Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Lightning Thief - Chapter 12




Chapter 12

 WE GET ADVICE
 FROM A POODLE
 
 We were pretty miserable that night.
 We camped out in the woods, a hundred yards from the main road, in a marshy clearing that local kids
had obvi-ously been using for parties. The ground was littered with flattened soda cans and fast-food
wrappers.
 We'd taken some food and blankets from Aunty Em's, but we didn't dare light a fire to dry our damp
clothes. The Furies and Medusa had provided enough excitement for one day. We didn't want to attract
anything else.
 We decided to sleep in shifts. I volunteered to take first watch.
 Annabeth curled up on the blankets and was snoring as soon as her head hit the ground. Grover fluttered
with his flying shoes to the lowest bough of a tree, put his back to the trunk, and stared at the night sky.
 "Go ahead and sleep," I told him. "I'll wake you if there's trouble."
 He nodded, but still didn't close his eyes. "It makes me sad, Percy."
 "What does? The fact that you signed up for this stu-pid quest?"
 "No.This  makes me sad." He pointed at all the garbage on the ground. "And the sky. You can't even see
the stars. They've polluted the sky. This is a terrible time to be a satyr."
 "Oh, yeah. I guess you'd be an environmentalist."
 He glared at me. "Only a human wouldn't be. Your species is clogging up the world so fast ... ah, never
mind. It's useless to lecture a human. At the rate things are going, I'll never find Pan."
 "Pam? Like the cooking spray?"
 "Pan!" he cried indignantly. "P-A-N. The great god Pan! What do you think I want a searcher's license
for?"
 A strange breeze rustled through the clearing, tem-porarily overpowering the stink of trash and muck. It
brought the smell of berries and wildflowers and clean rain-water, things that might've once been in these
woods. Suddenly I was nostalgic for something I'd never known.
 "Tell me about the search," I said.
 Grover looked at me cautiously, as if he were afraid I was just making fun.
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 "The God of Wild Places disappeared two thousand years ago," he told me. "A sailor off the coast of
Ephesos heard a mysterious voice crying out from the shore, 'Tell them that the great god Pan has died!'
When humans heard the news, they believed it. They've been pillaging Pan's kingdom ever since. But for
the satyrs, Pan was our lord and master. He protected us and the wild places of the earth. We refuse to
believe that he died. In every generation, the bravest satyrs pledge their lives to finding Pan. They search
the earth, exploring all the wildest places, hoping to find where he is hidden, and wake him from his
sleep."
 "And you want to be a searcher."
 "It's my life's dream," he said. "My father was a searcher. And my Uncle Ferdinand ... the statue you
saw back there—"
 "Oh, right, sorry."
 Grover shook his head. "Uncle Ferdinand knew the risks. So did my dad. But I'll succeed. I'll be the first
searcher to return alive."
 "Hang on— the first?"
 Grover took his reed pipes out of his pocket. "No searcher has ever come back. Once they set out, they
disap-pear. They're never seen alive again."
 "Not once in two thousand years?"
 "No."
 "And your dad? You have no idea what happened to him?"
 "None."
 "But you still want to go," I said, amazed. "I mean, you really think you'll be the one to find Pan?"
 "I have to believe that, Percy. Every searcher does. It's the only thing that keeps us from despair when
we look at what humans have done to the world. I have to believe Pan can still be awakened."
 I stared at the orange haze of the sky and tried to understand how Grover could pursue a dream that
seemed so hopeless. Then again, was I any better?
 "How are we going to get into the Underworld?" I asked him. "I mean, what chance do we have against
a god?"
 "I don't know," he admitted. "But back at Medusa's, when you were searching her office? Annabeth was
telling me—"
 "Oh, I forgot. Annabeth will have a plan all figured out."
 "Don't be so hard on her, Percy. She's had a tough life, but she's a good person. After all, she forgave
me...." His voice faltered.
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 "What do you mean?" I asked. "Forgave you for what?"
 Suddenly, Grover seemed very interested in playing notes on his pipes.
 "Wait a minute," I said. "Your first keeper job was five years ago. Annabeth has been at camp five
years. She wasn't ... I mean, your first assignment that went wrong—"
 "I can't talk about it," Grover said, and his quivering lower lip suggested he'd start crying if I pressed him.
"But as I was saying, back at Medusa's, Annabeth and I agreed there's something strange going on with
this quest. Some-thing isn't what it seems."
 "Well, duh. I'm getting blamed for stealing a thunder-bolt that Hades took."
 "That's not what I mean," Grover said. "The Fur—The Kindly Ones were sort of holding back. Like
Mrs. Dodds at Yancy Academy ... why did she wait so long to try to kill you? Then on the bus, they just
weren't as aggressive as they could've been."
 "They seemed plenty aggressive to me."
 Grover shook his head. "They were screeching at us: 'Where is it? Where?'"
 "Asking about me," I said.
 "Maybe ... but Annabeth and I, we both got the feel-ing they weren't asking about a person. They said
'Where is it  ?'   They seemed to be asking about an object."
 "That doesn't make sense."
 "I know. But if we've misunderstood something about this quest, and we only have nine days to find the
