Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Lightning Thief - Chapter 5




Chapter 5

 I PLAY PINOCHLE
 WITH A HORSE
 
 I had weird dreams full of barnyard animals. Most of them wanted to kill me. The rest wanted food.
 I must've woken up several times, but what I heard and saw made no sense, so I just passed out again. I
remember lying in a soft bed, being spoon-fed something that tasted like buttered popcorn, only it was
pudding. The girl with curly blond hair hovered over me, smirking as she scraped drips off my chin with
the spoon.
 When she saw my eyes open, she asked, "What will happen at the summer solstice?"
 I managed to croak, "What?"
 She looked around, as if afraid someone would over-hear. "What's going on? What was stolen? We've
only got a few weeks!"
 "I'm sorry," I mumbled, "I don't..."
 Somebody knocked on the door, and the girl quickly filled my mouth with pudding.
 The next time I woke up, the girl was gone.
 A husky blond dude, like a surfer, stood in the corner of the bedroom keeping watch over me. He had
blue eyes— at least a dozen of them—on his cheeks, his forehead, the backs of his hands.
 
 * * *
 When I finally came around for good, there was nothing weird about my surroundings, except that they
were nicer than I was used to. I was sitting in a deck chair on a huge porch, gazing across a meadow at
green hills in the distance. The breeze smelled like strawberries. There was a blanket over my legs, a
pillow behind my neck. All that was great, but my mouth felt like a scorpion had been using it for a nest.
My tongue was dry and nasty and every one of my teeth hurt.
 On the table next to me was a tall drink. It looked like iced apple juice, with a green straw and a paper
parasol stuck through a maraschino cherry.
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 My hand was so weak I almost dropped the glass once I got my fingers around it.
 "Careful," a familiar voice said.
 Grover was leaning against the porch railing, looking like he hadn't slept in a week. Under one arm, he
cradled a shoe box. He was wearing blue jeans, Converse hi-tops and a bright orange T-shirt that said
CAMP HALF-BLOOD. Just plain old Grover, Not the goat boy.
 So maybe I'd had a nightmare. Maybe my mom was okay. We were still on vacation, and we'd stopped
here at this big house for some reason. And ...
 "You saved my life," Grover said. "I... well, the least I could do ... I went back to the hill. I thought you
might want this."
 Reverently, he placed the shoe box in my lap.
 Inside was a black-and-white bull's horn, the base jagged from being broken off, the tip splattered with
dried blood. It hadn't been a nightmare.
 "The Minotaur," I said.
 "Urn, Percy, it isn't a good idea—"
 "That's what they call him in the Greek myths, isn't it?" I demanded. "The Minotaur. Half man, half bull."
 Grover shifted uncomfortably. "You've been out for two days. How much do you remember?"
 "My mom. Is she really ..."
 He looked down.
 I stared across the meadow. There were groves of trees, a winding stream, acres of strawberries spread
out under the blue sky. The valley was surrounded by rolling hills, and the tallest one, directly in front of
us, was the one with the huge pine tree on top. Even that looked beautiful in the sunlight.
 My mother was gone. The whole world should be black and cold. Nothing should look beautiful.
 "I'm sorry," Grover sniffled. "I'm a failure. I'm—I'm the worst satyr in the world."
 He moaned, stomping his foot so hard it came off. I mean, the Converse hi-top came off. The inside was
filled with Styrofoam, except for a hoof-shaped hole.
 "Oh, Styx!" he mumbled.
 Thunder rolled across the clear sky.
 As he struggled to get his hoof back in the fake foot, I thought, Well, that settles it.
 Grover was a satyr. I was ready to bet that if I shaved his curly brown hair, I'd find tiny horns on his
head. But I was too miserable to care that satyrs existed, or even minotaurs. All that meant was my mom
really had been squeezed into nothingness, dissolved into yellow light.
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 I was alone. An orphan. I would have to live with ... Smelly Gabe? No. That would never happen. I
would live on the streets first. I would pretend I was seventeen and join the army. I'd do something.
 Grover was still sniffling. The poor kid—poor goat, satyr, whatever—looked as if he expected to be hit.
 I said, "It wasn't your fault."
 "Yes, it was. I was supposed toprotect  you."
 "Did my mother ask you to protect me?"
 "No. But that's my job. I'm a keeper. At least... I was."
 "But why ..." I suddenly felt dizzy, my vision swim-ming.
 "Don't strain yourself," Grover said. "Here." He helped me hold my glass and put the straw to my lips.
