The Sea of Monsters – Chapter 11: Clarisse Blows Up Everything

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Chapter 11: Clarisse Blows Up Everything

“You are in so much trouble,” Clarisse said. 

  We’d just finished a ship tour we didn’t want, through dark rooms overcrowded with dead sailors. We’d seen the coal bunker, the boilers and engine, which huffed and groaned like it would explode any minute. We’d seen the pilothouse and the powder magazine and gunnery deck (Clarisse’s favorite) with two Dahlgren smoothbore cannons on the port and starboard sides and a Brooke nine-inch rifled gun fore and aft—all specially refitted to fire celestial bronze cannon balls. 

  Everywhere we went, dead Confederate sailors stared at us, their ghostly bearded faces shimmering over their skulls. They approved of Annabeth because she told them she was from Virginia. They were interested in me, too, because my name was Jackson—like the Southern general—but then I ruined it by telling them I was from New York. They all hissed and muttered curses about Yankees. 

  Tyson was terrified of them. All through the tour, he insisted Annabeth hold his hand, which she didn’t look too thrilled about. 

  Finally, we were escorted to dinner. The CSS Birmingham captain’s quarters were about the size of a walk-in closet, but still much bigger than any other room on board. The table was set with white linen and china. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, potato chips, and Dr Peppers were served by skeletal crewmen. I didn’t want to eat anything served by ghosts, but my hunger overruled my fear. 

  “Tantalus expelled you for eternity,” Clarisse told us smugly. “Mr. D said if any of you show your face at camp again, he’ll turn you into squirrels and run you over with his SUV. ”

  “Did they give you this ship?” I asked. 

  “‘Course not. My father did. ”

  “Ares?”

  Clarisse sneered. “You think your daddy is the only one with sea power? The spirits on the losing side of every war owe a tribute to Ares. That’s their curse for being defeated. I prayed to my father for a naval transport and here it is. These guys will do anything I tell them. Won’t you, Captain?”

  The captain stood behind her looking stiff and angry. His glowing green eyes fixed me with a hungry stare. “If it means an end to this infernal war, ma’am, peace at last, we’ll do anything. 

  Destroy anyone. ”

  Clarisse smiled. “Destroy anyone. I like that. ”

  Tyson gulped. 

  “Clarisse,” Annabeth said, “Luke might be after the Fleece, too. We saw him. He’s got the coordinates and he’s heading south. He has a cruise ship full of monsters—”

  “Good! I’ll blow him out of the water. ”

  “You don’t understand,” Annabeth said. We have to combine forces. Let us help you—”

  “No!” Clarisse pounded the table. “This is my quest, smart girl! Finally I get to be the hero, and you two will not steal my chance. ”

  “Where are your cabin mates?” I asked. “You were allowed to take two friends with you, weren’t you?”

  “They didn’t … I let them stay behind. To protect the camp. ”

  “You mean even the people in your own cabin wouldn’t help you?”

  “Shut up, Prissy! I don’t need them! Or you!”

  “Clarisse,” I said, “Tantalus is using you. He doesn’t care about the camp. He’d love to see it destroyed. He’s setting you up to fail. ”

  “No! I don’t care what the Oracle—” She stopped herself. 

  “What?” I said. “What did the Oracle tell you?”

  “Nothing. ” Clarisse’s ears turned pink. “All you need to know is that I’m finishing this quest and you’re not helping. On the other hand, I can’t let you go …”

  “So we’re prisoners?” Annabeth asked. 

  “Guests. For now. ” Clarisse propped her feet up on the white linen tablecloth and opened another Dr Pepper. “Captain, take them below. Assign them hammocks on the berth deck. If they don’t mind their manners, show them how we deal with enemy spies. ”

  The dream came as soon as I fell asleep. 

  Grover was sitting at his loom, desperately unraveling his wedding train, when the boulder door rolled aside and the Cyclops bellowed, “Aha!”

  Grover yelped. “Dear! I didn’t—you were so quiet!”

  “Unraveling!” Polyphemus roared. “So that’s the problem!”

  “Oh, no. I—I wasn’t—”

  “Come!” Polyphemus grabbed Grover around the waist and half carried, half dragged him through the tunnels of the cave. Grover struggled to keep his high heels on his hooves. His veil kept tilting on his head, threatening to come off. 

