The one called Joe Bob growled at me. He had a tattoo on his biceps that said : JB luvs Babycakes. “And lose our tasty morsels? No, Son of the Sea God. We Laistrygonians aren’t just playing for your death. We want lunch!”
He waved his hand and a new batch of dodgeballs appeared on the center line—but these balls weren’t made of red rubber. They were bronze, the size of cannon balls, perforated like wiffle balls with fire bubbling out the holes. They must’ve been searing hot, but the giants picked them up with their bare hands.
“Coach!” I yelled.
Nunley looked up sleepily, but if he saw anything abnormal about the dodgeball game, he didn’t let on. That’s the problem with mortals. A magical force called the Mist obscures the true appearance of monsters and gods from their vision, so mortals tend to see only what they can understand. Maybe the coach saw a few eighth graders pounding the younger kids like usual.
Maybe the other kids saw Matt Sloan’s thugs getting ready to toss Molotov cocktails around. (It wouldn’t have been the first time.) At any rate, I was pretty sure nobody else realized we were dealing with genuine man-eating bloodthirsty monsters.
“Yeah. Mm-hmm,” Coach muttered. “Play nice.”
And he went back to his magazine.
The giant named Skull Eater threw his ball. I dove aside as the fiery bronze comet sailed past my shoulder.
“Corey!” I screamed.
Tyson pulled him out from behind the exercise mat just as the ball exploded against it, blasting the mat to smoking shreds.
“Run!” I told my teammates. “The other exit!”
They ran for the locker room, but with another wave of Joe Bob’s hand, that door also slammed shut.
“No one leaves unless you’re out!” Joe Bob roared. “And you’re not out until we eat you!”
He launched his own fireball. My teammates scattered as it blasted a crater in the gym floor.
I reached for Riptide, which I always kept in my pocket, but then I realized I was wearing gym shorts. I had no pockets. Riptide was tucked in my jeans inside my gym locker. And the locker room door was sealed. I was completely defenseless.
Another fireball came streaking toward me. Tyson pushed me out of the way, but the explosion still blew me head over heels. I found myself sprawled on the gym floor, dazed from smoke, my tie-dyed T-shirt peppered with sizzling holes. Just across the center line, two hungry giants were glaring down at me.
“Flesh!” they bellowed. “Hero flesh for lunch!” They both took aim.
“Percy needs help!” Tyson yelled, and he jumped in front of me just as they threw their balls.
“Tyson!” I screamed, but it was too late.
Both balls slammed into him … but no … he’d caught them. Somehow Tyson, who was so clumsy he knocked over lab equipment and broke playground structures on a regular basis, had caught two fiery metal balls speeding toward him at a zillion miles an hour. He sent them hurtling back toward their surprised owners, who screamed, “BAAAAAD!” as the bronze spheres exploded against their chests.
The giants disintegrated in twin columns of flame—a sure sign they were monsters, all right.
Monsters don’t die. They just dissipate into smoke and dust, which saves heroes a lot of trouble cleaning up after a fight.
“My brothers!” Joe Bob the Cannibal wailed. He flexed his muscles and his Babycakes tattoo rippled. “You will pay for their destruction!”
“Tyson!” I said. “Look out!”
Another comet hurtled toward us. Tyson just had time to swat it aside. It flew straight over Coach Nunley’s head and landed in the bleachers with a huge KA-BOOM!
Kids were running around screaming, trying to avoid the sizzling craters in the floor. Others were banging on the door, calling for help. Sloan himself stood petrified in the middle of the court, watching in disbelief as balls of death flew around him.
Coach Nunley still wasn’t seeing anything. He tapped his hearing aid like the explosions were giving him interference, but he kept his eyes on his magazine.
Surely the whole school could hear the noise. The headmaster, the police, somebody would come help us.
“Victory will be ours!” roared Joe Bob the Cannibal. “We will feast on your bones!”
I wanted to tell him he was taking the dodgeball game way too seriously, but before I could, he hefted another ball. The other three giants followed his lead.
I knew we were dead. Tyson couldn’t deflect all those balls at once. His hands had to be seriously burned from blocking the first volley. Without my sword … I had a crazy idea.
I ran toward the locker room.
“Move!” I told my teammates. “Away from the door.”
Explosions behind me. Tyson had batted two of the balls back toward their owners and blasted them to ashes.
That left two giants still standing.
A third ball hurtled straight at me. I forced myself to wait—one Mississippi, two Mississippi—then dove aside as the fiery sphere demolished the locker room door.
Now, I figured that the built-up gas in most boys’ locker rooms was enough to cause an explosion, so I wasn’t surprised when the flaming dodgeball ignited a huge WHOOOOOOOM!
The wall blew apart. Locker doors, socks, athletic supporters, and other various nasty personal belongings rained all over the gym.
I turned just in time to see Tyson punch Skull Eater in the face. The giant crumpled. But the last giant, Joe Bob, had wisely held on to his own ball, waiting for an opportunity. He threw just as Tyson was turning to face him.
“No!” I yelled.
