Down at the end of the porch, two men sat across from each other at a card table. The blond-haired girl who'd spoon-fed me popcorn-flavored pudding was leaning on the porch rail next to them.
The man facing me was small, but porky. He had a red nose, big watery eyes, and curly hair so black it was almost purple. He looked like those paintings of baby angels— what do you call them, hubbubs? No, cherubs. That's it. He looked like a cherub who'd turned middle-aged in a trailer park. He wore a tiger-pattern Hawaiian shirt, and he would've fit right in at one of Gabe's poker parties, except I got the feeling this guy could've out-gambled even my stepfather.
"That's Mr. D," Grover murmured to me. "He's the camp director. Be polite. The girl, that's Annabeth Chase. She's just a camper, but she's been here longer than just about anybody. And you already know Chiron... ."
He pointed at the guy whose back was to me.
First, I realized he was sitting in the wheelchair. Then I recognized the tweed jacket, the thinning brown hair, the scraggly beard.
"Mr. Brunner!" I cried.
The Latin teacher turned and smiled at me. His eyes had that mischievous glint they sometimes got in class when he pulled a pop quiz and made all the multiple choice answers B.
"Ah, good, Percy," he said. "Now we have four for pinochle."
He offered me a chair to the right of Mr. D, who looked at me with bloodshot eyes and heaved a great sigh. "Oh, I suppose I must say it. Welcome to CampHalf-Blood. There. Now, don't expect me to be glad to see you."
"Uh, thanks." I scooted a little farther away from him because, if there was one thing I had learned from living with Gabe, it was how to tell when an adult has been hitting the happy juice. If Mr. D was a stranger to alcohol, I was a satyr.
"Annabeth?" Mr. Brunner called to the blond girl.
She came forward and Mr. Brunner introduced us. "This young lady nursed you back to health, Percy. Annabeth, my dear, why don't you go check on Percy's bunk? We'll be putting him in cabin eleven for now."
Annabeth said, "Sure, Chiron."
She was probably my age, maybe a couple of inches taller, and a whole lot more athletic looking. With her deep tan and her curly blond hair, she was almost exactly what I thought a stereotypical California girl would look like, except her eyes ruined the image. They were startling gray, like storm clouds; pretty, but intimidating, too, as if she were analyzing the best way to take me down in a fight.
She glanced at the minotaur horn in my hands, then back at me. I imagined she was going to say, You killed a minotaur! or Wow, you're so awesome! or something like that.
Instead she said, "You drool when you sleep."
Then she sprinted off down the lawn, her blond hair flying behind her.
"So," I said, anxious to change the subject. "You, uh, work here, Mr. Brunner?".
"Not Mr. Brunner," the ex—Mr. Brunner said. "I'm afraid that was a pseudonym. You may call me Chiron."
"Okay." Totally confused, I looked at the director. "And Mr. D ... does that stand for something?"
Mr. D stopped shuffling the cards. He looked at me like I'd just belched loudly. "Young man, names are powerful things. You don't just go around using them for no reason."
"Oh. Right. Sorry."
"I must say, Percy," Chiron-Brunner broke in, "I'm glad to see you alive. It's been a long time since I've made a house call to a potential camper. I'd hate to think I've wasted my time."
"My year at YancyAcademy, to instruct you. We have satyrs at most schools, of course, keeping a lookout. But Grover alerted me as soon as he met you. He sensed you were something special, so I decided to come upstate. I convinced the other Latin teacher to ... ah, take a leave of absence."
I tried to remember the beginning of the school year. It seemed like so long ago, but I did have a fuzzy memory of there being another Latin teacher my first week at Yancy. Then, without explanation, he had disappeared and Mr. Brunner had taken the class.
"You came to Yancy just to teach me?" I asked.
Chiron nodded. "Honestly, I wasn't sure about you at first. We contacted your mother, let her know we were keeping an eye on you in case you were ready for CampHalf-Blood. But you still had so much to learn. Nevertheless, you made it here alive, and that's always the first test."
"Grover," Mr. D said impatiently, "are you playing or not?"
"Yes, sir!" Grover trembled as he took the fourth chair, though I didn't know why he should be so afraid of a pudgy little man in a tiger-print Hawaiian shirt.
"You do know how to play pinochle?" Mr. D eyed me suspiciously.
"I'm afraid not," I said.
"I'm afraid not, sir," he said.
"Sir," I repeated. I was liking the camp director less and less.
"Well," he told me, "it is, along with gladiator fighting and Pac-Man, one of the greatest games ever invented by humans. I would expect all civilized young men to know the rules."
"I'm sure the boy can learn," Chiron said.
"Please," I said, "what is this place? What am I doing here? Mr. Brun—Chiron—why would you go to YancyAcademy just to teach me?"
Mr. D snorted. "I asked the same question."
The camp director dealt the cards. Grover flinched every time one landed in his pile.