 I recoiled at the taste, because I was expecting apple juice. It wasn't that at all. It was chocolate-chip
cookies. Liquid cookies. And not just any cookies—my mom's homemade blue chocolate-chip cookies,
buttery and hot, with the chips still melting. Drinking it, my whole body felt warm and good, full of energy.
My grief didn't go away, but I felt as if my mom had just brushed her hand against my cheek, given me a
cookie the way she used to when I was small, and told me everything was going to be okay.
 Before I knew it, I'd drained the glass. I stared into it, sure I'd just had a warm drink, but the ice cubes
hadn't even melted.
 "Was it good?" Grover asked.
 I nodded.
 "What did it taste like?" He sounded so wistful, I felt guilty.
 "Sorry," I said. "I should've let you taste."
 His eyes got wide. "No! That's not what I meant. I just... wondered."
 "Chocolate-chip cookies," I said. "My mom's. Home-made."
 He sighed. "And how do you feel?"
 "Like I could throw Nancy Bobofit a hundred yards."
 "That's good," he said. "That's good. I don't think you could risk drinking any more of that stuff"
 "What do you mean?"
 He took the empty glass from me gingerly, as if it were dynamite, and set it  back on the table. "Come on.
Chiron and Mr. D are waiting."
 The porch wrapped all the way around the farmhouse.
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 My legs felt wobbly, trying to walk that far. Grover offered to carry the Minotaur horn, but I held on to
it. I'd paid for that souvenir the hard way. I wasn't going to let it go.
 As we came around the opposite end of the house, I caught my breath.
 We must've been on the north shore of Long Island, because on this side of the house, the valley
marched all the way up to the water, which glittered about a mile in the distance. Between here and there,
I simply couldn't process everything I was seeing. The landscape was dotted with buildings that looked
like ancient Greek architecture—an open-air pavilion, an amphitheater, a circular arena—except that
they all looked brand new, their white marble columns sparkling in the sun. In a nearby sandpit, a dozen
high school-age kids and satyrs played volleyball. Canoes glided across a small lake. Kids in bright
orange T-shirts like Grover's were chasing each other around a cluster of cabins nestled in the woods.
Some shot targets at an archery range. Others rode horses down a wooded trail, and, unless I was
hallucinating, some of their horses had wings.
 Down at the end of the porch, two men sat across from each other at a card table. The blond-haired girl
who'd spoon-fed me popcorn-flavored pudding was leaning on the porch rail next to them.
 The man facing me was small, but porky. He had a red nose, big watery eyes, and curly hair so black it
was almost purple. He looked like those paintings of baby angels— what do you call them, hubbubs?
No, cherubs. That's it. He looked like a cherub who'd turned middle-aged in a trailer park. He wore a
tiger-pattern Hawaiian shirt, and he would've fit right in at one of Gabe's poker parties, except I got the
feeling this guy could've out-gambled even my step-father.
 "That's Mr. D," Grover murmured to me. "He's the camp director. Be polite. The girl, that's Annabeth
Chase. She's just a camper, but she's been here longer than just about anybody. And you already know
Chiron... ."
 He pointed at the guy whose back was to me.
 First, I realized he was sitting in the wheelchair. Then I recognized the tweed jacket, the thinning brown
hair, the scraggly beard.
 "Mr. Brunner!" I cried.
 The Latin teacher turned and smiled at me. His eyes had that mischievous glint they sometimes got in
class when he pulled a pop quiz and made all the multiple choice answersB .
 "Ah, good, Percy," he said. "Now we have four for pinochle."
 He offered me a chair to the right of Mr. D, who looked at me with bloodshot eyes and heaved a great
sigh. "Oh, I suppose I must say it. Welcome to Camp Half-Blood. There. Now, don't expect me to be
glad to see you."
 "Uh, thanks." I scooted a little farther away from him because, if  there was one thing I had learned from
living with Gabe, it was how to tell when an adult has been hit-ting the happy juice. If Mr. D was a
stranger to alcohol, I was a satyr.
 "Annabeth?" Mr. Brunner called to the blond girl.
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 She came forward and Mr. Brunner introduced us. "This young lady nursed you back to health, Percy.
Annabeth, my dear, why don't you go check on Percy's bunk? We'll be putting him in cabin eleven for
now."
 Annabeth said, "Sure, Chiron."
 She was probably my age, maybe a couple of inches taller, and a whole lot more athletic looking. With
her deep tan and her curly blond hair, she was almost exactly what I thought a stereotypical California girl
would look like, except her eyes ruined the image. They were startling gray, like storm clouds; pretty, but
intimidating, too, as if she were analyzing the best way to take me down in a fight.
