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The Lightning Thief

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Disclaimer: I don't own anything except for Andra, no matter how much I wish I did.  Credits go to the amazing author Rick Riordan!

 

**********

Look, I didn’t want to be a half-blood.

If you’re reading this because you think you might be on, my advice is: slam your screen shut right now. Believe whatever lie your mom or dad told you about your birth, and try to lead a normal life.

Being a half-blood is dangerous. It’s scary. Most of the time, it gets you killed in painful, nasty ways.

If you’re a normal kid reading this because you think it’s fiction, great. Read on. I envy you for being able to believe none of this ever happened. But if you recognize yourself on this screen一if you feel something stirring inside一stop reading immediately. You might be one of us. And once you know that, it’s only a matter of time before they sense it too, and they’ll come for you.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

**********

My name is Andra Jackson.

I’m eight years old. I’m a student at P.S. 290 Manhatten, a private school for troubled kids in upstate New York.

Am I a troubled kid?

Yeah. You could say that.

I can start at any point in my short miserable life to prove it, but things really started going bad last week, when my mom agreed to the email saying I was to be sent on our third-grade class field trip to Manhatten一twenty-eight mental-case kids and two teachers on a yellow school bus, heading to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to look at Ancient Greek and Roman stuff.

I know一it sounds like torture. Most P.S. 290 field trips are.

But Mr. Brewer, our Latin teacher, is leading this trip, so I have hopes.

Mr. Brewer is this middle-aged guy in a motorized wheelchair. He has thinning hair and a scruffy beard and a frayed tweed jacket, which always smells like coffee. You don’t think he’d be cool, but he tells stories and jokes and lets us play games in class. He also has this awesome collection of Roman armor and weapons, so he is the only teacher whose class doesn’t put me to sleep.

I hope this trip will be okay. At least, I hope that for once I won’t get in trouble.

Boy, am I wrong.

See, bad things happen to me on field trips. Like at my second-grade school, when we went to the Madame Tussauds, and I had this accident with the wax statue of Kim Kardashian. I didn’t mean to break it, but of course I got expelled anyway. And before that, at my first-grade school, when we took a private tour of the Dinosaur exhibit at the American Meansueam of Natural History, I sort of touched the wrong bone on an Apatosaur fossil and our class got an unplanned close-up view of what a dinosaur looks like before it is put together. And the time before that . . . Well, you get the idea.

This trip, I’m determined to be good.

All the way to the city, I put up with Darcy Bobofit, the freckly, redhead kleptomaniac girl, hitting my best friend Grover in the back of the head with peanut butter-and-ketchup sandwich.

Grover is an easy target. He is scrawny. He cries when he gets frustrated. He must’ve been held back several grades, because he is the only third-grader with ance and the start of a wispy beard on his chin. On top of all that, he is crippled. He has a note excusing him from PE for the rest of his life because he has some sort of muscular disease in his legs. He walks funny, like every step hurts him, but don’t let that fool you. You should see him run when it’s enchilada day in the cafeteria. Three or four days a week, he and Mr. Brewer disappear to physical therapy somewhere in upstate New York, hoping one day, Grover will be able to walk normally again.

Anyway, Darcy Bobofit is throwing wads of sandwich that stick in his curly brown hair, and she knows I can’t do anything back to her because I’m already on probation. The headmaster had threatened me with death by in-school suspension if anything bad, embarrassing, or even mildly entertaining happens on this trip.

“I’m going to kill her,” I mumble.

Grover tries to calm me down. “It’s okay. I like peanut butter.”

He dodges another piece of Darcy’s lunch.

“That’s it.” I start to get up, but Grover pulls me back to my seat.

“You’re already on probation,” he reminds me. “You know who’ll get blamed if anything happens.”

If only I knew the mess I was about to get in, I would have decked Darcy Bobofit right then and there. In-school suspension is nothing compared to the mess I’m about to get myself into.

**********

Mr. Brewer leads the museum tour.

He rides up front in his wheelchair, guiding us through the big echoey galleries, past marble statues and glass cases full of really old black-and-orange pottery.

It blows my mind that this stuff has survived two thousand, three thousand years.

He gathers us around a thirteen-foot-tall stone column with a sphinx on top, a stele, for a girl about twelve. He tells us about the carvings on the sides. I’m trying to listen to what he has to say, because it is kind of interesting, but everybody around me is talking, and every time I tell them to shut up, the other teacher chaperone, Mrs. Moore, gives me the evil eye.

Mrs. Moore is this little math teacher from Georgia who always wears a leather jacket, even though she is fifty years old. She looks mean enough to ride a Harley right into your locker. She had come to P.S. 290 halfway through the year, when our last math teacher had a nervous breakdown.

From her first day, Mrs. Moore loved Darcy Bobofit and figured I was devil spawn. She would point her finger at me and say, “Now, honey,” real sweet, and I knew I was going to get after-school detention for a month.

One time, after she’d made me erase answers out of old math workbooks until midnight, I told Grover I didn't think Mrs. Moore was human. He looked at me, real serious and said, “You’re absolutely right.”

Mr. Brewer keeps talking about Greek funeral art.

Finally, Darcy snickers something about naked guy on the stele, and I turn around and say, “Will you shut up?

It comes out louder than I meant it to.

The whole group laughs. Mr. Brewer stops his story.

“Miss Jackson,” He says, “did you have a comment?”

My face is totally red. I say, "No, sir.”

Mr. Brewer points to one of the pictures on the stele. “Perhaps you’ll tell us what this picture represents?”

I look at the craving and feel a flush of relief, because I actually recognize it. “That’s Kronos eating his kids, right?”

“Yes,” Mr. Brewer says, obviously not satisfied. “And he did this because . . .”

“Well . . .” I rack my brain to remember. “Kronos was the king god, and一”

“God?” Mr. Brewer asks.

“Titan,” I correct myself.

“And . . . he didn't trust his kids, who were the gods. So, um, Kronos ate them, right? But his wife hid baby Zeus, and gave Kronos a rock to eat instead. And later, when Zeus grew up, he tricked his dad, Kronos, into barfing up his brothers and sisters一”

“Eeew!” says one of the girls behind me.

“一and so there was this big fight between the gods and the Titans,” I continue, “and the gods won.”

Some snickers from the group.

Behind me, Darcy Bobofit mumbles to a friend, “Like we're going to use this in real life. Like it’s going to say on our job applications, ‘Please explain why Kronos ate his kids.’”

“And why, Miss Jackson,” Brewer says, “to paraphrase Miss Bobofit’s excellent question, does this matter in real life?”

“Busted,” Grover mutters.

“Shut up,” Darcy hisses, her face even brighter red than her hair.

At least Darcy got packed, too. Mr. Brewer is the only one who ever catches her saying anything wrong. He has radar ears.

I think about his question, and shrug. “I don’t know, sir.”

“I see.” Mr. Brewer looks disappointed. “Well, half credit, Miss Jackson. Zeus did indeed feed Kronos a mixture of mustard and wine, which made him disgorge his other five children, who, of course, being immortal gods, had been living and growing up completely undigested in their father's stomach. The gods defeated their father, sliced him up with his own scythe, and scatter his remains in Tartarus, the darkest part of the Underworld. On that happy note, it’s time for lunch. Mrs. Moore, would you lead us back outside?”

The class drifts off, the other girls holding their stomachs, guys pushing each other around and acting like doofuses.

Grover and I are about to follow when Mr. Brewer says, “Miss Jackson.”

I knew that was coming.

I tell Grover to keep going. Then I turn toward Mr. Brewer. “Sir?”

Mr. Brewer has this look that won’t let you go一intense brown eyes that could’ve been a thousand years old and have seen everything.

“You must learn the answer to my question,” Mr. Brewer tells me.

“About the Titans?”

“About real life. And how your studies apply to it.”

“Oh.”

“What you learn from me,” he says, “is vitally important. I expect you to treat it as such. I will only accept the best from you, Andra Jackson.”

I want to get angry, this guy pushes me so hard. I mean, sure, it’s kind of cool on tournament days, when he dresses up in a suit of Roman armor and shouts: “What ho!” and challenges us, sword point against chalk, to run to the board and name every Greek and Roman person who has ever lived, their mother, and what god they worshipped. But Mr. Brewer expects me to be as good as everybody else, despite the fact that I have dyslexia and attention deficit disorder and I have never made above a C一 in my life. No一he doesn't expect me to be as good; he expects me to be better. And I just can’t learn all those names and fact, much less spell them correctly.

I mumble something about trying harder, while Mr. Brewer takes a long sad look at the stele, like he’d been at this girl’s funeral. He tells me to go outside and eat my lunch.

**********

The class gathers on the front steps of the museum, where we can watch the foot traffic along Fifth Avenue.

Overhead, a huge storm is brewing, with clouds blacker that I’ve ever seen over the city. I think maybe it’s global warming or something, because the weather all across New York state has been weird since Christmas. We’ve had massive snow storms, flooding, wildfires from lightning strikes. I won’t be surprised if this is a hurricane blowing in.

Nobody else seems to notice. Some of the guys are pelting pigeons with Lunchable crakers. Darcy Bobofit is trying to pickpocket something from a lady’s purse, and, of course, Mrs. Moore isn’t seeing a thing.

Grover and I sit on the edge of the fountain, away from the others. I guess we think that maybe if we do that, everybody won’t know we are from that school一the school for loser freaks who can’t make it elsewhere.

“Detention?” Grover asks.

“Nah,” I say. “Not from Brewer. I just wish he’d lay off in me sometimes. I mean一I’m not a genius.”

He just gives me a sad look, like he knows something I don’t. He doesn't say anything for a while. Then, when I’m sure he’s going to give me some philosophical comment to make me feel better, he says, “Can I have your apple?”

I don’t have much of an appetite, so I let him take it.  I watch the stream of cabs going down Fifth Avenue, and think about my mom’s apartment, only a little ways uptown from where we are sitting. I want so badly to jump in a taxi and head home. She’d hug me and be glad to see me, but she’d be disappointed, too. She’d send me right back to P.S. 290, remind me that I have to try harder, even if this is my third school in three years and I’m probably going to get kicked out again. I wouldn’t be able to stand that sad look she’d give me.

Mr. Brewer parks his wheelchair at the base of the handicapped ramp. He’s eating celery while he reads a paperback novel. A red umbrella is sticking up from the back of his chair, making it look like a motorized café table.

I’m about to unwrap my sandwich when Darcy appears in from of me with her ugly friends一I guess she’s gotten tired fo stealing from the tourists一and dumps her half-eaten lunch in Grover’s lap.

“Oops.” She grins at me with his crooked teeth. Her freckles are orange, as if somebody had spray-painted her face with liquid Cheetos.

I try to stay cool.  The school counselor has told me a million times, “Count to ten, get control of your temper.” But I am so mad my mind goes blank. A wave roars in my ears.

I don’t remember touching her, but the next thing I know, Darcy is sitting with his butt in the fountain, screaming, “Andra pushed me!”

Mrs. Moore materializes nest to us.

Some of the kid are whispering: “Did you see一”

“一the water一”

“一like it grabbed her一”

I don’t know what they are talking about. All I know is I’m in trouble again.

After Mrs. Moore is sure poor little Darcy is okay, promising her a new shirt at the museums gift shop, etc., etc., she turns on me. There is a triumphant fire in her eyes, museum's I’ve done something she’s been waiting for all semester. “Now, honey一”

“I know,” I grumble. “A month erasing workbooks.”

That wasn’t the right thing to say. “Come with me,” Mrs. Moore says.

“Wait!” Grover yelps. “It was me. I pushed her.”

I stare at him, stunned. I can’t believe he is trying to cover for me. Mrs. Moore scares Grover to death.

She glares at him so hard his whiskery chin trembles.

“I don’t think so, Mr. Underwood,” she says.

“But一”

“You一will一stay一here.”

Grover looks at me desperately.

“It’s okay, man,” I tell him. “Thanks for trying.”

“Honey,” Mrs. Moore barks at me. “Now.”

Darcy Bobofit smirks.

I give her my deluxe I’ll-kill-you-later stare. Then I turn to face Mrs. Moore but she isn't there. She is at the museum entrance, way at the top of the steps, gesturing impatiently at me to come on.

How’d she get there so fast?

I have moments like this a lot, when my brain falls asleep or something, and the next thing I know I’ve missed something, as if a puzzle piece fell out of the universe and left me staring at the blank place it left behind. The school counselor told me it was part of the ADHD, my brain misinterpreting things.

I’m not so sure.

I go after Mrs. Moore.

Halfway up the step, I glance back at Grover. He is looking pale, cutting his eyes between me and Mr. Brewer, like he wants Mr. Brewer to notice what is going on, but Mr. Brewer is absorbed in his novel.

I look back up. Mrs. Moore has disappeared again.  She is now inside the building, at the end of the entrance hall.

Okay, I think. She’s going to make me buy a new shirt for Darcy at the gift shop.

But apparently that isn’t the plan.

I follow her deeper into the museum. When I finally catch up to her, we are back in the Greek and Roman section.

Except for us, the gallery is empty.

Mrs. Moore stands with her arms crossed in front of a big marble frieze of the Greek gods. She is making this weird noise in her throat, like growling.

Even without the noise, I would’ve been nervous. It’s weird being alone with a teacher, especially Mrs. Moore. Something about the way she’s looking at the frieze, as if she wants to pulverize it . . .

Suddenly there’s the faint click, click of high heels on tiles, and two more women walk out from behind the frieze. They look like Mrs. Moore’s sister, just as old and wrinkly. The sister on the right is wearing a pantsuit, and the sister on the left is in a wrinkly yellow sundress with a black shawl. Okay, I tell myself. These are her sisters, and they’ve come to give Mrs. Moore her lunch. I didn’t see her eat anything outside.

“You’ve been giving us problems,” Mrs. Moore says.

I do the safe thing. I say, “Yes, ma’am.”

She tugs on the cuffs of her leather jacket. “Did you really think you would get away with it?”

The look in her eyes is beyond mad. It’s evil. And her sisters don’t look any friendlier.

She’s a teacher, I think nervously. It’s not like she’s going to hurt me.

I say, “I’ll一I’ll try harder, ma’am.”

“We are not fools, Andra Jackson,” Mrs. Moore says. Her sisters still haven’t said anything. “It was only a matter of time before we found you out. Confess, and you will suffer less pain.”

I don’t know what she is talking about.

All I can think of is that the teachers must’ve found the illegal stash of candy I’ve been selling out of my dorm room. Or maybe they’ve realized I got my essay on Tom Sawyer from the Internet without ever reading the book and now they’re going to take away my grade. Or worse, they are going to make me read the book.

“Well?” she demands.

“Ma’am, I don’t . . .”

