firework had been launched in his chest and burst in his brain. The feeling brought forgiveness to him for everything.
Ghostlike, the old farmer came toward him, waving both hands desperately and pointing but Powers ignored the gestures and just watched the bullet strike. A shockwave of dust spread wide across the front of the man's worn overalls before he dropped and lay still.
At first, a glimmer of pity ran through Powers but it was rapidly suppressed. He'd seen so many fall, torn and mangled by shell and shot. Why should this man deserve any pity? He was not a comrade, nor even a brother in arms. What did he know of the frantic charges they had made across open fields that screamed with volley fire and the rip of case-shot? All the farmer knew was the plow and the soft security of a fireside pipe.
A new scene flashed through the dream.
His sleeping eardrums were pierced as he heard the screaming, high pitched and terrible. A warbling of disbelief that rose to a frantic pleading.
He remembered smiling. Smiling! How could he do that?
It was the proud woman he saw, at first bustling with aggressive anger but then collapsing into disbelief as the men wrenched her young daughter away. The mother dropped to her knees and begged plaintively until one of the soldiers hit the side of her head with a rifle butt. The stunned woman gaped silently in anguish and terror as the clothes were torn from her body and they spread-eagled her on the bare boards beside her daughter.
One of the others covered her quickly. Pale blue pants and leather braces rode loose around his thighs as he pumped rapidly. For a moment in the dream, the mother stared back into Powers's watching face with an almost whimsical look of sorrow. Then her sad eyes were lost from view behind the looming shoulders of her thrusting rider.
When they had all finished, their lust satiated, he watched as one of the men slit the throats of the two women.
There was fire all around him now. He was buried in fire. Figures flitted among the flames, demonic shadows that blurred into the burning roar and ran away laughing. A mad, crazy laughter, expanded in volume by the jars of liquor they had gorged on, until the noise became a long continuous bellow in his head.
They could destroy. The god of war allowed them. It was a perverse freedom that opened the devil's door and gave them entry into Hell. A drug so potent, he never wanted it to end.
Breaking. Smashing. Killing. It did not matter. None of these possessions or people were his and he would never pass this way again. All he had in his heart was wild violence and the justification of a righteous war to give him the energy for all his rapacious lust.
But then he saw the children ... and the apples ... They seemed to issue radiance ... a sparkling gleam that spun and filled the room with its golden light, like the brightness of a rising sun ....
Breathless, he awoke sharply. His chest heaved and he panted as if he'd been running down the grassy slopes of the steep hill toward the farm again. Sweat beaded his brow and he wiped it away restlessly with his palm.
God! Would it never leave him?