When you are in an empty room for some time, you may hear whispers.

There’s a fully sound-proofed room at the annexe of the International Bureau of Weights and Measures in France. It’s used for measuring and calibrating units of sound intensity and frequency. The decibel was first set in that office, and so was the Hertz.

It’s in a far, secluded corner of the sprawling bureau. From the outside, it looks like a small, ordinary office. But it’s when the huge padded and reinforced metal alloy door hisses open slowly via combined pneumatic and hydraulic pumps, releasing a burst of chilly, lifeless air from within its dark cavern, that you first feel a distinct sense of discomfort.

You enter the room, and the door swings back closed, enclosing you with liquid darkness that you can feel clawing up your limbs and crawling into your clothes. There are no incandescent bulbs inside because the air must be at a uniform temperature throughout the room for correct accoustic measurements. There are no fluorescent tubes either because they produce a constant hum, which would be loud in that chamber.

In short, it’s pitch black.

But it’s not silent, especially not after a few minutes.

The first thing you realize after some time is that there is a constant low sound, pulsating regularly. The man outside would already have told you what that is. It’s the blood flowing through your veins. Even then, it’s unnerving.

Then you sit down on the soft padded floor. You are forgetting whether your eyes are open or closed, it’s so dark. You imagine the darkness facing you, staring at you, cold and expressionless, the ancient darkness that was there before our lights, before our Earth was formed, before all else. A tiny ball of panic starts rising up your throat.

It is then that the whispers start.

You can scream. But nobody will hear you. If you have asked for fifteen minutes, they will let you out after fifteen minutes. Those guys are very particular about time, staying in a place that measured the second.

It is not someone else who is whispering to you. It is you. There’s always so much noise in life, they never got to say anything. Now they know, those voices, that you are listening. For fifteen minutes you are theirs. That is all the time they need. And the things you hear are the things that you never wished to hear ever, even without knowing it. Everyone has things like that, you too.

It’s not a good idea to scream. It will drown out the voices for some time, but there is only a limited amount of oxygen in the room. If you scream, you will notice that you start panting. You will have increasing difficulty in breathing. But they won’t know that outside. They will only let you out after fifteen minutes. That is one clause you must sign before entering the sound room.

When you start having trouble breathing, the whispers get louder. And then you can’t scream any more, because you know that you may start to choke. Then you must huddle up and listen.

You cannot cry. You must breathe normally, in and out. You must sit quietly in the blackness, amidst the pounding of your heart and the rushing of your blood through your vessels, amidst the whispers that are tearing your mind apart.

When they come out from the sound room, they all grow quieter. They walk quietly, drive quietly, and reply in brief to questions. It’s because the whispers will keep knocking about inside their heads till the end of their lives. There’s always so much of it to listen to, there’s no room for other sounds.

Some of them end up in quiet padded cells of a different kind.

In the winter of 1997, when faced with several public cause litigations, the annexe office of the Bureau admitted responsibility for several cases of terminal schizophrenic dementia admitted in various institutions around the country. That same winter, they stopped issuing permits for visitors to the sound room.

Schizophrenia as understood today, is when one communicates with or acknowledges the presence of an other being who is not there. One of the above patients, however, reported in a rare and brief medical interview that she was fully aware that she was talking to herself.

If you want to know what the voices say, there’s a way that sometimes works. After midnight on a clear moonless night, you must go somewhere open, like a roof. You must be alone. Look up so that the sky spans your entire field of view, and there is no source of light in the field. Calm yourself and try to think of who you are. Who are you to yourself? Step outside yourself and observe this being you have been inside for all these years. Don’t look away from the sky. Visualize your face, spell your name inside your head. Who are you? What do you do everyday? How are you different from everyone else? What do you mean? Why are you?

If you are (un)lucky, you might actually start hearing the answers.

Don’t make it a habit.

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