"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 stupid 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, temporarily overpowering the stink of trash and muck. It brought the smell of berries and wildflowers and clean rainwater, 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.
"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 disappear. They're never seen alive again."
"Not once in two thousand years?"
"And your dad? You have no idea what happened to him?"
"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.
"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. Something isn't what it seems."
"Well, duh. I'm getting blamed for stealing a thunderbolt 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 YancyAcademy ... 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 feeling 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 petrification. "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."
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 something 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.
"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.
"This thing," 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. "Forget 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."
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 waiting 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 station half a mile that way. According to Gladiola, the westbound train leaves at noon."
13. I PLUNGE TO MY DEATH
We spent two days on the Amtrak train, heading west through hills, over rivers, past amber waves of grain.
We weren't attacked once, but I didn't relax. I felt that we were traveling around in a display case, being watched from above and maybe from below, that something was waiting for the right opportunity.
I tried to keep a low profile because my name and picture were splattered over the front pages of several East Coast newspapers. The Trenton Register-News showed a photo taken by a tourist as I got off the Greyhound bus. I had a wild look in my eyes. My sword was a metallic blur in my hands. It might've been a baseball bat or a lacrosse stick.
The picture's caption read:
Twelve-year-old Percy Jackson, wanted for questioning in the Long Island disappearance of his mother two weeks ago, is shown here fleeing from the bus where he accosted several elderly female passengers. The bus exploded on an east New Jersey roadside shortly after Jackson fled the scene. Based on eyewitness accounts, police believe the boy may be traveling with two teenage accomplices. His stepfather, Gabe Ugliano, has offered a cash reward for information leading to his capture.