Annabeth and I exchanged looks. Annabeth said, “Umm …”
“First—time—at—spa,” the lady said as she wrote on her clipboard. “Let’s see …”
She looked us up and down critically. “Mmm. An herbal wrap to start for the young lady. And of course, a complete makeover for the young gentleman.”
“A what?” I asked.
She was too busy jotting down notes to answer.
“Right!” She said with a breezy smile. “Well, I’m sure C.C. will want to speak with you personally before the luau. Come, please.”
Now here’s the thing. Annabeth and I were used to traps, and usually those traps looked good at first. So I expected the clipboard lady to turn into a snake or a demon, or something, any minute. But on the other hand, we’d been floating in a rowboat for most of the day. I was hot, tired, and hungry, and when this lady mentioned a luau, my stomach sat up on its hind legs and begged like a dog.
“I guess it couldn’t hurt,” Annabeth muttered.
Of course it could, but we followed the lady anyway. I kept my hands in my pockets where I’d stashed my only magic defenses—Hermes’s multivitamins and Riptide— but the farther we wandered into the resort, the more I forgot about them.
The place was amazing. There was white marble and blue water everywhere I looked.
Terraces climbed up the side of the mountain, with swimming pools on every level, connected by watersides and waterfalls and underwater tubes you could swim through. Fountains sprayed water into the air, forming impossible shapes, like flying eagles and galloping horses.
Tyson loved horses, and I knew he’d love those fountains. I almost turned around to see the expression on his face before I remembered: Tyson was gone.
“You okay?” Annabeth asked me. “You look pale.”
“I’m okay,” I lied. “Just … let’s keep walking.”
We passed all kinds of tame animals. A sea turtle napped in a stack of beach towels. A leopard stretched out asleep on the diving board. The resort guests—only young women, as far as I could see—lounged in deck chairs, drinking fruit smoothies or reading magazines while herbal gunk dried on their faces and manicurists in white uniforms did their nails.
As we headed up a staircase toward what looked like the main building, I heard a woman singing. Her voice drifted through the air like a lullaby. Her words were in some language other than Ancient Greek, but just as old—Minoan, maybe, or something like that. I could understand what she sang about—moonlight in the olive groves, the colors of the sunrise. And magic. Something about magic. Her voice seemed to lift me off the steps and carry me toward her.
We came into a big room where the whole front wall was windows. The back wall was covered in mirrors, so the room seemed to go on forever. There was a bunch of expensive-looking white furniture, and on a table in one corner was a large wire pet cage. The cage seemed out of place, but I didn’t think about it too much, because just then I saw the lady who’d been singing … and whoa.
She sat at a loom the size of a big screen TV, her hands weaving colored thread back and forth with amazing skill. The tapestry shimmered like it was three dimensional—a waterfall scene so real I could see the water moving and clouds drifting across a fabric sky.
Annabeth caught her breath. “It’s beautiful.”
The woman turned. She was even prettier than her fabric. Her long dark hair was braided with threads of gold. She had piercing green eyes and she wore a silky black dress with shapes that seemed to move in the fabric: animal shadows, black upon black, like deer running through a forest at night.
“You appreciate weaving, my dear?” the woman asked.
“Oh, yes, ma’am!” Annabeth said. “My mother is—”
She stopped herself. You couldn’t just go around announcing that your mom was Athena, the goddess who invented the loom. Most people would lock you in a rubber room.
Our hostess just smiled. “You have good taste, my dear. I’m so glad you’ve come. My name is C.C.”
The animals in the corner cage started squealing. They must’ve been guinea pigs, from the sound of them.
We introduced ourselves to C.C. She looked me over with a twinge of disapproval, as if I’d failed some kind of test. Immediately, I felt bad. For some reason, I really wanted to please this lady.
“Oh, dear,” she sighed. “You do need my help.”
“Ma’am?” I asked.
C.C. called to the lady in the business suit. “Hylla, take Annabeth on a tour, will you? Show her what we have available. The clothing will need to change. And the hair, my goodness. We will do a full image consultation after I’ve spoken with this young gentleman.”
“But …” Annabeth’s voice sounded hurt. “What’s wrong with my hair?”
C.C. smiled benevolently. “My dear, you are lovely. Really! But you’re not showing off yourself or your talents at all. So much wasted potential!”
“Well, surely you’re not happy the way you are! My goodness, there’s not a single person who is. But don’t worry. We can improve anyone here at the spa. Hylla will show you what I mean.
You, my dear, need to unlock your true self!”
Annabeth’s eyes glowed with longing. I’d never seen her so much at a loss for words. “But … what about Percy?”
“Oh, definitely,” C.C. said, giving me a sad look. “Percy requires my personal attention. He needs much more work than you.”
Normally if somebody had told me that, I would’ve gotten angry, but when C.C. said it, I felt sad. I’d disappointed her. I had to figure out how to do better.