  The Cyclops pulled him into a warehouse-size cavern decorated with sheep junk. There was a wool-covered La-Z-Boy recliner and a wool-covered television set, crude bookshelves loaded with sheep collectibles—coffee mugs shaped like sheep faces, plaster figurines of sheep, sheep board games, and picture books and action figures. The floor was littered with piles of sheep bones, and other bones that didn’t look exactly like sheep—the bones of satyrs who’d come to the island looking for Pan. 

  Polyphemus set Grover down only long enough to move another huge boulder. Daylight streamed into the cave, and Grover whimpered with longing. Fresh air!

  The Cyclops dragged him outside to a hilltop overlooking the most beautiful island I’d ever seen. 

  It was shaped kind of like a saddle cut in half by an ax. There were lush green hills on either side and a wide valley in the middle, split by a deep chasm that was spanned by a rope bridge. 

  Beautiful streams rolled to the edge of the canyon and dropped off in rainbow-colored waterfalls. 

  Parrots fluttered in the trees. Pink and purple flowers bloomed on the bushes. Hundreds of sheep grazed in the meadows, their wool glinting strangely like copper and silver coins. 

  And at the center of the island, right next to the rope bridge, was an enormous twisted oak tree with something glittering in its lowest bough. 

  The Golden Fleece. 

  Even in a dream, I could feel its power radiating across the island, making the grass greener, the flowers more beautiful. I could almost smell the nature magic at work. I could only imagine how powerful the scent would be for a satyr. 

  Grover whimpered. 

  “Yes,” Polyphemus said proudly. “See over there? Fleece is the prize of my collection! Stole it from heroes long ago, and ever since—free food! Satyrs come from all over the world, like moths to flame. Satyrs good eating! And now—”

  Polyphemus scooped up a wicked set of bronze shears. 

  Grover yelped, but Polyphemus just picked up the nearest sheep like it was a stuffed animal and shaved off its wool. He handed a fluffy mass of it to Grover. 

  “Put that on the spinning wheel!” he said proudly. “Magic. Cannot be unraveled. ”

  “Oh … well …”

  “Poor Honeypie!” Polyphemus grinned. “Bad weaver. Ha-ha! Not to worry. That thread will solve problem. Finish wedding train by tomorrow!”

  “Isn’t that … thoughtful of you!”

  “Hehe. ”

  “But—but, dear,” Grover gulped, “what if someone were to rescue—I mean attack this island?” Grover looked straight at me, and I knew he was asking for my benefit. “What would keep them from marching right up here to your cave?”

  “Wifey scared! So cute! Not to worry. Polyphemus has state-of-the-art security system. Have to get through my pets. ”

  “Pets?”

  Grover looked across the island, but there was nothing to see except sheep grazing peacefully in the meadows. 

  “And then,” Polyphemus growled, “they would have to get through me!”

  He pounded his fist against the nearest rock, which cracked and split in half. “Now, come!”

  he shouted. “Back to the cave. ”

  Grover looked about ready to cry—so close to freedom, but so hopelessly far. Tears welled in his eyes as the boulder door rolled shut, sealing him once again in the stinky torch-lit dankness of the Cyclops’s cave. 

  I woke to alarm bells ringing throughout the ship. 

  The captain’s gravelly voice: “All hands on deck! Find Lady Clarisse! Where is that girl?”

  Then his ghostly face appeared above me. “Get up, Yankee. Your friends are already above. 

  We are approaching the entrance. ”

  “The entrance to what?”

He gave me a skeletal smile. “The Sea of Monsters, of course. ”

  I stuffed my few belongings that had survived the Hydra into a sailor’s canvas knapsack and slung it over my shoulder. I had a sneaking suspicion that one way or another I would not be spending another night aboard the CSS Birmingham. 

  I was on my way upstairs when something made me freeze. A presence nearby—something familiar and unpleasant. For no particular reason, I felt like picking a fight. I wanted to punch a dead Confederate. The last time I’d felt like that kind of anger …

  Instead of going up, I crept to the edge of the ventilation grate and peered down into the boiler deck. 

  Clarisse was standing right below me, talking to an image that shimmered in the steam from the boilers—a muscular man in black leather biker clothes, with a military haircut, red-tinted sunglasses, and a knife strapped to his side. 

  My fists clenched. It was my least favorite Olympian: Ares, the god of war. 

