Inspired by this prompt from writeworld.
Grace waited in line behind a horde of schoolchildren as their teacher led them past the ticket booth, turning her membership card over and over in her hands while they filed through. Some of the kids were bouncing up and down with excitement, while others were glued to their phones. Even if Grace had had a phone at that age–they were nine or ten at best–she would have been one of the bouncing ones. Field trips were some of her fondest memories of elementary school.
The woman at the booth was someone Grace didn’t know, young and redheaded and freckled. Grace held up her pass, and the woman smiled, saying, “I hope you have a lovely visit.”
Grace held in a snort. It wasn’t the woman’s fault that wouldn’t be true. Instead she smiled back before heading directly for the Greek exhibit.
She’d managed to tell herself for four days that she’d only imagined the voice. She’d been alone at the exhibit, her imagination had taken hold of Glen’s silly story and run with it, and that was all. Grace taught her classes, held her office hours, advised her students and chatted with her colleagues like life was perfectly normal.
But as hard as she pretended that was true, in the back of her mind, that voice echoed. It’s been so long since I had anyone to talk to…
A museum was never loud, but as she passed through, Grace could hear the hushed sounds of the people elsewhere in the building: the footsteps, the attendants talking quietly to the patrons, the occasional laugh or shriek of one of those kids, quickly shushed by their teacher. It was a low, steady murmur.
And when Grace stepped into the statue exhibit, the murmur fell away, leaving her in the deep silence of a catacomb. Today, she didn’t even have the rain to keep her company. The stone faces watched her as she circled the room slowly, making sure she was alone. The stone hands reached out to her, demanding her attention. She almost lost her nerve before she reached the figure of the young warrior. Almost. But she had to know. Either she had imagined the voice, and this weight of dread would lift from her shoulders; or she hadn’t, and she was going mad.
There wasn’t another choice, was there?
Before she could change her mind and flee, Grace came to a halt and looked up at the warrior’s face. It seemed more woeful than she remembered it. “Hello,” she whispered.
You came back. I was afraid you wouldn’t. Thank you.
“Are you…real?” Grace took a step forward, peering at the statue’s eyes as if they might move. “I mean…well, I don’t know what I mean.”
I’m real. I know that I can’t prove it to you, but I am. I am a man who was turned to stone more than two thousand years ago.
“An ancient Greek warrior who speaks English,” Grace muttered. “Yeah, I’m crazy, thanks.”
I’ve had a long time to listen. And to learn.
Though his tone was gentle, the words stung her with their sorrow. “You’ve been on display this whole time?”
Much of it, yes. I’ve traveled a great deal and seen the inside of many museums in many countries. And that’s all.
The sadness in his tone was undeniable. “Then which country has the best museums? Which people makes the best audience? I wouldn’t think it’s here in the States.”
France. The Louvre is beautiful even from the inside, and I could hear voices in so many languages. It was nice to be somewhere where art is so beloved.
“Are you art, then?”
What else can I be, anymore?
There was a long pause before Grace heard his voice again. I may have thought of a way to prove that I’m not a delusion. Do you speak French?
Grace shook her head.
Good. I’ll say something to you in French, and you’ll type it in your phone and translate it. Then I’ll tell you what I said in English. If I’m right, then I’m real.
“You know about smart phones?”
I pay attention. Will you try this?
Grace retrieved her phone from her purse and searched for a translation app. “Okay. Tell me.”
Je sais que vous avez peur, et je suis désolé pour elle.
She had to guess at the spelling, but after a minute, she got a translation that wasn’t gibberish. Though the words made her blink back sudden tears. “All right. Tell me again.”
I know you’re afraid, and I’m sorry for it. A pause. Do you believe me now?
“Yes.” Grace took a deep, shuddering breath and held in her tears. “But…how? How did this happen, and why? And why can I hear you?” When he didn’t answer right away, she had another thought. And do I have to speak out loud for you to hear me, or does this go both ways?
A deep, rich laugh echoed through her skull. No one’s ever tried that before! Yes, I can hear you. Now you don’t have to worry about whether you’re alone if you want to speak to me.
Grace shifted uncomfortably on her feet. You can’t read my mind, or anything like that, right? I don’t think I’d like that.
No, no, I can only hear your voice coming through when you direct it at me. I’m not hearing anything else. He laughed again. Why, you can’t read my mind, can you? I don’t think I’d like that, either. It can get awfully dirty in here.
Grace flushed to the roots of her hair and stammered, “N-No, I can’t.”
I’m sorry, came the immediate reply. That was unkind. If I don’t have anyone to talk to, then I don’t have anyone to joke with, either. But that was…that was…I can’t think of the word. Rude, but also thoughtless?
Crass? Grace offered.
Yes, crass. I’m sorry… Another pause. And I don’t know your name. Will you tell me, so I can apologize properly?
Grace. My name is Grace.
I’m sorry, Grace. I hope one joke in poor taste isn’t enough to make you run. Because I’d like to talk to you more. If you’d be willing.
More than anything at that moment, Grace wished there were benches in this exhibit, like there were in most of the galleries where the paintings were displayed. She desperately wanted to sit down before her trembling legs sent her toppling to the floor. I’m not going to run. Not this time, anyway. You’re forgiven.
So…what’s your name? I don’t what to keep thinking of you as the talking statue. Now that I believe you, anyway.
That won her another laugh. I told you you weren’t going mad. Even though the expression on the statue remained the same, she could hear the smile in his voice. A pleasure to meet you, Grace. My name is Perseus.