The guinea pigs squealed like they were hungry.
“Well …” Annabeth said. “I suppose …”
“Right this way, dear,” Hylla said. And Annabeth allowed herself to be led away into the waterfall-laced gardens of the spa.
C.C. took my arm and guided me toward the mirrored wall. “You see, Percy … to unlock your potential, you’ll need serious help. The first step is admitting that you’re not happy the way you are.”
I fidgeted in the front of the mirror. I hated thinking about my appearance—like the first zit that had cropped up on my nose at the beginning of the school year, or the fact that my two front teeth weren’t perfectly even, or that my hair never stayed down straight.
C.C.’s voice brought all of these things to mind, as if she were passing me under a microscope. And my clothes were not cool. I knew that.
Who cares? Part of me thought. But standing in front of C.C.’s mirror, it was hard to see anything good in myself.
“There, there,” C.C. consoled. “How about we try … this.”
She snapped her fingers and a sky-blue curtain rolled down over the mirror. It shimmered like the fabric on her loom.
“What do you see?” C.C. asked.
I looked at the blue cloth, not sure what she meant. “I don’t—”
Then it changed colors. I saw myself—a reflection, but not a reflection. Shimmering there on the cloth was a cooler version of Percy Jackson—with just the right clothes, a confident smile on my face. My teeth were straight. No zits. A perfect tan. More athletic. Maybe a couple of inches taller. It was me, without the faults.
“Whoa,” I managed.
“Do you want that?” C.C. asked. “Or shall I try a different—”
“No,” I said. “That’s … that’s amazing. Can you really—”
“I can give you a full makeover,” C.C. promised.
“What’s the catch?” I said. “I have to like … eat a special diet?”
“Oh, it’s quite easy,” C.C. said. “Plenty of fresh fruit, a mild exercise program, and of course … this.”
She stepped over to her wet bar and filled a glass with water. Then she ripped open a drink-mix packet and poured in some red powder. The mixture began to glow. When it faded, the drink looked just like a strawberry milk shake.
“One of these, substituted for a regular meal,” C.C. said. “I guarantee you’ll see results immediately.”
“How is that possible?”
She laughed. “Why question it? I mean, don’t you want the perfect you right away?”
Something nagged at the back of my mind. “Why are there no guys at this spa?”
“Oh, but there are,” C.C. assured me. “You’ll meet them quite soon. Just try the mixture.
I looked at the blue tapestry, at the reflection of me, but not me.
“Now, Percy,” C.C. chided. “The hardest part of the makeover process is giving up control.
You have to decide: do you want to trust your judgment about what you should be, or my judgment?”
My throat felt dry. I heard myself say, “Your judgment.”
C.C. smiled and handed me the glass. I lifted it to my lips.
It tasted just like it looked—like a strawberry milk shake. Almost immediately a warm feeling spread through my gut: pleasant at first, then painfully hot, searing, as if the mixture were coming to a boil inside of me.
I doubled over and dropped the cup. “What have you … what’s happening?”
“Don’t worry, Percy,” C.C. said. “The pain will pass. Look! As I promised. Immediate results.”
Something was horribly wrong.
The curtain dropped away, and in the mirror I saw my hands shriveling, curling, growing long delicate claws. Fur sprouted on my face, under my shirt, in every uncomfortable place you can imagine. My teeth felt too heavy in my mouth. My clothes were getting too big, or C.C. was getting too tall—no, I was shrinking.
In one awful flash, I sank into a cavern of dark cloth. I was buried in my own shirt. I tried to run but hands grabbed me—hands as big as I was. I tried to scream for help, but all that came out of my mouth was, “Reeet, reeet, reeet!”
The giant hands squeezed me around the middle, lifting me into the air. I struggled and kicked with legs and arms that seemed much too stubby, and then I was staring, horrified, into the enormous face of C.C.
“Perfect!” her voice boomed. I squirmed in alarm, but she only tightened her grip around my furry belly. “See, Percy? You’ve unlocked your true self!”
She held me up to the mirror, and what I saw made me scream in terror, “Reeet, reeet, reeet!” There was C.C., beautiful and smiling, holding a fluffy, bucktoothed creature with tiny claws and white and orange fur. When I twisted, so did the furry critter in the mirror. I was … I was …
“A guinea pig,” C.C. said. “Lovely, aren’t you? Men are pigs, Percy Jackson. I used to turn them into real pigs, but they were so smelly and large and difficult to keep. Not much different than they were before, really. Guinea pigs are much more convenient! Now come, and meet the other men.”
“Reeet!” I protested, trying to scratch her, but C.C. squeezed me so tight I almost blacked out.
“None of that, little one,” she scolded, “or I’ll feed you to the owls. Go into the cage like a good little pet. Tomorrow, if you behave, you’ll be on your way. There is always a classroom in need of a new guinea pig.”