Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Lightning Thief - Chapter 4




Chapter 4

 MY MOTHER TEACHES
 ME BULLFIGHTING
 
 We tore through the night along dark country roads. Wind slammed against the Camaro. Rain lashed the
wind-shield. I didn't know how my mom could see anything, but she kept her foot on the gas.
 Every time there was a flash of lightning, I looked at Grover sitting next to me in the backseat and I
won-dered if I'd gone insane, or if he was wearing some kind of shag-carpet pants. But, no, the smell
was one I remem-bered from kindergarten field trips to the petting zoo— lanolin, like from wool. The
smell of a wet barnyard animal.
 All I could think to say was, "So, you and my mom... know each other?"
 Graver's eyes flitted to the rearview mirror, though there were no cars behind us. "Not exactly," he said.
"I mean, we've never met in person. But she knew I was watching you."
 "Watching me?"
 "Keeping tabs on you. Making sure you were okay. But I wasn't faking being your friend," he added
hastily. "Iam your friend."
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 "Urn ... whatare you, exactly?"
 "That doesn't matter right now."
 "It doesn't matter? From the waist down, my best friend is a donkey—"
 Grover let out a sharp, throaty "Blaa-ha-ha!"
 I'd heard him make that sound before, but I'd always assumed it was a nervous laugh. Now I realized it
was more of an irritated bleat.
 "Goat!" he cried.
 "What?"
 "I'm a goat  from the waist down."
 "You just said it didn't matter."
 "Blaa-ha-ha!There are satyrs who would trample youunderhoof for such an insult!"
 "Whoa. Wait. Satyrs. You mean like ... Mr. Brunner's myths?"
 "Were those old ladies at the fruit stand a myth, Percy? Was Mrs. Dodds a myth?"
 "So you admit there was a Mrs. Dodds!"
 "Of course."
 "Then why—"
 "The less you knew, the fewer monsters you'd attract," Grover said, like that should be perfectly
obvious. "We put Mist over the 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—wait a minute, what do you mean?"
 The weird bellowing noise rose up again somewhere behind us, closer than before. Whatever was
chasing us was still on our trail.
 "Percy," my mom said, "there's too much to explain and not enough time. We have to get you to safety."
 "Safety from what? Who's after me?"
 "Oh, nobody much," Grover said, obviously still miffed about the 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?"
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 I tried to wrap my mind around what was happening, but I couldn't do it. I knew this wasn't a dream. I
had no imagination. I could never dream up something this weird.
 My mom made a hard left. We swerved onto a narrower road, racing past darkened farmhouses and
wooded hills and PICK YOUR OWN STRAWBERRIES signs on white picket fences.
 "Where are we going?" I asked.
 "The summer camp I told you about." My mother's voice was tight; she was trying for my sake not to be
scared. "The place your father wanted to send you."
 "The place you didn't want me to go."
 "Please, dear," my mother begged. "This is hard enough. Try to understand. You're in danger."
 "Because some old ladies cut yarn."
 "Those weren't old ladies," Grover said. "Those were the Fates. Do you know what it means—the fact
they appeared in front of you? They only do that when you're about to ... when someone's about todie."
 "Whoa. You said 'you.'"
 "No I didn't. I said 'someone.'"
 "You meant 'you.' As inme. "
 "I meant you,  like 'someone.' Not you, you.  "
 "Boys!" my mom said.
 She pulled the wheel hard to the right, and I got a glimpse of a figure she'd swerved to avoid—a dark
flutter-ing shape now lost behind us in the storm.
 "What was that?" I asked.
 "We're almost there," my mother said, ignoring my question. "Another mile. Please. Please. Please."
 I didn't know where there was, but I found myself lean-ing forward in the car, anticipating, wanting us to
arrive.
 Outside, nothing but rain and darkness—the kind of empty countryside you get way out on the tip of
Long Island. I thought about Mrs. Dodds and the moment when she'd changed into the thing with pointed
teeth and leath-ery wings. My limbs went numb from delayed shock. She really hadn't been human.
She'd meant to kill me.
 Then I thought about Mr. Brunner ... and the sword he had thrown me. Before I could ask Grover about
that, the hair rose on the back of my neck. There was a blinding flash, a jaw-rattlingboom!,  and our car
exploded.
 I remember feeling weightless, like I was being crushed, fried, and hosed down all at the same time.
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 I peeled my forehead off the back of the driver's seat and said, "Ow."
 "Percy!" my mom shouted.
 "I'm okay... ."
 I tried to shake off the daze. I wasn't dead. The car hadn't really exploded. We'd swerved into a ditch.
Our driver's-side doors were wedged in the mud. The roof had cracked open like an eggshell and rain
was pouring in.
 Lightning. That was the only explanation. We'd been blasted right off the road. Next to me in the
backseat was a big motionless lump. "Grover!"
 He was slumped over, blood trickling from the side of his mouth. I shook his furry hip, thinking, No!
Even if you are half barnyard animal, you're my best friend and I don't want you to die!
