The Titan’s Curse – Chapter 14: I HAVE A DAM PROBLEM

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Chapter 14: I HAVE A DAM PROBLEM

At the edge of the dump, we found a tow truck so old it might’ve been thrown away itself. But the engine started, and it had a full tank of gas, so we decided to borrow it.

Thalia drove. She didn’t seem as stunned as Zoe or Grover or me.

“The skeletons are still out there,” she reminded us. “We need to keep moving.”

She navigated us through the desert, under clear blue skies, the sand so bright it hurt to look at. Zoe sat up front with Thalia. Grover and I sat in the pickup bed, leaning against the tow wench. The air was cool and dry, but the nice weather just seemed like an insult after losing Bianca.

My hand closed around the little figurine that had cost her life. I still couldn’t even tell what god it was supposed to be. Nico would know.

Oh, gods… what was I going to tell Nico?

I wanted to believe that Bianca was still alive somewhere. But I had a bad feeling that she was gone for good.

“It should’ve been me,” I said. “I should’ve gone into the giant.”

“Don’t say that!” Grover panicked. “It’s bad enough

Annabeth is gone, and now Bianca. Do you think I could stand it if…” He sniffled. “Do you think anybody else would be my best friend?”

“Ah, Grover…”

He wiped under his eyes with an oily cloth that left his face grimy, like he had on war paint. “I’m… I’m okay.”

But he wasn’t okay. Ever since the encounter in New Mexico—whatever had happened when that wild wind blew through—he seemed really fragile, even more emotional than usual. I was afraid to talk to him about it, because he might start bawling.

At least there’s one good thing about having a friend who gets freaked out more than you do. I realized I couldn’t stay depressed. I had to set aside thinking about Bianca and keep us going forward, the way Thalia was doing. I wondered what she and Zoe were talking about in the front of the truck.

The tow truck ran out of gas at the edge of a river canyon. That was just as well, because the road dead-ended.

Thalia got out and slammed the door. Immediately, one of the tires blew. “Great. What now?”

I scanned the horizon. There wasn’t much to see. Desert in all directions, occasional clumps of barren mountains plopped here and there. The canyon was the only thing interesting. The river itself wasn’t very big, maybe fifty yards across, green water with a few rapids, but it carved a huge scar out of the desert. The rock cliffs dropped away below us.

“There’s a path,” Grover said. “We could get to the river.”

I tried to see what he was talking about, and finally noticed a tiny ledge winding down the cliff face. “That’s a goat path,” I said.

“So?” he asked.

“The rest of us aren’t goats.”

“We can make it,” Grover said. “I think.”

I thought about that. I’d done cliffs before, but I didn’t like them. Then I looked over at Thalia and saw how pale she’d gotten. Her problem with heights… she’d never be able to do it.

“No,” I said. “I, uh, think we should go farther upstream.”

Grover said, “But—”

“Come on,” I said. “A walk won’t hurt us.”

I glanced at Thalia. Her eyes said a quick Thank you.

We followed the river about half a mile before coming to an easier slope that led down to the water. On the shore was a canoe rental operation that was closed for the season, but I left a stack of golden drachmas on the counter and a note saying IOU two canoes.

“We need to go upstream,” Zoe said. It was the first time I’d heard her speak since the junkyard, and I was worried about how bad she sounded, like somebody with the flu. “The rapids are too swift.”

“Leave that to me,” I said. We put the canoes in the water.

Thalia pulled me aside as we were getting the oars. “Thanks for back there.”

“Don’t mention it.”

“Can you really…” She nodded to the rapids. “You know.”

“I think so. Usually I’m good with water.”

“Would you take Zoe?” she asked. “I think, ah, maybe you can talk to her.”

“She’s not going to like that.”

“Please? I don’t know if I can stand being in the same boat with her. She’s… she’s starting to worry me.”

It was about the last thing I wanted to do, but I nodded.

Thalia’s shoulders relaxed. “I owe you one.”

“Two.”

“One and a half,” Thalia said.

She smiled, and for a second, I remembered that I actually liked her when she wasn’t yelling at me. She turned and helped Grover get their canoe into the water.