 She glanced at the minotaur horn in my hands, then back at me. I imagined she was going to say, You
killed a mino- taur! or Wow, you're so awesome! or something like that.
 Instead she said, "You drool when you sleep."
 Then she sprinted off down the lawn, her blond hair flying behind her.
 "So," I said, anxious to change the subject. "You, uh, work here, Mr. Brunner?"
 "Not Mr. Brunner," the ex—Mr. Brunner said. "I'm afraid that was a pseudonym. You may call me
Chiron."
 "Okay." Totally confused, I looked at the director. "And Mr. D ... does that stand for something?"
 Mr. D stopped shuffling the cards. He looked at me like I'd just belched loudly. "Young man, names are
power-ful things. You don't just go around using them for no reason."
 "Oh. Right. Sorry."
 "I must say, Percy," Chiron-Brunner broke in, "I'm glad to see you alive. It's been a long time since I've
made a house call to a potential camper. I'd hate to think I've wasted my time."
 "House call?"
 "My year at Yancy Academy, to instruct you. We have satyrs at most schools, of course, keeping a
lookout. But Grover alerted me as soon as he met you. He sensed you were something special, so I
decided to come upstate. I convinced the other Latin teacher to ... ah, take a leave of absence."
 I tried to remember the beginning of the school year. It seemed like so long ago, but I did have a fuzzy
memory of there being another Latin teacher my first week at Yancy. Then, without explanation, he had
disappeared and Mr. Brunner had taken the class.
 "You came to Yancy just to teach me?" I asked.
 Chiron nodded. "Honestly, I wasn't sure about you at first. We contacted your mother, let her know we
were keeping an eye on you in case you were ready for Camp Half-Blood. But you still had so much to
learn. Nevertheless, you made it here alive, and that's always the first test."
 "Grover," Mr. D said impatiently, "are you playing or not?"
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 "Yes, sir!" Grover trembled as he took the fourth chair, though I didn't know why he should be so afraid
of a pudgy little man in a tiger-print Hawaiian shirt.
 "Youdo know how to play pinochle?" Mr. D eyed me suspiciously.
 "I'm afraid not," I said.
 "I'm afraid not, sir,"  he said.
 "Sir," I repeated. I was liking the camp director less and less.
 "Well," he told me, "it is, along with gladiator fighting and Pac-Man, one of the greatest games ever
invented by humans. I would expect all civilized young men to know the rules."
 "I'm sure the boy can learn," Chiron said.
 "Please," I said, "what is this place? What am I doing here? Mr. Brun—Chiron—why would you go to
Yancy Academy just to teach me?"
 Mr. D snorted. "I asked the same question."
 The camp director dealt the cards. Grover flinched every time one landed in his pile.
 Chiron smiled at me sympathetically, the way he used to in Latin class, as if to let me know that no
matter what my average was,I was his star student. He expected me to have the right answer.
 "Percy," he said. "Did your mother tell you nothing?'
 "She said ..." I remembered her sad eyes, looking out over the sea. "She told me she was afraid to send
me here, even though my father had wanted her to. She said that once I was here, I probably couldn't
leave. She wanted to keep me close to her."
 "Typical," Mr. D said. "That's how they usually get killed. Young man, are you bidding or not?"
 "What?" I asked.
 He explained, impatiently, how you bid in pinochle, and so I did.
 "I'm afraid there's too much to tell," Chiron said. "I'm afraid our usual orientation film won't be sufficient."
 "Orientation film?" I asked.
 "No," Chiron decided. "Well, Percy. You know your friend Grover is a satyr. You know"—he pointed
to the horn in the shoe box—"that you have killed the Minotaur. No small feat, either, lad. What you may
not know is that great powers are at work in your life. Gods—the forces you call the Greek gods—are
very much alive."
 I stared at the others around the table.
 I waited for somebody to yell, Not!  But all I got was Mr. D yelling, "Oh, a royal marriage. Trick! Trick!"
He cackled as he tallied up his points.
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 "Mr. D," Grover asked timidly, "if you're not going to eat it, could I have your Diet Coke can?"
 "Eh? Oh, all right."
 Grover bit a huge shard out of the empty aluminum can and chewed it mournfully.
 "Wait," I told Chiron. "You're telling me there's such a thing as God."
 "Well, now," Chiron said. "God—capital G  , God. That's a different matter altogether. We shan't deal
with the metaphysical."
 "Metaphysical? But you were just talking about—"
 "Ah, gods, plural, as in, great beings that control the forces of nature and human endeavors: the immortal
gods of Olympus. That's a smaller matter."
 "Smaller?"
