Word Count: 1600
Summary: Unsuspecting American tourists encounter Dionysus in a Greek museum.
“Oh, my god. Gloria, you have to see this.”
“Keep your girdle on, Stella. I’ll be right there.” Gloria’s voice echoed in the nearly empty chambers of The Archeology Museum of Thebes as she adjusted the rhinestone-studded glasses at the end of her nose, straining to get a better look at a large vase balanced on a pedestal in the middle of the room. The sign at the door had designated this as the Ancient Greek Artifacts room, and the depiction of ancient Greeks dancing naked on this particular artifact had snagged her undivided attention.
“Gloria.” Stella’s voice was hollow, bouncing off the high ceilings of an adjoining room.
“I’m coming already, I’m coming.” Gloria took one step into the room where Stella waited, and gasped. She turned round eyes toward her plump, beaming companion. “Have Mitzi and Olive seen this?”
The women poked their heads out of the doorway and called to their friends, who had been lingering in the Ancient Greek Architecture exhibit. Here was Mitzi, clutching her purse tight against her chest, just as she had since the moment they arrived in Greece (someone told her before leaving that she should keep two hands on her purse at all times; that the pickpockets were dreadful in Europe), accompanied by Olive, looking half-asleep and breathing loudly from the mouth, the result of multiple, unpleasant allergies.
“Geez, Gloria. You are so demanding,” said Mitzi, in her husky two-packs of smokes-a-day voice. “If I’d had any idea you’d be so annoying on this trip, I might never have agreed to come. Next time we’ll just go to Palm Beach like I’ve been trying to—“
The women stood frozen in front of the larger-than-life sized statue in the center of the room. Sculpted out of smooth white marble, there stood a young, handsome, and remarkably well-endowed young man, long flowing locks adorned with a fetching headdress fashioned from clusters of grapes.
“And who do we have here?” asked Mitzi after the long silence.
Stella grinned at them, feeling the ownership of her discovery. “This, my friends, is a statue of Dionysus, the Greek god of grapes and wine.”
“Hellooo, baby,” breathed Gloria.
“Where are the guys, anyway?” Olive asked, in her wheezy, nasal voice. “They might want to see this magnificent example of ancient Greek sculpturature.”
“Olive, that is not a word,” said Stella. “And P.S., who cares?”
As they peered up at the statue, the women began to think the empty, pupil-less eyes and mysterious smile of Dionysus seemed to hold a secret invitation for each of them. As if attuned to some ancient, involuntary choreography, the women each took a step closer to the statue.
“Gloria? Mitzi, where are you? Are Olive and Stella with you?” The sounds of their husband’s voices caused the pleasant, alluring sensation to evaporate.
“Ahh, there you are.” Fred, Gloria’s husband, was in the lead as usual, followed by Ralph, Phil and Hector. He tapped on his watch. “Listen, we have to go—the bus is about ready to take everyone on to Delphi. That’s where we’re spending the night.”
“Hey, the tour guide didn’t show us this room. I wonder why he skipped it,” said Phil, squinting over his bifocals at the far wall, half-hidden in shadows. “Take a gander at this amazing mural.” He whistled. “Look at these gor-gee-ous women.”
“Those are the Maenads,” Stella informed the men as they drew closer to the mural in a clump to stare at paintings of women draped in flowing fabric and cavorting in a forest. Stella was the one who’d done all the pre-vacation research and reading, and only three days into their ten-day tour of Greece, everyone was fed up with her determination to share her wealth of knowledge. This time, however, she had everyone’s full attention.
“The what-ads?” asked Ralph.
Stella took a deep breath, puffing herself up with importance. “The Maenads were the female followers of Dionysus. When under the influence of his wine, they became possessed and were said to dance with inspired frenzy to the beat of drums.”
Gloria squinted at a plaque affixed to the wall. “And is says here that Dionysus and the Maenads encouraged mortal women to join them in drinking and dancing against the will of their husbands.”
The women snickered, glancing playfully at their husbands, who exchanged perplexed frowns.
“That’s right,” said Stella. “In fact, Dionysus and the Maenads were said to have specifically induced the women of Thebes to join them in their wild dancing and Bacchic frenzy.”
“Their what?” asked Gloria.
“They were drunk,” Stella explained.
Olive looked up, as if she’d just woken from a long sleep. “Thebes! Why, that’s where we are right now.”