“Your time is up,” all three sisters hiss in unison.

Then the weirdest thing happens. Their eye begin to glow like barbecue coals. Their fingers stretch, turning into talons. Their jackets melt into large, leathery wings. They aren’t human. They are shriveled hags with bat wings and claws and yellow fangs, and they are about to slice me into ribbons.

The two wrinkly hags on the left and right lunge at me.

With a yelp, I doge and feel talons slash the air next to my ear and neck.

The two sisters spin to faces me with a murderous look in their eyes.

My knees are like jelly. My hands are shaking so badly I almost drop the cash I pulled out of my pocket for Darcy’s shirt.

Mrs. Moore snarls, “Die, honey!”

And she flies straight at me.

Absolute terror runs through my body, rooting my feet to the spot. Then a bright flash of blue light fills the room, and I throw my arms up to cover my eyes.

When I lower them, all three monsters are gone. Vaporized on the spot, leaving nothing but yellow power, the smell of sulfur and a dying screech and a chill of evil in the air, as if those six glowing red eyes are still watching me.

I turn in a slow circle, trying to locate the source of the light that saved my life.

I’m alone.

Nobody else is here but me.

My hands are still trembling.

My lunch must’ve been contaminated with magic mushrooms or something.

Had I imagined the whole thing?

I go back outside.

It has started to rain.

Grover is sitting by the fountain, a museum map tented over his head. Darcy Bobofit is still standing there, soaked from her swim in the fountain, grumbling to her ugly friends.  When she sees me, she says, “I hope Mrs. Kaur whipped your butt.”

I say, “Who?”

“Our teacher. Duh!”

I blink. We have no teacher named Mrs. Kaur. I ask Darcy what she’s talking about.

She just rolls her eyes and turns away.

I ask Grover where Mrs. Moore is.

He says, “Who?” 

But he pauses first, and won’t look at me, so I think he is messing with me.

“Not funny, man,” I tell him. “This is serious.”

Thunder booms overhead.

I see Mr. Brewer sitting under his red umbrella, reading his book.

I go over to him.

He looks up, a little distracted.

“Sir,” I say, “where’s Mrs. Moore?”

He stares at me blankly. “Who?”

“The other chaperone. Mrs. Moore. The math teacher.”

He frowns and sits forward, looking mildly concerned. “Andra, there is Mrs. Moore on this trip. As far as I know, there has never been a Mrs. Moore at P.S. 290 Manhattan. Are you feeling alright?”

Chapter Text

I’m used to the occasional weird experience, but usually they are over quickly.   This twenty-four/seven hallucination was more than I can handle. For the rest of the school, the entire campus seemed to be playing some kind of trick on me.  The students acted as if they were completely and totally convinced that Mrs. Kaur a perky blond woman whom I’d never seen in my life before she got on our bus at the end of the field trip has been our math teacher seen Christmas.

Every so often I spring a Mrs.  Moore reference on somebody, just to see if I can trip them up, but they just stare at me like I'm a psycho.               

It gets so I almost believe them that Mrs.  Moore had never existed.

Almost.

But Grover can’t fool me.  Whenever I mention the name Moore to him, he hesitates, then claims she doesn’t exist.  But I know he’s lying.

Something is going on.  Something had happened at the museum.

I don’t have much time to think about it during the days, but at night, visions of Mrs.  Moore and her sisters with talons and leathery wings wake me up in cold sweat.

The freak weather continues, which doesn’t help my mood.  One night, a thunderstorm blows out the window in my dorm room.  A few days later, the biggest tornado ever spotted in the Hudson Valley touches down only fifty miles from P.S.  290 Manhattan. One of the current events we are studying in social studies class was the unusual number of small planes that have gone down in sudden squalls in the Atlantic this year.

I start to feel cranky and irritable most of the time.  My grades slip from Ds to Fs. I get into more fights with Darcy Bobofit and her friends.  I’m sent out into the hallway in almost every class.

Finally, when our English teacher, Mr. Nicholson, asks me for the millionth time why I’m too lazy to study for spelling tests, I snap.  I call him an old sot. I’m not even sure what it means, but it sounds good.

The headmaster sends my mom a letter the following week, making it official: I will not be invited back next year to P.S. 290.

Fine, I tell myself.  Just fine.

I’m homesick.

I want to be with my mom and brother in our little apartment on the Upper East Side, even if I have to go to public school and put up with my obnoxious stepfather and his stupid poker parties.

And yet . . . there are things I’m going to miss at P.S. 290. The view of the woods out my dorm window, the Hudson River in the distance, the smell of pine trees. I’ll miss Grover, who’s been a good friend, even if he’s a little strange. I worry about how he’ll survive next year without me.

I’ll miss Latin class, too一Mr. Brewer’s crazy tournament days and his faith that I can do well.

As exam week gets closer, Latin is the only test I study for. I haven’t forgotten what Mr. Brewer told me about this subject being life-or-death for me. I’m not sure why, but I’ve started to believe him.

**********

The evening before my final, I get so frustrated I throw the Cambridge Guide to Greek Mythology across my dorm room.  Words had started swimming off the page, circling my head, the letters doing one-eighties as if they are riding skateboards.  There is no way I’m going to remember the difference between Chiron and Charon, or Polydictes and Polydeuces. And conjugating those Latin verbs? Forget it.

I pace the room, feeling like ants are crawling around in my shirt.

I remember Mr. Brewer’s serious expression, his thousand-year-old eyes. I will only accept the best from you, Andra Jackson.

I take a deep breath. I pick up the mythology book.

I’ve never asked a teacher for help before. Maybe if I talk to Mr. Brewer, he can give me some pointers. At least I can apologize for the big fat F I am about to score on his exam.  I don't want to leave P.S. 290 Manhattan with him thinking I hadn't tried.

I walk downstairs to the faculty offices.  Most of them are dark and empty, but Mr. Brewer’s is ajar, light from his window stretching across the hallway floor.

I am three steps from the door handle when I hear voices inside the office. Mr. Brewer asks a question. A voice that is definitely Grover’s says “ . . . worried about Andra, sir.”

I freeze.

I’m not usually an eavesdropper, but I dare you to try not listening if you hear your best friend talking to an adult.

I inch closer.

“. . . alone this summer,” Grover is saying.  “I mean, a Kindly One in the school! And right after Percy’s! Now that we know for about both of them for sure, and they know too 一”

My heart stopped. How did they know my brother's name? How did they know my brother? But I try to calm my breathing and listen.

“We would only make matters worse by rushing them,” Mr. Brewer says. “We need the children to mature more.”

“But they may not have time. The summer solstice deadline一”

“Will have to be resolved without them, Grover. Let them enjoy their ignorance while they still can.”

“Sir, they saw her. Both of them . . .”

“Their imagination,” Mr. Brewer insists. “The Mist over the students and staff will be enough to convince them of that.”

“Sir, I . . . I can’t fail in my duties again.” Grover's voice is choked with emotion.  “You know what that would mean.”

“You haven’t failed Grover,” Mr. Brewer says kindly. “I should have seen her for what she was.  Now let’s just worry about keeping the Jacksons’ alive until next fall一”

The mythology book drops out of my hand and hits the floor with a thud.

Mr. Brewer goes silent.

My heart hammering, I pick up the book and back down the hall.

A shadow slides across the lighted glass of Brewer’s office door, something much taller than my wheelchair-bound teacher, holding something that looks suspiciously like an archer’s bow.

I open the nearest door and slip inside.

A few seconds later I hear a slow clop-clop-clop , like muffled woodblocks, then a sound like an animal snuffling right outside my door. A large, dark shape pauses in front of the glass, then moves on.

A bead of sweat trickles down my neck.

Somewhere in the hallway, Mr. Brewer speaks. “Nothing,” he murmurs. “My nerves haven’t been right since the winter solstice.”

“Mine neither,” Grover says. “But I could have sworn . . .”

“Go back to the dorm,” Mr. Brewer tells him. “YOu’ve got a long day of exams tomorrow.”

“Don’t remind me.”

The lights go out in Mr. Brewer’s office.

I wait in the dark for what seems like forever.

Finally, I slip out into the hallway and make my way back up to the dorm.

Grover is lying on his bed, studying his Latin exam notes like he’s been there all night.

“Hey,” he says, bleary-eyed. “You going to be ready for this test?”

I don't answer.

“You look awful.” He frowns. “Is everything okay?”

“Just tired.”

I turn so he can’t read my expression. I climb the stairs to the girl’s half of the dorm. 

I don't understand what I’d heard downstairs.  I want to believe I’d imagined the whole thing.

But one thing is clear: Grover and Mr. Brewer are talking about me and my brother behind my back. They think we are in some kind of danger.

***********

The next afternoon, as I am leaving the three hour Latin exam, my eyes swimming with all the Greek and Roman names I’ve misspelled, Mr. Brewer calls me back inside.

For a moment, I'm worried he’s found about my eavesdropping the night before, but that doesn’t seem to be the problem.

“Andra,” he says.  “Don’t be discouraged about leaving Yan一excuse me, P.S. 290.  It’s . . . it’s for the best.”

His tone is kind, but the words still embarrass me.  Even though he is speaking quietly, the other kids finishing the test can hear.  Darcy Bobofit smirks at me and makes sarcastic little kissing motions with her lips.

I mumble, “Okay, sir.”

“I mean . . .” Mr. Brewer wheels his chair back and forth, like he isn’t sure what to say.  “This isn’t the right place for you. It was only a matter of time.”

My eyes sting.

Here is my favorite teacher, in front of the class, telling me I can’t handle it.  After saying he believed in me all year long, now he is telling me I was destined to be kicked out.

“Right,” I say, my small body trembling.

“No, no,” Mr. Brewer says. “Oh, confound it all.  What I’m trying to say . . . you’re not normal, Andra.  That’s nothing to be一”

“Thanks,” I blurt.  “Thanks a lot, sir, for reminding me.”

“Andra一”

But I’m already gone.

**********

On the last day of term, I shove my clothes into a suitcase.

The other girls are gossiping, talking about their vacation plans.  One of them is going on a hiking trip to Switzerland. Another is cruising the Carribean for a month.  They are child delinquents, like me, but they are rich child delinquents.  Their daddies are executives, or ambassadors, or celebrities.  I am a nobody, form a family of nobodies.

They ask me what I’ll be doing this summer, and I tell them I am going back to the city.

What I don’t tell them is that I’ll have to get a summer job with my brother of walking dogs or selling magazine subscriptions, and spreading my free time worrying about where he and I’ll go to school in the fall.  At least I’m not the only delinquent in the family.

“Oh,” one of the girls says.  “That’s cool.”

They go back to their conversation as if I’d never existed.

The only person I am dreading saying good-bye to is Grover, but as if turns out, I don’t have to.  He’d booked a ticket to Manhattan on the same Greyhound as I had, so here we are, together again, heading into the city.

Grover keeps glancing nervously down the aisle, watching the other passengers.  It occurred to me that he’s always acted nervous and fidgety when we left P.S. 290, as if he expected something bad to happen.  Before, I’d always assumed he was worried about getting teased. But there is nobody to tease him on the Greyhound.

Finally I can’t stand it anymore.

I say, “Looking for Kindly Ones?”

Grover nearly jumps out of his seat.  “Wha一what do you mean?”

I confess about eavesdropping on him and Mr. Brewer the night before the exam.

Grover’s eye twitches.  “How much did you hear?”

“Oh . . . not much.   How do you know my brother? What’s the summer solstice  deadline?”

He winces.  “Look, Andra . . . I was just worried for you, see? I mean, hallucinating about demon math teachers . . .” he says, avoiding his connection to my brother.

“Grover一”

“And I was telling Mr. Brewer that maybe you were overstressed or something, because there was no such person as Mrs. Moore, and . . .”

“Grover, you're a really, really bad liar.”

His ears turn pink.

From his shirt pocket, he fishes put a grubby business card.  “Just take this, okay? In case you or Percy need me this summer.”

The card is in fancy script, which is murder on my dyslexic eyes, but I finally make out something like:

 

Grover Underwood

Keeper

  Half-Blood Hill

Long Island, New York

  (800) 009-0009

 

“What’s Half一”

“Don’t say it out loud!” he yelps.  “That’s my, um . . . summer address.”

My heart sinks.  Grover has a summer home.  I’ve never considered the fact that his family might be as rich as the other at P.S. 290.

“Okay,” I say glumly.  “So, like, if Percy and I want to come to visit your mansion.

He nods.  “Or . . . or if you gi=uys need me.”

“Why would I一why would we一need you?”

It comes out harsher than I meant it to.

Grover blushes right down to his Adam’s apple.  “Look, Andra, the truth is, I一I kind of have to protect you guys.”

All year long, I’ve gotten in fights, keeping bullies away from him.  I’ve lost sleep worrying that he’ll get beaten up next year without him.  And here he is acting like he was the one defending me .

My vision starts to blur, and then I’m not seeing the inside of the Greyhound anymore.

 I’m standing in a school hallway, running toward a small crowd huddled around a figure lying on the floor.  

It is Grover, trying to get back up, but the kids around him keep shoving him down.  

“Leave him alone!” I yell, but I don’t sound like me.  My voice is deeper, and I realize that I’m taller and my hair isn’t hanging around my shoulders. 

I look over, and see my reflection in a window. I’m not Andra Jackson.

I’m Percy Jackson.

I blink, and then I’m looking at Grover, sitting in the Greyhound, on my way to the city.  

My heartbeat speeds up and I say, “Grover, what exactly are you protecting us from?”  

What I don’t say is ‘the fact that I’m going insane?’

There is a huge grinding noise from under our feet.  Black smoke poured from the dashboard and the whole bus fills with a smell like rotten eggs.  The driver curses and limps the Greyhound to the side of the highway.

After a few minutes clanking around in the engine, the driver announces that we’ll all have to get off.  Grover and I file outside with everybody else.

We are on a stretch of country road一no place you’d notice if you didn’t break down there.  On our side of the highway is nothing but the maple trees and litter from passing cars. On the other side, across four lanes of asphalt shimmering with the afternoon heat, is an old-fashioned fruit stand.

The stuff on sale looks really good: heaping boxes of bloodred cherries and apples, walnuts and apricots, jugs of cider in a claw-foot tub full of ice.  There are no customers, just three old ladies sitting in rocking chairs in the shade of a maple tree, knitting the biggest pair of socks I’ve ever seen.

I mean their socks are the size of sweaters, but they are clearly socks.  The lady on the right knits one of them. The lady on the left knits the other.  The lady in the middle holds an enormous basket of electric-blue yarn.

All three women look ancient, with pale faces wrinkled like fruit leather, silver hair tied back in bandanas , bony arms sticking out of bleached cotton dresses.