 Then he groaned "Food," and I knew there was hope.
 "Percy," my mother said, "we have to ..." Her voice faltered.
 I looked back. In a flash of lightning, through the mud-spattered rear windshield, I saw a figure
lumbering toward us on the shoulder of the road. The sight of it made my skin crawl. It was a dark
silhouette of a huge guy, like a football player. He seemed to be holding a blanket over his head. His top
half was bulky and fuzzy. His upraised hands made it look like he had horns.
 I swallowed hard. "Who is—"
 "Percy," my mother said, deadly serious. "Get out of the car."
 My mother threw herself against the driver's-side door. It was jammed shut in the mud. I tried mine.
Stuck too. I looked up desperately at the hole in the roof. It might've been an exit, but the edges were
sizzling and smoking.
 "Climb out the passenger's side!" my mother told me. "Percy—you have to run. Do you see that big
tree?"
 "What?"
 Another flash of lightning, and through the smoking hole in the roof I saw the tree she meant: a huge,
White House Christmas tree-sized pine at the crest of the nearest hill.
 "That's the property line," my mom said. "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, you're coming too."
 Her face was pale, her eyes as sad as when she looked at the ocean.
 "No!" I shouted. "You are coming with me. Help me carry Grover."
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 "Food!" Grover moaned, a little louder.
 The man with the blanket on his head kept coming toward us, making his grunting, snorting noises. As he
got closer, I realized he couldn't be holding a blanket over his head, because his hands—huge meaty
hands—were swing-ing at his sides. There was no blanket. Meaning the bulky, fuzzy mass that was too
big to be his head ... was his head. And the points that looked like horns ...
 "He doesn't want us  ," my mother told me. "He wants you.  Besides, I can't cross the property line."
 "But..."
 "We don't have time, Percy. Go. Please."
 I got mad, then—mad at my mother, at Grover the goat, at the thing with horns that was lumbering
toward us slowly and deliberately like, like a bull.
 I climbed across Grover and pushed the door open into the rain. "We're going together. Come on,
Mom."
 "I told you—"
 "Mom! I am not leaving you. Help me with Grover."
 I didn't wait for her answer. I scrambled outside, drag-ging Grover from the car. He was surprisingly
light, but I couldn't have carried him very far if my mom hadn't come to my aid.
 Together, we draped Grover's arms over our shoulders and started stumbling uphill through wet
waist-high grass.
 Glancing back, I got my first clear look at the monster. He was seven feet tall, easy, his arms and legs
like something from the cover ofMuscle Man  magazine—bulging biceps and triceps and a bunch of other
'ceps, all stuffed like baseballs under vein-webbed skin. He wore no clothes except under-wear—I
mean, bright white Fruit of the Looms—which would've looked funny, except that the top half of his
body was so scary. Coarse brown hair started at about his belly button and got thicker as it  reached his
shoulders.
 His neck was a mass of muscle and fur leading up to his enormous head, which had a snout as long as
my arm, snotty nostrils with a gleaming brass ring, cruel black eyes, and horns—enormous
black-and-white horns with points you just couldn't get from an electric sharpener.
 I recognized the monster, all right. He had been in one of the first stories Mr. Brunner told us. But he
couldn't be real.
 I blinked the rain out of my eyes. "That's—"
 "Pasiphae's son," my mother said. "I wish I'd known how badly they want to kill you."
 "But he's the Min—"
 "Don't say his name," she warned. "Names have power."
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 The pine tree was still way too far—a hundred yards uphill at least.
 I glanced behind me again.
 The bull-man hunched over our car, looking in the win-dows—or not looking, exactly. More like
snuffling, nuz-zling. I wasn't sure why he bothered, since we were only about fifty feet away.
 "Food?" Grover moaned.
 "Shhh," I told him. "Mom, what's he doing? Doesn't he see us?"
 "His sight and hearing are terrible," she said. "He goes by smell. But he'll figure out where we are soon
enough."
 As if on cue, the bull-man bellowed in rage. He picked up Gabe's Camaro by the torn roof, the chassis
creaking and groaning. He raised the car over his head and threw it down the road. It slammed into the
wet asphalt and skidded in a shower of sparks for about half a mile before coming to a stop. The gas
tank exploded.
 Not a scratch, I remembered Gabe saying.
 Oops.
 "Percy," my mom said. "When he sees us, he'll charge. Wait until the last second, then jump out of the
way— directly sideways. He can't change directions very well once he's charging. Do you understand?"
 "How do you know all this?"
 "I've been worried about an attack for a long time. I shou ld have expected this. I was selfish, keeping you
near me."
 "Keeping me near you? But—"
 Another bellow of rage, and the bull-man started tromping uphill.
 He'd smelled us.
 The pine tree was only a few more yards, but the hill was getting steeper and slicker, and Grover wasn't
getting any lighter.
 The bull-man closed in. Another few seconds and he'd be on top of us.
 My mother must've been exhausted, but she shouldered Grover. "Go, Percy! Separate! Remember what
I said."
