“Phew,” Leo said. “I was hoping he was a blemmyae. That was my only vial of Greek fire, guys. And I can’t keep summoning fireballs unless I want to pass out, so—”
“We need to find cover,” said Calypso.
Sensible advice, but cover did not seem to be an Indiana concept. The streets were wide and straight, the landscape flat, the crowds sparse, the sight lines endless.
We turned onto South Capitol. I glanced over my shoulder and saw the mob of smiling fake-headed locals gaining on us. A construction worker stopped to rip the fender off a Ford pickup, then rejoined the parade, his new chrome club slung over his shoulder.
Meanwhile, the regular mortals—at least, those who did not seem interested in killing us at the moment—went about their business, making phone calls, waiting at traffic lights, sipping coffee in nearby cafés, completely ignoring us. At one corner, sitting on a milk crate, a heavily blanketed homeless man asked me for change. I resisted the urge to tell him that change was coming up fast behind us, carrying assorted weapons.
My heart pounded. My legs shook. I hated having a mortal body. I experienced so many bothersome things, like fear, cold, nausea, and the impulse to whimper Please don’t kill me! If only Calypso hadn’t broken her ankle we might have moved faster, but we couldn’t very well leave her behind. Not that I particularly liked Calypso, mind you, but I’d already convinced Leo to abandon his dragon. I didn’t want to push my luck.
“There!” said the sorceress. She pointed with her chin to what looked like a service alley behind a hotel.
I shuddered, remembering my first day in New York as Lester Papadopoulos. “What if it’s a dead end? The last time I found myself in a dead-end alley, things did not go well.”
“Let’s try,” Leo said. “We might be able to hide in there, or…I dunno.”
I dunno sounded like a sketchy plan B, but I had nothing better to offer.
Good news: the alley was not a dead end. I could clearly see an exit at the far end of the block. Bad news: the loading bays along the back of the hotel were locked, giving us nowhere to hide, and the opposite wall of the alley was lined with Dumpsters. Oh, Dumpsters! How I hated them!
Leo sighed. “I guess we could jump in—”
“No!” I snapped. “Never again!”
We struggled through the alley as fast as we could. I tried to calm my nerves by silently composing a sonnet about various ways a wrathful god could destroy Dumpsters. I became so engrossed I didn’t notice what was in front of us until Calypso gasped.
Leo halted. “What the—? Hijo.”
The apparition glowed with a faint ginger light. He wore a traditional chiton, sandals, and a sheathed sword, like a Greek warrior in the prime of life…except for the fact that he had been decapitated. Unlike the blemmyae, however, this person obviously had once been human. Ethereal blood trickled from his severed neck, splattering his luminous orange tunic.
“It’s a cheese-colored ghost,” Leo said.
The spirit raised one hand, beckoning us forward.
Not being born a mortal, I had no particular fear of the dead. You’ve seen one tormented soul, you’ve seen them all. But something about this ghost unsettled me. He stirred a distant memory, a feeling of guilt from thousands of years ago….
Behind us, the voices of the blemmyae grew louder. I heard them calling out “Morning!” and “Excuse me!” and “Lovely day!” to their fellow Indianans.
“What do we do?” Calypso asked.
“Follow the ghost,” I said.
“What?” Leo yelped.
“We follow the cheese-colored ghost. As you’re always saying: Vaya con queso.”
“That was a joke, ese.”
The orange spirit beckoned again, then floated toward the end of the alley.
Behind us, a man’s voice shouted, “There you are! Lovely weather, isn’t it?”
I turned in time to see a truck fender spiraling toward us.
“Down!” I tackled Calypso and Leo, provoking more screams of agony from the sorceress. The truck fender sailed over our heads and slammed into a Dumpster, sending up a festive explosion of garbage confetti.
We struggled to our feet. Calypso was shivering, no longer complaining about the pain. I was fairly sure she was going into shock.
Leo pulled a staple gun from his tool belt. “You guys go ahead. I’ll hold them off as long as I can.”
“What are you going to do?” I demanded. “Sort and collate them?”
“I’m going to throw things at them!” Leo snapped. “Unless you’ve got a better idea?”
“B-both of you stop,” Calypso stammered. “We d-don’t leave anyone behind. Now walk. Left, right, left, right.”
We emerged from the alley into a wide-open circular plaza. Oh, why couldn’t Indianans build a proper city with narrow, twisting streets, plenty of dark corners, and perhaps some conveniently placed bombproof bunkers?
In the middle of a ring-shaped drive stood a fountain surrounded by dormant flower beds. To the north rose the twin towers of another hotel. To the south loomed an older, grander building of redbrick and granite—perhaps a Victorian-era train station. On one side of the edifice, a clock tower soared roughly two hundred feet into the sky. Above the main entrance, under a marble archway, a colossal rose window gleamed in a frame of green copper, like a stained-glass version of the dartboard we used for our weekly game night on Mount Olympus.
That thought made me heartsick with nostalgia. I would’ve given anything to be back home for game night, even if it meant listening to Athena gloat about her Scrabble scores.
I scanned the plaza. Our ghostly guide seemed to have disappeared.
Why had he brought us here? Should we try the hotel? The train station?
Those questions became moot when the blemmyae surrounded us.
The mob burst out of the alley behind us. A police car swerved into the roundabout next to the train station. A bulldozer pulled into the hotel’s driveway, the operator waving and calling out cheerfully, “Hello! I’m going to bulldoze you!”
All exits from the plaza were quickly blocked.
A line of sweat freeze-dried against my neck. An annoying whine filled my ears, which I realized was my own subvocalized whimpering of Please don’t kill me, please don’t kill me.
I won’t die here, I promised myself. I’m much too important to bite it in Indiana.
But my trembling legs and chattering teeth seemed to disagree.
“Who has an idea?” I asked my compatriots. “Please, any brilliant idea.”
Calypso looked like her most brilliant idea at the moment was trying not to throw up. Leo hefted his staple gun, which didn’t seem to frighten the blemmyae.
From the midst of the mob, our old friend Nanette emerged, her chest-face grinning. Her patent leather pumps clashed terribly with her blond leg fur. “Gosh darn it, dears, you’ve made me a bit miffed.”
She grabbed the nearest street sign and single-handedly ripped it out of the ground. “Now, please hold still, won’t you? I’m just going to smash your heads with this.”
My last performance
Some old lady drops the mic
And kills everyone
I WAS ABOUT TO INITIATE Defense Plan Omega—falling to my knees and begging for mercy—when Leo saved me from that embarrassment.