The weirdest thing is, they seem to be looking right at me.

I look over at Grover to say something about this and see that the blood has drained from his face.  His nose is twitching.

“Grover?” I say.  “Hey, man 一”

“Tell me they’re not looking at you. They are, aren’t tye?”

“Yeah.  Weird, huh? You think those socks would fit me?”

“Not funny, Andra.  Not funny at all.”

The old lady in the middle takes out a huge pair of scissors一gold and silver, long-bladed, like shears.  I hear Grover catch his breath.

“We’re getting on the bus,” he tells me.  “Come on.”

“What?” I say.  “it’s a thousand degrees in there.”

“Come on!” He pries open the door and climbs inside, but I stay back.

Across the road, the old ladies are still watching me.  The middle one cuts the yarn, and I swear I can hear the snip across four lanes of traffic.  Her two friends ball up the electric-blue socks, leaving me wondering who they can possibly be for一Sasquatch or Godzilla.

At the rear of the bus, the driver wrenches a big chunk of smoke metal out of the engine compartment.  The bus shudders, and the engine roars back to life.

The passenger's cheer.

“Darn right!” yells the driver.  He slaps the bus with his hat. “Everybody back on board!”

Once we get going, I start feeling feverish, as if I’ve caught the flu.

Grover doesn’t look much better.  He is shivering and his teeth are chattering.

“Grover?”

“Yeah?”

“What are you not telling me?”

He dabs his forehead with his shirt sleeve.  “Andra, what did you see back at the fruit stand?”

“You mean the old ladies?  What is it about them, man?  They’re not like . . . Mrs. Moore, are they?”

His expression is hard to read, but I get the feeling that the fruit-stand ladies are something much, much worse than Mrs. Moore.  He says, “Just tell me what you saw.”

“The middle one took out her scissors, and she cut the yarn.”

He closes his eyes and makes a gesture with his fingers that might’ve been crossing himself, but it isn’t.  It is something else, something almost一older.

He says, “You saw her snip the cord.”

“Yeah.  So?” But even as I say it, I know it is a big deal. 

“This is not happening,” Grover mumbles. H starts chewing on his thumb.  “I don’t want this to be like last time.”

“What las time?”

“Always sixth grade.  They never get past sixth.”

“Grover,” I say, because he is really starting to scare me.  “What are you talking about? I’m not even in sixth grade.”

“Let me walk you home from the bus station.  Promise me.”

It seems like a strange request to me, but I promise him he can.

“Is this like a superstition or something?” I ask.

No answer.

“Grover一that snipping of the yarn.  Does that mean somebody is going to die?”

He looks at me mournfully, like he is already picking the kind of flowers I’ll like best on my coffin.

Chapter Text

Confession time: I ditched Grover at the next stop. 

I know, I know.  It was rude. But Grover was freaking me out, looking at me like I was  a dead woman, muttering “Why does this always happen?” and “Why does it always have to be sixth grade?”

As soon as the bus stopped, I jumped out of my seat faster than Grover could stop me and bolted.

I took off running, with my suitcase and backpack in hand, to one of the only people I can trust with anything.

It was time to be reunited with Percy Jackson.

**********

I sat in front of the bus terminal for what felt like forever, between the fruit-stand ladies, Mrs. Moore, and Grover’s panicked expression, you could say I'm being paranoid.

Finally, a black-haired boy of about twelve slips out of the bus, has a brief discussion with Grover Underwood, who makes a beeline to the restroom, which doesn’t surprise me, because whenever he’s upset, Grover’s bladder acts up.

The boy, who I can only describe as my twin brother, with untameable black hair, big sea-green eyes, and tan complexion, waves down a taxi.

As he sets his suitcase in the taxi, he looks up and beckons me over, which surprises me, because I haven’t seen him look at me yet.  When I don't move, he says something to the driver, then walks over to me.  

The first thing I notice is that he looks as feverish as I feel.  The second thing is the business card identical to the one in my pocket being crushed in his clenched fist.

He follows my gaze and looks at his hand, then looks at my pocket.  We have an unspoken discussion, and I reach into my pocket and held out the card.  He does the same, and we stare at the cards.

Grover knows my brother. He got off the Greyhound with him, and I know what Grover must have said before he beelined it the restroom.  Stay here.  Wait right here for me

Somehow, it doesn’t surprise me.

“Well,” Percy clears his throat.  “How’s my little lady?”

I lunged and hugged him tightly, burying my face in his shirt.  If there is anybody I missed more than my mom, it’s my brother. “I missed you, senior.”

He hugs me tightly and kisses the top of my head.  “I missed you too, junior. Now come on before Grover sees us.  He told me you bolted.”

“It was the fruit-stand一”

The driver honks at us, and we run over and slid into the taxi before the taxi driver decides to leave us here.  “East One-hundred-and-fourth and First,” Percy tells the driver.

*********

A word about my mother, before you meet her.  

Her name is Sally Jackson and she’s the best person in the world, which just proves my theory that the best people have the rottenest luck.  Her own parents died in a plane crash when she was five, and she was raised by an uncle who didn’t care much about her. She wanted to be a novelist, so she spent highschool working to save enough money for a college with a good creative writing program.  Then her uncle got cancer, and she had to quit school her senior year to take care of him. After he died, she was left with no money, no family, and no diploma.

The only good break she ever got was meeting my dad.

I don’t have a memory of him, and neither does Percy.  All I have is this sort of warm glow, maybe the barest trace of his smile.  My mom doesn’t like to talk about him because it makes her sad. She has no pictures.

See, they weren’t married.  She told me he was rich and important, and their relationship was a secret.  Then one day, he set sail across the Atlantic on some important journey, and he never came back.

Lost at sea, my mom tells me.  Not dead. Lost at sea.

She worked odd jobs, took night classes to get her high school diploma, and raised Percy and me on her own.  She never complains or gets mad. Not even once. But I know we aren’t easy kids.

Finally, she married Gabe Ugliano, who was nice about the first thirty seconds we knew him, then showed his true colors as a world-class jerk.  When we were young, Percy and I nicknamed him Smelly Gabe. I’m sorry, but it’s the truth. The guy reeks like moldy garlic pizza wrapped in gym shorts.

Between the three of us, we make my mom’s life pretty hard. The way Smell Gabe treats her, the way he, Percy and I get along . . . well, when we got home is a good example.

**********

I walk into our little apartment, still holding Percy’s hand and praying my mother is home.  Instead, Smelly Gabe is in the living room, playing poker with his buddies.  

Hardly looking up from his cards, he once again says around his cards, “So, You’re home.”

“Where’s my mom?” Percy asks Gabe, tightening his grip on my hand.

“Working,” he says.  “Either of you got any cash?”

That’s it.  No welcome home.  Good to see you.   How have your lives been the last six months?

Gabe has put on weight.  He looks like a tuskless walrus in thrift-store clothes.  He has about three hairs on his head, all combed over his bald scalp, as if it makes him handsome or something.

He manages the Electronic Mega-Mart in Queens, but he stays home most of the time.  I don’t know why he hadn’t been fired long before. He just keeps on collecting paychecks, spending the money on cigars that make me nauseous, and beer, of course.  Always beer. Whenever we are home, he expects us to provide his gambling funds. He calls it our “dirty little secret.” Meaning, if either of us tell my mom, he would punch our lights out.

“We don’t have any cash,” Percy tells him.

He raises a greasy eyebrow.

Gabe can sniff out money like a bloodhound, which is surprising, since his own horrible smell should’ve covered up everything.

“You took a taxi from the bus station,” he says.  “Probably paid with a twenty. Split it half-half.  Got three, four bucks in change between you. Somebody expects to live under this roof, they ought to carry their own weight.  Am I right, Eddie?”

Eddie, the super of the apartment, looks at us with a twinge so sympathy in his eyes.  “Come on, Gabe,” he says. “The kids just got back.”

“Am I right? ” Gabe repeats.

Eddie scowls into his bowl of pretzels.  The other two guys pass gas in harmony.

“Fine,” Percy said.  He digs a wad of dollars out of his pocket and throws it onto the table.  I do the same. 

“I hope you lose.”  He takes my hand and grabs our suitcases with the other hand, leading me to our room.  

“Your report cards came, brain bums!” Gabe shouts after us.  “I wouldn’t act so snooty!”

I slam the door to our room, which isn’t really our room.  During the school months, it is Gabe’s “study.” He doesn’t study anything in here except old car magazines, but he loves shoving our stuff in the closet, leaving his muddy boots on out windowsill, and doing his best to make the place smell like his nasty cologne and stale beer.

Percy drops our suitcases on the bed.  Home sweet home.

Gabe’s smell is almost worse than the nightmares about Mrs. Moore and her friends, or the sound of that old lady’s shears snipping the yarn.

But as soon as I think about that, my legs feel weak.  I remember Grover’s look of panic一haw he’d made me promise I wouldn’t go home without him.  A sudden chill rolls through me. I feel like someone一something一is looking for Percy and me right now, because I know he saw what I did.  Maybe it is pounding its way up the stairs, growing long, horrible talons. 

Then I hear my mom’s voice.  “Twins?”

She is the only one who refers to us as twins.  Everybody else just says we look eerily similar.  But not my mom. Everytime we ask her why, she gets a sort of sad smile on her face, then says we just look like twins, so she says twins. 

She opens the door, and my fears melt.

My mother can make me feel good just by walking into the room.  Her blue eyes sparkle and change color in the light. Her smile is as warm as a quilt.  She’s got a few gray streaks mixed in with her long brown hair, but I never think of her as old.  When she looks at me, it’s like she’s seeing all the good things about me, none of the bad. I’ve never heard her raise her voice or say an unkind word to anyone, not even to me or Percy or Gabe.

“Oh, twins.”  She hugs us tight.  “I can’t believe it.  You’ve both grown since Christmas!”

Her read-white-and-blue Sweet on America uniform smells like the best things in the world: chocolate, licorice, and all the other stuff she sells at the candy shop in Grand Central.  She’s brought us a huge bag of “free samples,” the way she always does when we come home.

The three of us sit together on the edge of the bed.  While Percy and I attack the blueberry sour strings, she runs her hands through our hair and demands to know everything we hadn't put in our letters.  She doesn’t mention our getting expelled. She doesn’t seem to care about that. But were we okay? Where her babies doing all right?

We tell her she’s smothering us, and to lay off and all that, but secretly, we are really, really glad to see her.  

From the other room, Gabe yells, “ Hey, Sallyーhow about some bean dip, huh?”

I grit my teeth.

My mom is the most amazing woman in the world.  She deserves to be married to a millionaire, not some jerk like Gabe.  

For her sake, Percy and I try to sound upbeat about our last days at Yancy Academy and P.S. 290 Manhattan.  I tell her I’m not too down about the expulsion. I’d almost lasted the whole year this time. I’d made some new friends.  I’d done pretty well in Latin. And honestly, the fights hadn't been as bad as the headmaster said. I liked P.S. 290 Manhattan.  I really did. I put a good spin on the year, I almost convinced myself. I start to choke up, thinking about Grover and Mr. Brewer.  Even Darcy Bobofit suddenly doesn’t seem so bad.

Until that trip to the museum . . .

“What?” my mom asks.  Her eyes flicker between us, tugging at our consciences, trying to pull out the secrets.  “Did something scare you?”

“No, mom,” I say for both of us.  I feel bad lying. I want to tell her about Mrs. Moore and the fruit stand ladies, but I think it will sound stupid.

She purses her lips.  She knows we are holding back, but she doesn’t want to push us. 

“I have a surprise for you,” she says.  “We’re going to the beach.”

My eyes widen. 

“Montauk?” Percy asks, leaning forward slightly.  

“ Three nightsーSame cabin.”

“When?” I ask.

She smiles.  “As soon as I get changed.”

I can’t believe it.  The three of us haven’t been to Montauk the last two summers, because Gabe says there isn’t enough money.

Gabe appears in the doorway and growls, “Bean dip, Sally? Didn’t you hear me?”

I want to punch him, but I meet my mother’s eyes and understand she offering me a deal: Be nice to Gabe for a little while.   Just until she’s ready to leave for Montauk. Then we are getting out of here.  

“I was on my way honey,” she tells Gabe.  “We were just talking about the trip.”

Gabe’s eyes get small.  “You mean you were serious about that?”

“I knew it,” Percy mutters. 

“He won’t let us go,” I say.

“Of course he will my mother says evenly.  “your stepfather is just worried about money.  That’s all. Besides,” she adds. “ Gabriel won’t have to settle for bean dip.  I’ll make him enough seven-layer dip for the whole weekend. Guacamole. Sour cream.  The works.”

Gabe softens a bit.  “So this money for your trip. . . it comes out of your clothes budget, right?”

“Yes, honey,” my mother says.

“And you won’t take my car anywhere but there and back.”

“We’ll be very careful.”

Gabe scratches his double chin.  “Maybe if you hurry with that seven-layer dip . . . And if the kid's apologies for interrupting my poker game.”

Maybe if I punch you in the face and kick you in the soft spot, I think.  And make you sing soprano for a week.

But my mom’s eyes warned me not to make him mad.

Why does she deal with this guy? I want to scream and yell and throw a temper tantrum that will leave me hoarse for weeks.  Why does she care what he thinks?

“I’m sorry,” Percy mutters.

“I’m sorry too,” I say.  “I’m really sorry we interrupted your incredibly important poker game.  Please go back to it right now.”

Gabe's eyes narrow.  His pea-sized brain is probably trying to detect sarcasm in my statement.

“Yeah, whatever,” he decides.

He goes back to his game.

“Thank you, twins,” my mom says. “Once we get to Montauk, we’ll talk more about . . . whatever you’ve forgotten to tell me, okay?”

For a moment, I think I see anxiety in her eyes一the same fear I’d seen in Grover during the bus ride一as if my mom to feels the odd chill in the air.

But then her smile returns, and I figure I must have been mistaken.  She ruffles our hair and goes to make Gabe his seven-layer dip.

**********

An hour later we were ready to leave.  

Gabe takes a break from his poker game long enough to watch me and Percy lug my mom’s bags to the car.  He keeps on griping and groaning losing her cookingーand more important, his ‘78 Camaroーfor the whole weekend. 

“Not a scratch on this car, brain bums,” he warns us as we load the last of the bags.  “Not one little scratch.”

Like we are going to be the ones driving.  Percy’s twelve and I’m eight. But that doesn’t matter too Gabe.  If a seagull so much as poops on his paint job, he’ll find a way to blame us.

