Annabeth Chase and the Lighting Thief

(7) We (Percy) Ruins a Perfectly Good Bus

It didn’t take me long to pack. Luke had given a backpack to me and Percy each, and I decided to pack an extra change of clothes and a toothbrush. The camp store loaned me one hundred dollars in mortal money and twenty golden drachmas. The coins were as big as Girl Scout cookies and had images of various Greek gods stamped on one side and the Empire State Building on the other. The ancient mortal drachmas had been silver, but Olympians never used less than pure gold. Chiron said the coins might come in handy for non-mortal transactions. He gave Percy and me each a flask of nectar and an airtight bag full of ambrosia squares, to be used only in emergencies, if we were seriously hurt. It was god food, Chiron reminded us. It would cure us of almost any injury, but it was lethal to mortals. Too much of it would make a half-blood very, very feverish. An overdose would burn us up, literally. I wondered if Poseidon would smite me if I accidentally gave Percy too much.

I was bringing my magic Yankees cap, which was a twelfth-birthday present from my mom. I carried a book on famous classical architecture, written in Ancient Greek, to read when I got bored, and my long bronze knife, hidden in my shirt sleeve. Percy told me he was sure the knife would get us busted the first time we went through a metal detector. I rolled my eyes.

Grover wore his fake feet and his trousers to pass as human. He wore a green rasta-style cap, because when it rained his curly hair flattened and you could just see the tips of his horns. His bright orange backpack was full of scrap metal and apples to snack on. In his pocket was a set of reed pipes his daddy goat had carved for him, even though he only knew two songs: Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 12 and Hilary Duff’s ‘So Yesterday’, both of which sounded pretty bad on reed pipes.

We waved goodbye to the other campers, took one last look at the strawberry fields, the ocean and the Big House, then hiked up Half-Blood Hill to the tall pine tree that used to be Thalia, daughter of Zeus.

Chiron was waiting for us in his wheelchair. Next to him stood Argus, the camp’s head of security. He had eyes all over his body so he could never be surprised. Today, though, he was wearing a chauffeur’s uniform, so I could only see extra peepers on his hands, face and neck.

“This is Argus,” Chiron told Percy. “He will drive you into the city, and, er, well, keep an eye on things.”

I heard footsteps behind us.

Luke came running up the hill, carrying a pair of basketball shoes.

“Hey!” he panted. “Glad I caught you.”

I couldn’t help it, I blushed but Luke ignored me completely.

“Just wanted to say good luck,” Luke told Percy.

“And I thought... um, maybe you could use these.” He handed Percy the sneakers, which looked pretty normal. They even smelled kind of normal.

Luke said, “Maia!”

White bird’s wings sprouted out of the heels, startling me so much, Percy dropped them. The shoes flapped around on the ground until the wings folded up and disappeared.

“Awesome!” Grover said.

Luke smiled. “Those served me well when I was on my quest. Gift from Dad. Of course, I don’t use them much these days...” His expression turned sad. While I forced mine to be neutral. Luke barely knew Percy and he’d gotten a gift. I’ve known Luke for five years.

“Hey, man,” Percy said. “Thanks.”

“Listen, Percy...” Luke looked uncomfortable. “A lot of hopes are riding on you. So just... kill some monsters for me, okay?” They shook hands. Luke patted Grover’s head between his horns, then gave me a goodbye hug.

After Luke was gone, Percy said, “You’re hyperventilating.”

“Am not.”

“You let him capture the flag instead of you, didn’t you?”

“Oh... why do I want to go anywhere with you, Percy?”

I stomped down the other side of the hill, where a white SUV waited on the shoulder of the road. Argus followed me, jingling his car keys.

I waited for them to finish talking in the van. My mood lifted when I saw Grover fall over sideways so his backpack dragged through the grass. The winged shoes kept bucking up and down like tiny broncos.

“Practice,” Chiron called after him. “You just need practice!”

“Aaaaa!” Grover went flying sideways down the hill like a possessed lawn mower, heading towards the van.

