The Sea of Monsters – Chapter 5: I Get A New Cabin Mate

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Chapter 5: I Get A New Cabin Mate

Ever come home and found your room messed up? Like some helpful person (hi, Mom) has tried to “clean” it, and suddenly you can’t find anything? And even if nothing is missing, you get that creepy feeling like somebody’s been looking through your private stuff and dusting everything with lemon furniture polish?

  That’s kind of the way I felt seeing Camp Half-Blood again. 

  On the surface, things didn’t look all that different. The Big House was still there with its blue gabled roof and its wraparound porch. The strawberry fields still baked in the sun. The same white-columned Greek buildings were scattered around the valley—the amphitheater, the combat arena, the dining pavilion overlooking Long Island Sound. And nestled between the woods and the creek were the same cabins—a crazy assortment of twelve buildings, each representing a different Olympian god. 

  But there was an air of danger now. You could tell something was wrong. Instead of playing volleyball in the sandpit, counselors and satyrs were stockpiling weapons in the tool shed. Dryads armed with bows and arrows talked nervously at the edge of the woods. The forest looked sickly, the grass in the meadow was pale yellow, and the fire marks on Half-Blood Hill stood out like ugly scars. 

  Somebody had messed with my favorite place in the world, and I was not … well, a happy camper. 

  As we made our way to the Big House, I recognized a lot of kids from last summer. Nobody stopped to talk. Nobody said, “Welcome back. ” Some did double takes when they saw Tyson, but most just walked grimly past and carried on with their duties—running messages, toting swords to sharpen on the grinding wheels. The camp felt like a military school. And believe me, I know. I’ve been kicked out of a couple. 

  None of that mattered to Tyson. He was absolutely fascinated by everything he saw. 

  “Whasthat!” he gasped. 

  “The stables for pegasi,” I said. “The winged horses. ”

  “Whasthat!”

  “Um … those are the toilets. ”

  “Whasthat!”

  “The cabins for the campers. If they don’t know who your Olympian parent is, they put you in the Hermes cabin—that brown one over there—until you’re determined. Then, once they know, they put you in your dad or mom’s group. ”

  He looked at me in awe. “You … have a cabin?”

  “Number three. ” I pointed to a low gray building made of sea stone. 

  “You live with friends in the cabin?”

  “No. No, just me. ” I didn’t feel like explaining. The embarrassing truth: I was the only one who stayed in that cabin because I wasn’t supposed to be alive. The “Big Three” gods—Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades—had made a pact after World War II not to have any more children with mortals. We were more powerful than regular half-bloods. We were too unpredictable. When we got mad we tended to cause problems … like World War II, for instance. The “Big Three” pact had only been broken twice—once when Zeus sired Thalia, once when Poseidon sired me. Neither of us should’ve been born. 

Thalia had gotten herself turned into a pine tree when she was twelve. Me … well, I was doing my best not to follow her example. I had nightmares about what Poseidon might turn me into if I were ever on the verge of death— plankton, maybe. Or a floating patch of kelp. 

  When we got to the Big House, we found Chiron in his apartment, listening to his favorite 1960s lounge music while he packed his saddlebags. I guess I should mention—Chiron is a centaur. From the waist up he looks like a regular middle-aged guy with curly brown hair and a scraggly beard. From the waist down, he’s a white stallion. He can pass for human by compacting his lower half into a magic wheelchair. In fact, he’d passed himself off as my Latin teacher during my sixth-grade year. But most of the time, if the ceilings are high enough, he prefers hanging out in full centaur form. 

  As soon as we saw him, Tyson froze. “Pony!” he cried in total rapture. 

  Chiron turned, looking offended. “I beg your pardon?”

  Annabeth ran up and hugged him. “Chiron, what’s happening? You’re not … leaving?” Her voice was shaky. Chiron was like a second father to her. 

  Chiron ruffled her hair and gave her a kindly smile. “Hello, child. And Percy, my goodness. 