Watching him lumbar back towards the apartment building, I can feel the anger radiating off of Percy.  Then he does something I can’t explain. As Gabe reaches the doorway, he makes the hand gesture I’d seen Grover make on the bus, a sort of warding-off-evil gesture,  a clawed hand over his heart, then a shoving movement towards Gabe. The screen door slams shut so hard it whacks him in the butt and sends him flying up the staircase as if he’s been shot from a canon.  Maybe it’s just the wind, or some freak accident with the hinges, but we don’t stick around to find out.  

We get in the Camaro and Percy tells my mom to step on it.

*********

Our rental cabin is on the south shore, way out on the tip of Long Island.  It is a little pastel box with faded curtains, half-sunken into the dunes. There is always sand in the sheets and spiders in the cabinets, and most of the time the sea is too cold to swim in. 

I love the place.

We’ve been coming since I was a baby.  Percy has been coming since he was a baby.  My mom has been coming for even longer. She’s never exactly said, but we know why the beach is special to her.  It is the place where she met my dad.

The closer we get the Montauk, the younger she seems, years of work and worry disappearing from her face.  Her eyes turn the color of the sea.

We get there at sunset, opening all the cabin’s windows, and go through our usual cleaning routine.  We walk on the beach, feeding blue corn chips to the seagulls, and munching on blue jelly beans, blue saltwater taffy, and all the other free samples my mom bright from work.  

I guess I should explain the blue food.

See, Gabe had once told my mom there was no such thing.  They had this fight, which seemed like a really small thing at the time.  But ever since, my mom has gone out of her way to eat blue. She bakes blue birthday cakes.  She mixes blueberry smoothies. She buys blue corn tortilla chips and brings home blue candy from the shop.  Thisーalong with keeping her maiden name, Jackson, rather than calling herself Mrs. Uglianoーis proof that she isn’t totally suckered by Gabe.  She does have a rebellious streak, like me.

When it gets dark we make a fire.  We roasted hot dogs and marshmallows.  Mom tells Percy and me stories about when she was a kid, back before her parents died in a plane crash.  She tells us about the books she wants to write someday, when she has enough money to quit the candy shop.  

Eventually, Percy asks the question that’s always on my mind when we come to Montaukーour father.  Mom’s eyes got all misty. I figure she’s going to tell us the same things she always does, but I’ll never get tired of hearing them.

“He was kind, Percy, Andra,” she says.  “Tall, handsome, and powerful. But gentle, too.  You both have his black hair, you know, and his green eyes.” 

Mom fishes a blue jelly bean out of her candy bag.  “I wish he could see you, twins. He would be so proud.”

I wonder how she can say that.  What’s so great about me? A dyslexic, hyperactive girl with a D+ report card, kicked out of school for the third time in three years.

“How old where we,” Percy asks.  “I mean . . . when he left.”

She watches the flames.  “He was only with me for two summers, guys.  Right here at this beach. This cabin.”

“But . . . he knew us as babies.” I ask.

“No, honey.  He knew I was expecting, but he never saw you two.  He had to leave before you were born, Andra.”

“But shouldn't I have met him?” Percy asks, watching her like a hawk.

“He was always away on business trips, honey.”

I try to square with the fact that I seem to remember . . . something about my father.  A warm glow. A smile.

I’ve always assumed he knew me as a baby.  My mom’s never said it outright, but still, I thought it must be true.  Now, only to be told that he’s never seen me. . .

I’m angry at my father.  Maybe it’s stupid to resent a guy I’ve never met.  But I’m angry that he went on that stupid ocean voyage, that he didn’t have the guts to marry my mom.  He left us, and now we are stuck with Smelly Gabe.

“Are you going to send us away again?” Percy asks her.  “To another pair of boarding schools?”

She pulls a marshmallow out of the fire.  

“I don’t know, honey.” Her voice is heavy.  “I think . . . I think we’ll have to do something.”

 “Because you don’t want us around?” I regret the words as soon as they are out.

My mom’s eyes well with tears.  She takes our hands and squeezes them tight.  “Oh, Andra, no. I一I have to, honey.  For your own good.  I have to send you two away.”

“Because we’re not normal,” Percy says.

“You say it like it's a bad thing, Percy.  But you two don’t realize how important you are.  I thought Yancy Academy and P.S. 290 Manhattan would be far enough away.  I thought you’d finally be safe.”

“Safe from what?” My voice is barely higher than a whisper.

She meets my eyes, and a flood of memories come back to meーall the weird, scary things that have ever happened to me, some of which I’ve tried to forget.

During first grade, a man in a black trench coat had stalked me on the playground.  When the teachers had threatened to call the police, he went away growling, but no one believed me when I told them that under his broad-brimmed hat, the man only had one eye, right in the middle of his forehead.

Before thatーa really early memory.  I was in preschool, and a teacher accidentally put me down for a nap in a cot that a snake had slithered into.  My mom screamed when she came to pick me up and found me playing with a limp, scaly rope that I’d somehow managed to strangle with my meaty toddler hands.

In every single school, something creepy had happened, something unsafe, and I was forced to move.

I know I should tell my mom the old ladies at the fruit stand, and Mrs. Moore and her sisters at the art museum, about my weird hallucination that my math teacher and two other women had exploded into dust.   But I can’t make myself tell her. I have a strange feeling the news will end our trip to Montauk, and I don't want that.

“I tried to keep you as close to me as I could,” my mom says.  “They told me that was a mistake. But there’s only one other option, twinsーthe place your father wanted to send you.  And I just . . . I just can’t stand to do it.”

“My father wanted us to go to a special school?” I ask.

“Not a school,” she says softly.  “A summer camp.”

My head is spinning.  Why would my dadーwho didn’t even stay around long enough to see me bornーtalk to my mom about a summer camp? And if it's so important, why hasn't she mentioned it before?

“I’m sorry, Andra,” she says, seeing the look in my eyes.  “But I can’t talk about it. IーI couldn’t send you to that place.  It might mean saying good-bye to you two for good.”

“For good?” Percy asks.

“But if it’s only a summer camp . . .”

She turns towards the fire, and I know from her expression that if I ask her any more questions she will start to cry.

**********

That night I have a vivid dream.

It is storming on the beach, and two beautiful animals, a white horse and golden eagle, are trying to kill each other at the edge of the surf.  The eagle swoops down and slashes the horse’s muzzle with its huge talons. The horse rears up and kicks at the eagle’s wings. As they fight, the ground rumbles, and a monstrous choice chuckles somewhere beneath the earth, goading the animals to fight harder.

I run towards them, knowing I have to stop them from killing each other, but it like I’m running in slow motion.  I know I’ll be to later. I watch the eagle dive down, its beak aimed for the horse’s wide eyes, and I scream, No!

I wake with a start.

Outside, it really is storming, the kind of storm that cracks trees and blows down houses.  There is no horse or eagle on the beach, just lighting making false daylight, and twenty-foot waves pounding the dunes like artillery.

I look around the room and find Percy awake beside me.  

“Percy,” I whisper.

He looks at me, waiting. “I-”

But a thunderclap sounds, and my mother wakes.  She sits up, eyes wide, and says, “Hurricane.”

I know it's crazy.  Long Island never sees hurricanes this early in the summer.  But the ocean seems to have forgotten that. Over the roar of the wind, I hear a bellow, an angry, tortured sound that makes my hair stand on end.  

Then a much closer noise, like mallets in the sand.  A desperate voiceーsomeone yelling, pounding on our cabin door.

My mother springs out of bed in her nightgown and throws open the lock.

Grover stands framed in the doorway against a backdrop of pouring rain.  But he isn't . . . he isn’t exactly Grover.  

“Searching all night,” he gasps.  “What were you thinking?”

I’m frozen, looking at Grover.  I can’t understand what I’m seeing.

“O Zue kai alloi theoi!” he yells.  “It’s right behind me! Didn’t you tell her?”

I’m too shocked to register he just cursed in Ancient Greek, or that I understood him perfectly.  I am just too shocked to wonder how Grover got himself here in the middle of the night. Because Grover doesn’t have his pants onーand where his pants should be . . . where his pants should be . . . 

My mom sternly looks between me and my brother and talks in a tone I’ve never heard her use before:  “ Percy. Andra. Tell me now !”

I stutter something about old ladies at the fruit stand, and Mrs. Moore.  Percy then stammers something about the old ladies at the fruit stand, Mrs. Dodds, and my mom glances between us, her face deathly pale in the flashes of lighting.

She grabs her purse, tosses us our rain jackets, and says, “Get to the car.  All three of you. Go!

Grover runs for the Camaroーbut he isn't running, exactly.  He is trotting, shaking his shaggy hindquarters, and suddenly his story about a muscular in his legs makes sense to me.  I understand how he can run so fast but still limp when he walks.

Because where his feet should be, there are no feet.  There are cloven hooves.



Chapter Text

We tear through the night along dark country roads.  Wind slams against the Camaro. Rain lashes the windshields.  I don't know how my mom can see anything, but she keeps her foot on the gas. Every time there's a flash of lighting, I look at Grover sitting next to me in the backseat and I wonder if I've gone insane, or if he's wearing some kind of shag-carpet pants.  But no, the smell is one I remember from trips to the petting zooーlanolin, like from wool. The smell of a wet barnyard animal.  

"So, you and my mom . . . know each other?" Percy asks. 

Grover's eye filt to the rearview mirror, though there are no cars behind us.  "Not exactly," he says. "I mean, we've never met in person. But she knew I was watching you two."

"Watching us?" I say.  

"Keeping tabs on you.  Making sure you were okay.  But I wasn't faking being your friend.  Either of you." He hastily adds, "I am your friend."  

"Um . . . what are you, exactly." I ask.

"It doesn't matter right now."

"It doesn't matter? From the waist down, my best friend is a donkeyー"

Grover lets out a sharp, throaty "Blaa-ha-ha!"

I've heard him make that sound before, but I'd always assumed it was a nervous laugh.  Now I realize it is more of an irritated bleat.

"Goat!" Grover cries.

"What?" I ask.

"I'm a goat from the waist down."

"But you just said it doesn't matter," Percy says.

"Blaa-ha-ha! There are satyrs that would trample you underhoof for such an insult!"

"Whoa. Wait. Satyrs," Percy puts his hands up in a "time out" gesture.  "You mean like . . . Mr. Brunner's myths?"

"Were those old ladies a myth, Percy?  Was Mrs. Dodds a myth?"

"So you admit there was a Mrs. Dodds!"

"Of course."

"Then whyー"

"The less you knew, the fewer monster's you'd attract," Grover says, like it is oblivious.  "We put Mist over humans' eyes. We hoped you'd think the Kindly One was a hallucination. But it was no good.  You started to realize who you are."

"Who Iーwait a minute, what do you mean?"

The weird bellowing noise rises up again from somewhere behind us, closer than before.  Whatever is chasing us is still on our trail.  

"Twins," My mom says, "there's too much to explain and not enough time.  We have to get you two to safety."

"Safety from what? Who's after us?" Percy asks.

"Oh, nobody much," Grover says, obviously still miffed about my donkey comment.  "Just the Lord of the Dead and a few of his blood-thirstiest minions."

"Grover!"

"Sorry, Mrs. Jackson. Could you drive faster, please?"

I try to wrap my head around what is happening, but I can't do it.  I know this isn't a dream. I have no imagination. A little odd for an eight-year-old girl.  But still, I could never dream up something this weird.  

My mom makes a hard left.  We swerve onto a narrower road, racing past dark farmhouses and wooded hills and PICK YOUR OWN STRAWBERRIES signs on white picket fences.  

"Where are we going?" Percy asks.

"To the summer camp I told us about." My mother's voice is tight: she is trying for our sake not to be scared.  "The place your father wanted to send you."

Percy raises an eyebrow.  "The place you didn't want us to go."

"Please, dear," my mother begs.  "This is hard enough. Try to understand.  You and your sister are in danger."

"Because some old ladies cut yarn," I say.

"Those weren't old ladies," Grover says.  "Those were the fates. Do you know what this meansーthe fact that they appeared in front of you? Both of you? They only do that when you're about to . . . when someone's about the die."

"Whoa, You said 'you.'"

"No I didn't.  I said 'someone.'"

"You meant 'you'.  As in us." Percy says.

"I meant you," Grover says.  "like 'someone.' Not you, you."

"Kids!" my mom says.

She pulls the wheel hard to the right, and I get a glimpse of a figure she had swerved to avoidーa dark fluttering shape now lost behind us in the storm.

"What . . . What was that?" I ask.

"We're almost there," my mother says, ignoring my question.  "Another mile. Please. Please. Please."

I don't know where there is, but I find myself leaning forward in the car, anticipating, wanting us to arrive.

Outside, nothing but rain and darknessーthe kind of empty countryside you get way out on the tip of Long Island.  I think about Mrs. Moore and the old ladies and the moment they had turned into the things with pointy teeth and leathery wings.  My limbs go numb with delayed shock. They really hadn't been human. They'd meant to kill me.

Then I think about the light . . . and how it had saved my life.   Before I can as Grover about that, the hairs on my arms stand straight up.  There is a blinding flash, a jaw-rattling boom!, and our car explodes.

For a second I feel weightless, like I am being crushed, fried, and hosed down at the same time.  

I peel my forehead off the back of the driver's seat and say, "Ow."

"Twins!" my mom shouts.  

"I'm okay. . ." I mutter.

"Me too . . ." Percy says, shaking his head.

I try to shake off the daze.  I am not dead. The car didn't really explode.  We've swerved into a ditch. Our driver's side doors are wedged into the mud.  The roof has cracked open like an eggshell and rain is pouring in.

Lighting.  That is the only explanation.  We've been blasted right of the road.  Next to me in the back seat is a big motionless lump.  "Grover!"

He's slumped over, blood trickling from the side of his mouth.  I shake his furry hip, thinking, No! Even if your half barnyard animal, you're still my best friend, and I don't want you to die!

Then he groans, "Food," and I know there's hope.  

"Twins," my mother says, "we have to . . ."  Her voice falters.

I look back.  In a flash of lighting, through the mud splatter rear windshield, I see a figure lumbering towards us on the side of the road.  The sight of it makes my skin crawl. It is a dark silhouette of a huge guy, like a football player. He seems to be holding a blanket over his head.  His top half is bulky and fuzzy. His upraised hands make it look like he has horns.  

I swallow hard.  "Who isー"

"Percy," my mother says, deadly serious.  "Take your sister and get out of the car."

My mother throws herself against the drivers-side door.  It is jammed shut in the mud. Percy climbs over the seats and tries mine.  Stuck too. I look up desperately at the hole in the roof. It could have been an exit, but the edges are sizzling and smoking.

"Climb out the passenger's side!" my mother tells Percy.  " Percyーyou have to grab your sister and you have to run. Do you see that big tree?"

"What?" Percy asks.