 "Yes, quite. The gods we discussed in Latin class."
 "Zeus," I said. "Hera. Apollo. You mean them."
 And there it was again—distant thunder on a cloud-less day.
 "Young man," said Mr. D, "I would really be less casual about throwing those names around, if I were
you."
 "But they're stories," I said. "They're—myths, to explain lightning and the seasons and stuff. They're what
people believed before there was science."
 "Science!" Mr. D scoffed. "And tell me, Perseus Jackson"—I flinched when he said my real name, which
I never told anybody—"what will people think of your 'sci-ence' two thousand years from now?" Mr. D
continued. "Hmm? They will call it primitive mumbo jumbo. That's what. Oh, I love mortals—they have
absolutely no sense of perspective. They think they've come so-o-o  far. And have they, Chiron? Look at
this boy and tell me."
 I wasn't liking Mr. D much, but there was something about the way he called me mortal, as if... he
wasn't. It was enough to put a lump in my throat, to suggest why Grover was dutifully minding his cards,
chewing his soda can, and keeping his mouth shut.
 "Percy," Chiron said, "you may choose to believe or not, but the fact is that immortal  means immortal.
Can you imag-ine that for a moment, never dying? Never fading? Existing, just as you are, for all time?"
 I was about to answer, off the top of my head, that it sounded like a pretty good deal, but the tone of
Chiron's voice made me hesitate.
 "You mean, whether people believed in you or not," I said.
 "Exactly," Chiron agreed. "If you were a god, how would you like being called a myth, an old story to
explain lightning? What if I told you, Perseus Jackson, that some-day people would call you a myth, just
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created to explain how little boys can get over losing their mothers?"
 My heart pounded. He was trying to make me angry for some reason, but I wasn't going to let him. I
said, "I wouldn't like it. But I don't believe in gods."
 "Oh, you'd better," Mr. D murmured. "Before one of them incinerates you."
 Grover said, "P-please, sir. He's just lost his mother. He's in shock."
 "A lucky thing, too," Mr. D grumbled, playing a card. "Bad enough I'm confined to this miserable job,
working with boys who don't even believe.'"
 He waved his hand and a goblet appeared on the table, as if the sunlight had bent, momentarily, and
woven the air into glass. The goblet filled itself with red wine.
 My jaw dropped, but Chiron hardly looked up.
 "Mr. D," he warned, "your restrictions."
 Mr. D looked at the wine and feigned surprise.
 "Dear me." He looked at the sky and yelled, "Old habits! Sorry!"
 More thunder.
 Mr. D waved his hand again, and the wineglass changed into a fresh can of Diet Coke. He sighed
unhappily, popped the top of the soda, and went back to his card game.
 Chiron winked at me. "Mr. D offended his father a while back, took a fancy to a wood nymph who had
been declared off-limits."
 "A wood nymph," I repeated, still staring at the Diet Coke can like it was from outer space.
 "Yes," Mr. D confessed. "Father loves to punish me. The first time, Prohibition. Ghastly! Absolutely
horrid ten years! The second time—well, she really was pretty, and I couldn't stay away—the second
time, he sent me here. Half-Blood Hill. Summer camp for brats like you. 'Be a better influence,' he told
me. 'Work with youths rather than tear-ing them down.' Ha.' Absolutely unfair."
 Mr. D sounded about six years old, like a pouting little kid.
 "And ..." I stammered, "your father is ..."
 "Di immortales,Chiron," Mr. D said. "I thought you taught this boy the basics. My father is Zeus, of
course."
 I ran through D names from Greek mythology. Wine. The skin of a tiger. The satyrs that all seemed to
work here. The way Grover cringed, as if Mr. D were his master.
 "You're Dionysus," I said. "The god of wine."
 Mr. D rolled his eyes. "What do they say, these days, Grover? Do the children say, 'Well, duh!'?"
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 "Y-yes, Mr. D."
 "Then, well, duh! Percy Jackson. Did you think I was Aphrodite, perhaps?"
 "You're a god."
 "Yes, child."
 "A god. You."
 He turned to look at me straight on, and I saw a kind of purplish fire in his eyes, a hint that this whiny,
plump lit-tle man was only showing me the tiniest bit of his true nature. I saw visions of grape vines
choking unbelievers to death, drunken warriors insane with battle lust, sailors screaming as their hands
turned to flippers, their faces elon-gating into dolphin snouts. I knew that if I pushed him, Mr. D would
show me worse things. He would plant a disease in my brain that would leave me wearing a strait-jacket
in a rubber room for the rest of my life.
 "Would you like to test me, child?" he said quietly.
