The Lightning Thief – Chapter 4: MY MOTHER TEACHES ME BULLFIGHTING

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Chapter 4: MY MOTHER TEACHES ME BULLFIGHTING

We tore through the night along dark country roads. Wind slammed against the Camaro. Rain lashed the windshield. I didnt know how my mom could see anything, but she kept her foot on the gas. 

  Every time there was a flash of lightning, I looked at Grover sitting next to me in the backseat and I wondered if Id gone insane, or if he was wearing some kind of shag-carpet pants. But, no, the smell was one I remembered from kindergarten field trips to the petting zoo— lanolin, like from wool. The smell of a wet barnyard animal. 

  All I could think to say was, “So, you and my mom. . . know each other?”

  Gravers eyes flitted to the rearview mirror, though there were no cars behind us. “Not exactly,” he said. “I mean, weve never met in person. But she knew I was watching you. “

  “Watching me?”

  “Keeping tabs on you. Making sure you were okay. But I wasnt faking being your friend,” he added hastily. “I am your friend. “

  “Urn . . . what are you, exactly?”

  “That doesnt matter right now. “

  “It doesnt matter? From the waist down, my best friend is a donkey—”

  Grover let out a sharp, throaty “Blaa-ha-ha!”

Id heard him make that sound before, but Id always assumed it was a nervous laugh. Now I realized it was more of an irritated bleat. 

  “Goat!” he cried. 

  “What?”

  “Im a goat from the waist down. “

  “You just said it didnt matter. “

  “Blaa-ha-ha! There are satyrs who would trample you underhoof for such an insult!”

  “Whoa. Wait. Satyrs. You mean like . . . Mr. Brunners myths?”

  “Were those old ladies at the fruit stand a myth, Percy? Was Mrs. Dodds a myth?”

  “So you admit there was a Mrs. Dodds!”

  “Of course. “

  “Then why—”

  “The less you knew, the fewer monsters youd attract,” Grover said, like that should be perfectly obvious. “We put Mist over the humans eyes. We hoped youd think the Kindly One was a hallucination. But it was no good. You started to realize who you are. “

  “Who I—wait a minute, what do you mean?”

  The weird bellowing noise rose up again somewhere behind us, closer than before. Whatever was chasing us was still on our trail. 

  “Percy,” my mom said, “theres too much to explain and not enough time. We have to get you to safety. “

  “Safety from what? Whos after me?”

  “Oh, nobody much,” Grover said, obviously still miffed about the donkey comment. “Just the Lord of the Dead and a few of his blood-thirstiest minions. “

  “Grover!”

  “Sorry, Mrs. Jackson. Could you drive faster, please?”

  I tried to wrap my mind around what was happening, but I couldnt do it. I knew this wasnt a dream. I had no imagination. I could never dream up something this weird. 

  My mom made a hard left. We swerved onto a narrower road, racing past darkened farmhouses and wooded hills and PICK YOUR OWN STRAWBERRIES signs on white picket fences. 

  “Where are we going?” I asked. 

  “The summer camp I told you about. ” My mothers voice was tight; she was trying for my sake not to be scared. “The place your father wanted to send you. “

  “The place you didnt want me to go. “

  “Please, dear,” my mother begged. “This is hard enough. Try to understand. Youre in danger. “

  “Because some old ladies cut yarn. “

  “Those werent old ladies,” Grover said. “Those were the Fates. Do you know what it means—the fact they appeared in front of you? They only do that when youre about to . . . when someones about to die. “

  “Whoa. You said you. “

  “No I didnt. I said someone. “

  “You meant you. As in me. “

  “I meant you, like someone. Not you, you. “

  “Boys!” my mom said. 

  She pulled the wheel hard to the right, and I got a glimpse of a figure shed swerved to avoid—a dark fluttering shape now lost behind us in the storm. 

  “What was that?” I asked. 