Another flash of lightning, and through the smoking hole in the roof I see what she means: a huge, White House Christmas treeーsized pine at the crest of the nearest hill.  

"That's the property line," my mom says.  "Get over that hill and you'll see a big farmhouse down in the valley.  Run and don't look back. Yell for help. Don't stop until you reach the door."

"Mom," Percy says sternly,  "Your coming to."

Her face is pale, her eyes as sad as when she looks at the ocean.

"No!" I shout.  "You are coming with us.  Help us carry Grover."

"Food!" Grover moans, a little louder.

The man with the blanket on his head keeps coming towards us, making his grunting, snorting noises.  As he gets closer, I realize he can't be holding a blanket over his head, because his handsーhuge meaty handsーare swinging at his sides.  There is no blanket. Meaning the bulky, fuzzy mass that is too big to be his head . . . is his head. And the points that look like horns . . . 

"He doesn't want us," my mother tells us.  "He wants you two. Besides, I can't cross the property line."

"But . . ." I start.

"We don't have time, Andra.  Go with your brother. Please."

I get madーmad at my mother, at Percy, at Grover the goat, and at the thing with horns that is lumbering towards us slowly and deliberately like, like a bull.

I climb across Grover and push the door open into the rain.  "We're going together or never, I'm not going to leave you, so come on, Mom."

"I told youー"

"Mom!" Percy interrupts her.  "We are not leaving you. Help me get Grover."

I don't wait for her answer.   I scramble outside, dragging Grover out so Percy can come to.  Grover's fairly light, and I help Percy drap one of Grover's arms, But he still won't make it far.  My mom appears and takes Grover's other arm, and together we start stumbling uphill through wet waist-high grass.  

Glancing back, I get my first clear look at the monster.  He is seven feet tall, easy, his arms and legs like something for the cover of Muscle Man magazineーbulging biceps and triceps and a bunch of other 'ceps, all stuffed like baseballs under the vein-webbed skin.  He wears no clothes except underwearーI mean, bright white Fruit of the Loomsーwhich would look funny, except that the top half of his body is so scary. Coarse brown hair starts at about his belly button and gets thicker as it reaches his shoulders.  

His neck is a mass of muscle and fur leading up to his enormous head, which has a snout longer than my and as long as Percy's arm, snotty nostrils with a gleaming brass ring, cruel black eyes, and hornsーenormous black-and-white-horns with points you just can't get with an electric pencil sharpener.  

I recognize the monster, all right.  He was in one of the first stories Mr. Brewer ever told us.  But he can't be real.

I blink the rain out of my eyes, "That'sー"

"Pasiphae's son," my mother says.  "I wish I had known how badly they wanted to kill you."

Percy stares at the monster, "But he's the Minー"

"Don't say his name," she warns.  "Names have power."

The pine tree is still to farーa hundred yards uphill at least.  

I glance behind me.

The bull-man hunches over our car, looking in the windowsーor not looking, exactly.  More like snuffling, nuzzling. I'm not sure why he's bothering, since we are only about fifty feet away.  

"Food?" Grover moans.  

"Shhh," I tell him.

"Mom, what's he doing?" Percy asks.  "Doesn't he see us?"

"His sight and hearing are terrible," she says.  "He goes by smell. But he'll find out where we are soon enough."

As if on cue, the bull-man bellows in rage.  He picks up Gabe's Camaro by the torn roof, the chassis creaking and groaning.  He raises car over his head and throws it down the road. It slams into the wet asphalt and skids in a shower of sparks for about half a mile before coming to a stop.  The gas tank explodes.

Not a scratch, I remembered Gabe saying.

Oops.

"Percy," my mom says.  "When he sees us, he'll charge.  Wait until the last second, then take your sister and jump out of the wayーdirectly sideways.  He can't change directions very well once he's charging. Do you understand?"

"How do you know all this?" I demand.

"I've been worried about an attack for a long time.  I should have expected this. I was selfish, keeping you two near me."

"Keeping us near you? Butー"

Another bellow of rage cuts Percy off, and the bull-man starts tromping uphill.

He's smelled us.

The pine tree is only a few more yards, but the hill is getting steeper and slicker, and Grover doesn't seem to be getting any lighter.

The bull-man closes in.  Another few seconds and he'll be on top of you.  

My mother must be exhausted, but she shoulders all of Grover's weight.  "Go, Twins! Separate! Remember what I said!"

I don't want to split up, but I have a feeling she is rightーit is our only chance.  Percy grabs my hand and we sprint to the left, turn, and see the creature bearing down on us.  His black eyes glow with hate. He reeks like rotten meat.  

He lowers his head and charges, those razor-sharp horns aimed straight at our chests.

The fear in my stomach makes me want to bolt, but that won't work.  I would never outrun this thing. So I hold my ground and squeeze Percy's hand, hard.  At the last moment, Percy tugs on my hand and we jump to the side.

The bull-man storms past like a freight train, then bellows with frustration and turns, but not towards me and Percy, towards my mother, who is setting Grover down in the grass.  

We've reached the crest of the hill.  Down the other side I can see a valley, just as my mother had said, and the lights of a farmhouse glow yellow through the rain.  But that is half a mile away. We'll never make it.

The bull-man grunts, pawing the ground.  He keeps eyeing my mother, who is now retreating slowly downhill, back towards the road, trying to lead the monster away from Grover.  

"Run, Twins!" she yells.  "Stay together! I can't go any farther! Run!"

But I just stand there, still clutching Percy's hand, frozen in fear, as the monster charges her.  She tries to sidestep, as she had told us to do, but the monster seems to have learned his lesson. His hand shoots out and grabs her by the neck as she tries to get away.  He lifts her as she struggles, kicking and pummeling the air.

"Mom!" Percy and I scream.

She catches our eyes, and manages to choke out one last word: "Go!"

Then, with an angry roar, the monster closes his fist around my mother's neck, and she dissolves before my eyes, melting into the light, a shimmering golden form, as if she is a holographic projection.  A blinding flash, and she is simply . . . gone.  

"No!" I scream.

 Anger replaces my fears.  Newfound strength burns in my limbsーthis monster just killed my mother.

The bull-man bears down on Grover, who lies in the grass.  The monster hunches over, snuffling Percy's best friend, as if he is about to lift Grover up and make him dissolve too.

I can't let that happen.

"Jackets," I whisper.

Percy nods, and together we strip off our red rain jackets.

"Hey," Percy yells, waving his jacket, running to the monster's left side. 

"Yo, stupid!" I scream, moving to the right, attempting to give Percy a chance to get Grover out.  "Ground Beef! Ugly!"

"Raaaarrrrr!" the monster turns towards me, shaking a meat fist.

"Hey," Percy screams, shooting me a panicked glance.  "Beefy! Come get me! I'm over here!" 

But the monster doesn't listen, he lowers his head and paws the ground, getting ready to charge.  

Percy starts running towards me, but we both know he won't make it. 

I have an ideaーa stupid idea, but better then no idea at all.  I put my back to the big pine tree and wave my red jacket in front of the bull-man, thinking I'll jump out of the way at the last second.  

But it doesn't happen like that.

The bull-man charges to fast, his arms out to grab me whichever way I dodge.

Time slows down.

My legs tense.  I can't jump sideways, so I leap straight up, kicking off the creature's head, using it as a springboard, and turning in midair.  I land on his neck.

How did I do that? I don't have time to figure it out.  A millisecond later, the monster's head slams into the tree, and the impact nearly knocks my teeth out.

To my left, I'm vaguely aware of Percy sprinting towards me as fast as he can, screaming my name, and waving his arms around like a headless chicken as the bull-man staggers around, trying to shake me off.  I lock my arms around his horns to keep from being thrown off. Thunder and lightning are still going strong. The rain is in m eyes, The smell of rotten meat burns my nose.

The monster shakes himself around and bucks like a rodeo bull.  He should just back up into the tree and smash me flat, but I'm starting to realize this thing only has one gear: forward.  

Meanwhile, Grover starts groaning in the grass.  I want to yell at him to shut up, but the way I'm getting tossed around, if I open my mouth I'll bite my tongue off.

"Food," Grover moans.

The bull-man turns towards him, but before he can charge a rock comes hurtling at me and the bull-man from the right.  It hits the monster in the middle of the forehead.  

The bull-man wheels towards the rock-thrower, where I see Percy standing there, arm still outstretched from the throw.  

The monster paws the ground, getting ready to charge.  I think of how just a few minutes ago, he had squeezed the life out of my mother, making her disappear in a flash of light.  Rage fills me like high-octane fuel. I tighten my arms around his horns and I pull backward with all my might. The monster tenses, gives a surprised grunt, andーsnap!

The bull-man screams and flings me through the air.  I land flat on my back in the grass. My head smacks against a rock.  Percy is by my side in seconds, yelling and shaking me. When I sit up, my vision is blurry.  Percy puts a hand on my shoulder to hold me up when I lurch violently.

"Look," I croak. 

He looks down at the items in my hands.  Two horns, ragged bone weapons the size of knives, with razor-sharp tips.

The monster charges.

Without thinking, I shove a horn into Percy's hand and roll to the right side as Percy does the same one the left, we come up kneeling.  As the monster barrels past Percy shoves his horn into the monster's left side. I do the same, shoving the horn straight into his side, right up under his furry ribcage.

The bull-man roars in agony.  He flails, clawing at his chest, then begins to disintegrateーnot like my mom, in a flash of golden light, but like crumbling sand, getting blown away in chunks like the wind, the same way the demon grandma's did.

The monster is gone.

The rain has stopped.  The storm is still rumbling, but only in the distance.  I smell like livestock and my knees are shaking. My head feels like it's being split open.  I am weak and scared and trembling with grief. I just saw my mother vanish. I want to hug Percy and cry into his shirt, but there is Grover, needing our help, so we manage to haul him up and stagger down into the valley, towards the lights of the farmhouse.  I am crying, calling for my mother, but I hold onto Percy and GroverーI am not going to let them go.

The last thing I am aware of is collapsing on a wooden deck, Percy wrapping his arms around my waist as we slowly lose conscious, looking up at a ceiling fan circling above us, moths flying around a yellow light, and the stern faces of a familiarーlooking bearded man and a girl, her blond hair curled like a princess's.  I'd like hair like that. All pretty and shiny. They both look down at us and the girl says, "They are the ones. They must be."

"Silence, Annabeth," the man says.  "They are still conscious. Bring them inside."

Chapter Text

I have weird dreams about barnyard animals. Most of them want to kill me. The rest just want food.

I wake up multiple times, but what I hear and see make no sense, so I just pass out again. I'm lying in a soft bed, being spoon-fed something that tastes like buttered popcorn, only it is pudding. The girl with curly blond hair hovers over me, smirking as she scrapes drips off my chin with a spoon.

When she sees my eyes open, she asks, "What will happen at the summer solstice?"

I manage to croak, "What?"

She looks around, as if afraid someone will overhear. "What's going on? What been stolen? We've only got a few weeks!"

"I'm sorry," I mumble, "I don't . . ."

Somebody knocks on the door, and the girl quickly fills my mouth with pudding.

I anxiously look around the room, at the other beds. Relief fills me like a hot air balloon when I spot Percy lying in the bed next to me, sound asleep. Knowing my brother is safe for now, I let the sleep envelop me.

The next time I wake up, the girl is gone.

A husky blond dude, like a surfer, stands in the corner of the bedroom keeping watch over Percy and me. He has blue eyesーat least a dozen of themーon his cheeks, his forehead, and the back of his hands.

**********

When I finally come around for good, there is nothing weird about my surroundings, except that they are nicer than I'm used to.  I am sitting in a deck chair on a huge porch, gazing across a meadow at green hills in the distance. The breeze smells like strawberries. There is a blanket around my legs, a pillow behind my head, and fingers intertwined with mine. I follow the hand to an arm, the arm to a torso, and the torso to a sleeping Percy. This is all great, but my mouth feels like a scorpion has been using it for a nest. My tongue is dry and nasty and every single one of my teeth hurt.

On the table next to me are two tall drinks. They look like iced apple juices, one with a pink straw and paper parasol stuck through a maraschino cherry. The other is exactly the same, except with a green straw and parasol instead of pink.  I don't even have enough energy to be mad about the pink. 

My hand is so weak I almost drop the green glass once I get my fingers around it.

"Careful," a familiar voice says.

Grover is leaning against the porch rail, looking like he hasn't slept in a week. Under each arm, he cradles a shoebox. He is wearing blue jeans, Converse hi-tops, and a bright orange T-shirt that says CAMP HALF-BLOOD. Just plain old Grover. Not the goat boy.

So maybe I had a nightmare. Maybe my mom is okay. We are still on vacation, and we just stopped here at this big house for some reason.  And . . .

"You two saved my life," Grover says. "I . . . well, the least I could do . . . I went back to the hill. I thought you might want these."

Reverently, he places one of the shoe boxes in my lap and continues to cradle the other.

Inside is a black-and-white bull's horn, the base jagged from being broken off, the tip splattered with dried blood. It wasn't a nightmare.

"The Minotaur," I say.

"Um, Andra, it isn't a good ideaー"

"That's what they call him in the Greek myths, isn't it?" I demand. "The Minotaur. Half man, half bull."

Grover shifts uncomfortable. "You've been out for two days. How much do you remember?"

"My mom. Is she really . . ."

He looks down.

I stare across the meadow. There are groves of trees, a winding stream, acres of strawberries spread out under the blue sky. The valley is surrounded by rolling hills, and the tallest one, directly in front of us, is the one with the huge pine tree on top. Even that looks beautiful in the sunlight.

My mother is gone. The whole world should be black and cold. Nothing should look beautiful.

"I'm sorry," Grover sniffles. "I'm a failure. I'mーI'm the worst satyr in the world."

He moans, stomping his foot so hard it comes off. I mean, the Converse hi-top comes off. The inside is filled with Styrofoam, except for a hoof-shaped hole.

"Oh, Styx!" He mumbles.

Thunder rolls across the clear sky.

Beside me, Percy jumps awake. He looks about as bad as I feel, and I momentarily forget about Grover.

"Hey, Little Lady," He croaks at me.

"Hey yourself, Perce."

"Mom . . ." Percy looks at Grover expectantly.

Nobody says anything, I just show Percy my shoebox. He looks up at Grover and sees his hoof. Grover looks down and seems to realize that we can still see his hoof.

As he struggles to get his hoof back on the fake foot, I think, well this settles it.

Grover is a satyr. I'm ready to bet that if I shave his curly brown hair, I will find tiny horns on his head. But I'm too miserable to care that satyrs exist, or even minotaurs. All that means is that my mother really did get squeezed into nothingness, dissolving into yellow light.

