- The Hidden Oracle
From time to time we heard monsters in the distance—the roar of a drakon, the harmonized howl of a two-headed wolf—but nothing showed itself. On a night like this, any self-respecting monster would’ve remained in its lair, warm and cozy.
After what seemed like hours, Meg stifled a scream. I heroically leaped to her side, my hand on my sword. (I would have drawn it, but it was really heavy and got stuck in the scabbard.) At Meg’s feet, wedged in the mud, was a glistening black shell the size of a boulder. It was cracked down the middle, the edges splattered with a foul gooey substance.
“I almost stepped on that.” Meg covered her mouth as if she might be sick.
I inched closer. The shell was the crushed carapace of a giant insect. Nearby, camouflaged among the tree roots, lay one of the beast’s dismembered legs.
“It’s a myrmeke,” I said. “Or it was.”
Behind her rain-splattered glasses, Meg’s eyes were impossible to read. “A murr-murr-key?”
“A giant ant. There must be a colony somewhere in the woods.”
Meg gagged. “I hate bugs.”
That made sense for a daughter of the agriculture goddess, but to me the dead ant didn’t seem any grosser than the piles of garbage in which we often swam.
“Well, don’t worry,” I said. “This one is dead. Whatever killed it must’ve had powerful jaws to crack that shell.”
“Not comforting. Are—are these things dangerous?”
I laughed. “Oh, yes. They range in size from as small as dogs to larger than grizzly bears. One time I watched a colony of myrmekes attack a Greek army in India. It was hilarious. They spit acid that can melt through bronze armor and—”
My smile faded. I reminded myself I was no longer a spectator. These ants could kill us. Easily. And Meg was scared.
“Right,” I said. “Well, the rain should keep the myrmekes in their tunnels. Just don’t make yourself an attractive target. They like bright, shiny things.”
Meg handed me the flashlight. “Lead on, Apollo.”
I thought that was unfair, but we forged ahead.
After another hour or so (surely the woods weren’t this big), the rain tapered off, leaving the ground steaming.
The air got warmer. The humidity approached bathhouse levels. Thick white vapor curled off the tree branches.
“What’s going on?” Meg wiped her face. “Feels like a tropical rain forest now.”
I had no answer. Then, up ahead, I heard a massive flushing sound—like water being forced through pipes…or fissures.
I couldn’t help but smile. “A geyser.”
“A geyser,” Meg repeated. “Like Old Faithful?”
“This is excellent news. Perhaps we can get directions. Our lost demigods might have even found sanctuary there!”
“With the geysers,” Meg said.
“No, my ridiculous girl,” I said. “With the geyser gods. Assuming they’re in a good mood, this could be great.”
“And if they’re in a bad mood?”
“Then we’ll cheer them up before they can boil us. Follow me!”
Scale of one to ten
How would you rate your demise?
Thanks for your input
WAS I RECKLESS to rush toward such volatile nature gods?
Please. Second-guessing myself is not in my nature. It’s a trait I’ve never needed.
True, my memories about the palikoi were a little hazy. As I recalled, the geyser gods in ancient Sicily used to give refuge to runaway slaves, so they must be kindly spirits. Perhaps they would also give refuge to lost demigods, or at least notice when five of them wandered through their territory, muttering incoherently. Besides, I was Apollo! The palikoi would be honored to meet a major Olympian such as myself! The fact that geysers often blew their tops, spewing columns of scalding hot water hundreds of feet in the air, wasn’t going to stop me from making some new fans…I mean friends.
The clearing opened before us like an oven door. A wall of heat billowed through the trees and washed over my face. I could feel my pores opening to drink in the moisture, which would hopefully help my spotty complexion.
The scene before us had no business being in a Long Island winter. Glistening vines wreathed the tree branches. Tropical flowers bloomed from the forest floor. A red parrot sat on a banana tree heavy with green bunches.
In the midst of the glade stood two geysers—twin holes in the ground, ringed with a figure eight of gray mud pots. The craters bubbled and hissed, but they were not spewing at the moment. I decided to take that as a good omen.