- The Hidden Oracle
Pete gestured at the second geyser. “My partner. Maybe we could add a map to this brochure if—”
“So have you seen any lost demigods?” I asked.
“What?” Pete tried to mark his brochure, but the steam had made it so soggy, his red pen went right through the paper. “Oh, no. Not recently. But we should have better signage. For instance, did you even know these geysers were here?”
“No,” I admitted.
“Well, there you go! Double geysers—the only ones on Long Island!—and no one even knows about us. No outreach. No word-of-mouth. This is why we convinced the board of directors to hire us!”
Meg and I looked at each other. I could tell that for once we were on the same wavelength: utter confusion.
“Sorry,” I said. “Are you telling me the forest has a board of directors?”
“Well, of course,” Pete said. “The dryads, the other nature spirits, the sentient monsters…I mean, somebody has to think about property values and services and public relations. It wasn’t easy getting the board to hire us for marketing, either. If we mess up this job…oh, man.”
Meg squished her shoes in the mud. “Can we go? I don’t understand what this guy’s talking about.”
“And that’s the problem!” Pete moaned. “How do we write clear ad copy that conveys the right image of the Woods? For instance, palikoi like Paulie and me used to be famous! Major tourist destinations! People would come to us to make binding oaths. Runaway slaves would seek us out for shelter. We’d get sacrifices, offerings, prayers…it was great. Now, nothing.”
I heaved a sigh. “I know how you feel.”
“Guys,” Meg said, “we’re looking for missing demigods.”
“Right,” I agreed. “O, Great…Pete, do you have any idea where our lost friends might have gone? Perhaps you know of some secret locations within the woods?”
Pete’s chalk-white eyes brightened. “Did you know the children of Hephaestus have a hidden workshop to the north called Bunker Nine?”
“I did, actually,” I said.
“Oh.” A puff of steam escaped Pete’s left nostril. “Well, did you know the Labyrinth has rebuilt itself? There is an entrance right here in the woods—”
“We know,” Meg said.
Pete looked crestfallen.
“But perhaps,” I said, “that’s because your marketing campaign is working.”
“Do you think so?” Pete’s foamy hair began to swirl. “Yes. Yes, that may be true! Did you happen to see our spotlights, too? Those were my idea.”
“Spotlights?” Meg asked.
Twin beams of red light blasted from the geysers and swept across the sky. Lit from beneath, Pete looked like the world’s scariest teller of ghost stories.
“Unfortunately, they attracted the wrong kind of attention.” Pete sighed. “Paulie doesn’t let me use them often. He suggested advertising on a blimp instead, or perhaps a giant inflatable King Kong—”
“That’s cool,” Meg interrupted. “But can you tell us anything about a secret grove with whispering trees?”
I had to admit, Meg was good at getting us back on topic. As a poet, I did not cultivate directness. But as an archer, I could appreciate the value of a straight shot.
“Oh.” Pete floated lower in his cloud of steam, the spotlight turning him the color of cherry soda. “I’m not supposed to talk about the grove.”
My once-godly ears tingled. I resisted the urge to scream, AHA! “Why can’t you talk about the grove, Pete?”
The spirit fiddled with his soggy brochure. “Paulie said it would scare away tourists. ‘Talk about the dragons,’ he told me. ‘Talk about the wolves and serpents and ancient killing machines. But don’t mention the grove.’”
“Ancient killing machines?” Meg asked.
“Yeah,” Pete said halfheartedly. “We’re marketing them as fun family entertainment. But the grove…Paulie said that was our worst problem. The neighborhood isn’t even zoned for an Oracle. Paulie went there to see if maybe we could relocate it, but—”
“He didn’t come back,” I guessed.
Pete nodded miserably. “How am I supposed to run the marketing campaign all by myself? Sure, I can use robo-calls for the phone surveys, but a lot of networking has to be done face-to-face, and Paulie was always better with that stuff.” Pete’s voice broke into a sad hiss. “I miss him.”