Percy and I are alone. Orphans. We will have to live with . . . Smelly Gabe? No. That will never happen. We would live on the streets first. We'll pretend we're seventeen and join the army. We'll do something.

Grover is still sniffling. Poor kidーpoor goat, satyr, whateverーlooks like he expects to be hit.

Percy says, "It wasn't your fault."

"Yes, it was." Grover moans. "I was supposed to protect you two."

"Did our mother ask you to protect us?" Percy asks.

"No. But that's my job. I'm a keeper. At least . . . I was."

"But why . . ." I suddenly feel dizzy, my vision swimming.

"Andra, don't strain yourself," Grover says. "Here."

He helps me hold my glass and puts the straw to my lips, before moving to Percy and doing the same with the pink straw.

I recoil at the taste, because I was expecting apple juice. It isn't that at all. It is chocolate-chip cookies. Liquid cookies. And not just any cookiesーmy mom's homemade blue chocolate-chip cookies, buttery and hot, with the chips still melting. Drinking it, my whole body feels warm and good, full of energy. My grief doesn't go away, but I feel as if my mom has just brushed her hand against my cheek, giving me a cookie the way she used to when I was smaller, and telling me everything was going to be okay.

Before I know it, I've drained the glass. I stare into it, sure I've just had a warm drink, but the ice cubes haven't even melted.

"Was it good?" Grover asks.

I nod.

"What did it taste like?" He sounds so wistful, I feel guilty.

I open my mouth to apologize, but Percy beats me to it, "Sorry, we should have let you try."

His eyes get wide. "No! That's not what I meant. I just . . . wondered."

"Chocolate-chip cookies," Percy says.

"Our mom's. Homemade." I add.

He sighs. "How do you feel?"

"Like I could throw Nancy Bobofit a hundred yards," Percy says, at the same time I answer, "like I could throw Darcy Bobofit a hundred yards."

"That's good." Grover answers. "Those are both good. I don't think either of you could risk any more of that stuff."

"What do you mean?" I ask.

He takes the empty glasses from us gingerly, as if they are dynamite, and sets them back on the table. "Come on. Chiron and Mr. D are waiting."

**********

The porch wraps all the way around the farmhouse.

My legs feel wobbly, trying to walk that far. Percy doesn't seem to like the idea that much either. Grover offers to carry our Minotaur horns, But we hold onto them. We've paid for these souvenirs the hard way. I'm not about to let go of the horn or my brother.

As we come to the opposite end of the house, my breath catches.

We must be on the north shore of Long Island, because on this side of the house, the valley marches all the way up to the water, which glitters about a mile in the distance. Between here and there, I simply can't process everything I'm seeing. The landscape is dotted with buildings that look like ancient Greek architectureーan open-air pavilion, a circular arenaーexcept that they all look brand new, their white marble columns sparkling in the sun. In a nearby sandpit, a dozen high school-age kids and satyrs play volleyball. Canoes glide across a small lake. Kids in bright orange T-shirts like Grover's are chasing each other around a cluster of cabins nestled in the woods. Some shoot targets at an archery range. Others ride horses down a wooded trail, and, unless I'm hallucinating, some of their horses have wings.

Down at the end of the porch, two men sit across from each other at a card table. The blond-haired girl who had spoon-fed me popcorn-flavored pudding is leaning against the porch railing next to them.

The man facing me is small, but porky. He has a red nose, big watery eyes, and curly hair so black it is almost purple. He looks like those painting of baby angelsーwhat do you call them, hubbub? No, cherubs. That's it. He looks like a cherub who turned middle-aged in a trailer park. He wears a tiger-pattern Hawaiian shirt, and he would fit right in at one of Gabe's poker parties, except I get the feeling this guy could out-gamble even my step-father.

"That's Mr. D," Grover murmurs. "He's the camp director. Be polite. The girl, that's Annabeth Chase. She's just a camper, but she's been here longer than just about everyone. And you already know Chiron."

He points to the guy whose back is to me.

First, I realize he is sitting in a wheelchair. Then I recognize the tweed jacket, the thinning brown hair, the scraggly beard.

"Mr. Brewer!" I cry.

The Latin teacher turns and smiles at me.  His eyes have that mischevious glint they sometimes got in class when he pulled a pop quiz and made all the multiple choice answers B.

Percy gives me a weird look. "His name is Mr. Brunner."

"No, it's Mr. Brewer."

"His name is Mr. Brunner."

"No, I'm prettyー"

"Ah, good, Percy, Andra," He says. "Now we have four for pinochle. Andra, you call watch.  I'm afriad you're a bit to young to play."

He offers me a chair to the right of Mr. D, and Percy a chair to the right of me. Mr. D looks at me with bloodshot eyes and heaves a sigh. "Oh, I suppose I must say it. Welcome to Camp Half-Blood. There. Now, don't expect me to be glad to see you."

"Uh, thanks." I scoot a little further away from him, closer to Percy. If there's one thing I've learned from living with Gabe, it is how to tell when an adult has been hitting the happy juice. If Mr. D is a stranger to alcohol, I'm a satyr.

"Annabeth?" Mr. Brewer calls to the blond girl.

She comes forward and Mr. Brewer introduces us.

"This young lady nursed you back to health, children. Annabeth, my dear, why don't you check on the Jacksons' bunks? We'll be putting them in cabin eleven for now."

Annabeth says, "Sure, Chiron."

She is probably Percy's age, a couple of inches taller, and a whole lot more athletic looking than either of us. With her deep tan and curly blond hair, she is almost exactly what I think a stereotypical California girl would look like, except her eyes ruin the image. They are startling grey, like storm clouds; pretty, but intimidating, too, as if she is analyzing the best way to take me down in a fight.

She glances at the minotaur horn in my hands, then back at me. I imagine she's going to say, You killed a minotaur? But your only eight! or Wow, you're so young and awesome! or something like that.

Instead, she says, "You drool when you sleep. Both of you."

Then she sprints off down the lawn, her blond hair flying behind her.

"So," Percy says, anxious to change the subject. "You, uh, work here, Mr. Brunner?"

"Not Mr. Brunner, or Mr. Brewer," the exーMr. Brewer says. "I'm afraid they were pseudonyms. You may call me Chiron."

"Okay." Total confused, I look at the director. "And Mr. D . . . does that stand for something?"

Mr. D stops shuffling the cards. He looks at me like I've just belched loudly. "Young lady, names are powerful things. You don't just go around using them for no reason."

"Oh. Right. Sorry."

"I must say, children," Chiron-Brewer brakes in, "I'm glad to see you two alive. It's been a long time since I made a house call for potential campers. I'd hate to think I wasted my time."

"House call?" Percy asks.

"My year at both Yancy Academy, and P.S. 290 Manhattan, to instruct you. We have satyrs at most schools, of course, keeping a lookout. But Grover alerted me as soon as he met you, children. He sensed something special, so I decided to come upstate. I convinced the other Latin teachers to . . . ah, take a leave of absence."

I try to remember the beginning of the school year.  It seemed like so long ago, but I do have a fuzzy memory of there being another Latin teacher my first week at P.S. 290.  Then, without explanation, he had disappeared and Mr. Brewer had taken the class.

"You came to Yancy just to teach me?"Percy asks.

"And P.S. 290 for me?" I ask.

Chiron nods. "Honestly, I wasn't sure about you at first. We contacted your mother, let her know we were keeping an eye on you in case you were ready for Camp Half-Blood. But you still had so much to learn. Nevertheless, you made it here alive, and that's always the first test."

"Grover," Mr. D says impatiently, "are you playing or not?"

"Yes, sir!" Grover trembles as he takes the fifth seat, though I don't know why he should be afraid of a pudgy little man in a tiger-print Hawaiian shirt.

"You do know how to play pinochle?" Mr. D eyes Percy suspiciously.

"I'm afraid not," he says.

"I'm afraid not, sir," Mr. D says.

"Sir," Percy repeats. I'm starting to like the camp director less and less.

"Well," Mr. D tells us, "it is, along with gladiator fighting and Pac-Man, one of the greatest games ever invented by humans. I would expect all civilized young men to know the rules."

"I'm sure the boy can learn," Chiron says.

"Please," I say, "what is this place? What are we doing here? Mr. BreーChironーwhy would you move to the city just to teach us?"

Mr. D snorts. "I asked the same question."

Chiron smiles at me sympathetically, the way he used to in Latin class, as if to let me know that no matter what my average was, I was his star student.  He expected me to have the right answer.

"Children," he says. "Did your mother tell you nothing?"

"She said . . ." I falter, remembering the sad look in her eyes.

"She told us she was afraid to send us here, even though our father had wanted her to," Percy says, clearly sensing my distress. "She said that once we were here, we probably couldn't leave. She wanted to keep us close to her."

"Typical," Mr. D says. "That's how they usually get killed. Young man, are you bidding or not?"

"What?" Percy asks.

Mr. D explains, impatiently, how you are supposed to bid in pinochle.

"I'm afraid there's too much to tell," Chiron says. "I'm afraid our usual orientation film won't be sufficient."

"Orientation film?" Percy asks.

"No," Chiron decides. "Well, Percy, Andra. You know your friend Grover is a satyr. You know"ーhe points at the horns in the shoeboxesー "that you have killed the Minotaur. No small feat, either, children. What you may not know is that great powers are at work in your lives. Godsーthe forces you call the Greek godsーare very much alive."

I stare at the others around the table.

I wait for some to yell, Not! But all I get is Mr. D yelling, "Oh a royal marriage. Trick! Trick!" He chuckles as he tallies up his points.

"Mr. D," Grover asks timidly, "if you aren't going to eat it, can I have your Diet Coke can?"

"Eh? Oh, all right."

Grover bits a huge shard out of the empty aluminum can and chews it mournfully.

"Wait," Percy tells Chiron. "You're telling us there's such thing as God."

"Well, now," Chiron says. "Godーcapital G, God. That's a different matter altogether. We shan't deal with the metaphysical."

"Metaphysical? But you were just talking aboutー"

"Ah, gods, plural, as in, great beings that control the forces of nature and human endeavors: the immortal gods of Olympus. That's a smaller matter."

"Smaller?"

"Yes, quite. The gods we discussed in Latin class."

I say, "Zeus. Hera. Apollo. You mean them."

And there it is againーdistant thunder on a cloudless day.

"Young lady," says Mr. D, "I would really be less causal throwing those names around, if I were you."

"But they're stories," Percy says. "They'reーmyths, to explain lighting and the seasons and stuff. They're what people believed in before there was science."

"Science!" Mr. D scoffs. "And tell me, Perseus Jackson"ーmy brother flinches at his full nameー"what will people think of your 'science' two thousand years from now?" Mr. D continues. "Hmm? They will call it primitive mumbo jumbo. That's what. Oh, I love mortalsーthey do have absolutely no sense of perspective. They think they've come so-o-o far. And have they, Chiron? Look at these children and tell me."

I'm not liking Mr. D much, but there is something about the way he called me and Percy mortal, as if . . . as if he isn't. It is enough to put a lump in my throat, to suggest why Grover is dutifully minding his cards, chewing his soda can, and keeping his mouth shut.

"Percy, Andra," Chiron says, "you may choose to believe or not, but the fact is that immortal means immortal. Can you imagine that for a moment, never dying? Never fading? Existing, just as you are, for all time?"

I am about to answer, off the top of my head, that it sounds like a pretty good deal, but something in Chiron's voice makes me hesitate.

"You mean, whether or not people believe in you or not," I say.

"Exactly," Chiron agrees. "If you were a god, how would you like being called a myth, an old story to explain lighting? What if I told you, Perseus and Andromeda Jackson, that someday people would call you myths, just created to explain how little children can get over losing their mothers?"

My heart pounds. He is trying to make me angry for some reason, but I'm not going to let him. I say, "I wouldn't like it. But I don't believe in gods."

"Oh, you'd better," Mr. D mummers. "Before one of them incinerates you."

Grover says, "P-please, sir. They've just lost their mother. They're in shock."

"A lucky thing, too," Mr. D grumbles, playing a card. "Bad enough I'm confined to this miserable job, working with children who don't even believe!"

He waves his hand and a goblet appears on the table, as if the sunlight bent, momentarily, and wove the air into a glass. The goblet fills itself with red wine.

Percy jaw drops, so I reach over and close it, staring in shock, but Chiron hardly looks up.

"Mr. D," he warns, "your restrictions."

Mr. D looks at the wine and feigned surprise.

"Dear me." He looks at the sky and yells, "Old habits! Sorry!"

More thunder.

Mr. D waves his hand again, and the wineglass changes into a fresh can of Diet Coke. He sighs unhappily, popping the top of the soda, and goes back to his card game.

Chiron winks at us. "Mr. D offend his father a while back, took a fancy to a wood nymph who was been declared off-limits."

"A wood nymph," Percy repeats, still staring at the Diet Coke can like it is from outer space. I can't say I'm doing much better.

"Yes," Mr. D confesses. "Father loves to punish me. The first time, Prohibition. Ghastly! Absolutely horrid ten years! The second timeーwell, she really was pretty, and I couldn't stay awayーthe second time, he sent me here. Half-Blood Hill. Summer camp for brats like you two. 'Be a better influence,' he told me. 'Work with youths rather than tearing them down.' Ha! Absolutely unfair."

Mr. D sounds about six years old, like a pouting little kid.

"And . . ." Percy stammers, "your father is . . ."

"Di immortales, Chiron," Mr. D says. "I thought you taught these children the basics. My father is Zeus, of course."

I run through D names from Greek mythology. Wine. The skin of a tiger. The satyrs that all seem to work here. The way Grover cringes, as if Mr. D is his master.

"You're Dionysus," I say. "The god of wine."

Mr. D rolls his eyes. "What do they say, these days, Grover? Do the children say, ' Well, duh!'?"

"Y-yes, Mr. D."

"Then, well, duh! Andra Jackson. Did you think I was Aphrodite, perhaps?"

"You're a god," Percy says.

"Yes, boy."

"A god. You."

He turns to look us straight on, and I see a kind of purplish fire in his eyes, a hint that this whiny, plump little man is only showing us the tiniest bit of his true nature. I see visions of grapevines choking unbelievers to death, drunken warriors insane with battle lust, sailors screaming as their hands turning into flippers, their faces elongating into dolphin snouts. I know if we pushed him, Mr. D will show me worse things. He would plant a disease in my brain that would leave me in a straitjacket in a rubber room for the rest of my life.

"Would you like to test me, children?" He says quietly.

"No." Percy says, "No, sir."

I shake my head slowly.

The fire dies a little. He turns back to his cards. "I believe I win."

"Not quite, Mr. D," Chiron says. He sets down a straight, tallies the points, and says, "The game goes to me."