As it turned out, I didn’t even need to control the currents. As soon as we got in the river, I looked over the edge of the boat and found a couple of naiads staring at me.

They looked like regular teenage girls, the kind you’d see in any mall, except for the fact that they were underwater.

Hey, I said.

They made a bubbling sound that may have been giggling. I wasn’t sure. I had a hard time understanding naiads.

We’re heading upstream, I told them. Do you think you could—

Before I could even finish, the naiads each chose a canoe and began pushing us up the river. We started so fast

Grover fell into his canoe with his hooves sticking up in the air.

“I hate naiads,” Zoe grumbled.

A stream of water squirted up from the back of the boat and hit Zoe in the face.

“She-devils!” Zoe went for her bow.

“Whoa,” I said. “They’re just playing.”

“Cursed water spirits. They’ve never forgiven me.”

“Forgiven you for what?”

She slung her bow back over her shoulder. “It was a long time ago. Never mind.”

We sped up the river, the cliffs looming up on either side of us.

“What happened to Bianca wasn’t your fault,” I told her. “It was my fault. I let her go.”

I figured this would give Zoe an excuse to start yelling at me. At least that might shake her out of feeling depressed.

Instead, her shoulders slumped. “No, Percy. I pushed her into going on the quest. I was too anxious. She was a powerful half-blood. She had a kind heart, as well. I… I thought she would be the next lieutenant.”

“But you’re the lieutenant.”

She gripped the strap of her quiver. She looked more tired than I’d ever seen her. “Nothing can last forever, Percy. Over two thousand years I have led the Hunt, and my wisdom has not improved. Now Artemis herself is in danger.”

“Look, you can’t blame yourself for that.”

“If I had insisted on going with her—”

“You think you could’ve fought something powerful enough to kidnap Artemis? There’s nothing you could have done.”

Zoe didn’t answer.

The cliffs along the river were getting taller. Long shadows fell across the water, making it a lot colder, even though the day was bright.

Without thinking about it, I took Riptide out of my pocket. Zoe looked at the pen, and her expression was pained.

“You made this,” I said.

“Who told thee?”

“I had a dream about it.”

She studied me. I was sure she was going to call me crazy, but she just sighed. “It was a gift. And a mistake.”

“Who was the hero?” I asked.

Zoe shook her head. “Do not make me say his name. I swore never to speak it again.”

“You act like I should know him.”

“I am sure you do, hero. Don’t all you boys want to be just like him?”

Her voice was so bitter, I decided not to ask what she meant. I looked down at Riptide, and for the first time, I wondered if it was cursed.

“Your mother was a water goddess?” I asked.

“Yes, Pleione. She had five daughters. My sisters and I. The Hesperides.”

“Those were the girls who lived in a garden at the edge of the West. With the golden apple tree and a dragon guarding it.”

“Yes,” Zoe said wistfully. “Ladon.”

“But weren’t there only four sisters’?”

“There are now. I was exiled. Forgotten. Blotted out as if I never existed.”

“Why?”

Zoe pointed to my pen. “Because I betrayed my family and helped a hero. You won’t find that in the legend either. He never spoke of me. After his direct assault on Ladon failed, I gave him the idea of how to steal the apples, how to trick my father, but he took all the credit.”

“But—”

Gurgle, gurgle, the naiad spoke in my mind. The canoe was slowing down.

I looked ahead, and I saw why.

This was as far as they could take us. The river was blocked. A dam the size of a football stadium stood in our path.

“Hoover Dam,” Thalia said. “It’s huge.”

We stood at the river’s edge, looking up at a curve of concrete that loomed between the cliffs. People were walking along the top of the dam. They were so tiny they looked like fleas.

The naiads had left with a lot of grumbling—not in words I could understand, but it was obvious they hated this dam blocking up their nice river. Our canoes floated back downstream, swirling in the wake from the dam’s discharge vents.

“Seven hundred feet tall,” I said. “Built in the 1930s.”

“Five million cubic acres of water,” Thalia said.

Graver sighed. “Largest construction project in the United States.”

Zoe stared at us. “How do you know all that?”

“Annabeth,” I said. “She liked architecture.”

“She was nuts about monuments,” Thalia said.

