Moira Sheppard – Deakin University
I climbed the steps, the knowledge of what my race had done slowing each footfall.
The shadows of those who had once been our cousins watched quietly.
Was this where He had gone, was I even in the right place? I could feel Their tormented eyes still upon me. Was this where all souls of our ancestors went, or just the ones who had suffered at our hands? If that were so, He wouldn’t be here. They wouldn’t be here.
Through the darkness I continued, the mud slithering through my exposed toes. I didn’t turn around, but I knew my path back was blocked; the menaced forms following silently. Time does not exist here, so who knows how long I walked my slippery slope to Their, vengeance? Their catechisation? But at last, there came a light, and the thought that there should be warmth, but there was none. The bereft souls formed a barrier against the warmth; the helplessness of Their lives overshadowed the luminous energy that hovered before me. The air that was exhaled was just as cold as that of the air that had been inhaled.
“It is for your compassion and empathy, that you have been allowed this far.” The voice swirled with the encroaching mist, mingling with the tormented silence to which humanity was oblivious.
I am sorry for what we have done to you, I wanted to say. But no words were ever going to save the souls of the afflicted from what we had already done to Them. Invisible hands choked me.
“We know. Not many risk their soul. And not many do so because of the guilt they feel for actions that they have not committed,” came the voice again.
I have to find Him. Them, I pleaded.
“That is not something that I can promise.” His voice sounded sad.
The light fell away. The darkening mist swirled, offering my only choice. I could feel it pulling me towards it. The path was hard and sharp. Jagged stones cut the arches of my feet as I walked. I felt the pain, but it was nothing compared to what They had suffered.
I could feel the souls watching, as branches hung over head and the bushes reached across the path. It was minutes, hours, or even days later when the foliage fell away, and the site of the concentration camp loomed. I could smell the fear as it slithered out to force me in.
“You must see it firsthand. We know you felt Their pain, but you cannot move forwards ‘til you witness it for yourself,” said my guide.
In my world, seeing the pictures had distressed and tormented me enough. The knife pierced my skin. It was me who hung upside down, bleeding out; suffocated by Their pain and fear.
The creaking hinges screamed as the door closed with a loud bang.
But no sound was heard.
At first I was amid the jostling bodies. The terror and unknowing penetrated my pores. I followed as They headed towards those doors. We all knew they were the doors to Death. And more. They were our torture and our release. Our self-preservation told us to stay as far away from them as possible. But an instinct told those who were brave enough to listen, this was our moment, we could charge forward and accept what the Nazis would do to us and move on; to a world where we were free from humanity.
I followed the bravest, gently touching the ones who were too afraid. My fingertips whispered across Their shoulders. My eyes filled with unshed tears for the innocent, as I could feel the love and peace that my touch could give. For the first time, they experienced the benevolence and tenderness that the touch of humanity could offer. Their eyes softened, the fear gone for that moment.
There were no doors when I turned around to look back from the new chamber. It was a solid wall now. The heroes I had gone with were no longer surging beside me. I looked up.
In life I had been paralysed as I witnessed the cruelty, yet terrified to be blind to it. It crippled me to behold and realise what our race had done. But it was only emotional pain that I would have to endure; I had forced myself to witness the innocent as they had suffered the real, physical pain.
Their bodies hung upside down. Writhing in fear. Their final shrieks filled the air.
But no sound was heard.
As in life, here too I heard the screams of the Voiceless. I felt the knife slice across my throat, as I flung myself in every direction, trying to escape the mortal instrument. But it was no use. The blood flowed, pooling around the heavy feet of the herd man.
“You were brave enough to come here.” The words penetrated my fear.
As I hung, bleeding out, the conveyer line dragged my conscious body away from the herd man. An explosion of terror engulfed me, obliterating my immediate panic of not being able to breathe as I was flung around the corner. As the life ebbed from me, even the promise of nothingness could not comfort me; I clung to my guide’s words. The bodies of the still conscious beings that were being flayed before me loomed, racing towards me, before falling away and I found myself stepping through the next set of doors.
The iron bar doors slid closed with a loud clang.