For a second, I think Mr. D is going to vaporize Chiron right out of his wheelchair, but he just sighs out of his nose, as if he is used to being beaten by the Latin teacher. He gets up, and Grover rises, too.

"I'm tired," Mr. D says. "I believe I'll take a nap before the sing-along tonight. But first, Grover, we need to talk, again, about your less-than-perfect performance on this assignment."

Grover's face beads with sweat. "Y-yes, sir."

Mr. D turns to me. "Cabin eleven, Percy and Andra Jackson. And mind your manners."

He sweeps out of the farmhouse, Grover following miserably.

"Will Grover be okay?" Percy asks Chiron.

Chiron nods, though he looks a bit troubled. "Old Dionysus isn't really mad. He just hates his job.  He's been . . . ah, grounded, I guess you would say, and he can't stand waiting another century before he's allowed to go back to Olympus."

"Mount Olympus," I say. "You're telling me there really is a palace there?"

"Well now, there's Mount Olympus in Greece. And then there's the home of the gods, the convergence point of their powers, which did indeed used to be on Mount Olympus. It's still called Mount Olympus, out of respect to the old ways, but the palace moves, children, just as the gods do."

"You mean," Percy says, "The Greek gods are here? Like . . . in America?"

"Well, certainly." Chiron says, " the gods move with the heart of the West."

"The what?" I ask.

"Come on, Andra. What you call ' Western civilization.' Do you think it's just an abstract concept? No, it's a living force. A collective consciousness that has burned bright for thousands of years. The gods are part of it. You might even say they are the source of it, or at least, they are tied so tightly to it that they couldn't possibly fade, not unless all of the Western civilization were obliterated. The fire started in Greece. Then, as you well knowーor as I hope you know, since you passed my courseーthe heart of the fire moved to Rome, so did the gods. Oh, different names perhapsーJupiter for Zeus, Venus for Aphrodite, and so onーbut the same forces, the same gods."

"And then they died," Percy says.

"Died? No. Did the West die? The gods simply moved, to Germany, to France, to Spain, for a while. Wherever the flame was brightest, the gods where there. They spent several centuries in England. All you need to do is look at the architecture. People do not forget the gods. Every place they've ruled, for the last three thousand years, you can see them in paintings, in statues, on the most important buildings. And yes, children, of course, they are now in your United States. Look at your symbol, the eagle of Zeus. Look at the statue of Prometheus in Rockefeller Center, the Greek facades of your government buildings in Washington. I defy you to find any American city where the Olympians are not prominently displayed in multiple places. Like it or notーand believe me, plenty of people weren't very fond of Rome, eitherーAmerica is now the heart of the flame. It is the great power of the west. And so Olympus is here. And we are here."

It is all too much, especially the fact that Percy and seem to be included in Chiron's we, as if we are part of some club.

"Chiron," I say. " Who are you? Who . . . who are we?"

"Who are you?" Chiron muses. " Well, that's the question we all want to be answered, isn't it? But for now, we should get you to a bunk in cabin eleven. There will be time for lessons tomorrow. Besides, there will be s'mores st the campfire tonight, and I simply adore chocolate."

"Wait, Chiron.  Do you know why our mother called us twins?" I don't know why, but suddenly I've got a feeling my mother's strange nicknames have something to do with Chiron's confession.

We both look at him, and he gives us a troubled look, his happy dementor gone.

"I . . . if my suspicions are correct, and I believe that you are . . . You are the last of Olympus's twins.  But you must understand, this has not happened in many millennia.  The first Twins were born when the Moria Clotho spun a single thread of Life, before sliting it down the center.  From one string of life, or one soul, a set of siblings was born.  But mind you, they were not twins by birth, no.  Mirabel was born four years before her Twin sister Serena."  Chiron's expression suddenly darkened, like he was being reminded of something unpleasant.  "They were powerful daughters of Nemesis, goddess of revenge.  Their sense of balance and honor was strong, but their fate was terrible.  Telepathy, along with glimpses into the mind of the other, are quite common in Twins.  Percy, my boy, try it."

Percy gives me a wild look, and I wait for Chiron to tell me he's joking, that this is all a trick.  I've never heard of Twins, or sisters named Mirabel and Serena一

This is a load of cow poop.

I stop and look at Chiron.  The Latin teacher's expression turns grim.  Chiron leans forward and gives us a serious look.  "Children, listen carefully.  For the Twins before you, this . . . gift, was either a great blessing or a terrible curse.  For the daughters of Nemesis, it was a blessing.  The unshakeable and unbreakable bond between them brought great glory.  But it was also the cause of their untimely demise.  For Hannah and Noah, a daughter of Enyo and a son of Ares, it was a curse.  Hannah's bloodlust and Noah's strength in combat brought great horror to Latin America before they were slain by a Princess of Hades."  I don't stop Chiron to ask what the heck a 'Princess of Hades' is.  "一you must choose to make it your most beautiful blessing, or your most dangerous curse."

Then, across the table, Chiron forces a smile. " Well, Twins, on that happy note, let us be off."

He shifts his weight as if he were going to get up out of his wheelchair, but I know that's impossible. He's paralyzed from the waist down.

He is paralyzed, right? I ask Percy.  It's like . . . just thinking whatever I want to say, but there's a warm buzzing presence in the back of my mind.  It's comforting, but Chiron's word are ringing in my ears.  For some, it either a great blessing or a terrible curse.  You must choose to make it your most beautiful blessing of your most dangerous curse.

As far as I know.  The words come with Percy's voice, which I find kind of weird, but I'm not complaining.

And then, before I can debate if Chiron is going to turn into a cyborg, the teacher does rise from his wheelchair. But there is something weird about the way he does it, and it's not the growth of fleshy metal appendages. His blanket falls away from his legs, but the legs don't move. His waist keeps getting longer, rising above his belt. I think he's wearing very long, very white underwear, but as he keeps rising out of his chair, taller than any man, I realize that the velvet underwear isn't underwear: it is the front of an animal, muscle and sinew under course white fur. And the wheelchair isn't a chair. It's some kind container, an enormous box on wheels, and it must be magic, because there's no way it could hold all of him. A leg comes out, long and knobby-kneed, with a huge polished hoof. Then another front leg, the hindquarters, and then the box is empty, nothing but a metal shell with a couple of fake human legs attached.

I stare at the horse who just sprung from the wheelchair: a huge white stallion. But where its neck should be is the upper body of my Latin teacher, smoothly grafted into the horse's trunk.

"What a relief," the centaur says. "I'd been cooped up in there so long, my fetlocks had fallen asleep. Now, come, Percy and Andra Jackson. Let's meet the other campers."

 

Chapter Text

As soon as I get over the fact that my Latin teacher is a horse, I have a nice tour, though I’m careful not to walk behind Chiron.  Percy and I did pooper-scooper patrol in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade a few time, and I’m sorry, I do not trust Chiron's back end the way I trust his front.

We pass the volleyball pit.  Several of the campers nudge each other.  One points to the minotaur horns Percy and I are carrying and says, "That’s them .”

Almost all of the campers are older than us.  Their satyr friends are bigger than Grover, all of them trotting around in orange CAMP HALF-BLOOD T-shirts, with nothing to cover their shaggy hindquarters.  

I look back at the farmhouse.  It is a lot bigger than I realizedーfour stories tall, sky blue with white trim, like an upscale seaside resort.  I'm checking out the brass eagle weathervane on top when something catches my eye, a shadow in the uppermost window of the attic gable.  Something moved the curtain, just for a second, and I get the distinct impression we're being watched.

"What’s up there?" I ask Chiron.

He looks where I’m pointing, and his smile fades.  "Just the attic.”

"Somebody lives there?"

"No," he says with finality.  "Not a single living thing.”

I get the feeling he’s being truthful.  But I’m also sure something had moved that curtain.

"Come along, Andra," Chiron says, his lighthearted tone now a little more forced.  "Lots to see.”

********** 

We walk through the strawberry fields, where campers are picking bushels of berries while a satyr plays a tune on a reed pipe.

Chiron tells us the camp grows a nice crop for exporting to New York restaurants and Mount Olympus.  "It pays our expenses," he explains. "And the strawberries take almost no effort.”

He says Mr. D has this effect on fruit-bearing plants: they just go crazy when he’s around.  It works best on wine grapes, but Mr. D is restricted from growing those, so they grow strawberries instead.

I watch the satyr playing his pipe.  His music is causing lines of bugs to leave the strawberry patch in every direction, like refugees fleeing a fire.  I wonder if Grover can work that kind of magic with music. I wonder if he is still inside the farmhouse, getting chewed out by Mr. D.  

"Grover won’t get in too much trouble, will he?" Percy asks Chiron.  "I mean . . . he was a good protector. Really.”

Chiron sighs.  He sheds his tweed jacket and drapes it over his horse’s back like a saddle.  "Grover has big dreams, Twins. Perhaps bigger than reasonable. To reach his goal, he must demonstrate great courage by succeeding as a keeper, finding a new camper and bringing them safely to Half-Blood Hill.”

"But he did that!" I interject.  "He found us both!"

"I might agree with you," Chiron says.  "But it is not my place to judge. Dionysus and the Council of Cloven Elders must decide.  I’m afraid they might not see this assignment as a success. After all, Grover lost you in New York.  Then there’s the unfortunate . . . ah . . . fate of your mother. And the fact that Grover was unconscious when you dragged him over the property line.  The council might question whether this shows any courage on Grover’s part.”

I want to protest.  None of what happened is Grover’s fault.  I also feel really, really guilty. If Percy and I hadn't given Grover the slip at the bus station一me to both stations一he might not have gotten in trouble.

"He’ll get a second chance, won’t he?" I ask Chiron.

He winces.  "I’m afraid that was Grover’s second chance, Andra.  The council was not anxious to give him another, either, after what happened the first time, five years ago.  Olympus knows, I advised him to wait longer before trying again. He’s still so small for his age . . .”

"How old is he?" Percy asks.

"Oh, twenty-eight.”

"What!" I exclaim.

"And he’s in sixth grade?" Percy questions.

"Satyrs mature half as fast as humans, children.  Grover has been the equivalent of a middle school student for the past six years.”

"That’sー" Percy starts.

"Horrible." I finish.

"Quite," Chiron agrees.  "At any rate, Grover is a late bloomer, even by satyr standards, and not yet very accomplished at nature magic.  Alas, he was anxious to pursue his dream. Perhaps now he will find some other career . . .”

"That’s not fair," Percy says.  "What happened the first time?”

"Was it really that bad?" I ask.

Chiron looks away quickly.  "Let’s move along, shall we?”

But I’m not ready to let the subject drop, and I can tell Percy isn’t either.  Something had occurred to me when Chiron talked about our mother’s fate, as if he was intentionally avoiding the word death .  The beginnings of an ideaーa tiny, hopeful fireーstarts forming in our heads.

"Chiron," Percy says.  "If the gods and Olympus and all that is real . . .”

"Yes, child?”

"Does that mean the underworld is real, too?" I ask.

"Yes, Twins." He pauses, as if choosing his words carefully.  "There is a place where spirits go after death. But now . . . until we know more . . . I would urge you to put that out of your mind.”

"What do you mean ‘until we know more’?"Percy asks.

"Come, Twins.  Let’s see the woods.”

********** 

As we get closer, I realize just how huge the forest is.  It takes up at least a quarter of the valley, with trees so tall and thick, you can imagine nobody has been in here since the Native Americans.

Chiron says, “The woods are stocked, if you care to try your luck, but go armed.”

"Stocked with what?" Percy asks.

"Armed with what?" I ask.

"You’ll see.  Capture the flag is Friday night.  Do you have your own sword and shields?”

"Our ownー?”

"No," Chiron says.  "I don’t suppose you do.  I think size five and one will do.  I’ll visit the armory later.”

I want to ask what kind of summer camp has an armory, but there is too much to think about, so the tour continues.  We see the archery range, the canoeing lake, the stables (which Chiron doesn’t seem to like very much), the javelin range, the sing-along amphitheater, and the arena where Chiron says they hold sword and spear fights.

"Sword and spear fights?" Percy asks.

"Cabin challenges and all that," he explains.  "Not lethal. Usually. Oh, yes, and there's the mess hall.”

Chiron points to an outdoor pavilion framed in white Grecian columns on a hill overlooking the sea.  There are a dozen picnic tables. No roof. No walls.

"What did you do when it rains?" I ask.

Chiron looks at me like I’ve got a little weird.  "We still have to eat, don’t we?"  I decide to drop the subject.

Finally, he shows us the cabins.  There are twelve of them, nestled in the woods by the lake.  They are arranged in a U, with two at the base and five in a row on either side.  And they are without a doubt the most bizarre collection of buildings I’ve ever seen.

Except for the fact that each has a large brass number above the door (odds on the left side, evens on the right side), they look absolutely nothing alike.  Number nine has smokestacks, like a tiny factory. Number four has tomato vines on the walls and a roof made out of real grass. Seven seems to be made out of solid gold, which glitters so much in the sunlight it’s almost impossible to look at.  They all face a commons area about the size of a soccer field, dotted with Greek statues, fountains, flower beds, and a couple of basketball hoops.

In the center of the field is a huge stone-lined fire pit.  Even though it is a warm afternoon, the hearth smolders. A girl of about nine years old is tending to the flames, poking the coals with a stick.

The pair of cabins at the head of the field, numbers one and two, look like his-and-hers mausoleums, big white marble boxes with heavy columns in front.  Cabin one is the biggest and bulkiest of the twelve. polished bronze doors shimmer like a hologram, so that from different angles lightning bolts seem to streak across them.  Cabin two is more gracefully somehow, with slimmer columns garlanded with pomegranates and flowers. The walls are carved with images of peacocks.

"Zeus and Hera?" Percy guesses.

"Correct," Chiron says.

"Their cabins look empty." I point out.

"Several of the cabins are."  Chiron says.  "That’s true. No one ever stays in one or two.”

Okay.  So each cabin has a different god, like a mascot.  Twelve cabins for twelve Olympians. But then why would some be empty?

I stop in front of the first cabin on the left, cabin three.

It isn’t high and mighty like cabin one, but long and low and solid.  The outer walls are made of rough gray stone studded with pieces of seashell and coral, as if the slabs had been hewn straight for the bottom of the ocean floor.  I peek inside the doorway and Percy looks over my head.  Chiron says, "Oh, I wouldn't do that!”

Before he can pull us back, I catch the salty scent of the interior, like the wind on the shore at Montauk.  The walls glow like abalone. There are six empty bunk beds with silk sheets turned down. But there is no sign anyone has ever slept here.  The place is so and lonely, I’m glad when Chiron puts his hands on our shoulders and says, "Come along, Twins.”

