He looked up, a little distracted. ‘Ah, that would be my pen. Please bring your own writing utensil in the future, Mr Jackson.’
I handed it over. I hadn’t even realized I was still holding it.
‘Sir,’ I said, ‘where’s Mrs Dodds?’
He stared at me blankly. ‘Who?’
‘The other chaperone. Mrs Dodds. The maths teacher.’
He frowned and sat forward, looking mildly concerned. ‘Percy, there is no Mrs Dodds on this trip. As far as I know, there has never been a Mrs Dodds at Yancy Academy. Are you feeling all right?’
2 Three Old Ladies Knit the Socks of Death
I was used to the occasional weird experience, but usually they were over quickly. This twenty-four/seven hallucination was more than I could handle. For the rest of the school year, the entire campus seemed to be playing some kind of trick on me. The students acted as if they were completely and totally convinced that Mrs Kerr – a perky blonde woman whom I’d never seen in my life until she got on our bus at the end of the field trip – had been our maths teacher since Christmas.
Every so often I would spring a Mrs Dodds reference on somebody, just to see if I could trip them up, but they would stare at me like I was psycho.
It got so I almost believed them – Mrs Dodds had never existed.
But Grover couldn’t fool me. When I mentioned the name Dodds to him, he would hesitate, then claim she didn’t exist. But I knew he was lying.
Something was going on. Something had happened at the museum.
I didn’t have much time to think about it during the days, but at night, visions of Mrs Dodds with talons and leathery wings would wake me up in a cold sweat.
The freak weather continued, which didn’t help my mood. One night, a thunderstorm blew out the windows in my dorm room. A few days later, the biggest tornado ever spotted in the Hudson Valley touched down only fifty miles from Yancy Academy. One of the current events we studied in social studies class was the unusual number of small planes that had gone down in sudden squalls in the Atlantic that year.
I started feeling cranky and irritable most of the time. My grades slipped from Ds to Fs. I got into more fights with Nancy Bobofit and her friends. I was sent out into the hallway in almost every class.
Finally, when our English teacher, Mr Nicoll, asked me for the millionth time why I was too lazy to study for spelling tests, I snapped. I called him an old sot. I wasn’t even sure what it meant, but it sounded good.
The headmaster sent my mom a letter the following week, making it official: I would not be invited back next year to Yancy Academy.
Fine, I told myself. Just fine.
I was homesick.
I wanted to be with my mom in our little apartment on the Upper East Side, even if I had to go to public school and put up with my obnoxious stepfather and his stupid poker parties.
And yet… there were things I’d miss at Yancy. The view of the woods out my dorm window, the Hudson River in the distance, the smell of pine trees. I’d miss Grover, who’d been a good friend, even if he was a little strange. I worried how he’d survive next year without me.
I’d miss Latin class, too – Mr Brunner’s crazy tournament days and his faith that I could do well.
As exam week got closer, Latin was the only test I studied for. I hadn’t forgotten what Mr Brunner had told me about this subject being life-and-death for me. I wasn’t sure why, but I’d started to believe him.
The evening before my final, I got so frustrated I threw the Cambridge Guide to Greek Mythology across my dorm room. Words had started swimming off the page, circling my head, the letters doing one-eighties as if they were riding skateboards. There was no way I was going to remember the difference between Chiron and Charon, or Polydictes and Polydeuces. And conjugating those Latin verbs? Forget it.
I paced the room, feeling like ants were crawling around inside my shirt.
I remembered Mr Brunner’s serious expression, his thousand-year-old eyes. I will accept only the best from you, Percy Jackson.
I took a deep breath. I picked up the mythology book.
I’d never asked a teacher for help before. Maybe if I talked to Mr Brunner, he could give me some pointers. At least I could apologize for the big fat ‘F’ I was about to score on his exam. I didn’t want to leave Yancy Academy with him thinking I hadn’t tried.
I walked downstairs to the faculty offices. Most of them were dark and empty, but Mr Brunner’s door was ajar, light from his window stretching across the hallway floor.
I was three steps from the door handle when I heard voices inside the office. Mr Brunner asked a question. A voice that was definitely Grover’s said, ‘… worried about Percy, sir.’