“Spouted facts all the time.” Grover sniffled. “So annoying.”

“I wish she were here,” I said.

The others nodded. Zoe was still looking at us strangely, but I didn’t care. It seemed like cruel fate that we’d come to Hoover Dam, one of Annabeth’s personal favorites, and she wasn’t here to see it.

“We should go up there,” I said. “For her sake. Just to say we’ve been.”

“You are mad,” Zoe decided. “But that’s where the road is.” She pointed to a huge parking garage next to the top of the dam. “And so, sightseeing it is.”

We had to walk for almost an hour before we found a path that led up to the road. It came up on the east side of the river. Then we straggled back toward the dam. It was cold and windy on top. On one side, a big lake spread out, ringed by barren desert mountains. On the other side, the dam dropped away like the world’s most dangerous skateboard ramp, down to the river seven hundred feet below, and water that churned from the dam’s vents.

Thalia walked in the middle of the road, far away from the edges. Grover kept sniffing the wind and looking nervous. He didn’t say anything, but I knew he smelled monsters.

“How close are they?” I asked him.

He shook his head. “Maybe not close. The wind on the dam, the desert all around us… the scent can probably carry for miles. But it’s coming from several directions. I don’t like that.”

I didn’t either. It was already Wednesday, only two days until winter solstice, and we still had a long way to go. We didn’t need any more monsters,

“There’s a snack bar in the visitor center,” Thalia said.

“You’ve been here before?” I asked.

“Once. To see the guardians.” She pointed to the far end of the dam. Carved into the side of the cliff was a little plaza with two big bronze statues. They looked kind of like Oscar statues with wings.

“They were dedicated to Zeus when the dam was built,” Thalia said. “A gift from Athena.”

Tourists were clustered all around them. They seemed to be looking at the statues’ feet.

“What are they doing?” I asked.

“Rubbing the toes,” Thalia said. “They think it’s good luck.”

“Why?”

She shook her head. “Mortals get crazy ideas. They don’t know the statues are sacred to Zeus, but they know there’s something special about them.”

“When you were here last, did they talk to you or anything?”

Thalia’s expression darkened. I could tell that she’d come here before hoping for exactly that—some kind of sign from her dad. Some connection. “No. They don’t do anything. They’re just big metal statues.”

I thought about the last big metal statue we’d run into. That hadn’t gone so well. But I decided not to bring it up.

“Let us find the dam snack bar,” Zoe said. “We should eat while we can.”

Grover cracked a smile. “The dam snack bar?”

Zoe blinked. “Yes. What is funny?”

“Nothing,” Grover said, trying to keep a straight face. “I could use some dam french fries.”

Even Thalia smiled at that. “And I need to use the dam restroom.”

Maybe it was the fact that we were so tired and strung out emotionally, but I started cracking up, and Thalia and Grover joined in, while Zoe just looked at us. “I do not understand.”

“I want to use the dam water fountain,” Grover said.

“And…” Thalia tried to catch her breath. “I want to buy a dam T-shirt.”

I busted up, and I probably would’ve kept laughing all day, but then I heard a noise:

“Moooo.”

The smile melted off my face. I wondered if the noise was just in my head, but Grover had stopped laughing too. He was looking around, confused. “Did I just hear a cow?”

“A dam cow?” Thalia laughed.

“No,” Grover said. “I’m serious.”

Zoe listened. “I hear nothing.”

Thalia was looking at me. “Percy, are you okay?”

“Yeah,” I said. “You guys go ahead. I’ll be right in.”

“What’s wrong?” Grover asked.

“Nothing,” I said. “I… I just need a minute. To think.”

They hesitated, but I guess I must’ve looked upset, because they finally went into the visitor center without me. As soon as they were gone, I jogged to the north edge of the dam and looked over.

“Moo.”

She was about thirty feet below in the lake, but I could see her clearly: my friend from Long Island Sound, Bessie the cow serpent.

I looked around. There were groups of kids running along the dam. A lot of senior citizens. Some families. But nobody seemed to be paying Bessie any attention yet.

“What are you doing here?” I asked her.

“Moo!”

Her voice was urgent, like she was trying to warn me of something.