  “I don’t want excuses, little girl!” he growled. 

  “Y-yes, father,” Clarisse mumbled. 

  “You don’t want to see me mad, do you?”

  “No, father. ”

  “No, father,” Ares mimicked. “You’re pathetic. I should’ve let one of my sons take this quest. ”

  “I’ll succeed!” Clarisse promised, her voice trembling. “I’ll make you proud. ”

  “You’d better,” he warned. “You asked me for this quest, girl. If you let that slimeball Jackson kid steal it from you—”

  “But the Oracle said—”

  “I DON’T CARE WHAT IT SAID!” Ares bellowed with such force that his image shimmered. 

  “You will succeed. And if you don’t …”

  He raised his fist. Even though he was only a figure in the steam, Clarisse flinched. 

  “Do we understand each other?” Ares growled. 

  The alarm bells rang again. I heard voices coming toward me, officers yelling orders to ready the cannons. 

  I crept back from the ventilation grate and made my way upstairs to join Annabeth and Tyson on the spar deck. 

  “What’s wrong?” Annabeth asked me. “Another dream?”

  I nodded, but I didn’t say anything. I didn’t know what to think about what I’d seen downstairs. It bothered me almost as much as the dream about Grover. 

  Clarisse came up the stairs right after me. I tried not to look at her. 

  She grabbed a pair of binoculars from a zombie officer and peered toward the horizon. “At last. Captain, full steam ahead!”

  I looked in the same direction as she was, but I couldn’t see much. The sky was overcast. 

  The air was hazy and humid, like steam from an iron. If I squinted real hard, I could just make out a couple of dark fuzzy splotches in the distance. 

  My nautical senses told me we were somewhere off the coast of northern Florida, so we’d come a long way overnight, farther than any mortal ship should’ve been able to travel. 

  The engine groaned as we increased speed. 

  Tyson muttered nervously, “Too much strain on the pistons. Not meant for deep water. ”

  I wasn’t sure how he knew that, but it made me nervous. 

  After a few more minutes, the dark splotches ahead of us came into focus. To the north, a huge mass of rock rose out of the sea—an island with cliffs at least a hundred feet tall. About half a mile south of that, the other patch of darkness was a storm brewing. The sky and sea boiled together in a roaring mass. 

  “Hurricane?” Annabeth asked. 

  “No,” Clarisse said. “Charybdis. ”

  Annabeth paled. “Are you crazy?”

  “Only way into the Sea of Monsters. Straight between Charybdis and her sister Scylla. ”

  Clarisse pointed to the top of the cliffs, and I got the feeling something lived up there that I did not want to meet. 

  “What do you mean the only way?” I asked. “The sea is wide open! Just sail around them. ”

  Clarisse rolled her eyes. “Don’t you know anything? If I tried to sail around them, they would just appear in my path again. If you want to get into the Sea of Monsters, you have to sail through them. ”

  “What about the Clashing Rocks?” Annabeth said. “That’s another gateway. Jason used it. ”

  “I can’t blow apart rocks with my cannons,” Clarisse said. “Monsters, on the other hand …”

  “You are crazy,” Annabeth decided. 

  “Watch and learn, Wise Girl. ” Clarisse turned to the captain. “Set course for Charybdis!”

  “Aye, m’lady. ”

  The engine groaned, the iron plating rattled, and the ship began to pick up speed. 

  “Clarisse,” I said, “Charybdis sucks up the sea. Isn’t that the story?”

  “And spits it back out again, yeah. ”

  “What about Scylla?”

  “She lives in a cave, up on those cliffs. If we get too close, her snaky heads will come down and start plucking sailors off the ship. ”

  “Choose Scylla then,” I said. “Everybody goes below deck and we chug right past. ”

  “No!” Clarisse insisted. “If Scylla doesn’t get her easy meat, she might pick up the whole ship. Besides, she’s too high to make a good target. My cannons can’t shoot straight up. Charybdis just sits there at the center of her whirlwind. We’re going to steam straight toward her, train our guns on her, and blow her to Tartarus!”

  She said it with such relish I almost wanted to believe her. 

  The engine hummed. The boilers were heating up so much I could feel the deck getting warm beneath my feet. The smokestacks billowed. The red Ares flag whipped in the wind. 