The ball caught Tyson square in the chest. He slid the length of the court and slammed into the back wall, which cracked and partially crumbled on top of him, making a hole right onto Church Street. I didn’t see how Tyson could still be alive, but he only looked dazed. The bronze ball was smoking at his feet. Tyson tried to pick it up, but he fell back, stunned, into a pile of cinder blocks.
“Well!” Joe Bob gloated. “I’m the last one standing! I’ll have enough meat to bring Babycakes a doggie bag!”
He picked up another ball and aimed it at Tyson.
“Stop!” I yelled. “It’s me you want!”
The giant grinned. “You wish to die first, young hero?”
I had to do something. Riptide had to be around here somewhere.
Then I spotted my jeans in a smoking heap of clothes right by the giant’s feet. If I could only get there…. I knew it was hopeless, but I charged.
The giant laughed. “My lunch approaches.” He raised his arm to throw. I braced myself to die.
Suddenly the giant’s body went rigid. His expression changed from gloating to surprise.
Right where his belly button should’ve been, his T-shirt ripped open and he grew something like a horn—no, not a horn—the glowing tip of a blade.
The ball dropped out of his hand. The monster stared down at the knife that had just run him through from behind.
He muttered, “Ow,” and burst into a cloud of green flame, which I figured was going to make Babycakes pretty upset.
Standing in the smoke was my friend Annabeth. Her face was grimy and scratched. She had a ragged backpack slung over her shoulder, her baseball cap tucked in her pocket, a bronze knife in her hand, and a wild look in her storm-gray eyes, like she’d just been chased a thousand miles by ghosts.
Matt Sloan, who’d been standing there dumbfounded the whole time, finally came to his senses. He blinked at Annabeth, as if he dimly recognized her from my notebook picture. “That’s the girl … That’s the girl—”
Annabeth punched him in the nose and knocked him flat. “And you,” she told him, “lay off my friend.”
The gym was in flames. Kids were still running around screaming. I heard sirens wailing and a garbled voice over the intercom. Through the glass windows of the exit doors, I could see the headmaster, Mr. Bonsai, wrestling with the lock, a crowd of teachers piling up behind him.
“Annabeth …” I stammered. “How did you … how long have you …”
“Pretty much all morning.” She sheathed her bronze knife. “I’ve been trying to find a good time to talk to you, but you were never alone.”
“The shadow I saw this morning—that was—” My face felt hot. “Oh my gods, you were looking in my bedroom window?”
“There’s no time to explain!” she snapped, though she looked a little red-faced herself. “I just didn’t want to—”
“There!” a woman screamed. The doors burst open and the adults came pouring in.
“Meet me outside,” Annabeth told me. “And him.” She pointed to Tyson, who was still sitting dazed against the wall. Annabeth gave him a look of distaste that I didn’t quite understand. “You’d better bring him.”
“No time!” she said. “Hurry!”
She put on her Yankees baseball cap, which was a magic gift from her mom, and instantly vanished.
That left me standing alone in the middle of the burning gymnasium when the headmaster came charging in with half the faculty and a couple of police officers.
“Percy Jackson?” Mr. Bonsai said. “What … how …”
Over by the broken wall, Tyson groaned and stood up from the pile of cinder blocks. “Head hurts.”
Matt Sloan was coming around, too. He focused on me with a look of terror. “Percy did it, Mr. Bonsai! He set the whole building on fire. Coach Nunley will tell you! He saw it all!”
Coach Nunley had been dutifully reading his magazine, but just my luck—he chose that moment to look up when Sloan said his name. “Eh? Yeah. Mm-hmm.”
The other adults turned toward me. I knew they would never believe me, even if I could tell them the truth.
I grabbed Riptide out of my ruined jeans, told Tyson, “Come on!” and jumped through the gaping hole in the side of the building.
Chapter Three: We Hail The Taxi Of Eternal Torment
Annabeth was waiting for us in an alley down Church Street. She pulled Tyson and me off the sidewalk just as a fire truck screamed past, heading for Meriwether Prep.
“Where’d you find him?” she demanded, pointing at Tyson.
Now, under different circumstances, I would’ve been really happy to see her. We’d made our peace last summer, despite the fact that her mom was Athena and didn’t get along with my dad. I’d missed Annabeth probably more than I wanted to admit.
But I’d just been attacked by cannibal giants, Tyson had saved my life three or four times, and all Annabeth could do was glare at him like he was the problem.
“He’s my friend,” I told her.
“Is he homeless?”
“What does that have to do with anything? He can hear you, you know. Why don’t you ask him?”
She looked surprised. “He can talk?”
“I talk,” Tyson admitted. “You are pretty.”
“Ah! Gross!” Annabeth stepped away from him.
I couldn’t believe she was being so rude. I examined Tyson’s hands, which I was sure must’ve been badly scorched by the flaming dodge balls, but they looked fine—grimy and scarred, with dirty fingernails the size of potato chips—but they always looked like that. “Tyson,” I said in disbelief. “Your hands aren’t even burned.”