Author's note: You got it! I'm sorry it's short and years too late.
Goosebumps from the air conditioning. The paint-and-plastic smell of a clean school auditorium, like someone might be cutting fuzzy construction paper in the next room. When you fight monsters so often, it's easy to forget you're not really a grown-up, that you should be allowed to be a kid sometimes.
Suddenly I felt stupid. Sometimes this happened when fighting monsters, too. I was only fourteen years old. I should have been sitting in one of these auditorium seats at a normal school assembly, not standing up here disappearing. Once in while, all you need is a judgmental stranger (like a Greek muse) to bring you back to reality. I really thought I had been doing the smart thing when I pulled out the knife. Then Melpomene swirled into being. I saw myself through her glassy gold eyes and it occurred to me: Hey, Annabeth, you're holding a dagger to the throat of a children's book author.
I mean, it was pretty crazy to threaten anyone with a dagger.
But this person was once SOMEONE'S ENGLISH TEACHER.
"The muse of tragedy?" repeated Percy from the corner.
We all turned to look at him.
"You said Melpomene," he said. "Weren't you the muse of like, singing?"
Percy knows his mythology well, for a sword jocky. I don't give him enough credit.
"That was loooong agooooo." Melpomene smoothed her white bangs. She looked a little like a film star from the twenties. Like Clara Bow met a K-pop idol. Her cheeks had the pinkish, iridescent flush of an opal cupped in your palm. "But Traaaaageedy requiiires more complex inspiraaaaaation than sooong. And what aaaaare the lives of deeeeemigods but vast expaaaanses of traaaaagedy and despaaaaair?"
We stood in a not very comfortable silence for a while.
Nobody really knew what to do. We were locked in this odd Mexican standoff. An ancient Greek muse, an author, two of his characters, and the two actors portraying them in a movie adaptation. Plus, one of us had a weapon.
"Hey, you know what's a great kickstarter for tragedy?" Rick Riordan finally said. "Knives."
Rick Riordan was right. I looked nuts.
I sheathed the knife.
Melpomene smiled, then did something terrifying.
With one dramatic swoop of her hand, a faint, glimmering dust settled over three of us: Alexandra Daddario, Logan Lerman, and Thalia. In an instant, their bodies shimmered, then disappeared entirely.
We all screamed, but she talked over us in a booming voice, much louder than was possible for such a wispy person: "ENOOOOUGH. It's for priiiivacy. I seeeent them baaaack to their hoooomes. And planted nice stooories in their heads about what they were dooooing all day long. They won't remember a thiiiing. Noooow." She clawed at the air again, sending a wave of energy that threw the three of us into auditorium seats in half a heartbeat. "SIT!"
I mean, did we have a choice?
The Greek Muse of tragedy stared us down. Her eyes looked as though they'd seen a thousand years of death, like she couldn't care much about anything anymore. "And obseeeeerve."
The school auditorium stage was empty. Of course it was: We kicked everybody out. Now it was just me, Percy, our buddy Rick "Author of Your Existence" Riordan, and an unpredictable Muse. But when Melpomene lifted her wrist, the red velvet curtains parted to reveal smoke, scenery, and glowing lights, as though there had been a Broadway production crew working full-time back there. The hills of Olympus faded into view, clouds materializing on the school auditorium stage. I recognized the architecture, the peristyle buildings, the colonnades. But what caught my eye were the people. Or the silhouettes of people––clear, distinct shadows, instantly recognizable as the gods arguing with one another. I caught a glimpse of my mother's shadow, trying to be a voice of reason.
The three of us leaned forward in our seats.
Twelve smaller silhouettes––the Muses?––conspired in one building as the gods and goddesses raged atop the mountain. Finally, one of the Muses stepped forward. This must have been Melpomene herself. With the faint sparkle of a falling star, the silhouette leapt from Olympus toward Earth.
Onstage, the scenery swirled through half a prism of colors, eventually glowing with sunlight, showing us the blue skies and rolling green hills of central Texas before the sunlight faded to stars. Our eyes settled on the luminous window of an ordinary bedroom. It was hard to tell because everything was still in silhouette. But it looked like a kid, maybe ten years old, and his Dad. Maybe reading his son a story.
I blinked. The spell was broken for a moment.
