Mrs. Dodds got up. In a flat voice, as if she'd rehearsed it, she announced to the whole bus: "I need to use the rest-room."
"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," Annabeth said. "Percy, take my hat."
"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," Annabeth 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!"
My hands trembled. I felt like a coward, but I took the Yankees cap and put it on.
When I looked down, my body wasn't there anymore.
I started creeping up the aisle. I managed to get up ten rows, then duck into an empty seat just as the Furies walked past.
Mrs. Dodds stopped, sniffing, and looked straight at me. My heart was pounding.
Apparently she didn't see anything. She and her sisters kept going.
I was free. I made it to the front of the bus. We were almost through the Lincoln Tunnel now. I was about to press the emergency stop button when I heard hideous wailing from the back row.
The old ladies were not old ladies anymore. Their faces were still the same—I guess those couldn't get any uglier— but 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 Annabeth, 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!" Annabeth yelled. "He's gone!"
The Furies raised their whips.
Annabeth drew her bronze knife. Grover grabbed a tin can from his snack bag and prepared to throw it.
What I did next was so impulsive and dangerous I should've been named ADHD poster child of the year.
The bus driver was distracted, trying to see what was going on in his rearview mirror.
Still invisible, I grabbed the wheel from him and jerked it to the left. Everybody howled as they were thrown to the right, and I heard what I hoped was the sound of three Furies smashing against the windows.
"Hey!" the driver yelled. "Hey—whoa!"
We wrestled for the wheel. 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 plowed 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 toward the river.
Another great idea: I hit the emergency brake.
The bus wailed, spun a full circle on the wet asphalt, 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. I stepped into the driver's seat and let them pass.
The Furies regained their balance. They lashed their whips at Annabeth while she waved her knife and yelled in Ancient Greek, telling them to back off. Grover threw tin cans.
I looked at the open doorway. I was free to go, but I couldn't leave my friends. I took off the invisible cap. "Hey!"
The Furies turned, baring their yellow fangs at me, and the exit suddenly seemed like an excellent idea. Mrs. Dodds stalked up the aisle, just as she used to do in class, about to deliver my F- math test. 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 toward me like huge nasty lizards.
"Perseus Jackson," Mrs. Dodds said, in an accent that was definitely from somewhere farther south than Georgia. "You have offended the gods. You shall die."
"I liked you better as a math teacher," I told her.
Annabeth and Grover moved up behind the Furies cautiously, looking for an opening.
I took the ballpoint pen out of my pocket and uncapped it. Riptide elongated into a shimmering double-edged sword.
The Furies hesitated.
Mrs. Dodds had felt Riptide's blade before. She obviously didn't like seeing it again.
"Submit now," she hissed. "And you will not suffer eternal torment."
"Nice try," I told her.
"Percy, look out!" Annabeth cried.
Mrs. Dodds lashed her whip around my sword hand while the Furies on the either side lunged at me.
My hand felt like it was wrapped in molten lead, but I managed not to drop Riptide. I stuck the Fury on the left with its hilt, sending her toppling backward into a seat. I turned and sliced the Fury on the right. As soon as the blade connected with her neck, she screamed and exploded into dust. Annabeth got Mrs. Dodds in a wrestler's hold and yanked her backward while Grover ripped the whip out of her hands.
"Ow!" he yelled. "Ow! Hot! Hot!"
The Fury I'd hilt-slammed came at me again, talons ready, but I swung Riptide and she broke open like a piñata.
Mrs. Dodds was trying to get Annabeth off her back. She kicked, clawed, hissed and bit, but Annabeth held on while Grover got Mrs. Dodds's legs tied up in her own whip. Finally they both shoved her backward into the aisle. Mrs. Dodds 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!" I yelled.
I wasn't sure where the Latin came from. I think it meant "Eat my pants!"
Thunder shook the bus. The hair rose on the back of my neck.
"Get out!" Annabeth yelled at me. "Now!" I didn't need any encouragement.
We rushed outside 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 my photograph before I could recap my sword.
