Underworlds #2: When Monsters Escape

M
Y NAME IS
O
WEN
B
ROWN, AND MY FOREHEAD FEELS
like an anvil that someone keeps pounding with a red-hot hammer.

Also my teeth hurt, my eyes sting, and my fingers ache.

But ever since my friends and I rescued Dana Runson from the Greek Underworld three days ago, pain has been the new normal —

“Owen, move it!”

Dana raced toward me across the wet school parking lot. Jon Doyle and Sydney Lamberti were right on her heels.

“Out of the way, O —” Jon yelled.

All three of them tackled me and rolled me to the side as —
whoom!
— a small car plummeted down from above, smashed onto the sidewalk, and skittered past us, sparking like fireworks, even in the rain.

Just beyond it was a giant, taller than a house, all muscles, shaggy hair … and one huge eye. He was a Cyclops, one of two Greek monsters who escaped from the Underworld into our town. He was ugly, he was huge, and he was mad.

Crash!
An uprooted flagpole slammed down on the car and bent in half. The second giant emerged from behind the school. He was just as huge, just as mad, and just as one-eyed. But he had no hair at all.

“Run. Now!” Dana screamed, yanking me to my feet and pulling me around the side of the school, with Jon and Sydney close behind. We crouched in a puddle behind a couple of oversize trash bins, just in
time to see a bike rack crumple to the ground next to the smashed car.

“What a mess from only two giants!” Sydney said, breathing hard.

“‘Only two giants.’ Love that,” said Jon. He pulled a crooked umbrella out of the trash. The umbrella part was gone, so all that remained were the spokes. “Maybe I can use this,” he said, jabbing the umbrella shaft into the air as if it were a sword.

Crash!
The basketball poles from the playground bounced onto the asphalt court. Then the hairy giant started stuffing all the junk into a large sack hanging over his back.

Three days ago, Dana had been kidnapped by the Norse god Loki and trapped in the Greek Underworld. Why? We weren’t exactly sure. It might have had something to do with her parents, who were in Iceland studying Norse mythology. But who knew?

Loki was one truly scary guy, with a face of smoke, and horns of frost, and a body that looked like a skeleton. Only he was alive — which he shouldn’t
be, as a mythological being. And he wasn’t the only one. Because when Loki stashed Dana in the Greek Underworld, we had to bargain with Hades, its frightening ruler, to let her go.

The big red guy said that Dana could stay free — on one condition. Since Loki masterminded the escape of two Cyclopes from Hades’ domain, Hades gave us one week to capture and return them to the Underworld. Impossible? Sure it was. Except that impossible was also the new normal.

BLAM!
Another small car rolled past the trash bin and into the pile.

“What are they doing? Recycling?” I asked.

“Funny,” said Jon. His eyes were wide. “Or it would be, if they weren’t so big and mad.”

“I’ll tell you what’s funny,” said Sydney, looking cautiously over the top of the bin. “How did two giants escape the Underworld through our school without busting down the walls?”

Sydney was right. An entrance to the Underworld was behind the boiler room door in the basement of the school. How
did
they escape?

“And how did they stay hidden for three days?” Dana put in.

She had a point, too. We’d been on patrol for the last three days, scouring Pinewood Bluffs for the monsters. But we’d seen nothing — until tonight.

“We’re not safe here,” said Jon, crouching low behind the bin. “Or anywhere, really. Owen, can you put a spell on them with the lyre? Make them fall asleep or something?”

I pulled the lyre of Orpheus from the holster Sydney had made. According to what we’d read since we “borrowed” it from a museum, the lyre was made four thousand years ago by the musician Orpheus. It had seven strings and was shaped like a big horseshoe. Even though I had never played a lyre before, I found that if I plucked the right strings in the right order, I could charm people and objects to do pretty much whatever I wanted them to do.

But I wasn’t sure about this time.

“The Cyclopes are so huge,” I said. “They might not hear the strings correctly. Maybe I can just distract them?”

“They’re turning toward downtown,” Sydney said. “This could get a whole lot worse.”

“Let’s draw them into the woods,” said Dana, glancing toward the forest behind the school. It was only suppertime, but the woods were already dark. “Owen, give the lyre a try.”

“Earplugs for everyone,” whispered Sydney, always practical. She pulled a plastic bag from her pocket. She, Dana, and Jon twisted the plugs into their ears as the lyre’s strings jangled loudly under my fingers.

As soon as the melody blossomed into the air, time seemed to slow down for a moment. I felt dizzy. This had been happening more and more when I played the lyre. I didn’t like the feeling, but the magic worked. The two giants paused in mid-mayhem and turned toward the trash bin we were hiding behind.

“Oh, I love being live bait!” Jon screeched, and we bolted to our feet. As we raced toward the forest, the wind lashed us with cold, heavy rain. The Cyclopes gathered up the wreckage in their massive sack — the bike racks, the basketball poles, even the compact cars — and stomped after us.

I kept slamming the strings as we entered the woods, and the melody coiled up through the rain like fingers, drawing the giants across the school yard. The Cyclopes were huge and lumbering, but they were charging like a couple of mad elephants.

Dana was a fast runner and she sprinted between the trees. I tried to keep up, but no sooner did I hit the woods than branches crashed behind us. Jon and Sydney scrambled quickly up a rock ledge and hurled stones at the bald Cyclops, when the ground thundered suddenly at my heels.

Dana turned. “Owen, behind you!”

The hairy Cyclops lunged at me.

Luckily, he caught his foot on a tree trunk and went down.

Unluckily, he fell right at me.

I threw myself down on the ground, cradling the lyre beneath me as the giant fell on top of me, his huge jaw inches from my face.

I couldn’t bear to stare into his gross, milky eyeball. When I glanced away, I saw a round stone the size of a cheeseburger dangling from a chain around
his neck. The stone was marked with strange intersecting lines.

“De-stroy!” The Cyclops raised his great fist over my head, then suddenly bellowed, “AHHHHH!” and rolled away, clutching his giant foot — which had the point of Jon’s umbrella sticking out of it.

Meanwhile, the bald giant was nursing a big bruise on his nose from where Sydney had beaned him with a rock.

“And now — we get out of here!” said Dana, pulling me to my feet.

We’d only made it a few steps when the giants grunted some strange words. A freezing wind sliced through the trees, nearly knocking us to the ground. Then the wind was gone. When it left and the trees settled, the two Cyclopes were gone, too.

We all stared at the empty space in front of us.

“Where did they go?” asked Dana. “How could they just … vanish? We can’t lose track of them —”

“I wouldn’t mind if they lost track of
us
,” said Jon, staring all around.

“So what just happened?” asked Sydney. “Do the Cyclopes have magical powers or something?”

“No,” said Dana. “Not in the usual myths, anyway.”

“Monsters don’t usually escape from the Underworld, either,” Sydney groaned.

“Maybe this is a new myth,” I said. “Either way, we have to know where they went. We need to be someplace where we can see the whole town.” I stared through the trees to the coast.

Dana turned to see what I was looking at. “You don’t mean …?”

“I think I do.”

“Are you kidding?” said Jon. “All the way up there? That’s … dangerous!”

But my friends followed me anyway, because dangerous was also the new normal.

We dashed back across the school yard. We were going to climb the Pinewood Bluffs water tower. In a thundering rainstorm. One slippery ladder rung at a time.

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