Most of the cabins are crowded with campers.

Number five is bright redーa real nasty paint job, as if the color had been splashed on with buckets and fists.  The roof is lined with barb wire. A stuffed wild boar’s head hangs over the doorway, and its eyes seem to follow me.  Inside I can see a bunch of mean-looking kids, arm wrestling and arguing as rock music blares. The loudest is a girl maybe thirteen or fourteen.  She’s wearing a size XXXL CAMP HALF-BLOOD  T-shirt under a camouflage jacket.  She zeros in on us and give Percy and me an evil sneer.  She reminds me of Darcy Bobofit, though the camper girl is much bigger and tougher looking, and her hair is long and stringy, and brown instead of red.

We keep walking, trying to steer clear of Chiron’s hooves.  "We haven’t seen any other centaurs," I observe.

"No," Chiron says sadly.  "My kinsmen are a wild and barbaric folk, I’m afraid.  You might encounter them in the wilderness, or at major sporting events.  But you won’t see any here.”

"You said your name was Chiron," Percy says.  "Are you really . . .”

He smiles down at us.  “ The Chiron from the stories? Trainer of Hercules and all that? Yes, Percy, I am.”

"But, shouldn't you be dead?" I ask.  I know it may be rude, but the Chiron lived, like, two thousand years ago.  

Chiron pauses, as if the question pauses intrigues him.  "I honestly don’t know about should be.  The truth is, I can’t be dead.  You see, eons ago the gods granted my wish.  I could continue the work I loved. I could be a teacher of heroes as long as humanity needed me.  I gained much from that wish . . . and I gave up much. But I’m still here, so I can only assume I’m still needed.”

I think about being a teacher for three thousand years.  It wouldn't have made it to my Top Ten Things to Wish For list.  

"Doesn’t it ever get boring?" Percy asks.

"No, no," Chiron says.  "Horribly depressing, at times, but never boring."

"Why depressing?" I ask.

Chiron seems to turn hard of hearing again.

"Oh, look," he says.  "Annabeth is waiting for us.”

********** 

The blond girl we met at the Big House is a reading a book in front of the last cabin on the left, number eleven.

When we reach her, she looks me over critically, like she is still thinking about how much I drool, before doing the same to Percy.

I tried to see what she was reading, but I couldn't make out the title.  I thought my dyslexia is acting up.  Then I realize the title isn't even English.  the letters look Greek to me.  I mean, literally Greek.  There are pictures of temples and statues and different kinds of columns, like those in an architecture book.

"Annabeth," Chiron says, "I have masters’ archery class at noon.  Would you take Percy and Andra from here?”

"Yes, sir.”

"Cabin eleven," Chiron tells us, gesturing to the doorway.  "Make yourselves at home.”

Out of all the cabins, eleven looks the most like a regular old summer camp cabin, with emphasis on old .  The threshold is worn down, the brown paint peeling.  Over the doorway is one of those doctor's symbols, a winged pole with two snakes wrapped around it.  What do they call it . . .? A caduceus.

Inside, it is packed with people, both boys and girls, way more than the number of bunk beds.  Sleeping bags are spread all across the floor. It looks like a gym where the Red Cross has set up an evacuation center.

Chiron doesn’t go in.  The door is to low for him.  But when the campers see him they all stand and bow respectfully.

"Well, then," Chiron says.  "Good luck, children. I'll see you at dinner.”

He gallops away to the archery range.

Percy and I stand in the doorway, look at the kids.  They aren’t bowing anymore. They are staring at us, sizing us up.  I know this routine. I’ve gone through at enough school.  

"Well?" Annabeth prompts.  "Go on.”

So naturally Percy trips coming in the door, and so naturally, I try to catch him, sending us both sprawling to the floor, making complete fools of ourselves.  There are some snickers from the camper, but none of them say anything.

Annabeth announces, "Percy and Andra Jackson, meet cabin eleven.”

"Regular or undetermined?" somebody asks.

I don’t know what to say, but Annabeth says, "Undetermined.”

Everybody groans.

A guy a little older than the rest comes forward.  "Now, now, campers. That’s what we’re here for. Welcome, Percy, Andra.  You can have those spots on the floor, right over there.”

The guy is about nineteen, and he looks pretty cool.  He is tall and muscular, with short-cropped sandy blond hair and a friendly smile.  He’s wearing an orange tank top, cutoffs, sandals, and a leather necklace with five different colored clay beads.  The only thing unsettling about his appearance is a thick white scar that runs from just beneath his right eye to his jaw, like an old knife slash.  He’s cute, but too old and not my type.

"This is Luke," Annabeth says, and her voice sounds different somehow.  I glance over and can almost swear she’s blushing. She sees me looking, and her expression hardens again.  "He’s your counselor for now.”

"For now?" Percy asks.  His voice is a little sharper than usual, and I have a feeling it's from my observation of Luke.

"Your undetermined," Luke explains patiently.  "They don’t know what cabin to put you, so you’re here.  Cabin eleven take all newcomers, all visitors. Naturally, we would.  Hermes, our patron, is the god of travelers.”

I look at the tiny section of floor they gave me and Percy.  I have nothing to put there to mark it as our own, no luggage, no clothes, no sleeping bag, and Percy doesn’t either.  The only thing we have are the Minotaur horns. I think about setting that down, but then I remember Hermes is also the god of thieves.

I look around at the campers’ faces, some sullen and suspicious, some grinning stupidly, some eyeing us as if they are waiting for a chance to pick our pockets.

"How long will we be here?" Percy asks.

"Good question," Luke says.  "Until you two are determined.”

"How long will that take?" I ask.

The campers all laugh.

"Come on," Annabeth tells us.  "I’ll show you the volleyball court.”

"We’ve already seen it," Percy says.

"Come on.”

She grabs our wrists and drags us outside.  I can hear the kids of cabin eleven laughing behind us.

**********

When we are a few feet away, Annabeth says, "Jacksons, you have to do better than that.”

"What?" Percy asks.

She rolls her eyes and mumbles under her breath, "I can’t believe I thought you were the ones.”

"What’s your problem?" I demand.  I am getting angry now.

"All we know is, we kill some bull guyー”

"Don’t talk like that!" Annabeth tells Percy.  "You know how many kids at this camp wish they’d had your chance?”

“To get killed?" I ask.

"To fight the Minotaur! What do you think we train for?"

I shake my head.  "Look, if the thing we fought was really the Minotaur, the same one from the stories . . .”

"Yes.”

"Then there’s only one," Percy says.

"Yes.”

"And he died, like, a gajillion years ago, right?" I ask.

"Theseus killed him in the labyrinth." Percy says, "So . . .”

"Monsters don’t die, guys," Annabeth says. "They can be killed.  But they don’t die.”

"Oh, thanks," Percy says sarcastically. "That clears it all up.”

"They don’t have souls, like you and me.  You can dispel them for a while, maybe even for a whole lifetime if you’re lucky.  But they're primal forces. Chiron calls them archetypes. Eventually, they reform.”

I think about Mrs. Moore and the other monsters.

"You mean if I killed one," Percy says.  "Accidentally, with a swordー”

"The Fur . . . I mean, your math teacher." Annabeth says.  "That’s right. She’s still out there. You just made her very, very mad.”

"How did you know about Mrs. Dodds?" Percy asks.

"You talk in your sleep.  Both of you." she gives me a hard look.  "You were attacked by your math teacher named Mrs. Moore and her sisters."

"You almost called them something," Percy says.  "Furies? They’re Hades’ torturers, right?”

Annabeth glances nervously at the ground, as if she’s expecting it to open up and swallow her.  "You shouldn't call them by name, even here. We call them the Kindly Ones, if we have to speak of them at all.”

"Look, is there anything we can say without it thundering?" I sound whiny, even to myself, but right now I don’t care.

"Why do we have to stay in cabin eleven, anyway? Why is everybody so crowded together?" Percy asks.

"There are plenty of empty bunks right over there."

I point to the first few cabins, and Annabeth turns pale.  "You don’t just choose a cabin, Andra. It depends on who your parents are.  Or . . . your parent.”

She stares at us, waiting for us to get it.

"Our mom is Sally Jackson,"I say.

"She works at the candy store in Grand Central Station," Percy says.  "At least, she used to.”

"I’m sorry about your mom, guys," Annabeth says.  "But that’s not what I mean. I’m talking about your other parent.  Your dad.”

"He’s dead." I deadpan.

"We never knew him." Percy says.

Annabeth sighs.  Clearly, she’s had this conversation before with other kids.  "Your father’s not dead, Jacksons.”

"How can you say that?" Percy demands.

"You know him?" I ask.

"No, of course not.”

"Then how can you sayー”

"Because I know you ," she cuts me off, "You wouldn’t be here if you weren’t like us.”

"You don’t know anything about us," Percy says.

"No?" She raises an eyebrow. "I bet you moved around from school to school.”  I look at the ground, trying to hide the blush forming on my cheeks.  "I bet you were kicked out of a lot of them.”

"Howー"

She cuts Percy off, this time.  "Diagnosed with dyslexia. Probably ADHD, too.”

I try to swallow my embarrassment.  "What does that have to do with anything?"

"Taken together, it’s almost a sure sign," Annabeth continues. "The letters float off the page when you read, right? That’s because your mind is hardwired for Ancient Greek.  And the ADHDーyou’re impulsive, can’t sit still in the classroom. That’s you’re battlefield reflexes. In a real fight, they will keep you alive. As for the attention problems, that’s because you see too much, Percy, Andra, not too little.  Your senses are better than a regular mortal’s. Of course the teachers want you medicated. Most of them are monsters. They don’t want you seeing them for what they are.”

"You sound like . . ." I trail off.  "You went thought the same thing?”

"Most of the kids here did.  If you weren’t like us, you wouldn’t have survived the Minotaur, much less the ambrosia and nectar.”

"Ambrosia and nectar," Percy repeats.

"The food and drink we were giving you to make you feel better.  That stuff would’ve killed a normal kid. It would've turned your blood to fire and your bones to sand and you’d be dead.  Face it. You’re half-bloods.”

Half-bloods.

I’m reeling with so many questions I don’t know where to start.

Then a husky voice yells, "Well! Newbies!”

I look over.  The big girl from the ugly red cabin is sauntering towards us.  She has three other girls behind her, all big and ugly and mean-looking, just like her, all wearing camo jackets.

"Clarisse," Annabeth sighs.  "Why don’t you go polish your spear or something?”

"Sure, Miss Princess," the big girl says.  "So I can run you through with it Friday night.”

" Erre es korakas! "Annabeth says, with I somehow understand is Greek for ‘ Go to the crows!’ tough I have a feeling it is a worse curse than it sounds.  "You don’t stand a chance.”

"We’ll pulverize you," Clarisse says, but her eye twitches.  Perhaps she isn’t sure she can follow through on the threat.  She turns towards Percy and me. "Who’re these little runts?”

"Percy and Andra Jackson," Annabeth says, "Meet Clarisse, Daughter of Ares.

I blink.  "Like . . . the war god?"

Clarisse sneers.  "You got a problem with that?”

"No," Percy says.  "It explains the bad smell.”

"We’ve got an initiation ceremony for newbies, Prissy.”

"Percy.”

"Whatever.  Come on, I’ll show you.”

"Clarisseー" Annabeth tries to say.

"Stay out of it, Wise Girl.”

Annabeth looks pained, but she does stay out of it, and I don’t really want her help.  We're the new kids.  We have to earn our rep.  

Together, we hand Annabeth our Minotaur horns and get ready to fight, but before I know it, Clarisse has me by the neck, holding me in the air, and she starts dragging us towards a cinder-block building I immediately know is the bathroom.

I start kicking and punching.  I’ve been in plenty of fightsーand I know Percy has too, even if he doesn't admit itーbut this big girl Clarisse has hands like iron.  She drags us into the girls’ bathroom. There is a line of toilets on one side and a line of shower stalls down the other. It smells just like a public bathroom, and I’m thinkingーas much I can think with Clarisse ripping my hair outーthat if this place belongs to the gods, they should be able to afford classier johns. 

Clarisse’s friends are all laughing, and I try to find the strength I’d used to fight the Minotaur, but it just isn't there.

"Like they're ‘ Big Three’ material," Clarisse says as she pushes us towards one of the toilets.  "Yeah, right. The Minotaur probably fell over laughing, they are so stupid looking.”

Her friends snicker.

Annabeth stands in the corner, watching through her fingers.

Clarisse bends Percy over on his knees, before forcing me to do the same.  She starts pushing our heads towards the toilet bowl. It reeks like rusty pipes and, well, like what goes into toilets.  I strain to keep my head up. I am looking at the scummy water, thinking, we will not go into that. we won’t.

Then something happens.  I feel a tug in the pit of my stomach.  I hear the plumbing rumble, the pipes shudder.  Clarisse’s grip on my hair loosens. Water shoots out of the toilet, making an arch straight over our heads, and the next thing I know, I’m sprawled on the bathroom tiles next to Percy with Clarisse screaming behind us.

I turn just as the water blasts out of the toilet again, hitting Clarisse straight in the face as hard it pushes her down to her butt.  The water stays on her like the spray from a fire hose, pushing her backward into a shower stall.

She struggles, gasping, and her friends start coming towards her.  But then the other toilets explode, too, and six more jets of toilet water blast them back.  The showers act up, too, and together all the fixtures spray the camouflage girls right out of the bathroom, spinning them around like pieces of garbage being washed away.

As soon as they are out the door, I feel the tug in my gut lessen, and the water shuts off as quickly as had started.

The entire bathroom is flooded.  Annabeth wasn’t spared. She is dripping wet, but she hasn't been pushed out the door.  She is standing in exactly the same place, staring at us in shock.

I look at Percy, them down at myself, and realize that we are sitting in the only dry spot in the whole room.  We don’t have one drop of water on our clothes. Nothing.

Percy stands, before helping me up, but my legs are shaky.

Annabeth says, "How did you . . .”

"I don’t know," Percy says.

We walk to the door.  Outside, Clarisse and her friends are sprawled in the mud, and a bunch of other campers have gathered around to gawk.  Clarisse’s hair is flattened across her face. Her camouflage jacket is sopping wet and she smells like sewage. She gives us a look of absolute hatred.  "You are dead, new kids. You are totally dead.”

I should probably let it go, but I say, "You want to gargle with toilet water again, Clarisse? Close your mouth.”

Her friends have to hold her back.  They drag her toward cabin five, while the other campers make way to avoid her flailing feet.

Annabeth stares at us.  I can’t tell if she is just grossed out or angry at us for dousing her.

"What?" Percy demands.

"What are you thinking?" I ask.

"I’m thinking," she says, "that I want you guys on my team for capture the flag.”