master bolt...." He looked at me like he was hoping for answers, but I didn't have any.
 I thought about what Medusa had said: I was being used by the gods. What lay ahead of me was worse
than petrifi-cation. "I haven't been straight with you," 1 told Grover. "I don't care about the master bolt. I
agreed to go to the Underworld so I could bring back my mother."
 Grover blew a soft note on his pipes. "I know that, Percy. But are you sure that's the only reason?"
 "I'm not doing it to help my father. He doesn't care about me. I don't care about him."
 Grover gazed down from his tree branch. "Look, Percy, I'm not as smart as Annabeth. I'm not as brave
as you. But I'm pretty good at reading emotions. You're glad your dad is alive. You feel good that he's
claimed you, and part of you wants to make him proud. That's why you mailed Medusa's head to
Olympus. You wanted him to notice what you'd done."
 "Yeah? Well maybe satyr emotions work differently than human emotions. Because you're wrong. I
don't care what he thinks."
 Grover pulled his feet up onto the branch. "Okay, Percy. Whatever."
 "Besides, I haven't done anything worth bragging about. We barely got out of New York and we're
stuck here with no money and no way west."
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 Grover looked at the night sky, like he was thinking about that problem. "How about I take first watch,
huh? You get some sleep."
 I wanted to protest, but he started to play Mozart, soft and sweet, and I turned away, my eyes stinging.
After a few bars of Piano Concerto no. 12, I was asleep.
 In my dreams, I stood in a dark cavern before a gaping pit. Gray mist creatures churned all around me,
whispering rags of smoke that I somehow knew were the spirits of the dead.
 They tugged at my clothes, trying to pull me back, but I felt compelled to walk forward to the very edge
of the chasm.
 Looking down made me dizzy.
 The pit yawned so wide and was so completely black, I knew it must be bottomless. Yet I had a feeling
that some-thing was trying to rise from the abyss, something huge and evil.
 The little hero, an amused voice echoed far down in the darkness.Too weak, too young, but perhaps
you will do.
 The voice felt ancient—cold and heavy. It wrapped around me like sheets of lead.
 They have misled you, boy, it said. Barter with me. I will give you what you want.
 A shimmering image hovered over the void: my mother, frozen at the moment she'd dissolved in a
shower of gold. Her face was distorted with pain, as if the Minotaur were still squeezing her neck. Her
eyes looked directly at me, pleading: Go!
 I tried to cry out, but my voice wouldn't work.
 Cold laughter echoed from the chasm.
 An invisible force pulled me forward. It would drag me into the pit unless I stood firm.
 Help me rise, boy.The voice became hungrier.Bring me the bolt. Strike a blow against the
treacherous gods!
 The spirits of the dead whispered around me, No! Wake!
 The image of my mother began to fade. The thing in the pit tightened its unseen grip around me.
 I realized it wasn't interested in pulling me in. It was using me to pull itself out.
 Good, it murmured. Good.
 Wake! the dead whispered. Wake!
 Someone was shaking me.
 My eyes opened, and it  was daylight.
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 "Well," Annabeth said, "the zombie lives."
 I was trembling from the dream. I could still feel the grip of the chasm monster around my chest. "How
long was I asleep?"
 "Long enough for me to cook breakfast." Annabeth tossed me a bag of nacho-flavored corn chips from
Aunty Em's snack bar. "And Grover went exploring. Look, he found a friend."
 My eyes had trouble focusing.
 Grover was sitting cross-legged on a blanket with something fuzzy in his lap, a dirty, unnaturally pink
stuffed animal.
 No. It wasn't a stuffed animal. It was a pink poodle.
 The poodle yapped at me suspiciously. Grover said, "No, he's not."
 I blinked. "Are you ... talking to that thing?"
 The poodle growled.
 "Thisthing,"  Grover warned, "is our ticket west. Be nice to him."
 "You can talk to animals?"
 Grover ignored the question. "Percy, meet Gladiola. Gladiola, Percy."
 I stared at Annabeth, figuring she'd crack up at this practical joke they were playing on me, but she
looked deadly serious.
 "I'm not saying hello to a pink poodle," I said. "For-get it."
 "Percy," Annabeth said. "I said hello to the poodle. You say hello to the poodle."
 The poodle growled.
 I said hello to the poodle.
 Grover explained that he'd come across Gladiola in the woods and they'd struck up a conversation. The
poodle had run away from a rich local family, who'd posted a $200 reward for his return. Gladiola didn't
really want to go back to his family, but he was willing to if it meant helping Grover.
 "How does Gladiola know about the reward?" I asked.
 "He read the signs," Grover said. "Duh."
 "Of course," I said. "Silly me."
 "So we turn in Gladiola," Annabeth explained in her best strategy voice, "we get money, and we buy
tickets to Los Angeles. Simple."
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 I thought about my dream—the whispering voices of the dead, the thing in the chasm, and my mother's
face, shimmering as it dissolved into gold. All that might be wait-ing for me in the West.
 "Not another bus," I said warily.
 "No," Annabeth agreed.
 She pointed downhill, toward train tracks I hadn't been able to see last night in the dark. "There's an
Amtrak sta-tion half a mile that way. According to Gladiola, the west-bound train leaves at noon."

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