The Lightning Thief – Chapter 14: I BECOME A KNOWN FUGITIVE

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Chapter 14: I BECOME A KNOWN FUGITIVE

Id love to tell you I had some deep revelation on my way down, that I came to terms with my own mortality, laughed in the face of death, et cetera. 

  The truth? My only thought was: Aaaaggghhhhh!

  The river raced toward me at the speed of a truck. Wind ripped the breath from my lungs. Steeples and skyscrapers and bridges tumbled in and out of my vision. 

  And then: Flaaa-boooom!

  A whiteout of bubbles. I sank through the murk, sure that I was about to end up embedded in a hundred feet of mud and lost forever. 

  But my impact with the water hadnt hurt. I was falling slowly now, bubbles trickling up through my fingers. I settled on the river bottom soundlessly. A catfish the size of my stepfather lurched away into the gloom. Clouds of silt and disgusting garbage—beer bottles, old shoes, plastic bags—swirled up all around me. 

  At that point, I realized a few things: first, I had not been flattened into a pancake. I had not been barbecued. I couldnt even feel the Chimera poison boiling in my veins anymore. I was alive, which was good. 

  Second realization: I wasnt wet. I mean, I could feel the coolness of the water. I could see where the fire on my clothes had been quenched. But when I touched my own shirt, it felt perfectly dry. 

  I looked at the garbage floating by and snatched an old cigarette lighter. 

  No way, I thought. 

  I flicked the lighter. It sparked. A tiny flame appeared, right there at the bottom of the Mississippi. 

  I grabbed a soggy hamburger wrapper out of the current and immediately the paper turned dry. I lit it with no problem. As soon as I let it go, the flames sputtered out. The wrapper turned back into a slimy rag. Weird. 

  But the strangest thought occurred to me only last: I was breathing. I was underwater, and I was breathing normally. 

  I stood up, thigh-deep in mud. My legs felt shaky. My hands trembled. I shouldve been dead. The fact that I wasnt seemed like . . . well, a miracle. I imagined a womans voice, a voice that sounded a bit like my mother: Percy, what do you say?

  “Um . . . thanks. ” Underwater, I sounded like I did on recordings, like a much older kid. “Thank you . . . Father. “

  No response. Just the dark drift of garbage downriver, the enormous catfish gliding by, the flash of sunset on the waters surface far above, turning everything the color of butterscotch. 

  Why had Poseidon saved me? The more I thought about it, the more ashamed I felt. So Id gotten lucky a few times before. Against a thing like the Chimera, I had never stood a chance. Those poor people in the Arch were probably toast. I couldnt protect them. I was no hero. Maybe I should just stay down here with the catfish, join the bottom feeders. 

  Fump-fump-fump. A riverboats paddlewheel churned above me, swirling the silt around. 

  There, not five feet in front of me, was my sword, its gleaming bronze hilt sticking up in the mud. 

  I heard that womans voice again: Percy, take the sword. Your father believes in you. This time, I knew the voice wasnt in my head. I wasnt imagining it. Her words seemed to come from everywhere, rippling through the water like dolphin sonar. 

  “Where are you?” I called aloud. 

  Then, through the gloom, I saw her—a woman the color of the water, a ghost in the current, floating just above the sword. She had long billowing hair, and her eyes, barely visible, were green like mine. 

  A lump formed in my throat. I said, “Mom?”

  No, child, only a messenger, though your mothers fate is not as hopeless as you believe. Go to the beach in Santa Monica. 

  “What?”

  It is your fathers will. Before you descend into the Underworld, you must go to Santa Monica. Please, Percy, I cannot stay long. The river here is too foul for my presence. 

  “But . . . ” I was sure this woman was my mother, or a vision of her, anyway. “Who—how did you—”

  There was so much I wanted to ask, the words jammed up in my throat. 

  I cannot stay, brave one, the woman said. She reached out, and I felt the current brush my face like a caress. You must go to Santa Monica! And, Percy, do not trust the gifts. . . . 

  Her voice faded. 

  “Gifts?” I asked. “What gifts? Wait!”

