(10) Percy Almost Dies. Again.
We spent two days on the Amtrak train, heading west through hills, over rivers, past amber waves of grain.
We weren’t attacked once, but I didn’t relax. I felt that we were traveling around in a display case, being watched from above and maybe from below, that something was waiting for the right opportunity.
Percy tried to keep a low profile because his name and picture were splattered over the front pages of several East Coast newspapers. The Trenton Register-News showed a photo taken by a tourist as he got off the Greyhound bus. Percy had a wild look in his eyes. His sword was a metallic blur in his hands. It might’ve been a baseball bat or a lacrosse stick. The picture’s caption read:
Twelve-year-old Percy Jackson, wanted for questioning in the Long Island disappearance of his mother two weeks ago, is shown here fleeing from the bus where he accosted several elderly female passengers. The bus exploded on an east New Jersey roadside shortly after Jackson fled the scene. Based on eyewitness accounts, police believe the boy may be travelling with two teenage accomplices. His stepfather, Gabe Ugliano, has offered a cash reward for information leading to his capture.
“Don’t worry,” I told Percy. “Mortal police could never find us.” But I even heard the doubt in my voice.
The rest of the day consisted of Percy pacing the length of the train, Grover sleeping, and me staring out the window.
Once, I spotted a family of centaurs galloping across a wheat field, bows at the ready, as they hunted lunch. The little boy centaur, who was the size of a second-grader on a pony, waved at something.
Another time, towards evening, I saw something huge moving through the woods. I could’ve sworn it was a lion, except that lions don’t live wild in America, and this thing was the size of a tank. Its fur glinted gold in the evening light. Then it leaped through the trees and was gone.
Maybe it was from a Greek myth, I thought. But I didn’t try to think of which Greek myth.
Our reward money for returning Gladiola the poodle had only been enough to purchase tickets as far as Denver. We couldn’t get berths in the sleeper car, so we dozed in our seats. My neck got stiff. Percy kept muttering nonsense in his sleep. I could see Percy’s drooling up close since I was sitting right next to him. Not fun.
Grover kept snoring and bleating and waking me up. Once, he shuffled around and his fake foot fell off. Percy and I had to stick it back on before any of the other passengers noticed.
“So,” I asked Percy, once we’d got Grover’s trainer readjusted. “Who wants your help?”
“What do you mean?”
“When you were asleep just now, you mumbled, “I won’t help you.” Who were you dreaming about?”
Percy reluctantly told me about his dream, an evil voice from the pit, asking Percy for the lighting bolt.
I was quiet for a long time. “That doesn’t sound like Hades. He always appears on a black throne, and he never laughs.”
“He offered my mother in trade. Who else could do that?”
“I guess... if he meant, “Help me rise from the Underworld.” If he wants war with the Olympians. But why ask you to bring him the master bolt if he already has it?”
Percy shook his head, and I wished for not the first time, that I knew the answer. I thought about what me and Grover had talked about, that the Furies on the bus seemed to have been looking for something.
Where is it? Where?
Maybe Grover sensed my emotions. He snorted in his sleep, muttered something about vegetables and turned his head.
I readjusted his cap so it covered his horns. “Percy, you can’t barter with Hades. You know that, right? He’s deceitful, heartless and greedy. I don’t care if his Kindly Ones weren’t as aggressive this time –”
“This time?” Percy asked. “You mean you’ve run into them before?”
My hand crept up to my necklace. I fingered a glazed white bead painted with the image of a pine tree, one of my clay end-of-summer tokens. The bead for Thalia.
“Let’s just say I’ve got no love for the Lord of the Dead. You can’t be tempted to make a deal for your mom.”
“What would you do if it was your dad?”
“That’s easy,” I said. “I’d leave him to rot.”
“You’re not serious?”
I fixed my eyes onto Percy’s sea green ones. I would not be weak.
“My dad’s resented me since the day I was born, Percy. He never wanted a baby. When he got me, he asked Athena to take me back and raise me on Olympus because he was too busy with his work. She wasn’t happy about that. She told him heroes had to be raised by their mortal parent.”
“But how... I mean, I guess you weren’t born in a hospital...”
“I appeared on my father’s doorstep, in a golden cradle, carried down from Olympus by Zephyr the West Wind. You’d think my dad would remember that as a miracle, right? Like, maybe he’d take some digital photos or something. But he always talked about my arrival as if it were the most inconvenient thing that had ever happened to him. When I was five he got married and totally forgot about Athena. He got a “regular” mortal wife, and had two “regular” mortal kids, and tried to pretend I didn’t exist.”
Percy stared out the train window. I started to think telling Percy about myself was a bad idea until he said, “My mom married a really awful guy,” he told me. “Grover said she did it to protect me, to hide me in the scent of a human family. Maybe that’s what your dad was thinking.”