  “Were almost there,” my mother said, ignoring my question. “Another mile. Please. Please. Please. “

  I didnt know where there was, but I found myself leaning forward in the car, anticipating, wanting us to arrive. 

  Outside, nothing but rain and darkness—the kind of empty countryside you get way out on the tip of Long Island. I thought about Mrs. Dodds and the moment when shed changed into the thing with pointed teeth and leathery wings. My limbs went numb from delayed shock. She really hadnt been human. Shed meant to kill me. 

  Then I thought about Mr. Brunner . . . and the sword he had thrown me. Before I could ask Grover about that, the hair rose on the back of my neck. There was a blinding flash, a jaw-rattling boom!, and our car exploded. 

  I remember feeling weightless, like I was being crushed, fried, and hosed down all at the same time. 

  I peeled my forehead off the back of the drivers seat and said, “Ow. “

  “Percy!” my mom shouted. 

  “Im okay. . . . “

  I tried to shake off the daze. I wasnt dead. The car hadnt really exploded. Wed swerved into a ditch. Our drivers-side doors were wedged in the mud. The roof had cracked open like an eggshell and rain was pouring in. 

  Lightning. That was the only explanation. Wed been blasted right off the road. Next to me in the backseat was a big motionless lump. “Grover!”

  He was slumped over, blood trickling from the side of his mouth. I shook his furry hip, thinking, No! Even if you are half barnyard animal, youre my best friend and I dont want you to die!

  Then he groaned “Food,” and I knew there was hope. 

  “Percy,” my mother said, “we have to . . . ” Her voice faltered. 

  I looked back. In a flash of lightning, through the mud-spattered rear windshield, I saw a figure lumbering toward us on the shoulder of the road. The sight of it made my skin crawl. It was a dark silhouette of a huge guy, like a football player. He seemed to be holding a blanket over his head. His top half was bulky and fuzzy. His upraised hands made it look like he had horns. 

  I swallowed hard. “Who is—”

  “Percy,” my mother said, deadly serious. “Get out of the car. “

  My mother threw herself against the drivers-side door. It was jammed shut in the mud. I tried mine. Stuck too. I looked up desperately at the hole in the roof. It mightve been an exit, but the edges were sizzling and smoking. 

  “Climb out the passengers side!” my mother told me. “Percy—you have to run. Do you see that big tree?”

  “What?”

  Another flash of lightning, and through the smoking hole in the roof I saw the tree she meant: a huge, White House Christmas tree-sized pine at the crest of the nearest hill. 

  “Thats the property line,” my mom said. “Get over that hill and youll see a big farmhouse down in the valley. Run and dont look back. Yell for help. Dont stop until you reach the door. “

  “Mom, youre coming too. “

  Her face was pale, her eyes as sad as when she looked at the ocean. 

  “No!” I shouted. “You are coming with me. Help me carry Grover. “

  “Food!” Grover moaned, a little louder. 

  The man with the blanket on his head kept coming toward us, making his grunting, snorting noises. As he got closer, I realized he couldnt be holding a blanket over his head, because his hands—huge meaty hands—were swinging at his sides. There was no blanket. Meaning the bulky, fuzzy mass that was too big to be his head . . . was his head. And the points that looked like horns . . . 

  “He doesnt want us,” my mother told me. “He wants you. Besides, I cant cross the property line. “

  “But. . . “

  “We dont have time, Percy. Go. Please. “

  I got mad, then—mad at my mother, at Grover the goat, at the thing with horns that was lumbering toward us slowly and deliberately like, like a bull. 

  I climbed across Grover and pushed the door open into the rain. “Were going together. Come on, Mom. “

  “I told you—”

  “Mom! I am not leaving you. Help me with Grover. “

  I didnt wait for her answer. I scrambled outside, dragging Grover from the car. He was surprisingly light, but I couldnt have carried him very far if my mom hadnt come to my aid. 

