Percy and I Plunge to Our Deaths is the sixty-first chapter of The Gift of a Best Friend. It was first published on June 5th, 2018.
We spent two days on the Amtrak train, heading west through hills, over rivers, past amber waves of grain.
We weren’t attacked once, but I’m still cautious of our surroundings.
Percy’s name and picture were splattered over the front pages of several East Coast newspapers. The Trenton Register-News showed a photo taken by a tourist as he got off the Greyhound bus. He had a wild look in my eyes. His sword was a metallic blur in his hands. It might’ve been a baseball bat or a lacrosse stick.
The picture’s caption read:
I couldn’t tell what Percy was thinking about this based on his expression, but he didn’t look happy about it.
“Don’t worry,” I told him. “Mortal police could never find us.”
I wasn’t really so sure about that, but I hope I didn’t sound like I wasn’t.
“And to make it worse, our names are mentioned too,” Jasmine said, crossing her arms over her chest and leaning back against her seat in anger. “Sometimes it’s a real pain in the ass to be famous throughout the country. Or, at least, related to someone famous.” She sighed. “My grandmother will keep the police from finding us. I’ve already told her and the rest of my family about the quest just before we left on it, and I’ve also told them about you, Percy, and what really happened to your mother. Since my grandmother has known you for a few years, she knows what you’ve dealt with and will do all she can to make sure your reputation isn’t ruined.”
“Thanks, Jasmine,” Percy said.
“Don’t thank me. Thank my grandmother.”
The rest of the day, Percy paced the length of the train.
Jasmine had turned Toothless back into a baby dragon and then summoned a book she was currently reading that got burned up on the Greyhound bus. She also summoned my book of classical architecture for me to read.
We couldn’t get berths in the sleeper car, so we dozed in our seats.
Percy was sleeping right next to me, talking in his sleep about someone wanting his help. Jasmine stayed mostly awake in front of me with Toothless curled up in her lap, and caressing his little head. She took a picture of him with her phone, then put in earphones to listen to her playlist, subvocalizing along with every song she listened to.
After knowing her for seven years, and her doing that, I could always tell which song she was listening to by the way she moved her lips. Right now, it was one of her mom’s love songs, “Fearless.”
Grover kept snorting and bleating right next to her, waking Percy up. Once, Grover shuffled around and his fake foot fell off. Percy and I had to stick it back on before any of the other passengers noticed.
“So,” I asked Percy, once we’d gotten Grover’s sneaker readjusted. “Who wants your help?”
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“When you were asleep just now, you mumbled, ‘I won’t help you.’ Who were you dreaming about?”
Percy seemed reluctant to tell me.
Jasmine noticed that we were talking, so she removed one of her earphones to listen.
Percy finally told me about his dream of some evil voice from a pit.
I was quiet for a long time, thinking about it.
“That doesn’t sound like Hades,” I said. “He always appears on a black throne, and he never laughs.”
“He offered my mother in trade,” Percy said. “Who else could do that?”
“I guess . . . if he meant, ‘Help me rise from the Underworld.’ If he wants war with the Olympians. But why ask you to bring him the master bolt if he already has it?”
He shook his head.
Grover snorted in his sleep, muttered something about vegetables, and turned his head.
I readjusted his cap so it covered his horns.
“Percy, you can’t barter with Hades,” I said. “You know that, right? He’s deceitful, heartless, and greedy. I don’t care if the Kindly Ones weren’t as aggressive this time—”
“This time?” Percy asked. “You mean you’ve run into them before?”
Jasmine and I looked at each other. We both crept up our hands to our necklaces and fingered the first clay bead we’d ever gotten.
“Let’s just say I’ve got no love for the Lord of the Dead,” I said. “You can’t be tempted to make a deal for your mom.”
“What would you do if it was your dad?”
“That’s easy. I’d leave him to rot.”
“You’re not serious?”
“Oh, unfortunately, she is,” Jasmine said, glaring at me.
I don’t care.
I fixed my eyes on Percy.
“My dad’s resented me since the day I was born, Percy,” I said. “He never wanted a baby. When he got me, he asked Athena to take me back and raise me on Olympus because he was too busy with his work. She wasn’t happy about that. She told him heroes had to be raised by their mortal parent.”
“But how . . . I mean, I guess you weren’t born in a hospital. . . .” Percy said.