I fiddled with a ring that was on my necklace. It belonged to my father.
“He doesn’t care about me,” I said. “His wife – my stepmom – treated me like a freak. She wouldn’t let me play with her children. My dad went along with her. Whenever something dangerous happened – you know, something with monsters – they would both look at me resentfully, like, “How dare you put our family at risk!” Finally, I took the hint. I wasn’t wanted. I ran away.”
“How old were you?”
“Same age as when I started camp. Seven.”
“But... you couldn’t have got all the way to Half-Blood Hill by yourself.”
“Not alone, no. Athena watched over me, guided me towards help. I made a couple of unexpected friends who took care of me, for a short time, anyway.” I decided I didn’t want to tell him about Luke and Thalia. Not yet at least.
I listened to the sound of Grover snoring and gazed out the train windows as the dark fields of Ohio raced by.
Towards the end of our second day on the train, June 13, eight days before the summer solstice, we passed through some golden hills and over the Mississippi River into St Louis.
I craned my neck to see the Gateway Arch, and sighed.
“I want to do that.”
“What?” Percy asked.
“Build something like that. You ever see the Parthenon, Percy?”
“Only in pictures.”
“Someday, I’m going to see it in person. I’m going to build the greatest monument to the gods ever. Something that’ll last a thousand years.”
Percy laughed and my cheeks flushed.
“You? An architect?”
“Yes, an architect. Athena expects her children to create things, not just tear them down, like a certain god of earthquakes I could mention.”
Percy watched the churning brown water of the Mississippi below.
“Sorry,” I said. “That was mean.”
“Can’t we work together a little?” Percy pleaded. “I mean, didn’t Athena and Poseidon ever cooperate?”
I thought about it. “I guess... the chariot,” I said tentatively. “My mom invented it, but Poseidon created horses out of the crests of waves. So they had to work together to make it complete.”
“Then we can cooperate, too. Right?”
We rode into the city, and I watched as the Arch disappeared behind a hotel.
“I suppose,” I said at last.
We pulled into the Amtrak station downtown. The intercom told us we’d have a three-hour stopover before departing for Denver.
Grover stretched. Before he was even fully awake, he said, “Food.”
“Come on, goat boy,” I said excitedly. “Sightseeing.”
“The Gateway Arch,” I said. ’This may be my only chance to ride to the top. Are you coming or not?”
Grover and Percy exchanged looks.
Grover shrugged. “As long as there’s a snack bar without monsters.”
The Arch was about a mile from the train station. Late in the day the lines to get in weren’t that long.
We threaded our way through the underground museum, looking at covered wagons and other things from the 1800s. It was really thrilling, and I kept telling them interesting facts about how the Arch was built, and Grover kept passing Percy jelly beans, so I figured they were fine.
“You smell anything?” Percy murmured to Grover.
He took his nose out of the jelly-bean bag long enough to sniff.
“Underground,” he said distastefully. “Underground air always smells like monsters. Probably doesn’t mean anything.”
Something told me that there was something wrong, but I ignored it. I wanted to enjoy the Gateway Arch.
“Guys,” Percy said. “You know the gods’ symbols of power?”
I was in the middle of reading about the construction equipment used to build the Arch, but I looked over. “Yeah?”
“Well, Hade –”
Grover cleared his throat. “We’re in a public place... You mean, our friend downstairs?”
“Um, right,” he said. “Our friend
downstairs. Doesn’t he have a hat like Annabeth’s?”
“You mean the Helm of Darkness,” I said. “Yeah, that’s his symbol of power. I saw it next to his seat during the winter solstice council meeting.”
“He was there?” He asked.
I nodded. “It’s the only time he’s allowed to visit Olympus – the darkest day of the year. But his helmet is a lot more powerful than my invisibility hat, if what I’ve heard is true...”
“It allows him to become darkness,” Grover confirmed. “He can melt into shadow or pass through walls. He can’t be touched, or seen, or heard. And he can radiate fear so intense it can drive you insane or stop your heart. Why do you think all rational creatures fear the dark?”
“But then... how do we know he’s not here right now, watching us?” Percy asked.
Grover and I exchanged looks.
“We don’t,” Grover said.
“Thanks, that makes me feel a lot better,” Percy said. “Got any blue jelly beans left?”
I saw the tiny little elevator car we were going to ride to the top of the Arch, which was probably a bad idea seeing how Percy was a child of Big Three, but it was crowded, a monster wouldn’t attack. Would they?
We got shoehorned into the car with this big fat lady and her dog, a Chihuahua with a rhinestone collar. I figured maybe the dog was a seeing-eye Chihuahua, because none of the guards said a word about it.