“How did you get here?” I asked. We were thousands of miles from Long Island, hundreds of miles inland. There was no way she could’ve swum all the way here. And yet, here she was.

Bessie swam in a circle and butted her head against the side of the dam. “Moo!”

She wanted me to come with her. She was telling me to hurry.

“I can’t,” I told her. “My friends are inside.”

She looked at me with her sad brown eyes. Then she gave one more urgent “Mooo!,” did a flip, and disappeared into the water.

I hesitated. Something was wrong. She was trying to tell me that. I considered jumping over the side and following her, but then I tensed. The hairs on my arms bristled. I looked down the dam road to the east and I saw two men walking slowly toward me. They wore gray camouflage outfits that flickered over skeletal bodies.

They passed through a group of kids and pushed them aside. A kid yelled, “Hey!” One of the warriors turned, his face changing momentarily into a skull.

“Ah!” the kid yelled, and his whole group backed away.

I ran for the visitor center.

I was almost to the stairs when I heard tires squeal. On the west side of the dam, a black van swerved to a stop in the middle of the road, nearly plowing into some old people.

The van doors opened and more skeleton warriors piled out. I was surrounded.

I bolted down the stairs and through the museum entrance. The security guard at the metal detector yelled, “Hey, kid!” But I didn’t stop.

I ran through the exhibits and ducked behind a tour group. I looked for my friends, but I couldn’t see them anywhere. Where was the dam snack bar?

“Stop!” The metal-detector guy yelled.

There was no place to go but into an elevator with the tour group. I ducked inside just as the door closed.

“We’ll be going down seven hundred feet,” our tour guide said cheerfully. She was a park ranger, with long black hair pulled back in a ponytail and tinted glasses. I guess she hadn’t noticed that I was being chased. “Don’t worry, ladies and gentlemen, the elevator hardly ever breaks.”

“Does this go to the snack bar?” I asked her.

A few people behind me chuckled. The tour guide looked at me. Something about her gaze made my skin tingle.

“To the turbines, young man,” the lady said. “Weren’t you listening to my fascinating presentation upstairs?”

“Oh, uh, sure. Is there another way out of the dam?”

“It’s a dead end,” a tourist behind me said. “For heaven’s sake. The only way out is the other elevator.”

The doors opened.

“Go right ahead, folks,” the tour guide told us. “Another ranger is waiting for you at the end of the corridor.”

I didn’t have much choice but to go out with the group.

“And young man,” the tour guide called. I looked back. She’d taken off her glasses. Her eyes were startlingly gray, like storm clouds. “There is always a way out for those clever enough to find it.”

The doors closed with the tour guide still inside, leaving me alone.

Before I could think too much about the woman in the elevator, a ding came from around the corner. The second elevator was opening, and I heard an unmistakable sound—the clattering of skeleton teeth.

I ran after the tour group, through a tunnel carved out of solid rock. It seemed to run forever. The walls were moist, and the air hummed with electricity and the roar of water. I came out on a U-shaped balcony that overlooked this huge warehouse area. Fifty feet below, enormous turbines were running. It was a big room, but I didn’t see any other exit, unless I wanted to jump into the turbines and get churned up to make electricity. I didn’t.

Another tour guide was talking over the microphone, telling the tourists about water supplies in Nevada. I prayed that Thalia, Zoe, and Grover were okay. They might already be captured, or eating at the snack bar, completely unaware that we were being surrounded. And stupid me: I had trapped myself in a hole hundreds of feet below the surface.

I worked my way around the crowd, trying not to be too obvious about it. There was a hallway at the other side of the balcony—maybe some place I could hide. I kept my hand on Riptide, ready to strike.

By the time I got to the opposite side of the balcony, my nerves were shot. I backed into the little hallway and watched the tunnel I’d come from.

Then right behind me I heard a sharp Chhh! like the voice of a skeleton.

Without thinking, I uncapped Riptide and spun, slashing with my sword.

The girl I’d just tried to slice in half yelped and dropped her Kleenex.

“Oh my god.'” she shouted. “Do you always kill people when they blow their nose?”

The first thing that went through my head was that the sword hadn’t hurt her. It had passed clean through her body, harmlessly. “You’re mortal!”

