As I walked through the gates of hell I could hear nothing but their voices. I was alone, completely alone. There was not a soul in sight, neither living or dead, not even a bird that flew overheard, nothing. Everything in the world appeared to be at a standstill, including the last grip I had on my sanity and my humanity. When I stopped walking everything went quiet, but the moment I made a move I could hear their voices again. I knew could not turn back, there’s never any turning back when you’re being thrusted forward by something greater than you. I kept walking the railroad and their millions of voices only kept whispering, wailing and singing with every step I took.
I put my hands over my ears to block out the torturous sound but it changed nothing. They were still talking just as much and I still couldn’t make out what they were saying. What were they trying to tell me? I did not speak Polish, Hebrew, Italian or any of the other languages spoken by the departed soul and even if I had, there were too many of them for me to understand a word being spoken. Maybe they were simply speaking gibberish, the language of the dead, one that the living could not comprehend. But they weren’t just talking to each other, they were talking to me.
The overbearing sadness of the place lingered in the air and long after it had been deserted. I kept on walking in steady steps under the grey sky along the railroad as I felt the rumble of the train coming from behind me. I tried to step off the railroad but I couldn’t, I could only walk faster but the faster I went the louder their voices got and I could not bear to hear them anymore. Although I could not make out what they were saying, having to hear it drained the very essence of my soul. As much as I walked I never seemed to get closer and I only grew weary instead.
“Stop!” I shouted back at the voices of the dead, “Just please stop!”
Their bodies were gone but their souls and voices remained. I was surrounded by barbwire fences and watch towers no matter where I looked and the building complexes never seemed to get closer. My heartbeat caught the rhythm of the approaching train and I fell to my knees in exhaustion, desperation and fear.
“Stop! Be quiet!” I begged the never- ceasing voices of the departed souls, “Please be quiet!”
It was useless to attempt to block my ears because it changed absolutely nothing. The ground underneath me was warm but the metal rails were cool. I latched on to them in an attempt to propel myself forward and reach the end of the railroad before the train caught up to me. Surely if it did, I would join the millions of voices speaking all around me. Their sound drained me and it became an ever-increasing struggle to keep moving forward. I grabbed on to the wooden planks below me, digging my fingers into the dirt and gravel along the way, and crawled forward.
“I’m begging you! Please be quiet!” I kept on shouting back at them.
The static noise only kept on getting louder and louder as I went. They didn’t want to be ignored; they wanted my attention.
“Silence!” I cried out, “Silence!”
I could no longer lift my head up as I crawled relentlessly so I closed my eyes and tried to detach myself from the noise. Eventually I came to a halt in front of a pair of jackboots. I touched their smooth leather with my tired and used up hands and let my head flop over the other one. I had made it away from the train, I thought, but the voices were still after me. They destroyed me and I wanted them to stop. My heartbeat slowed down and I looked up at the man in the jackboots, it was Rudolf. Never in the history of the existence of the human soul did I imagine ever being relieved, or even thankful, to see such a man in front of me.
I did not know why he appeared to be alive like me amidst the realm of the dead but he also did not appear to be shaken or tormented by the voices. How could he not be after what he had done to them, and even remorsefully begged for forgiveness for his actions? Surely since he was the person in command the souls would be quiet if I asked him to make them stop.
“Please Rudolf! Make them stop!” I pleaded.
I begged him on my hands and knees to please make them stop at last until he bent down, grabbed me by the shoulders and jerked me up to my feet in one swift and effortless motion. I had no energy left in me to fight but I wanted him to make them stop! Just stop! He grabbed my wrists as I raised up my arms and yanked me closer to him so I could look deep into his dark and empty eyes.
“No, let them sing,” he said, completely undisturbed by their tormenting voices and at absolute peace with himself, “I’ve already silenced them once and if you do it a second time you deserve the same fate as me.”
And then I woke up.
The breath came back into me forcefully and my eyes flicked open instantaneously. My heart was erratically beating in such a way that I honestly thought it was going to literally thought it was going to explode out of my chest. I placed my hand over my chest just to remind myself that I was indeed still alive, that my soul had returned to my body after my deep slumber, and to hopefully ease a few of the chest pains. I was covered in sweat to the point that I felt like I had just stepped out of the shower, except that I wasn’t clean. So much for taking a shower before falling asleep on the sofa the previous night!
Calm down, calm down, calm down. It was much easier said than done after something like that. That hadn’t been just a dream. Things had went way beyond that. I had went somewhere, literally went somewhere. Everything was so vivid and so real, there was no way that had been just a dream. I let my head flop back on the armrest of the couch and did deep breathing exercises so I wouldn’t have to take anxiety medication. I dreamed often, constantly really, but not like that. That had been much more than just a dream. But what exactly had gone on? What the hell had just happened?! It was as though my soul had transcended time and space.
I had probably been fidgeting around violently in my sleep for quite some time because my cat who always slept with me was on the floor not far away with her backed arched and the hair standing straight all over her body. How long had it taken for me to calm down? I didn’t know. I had not slept very well because of what happened and my body felt sore the moment I tried to move. I eventually found the courage to get up and take a shower to cleanse myself from whatever my soul had done while my body was sleeping. I even skipped class that morning and went straight to a scholar that could interpret dreams for help with putting my mind at ease because what had happened was not easily explained.