We started going up, inside the Arch. Percy looked green, and it was probably the fact that the elevator curved.
“No parents?” the fat lady asked us.
She had beady eyes; pointy, coffee-stained teeth; a floppy denim hat, and a denim dress that bulged so much she looked like a blue-jean blimp.
“They’re below,” I told her before Percy could say something stupid. “Scared of heights.”
“Oh, the poor darlings.”
The Chihuahua growled. The woman said, “Now, now, sonny. Behave.” The dog had beady eyes like its owner, intelligent and vicious.
Percy said, “Sonny. Is that his name?”
“No,” the lady told him and smiled, as if that cleared everything up.
At the top of the Arch, the observation deck reminded me of a tin can with carpeting. Rows of tiny windows looked out over the city on one side and the river on the other. The view was amazing, but Percy was ready to go pretty quick. I think he was afraid of heights.
I couldn’t help myself, I talked about structural supports, and how I would’ve made the windows bigger, and designed a see-through floor. I could’ve stayed up there for hours, but luckily for Percy the park ranger announced that the observation deck would be closing in a few minutes.
Percy steered Grover and I towards the exit, loaded us into the elevator and was about to get in myself when I realized there were already two other tourists inside. No room for Percy.
The park ranger said, “Next car, sir.”
“We’ll get out,” I said. “Well wait with you.”
Percy shook his head and said, “Naw, it’s okay. I’ll see you guys at the bottom.”
Grove looked nervous as I felt, but we let the elevator door slide shut. Their car disappeared down the ramp.
“Annabeth,” Grover tugged at my shirt. “I think we should’ve stayed with him. I smell monsters.”
Just then I heard a roar that shook the elevator.
“Grover. The Chihuahua, could that’ve been the monster?”
“Maybe, I dunno. Where is it?”
“It’s with Percy.”
* * *
By the time we had reached the bottom of the Gateway Arch, the top was on fire. One of the security guards wouldn’t let us back up there, saying it was “too dangerous”. As if I hadn’t seen danger before.
We ran outside just in time to see a small dot falling from the Arch. I gripped Grover’s arm.
“He’s not that stupid... is he?”
And then the dot hit the water and disappeared. I wasn’t sure if Percy had survived the fall. Yeah his dad was Poseidon but that was over 200 meters tall.
We sat in silence, waiting for Percy to resurface, and when he did came ashore next to a floating McDonald’s. A block away, every emergency vehicle in St Louis was surrounding the Arch. Police helicopters circled overhead. The crowd of onlookers reminded me of Times Square on New Year’s Eve.
I heard a little girl say, “Mama! That boy walked out of the river.”
“That’s nice, dear,” her mother said, craning her neck to watch the ambulances.
“But he’s dry!”
“That’s nice, dear.”
I turned to Grover, who was already tackling Percy into a bear hug – or goat hug. He said, “We thought you’d gone to Hades the hard way!”
I stood behind him, trying to look angry, but I was relieved to see him.
“We can’t leave you alone for five minutes! What happened?”
“I sort of fell.”
“Percy! Two hundred meters?”
Behind us, a cop shouted, “Gangway!” The crowd parted, and a couple of paramedics hustled out, rolling a woman on a stretcher. I recognized her as the mother of the little boy who’d been on the observation deck with us.
She was saying, “And then this huge dog, this huge fire-breathing Chihuahua –”
“Okay, ma’am,” the paramedic said. “Just calm down. Your family is fine. The medication is starting to kick in.”
“I’m not crazy! This boy jumped out of the hole and the monster disappeared.”
Then she saw Percy. “There he is! That’s the boy!” Percy turned quickly and pulled Grover and I after him. We disappeared into the crowd.
“What’s going on?” I demanded. “Was she talking about the Chihuahua on the elevator?”
He told us the whole story of the Chimera, Echidna, his high-dive act, the underwater lady’s message.
“Whoa,” said Grover. “We’ve got to get you to Santa Monica! You can’t ignore a summons from your dad.”
Before I could respond, we passed another reporter doing a news break, and Percy froze in his tracks when he said, “Percy Jackson. That’s right, Dan. Channel Twelve has learned that the boy who may have caused this explosion fits the description of a young man wanted by the authorities for a serious New Jersey bus accident three days ago. And the boy is believed to be travelling west. For our viewers at home, here is a photo of Percy Jackson.”
We ducked around the news van and slipped into an alley.
“First things first,” Percy told us. “We’ve got to get out of town!”
Somehow, we made it back to the Amtrak station without getting spotted. We got on board the train just before it pulled out for Denver. The train trundled west as darkness fell, police lights still pulsing against the St Louis skyline behind us.
A/N: i love the title of this chapter lmao i’m so smart. hehe. And I’m sorry for not posting this yesterday, I forgot to click publish!!