"Our bags!" Grover realized. "We left our—"
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 Mrs. Dodds was not yet dead.
"Run!" Annabeth 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.
11. WE VISIT THE GARDEN GNOME EMPORIUM
In a way, it's nice to know there are Greek gods out there, because you have somebody to blame when things go wrong. For instance, when you're walking away from a bus that's just been attacked by monster hags and blown up by lightning, and it's raining on top of everything else, most people might think that's just really bad luck; when you're a half-blood, you understand that some divine force really is trying to mess up your day.
So there we were, Annabeth and Grover and I, walking through the woods along the New Jersey riverbank, the glow of New York City making the night sky yellow behind us, and the smell of the Hudson reeking in our noses.
Grover was shivering and braying, his big goat eyes turned slit-pupiled and full of terror. "Three Kindly Ones. All three at once."
I was pretty much in shock myself. The explosion of bus windows still rang in my ears. But Annabeth kept pulling us along, saying: "Come on! The farther away we get, the better."
"All our money was back there," I reminded her. "Our food and clothes. Everything."
"Well, maybe if you hadn't decided to jump into the fight—"
"What did you want me to do? Let you get killed?"
"You didn't need to protect me, Percy. I would've been fine."
"Sliced like sandwich bread," Grover put in, "but fine."
"Shut up, goat boy," said Annabeth.
Grover brayed mournfully. "Tin cans ... a perfectly good bag of tin cans."
We sloshed across mushy ground, through nasty twisted trees that smelled like sour laundry.
After a few minutes, Annabeth fell into line next to me. "Look, I..." Her voice faltered. "I appreciate your coming back for us, okay? That was really brave."
"We're a team, right?"
She was silent for a few more steps. "It's just that if you died ... aside from the fact that it would really suck for you, it would mean the quest was over. This may be my only chance to see the real world."
The thunderstorm had finally let up. The city glow faded behind us, leaving us in almost total darkness. I couldn't see anything of Annabeth except a glint of her blond hair.
"You haven't left CampHalf-Blood since you were seven?" I asked her.
"No ... only short field trips. My dad—"
"The history professor."
"Yeah. It didn't work out for me living at home. I mean, CampHalf-Bloodis my home." She was rushing her words out now, as if she were afraid somebody might try to stop her. "At camp you train and train. And that's all cool and everything, but the real world is where the monsters are. That's where you learn whether you're any good or not."
If I didn't know better, I could've sworn I heard doubt in her voice.
"You're pretty good with that knife," I said.
"You think so?"
"Anybody who can piggyback-ride a Fury is okay by me."
I couldn't really see, but I thought she might've smiled.
"You know," she said, "maybe I should tell you ... Something funny back on the bus ..."
Whatever she wanted to say was interrupted by a shrill toot-toot-toot, like the sound of an owl being tortured.
"Hey, my reed pipes still work!" Grover cried. "If I could just remember a 'find path' song, we could get out of these woods!". . . . . . . ..
He puffed out a few notes, but the tune still sounded suspiciously like Hilary Duff.
Instead of finding a path, I immediately slammed into a tree and got a nice-size knot on my head.
Add to the list of superpowers I did not have: infrared vision.
After tripping and cursing and generally feeling miserable for another mile or so, I started to see light up ahead: the colors of a neon sign. I could smell food. Fried, greasy, excellent food. I realized I hadn't eaten anything unhealthy since I'd arrived at Half-Blood Hill, where we lived on grapes, bread, cheese, and extra-lean-cut nymph-prepared barbecue. This boy needed a double cheeseburger.
We kept walking until I saw a deserted two-lane road through the trees. On the other side was a closed-down gas station, a tattered billboard for a 1990s movie, and one open business, which was the source of the neon light and the good smell.
It wasn't a fast-food restaurant like I'd hoped. It was one of those weird roadside curio shops that sell lawn flamingos and wooden Indians and cement grizzly bears and stuff like that. The main building was a long, low warehouse, surrounded by acres of statuary. The neon sign above the gate was impossible for me to read, because if there's anything worse for my dyslexia than regular English, it's red cursive neon English.