  You’ve grown over the year!”

  I swallowed. “Clarisse said you were … you were …”

  “Fired. ” Chiron’s eyes glinted with dark humor. “Ah, well, someone had to take the blame. 

  Lord Zeus was most upset. The tree he’d created from the spirit of his daughter, poisoned! Mr. D had to punish someone. ”

  “Besides himself, you mean,” I growled. Just the thought of the camp director, Mr. D, made me angry. 

  “But this is crazy!” Annabeth cried. “Chiron, you couldn’t have had anything to do with poisoning Thalia’s tree!”

  “Nevertheless,” Chiron sighed, “some in Olympus do not trust me now, under the circumstances. ”

  “What circumstances?” I asked. 

  Chiron’s face darkened. He stuffed a Latin-English dictionary into his saddlebag while the Frank Sinatra music oozed from his boom box. 

  Tyson was still staring at Chiron in amazement. He whimpered like he wanted to pat Chiron’s flank but was afraid to come closer. “Pony?”

  Chiron sniffed. “My dear young Cyclops! I am a centaur. ”

  “Chiron,” I said. “What about the tree? What happened?”

  He shook his head sadly. “The poison used on Thalia’s pine is something from the Underworld, Percy. Some venom even I have never seen. It must have come from a monster quite deep in the pits of Tartarus. ”

  “Then we know who’s responsible. Kro—”

  “Do not invoke the titan lord’s name, Percy. Especially not here, not now. ”

  “But last summer he tried to cause a civil war in Olympus! This has to be his idea. He’d get Luke to do it, that traitor. ”

  “Perhaps,” Chiron said. “But I fear I am being held responsible because I did not prevent it and I cannot cure it. The tree has only a few weeks of life left unless …”

  “Unless what?” Annabeth asked. 

  “No,” Chiron said. “A foolish thought. The whole valley is feeling the shock of the poison. The magical borders are deteriorating. The camp itself is dying. Only one source of magic would be strong enough to reverse the poison, and it was lost centuries ago. ”

  “What is it?” I asked. “We’ll go find it!”

  Chiron closed his saddlebag. He pressed the stop button on his boom box. Then he turned and rested his hand on my shoulder, looking me straight in the eyes. “Percy, you must promise me that you will not act rashly. I told your mother I did not want you to come here at all this summer. It’s much too dangerous. But now that you are here, stay here. Train hard. Learn to fight. But do not leave. ”

  “Why?” I asked. “I want to do something! I can’t just let the borders fail. The whole camp will be—”

  “Overrun by monsters,” Chiron said. “Yes, I fear so. But you must not let yourself be baited into hasty action! This could be a trap of the titan lord. Remember last summer! He almost took your life. ”

  It was true, but still, I wanted to help so badly. I also wanted to make Kronos pay. I mean, you’d think the titan lord would’ve learned his lesson eons ago when he was overthrown by the gods. You’d think getting chopped into a million pieces and cast into the darkest part of the Underworld would give him a subtle clue that nobody wanted him around. But no. Because he was immortal, he was still alive down there in Tartarus—suffering in eternal pain, hungering to return and take revenge on Olympus. He couldn’t act on his own, but he was great at twisting the minds of mortals and even gods to do his dirty work. 

  The poisoning had to be his doing. Who else would be so low as to attack Thalia’s tree, the only thing left of a hero who’d given her life to save her friends?

  Annabeth was trying hard not to cry. Chiron brushed a tear from her cheek. “Stay with Percy, child,” he told her. “Keep him safe. The prophecy—remember it!”

  “I—I will. ”

  “Um …” I said. “Would this be the super-dangerous prophecy that has me in it, but the gods have forbidden you to tell me about?”

  Nobody answered. 