“I appeared on my father’s doorstep, in a golden cradle, carried down from Olympus by Zephyr the West Wind. You’d think my dad would remember that as a miracle, right? Like, maybe he’d take some digital photos or something. But he always talked about my arrival as if it were the most inconvenient thing that had ever happened to him. When I was five he got married and totally forgot about Athena. He got a ‘regular’ mortal wife, and had two ‘regular’ mortal kids, and tried to pretend I didn’t exist. The only one who knew I existed and made me feel like I did was Jasmine.”
She gave me a grateful smile. “Your dad did do some things for you that you liked.”
“Yeah. But not enough.”
Percy stared out the train window. The lights of a sleeping town were drifting by.
“My mom married a really awful guy,” Percy told me. “Grover said she did it to protect me, to hide me in the scent of a human family. Maybe that’s what your dad was thinking.”
I pinched my dad’s college ring on my necklace. I considered that, but I knew he was wrong.
“He doesn’t care about me,” I said. “His wife—my stepmom—treated me like a freak. She wouldn’t let me play with her children. My dad went along with her. Whenever something dangerous happened—you know, something with monsters—they would both look at me resentfully, like, ‘How dare you put our family at risk.’ Jasmine always defended me against them. She was the only one that cared about me. Then my dad wanted us to no longer be friends because of that, because he hated that she showed him who he really was. Finally, I took the hint. I wasn’t wanted. I ran away.”
“How old were you?” Percy asked.
“Same age as when I started camp. Seven.”
“But . . . you couldn’t have gotten all the way to Half-Blood Hill by yourself.”
“Not alone, no. Athena watched over me, guided me toward help. Jasmine came to find me and we continued on our own with Kika and Honey. We made a couple of unexpected friends who took care of us, for a short time, anyway.”
Percy didn’t ask me anymore questions, and I’m glad he didn’t, because I don’t know if I could’ve handle anymore.
Jasmine placed a comforting hand on my shoulder with a comforting smile.
I don’t think this much because of how much she annoys me, but at moments like this, I’m glad she’s always been there for me and still is.
I sat back in my seat, pulled out my phone and earphones, and played a song from my playlist, “Gift of a Friend.”
I stared out the window as I listened to myself sing the song and tried to keep my tears from falling.
Toward the end of our second day on the train, June 13, eight days before the summer solstice, we passed through some golden hills and over the Mississippi River into St. Louis. Back in my home state.
I craned my neck to see the Gateway Arch. Its structure was so beautiful.
“I want to do that,” I said.
Jasmine smiled. “I know.”
“What?” Percy asked.
“Build something like that,” I said. “You ever see the Parthenon, Percy?”
“Only in pictures.”
“Someday, I’m going to see it in person. I’m going to build the greatest monument to the gods, ever. Something that’ll last a thousand years.”
Percy laughed. “You? An architect?”
Jasmine gave him a death glare.
She may not like the idea of me being an architect so much, but she supported me in it. Especially for the reason I started liking architecture in the first place. And she hates it when someone thinks it’s crazy and laughs at the idea, like Percy just did.
I flushed. “Yes, an architect. Athena expects her children to create things, not tear them down, like a certain god of earthquakes I could mention.”
I felt bad as soon as I said it.
Percy turned his attention toward the Mississippi River below, looking bad too.
Now Jasmine was giving me a death glare. “Annabeth.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “That was mean.”
“Can’t we work together a little?” Percy pleaded. “I mean, didn’t Athena and Poseidon ever cooperate?”
I had to think about it.
“I guess . . . the chariot,” I said tentatively. “My mom invented it, but Poseidon created horses out of the crests of waves. So they had to work together to make it complete.”
“Then we can cooperate, too. Right?” Percy asked.
We rode into the city, me watching as the Arch disappeared behind a hotel.
Jasmine glared at me, silently telling me You better say yes, or I’ll kill you.
“I suppose,” I said at last.
We pulled into the Amtrak station downtown. The intercom told us we’d have a three-hour layover before departing for Denver (that’s how far Jasmine bought the tickets for).
“Food,” he said before he was even fully awake.
“Come on, goat boy,” I said. “Sightseeing.”
“The Gateway Arch. This may be my only chance to ride to the top. Are you coming or not?”
