Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Lightning Thief - Chapter 14




Chapter 14

 I BECOME A
 KNOWN FUGITIVE
 
 I'd love to tell you I had some deep revelation on my way down, that I came to terms with my own
mortality, laughed in the face of death, et cetera.
 The truth? My only thought was: Aaaaggghhhhh!
 The river raced toward me at the speed of a truck. Wind ripped the breath from my lungs. Steeples and
skyscrapers and bridges tumbled in and out of my vision.
 And then: Flaaa-boooom!
 A whiteout of bubbles. I sank through the murk, sure that I was about to end up embedded in a hundred
feet of mud and lost forever.
 But my impact with the water hadn't hurt. I was falling slowly now, bubbles trickling up through my
fingers. I set-tled on the river bottom soundlessly. A catfish the size of my stepfather lurched away into
the gloom. Clouds of silt and disgusting garbage—beer bottles, old shoes, plastic bags—swirled up all
around me.
 At that point, I realized a few things: first, I had not been flattened into a pancake. I had not been
barbecued. I couldn't even feel the Chimera poison boiling in my veins anymore. I was alive, which was
good.
 Second realization: I wasn't wet. I mean, I could feel the coolness of the water. I could see where the
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fire on my clothes had been quenched. But when I touched my own shirt, it felt perfectly dry.
 I looked at the garbage floating by and snatched an old cigarette lighter.
 No way, I thought.
 I flicked the lighter. It sparked. A tiny flame appeared, right there at the bottom of the Mississippi.
 I grabbed a soggy hamburger wrapper out of the cur-rent and immediately the paper turned dry. I lit it
with no problem. As soon as I let it go, the flames sputtered out. The wrapper turned back into a slimy
rag. Weird.
 But the strangest thought occurred to me only last: I was breathing. I was underwater, and I was
breathing nor-mally.
 I stood up, thigh-deep in mud. My legs felt shaky. My hands trembled. I should've been dead. The fact
that I wasn't seemed like ... well, a miracle. I imagined a woman's voice, a voice that sounded a bit like
my mother:Percy, what do you say?
 "Um ... thanks." Underwater, I sounded like I did on recordings, like a much older kid. "Thank you ...
Father."
 No response. Just the dark drift of garbage downriver, the enormous catfish gliding by, the flash of
sunset on the water's surface far above, turning everything the color of butterscotch.
 Why had Poseidon saved me? The more I thought about it, the more ashamed I felt. So I'd gotten lucky
a few times before. Against a thing like the Chimera, I had never stood a chance. Those poor people in
the Arch were prob-ably toast. I couldn't protect them. I was no hero. Maybe I should just stay down
here with the catfish, join the bottom feeders.
 Fump-fump-fump.Ariverboat's paddlewheel churned above me, swirling the silt around.
 There, not five feet in front of me, was my sword, its gleaming bronze hilt sticking up in the mud.
 I heard that woman's voice again: Percy, take the sword. Your father believes in you.This time, I knew
the voice wasn't in my head. I wasn't imagining it. Her words seemed to come from everywhere, rippling
through the water like dolphin sonar.
 "Where are you?" I called aloud.
 Then, through the gloom, I saw her—a woman the color of the water, a ghost in the current, floating just
above the sword. She had long billowing hair, and her eyes, barely visible, were green like mine.
 A lump formed in my throat. I said, "Mom?"
 No, child, only a messenger, though your mother's fate is not as hope-less as you believe. Go to the
beach in Santa Monica.
 "What?"
 It is your father's will. Before you descend into the Underworld, you must go to Santa Monica. Please,
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Percy, I cannot stay long. The river here is too foul for my presence.
 "But ..." I was sure this woman was my mother, or a vision of her, anyway. "Who—how did you—"
 There was so much I wanted to ask, the words jammed up in my throat.
 I cannot stay, brave one, the woman said. She reached out, and I felt the current brush my face like a
caress. You must go to Santa Monica! And, Percy, do not trust the gifts....
 Her voice faded.
 "Gifts?" I asked. "What gifts? Wait!"
 She made one more attempt to speak, but the sound was gone. Her image melted away. If it was my
mother, I had lost her again.
 I felt like drowning myself. The only problem: I was immune to drowning.
 Your father believes in you, she had said.
 She'd also called me brave ... unless she was talking to the catfish.
 I waded toward Riptide and grabbed it by the hilt. The Chimera might still be up there with its snaky, fat
mother, waiting to finish me off. At the very least, the mortal police would be arriving, trying to figure out
who had blown a hole in the Arch. If they found me, they'd have some questions.
 I capped my sword, stuck the ballpoint pen in my pocket. "Thank you, Father," I said again to the dark
water.
 Then I kicked up through the muck and swam for the surface.
 I 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.
 A little girl said, "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."
 A news lady was talking for the camera: "Probably not a terrorist attack, we're told, but it's still very
early in the investigation. The damage, as you can see, is very serious. We're trying to get to some of the
survivors, to question them about eyewitness reports of someone falling from the Arch."
 Survivors.I felt a surge of relief. Maybe the park ranger and that family made it out safely. I hoped
Annabeth and Grover were okay.
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 I tried to push through the crowd to see what was going on inside the police line.
 "... an adolescent boy," another reporter was saying. "Channel Five has learned that surveillance cameras
show an adolescent boy going wild on the observation deck, somehow setting off this freak explosion.
Hard to believe, John, but that's what we're hearing. Again, no confirmed fatalities ..."
 I backed away, trying to keep my head down. I had to go a long way around the police perimeter.
Uniformed offi-cers and news reporters were everywhere.
 I'd almost lost hope of ever finding Annabeth and Grover when a familiar voice bleated, "Perrr-cy!"
 I turned and got tackled by Grover's bear hug—or goat hug. He said, "We thought you'd gone to Hades
the hard way!"
 Annabeth stood behind him, trying to look angry, but even she seemed relieved to see me. "We can't
leave you alone for five minutes! What happened?"
 "I sort of fell."
 "Percy! Six hundred and thirty feet?"
 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 immediately as the mother of the little boy who'd been
on the observation deck. 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 me. "There
he is! That's the boy!"
 I turned quickly and pulled Annabeth and Grover after me. We disappeared into the crowd.
 "What's going on?" Annabeth demanded. "Was she talking about the Chihuahua on the elevator?"
 I told them the whole story of the Chimera, Echidna, my high-dive act, and 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 Annabeth could respond, we passed another reporter doing a news break, and I almost froze in
my 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 authorities for a serious
New Jersey bus accident three days ago.And  the boy is believed to be traveling 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," I told Grover. "We've got to get out of town!"
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 Somehow, we made it back to the Amtrak station with-out 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.

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