  As we got closer to the monsters, the sound of Charybdis got louder and louder—a horrible wet roar like the galaxy’s biggest toilet being flushed. Every time Charybdis inhaled, the ship shuddered and lurched forward. Every time she exhaled, we rose in the water and were buffeted by ten-foot waves. 

  I tried to time the whirlpool. As near as I could figure, it took Charybdis about three minutes to suck up and destroy everything within a half-mile radius. To avoid her, we would have to skirt right next to Scylla’s cliffs. And as bad as Scylla might be, those cliffs were looking awfully good to me. 

  Undead sailors calmly went about their business on the spar deck. I guess they’d fought a losing cause before, so this didn’t bother them. Or maybe they didn’t care about getting destroyed because they were already deceased. Neither thought made me feel any better. 

  Annabeth stood next to me, gripping the rail. “You still have your thermos full of wind?”

  I nodded. “But it’s too dangerous to use with a whirlpool like that. More wind might just make things worse. ”

  “What about controlling the water?” she asked. “You’re Poseidon’s son. You’ve done it before. ”

  She was right. I closed my eyes and tried to calm the sea, but I couldn’t concentrate. 

  Charybdis was too loud and powerful. The waves wouldn’t respond. 

  “I—I can’t,” I said miserably. 

  “We need a backup plan,” Annabeth said. “This isn’t going to work. ”

  “Annabeth is right,” Tyson said. “Engine’s no good. ”

  “What do you mean?” she asked. 

  “Pressure. Pistons need fixing. ”

  Before he could explain, the cosmic toilet flushed with a mighty roaaar! The ship lurched forward and I was thrown to the deck. We were in the whirlpool. 

  “Full reverse!” Clarisse screamed above the noise. The sea churned around us, waves crashing over the deck. The iron plating was now so hot it steamed. “Get us within firing range! Make ready starboard cannons!”

  Dead Confederates rushed back and forth. The propeller grinded into reverse, trying to slow the ship, but we kept sliding toward the center of the vortex. 

  A zombie sailor burst out of the hold and ran to Clarisse. His gray uniform was smoking. His beard was on fire. “Boiler room overheating, ma’am! She’s going to blow!”

  “Well, get down there and fix it!”

  “Can’t!” the sailor yelled. “We’re vaporizing in the heat. ”

  Clarisse pounded the side of the casemate. “All I need is a few more minutes! Just enough to get in range!”

  “We’re going in too fast,” the captain said grimly. “Prepare yourself for death. ”

  “No!” Tyson bellowed. “I can fix it. ”

  Clarisse looked at him incredulously. “You?”

  “He’s a Cyclops,” Annabeth said. “He’s immune to fire. And he knows mechanics. ”

  “Go!” yelled Clarisse. 

  “Tyson, no!” I grabbed his arm. “It’s too dangerous!”

  He patted my hand. “Only way, brother. ” His expression was determined—confident, even. 

  I’d never seen him look like this before. “I will fix it. Be right back. ”

  As I watched him follow the smoldering sailor down the hatch, I had a terrible feeling. I wanted to run after him, but the ship lurched again—and then I saw Charybdis. 

  She appeared only a few hundred yards away, through a swirl of mist and smoke and water. 

  The first thing I noticed was the reef—a black crag of coral with a fig tree clinging to the top, an oddly peaceful thing in the middle of a maelstrom. All around it, water curved into a funnel, like light around a black hole. Then I saw the horrible thing anchored to the reef just below the waterline—an enormous mouth with slimy lips and mossy teeth the size of rowboats. And worse, the teeth had braces, bands of corroded scummy metal with pieces of fish and driftwood and floating garbage stuck between them. 

  Charybdis was an orthodontist’s nightmare. She was nothing but a huge black maw with bad teeth alignment and a serious overbite, and she’d done nothing for centuries but eat without brushing after meals. As I watched, the entire sea around her was sucked into the void—sharks, schools of fish, a giant squid. And I realized that in a few seconds, the CSS Birmingham would be next. 

  “Lady Clarisse,” the captain shouted. “Starboard and forward guns are in range!”

  “Fire!” Clarisse ordered. 

  Three rounds were blasted into the monster’s maw. One blew off the edge of an incisor. 

  Another disappeared into her gullet. The third hit one of Charybdis’s retaining bands and shot back at us, snapping the Ares flag off its pole. 