  “Right,” I muttered. “Just checking. ”

  “Chiron …” Annabeth said. “You told me the gods made you immortal only so long as you were needed to train heroes. If they dismiss you from camp—”

  “Swear you will do your best to keep Percy from danger,” he insisted. “Swear upon the River Styx. ”

  “I—I swear it upon the River Styx,” Annabeth said. 

  Thunder rumbled outside. 

  “Very well,” Chiron said. He seemed to relax just a little. “Perhaps my name will be cleared and I shall return. Until then, I go to visit my wild kinsmen in the Everglades. It’s possible they know of some cure for the poisoned tree that I have forgotten. In any event, I will stay in exile until this matter is resolved … one way or another. ”

  Annabeth stifled a sob. Chiron patted her shoulder awkwardly. “There, now, child. I must entrust your safety to Mr. D and the new activities director. We must hope … well, perhaps they won’t destroy the camp quite as quickly as I fear. ”

  “Who is this Tantalus guy, anyway?” I demanded. “Where does he get off taking your job?”

  A conch horn blew across the valley. I hadn’t realized how late it was. It was time for the campers to assemble for dinner. 

  “Go,” Chiron said. “You will meet him at the pavilion. I will contact your mother, Percy, and let her know you’re safe. No doubt she’ll be worried by now. Just remember my warning! You are in grave danger. Do not think for a moment that the titan lord has forgotten you!”

  With that, he clopped out of the apartment and down the hall, Tyson calling after him, “Pony! Don’t go!”

  I realized I’d forgotten to tell Chiron about my dream of Grover. Now it was too late. The best teacher I’d ever had was gone, maybe for good. 

  Tyson started bawling almost as bad as Annabeth. I tried to tell them that things would be okay, but I didn’t believe it. 

  The sun was setting behind the dining pavilion as the campers came up from their cabins. 

  We stood in the shadow of a marble column and watched them file in. Annabeth was still pretty shaken up, but she promised she’d talk to us later. Then she went off to join her siblings from the Athena cabin—a dozen boys and girls with blond hair and gray eyes like hers. Annabeth wasn’t the oldest, but she’d been at camp more summers than just about anybody. You could tell that by looking at her camp necklace—one bead for every summer, and Annabeth had six. No one questioned her right to lead the line. 

  Next came Clarisse, leading the Ares cabin. She had one arm in a sling and a nasty-looking gash on her cheek, but otherwise her encounter with the bronze bulls didn’t seem to have fazed her. 

  Someone had taped a piece of paper to her back that said, YOU MOO, GIRL! But nobody in her cabin was bothering to tell her about it. 

  After the Ares kids came the Hephaestus cabin—six guys led by Charles Beckendorf, a big fifteen-year-old African American kid. He had hands the size of catchers’ mitts and a face that was hard and squinty from looking into a blacksmiths forge all day. He was nice enough once you got to know him, but no one ever called him Charlie or Chuck or Charles. Most just called him Beckendorf. 

  Rumor was he could make anything. Give him a chunk of metal and he could create a razor-sharp sword or a robotic warrior or a singing birdbath for your grandmother’s garden. Whatever you wanted. 

  The other cabins filed in: Demeter, Apollo, Aphrodite, Dionysus. Naiads came up from the canoe lake. Dryads melted out of the trees. From the meadow came a dozen satyrs, who reminded me painfully of Grover. 

  I’d always had a soft spot for the satyrs. When they were at camp, they had to do all kinds of odd jobs for Mr. D, the director, but their most important work was out in the real world. They were the camp’s seekers. They went undercover into schools all over the world, looking for potential half-bloods and escorting them back to camp. That’s how I’d met Grover. He had been the first one to recognize I was a demigod. 

  After the satyrs filed in to dinner, the Hermes cabin brought up the rear. They were always the biggest cabin. Last summer, it had been led by Luke, the guy who’d fought with Thalia and Annabeth on top of Half-Blood Hill. For a while, before Poseidon had claimed me, I’d lodged in the Hermes cabin. Luke had befriended me … and then he’d tried to kill me. 