But no sound was heard.
The mad faces pressed against the bars as I made my way down the cold, concrete corridor. I knew the little pools of moisture that I walked through were not water. Some of the bodies shrunk from the bars, hiding in the corners. Others paced the cage fronts as I passed. Some were unaware of me and Their surroundings. They were too far gone; lost in the madness that confinement and torture had forced upon Them.
Every cell stood out. I forced myself to witness each being’s private hell.
I felt an ancient pull of family as I gazed into the cells with the childlike souls who were trapped in metal head braces. Their tiny arms reaching through the bars; a futile attempt to comfort each other. Others lay with laboured breathing, unable to lift Their heads. I coughed, trying to clear my lungs from the blood that was pooling in them. My skin itched, blistered, before turning necrotic.
“You cannot change Their fate,” my guide warned me, as I lingered by a door.
Taking in the damp air with a soundless breath, I moved forwards. Rows of once free spirited and wily beings, now broken, appeared before me, Their souls gaping. I felt the exposed lacerations, the days and weeks eating away at the edges of the flesh. I had seen the pictures, but now I could feel the bones in Their legs that were revealed to the dank air. A little girl with a leg completely devoid of skin shrunk away from me as I moved towards Her. Her lifeless eyes questioned me from beneath Her long lashes.
“Why . . .”
But no sound was heard.
The heavily medicated patients smothered me, numbing the pain of the broken bones; replaced with the insidious side effects of the wrong kind of medication. Pills were harbingers of suffering and death. The bile rose in my throat, seeping out through my pores. I was toxic from the inside out. The foreign objects surgically placed under my skin clawed at the mucous membranes, my body rejecting the inventions with which the herd men had raped my being with. My eyes blurred with foreign substances and the puss blinded me as the jail cells went on.
The wire cut into the soles of my feet as my eyes had readjusted, allowing me to see the wire walls closing in on me.
I do not need to work too hard to pull myself into a tight bundle, away from the shrinking cage; my force fed body is too heavy for my weak bones. I fall where I am, unable to move as the feet of my cellmates trample across me. I have weakened; I am at Their mercy now. I feel Their boredom and insanity overtake me as They cut at me, scratching indiscriminately at the raw parts of my body. Sometimes, an inquisitive eye comes close to my face, the mutilated profile reignites the searing pain across my mouth. I was only a few days old, but it is a pain that remained with me for a very long time.
Eventually a gloved hand that belongs to a masked man from the herd grabs me; rescues me? I am flung onto the manure lined floor. It rushes at my body. Dirt and dust swirl through my airways as I struggle to breath. The black boots are all that I can see. A sudden thud presses down on me, trying to force the life from me.
Every kind of torture and suffering is represented by these innocent criminals.
I knew the cost of escape from this place. Your hide or your determination. It could be your skin being ripped from you as you begged for the unknown world without pain. Maybe you are hung upside down, dragged along a machine that slices your throat, if you are lucky. The blade misses my throat—it cuts across my breast before I am conveyed to the boiling water. Or, you might have the strength to fight against your instincts and give up, and give in to the drugs or your oppressors, hoping they take you to where there is no more torment.
No matter which one is destined for you, it all ends on the precipice of terror.
Terror. Pain. Is all we know.
Is that it?
“It could be,” came a foreign voice. A hollow comfort swirled around me as the stranger appeared. “You can have more than this. You deserve it.” His seductive voice teased at my mind.
“Who are you?”
“Someone that is trying to help you.”
“Because you have felt enough. If you let go, you will never have to feel this ever again.”
His words teased my senses; promising me the idea of numbness.
The Voiceless started to blur.
“But I have to be here.”
“You don’t. You have done more than most. You were not ignorant in your life, but you can have an eternity without pain and suffering,” he promised.
I was beginning to forget why, but I knew I must hold on; I clung to the truth. I could feel it slipping through my mind as he moved closer.
“I can give you what you need, what you desire; peace.”
The comfort that emanated from him wavered. I could feel his façade slipping as I fought to hold on to what I could no longer remember. Their screams began to quieten. But the weight in my heart grew as I began to believe him.
