‘Whoa,’ I managed.
‘Do you want that?’ C.C. asked. ‘Or shall I try a different –’
‘No,’ I said. ‘That’s … that’s amazing. Can you really –’
‘I can give you a full makeover,’ C.C. promised.
‘What’s the catch?’ I said. ‘I have to like … eat a special diet?’
‘Oh, it’s quite easy,’ C.C. said. ‘Plenty of fresh fruit, a mild exercise programme, and of course … this.’
She stepped over to her wet bar and filled a glass with water. Then she ripped open a drink-mix packet and poured in some red powder. The mixture began to glow. When it faded, the drink looked just like a strawberry milkshake.
‘One of these, substituted for a regular meal,’ C.C. said. ‘I guarantee you’ll see results immediately.’
‘How is that possible?’
She laughed. ‘Why question it? I mean, don’t you want the perfect you right away?’
Something nagged at the back of my mind. ‘Why are there no guys at this spa?’
‘Oh, but there are,’ C.C. assured me. ‘You’ll meet them quite soon. Just try the mixture. You’ll see.’
I looked at the blue tapestry, at the reflection of me, but not me.
‘Now, Percy,’ C.C. chided. ‘The hardest part of the makeover process is giving up control. You have to decide: do you want to trust your judgement about what you should be, or my judgement?’
My throat felt dry. I heard myself say, ‘Your judgement.’
C.C. smiled and handed me the glass. I lifted it to my lips.
It tasted just like it looked – like a strawberry milkshake. Almost immediately a warm feeling spread through my gut: pleasant at first, then painfully hot, searing, as if the mixture were coming to a boil inside me.
I doubled over and dropped the cup. ‘What have you … what’s happening?’
‘Don’t worry, Percy,’ C.C. said. ‘The pain will pass. Look! As I promised. Immediate results.’
Something was horribly wrong.
The curtain dropped away, and in the mirror I saw my hands shrivelling, curling, growing long delicate claws. Fur sprouted on my face, under my shirt, in every uncomfortable place you can imagine. My teeth felt too heavy in my mouth. My clothes were getting too big, or C.C. was getting too tall – no, I was shrinking.
In one awful flash, I sank into a cavern of dark cloth. I was buried in my own shirt. I tried to run but hands grabbed me – hands as big as I was. I tried to scream for help, but all that came out of my mouth was, ‘Reeet, reeet, reeet!’
The giant hands squeezed me around the middle, lifting me into the air. I struggled and kicked with legs and arms that seemed much too stubby, and then I was staring, horrified, into the enormous face of C.C.
‘Perfect!’ her voice boomed. I squirmed in alarm, but she only tightened her grip around my furry belly. ‘See, Percy? You’ve unlocked your true self!’
She held me up to the mirror, and what I saw made me scream in terror, ‘Reeet, reeet, reeet!’ There was C.C., beautiful and smiling, holding a fluffy, bucktoothed creature with tiny claws and white-and-orange fur. When I twisted, so did the furry critter in the mirror. I was … I was…
‘A guinea pig,’ C.C. said. ‘Lovely, aren’t you? Men are pigs, Percy Jackson. I used to turn them into real pigs, but they were so smelly and large and difficult to keep. Not much different than they were before, really. Guinea pigs are much more convenient! Now come, and meet the other men.’
‘Reeet!’ I protested, trying to scratch her, but C.C. squeezed me so tight I almost blacked out.
‘None of that, little one,’ she scolded, ‘or I’ll feed you to the owls. Go into the cage like a good little pet. Tomorrow, if you behave, you’ll be on your way. There is always a classroom in need of a new guinea pig.’
My mind was racing as fast as my tiny little heart. I needed to get back to my clothes, which were lying in a heap on the floor. If I could do that, I could get Riptide out of my pocket and … And what? I couldn’t uncap the pen. Even if I did, I couldn’t hold the sword.
I squirmed helplessly as C.C. brought me over to the guinea pig cage and opened the wire door.
‘Meet my discipline problems, Percy,’ she warned. ‘They’ll never make good classroom pets, but they might teach you some manners. Most of them have been in this cage for three hundred years. If you don’t want to stay with them permanently, I’d suggest you –’
Annabeth’s voice called, ‘Miss C.C.?’
C.C. cursed in Ancient Greek. She plopped me into the cage and closed the door. I squealed and clawed at the bars, but it was no good. I watched as C.C. hurriedly kicked my clothes under the loom just as Annabeth came in.