 "No. No, sir."
 The fire died a little. He turned back to his card game. "I believe I win."
 "Not quite, Mr. D," Chiron said. He set down a straight, tallied the points, and said, "The game goes to
me."
 I thought Mr. D was going to vaporize Chiron right out of his wheelchair, but he just sighed through his
nose, as if he were used to being beaten by the Latin teacher. He got up, and Grover rose, too.
 "I'm tired," Mr. D said. "I believe I'll take a nap before the sing-along tonight. But first, Grover, we need
to talk, again,  about your less-than-perfect performance on this assignment."
 Grover's face beaded with sweat. "Y-yes, sir."
 Mr. D turned to me. "Cabin eleven, Percy Jackson. And mind your manners."
 He swept into the farmhouse, Grover following miser-ably.
 "Will Grover be okay?" I asked Chiron.
 Chiron nodded, though he looked a bit troubled. "Old Dionysus isn't really mad. He just hates his job.
He's been ... ah, grounded, I guess you would say, and he can't stand waiting another century before he's
allowed to go back to Olympus."
 "Mount Olympus," I said. "You're telling me there really is a palace there?"
 "Well now, there's Mount Olympus in Greece. And then there's the home of the gods, the convergence
point of their powers, which did indeed used to be on Mount Olympus. It's still called Mount Olympus,
out of respect to the old ways, but the palace moves, Percy, just as the gods do."
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 "You mean the Greek gods are here? Like... in America?"
 "Well, certainly. The gods move with the heart of the West."
 "The what?"
 "Come now, Percy. What you call 'Western civilization.' Do you think it's just an abstract concept? No,
it's a living force. A collective consciousness that has burned bright for thousands of years. The gods are
part of it. You might even say they are the source of it, or at least, they are tied so tightly to it that they
couldn't possibly fade, not unless all of Western civilization were obliterated. The fire started in Greece.
Then, as you well know—or as I hope you know, since you passed my course—the heart of the fire
moved to Rome, and so did the gods. Oh, different names, perhaps—Jupiter for Zeus, Venus for
Aphrodite, and so on—but the same forces, the same gods."
 "And then they died."
 "Died? No. Did the West die?  The gods simply moved, to Germany, to France, to Spain, for a while.
Wherever the flame was brightest, the gods were there. They spent several centuries in England. All you
need to do is look at the archi-tecture. People do not forget the gods. Every place they've ruled, for the
last three thousand years, you can see them in paintings, in statues, on the most important buildings. And
yes, Percy, of course they are now in your United States. Look at your symbol, the eagle of Zeus. Look
at the statue of Prometheus in Rockefeller Center, the Greek facades of your government buildings in
Washington. I defy you to find any American city where the Olympians are not promi-nently displayed in
multiple places. Like it or not—and believe me, plenty of people weren't very fond of Rome,
either—America is now the heart of the flame. It is the great power of the West. And so Olympus is
here. And we are here."
 It was all too much, especially the fact thatI seemed to be included in Chiron's we, asif  I were part of
some club.
 "Who are you, Chiron? Who ... who am I?"
 Chiron smiled. He shifted his weight as if he were going to get up out of his wheelchair, but I knew that
was impos-sible. He was paralyzed from the waist down.
 "Who are you?" he mused. "Well, that's the question we all want answered, isn't it? But for now, we
should get you a bunk in cabin eleven. There will be new friends to meet. And plenty of time for lessons
tomorrow. Besides, there will be s'mores at the campfire tonight, and I simply adore chocolate."
 And then he did rise from his wheelchair. But there was something odd about the way he did it. His
blanket fell away from his legs, but the legs didn't move. His waist kept getting longer, rising above his
belt. At first, I thought he was wearing very long, white velvet underwear, but as he kept rising out of the
chair, taller than any man, I realized that the velvet underwear wasn't underwear; it was the front of an
animal, muscle and sinew under coarse white fur. And the wheelchair wasn't a chair. It was some kind of
container, an enormous box on wheels, and it must've been magic, because there's no way it could've
held all of him. A leg came out, long and knobby-kneed, with a huge polished hoof. Then another front
leg, then hindquarters, and then the box was empty, nothing but a metal shell with a couple of fake human
legs attached.
 I stared at the horse who had just sprung from the wheelchair: a huge white stallion. But where its neck
should be was the upper body of my Latin teacher, smoothly grafted to the horse's trunk.
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 "What a relief," the centaur said. "I'd been cooped up in there so long, my fetlocks had fallen asleep.
Now, come, Percy Jackson. Let's meet the other campers."

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