Instinctively I shrank from his touch.
“I just want to show you,” he murmured, as he laid his hands on my arm. And I let him.
The promise of everything I could ever want wasn’t enough to quieten the truth.
“This isn’t right.”
“This is your final chance, take it and you can have everything. But if you are determined to seek for it, you can never come back,” he threatened.
My eyes began to water as something stung at them. I rubbed at my eyelids; the itching and puffiness grew.
“I am disappointed in you,” he said.
“Ultimately, you were selfish in your life, ending it so you no longer had to witness Their pain. I thought you would have ended up accepting this,” he continued.
“No.” I watched resolutely as he began to fade.
“You must continue,” came my kind guide’s voice.
I closed my eyes; stepping out of the carcasses that were on my feet, through the puddle left by society.
With a flick of my powerful fluke I surge through the water, the cool air rushing across my smooth body as I effortlessly break through the surface of the water. The panic of the Others sinking away from me for the briefest moment; my last breath of freedom. I dive through my terrorised pod; returning to the wall of banging that was coming from behind us. The drone of the engines and the impact of the metal poles resonate behind my eyes. We race against the waves of sound, being chased towards the cove. We have been hunted for over an hour; our bodies and spirits teeter on the edge of being broken.
Our world closes in around us, the blue sky pressing down to hide us from our Guardians’ eyes as the ocean floor rises. The sand swirls through the shallows of our freedom until it is lost forever. It’s not only the bodies of my pod that I slam against; there are the legs and arms of the herd men amongst us now. As the panic rages around me I surge in a desperate effort; one last chance at freedom. A rubber boot connects with my chest before I can slam against the rocks.
My pod shrieks as our world runs red.
But no sound was heard.
I am trapped against my brother and a rock. His shrieks are only slightly louder than the Others as I see the glint of something plunge into Him. He thrashes wildly at my side, slamming against me; the rough edges of the outside world scratch against my body.
I can feel another body of panic swirling amongst ours. It comes from further up the cliffs; our Guardians’ tears mix with our blood. It is well over five minutes that my brother fights for His life; continually being stabbed and hacked at before His body slackens against mine as He takes His last breath. I wait for His death to become mine, but it does not happen. Eventually I am left to float through the blood of my brothers and sisters, watching as Their bodies are dragged from our home. I am herded towards various people before rough hands grab at me and I am dragged from the waters of Death.
The hours and days roll over me as I am held in a constant bumping and rocking jail, my skin drying as I am surrounded by loud, rough noises.
Finally, I am lowered back into…my home? No. The sound of Death washes over me as I am dumped into it. It clings to me as I make circle after circle of this small body of water; my entire being aches as I stretch and flex my muscles. I alternate between swimming the same circles and floating, half in my world and half in theirs. My skin sloughs off as the acrid water churns in surprise at my movements.
I am no longer a child of freedom; but of the forgotten. The stagnant water leeches the poisons from the enclosed air that surrounds my underwater cell. I long for the days when I could break gracefully through the water, breathing in the sun.
I am a sentient being. I am capable of making conscious decisions. I am self-aware.
I choose to die.
It is a conscious act for me to breathe. I come to the surface for the last time; knowing this will be the last breath that I will take.
I intentionally relax the muscular flap that covers my airway. It seals shut forever, as the last breath I take finds its way to my lungs and I close my eyes; sinking.
As the suffocation falls away, momentarily, I feel a warmth. An unbreakable desire to protect him. My love for him is absolute. I can feel his presence; my best friend. I trusted him to keep me safe. But it was misplaced trust. The years of being by each other’s side fell away as you moved on with your life. A wife and children. I am forgotten. Shut out in the cold and abandoned. The ghosts of the rejected and forgotten surround me. Their presence is not a comfort; it is a threat. Each one vying for survival as the herd ignores Them, and the parasites feed off Them. I curl myself up into a ball, trying to warm myself from the elements. My stomach grumbles in despair. I do not feel well. But you do not notice. It feels like forever since I last felt your comforting touch. Since I last made you smile; what did I do wrong? I stand wistfully at the door each time you near it; ready to forgive your ignorance for the last years. Finally, one day, you come to me. I am happy, excited. All is forgiven. I follow you willingly, trustingly; but you betray me.