  Now the Hermes cabin was led by Travis and Connor Stoll. They weren’t twins, but they looked so much alike it didn’t matter. I could never remember which one was older. They were both tall and skinny, with mops of brown hair that hung in their eyes. They wore orange CAMP HALF-BLOOD T-shirts untucked over baggy shorts, and they had those elfish features all Hermes’s kids had: upturned eyebrows, sarcastic smiles, a gleam in their eyes whenever they looked at you—like they were about to drop a firecracker down your shirt. I’d always thought it was funny that the god of thieves would have kids with the last name “Stoll,” but the only time I mentioned it to Travis and Connor, they both stared at me blankly like they didn’t get the joke. 

  As soon as the last campers had filed in, I led Tyson into the middle of the pavilion. 

  Conversations faltered. Heads turned. “Who invited that? ” somebody at the Apollo table murmured. 

  I glared in their direction, but I couldn’t figure out who’d spoken. 

  From the head table a familiar voice drawled, “Well, well, if it isn’t Peter Johnson. My millennium is complete. ”

  I gritted my teeth. “Percy Jackson … sir. ”

  Mr. D sipped his Diet Coke. “Yes. Well, as you young people say these days: Whatever. ”

  He was wearing his usual leopard-pattern Hawaiian shirt, walking shorts, and tennis shoes with black socks. With his pudgy belly and his blotchy red face, he looked like a Las Vegas tourist who’d stayed up too late in the casinos. Behind him, a nervous-looking satyr was peeling the skins off grapes and handing them to Mr. D one at a time. 

Mr. D’s real name is Dionysus. The god of wine. Zeus appointed him director of Camp Half-Blood to dry out for a hundred years—a punishment for chasing some off-limits wood nymph. 

  Next to him, where Chiron usually sat (or stood, in centaur form), was someone I’d never seen before—a pale, horribly thin man in a threadbare orange prisoner’s jumpsuit. The number over his pocket read 0001. He had blue shadows under his eyes, dirty fingernails, and badly cut gray hair, like his last haircut had been done with a weed whacker. He stared at me; his eyes made me nervous. He looked … fractured. Angry and frustrated and hungry all at the same time. 

  “This boy,” Dionysus told him, “you need to watch. Poseidon’s child, you know. ”

  “Ah!” the prisoner said. “That one. ”

  His tone made it obvious that he and Dionysus had already discussed me at length. 

  “I am Tantalus,” the prisoner said, smiling coldly. “On special assignment here until, well, until my Lord Dionysus decides otherwise. And you, Perseus Jackson, I do expect you to refrain from causing any more trouble. ”

  “Trouble?” I demanded. 

  Dionysus snapped his fingers. A newspaper appeared on the table—the front page of today’s New York Post, There was my yearbook picture from Meriwether Prep. It was hard for me to make out the headline, but I had a pretty good guess what it said. Something like: Thirteen-Year-Old Lunatic Torches Gymnasium. 

  “Yes, trouble,” Tantalus said with satisfaction. “You caused plenty of it last summer, I understand. ”

  I was too mad to speak. Like it was my fault the gods had almost gotten into a civil war?

  A satyr inched forward nervously and set a plate of barbecue in front of Tantalus. The new activities director licked his lips. He looked at his empty goblet and said, “Root beer. Barq’s special stock. 1967. ”

  The glass filled itself with foamy soda. Tantalus stretched out his hand hesitantly, as if he were afraid the goblet was hot. 

  “Go on, then, old fellow,” Dionysus said, a strange sparkle in his eyes. “Perhaps now it will work. ”

  Tantalus grabbed for the glass, but it scooted away before he could touch it. A few drops of root beer spilled, and Tantalus tried to dab them up with his fingers, but the drops rolled away like quicksilver before he could touch them. He growled and turned toward the plate of barbecue. He picked up a fork and tried to stab a piece of brisket, but the plate skittered down the table and flew off the end, straight into the coals of the brazier. 

