Coming from most people, this would’ve made no sense. But Annabeth being who she was – well, if she could struggle through Ancient Greek architecture books and enjoy documentaries on the History Channel, I guessed the Sirens would appeal to her, too.
She told me her plan. Reluctantly, I helped her get ready.
As soon as the rocky coastline of the island came into view, I ordered one of the ropes to wrap around Annabeth’s waist, tying her to the foremast.
‘Don’t untie me,’ she said, ‘no matter what happens or how much I plead. I’ll want to go straight over the edge and drown myself.’
‘Are you trying to tempt me?’
I promised I’d keep her secure. Then I took two large wads of candle wax, kneaded them into earplugs, and stuffed my ears.
Annabeth nodded sarcastically, letting me know the earplugs were a real fashion statement. I made a face at her and turned to the pilot’s wheel.
The silence was eerie. I couldn’t hear anything but the rush of blood in my head. As we approached the island, jagged rocks loomed out of the fog. I willed the Queen Anne’s Revenge to skirt around them. If we sailed any closer, those rocks would shred our hull like blender blades.
I glanced back. At first, Annabeth seemed totally normal. Then she got a puzzled look on her face. Her eyes widened.
She strained against the ropes. She called my name – I could tell just from reading her lips. Her expression was clear: she had to get out. This was life or death. I had to let her out of the ropes right now.
She seemed so miserable it was hard not to cut her free.
I forced myself to look away. I urged the Queen Anne’s Revenge to go faster.
I still couldn’t see much of the island – just mist and rocks – but floating in the water were pieces of wood and fibreglass, the wreckage of old ships, even some flotation cushions from aeroplanes.
How could music cause so many lives to veer off course? I mean, sure, there were some Top Forty songs that made me want to take a fiery nosedive, but still … What could the Sirens possibly sing about?
For one dangerous moment, I understood Annabeth’s curiosity. I was tempted to take out the earplugs, just to get a taste of the song. I could feel the Sirens’ voices vibrating in the timbers of the ship, pulsing along with the roar of blood in my ears.
Annabeth was pleading with me. Tears streamed down her cheeks. She strained against the ropes, as if they were holding her back from everything she cared about.
How could you be so cruel? she seemed to be asking me. I thought you were my friend.
I glared at the misty island. I wanted to uncap my sword, but there was nothing to fight. How do you fight a song?
I tried hard not to look at Annabeth. I managed it for about five minutes.
That was my big mistake.
When I couldn’t stand it any longer, I looked back and found … a heap of cut ropes. An empty mast. Annabeth’s bronze knife lay on the deck. Somehow, she’d managed to wriggle it into her hand. I’d totally forgotten to disarm her.
I rushed to the side of the boat and saw her paddling madly for the island, the waves carrying her straight towards the jagged rocks.
I screamed her name, but if she heard me, it didn’t do any good. She was entranced, swimming towards her death.
I looked back at the pilot’s wheel and yelled, ‘Stay!’
Then I jumped over the side.
I sliced into the water and willed the currents to bend around me, making a jet stream that shot me forward.
I came to the surface and spotted Annabeth, but a wave caught her, sweeping her between two razor-sharp fangs of rock.
I had no choice. I plunged after her.
I dived under the wrecked hull of a yacht, wove through a collection of floating metal balls on chains that I realized afterwards were mines. I had to use all my power over water to avoid getting smashed against the rocks or tangled in the nets of barbed wire strung just below the surface.
I jetted between the two rock fangs and found myself in a half-moon-shaped bay. The water was choked with more rocks and ship wreckage and floating mines. The beach was black volcanic sand.
I looked around desperately for Annabeth.
There she was.
Luckily or unluckily, she was a strong swimmer. She’d made it past the mines and the rocks. She was almost to the black beach.
Then the mist cleared and I saw them – the Sirens.
Imagine a flock of vultures the size of people – with dirty black plumage, grey talons and wrinkled pink necks. Now imagine human heads on top of those necks, but the human heads keep changing.
I couldn’t hear them, but I could see they were singing. As their mouths moved, their faces morphed into people I knew – my mom, Poseidon, Grover, Tyson, Chiron. All the people I most wanted to see. They smiled reassuringly, inviting me forward. But no matter what shape they took, their mouths were greasy and caked with the remnants of old meals. Like vultures, they’d been eating with their faces, and it didn’t look like they’d been feasting on Monster Doughnuts.