Jasmine and Toothless stood up with me, of course. But Percy and Grover exchanged looks.
I could tell that they wanted to say no.
Grover shrugged. “As long as there’s a snack bar without monsters.”
“Don’t jinx it,” Jasmine said. “Let’s go.”
The Arch was about a mile from the train station. Late in the day the lines to get in weren’t that long. We threaded our way through the underground museum, looking at covered wagons and other stuff from the 1800s.
I kept telling them interesting facts about how the Arch was built, and I noticed Grover kept passing Percy jelly beans.
Percy kept looking around, though, at the other people in line.
“You smell anything?” Percy murmured to Grover.
He took his nose out of the jelly-bean bag long enough to sniff.
“Underground,” he said distastefully. “Underground air always smells like monsters. Probably doesn’t mean anything.”
Percy didn’t seem convinced.
“Guys,” he said. “You know the gods’ symbols of power?”
I had been in the middle of reading about the construction equipment used to build the Arch, but I looked over. “Yeah?”
Grover cleared his throat. “We’re in a public place . . . You mean, our friend downstairs?”
“Um, right,” Percy said. “Our friend way downstairs. Doesn’t he have a hat like Annabeth’s?”
“You mean the Helm of Darkness,” I said. “Yeah, that’s his symbol of power. I saw it next to his seat during the winter solstice council meeting.”
“He was there?” Percy asked.
I nodded. “It’s the only time he’s allowed to visit Olympus—the darkest day of the year. But his helm is a lot more powerful than my invisibility hat, if what I’ve heard is true. . . .”
“It allows him to become darkness,” Grover confirmed. “He can melt into shadow or pass through walls. He can’t be touched, or seen, or heard. And he can radiate fear so intense it can drive you insane or stop your heart. Why do you think all rational creatures fear the dark?”
“But then . . . how do we know he’s not here right now, watching us?” Percy asked.
Jasmine, Grover, and I exchanged looks.
“We don’t,” Grover said.
“Thanks, that makes me feel a lot better,” Percy said, which Jasmine chuckled at. “Got any blue jelly beans left?”
I noticed how jumpy Percy was when he saw the elevator car we were going to ride to the top of the Arch.
We got shoehorned into the car with this big fat lady and her dog, a Chihuahua with a rhinestone collar, that Jasmine, of course, felt compelled to pet. But it and Toothless growled at each other, and Jasmine didn’t want to go anywhere near the big fat lady more than she already was.
Jasmine hates fat people. No one in her whole family is overweight at all and are well in shape, and she likes it that way. She’s said many things against overweight people, and hates watching them do, well, anything, like dance, eat, or even get stuck or how much room they take because of how overweight they are.
She treats them horribly. The only time she excuses it, at least with women, is only if they’re pregnant, because it can’t be controlled. But even then, it just depends on whether or not they were overweight before they got pregnant.
We started going up, inside the Arch.
“No parents?” the big fat lady asked us.
I know it’s not polite to call her that, but just be glad you’re not in Jasmine’s head at the moment, because she would’ve called her much worse.
She had beady eyes; pointy, coffee-stained teeth; a floppy denim hat, and a dress that bulged so much, she looked like a blue-jean blimp.
“They’re below,” I told her. “Scared of heights.”
“Oh, the poor darlings.”
The Chihuahua growled.
“Now, now, sonny,” the woman said. “Behave.”
The dog had beady eyes like its owner, intelligent and vicious.
“Sonny,” Percy said. “Is that his name?”
“No,” the lady told him.
She smiled, as if that cleared everything up.
We reached the top of the Arch.
The observation deck had carpeting. Rows of tiny windows looked out over the city on one side and the river on the other.
I loved it.
I kept talking about structural supports, and how I would’ve made the windows bigger, and designed a see-through floor.
“Wow,” Jasmine said. “You really want to make people afraid of heights.”
“What?” I asked. “No, I don’t.”
“I know you don’t mean to. I mean, I agree with you on making the windows bigger, but the see-through floor is a bit much.”
I rolled my eyes. “Whatever.”
“Hey, how come you’ve never asked to come to the Arch before?”
“I thought it would be risky with monsters.”
“Well, we’re passing by, so why not?”
She shrugged. “Ok.”
Unfortunately, the park ranger announced that the observation deck would be closing in a few minutes.