I feel their sadness as they stick my leg with something sharp. My eyes promise them I will be their friend. A coldness moves through my veins and I am alone as the nothingness wraps its arms around me. I die the way you once promised me I would never live. Betrayed by the one I loved.
“How could you?” I whisper.
But no sound was heard.
The bright sun washes away the cold as I feel the grass between my toes. Fresh, bright air fills my lungs as I take a deep breath. New life is born into the air as I wander across the field. Innocent eyes watching quietly. For the briefest moment I feel contentment flowing into me, before the longing washes it away. The sharp poke in the side urges me forward. I follow my family. If we are slow in entering our cells, or turning around in them, our ear is twisted or a thumb is jabbed in our eyes. My sister’s heavy earring knocks against my shoulder, I can feel Her laboured breathing hurry past me; desperate not to be the one that is grabbed by the nose. Our heads are twisted backwards in punishment. The dreariness of everyday life sucks at my bosom, as the pining for my stolen generation drains the will from me.
I close my eyes.
I could feel the fear and confusion of the young bodies as They were slammed against me. So innocent and unaware of Their fate.
The dust swirled through my nostrils as I opened my eyes to the new white picket fences. Herd men yelling, foreign voices filled the air above us, before they moved on, taking some of the souls from beside me. I could feel the chains and ropes cutting into Their necks, month after month we are tied to a pole; not allowed to move. I can feel my muscles soften and become tender.
When the day was over, I led the young that were left with me. I betrayed Them as I led Them to Their fate. Better They know not what was coming.
The engine couldn’t drown out my thoughts.
But no sound was heard.
The new white, dirty room promised misery.
I accepted it as I stepped onto the linoleum floor. The young I had been with were long gone now, thrown away as waste. And it was a new kind of young and innocent that I befriended. The ones stolen or bought as slaves. Slaves. They were traded simply for someone’s sadistic pleasures.
The room was painted in the silent voices of the tormented; the intentional broken bones, the cigarette burns and the gaping wounds that society had inflicted upon us. The hands around the throat suffocated me or the boot to the stomach that slammed the breath out of me. The echoes of these abuses screamed at me as my broken arm was wrenched forward by the malicious grasp.
All of us in here had once known love. Our mothers or the people that cared about us. That was never forgotten as we cried, “Why?”
But no sound was heard.
The evil pleasure that slithered through the room overwhelmed us. Me.
Was this place worse than the others? The enjoyment that our captors felt seemed to answer. But this place is no worse than the last. It is all the same. We were all headed for the same place. We all feared going there. Our bodies instinctively fight against it. But, if we only knew that it was our salvation from humankind.
I weakened and ran through the days in that room. Desperate for this to be over. I was here for a purpose. Hadn’t I suffered enough in my life? Did I have to relive it all again? If I want to find Him—Them—then yes.
I cried out Their names in my last hours of torture, using the promise of Them as the drive to force myself to continue enduring this unimaginable pain. When I woke, my guide was waiting. I could see Him this time, and I could feel His warmth.
I wept. How could such a tortured soul still offer unconditional comfort to a member of the race that had abused Him.
“Do I get to be with Him now? Them? Are They all together,” I pleaded.
He touched my forehead as I cried.
“You will never be apart from Them again,” He promised as I closed my eyes.
Every sentient being’s tormented existence and death flashed over me. The innumerable Animals that humankind had tortured surged, before falling away into a warm nothingness. I wrapped my arms around the beloved Animals that had so graciously allowed me to be a part of Their lives and held on; safe in the knowledge that They had never experienced the true touch of humanity.
Moira Sheppard is currently finishing the Honours year of her Bachelor of Arts. She has a double major in Professional and Creative Writing and Literary Studies. Her thesis is focused on the representation of animals in literature and what it has to say about the real world treatment of them. She is interested in animal rights issues and writing literary narratives which examine themes about animals and humankind’s (mis)treatment of them.