Hector, standing toward a corner of the mural, scratched the bald patch on the top of his head. “And who are these guys?”
“The Satyrs.” said Stella, joining him at his elbow. “They’re men with horse’s tails and pointed ears who help the god Dionysus with his wine-making. Their animal natures lead them to drunkenly chase women and Maenads through the woods.”
“This is all fascinating,” said Phil, glancing at his watch again, “but we really do need to get back to the bus, before it…”
Stella held up a hand, and all fell silent.
“Do you hear that?” Mitzi whispered. Stella grinned at Gloria, and Olive nodded, her eyes wide.
The men exchanged puzzled glances. “Hear what?” asked Ralph. “I don’t hear anything.”
Gloria placed an ear against the wall, an open palm next to her face. “I think there are a bunch of people in a room behind this wall,” she said. “I hear music. Drums. And singing.”
Stella joined her, listened for a moment, and smiled. “They’re laughing and shouting.”
“Could it be the rest of the people from the tour?” Hector asked. “Maybe there’s a special visitor’s reception in a room at the back of the museum and nobody bothered to tell us.”
“It wouldn’t be the first time this tour company screwed up,” Phil said with a sniff.
“Why don’t you boys go investigate?” said Gloria. “If you go out into the hallway, I bet you could locate the door to the room behind this wall.”
“I bet there’s lots of food there,” Olive added. “Cheese and crackers. Chocolates, Maybe some of those gooey Greek pastries you guys like.”
The men exchanged glances. “All right, men,” said Fred, taking charge. “We have our mission. Ladies, stay here. We’ll be right back.”
Fred turned abruptly on the balls of his feet and started off, almost running smack into the marble statue in the center of the room. Without knowing why, and feeling foolish afterward, Fred glared up at the statue’s grinning face. “Watch it, pal,” he said.
Fred’s wristwatch read 5:45 a.m. when Ariana, the Greek Dreams tour guide burst through the doors of The Archeology Museum of Thebes, high heels clacking on the hard tile floor, while the museum curator, Demetrius, strode beside her, keys jangling in his hand.
“Well it’s about time you realized we were missing,” Fred said, approaching them with his hands clenched at his sides. “Do you realize we’ve been locked in this museum all night long, and we can’t find our wives anywhere? None of the phones seem to be working, we’ve been rapping at every door and window, screaming at the top of our lungs, and--”
“And you better believe we will each be writing a strongly worded letter to the owners of Greek Dream Tours,” said Phil, jabbing a finger in Ariana’s direction.
“I don’t care about any of that,” said Hector, his faded blue eyes swimming with tears. “I just want my Olive back.”
Ariana put a sympathetic hand on his shoulder and looked into each man’s face, one by one. “It’s all right now,” she said. “Demetrius will take care of everything.”
Demetrius, a handsome Greek with slicked-back black hair and an impeccable black suit, gave a curt nod. He ushered the puzzled men out of the Ancient Artifacts room and shut the double doors behind them.
“Time, please?” he said.
Everyone glanced at their watches. “Five fifty-eight,” said Hector.
“And now, we wait,” said Demetrius.
The group stood in silence, Demetrius standing in front of the door with his hands clasped loosely before him, the men exchanging uncertain glances.
Fred peered at his watch. “Six o’clock, on the dot.” He noticed that the pink glow of sunrise shone at the windows of the museum. It was the beginning of a new day.
Demetrius nodded, then turned to re-open the double doors behind him. He gestured for the men to step inside.
The women were there, draped in various poses of sleepy relaxation on the floor of the museum. Mitzi was picking pieces of leaves and pine needles out of Olive’s hair. Gloria lay on her back, her eyes half-shut behind the empty frames of her rhinestone glasses, a contented smile on her lips. Stella rubbed her mouth with the back of her hand and erupted into a case of hiccups. All four women had rosy cheeks, as if they’d been racing through the hills depicted in the mural behind them, forgetting their arthritic knees and propensity for vertigo. Their eyes were bright, with a spark of something the men could not define.
After ushering the staggering women and their bewildered husbands to the door of the museum and giving Ariana a solemn nod of farewell, Demetrius walked back to the Ancient Artifacts exhibit, and peered inside at the statue of Dionysus.
“Naughty boy,” he said. A smile twitched at the corners of his mouth as he pulled the double doors shut, inserted the key and locked them.