the exhibit

It’s early afternoon; the sun is beaming through the stained glass window beside me, casting a rainbow of color that dances across my clothing. Before me, there is a grand, marble staircase, winding up to the second floor, completely crowded by a mass of bodies who — like me — anxiously await their turn on the floor above us. I stand there, tapping my foot, intently eavesdropping on my fellow museum attendees as they whisper aggressively about what may be awaiting us when we reach our destination. So far, none of us know what to expect.

Sweat beads formed on my forehead: “This place needs better AC,” I mutter. Still though, I wait, refusing to miss my one and only chance to visit the exhibit above us. If I left now, I might not ever find what I am looking for, what I have been seeking this entire year.

“I must find her,”; it is my only goal.

The line inches forward. Three more paces, and it’s my turn, finally! Worry knots in my stomach; hope fills my chest.

I step forward. Then once more. With each movement, time dilates, moving slower and slower as I approach my final destination.

I am now first in line. Before me, at the top of the shining stairs are a pair of golden doors and a sign reading ‘Heaven’s Gates’. I roll my eyes, having never believed in such conveniences.

“Still though, I came here of my own volition,” I think, wondering if perhaps I am not quite as skeptical as I’d like to believe. With both hands, I push on the doors. Slowly, they swing open, revealing a long and ominous hallway whose walls are entirely covered in strange murals which depict oddly proportioned angels floating amongst greyish clouds. As I walk by them, the paintings’ eyes seem to follow me. It’s kind of scary, honestly.

I reach the end of the hallway. Anticipation builds in my core. Another door, small and wooden, awaits me. A plaque in the center reads ‘Here You Will Find What You Seek’.

I enter. Inside, a completely white room — celings, walls, and floors — holds a single thing. On the ground, by the back wall, a seashell lies gently on top of an ornate pillow. It’s one of those shells that people say you can hear the ocean through: a conch shell.

I walk over. I lift it delicately. At this point, my heart is pounding in my throat; I feel my blood pressure skyrocketing.

I hold the shell to my ear, as I’ve seen beach goers do time and time again. It feels right.

First, silence. For a moment, I doubt the exhibit: “Why did I even think this was real? Idiot,” I mutter.

Then, a voice, deep and strong, sounds from the shell. I jump, but do not remove the shell from my ear, entranced by the voice.

“Do not fear, my child. For I have what you seek.”

It proceeds to tell me something private, something personal, something only I know of and have never shared with another living soul. Shock overtakes me.

Then, it continues, “I know everything, for I am that which has always existed, and will exist forever and always. Do you wish to find the answer to your question, my son?”

I pause, terrified of what it will say, but I cannot help myself. I need to know.

“Tell me,” I whisper into the shell.

Moments later, I replace the shell on its pillow, walk back through the wooden door, through the hallway, and exit the exhibit. Stunned into silence, my mind is empty as I traverse the museum grounds and return to my car. I grip the steering wheel forcefully, now knowing that which I have been hunting since last May.

“Paris. She is in Paris. I have to go. Tonight.”

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