She looked at me in disbelief. “What’s that supposed to mean? Of course I’m mortal! How did you get that sword past security?”

“I didn’t—Wait, you can see it’s a sword?”

The girl rolled her eyes, which were green like mine. She had frizzy reddish-brown hair. Her nose was also red, like she had a cold. She wore a big maroon Harvard sweatshirt and jeans that were covered with marker stains and little holes, like she spent her free time poking them with a fork.

“Well, it’s either a sword or the biggest toothpick in the world,” she said. “And why didn’t it hurt me? I mean, not that I’m complaining. Who are you? And whoa, what is that you’re wearing? Is that made of lion fur?”

She asked so many questions so fast, it was like she was throwing rocks at me. I couldn’t think of what to say. I looked at my sleeves to see if the Nemean Lion pelt had somehow changed back to fur, but it still looked like a brown winter coat to me.

I knew the skeleton warriors were still chasing me. I had no time to waste. But I just stared at the redheaded girl. Then I remembered what Thalia had done at Westover Hall to fool the teachers. Maybe I could manipulate the Mist.

I concentrated hard and snapped my fingers. “You don’t see a sword,” I told the girl. “It’s just a ballpoint pen.”

She blinked. “Um… no. It’s a sword, weirdo.”

“Who are you?” I demanded.

She huffed indignantly. “Rachel Elizabeth Dare. Now, are you going to answer my questions or should I scream for security?”

“No!” I said. “I mean, I’m kind of in a hurry. I’m in trouble.”

“In a hurry or in trouble?”

“Um, sort of both.”

She looked over my shoulder and her eyes widened. “Bathroom!”

“What?”

“Bathroom! Behind me! Now!”

I don’t know why, but I listened to her. I slipped inside the boys’ bathroom and left Rachel Elizabeth Dare standing outside. Later, that seemed cowardly to me. I’m also pretty sure it saved my life.

I heard the clattering, hissing sounds of skeletons as they came closer.

My grip tightened on Riptide. What was I thinking? I’d left a mortal girl out there to die. I was preparing to burst out and fight when Rachel Elizabeth Dare started talking in that rapid-fire machine gun way of hers.

“Oh my god! Did you see that kid? It’s about time you got here. He tried to kill me! He had a sword, for god’s sake. You security guys let a sword-swinging lunatic inside a national landmark? I mean, jeez! He ran that way toward those turbine thingies. I think he went over the side or something. Maybe he fell.”

The skeletons clattered excitedly. I heard them moving off.

Rachel opened the door. “All clear. But you’d better hurry.”

She looked shaken. Her face was gray and sweaty.

I peeked around the corner. Three skeleton warriors were running toward the other end of the balcony. The way to the elevator was clear for a few seconds.

“I owe you one, Rachel Elizabeth Dare.”

“What are those things?” she asked. “They looked like—”

“Skeletons?”

She nodded uneasily.

“Do yourself a favor,” I said. “Forget it. Forget you ever saw me.”

“Forget you tried to kill me?”

“Yeah. That, too.”

“But who are you?”

“Percy—” I started to say. Then the skeletons turned around. “Gotta go!”

“What kind of name is Percy Gotta-go?”

I bolted for the exit.

The cafe was packed with kids enjoying the best part of the tour—the dam lunch. Thalia, Zoe, and Grover were just sitting down with their food.

We need to leave,” I gasped. “Now!” But we just got our burritos!” Thalia said. Zoe stood up, muttering an Ancient Greek curse. “He’s right! Look.”

The cafe windows wrapped all the way around the observation floor, which gave us a beautiful panoramic view of the skeletal army that had come to kill us.

I counted two on the east side of the dam road, blocking the way to Arizona. Three more on the west side, guarding Nevada. All of them were armed with batons and pistols.

But our immediate problem was a lot closer. The three skeletal warriors who’d been chasing me in the turbine room now appeared on the stairs. They saw me from across the cafeteria and clattered their teeth.

“Elevator!” Grover said. We bolted that direction, but the doors opened with a pleasant ding, and three more warriors stepped out. Every warrior was accounted for, minus the one Bianca had blasted to flames in New Mexico. We were completely surrounded.

Then Grover had a brilliant, totally Grover-like idea.