For the first time, the quest felt real. I was actually leaving Half-Blood Hill for the first time in five years. I was heading west with no adult supervision, no backup plan, not even a cell phone. I had no weapon stronger than a dagger to fight off monsters and reach the Land of the Dead, but I wasn’t nervous. I was excited. I felt like my life had just begun.

When Percy got to the bottom of the hill, he looked back. Under the pine tree that used to be Thalia, daughter of Zeus, Chiron was now standing in full horse-man form, holding his bow high in salute. Just your typical summer-camp send-off by your typical centaur.

* * *

Argus drove us out of the countryside and into western Long Island. It felt weird to be on a highway again, Percy and Grover sitting next to me as if we were normal carpoolers. After five years at Half-Blood Hill, the real world seemed like a fantasy. I found myself staring at every McDonald’s, every kid in the back of this parents’ car, every billboard and shopping mall.

“So far so good,” Percy told me. “Ten miles and not a single monster.”

I gave him an irritated look. “It’s bad luck to talk that way, Seaweed Brain.”

“Remind me again – why do you hate me so much?”

“I don’t hate you.”

“Could’ve fooled me.”

I folded my invisibility cap. “Look... we’re just not supposed to get along, okay? Our parents are rivals.”

“Why?”

I sighed. Didn’t Chiron teach Percy Greek Mythology for like, the entire year?

“How many reasons do you want? One time my mom caught Poseidon with his girlfriend in Athena’s temple, which is hugely disrespectful. Another time, Athena and Poseidon competed to be the patron god for the city of Athens. Your dad created some stupid saltwater spring for his gift. My mom created the olive tree. The people saw that her gift was better, so they named the city after her.”

“They must really like olives.”

“Oh, forget it.”

“Now, if she’d invented pizza – that I could understand.”

“I said, forget it!”

I stared out the window. Out of all the people I could’ve gone on my first quest with, why him?

Traffic slowed us down in Queens. By the time we got into Manhattan it was sunset and starting to rain. Argus dropped us at the Greyhound Station on the Upper East Side, not far from Percy’s old apartment, he told us. As Argus unloaded our bags I watched as Percy ripped a flier off somewhere and threw it away. Argus made sure we got our bus tickets, then drove away, the eye on the back of his hand opening to watch us as he pulled out of the parking lot.

Percy gazed at an apartment complex and I knew he was thinking about what he would do on a normal day. Grover shouldered his backpack. He gazed down the street in the direction Percy was looking.

“You want to know why she married him, Percy?”

He stared at him. “Were you reading my mind or something?”

“Just your emotions.” He shrugged. “Guess I forgot to tell you satyrs can do that. You were thinking about your mom and your stepdad, right?” Percy nodded, and I busied myself double checking everything.

“Your mom married Gabe for you,” Grover told him. “You call him “Smelly”, but you’ve got no idea. The guy has this aura... Yuck. I can smell him from here. I can smell traces of him on you, and you haven’t been near him for a fortnight.”

“Thanks,” Percy said. “Where’s the nearest shower?”

“You should be grateful, Percy. Your stepfather smells so repulsively human he could mask the presence of any demigod. As soon as I took a whiff inside his Camaro, I knew: Gabe has been covering your scent for years. If you hadn’t lived with him every summer, you probably would’ve been found by monsters a long time ago. Your mom stayed with him to protect you. She was a smart lady. She must’ve loved you a lot to put up with that guy – if that makes you feel any better.”

Percy shifted on his feet, clearly uncomfortable whether he knows it or not.

The rain kept coming down. We got restless waiting for the bus and decided to play some Hacky Sack with one of Grover’s apples. Percy could not play for his life. He kept dropping the apple. The game ended when Percy tossed the apple towards Grover and it got too close to his mouth. In one mega goat bite, our Hacky Sack disappeared – core, stem and all.

Grover blushed. He tried to apologize, but Percy and I were too busy cracking up. Finally the bus came. As we stood in line to board, Grover started looking around, sniffing the air like he smelled his favorite food.