That wasn’t just your average dream with a superficial meaning. I hadn’t gotten drunk, taken any medication or anything else that could’ve impaired my state of mind last night. I wasn’t feeling ill. I hadn’t done anything, watched anything or thought of anything even remotely similar to what I’d experienced during my slumber. I had gone somewhere, my soul had gone somewhere while I was asleep. I was always taught that during the night God takes our souls and returns them once we awake those whom He wills and keeps those whom He wills. But what exactly had happened? What did all of it mean? What did it have to do with me?
I had never experienced anything like that before and I couldn’t easily shake it off. No, it was too intense for me to just let it go. There was no letting it go even if I had wanted to and honestly, if it had been just up to me, I would’ve loved to simply have forgotten about it. Go away, please be quiet! But no, I did not want to die the same way Rudolf did. Had I really seen him?
“The image of Rudolf is a very significant symbol for you Leila,” the scholar told me, “what he told you about himself is the same as what he wants you to know about yourself.”
“What?” I asked, completely confused and dumbfounded.
That is your interpretation of my dream?
The scholar did not answer and I knew then that our session together was over. Even after all the crying, my recounting in painfully clear details what I’d seen, how I’d even smelled and tasted the grime that clung to everything, and my shaking hands that one sentence was all I got for an interpretation. I went to school for my afternoon classes more confused than anything. What the scholar had told me only further puzzled me the more I thought about it.
No, let them sing, I’ve already silenced them once and if you do it a second time you deserve the same fate as me.
What did that mean? What had I ever done to deserve such a fate? I had done just the opposite in fact! Contrary to him I cared about people! Even strangers! I was pursuing a degree in human rights and I was on my way to helping the oppressed at the level of the law! I was the exact opposite of him! I would personally help insure that people would never have to go through the atrocities he helped carry out ever again. How did what he told me about himself have anything to do with my own life? I could not be farther from him in every possible way.
“Leila, are you listening?” Prof. Gusak asked from across the room.
“Yes sir,” I mumbled in a low voice, obviously still distracted.
I yanked my scarf over my head closer to my face and tried to focus on the lecture but I couldn’t. My mind kept going back to my dream night and day. I analyzed every single aspect of my existence in constant futile attempts to decipher what Rudolf had told me, or tried to tell me because I didn’t understand the meaning of the dream no matter which way I put it. What haunted me the most was how realistic and vivid it had been. I couldn’t get over it. It dominated every aspect of my waking life, my every moment spent alert was spent thinking about that. I couldn’t shake it off, the chills still clung to my skin. I still heard his voice, their voices, even the room was dead silent.
The image of Rudolf is a very significant symbol for you Leila, what he told you about himself is the same as what he wants you to know about yourself.
And what could that possibly be? I’d been over that a million times! We were nothing alike! Not in the slightest way! So what was it that he wanted me to know so much?!
Rudolf’s words and the scholar’s words didn’t fit together no matter which angle I tried. The only lead I could pick up on was literally silence. I’d always known that silent and listen were spelled with the same letters and really, you couldn’t have one without the other. I thought that maybe he was now being tormented in the grave because he hadn’t listened and he had silenced others but no, that thought didn’t go very far, he appeared completely at peace. I was the one who had been tormented, but why? What did this have to do with me? What was there more to say? Everything had already been said. My two cents was like a drop of water in an endless sea.
Or so I thought. But apparently others thought otherwise. I thought of going to see the scholar again but decided against it. I knew that he’d said all that he had to say and that if I pressed harder I would only get another cryptic message that would only serve to confuse me even more. Maybe it would’ve been easier to forget but my mind wouldn’t let me do that. Never forget, was that the message of the dream?
No, that didn’t fit. How could someone, anyone, forget something of that magnitude. The world couldn’t forget even if it tried. That would’ve been too easy for an explanation of such a deep dream. Attempting to dream again was to no avail either. I saw nothing but darkness, heard nothing but silence. I knew that it had something to do with silence but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. If the sound of their voices wasn’t haunting enough, the sound of silence was also deeply, if not equally, tormenting to hear.
I kept going round and round inside my head when it came to my dream. My mind only danced in circles, especially at night when I was left to lie down in my bed all alone in the darkness with nothing but my thoughts. Why did something that ought to have been so simple affect me so much? Why did it have to be so complicated? Why couldn’t he have just told me in simple normal people words?! At least that way I might’ve been able to do something about it instead of just sitting around and wearing myself out over it!
Leila, are you listening?
To make matters worst I’d become an insomniac because my mind was always spinning restlessly around the same words. Silent. Listen. Listen to the silence? No, that was just dumb. Finally I got angry and frustrated and decided that I needed some air so I went outside onto my balcony and walked into a star-filled sky. It was only me and the angels out there with a refreshing and cool breeze gliding smoothly through the trees in the distance. I looked up a the constellations silently asking if they would reveal to me the mysteries of life but it was always a one-way conversation between us.
“What is it that you want?!” I shouted into the empty night sky, “Just tell me once and for all so I can finally put this to rest! I’m listening!”
That’s when it occurred to me that Rudolf never wanted me to neither speak nor remain silent, he only wanted me to listen.