Chiron smiled at me sympathetically, the way he used to in Latin class, as if to let me know that no matter what my average was, I was his star student. He expected me to have the right answer.
"Percy," he said. "Did your mother tell you nothing?'
"She said ..." I remembered her sad eyes, looking out over the sea. "She told me she was afraid to send me here, even though my father had wanted her to. She said that once I was here, I probably couldn't leave. She wanted to keep me close to her."
"Typical," Mr. D said. "That's how they usually get killed. Young man, are you bidding or not?"
"What?" I asked.
He explained, impatiently, how you bid in pinochle, and so I did.
"I'm afraid there's too much to tell," Chiron said. "I'm afraid our usual orientation film won't be sufficient."
"Orientation film?" I asked.
"No," Chiron decided. "Well, Percy. You know your friend Grover is a satyr. You know"—he pointed to the horn in the shoe box—"that you have killed the Minotaur. No small feat, either, lad. What you may not know is that great powers are at work in your life. Gods—the forces you call the Greek gods—are very much alive."
I stared at the others around the table.
I waited for somebody to yell, Not! But all I got was Mr. D yelling, "Oh, a royal marriage. Trick! Trick!" He cackled as he tallied up his points.
"Mr. D," Grover asked timidly, "if you're not going to eat it, could I have your Diet Coke can?"
"Eh? Oh, all right."
Grover bit a huge shard out of the empty aluminum can and chewed it mournfully.
"Wait," I told Chiron. "You're telling me there's such a thing as God."
"Well, now," Chiron said. "God—capital G, God. That's a different matter altogether. We shan't deal with the metaphysical."
"Metaphysical? But you were just talking about—"
"Ah, gods, plural, as in, great beings that control the forces of nature and human endeavors: the immortal gods of Olympus. That's a smaller matter."
"Yes, quite. The gods we discussed in Latin class."
"Zeus," I said. "Hera. Apollo. You mean them."
And there it was again—distant thunder on a cloudless day.
"Young man," said Mr. D, "I would really be less casual about throwing those names around, if I were you."
"But they're stories," I said. "They're—myths, to explain lightning and the seasons and stuff. They're what people believed before there was science."
"Science!" Mr. D scoffed. "And tell me, Perseus Jackson"—I flinched when he said my real name, which I never told anybody—"what will people think of your 'science' two thousand years from now?" Mr. D continued. "Hmm? They will call it primitive mumbo jumbo. That's what. Oh, I love mortals—they have absolutely no sense of perspective. They think they've come so-o-o far. And have they, Chiron? Look at this boy and tell me."
I wasn't liking Mr. D much, but there was something about the way he called me mortal, as if... he wasn't. It was enough to put a lump in my throat, to suggest why Grover was dutifully minding his cards, chewing his soda can, and keeping his mouth shut.
"Percy," Chiron said, "you may choose to believe or not, but the fact is that immortal means immortal. Can you imagine that for a moment, never dying? Never fading? Existing, just as you are, for all time?"
I was about to answer, off the top of my head, that it sounded like a pretty good deal, but the tone of Chiron's voice made me hesitate.
"You mean, whether people believed in you or not," I said.
"Exactly," Chiron agreed. "If you were a god, how would you like being called a myth, an old story to explain lightning? What if I told you, Perseus Jackson, that someday people would call you a myth, just created to explain how little boys can get over losing their mothers?"
My heart pounded. He was trying to make me angry for some reason, but I wasn't going to let him. I said, "I wouldn't like it. But I don't believe in gods."
"Oh, you'd better," Mr. D murmured. "Before one of them incinerates you."
Grover said, "P-please, sir. He's just lost his mother. He's in shock."
"A lucky thing, too," Mr. D grumbled, playing a card. "Bad enough I'm confined to this miserable job, working with boys who don't even believe.'"
He waved his hand and a goblet appeared on the table, as if the sunlight had bent, momentarily, and woven the air into glass. The goblet filled itself with red wine.
My jaw dropped, but Chiron hardly looked up.
"Mr. D," he warned, "your restrictions."
Mr. D looked at the wine and feigned surprise.
"Dear me." He looked at the sky and yelled, "Old habits! Sorry!"
Mr. D waved his hand again, and the wineglass changed into a fresh can of Diet Coke. He sighed unhappily, popped the top of the soda, and went back to his card game.
Chiron winked at me. "Mr. D offended his father a while back, took a fancy to a wood nymph who had been declared off-limits."
"A wood nymph," I repeated, still staring at the Diet Coke can like it was from outer space.
"Yes," Mr. D confessed. "Father loves to punish me. The first time, Prohibition. Ghastly! Absolutely horrid ten years! The second time—well, she really was pretty, and I couldn't stay away—the second time, he sent me here. Half-Blood Hill. Summer camp for brats like you. 'Be a better influence,' he told me. 'Work with youths rather than tearing them down.' Ha.' Absolutely unfair."
Mr. D sounded about six years old, like a pouting little kid.
"And ..." I stammered, "your father is ..."