  “Blast!” Tantalus muttered. 

  “Ah, well,” Dionysus said, his voice dripping with false sympathy. “Perhaps a few more days. 

  Believe me, old chap, working at this camp will be torture enough. I’m sure your old curse will fade eventually. ”

  “Eventually,” muttered Tantalus, staring at Dionysus’s Diet Coke. “Do you have any idea how dry one’s throat gets after three thousand years?”

  “You’re that spirit from the Fields of Punishment,” I said. “The one who stands in the lake with the fruit tree hanging over you, but you can’t eat or drink. ”

  Tantalus sneered at me. “A real scholar, aren’t you, boy?”

  “You must’ve done something really horrible when you were alive,” I said, mildly impressed. 

  “What was it?”

  Tantalus’s eyes narrowed. Behind him, the satyrs were shaking their heads vigorously, trying to warn me. 

  “I’ll be watching you, Percy Jackson,” Tantalus said. “I don’t want any problems at my camp. ”

  ”Your camp has problems already … sir. ”

  “Oh, go sit down, Johnson,” Dionysus sighed. “I believe that table over there is yours—the one where no one else ever wants to sit. ”

  My face was burning, but I knew better than to talk back. Dionysus was an overgrown brat, but he was an immortal, superpowerful overgrown brat. I said, “Come on, Tyson. ”

  “Oh, no,” Tantalus said. “The monster stays here. We must decide what to do with it. ”

  “Him,” I snapped. “His name is Tyson. ”

  The new activities director raised an eyebrow. 

  “Tyson saved the camp,” I insisted. “He pounded those bronze bulls. Otherwise they would’ve burned down this whole place. ”

  “Yes,” Tantalus sighed, “and what a pity that would’ve been. ”

  Dionysus snickered. 

  “Leave us,” Tantalus ordered, “while we decide this creature’s fate. ”

  Tyson looked at me with fear in his one big eye, but I knew I couldn’t disobey a direct order from the camp directors. Not openly, anyway. 

  “I’ll be right over here, big guy,” I promised. “Don’t worry. We’ll find you a good place to sleep tonight. ”

  Tyson nodded. “I believe you. You are my friend. ”

  Which made me feel a whole lot guiltier. 

  I trudged over to the Poseidon table and slumped onto the bench. A wood nymph brought me a plate of Olympian olive-and-pepperoni pizza, but I wasn’t hungry. I’d been almost killed twice today. I’d managed to end my school year with a complete disaster. Camp Half-Blood was in serious trouble and Chiron had told me not to do anything about it. 

  I didn’t feel very thankful, but I took my dinner, as was customary, up to the bronze brazier and scraped part of it into the flames. 

  “Poseidon,” I murmured, “accept my offering. ”

  And send me some help while you’re at it, I prayed silently. Please. 

  The smoke from the burning pizza changed into something fragrant—the smell of a clean sea breeze with wild-flowers mixed in—but I had no idea if that meant my father was really listening. 

  I went back to my seat. I didn’t think things could get much worse. But then Tantalus had one of the satyrs blow the conch horn to get our attention for announcements. 

  “Yes, well,” Tantalus said, once the talking had died down. “Another fine meal! Or so I am told. ” As he spoke, he inched his hand toward his refilled dinner plate, as if maybe the food wouldn’t notice what he was doing, but it did. It shot away down the table as soon as he got within six inches. 

  “And here on my first day of authority,” he continued, “I’d like to say what a pleasant form of punishment it is to be here. Over the course of the summer, I hope to torture, er, interact with each and every one of you children. You all look good enough to eat. ”

  Dionysus clapped politely, leading to some halfhearted applause from the satyrs. Tyson was still standing at the head table, looking uncomfortable, but every time he tried to scoot out of the limelight, Tantalus pulled him back. 