I didn’t want to leave yet, but I guess I didn’t have a choice, especially since Percy steered Grover, Jasmine, and I toward the exit.
“Well, someone’s anxious to leave,” Jasmine said.
I nodded in agreement.
We loaded into the elevator, but there was no room for Percy with two other tourists already inside.
“Next car, sir,” the park ranger said.
“We’ll get out,” I said. “We’ll wait with you.”
“Naw, it’s okay,” Percy said. “I’ll see you guys at the bottom.”
Jasmine and Grover both looked as nervous as I was.
“I’ll wait with you, Percy,” Jasmine said finally, like I expected she would.
“You don’t have to, Jasmine,” Percy said. “I can wait by myself.”
“Well, I’m not going to let you. And don’t even try to argue, because you won’t convince me to do otherwise.”
“You won’t,” I agreed.
She, with Toothless on her shoulder, got out of the car.
Percy looked like he wanted to argue, but wisely listened to her and didn’t.
Grover and I were relieved that Jasmine was staying with him, but we were still very nervous.
The elevator door slid shut and the car went down the ramp.
“Really, Jasmine,” Percy said. “You didn’t have to stay back and wait with me.”
“I know I didn’t have to,” I replied. “But I wanted to. I don’t like leaving someone to wait alone.”
“You’re welcome. But do you not like heights? Because you seemed pretty anxious to get down before we got up here.”
“No. I just hate confined places. They make me nuts.”
“Well, you seem to be doing ok so far.”
The only people left on the observation deck were us, a little boy with his parents, the park ranger, and the fatass lady with her Chihuahua.
God, she disgusts me. Seriously, I like to eat as much as the next person, but no where near enough for me to gain even a little weight. Why would you do that to yourself?
Her Chihuahua reminded me of the movie Beverly Hills Chihuahua. Chloe was so cute.
Percy smiled uneasily at the fatass lady.
She smiled back, her forked tongue flickering between her teeth.
Wait a minute.
Percy made eye-contact with me and I could tell that he saw it too.
The Chihuahua jumped down and started yapping at Percy.
“Now, now, sonny,” the fatass lady said. “Does this look like a good time? We have all these nice people here.”
“Doggie!” the cute little boy said. “Look, a doggie!”
His parents pulled him back.
I gave him a little smile. He reminded me of me.
The Chihuahua bared his teeth at Percy, foam dripping from his black lips.
Ok. Someone has rabies.
“Well, son,” the fatass lady sighed. “If you insist.”
“Um,” Percy said. “Did you just call that Chihuahua your son?”
“Chimera, dear,” the fatass lady corrected. “Not a Chihuahua. It’s an easy mistake to make.”
“Chimera?” I mused. Then my eyes widened. “Oh, shit.”
“What?” Percy asked nervously.
The fatass lady rolled up her denim sleeves, revealing that the skin of her arms were scaly and green. When she smiled, I saw that her teeth were fangs. The pupils of her eyes were sideways slits, like a reptile’s.
The Chihuahua barked louder, and with each bark, it grew. First to the size of a Doberman, then to a lion. The bark became a roar.
The cute little boy screamed. His parents pulled him back toward the exit, straight into the park ranger, who stood, paralyzed, gaping at the monster.
The Chimera was now so tall its back rubbed against the roof.
It had the head of a lion with a blood-caked mane, the body and hooves of a giant goat, and a serpent for a tail, a ten-foot-long diamondback growing right out of its shaggy behind. The rhinestone dog collar still hung around its neck, and the plate-sized dog tag was now easy to read: CHIMERA—RABID, FIRE-BREATHING, POISONOUS—IF FOUND, PLEASE CALL TARTARUS—EXT. 954.
We were ten feet away from the Chimera’s bloody maw, and I knew that as soon as either of us moved, the creature would lunge.
The snake lady made a hissing noise that was probably laughter. “Be honored, Percy Jackson. Lord Zeus rarely allows me to test a hero with one of my brood. For I am the Mother of Monsters, the terrible Echidna!”
Percy stared at her. “Isn’t that a kind of anteater?”
“Yes, it is,” I said.
Echidna howled, her reptilian face turning brown and green with rage. “I hate it when people say that! I hate Australia! Naming that ridiculous animal after me. For that, Percy Jackson, my son shall destroy you!”
