- The Hidden Oracle
Demeter did not approve. Ever since her daughter Persephone was kidnapped by Hades, she’d been a little touchy about her children dating gods.
At any rate, she and I had words. We reduced a few mountains to rubble. We laid waste to a few city-states. You know how family arguments can get. Finally we settled into an uneasy truce, but ever since then I’d made a point to steer clear of Demeter’s children.
Now here I was—a servant to Meg McCaffrey, the most ragamuffin daughter of Demeter ever to swing a sickle.
I wondered who Meg’s father had been to attract the attention of the goddess. Demeter rarely fell in love with mortals. Meg was unusually powerful, too. Most children of Demeter could do little more than make crops grow and keep bacterial fungi at bay. Dual-wielding golden blades and summoning karpoi—that was top-shelf stuff.
All of this went through my mind as Chiron dispersed the crowd, urging everyone to put away their weapons. Since head counselor Miranda Gardiner was missing, Chiron asked Billie Ng, the only other camper from Demeter, to escort Meg to Cabin Four. The two girls made a quick retreat, Peaches bouncing along excitedly behind them. Meg shot me a worried look.
Not sure what else to do, I gave her two thumbs-up. “See you tomorrow!”
She seemed less than encouraged as she disappeared in the darkness.
Will Solace tended to Sherman Yang’s head injuries. Kayla and Austin stood over Connor, debating the need for a hair graft. This left me alone to make my way back to the Me cabin.
I lay on my sick cot in the middle of the room and stared at the ceiling beams. I thought again about what a depressingly simple, utterly mortal place this was. How did my children stand it? Why did they not keep a blazing altar, and decorate the walls with hammered gold reliefs celebrating my glory?
When I heard Will and the others coming back, I closed my eyes and pretended to be asleep. I could not face their questions or kindnesses, their attempts to make me feel at home when I clearly did not belong.
As they came in the door, they got quiet.
“Is he okay?” whispered Kayla.
Austin said, “Would you be, if you were him?”
A moment of silence.
“Try to get some sleep, guys,” Will advised.
“This is crazy weird,” Kayla said. “He looks so…human.”
“We’ll watch out for him,” Austin said. “We’re all he’s got now.”
I held back a sob. I couldn’t bear their concern. Not being able to reassure them, or even disagree with them, made me feel very small.
A blanket was draped over me.
Will said, “Sleep well, Apollo.”
Perhaps it was his persuasive voice, or the fact that I was more exhausted than I had been in centuries. Immediately, I drifted into unconsciousness.
Thank the remaining eleven Olympians, I had no dreams.
I woke in the morning feeling strangely refreshed. My chest no longer hurt. My nose no longer felt like a water balloon attached to my face. With the help of my offspring (cabin mates—I will call them cabin mates), I managed to master the arcane mysteries of the shower, the toilet, and the sink. The toothbrush was a shock. The last time I was mortal, there had been no such thing. And underarm deodorant—what a ghastly idea that I should need enchanted salve to keep my armpits from producing stench!
When I was done with my morning ablutions and dressed in clean clothes from the camp store—sneakers, jeans, an orange Camp Half-Blood T-shirt, and a comfy winter coat of flannel wool—I felt almost optimistic. Perhaps I could survive this human experience.
I perked up even more when I discovered bacon.
Oh, gods—bacon! I promised myself that once I achieved immortality again, I would assemble the Nine Muses and together we would create an ode, a hymnal to the power of bacon, which would move the heavens to tears and cause rapture across the universe.
Bacon is good.
Yes—that may be the title of the song: “Bacon Is Good.”
Seating for breakfast was less formal than dinner. We filled our trays at a buffet line and were allowed to sit wherever we wished. I found this delightful. (Oh, what a sad commentary on my new mortal mind that I, who once dictated the course of nations, should get excited about open seating.) I took my tray and found Meg, who was sitting by herself on the edge of the pavilion’s retaining wall, dangling her feet over the side and watching the waves at the beach.
“How are you?” I asked.
Meg nibbled on a waffle. “Yeah. Great.”
“You are a powerful demigod, daughter of Demeter.”
If I could trust my understanding of human responses, Meg did not seem thrilled.