  “Again!” Clarisse ordered. The gunners reloaded, but I knew it was hopeless. We would have to pound the monster a hundred more times to do any real damage, and we didn’t have that long. We were being sucked in too fast. 

  Then the vibrations in the deck changed. The hum of the engine got stronger and steadier. 

  The ship shuddered and we started pulling away from the mouth. 

  “Tyson did it!” Annabeth said. 

  “Wait!” Clarisse said. “We need to stay close!”

  “We’ll die!” I said. “We have to move away. ”

  I gripped the rail as the ship fought against the suction. The broken Ares flag raced past us and lodged in Charybdis’s braces. We weren’t making much progress, but at least we were holding our own. Tyson had somehow given us just enough juice to keep the ship from being sucked in. 

Suddenly, the mouth snapped shut. The sea died to absolute calm. Water washed over Charybdis. 

  Then, just as quickly as it had closed, the mouth exploded open, spitting out a wall of water, ejecting everything inedible, including our cannonballs, one of which slammed into the side of the CSS Birmingham with a ding like the bell on a carnival game. 

  We were thrown backward on a wave that must’ve been forty feet high. I used all of my willpower to keep the ship from capsizing, but we were still spinning out of control, hurtling toward the cliffs on the opposite side of the strait. 

  Another smoldering sailor burst out of the hold. He stumbled into Clarisse, almost knocking them both overboard. “The engine is about to blow!”

  “Where’s Tyson?” I demanded. 

  “Still down there,” the sailor said. “Holding it together somehow, though I don’t know for how much longer. ”

  The captain said, “We have to abandon ship. ”

  “No!” Clarisse yelled. 

  “We have no choice, m’lady. The hull is already cracking apart! She can’t—”

  He never finished his sentence. Quick as lightning, something brown and green shot from the sky, snatched up the captain, and lifted him away. All that was left were his leather boots. 

  “Scylla!” a sailor yelled, as another column of reptilian flesh shot from the cliffs and snapped him up. It happened so fast it was like watching a laser beam rather than a monster. I couldn’t even make out the thing’s face, just a flash of teeth and scales. 

  I uncapped Riptide and tried to swipe at the monster as it carried off another deckhand, but I was way too slow. 

  “Everyone get below!” I yelled. 

  “We can’t!” Clarisse drew her own sword. “Below deck is in flames. ”

  “Lifeboats!” Annabeth said. “Quick!”

  “They’ll never get clear of the cliffs,” Clarisse said. “We’ll all be eaten. ”

  “We have to try. Percy, the thermos. ”

  “I can’t leave Tyson!”

  “We have to get the boats ready!”

  Clarisse took Annabeth’s command. She and a few of her undead sailors uncovered one of the two emergency rowboats while Scylla’s heads rained from the sky like a meteor shower with teeth, picking off Confederate sailors one after another. 

  “Get the other boat. ” I threw Annabeth the thermos. “I’ll get Tyson. ”

  “You can’t!” she said. “The heat will kill you!”

  I didn’t listen. I ran for the boiler room hatch, when suddenly my feet weren’t touching the deck anymore. I was flying straight up, the wind whistling in my ears, the side of the cliff only inches from my face. 

  Scylla had somehow caught me by the knapsack, and was lifting me up toward her lair. 

  Without thinking, I swung my sword behind me and managed to jab the thing in her beady yellow eye. She grunted and dropped me. 

  The fall would’ve been bad enough, considering I was a hundred feet in the air. But as I fell, the CSS Birmingham exploded below me. 

  KAROOM!

  The engine room blew, sending chunks of ironclad flying in either direction like a fiery set of wings. 

  “Tyson!” I yelled. 

  The lifeboats had managed to get away from the ship, but not very far. Flaming wreckage was raining down. Clarisse and Annabeth would either be smashed or burned or pulled to the bottom by the force of the sinking hull, and that was thinking optimistically, assuming they got away from Scylla. 

  Then I heard a different kind of explosion—the sound of Hermes’s magic thermos being opened a little too far. White sheets of wind blasted in every direction, scattering the lifeboats, lifting me out of my free fall and propelling me across the ocean. 

  I couldn’t see anything. I spun in the air, got clonked on the head by something hard, and hit the water with a crash that would’ve broken every bone in my body if I hadn’t been the son of the Sea God. 

  The last thing I remembered was sinking in a burning sea, knowing that Tyson was gone forever, and wishing I were able to drown. 

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