- The Hidden Oracle
The voice reverberated in my head, as if someone had installed Bose speakers behind my eyes. It was not the voice of my conscience. My conscience was not female, and it was not that loud. Yet something about the woman’s tone was eerily familiar.
“What’s wrong?” Meg asked.
The air turned sickly sweet. The trees loomed over me like trigger hairs of a Venus flytrap.
A bead of sweat trickled down the side of my face.
“We can’t stay here,” I said. “Attend me, mortal.”
“Excuse me?” Meg said.
“Uh, I mean come on!”
We ran, stumbling over tree roots, fleeing blindly through a maze of branches and boulders. We reached a clear stream over a bed of gravel. I barely slowed down. I waded in, sinking shin-deep into the ice-cold water.
The voice spoke again: FIND ME.
This time it was so loud, it stabbed through my forehead like a railroad spike. I stumbled, falling to my knees.
“Hey!” Meg gripped my arm. “Get up!”
“You didn’t hear that?”
THE FALL OF THE SUN, the voice boomed. THE FINAL VERSE.
I collapsed face-first into the stream.
“Apollo!” Meg rolled me over, her voice tight with alarm. “Come on! I can’t carry you!”
Yet she tried. She dragged me across the river, scolding me and cursing until, with her help, I managed to crawl to shore.
I lay on my back, staring wildly at the forest canopy. My soaked clothes were so cold they burned. My body trembled like an open E string on an electric bass.
Meg tugged off my wet winter coat. Her own coat was much too small for me, but she draped the warm dry fleece over my shoulders. “Keep yourself together,” she ordered. “Don’t go crazy on me.”
My own laughter sounded brittle. “But I—I heard—”
THE FIRES WILL CONSUME ME. MAKE HASTE!
The voice splintered into a chorus of angry whispers. Shadows grew longer and darker. Steam rose from my clothes, smelling like the volcanic fumes of Delphi.
Part of me wanted to curl into a ball and die. Part of me wanted to get up and run wildly after the voices—to find their source—but I suspected that if I tried, my sanity would be lost forever.
Meg was saying something. She shook my shoulders. She put her face nose-to-nose with mine so my own derelict reflection stared back at me from the lenses of her cat-eye glasses. She slapped me, hard, and I managed to decipher her words: “GET UP!”
Somehow I did. Then I doubled over and retched.
I hadn’t vomited in centuries. I’d forgotten how unpleasant it was.
The next thing I knew, we were staggering along, Meg bearing most of my weight. The voices whispered and argued, tearing off little pieces of my mind and carrying them away into the forest. Soon I wouldn’t have much left.
There was no point. I might as well wander off into the forest and go insane. The idea struck me as funny. I began to giggle.
Meg forced me to keep walking. I couldn’t understand her words, but her tone was insistent and stubborn, with just enough anger to outweigh her own terror.
In my fractured mental state, I thought the trees were parting for us, grudgingly opening a path straight out of the woods. I saw a bonfire in the distance, and the open meadows of Camp Half-Blood.
It occurred to me that Meg was talking to the trees, telling them to get out of the way. The idea was ridiculous, and at the moment it seemed hilarious. Judging from the steam billowing from my clothes, I guessed I was running a fever of about a hundred and six.
I was laughing hysterically as we stumbled out of the forest, straight toward the campfire where a dozen teenagers sat making s’mores. When they saw us, they rose. In their jeans and winter coats, with assorted weapons at their sides, they were the dourest bunch of marshmallow roasters I had ever seen.
I grinned. “Oh, hi! I’m Apollo!”
My eyes rolled up in my head, and I passed out.
My bus is in flames
My son is older than me
Please, Zeus, make it stop
I DREAMED I WAS DRIVING the sun chariot across the sky. I had the top down in Maserati mode. I was cruising along, honking at jet planes to get out of my way, enjoying the smell of cold stratosphere, and bopping to my favorite jam: Alabama Shakes’ “Rise to the Sun.”
I was thinking about transforming the Spyder into a Google self-driving car. I wanted to get out my lute and play a scorching solo that would make Brittany Howard proud.
Then a woman appeared in my passenger seat. “You’ve got to hurry, man.”