  Together, we draped Grovers arms over our shoulders and started stumbling uphill through wet waist-high grass. 

  Glancing back, I got my first clear look at the monster. He was seven feet tall, easy, his arms and legs like something from the cover of Muscle Man magazine—bulging biceps and triceps and a bunch of other ceps, all stuffed like baseballs under vein-webbed skin. He wore no clothes except underwear—I mean, bright white Fruit of the Looms—which wouldve looked funny, except that the top half of his body was so scary. Coarse brown hair started at about his belly button and got thicker as it reached his shoulders. 

  His neck was a mass of muscle and fur leading up to his enormous head, which had a snout as long as my arm, snotty nostrils with a gleaming brass ring, cruel black eyes, and horns—enormous black-and-white horns with points you just couldnt get from an electric sharpener. 

  I recognized the monster, all right. He had been in one of the first stories Mr. Brunner told us. But he couldnt be real. 

  I blinked the rain out of my eyes. “Thats—”

  “Pasiphaes son,” my mother said. “I wish Id known how badly they want to kill you. “

  “But hes the Min—”

  “Dont say his name,” she warned. “Names have power. “

  The pine tree was still way too far—a hundred yards uphill at least. 

  I glanced behind me again. 

  The bull-man hunched over our car, looking in the windows—or not looking, exactly. More like snuffling, nuzzling. I wasnt sure why he bothered, since we were only about fifty feet away. 

  “Food?” Grover moaned. 

  “Shhh,” I told him. “Mom, whats he doing? Doesnt he see us?”

  “His sight and hearing are terrible,” she said. “He goes by smell. But hell figure out where we are soon enough. “

  As if on cue, the bull-man bellowed in rage. He picked up Gabes Camaro by the torn roof, the chassis creaking and groaning. He raised the car over his head and threw it down the road. It slammed into the wet asphalt and skidded in a shower of sparks for about half a mile before coming to a stop. The gas tank exploded. 

  Not a scratch, I remembered Gabe saying. 

  Oops. 

  “Percy,” my mom said. “When he sees us, hell charge. Wait until the last second, then jump out of the way— directly sideways. He cant change directions very well once hes charging. Do you understand?”

  “How do you know all this?”

  “Ive been worried about an attack for a long time. I should have expected this. I was selfish, keeping you near me. “

  “Keeping me near you? But—”

  Another bellow of rage, and the bull-man started tromping uphill. 

  Hed smelled us. 

  The pine tree was only a few more yards, but the hill was getting steeper and slicker, and Grover wasnt getting any lighter. 

  The bull-man closed in. Another few seconds and hed be on top of us. 

  My mother mustve been exhausted, but she shouldered Grover. “Go, Percy! Separate! Remember what I said. “

  I didnt want to split up, but I had the feeling she was right—it was our only chance. I sprinted to the left, turned, and saw the creature bearing down on me. His black eyes glowed with hate. He reeked like rotten meat. 

  He lowered his head and charged, those razor-sharp horns aimed straight at my chest. 

  The fear in my stomach made me want to bolt, but that wouldnt work. I could never outrun this thing. So I held my ground, and at the last moment, I jumped to the side. 

  The bull-man stormed past like a freight train, then bellowed with frustration and turned, but not toward me this time, toward my mother, who was setting Grover down in the grass. 

  Wed reached the crest of the hill. Down the other side I could see a valley, just as my mother had said, and the lights of a farmhouse glowing yellow through the rain. But that was half a mile away. Wed never make it. 

  The bull-man grunted, pawing the ground. He kept eyeing my mother, who was now retreating slowly downhill, back toward the road, trying to lead the monster away from Grover. 

  “Run, Percy!” she told me. “I cant go any farther. Run!”

  But I just stood there, frozen in fear, as the monster charged her. She tried to sidestep, as shed told me to do, but the monster had learned his lesson. His hand shot out and grabbed her by the neck as she tried to get away. He lifted her as she struggled, kicking and pummeling the air. 