  “And now some changes!” Tantalus gave the campers a crooked smile. “We are reinstituting the chariot races!”

  Murmuring broke out at all the tables—excitement, fear, disbelief. 

  “Now I know,” Tantalus continued, raising his voice, “that these races were discontinued some years ago due to, ah, technical problems. ”

  “Three deaths and twenty-six mutilations,” someone at the Apollo table called. 

  “Yes, yes!” Tantalus said. “But I know that you will all join me in welcoming the return of this camp tradition. Golden laurels will go to the winning charioteers each month. Teams may register in the morning! The first race will be held in three days time. We will release you from most of your regular activities to prepare your chariots and choose your horses. Oh, and did I mention, the victorious team’s cabin will have no chores for the month in which they win?”

  An explosion of excited conversation—no KP for a whole month? No stable cleaning? Was he serious?

  Then the last person I expected to object did so. 

  “But, sir!” Clarisse said. She looked nervous, but she stood up to speak from the Ares table. 

  Some of the campers snickered when they saw the YOU MOO, GIRL! sign on her back. “What about patrol duty? I mean, if we drop everything to ready our chariots—”

  “Ah, the hero of the day,” Tantalus exclaimed. “Brave Clarisse, who single-handedly bested the bronze bulls!”

  Clarisse blinked, then blushed. “Um, I didn’t—”

  “And modest, too. ” Tantalus grinned. “Not to worry, my dear! This is a summer camp. We are here to enjoy ourselves, yes?”

  “But the tree—”

  “And now,” Tantalus said, as several of Clarisse’s cabin mates pulled her back into her seat, “before we proceed to the campfire and sing-along, one slight housekeeping issue. Percy Jackson and Annabeth Chase have seen fit, for some reason, to bring this here. ” Tantalus waved a hand toward Tyson. 

  Uneasy murmuring spread among the campers. A lot of sideways looks at me. I wanted to kill Tantalus. 

  “Now, of course,” he said, “Cyclopes have a reputation for being bloodthirsty monsters with a very small brain capacity. Under normal circumstances, I would release this beast into the woods and have you hunt it down with torches and pointed sticks. But who knows? Perhaps this Cyclops is not as horrible as most of its brethren. Until it proves worthy of destruction, we need a place to keep it! I’ve thought about the stables, but that will make the horses nervous. Hermes’s cabin, possibly?”

  Silence at the Hermes table. Travis and Connor Stoll developed a sudden interest in the tablecloth. I couldn’t blame them. The Hermes cabin was always full to bursting. There was no way they could take in a six-foot-three Cyclops. 

  “Come now,” Tantalus chided. “The monster may be able to do some menial chores. Any suggestions as to where such a beast should be kenneled?”

  Suddenly everybody gasped. 

  Tantalus scooted away from Tyson in surprise. All I could do was stare in disbelief at the brilliant green light that was about to change my life—a dazzling holographic image that had appeared above Tyson’s head. 

  With a sickening twist in my stomach, I remembered what Annabeth had said about Cyclopes, They’re the children of nature spirits and gods … Well, one god in particular, usually …

  Swirling over Tyson was a glowing green trident—the same symbol that had appeared above me the day Poseidon had claimed me as his son. 

  There was a moment of awed silence. 

  Being claimed was a rare event. Some campers waited in vain for it their whole lives. When I’d been claimed by Poseidon last summer, everyone had reverently knelt. But now, they followed Tantalus’s lead, and Tantalus roared with laughter. “Well! I think we know where to put the beast now. By the gods, I can see the family resemblance!”

  Everybody laughed except Annabeth and a few of my other friends. 

  Tyson didn’t seem to notice. He was too mystified, trying to swat the glowing trident that was now fading over his head. He was too innocent to understand how much they were making fun of him, how cruel people were. 

  But I got it. 

  I had a new cabin mate. I had a monster for a half-brother. 

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