 I didn't want to split up, but I had the feeling she was right—it was our only chance. I sprinted to the left,
turned, and saw the creature bearing down on me. His black eyes glowed with hate. He reeked like
rotten meat.
 He lowered his head and charged, those razor-sharp horns aimed straight at my chest.
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 The fear in my stomach made me want to bolt, but that wouldn't work. I could never outrun this thing.
So I held my ground, and at the last moment, I jumped to the side.
 The bull-man stormed past like a freight train, then bel-lowed with frustration and turned, but not toward
me this time, toward my mother, who was setting Grover down in the grass.
 We'd reached the crest of the hill. Down the other side I could see a valley, just as my mother had said,
and the lights of a farmhouse glowing yellow through the rain. But that was half a mile away. We'd never
make it.
 The bull-man grunted, pawing the ground. He kept eyeing my mother, who was now retreating slowly
downhill, back toward the road, trying to lead the monster away from Grover.
 "Run, Percy!" she told me. "I can't go any farther. Run!"
 But I just stood there, frozen in fear, as the monster charged her. She tried to sidestep, as she'd told me
to do, but the monster had learned his lesson. His hand shot out and grabbed her by the neck as she tried
to get away. He lifted her as she struggled, kicking and pummeling the air.
 "Mom!"
 She caught my eyes, managed to choke out one last word: "Go!"
 Then, with an angry roar, the monster closed his fists around my mother's neck, and she dissolved
before my eyes, melting into light, a shimmering golden form, as if she were a holographic projection. A
blinding flash, and she was sim-ply ... gone.
 "No!"
 Anger replaced my fear. Newfound strength burned in my limbs—the same rush of energy I'd gotten
when Mrs. Dodds grew talons.
 The bull-man bore down on Grover, who lay helpless in the grass. The monster hunched over, snuffling
my best friend, as if he were about to lift Grover up and make him dissolve too.
 I couldn't allow that.
 I stripped off my red rain jacket.
 "Hey!" I screamed, waving the jacket, running to one side of the monster. "Hey, stupid! Ground beef!"
 "Raaaarrrrr!" The monster turned toward me, shaking his meaty fists.
 I had an idea—a stupid idea, but better than no idea at all. I put my back to the big pine tree and waved
my red jacket in front of the bull-man, thinking I'd jump out of the way at the last moment.
 But it didn't happen like that.
 The bull-man charged too fast, his arms out to grab me whichever way I tried to dodge.
 Time slowed down.
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 My legs tensed. I couldn't jump sideways, so I leaped straight up, kicking off from the creature's head,
using it as a springboard, turning in midair, and landing on his neck.
 How did I do that? I didn't have time to figure it out. A millisecond later, the monster's head slammed
into the tree and the impact nearly knocked my teeth out.
 The bull-man staggered around, trying to shake me. I locked my arms around his horns to keep from
being thrown. Thunder and lightning were still going strong. The rain was in my eyes. The smell of rotten
meat burned my nostrils.
 The monster shook himself around and bucked like a rodeo bull. He should have just backed up into the
tree and smashed me flat, but I was starting to realize that this thing had only one gear: forward.
 Meanwhile, Grover started groaning in the grass. I wanted to yell at him to shut up, but the way I was
getting tossed around, if I opened my mouth I'd bite my own tongue off.
 "Food!" Grover moaned.
 The bull-man wheeled toward him, pawed the ground again, and got ready to charge. I thought about
how he had squeezed the life out of my mother, made her disappear in a flash of light, and rage filled me
like high-octane fuel. I got both hands around one horn and I pulled backward with all my might. The
monster tensed, gave a surprised grunt, then—snap!
 The bull-man screamed and flung me through the air. I landed flat on my back in the grass. My head
smacked against a rock. When I sat up, my vision was blurry, but I had a horn in my hands, a ragged
bone weapon the size of a knife.
 The monster charged.
 Without thinking, I rolled to one side and came up kneeling. As the monster barreled past, I drove the
broken horn straight into his side, right up under his furry rib cage.
 The bull-man roared in agony. He flailed, clawing at his chest, then began to disintegrate—not like my
mother, in a flash of golden light, but like crumbling sand, blown away in chunks by the wind, the same
way Mrs. Dodds had burst apart.
 The monster was gone.
 The rain had stopped. The storm still rumbled, but only in the distance. I smelled like livestock and my
knees were shaking. My head felt like it was splitting open. I was weak and scared and trembling with
grief I'd just seen my mothervanish. I wanted to lie down and cry, but there was Grover, needing my
help, so I managed to haul him up and stagger down into the valley, toward the lights of the farm-house. I
was crying, calling for my mother, but I held on to Grover—I wasn't going to let him go.
 The last thing I remember is collapsing on a wooden porch, looking up at a ceiling fan circling above me,
moths flying around a yellow light, and the stern faces of a familiar-looking bearded man and a pretty girl,
her blond hair curled like a princess's. They both looked down at me, and the girl said, "He's the one. He
must be."
 "Silence, Annabeth," the man said. "He's still conscious. Bring him inside."

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