  “Mom!”

  She caught my eyes, managed to choke out one last word: “Go!”

  Then, with an angry roar, the monster closed his fists around my mothers neck, and she dissolved before my eyes, melting into light, a shimmering golden form, as if she were a holographic projection. A blinding flash, and she was simply . . . gone. 

  “No!”

  Anger replaced my fear. Newfound strength burned in my limbs—the same rush of energy Id gotten when Mrs. Dodds grew talons. 

  The bull-man bore down on Grover, who lay helpless in the grass. The monster hunched over, snuffling my best friend, as if he were about to lift Grover up and make him dissolve too. 

  I couldnt allow that. 

  I stripped off my red rain jacket. 

  “Hey!” I screamed, waving the jacket, running to one side of the monster. “Hey, stupid! Ground beef!”

  “Raaaarrrrr!” The monster turned toward me, shaking his meaty fists. 

  I had an idea—a stupid idea, but better than no idea at all. I put my back to the big pine tree and waved my red jacket in front of the bull-man, thinking Id jump out of the way at the last moment. 

  But it didnt happen like that. 

  The bull-man charged too fast, his arms out to grab me whichever way I tried to dodge. 

  Time slowed down. 

  My legs tensed. I couldnt jump sideways, so I leaped straight up, kicking off from the creatures head, using it as a springboard, turning in midair, and landing on his neck. 

  How did I do that? I didnt have time to figure it out. A millisecond later, the monsters head slammed into the tree and the impact nearly knocked my teeth out. 

  The bull-man staggered around, trying to shake me. I locked my arms around his horns to keep from being thrown. Thunder and lightning were still going strong. The rain was in my eyes. The smell of rotten meat burned my nostrils. 

  The monster shook himself around and bucked like a rodeo bull. He should have just backed up into the tree and smashed me flat, but I was starting to realize that this thing had only one gear: forward. 

  Meanwhile, Grover started groaning in the grass. I wanted to yell at him to shut up, but the way I was getting tossed around, if I opened my mouth Id bite my own tongue off. 

  “Food!” Grover moaned. 

  The bull-man wheeled toward him, pawed the ground again, and got ready to charge. I thought about how he had squeezed the life out of my mother, made her disappear in a flash of light, and rage filled me like high-octane fuel. I got both hands around one horn and I pulled backward with all my might. The monster tensed, gave a surprised grunt, then—snap!

  The bull-man screamed and flung me through the air. I landed flat on my back in the grass. My head smacked against a rock. When I sat up, my vision was blurry, but I had a horn in my hands, a ragged bone weapon the size of a knife. 

  The monster charged. 

  Without thinking, I rolled to one side and came up kneeling. As the monster barreled past, I drove the broken horn straight into his side, right up under his furry rib cage. 

  The bull-man roared in agony. He flailed, clawing at his chest, then began to disintegrate—not like my mother, in a flash of golden light, but like crumbling sand, blown away in chunks by the wind, the same way Mrs. Dodds had burst apart. 

  The monster was gone. 

  The rain had stopped. The storm still rumbled, but only in the distance. I smelled like livestock and my knees were shaking. My head felt like it was splitting open. I was weak and scared and trembling with grief Id just seen my mother vanish. I wanted to lie down and cry, but there was Grover, needing my help, so I managed to haul him up and stagger down into the valley, toward the lights of the farmhouse. I was crying, calling for my mother, but I held on to Grover—I wasnt going to let him go. 

  The last thing I remember is collapsing on a wooden porch, looking up at a ceiling fan circling above me, moths flying around a yellow light, and the stern faces of a familiar-looking bearded man and a pretty girl, her blond hair curled like a princesss. They both looked down at me, and the girl said, “Hes the one. He must be. “

  “Silence, Annabeth,” the man said. “Hes still conscious. Bring him inside. ”

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