Meg’s boots squished in the mud. “Is it safe?”

“Definitely not,” I said. “We’ll need an offering. Perhaps your packet of seeds?”

Meg punched my arm. “Those are magic. For life-and-death emergencies. What about your ukulele? You’re not going to play it anyway.”

“A man of honor never surrenders his ukulele.” I perked up. “But wait. You’ve given me an idea. I will offer the geyser gods a poem! I can still do that. It doesn’t count as music.”

Meg frowned. “Uh, I don’t know if—”

“Don’t be envious, Meg. I will make up a poem for you later. This will surely please the geyser gods!” I walked forward, spread my arms, and began to improvise:

“Oh, geyser, my geyser,

Let us spew then, you and I,

Upon this midnight dreary, while we ponder

Whose woods are these?

For we have not gone gentle into this good night,

But have wandered lonely as clouds.

We seek to know for whom the bell tolls,

So I hope, springs eternal,

That the time has come to talk of many things!”

I don’t wish to brag, but I thought it was rather good, even if I did recycle a few bits from my earlier works. Unlike my music and archery, my godly skills with poetry seemed to be completely intact.

I glanced at Meg, hoping to see shining admiration on her face. It was high time the girl started to appreciate me. Instead, her mouth hung open, aghast.

“What?” I demanded. “Did you fail poetry appreciation in school? That was first-rate stuff!”

Meg pointed toward the geysers. I realized she was not looking at me at all.

“Well,” said a raspy voice, “you got my attention.”

One of the palikoi hovered over his geyser. His lower half was nothing but steam. From the waist up, he was perhaps twice the size of a human, with muscular arms the color of caldera mud, chalk-white eyes, and hair like cappuccino foam, as if he had shampooed vigorously and left it sudsy. His massive chest was stuffed into a baby-blue polo shirt with a logo of trees embroidered on the chest pocket.

“O, Great Palikos!” I said. “We beseech you—”

“What was that?” the spirit interrupted. “That stuff you were saying?”

“Poetry!” I said. “For you!”

He tapped his mud-gray chin. “No. That wasn’t poetry.”

I couldn’t believe it. Did no one appreciate the beauty of language anymore? “My good spirit,” I said. “Poetry doesn’t have to rhyme, you know.”

“I’m not talking about rhyming. I’m talking about getting your message across. We do a lot of market research, and that would not fly for our campaign. Now, the Oscar Meyer Weiner song—that is poetry. The ad is fifty years old and people are still singing it. Do you think you could give us some poetry like that?”

I glanced at Meg to be sure I was not imagining this conversation.

“Listen here,” I told the geyser god, “I’ve been the lord of poetry for four thousand years. I ought to know good poetry—”

The palikos waved his hands. “Let’s start over. I’ll run through our spiel, and maybe you can advise me. Hi, I’m Pete. Welcome to the Woods at Camp Half-Blood! Would you be willing to take a short customer satisfaction survey after this encounter? Your feedback is important.”


“Great. Thanks.”

Pete fished around in his vaporous region where his pockets would be. He produced a glossy brochure and began to read. “The Woods are your one-stop destination for…Hmm, it says fun. I thought we changed that to exhilaration. See, you’ve got to choose your words with care. If Paulie were here…” Pete sighed. “Well, he’s better with the showmanship. Anyway, welcome to the Woods at Camp Half-Blood!”

“You already said that,” I noted.

“Oh, right.” Pete produced a red pen and began to edit.

“Hey.” Meg shouldered past me. She had been speechless with awe for about twelve seconds, which must’ve been a new record. “Mr. Steamy Mud, have you seen any lost demigods?”

“Mr. Steamy Mud!” Pete slapped his brochure. “That is effective branding! And great point about lost demigods. We can’t have our guests wandering around aimlessly. We should be handing out maps at the entrance to the woods. So many wonderful things to see in here, and no one even knows about them. I’ll talk to Paulie when he gets back.”

Meg took off her fogged-up glasses. “Who’s Paulie?”