Melpomene had settled in next to me to watch her own show. I stared at the Greek Muse, fully kicking it in her plush velvet seat, long legs perched atop the edge of the stage before us. She was holding out a handful of magenta-and-orange Goldfish Colors crackers to me. Maybe she was kidding. Although kidding didn't seem on-brand for muses of tragedy and despair.
"Goldfish?" repeated Percy.
"Soooo saaalty." She ate one and her face melted into a dreamy look. "They taaaaastee like the tears of the seeeeeaaa."
"Can we watch," said Rick Riordan.
Between the curtains, the silhouette version of Melpomene was bending over the dad's ear. Whispering. The dad didn't seem to notice the Muse at his ear. But the next time he spoke to his son, a rainbow of colors spilled from his mouth, a vivid smoke storm that formed different shapes: A boy uncapping a pen that turned into a sword. Storm clouds surging. The head of medusa. A god on a motorcycle.
Percy pointed at the opposite end of the stage. "Look."
I caught my breath. Like a mirror image, there were our own silhouettes, his and mine and Grover's and Thalia's, doing the same thing.
We watched the dad take the smoke in his hands. It turned solid, and he reshaped it as though it were clay. Within seconds the man had formed it into the shape of a hardcover book. And with one grand toss, he threw the book across the stage, where it shattered and multiplied into a thousand copies just like it. Suddenly, there were hundreds of children on stage, each trying to grab their copy.
And one copy––I had no idea how this happened––flew right at us, like a jump scare in a 3-D movie, landing in my lap before I realized what was happening. I nearly jumped out of my seat. Looking down, I watched the magical smoke dissipate to reveal the glossy teal cover of Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan.
The curtains parted.
Melpomene smoothed her dress and walked onstage, her face somber. If she was theatrically sad before, this was different. Now, she seemed like the kind of sad that wasn't fun to perform.
"People forget," she said. She wasn't putting on an accent any longer. Her voice broke. "We gave and gave everything we had of ourselves for millennia. All of us did. Every last Muse. The gods, too. We wanted to think that by putting our legends into songs, into plays, you humans wouldn't lose track of the stories that continued on, generations and centuries after you'd abandoned our worship. But you did forget." Her voice grew higher. "By the year two-thousand, nobody cared about any meaningful legend at all. Except, I don't know, Harry Potter. Isn't that right, Annabeth?"
She meant that I wasn't paying her enough attention. I couldn't help it; I had already cracked open The Lightning Thief and tried, without much success, to read the first page again.
Melpomene cleared her throat. "So. We decided to do our own Harry Potter."
"You've got to be kidding me," said Rick.
Percy took the book from me. "But we're not a legend. Our lives aren't over yet. How can he write the next…"
He trailed off, but I knew what he was going to say. What happened when Rick was writing these books faster than we were living them? The Battle of the Labyrinth wasn't a battle we had lived yet. if the Percy Jackson books were divinely inspired, that meant everything in them was more or less the truth. Everything...including content of books that hadn't happened yet. We'd lived the first three books. We were yet to live the fourth, the fifth, and anything Rick would ever write after that.
"I can explain the details," said Melpomene. "But to your question––there is no answer. We didn't plan for it. After all, nobody dreamed the first book would be so successful."
Rick looked offended. "Hey!"
"A series? A film? Tell me, how were we supposed to see that coming! Seriously! Now all of a sudden you humans care about the gods. And no, I can't help with the little disappearing issue," she said, going off Percy's desperate, disappearing arm, which he held before her face with a terrified, pleading look. "Very sorry, though. Our bad."
"OUR BAD?" the three of us cried.
"What else do you want me to say? We messed up the timeline. You characters should have another few months before you disappear completely––the book won't be published for a bit. But it's bound to happen." She thought for a moment. "Bit of a problem. Him being the subject of a prophecy and all. None of us can fix it."
Rick Riordan had been fidgeting in his seat, at at this, he stood up. "Well. Maybe I can."
We all stared at him.
"I'm still a writer. I can come up with the next plot point here. But I need y'all to do two things for me. First, Muse Lady needs to tell us everything––everything––she knows about this." He took a deep breath and turned to me and Percy. "And you two need to take me to the real Camp Half Blood."