The Chimera charged, its lion teething gnashing.
Percy dodged left and I dodged right, Toothless holding on to me, then took flight when we stopped.
I could’ve turned him back to normal size so that he could be more helpful, but I didn’t have enough time to do so right now.
Percy ended up next to the family and the park ranger, who were all screaming now, desperately trying to pry open the emergency doors.
The Chimera, of course, was focused on him.
He and I both knew that we couldn’t let the family and the park ranger get hurt.
Percy uncapped his sword and ran to the other side of the deck, which is where I was, and stopped a few feet from me.
“Hey, Chihuahua!” Percy yelled.
The Chimera turned toward him fast.
Before Percy could his sword, it opened its mouth, emitting a strong stench. I knew what it was going to do since Toothless does it all the time. Plus, it says so on his collar.
The Chimera shot a column of flame straight at Percy.
I used my super-speed to lung myself at him, knocking us both out of the way of the explosion, and me landing on top of him.
The carpet burst into flames; the heat was so intense, but I could handle it, thanks to my powers, but I didn’t know if my hair could, which will really piss me off if it’s burned off. I really loved my hair.
I doubt Percy could handle the heat, so it’s good that I’m on top of him to keep him protected.
Where he had been standing a moment ago was a ragged hole in the side of the Arch, with melted metal steaming around the edges.
Toothless was flying above us, unsure of what to do.
Percy’s sword was now a shining bronze blade in his hands, and as the Chimera turned, he slashed at its neck.
That was a fatal mistake.
The blade sparked harmlessly off the dog collar.
I got off of Percy and tried to pull him off the floor, but we completely forgot about the serpent tail, Toothless’s warning too slow, until it whipped around and sank its fangs into Percy’s calf.
“Percy!” I yelled.
He tried to jab his sword into the Chimera’s mouth, but the serpent tail wrapped around his ankle and pulled him off balance, and his sword flew out of his hand, spinning out of the hole in the Arch and down toward the Mississippi River.
I kicked the serpent tail in the face and pulled away. Then I helped Percy back on his feet.
His wound looked worse and I could tell that it was poisoned by the green stuff coming out of it, but I knew that Percy wouldn’t be able to fight anymore, especially without his sword. I could give him one of my dual blades, but he’s too injured, and is really starting to burn up. I needed to get him out of here and fast.
We backed into the hole in the wall.
The Chimera advanced, growling, smoke curling from its lips.
Toothless flew between us, growling back.
I could use my animal controlling powers that I was born with, I’ve even tried, but it’s never worked with mythical monsters. They’re just too angry or hungry.
“They don’t make heroes like they used to, eh, son?” Echidna cackled.
The Chimera growled. It could tell we were beaten.
I glanced at the park ranger and the family. The cute little boy was hiding behind his father’s legs. We had to protect them. Percy agreed.
There was no place else to go, so we stepped to the edge of the hole. The river glittered far, far below.
“If you are the son of Poseidon,” Echidna hissed, “you would not fear water. Jump, Percy Jackson. She me that water will not harm you. Jump and retrieve your sword. Prove your bloodline.”
Jumping into water from this high up was dangerous and can be deadly. But Percy shouldn’t get hurt.
Me? Well, I’d say it’s fifty-fifty, but my powers should keep me protected.
“We need to do it, Percy,” I said.
“What?” he asked, surprised I’m suggesting it.
I turned toward Toothless. “Toothless, go find Annabeth and Grover.”
He shook his head. No. I’m not leaving you.
“We’ll be fine. Go.”
Reluctantly, he flew out the hole and into open air.
The Chimera’s mouth glowed red, heating up for another flamethrower.
Percy was still considering the jump.
“You have no faith,” Echidna told him. “You do not trust the gods. I cannot blame you, little coward. Better you die now. The gods are faithless. The poison is in your heart.”
I hated to admit it, but she was right, and Percy knew it too. I could feel his breath slowing down. I could save him, but I want to see if he’ll do it first.
We backed up, and he looked down at the water.
He looked at me. “Do you trust me?”
I nodded. “Yes.”
“Die, faithless one,” Echidna rasped, and the Chimera sent a column of flame toward our faces.
“Father, help me,” Percy prayed.
We turned, taking each other’s hand, and together jumped, plummeting toward the river.
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