  She made one more attempt to speak, but the sound was gone. Her image melted away. If it was my mother, I had lost her again. 

  I felt like drowning myself. The only problem: I was immune to drowning. 

Your father believes in you, she had said. 

  Shed also called me brave . . . unless she was talking to the catfish. 

  I waded toward Riptide and grabbed it by the hilt. The Chimera might still be up there with its snaky, fat mother, waiting to finish me off. At the very least, the mortal police would be arriving, trying to figure out who had blown a hole in the Arch. If they found me, theyd have some questions. 

  I capped my sword, stuck the ballpoint pen in my pocket. “Thank you, Father,” I said again to the dark water. 

  Then I kicked up through the muck and swam for the surface. 

  I came ashore next to a floating McDonalds. 

  A block away, every emergency vehicle in St. Louis was surrounding the Arch. Police helicopters circled overhead. The crowd of onlookers reminded me of Times Square on New Years Eve. 

  A little girl said, “Mama! That boy walked out of the river. “

  “Thats nice, dear,” her mother said, craning her neck to watch the ambulances. 

  “But hes dry!”

  “Thats nice, dear. “

  A news lady was talking for the camera: “Probably not a terrorist attack, were told, but its still very early in the investigation. The damage, as you can see, is very serious. Were trying to get to some of the survivors, to question them about eyewitness reports of someone falling from the Arch. “

  Survivors. I felt a surge of relief. Maybe the park ranger and that family made it out safely. I hoped Annabeth and Grover were okay. 

  I tried to push through the crowd to see what was going on inside the police line. 

  “. . . an adolescent boy,” another reporter was saying. “Channel Five has learned that surveillance cameras show an adolescent boy going wild on the observation deck, somehow setting off this freak explosion. Hard to believe, John, but thats what were hearing. Again, no confirmed fatalities . . . “

  I backed away, trying to keep my head down. I had to go a long way around the police perimeter. Uniformed officers and news reporters were everywhere. 

  Id almost lost hope of ever finding Annabeth and Grover when a familiar voice bleated, “Perrr-cy!”

  I turned and got tackled by Grovers bear hug—or goat hug. He said, “We thought youd gone to Hades the hard way!”

  Annabeth stood behind him, trying to look angry, but even she seemed relieved to see me. “We cant leave you alone for five minutes! What happened?”

  “I sort of fell. “

  “Percy! Six hundred and thirty feet?”

  Behind us, a cop shouted, “Gangway!” The crowd parted, and a couple of paramedics hustled out, rolling a woman on a stretcher. I recognized her immediately as the mother of the little boy whod been on the observation deck. She was saying, “And then this huge dog, this huge fire-breathing Chihuahua—”

  “Okay, maam,” the paramedic said. “Just calm down. Your family is fine. The medication is starting to kick in. “

  “Im not crazy! This boy jumped out of the hole and the monster disappeared. ” Then she saw me. “There he is! Thats the boy!”

  I turned quickly and pulled Annabeth and Grover after me. We disappeared into the crowd. 

  “Whats going on?” Annabeth demanded. “Was she talking about the Chihuahua on the elevator?”

  I told them the whole story of the Chimera, Echidna, my high-dive act, and the underwater ladys message. 

  “Whoa,” said Grover. “Weve got to get you to Santa Monica! You cant ignore a summons from your dad. “

  Before Annabeth could respond, we passed another reporter doing a news break, and I almost froze in my tracks when he said, “Percy Jackson. Thats right, Dan. Channel Twelve has learned that the boy who may have caused this explosion fits the description of a young man wanted by authorities for a serious New Jersey bus accident three days ago. And the boy is believed to be traveling west. For our viewers at home, here is a photo of Percy Jackson. “

  We ducked around the news van and slipped into an alley. 

  “First things first,” I told Grover. “Weve got to get out of town!”

  Somehow, we made it back to the Amtrak station without getting spotted. We got on board the train just before it pulled out for Denver. The train trundled west as darkness fell, police lights still pulsing against the St. Louis skyline behind us. 

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