“What is it?” Percy asked.

“I don’t know,” he said tensely. “Maybe it’s nothing.” But I could tell it wasn’t nothing. Percy and I started looking over our shoulders, too.

I was relieved when we finally got on board and found seats together in the back of the bus. We stowed our backpacks. I kept slapping my Yankees cap nervously against my thigh. As the last passengers got on, I clamped my hand onto Percy’s knee. “Percy.”

An old lady had just boarded the bus. She wore a crumpled velvet dress, lace gloves and a shapeless orange-knit hat that shadowed her face, and she carried a big paisley purse. When she tilted her head up, her black eyes glittered.

It was a Fury.

Percy scrunched down in his seat. Behind her came two more old ladies: one in a green hat, one in a purple hat. Otherwise they looked exactly like the first Fury – same gnarled hands, paisley handbags, wrinkled velvet dresses. Triplet demon grandmothers.

They sat in the front row, right behind the driver. The two on the aisle crossed their legs over the walkway, making an X. It was casual enough, but it sent a clear message: nobody leaves. The bus pulled out of the station, and we headed through the slick streets of Manhattan.

“She didn’t stay dead long,” Percy said, trying to keep his voice from quivering, and failing. “I thought you said they could be dispelled for a lifetime.”

“I said if you’re lucky,” I said. “You’re obviously not.”

“All three of them,” Grover whimpered. “Di immortales!”

“It’s okay,” I said, thinking hard. “The Furies. The three worst monsters from the Underworld. No problem. No problem. We’ll just slip out the windows.”

“They don’t open,” Grover moaned.

“A back exit?” I suggested.

There wasn’t one. Even if there had been, it wouldn’t have helped. By that time, we were on Ninth Avenue, heading for the Lincoln Tunnel.

“They won’t attack us with witnesses around,” Percy said. “Will they?”

“Mortals don’t have good eyes,” I reminded him. “Their brains can only process what they see through the Mist.”

“They’ll see three old ladies killing us, won’t they?”

I thought about it. “Hard to say. But we can’t count on mortals for help. Maybe an emergency exit in the roof...?” We hit the Lincoln Tunnel, and the bus went dark except for the running lights down the aisle. It was eerily quiet without the sound of the rain. How could we get out of here? Was there a way to hide Percy?

The Fury with the orange hat got up. In a flat voice, as if she’d rehearsed it, she announced to the whole bus: “I need to use the restroom.”

“So do I,” said the second sister.

“So do I,” said the third sister. They all started coming down the aisle.

“I’ve got it,” I said. “Percy, take my hat.”

“What?”

“You’re the one they want. Turn invisible and go up the aisle. Let them pass you. Maybe you can get to the front and get away.”

“But you guys –”

“There’s an outside chance they might not notice us,” I said. “You’re a son of one of the Big Three. Your smell might be overpowering.”

“I can’t just leave you.”

“Don’t worry about us,“Grover said. “Go!”

Percy’s hands trembled as he took the Yankees cap and put it on and disappeared. The first sister stopped ten rows from us, sniffing, and looked straight into an empty seat, at nothing. My heart was pounding. Apparently she didn’t see anything. She and her sisters kept going.

Percy was free.

We were almost through the Lincoln Tunnel now.

Grover gripped my arm as they neared us, and the Furies made a hideous noise as they stopped in front of us. The old ladies were not old ladies any more.

Their faces were still the same since I last saw them– I guess those couldn’t get any uglier – their bodies had shriveled into leathery brown hag bodies with bat’s wings and hands and feet like gargoyle claws. Their handbags had turned into fiery whips.

The Furies surrounded Grover and I, lashing their whips, hissing: “Where is it? Where?”

The other people on the bus were screaming, cowering in their seats. They saw something, all right.

“He’s not here!” I yelled, standing in front of Grover. “He’s gone!”

The Furies raised their whips and I drew my bronze knife. Grover grabbed a tin can from his snack bag and prepared to throw it.