“Burrito fight!” he yelled, and flung his Guacamole Grande at the nearest skeleton.

Now, if you have never been hit by a flying burrito, count yourself lucky. In terms of deadly projectiles, it’s right up there with grenades and cannonballs. Grover’s lunch hit the skeleton and knocked his skull clean off his shoulders. I’m not sure what the other kids in the cafe saw, but they went crazy and started throwing their burritos and baskets of chips and sodas at each other, shrieking and screaming.

The skeletons tried to aim their guns, but it was hopeless. Bodies and food and drinks were flying everywhere.

In the chaos, Thalia and I tackled the other two skeletons on the stairs and sent them flying into the condiment table. Then we all raced downstairs, Guacamole Grandes whizzing past our heads.

“What now?” Grover asked as we burst outside.

I didn’t have an answer. The warriors on the road were closing in from either direction. We ran across the street to the pavilion with the winged bronze statues, but that just put our backs to the mountain.

The skeletons moved forward, forming a crescent around us. Their brethren from the cafe were running up to join them. One was still putting its skull back on its shoulders. Another was covered in ketchup and mustard. Two more had burritos lodged in their rib cages. They didn’t look happy about it. They drew batons and advanced.

“Four against eleven,” Zoe muttered. “And they cannot die.”

“It’s been nice adventuring with you guys,” Grover said, his voice trembling.

Something shiny caught the corner of my eye. I glanced behind me at the statue’s feet. “Whoa,” I said. “Their toes really are bright.”

“Percy!” Thalia said. “This isn’t the time.”

But I couldn’t help staring at the two giant bronze guys with tall bladed wings like letter openers. They were weathered brown except for their toes, which shone like new pennies from all the times people had rubbed them for good luck.

Good luck. The blessing of Zeus.

I thought about the tour guide in the elevator. Her gray eyes and her smile. What had she said? There is always a way for those clever enough to find it.

“Thalia,” I said. “Pray to your dad.”

She glared at me. “He never answers.”

“Just this once,” I pleaded. “Ask for help. I think… I think the statues can give us some luck.”

Six skeletons raised their guns. The other five came forward with batons. Fifty feet away. Forty feet.

“Do it!” I yelled.

“No!” Thalia said. “He won’t answer me.”

“This time is different!”

“Who says?”

I hesitated. “Athena, I think.”

Thalia scowled like she was sure I’d gone crazy.

“Try it,” Grover pleaded.

Thalia closed her eyes. Her lips moved in a silent prayer. I put in my own prayer to Annabeth’s mom, hoping I was right that it had been her in that elevator—that she was trying to help us save her daughter.

And nothing happened.

The skeletons closed in. I raised Riptide to defend myself. Thalia held up her shield. Zoe pushed Grover behind her and aimed an arrow at a skeleton’s head.

A shadow fell over me. I thought maybe it was the shadow of death. Then I realized it was the shadow of an enormous wing. The skeletons looked up too late. A flash of bronze, and all five of the baton-wielders were swept aside.

The other skeletons opened fire. I raised my lion coat for protection, but I didn’t need it. The bronze angels stepped in front of us and folded their wings like shields. Bullets pinged off of them like rain off a corrugated roof. Both angels slashed outward, and the skeletons went flying across the road.

“Man, it feels good to stand up!” the first angel said. His voice sounded tinny and rusty, like he hadn’t had a drink since he’d been built.

“Will ya look at my toes?” the other said. “Holy Zeus, what were those tourists thinking?”

As stunned as I was by the angels, I was more concerned with the skeletons. A few of them were getting up again, reassembling, bony hands groping for their weapons.

“Trouble!” I said.

“Get us out of here!” Thalia yelled.

Both angels looked down at her. “Zeus’s kid?” Yes!

“Could I get a please, Miss Zeus’s Kid?” an angel asked.

“Please!”

The angels looked at each other and shrugged.

“Could use a stretch,” one decided.

And the next thing I knew, one of them grabbed Thalia and me, the other grabbed Zoe and Grover, and we flew straight up, over the dam and the river, the skeleton warriors shrinking to tiny specks below us and the sound of gunfire echoing off the sides of the mountains.

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