I hadn’t realized what happened until later. Percy had grabbed the wheel from the bus driver and started wrestling him for it.

The Furies smashed against the windows.

“Hey!′ the driver yelled. “Hey – whoa!”

The bus slammed against the side of the tunnel, grinding metal, throwing sparks a mile behind us. We careened out of the Lincoln Tunnel and back into the rainstorm, people and monsters tossed around the bus, cars ploughed aside like bowling pins. Somehow the driver found an exit. We shot off the highway, through half a dozen traffic lights, and ended up barreling down one of those New Jersey rural roads where you can’t believe there’s so much nothing right across the river from New York. There were woods to our left, the Hudson River to our right and the driver seemed to be veering towards the river.

Percy had another great idea: he hit the emergency brake. The bus wailed, spun a full circle on the wet tar and crashed into the trees. The emergency lights came on. The door flew open. The bus driver was the first one out, the passengers yelling as they stampeded after him.

The Furies regained their balance. They lashed their whips at me while I waved my knife and yelled in Ancient Greek, telling them to back off. Grover threw tin cans.

Then Percy did the third stupidest thing he had done that day. He took off the invisible cap. “Hey!”

The Furies turned, baring their yellow fangs at him, and the exit suddenly sounded like an excellent idea. The first sister stalked up the aisle.

Every time she flicked her whip, red flames danced along the barbed leather. Her two ugly sisters hopped on top of the seats on either side of her and crawled towards me like huge nasty lizards.

“Perseus Jackson,” The orange hat Fury said, in an accent that was hard to place.

“You have offended the gods. You shall die.”

“I liked you better as a maths teacher,” he told her. She growled.

Grover and I moved up behind the Furies cautiously, looking for an opening.

Percy took a ballpoint pen out of his pocket and uncapped it. A celestial bronze elongated into a shimmering double-edged sword. The Furies hesitated. They had felt Riptide’s blade before. The first sister obviously didn’t like seeing it again.

“Submit now,” she hissed. “And you will not suffer eternal torment.”

“Nice try,” He told her.

“Percy, look out!” I cried.

The orange hat Fury, Mrs. Dodds, I guesed, lashed her whip around Percy’s sword hand while the Furies on the either side lunged at him. Percy managed not to drop Riptide and struck the Fury on the left with its hilt, sending her toppling backwards into a seat. He turned and sliced the Fury on the right. As soon as the blade connected with her neck, she screamed and exploded into dust. I managed to get one of the Furies in a wrestler’s hold and yanked her backwards while Grover ripped the whip out of her hands.

“Ow!” he yelled. “Ow! Hot! Hot!”

The Fury Percy hilt-slammed came at him again, talons ready, but he swung his sword and she broke open like a piñata.

The Fury was trying to get me off her back. She kicked, clawed, hissed and bit, but I held on while Grover got her legs tied up in her own whip. Finally we shoved her backwards into the aisle. The Fury tried to get up, but she didn’t have room to flap her bat wings, so she kept falling down.

“Zeus will destroy you!” she promised. “Hades will have your soul!”

"Braccas meas vescimini!” Percy yelled, eat my pants. I shook my head as thunder shook the bus. The hair rose on the back of my neck.

“Get out!” I yelled at Percy. “Now!”

He didn’t need any encouragement. We bolted outside the bus and found the other passengers wandering around in a daze, arguing with the driver, or running around in circles yelling,

“We’re going to die!” A Hawaiian-shirted tourist with a camera snapped Percy’s photograph before he could recap his sword.

“Our bags!” Grover realized. “We left our –”

BOOOOOM!

The windows of the bus exploded as the passengers ran for cover. Lightning shredded a huge crater in the roof, but an angry wail from inside told me The Furies was not yet dead.

“Run!” I said. “She’s calling for reinforcements! We have to get out of here!” We plunged into the woods as the rain poured down, the bus in flames behind us and nothing but darkness ahead.

A/N: this shouldn’t be this hard to write omggg. and thank you guys so much for all the support it means so much!!

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