They enter the lobby: "Muzak played softly on hidden speakers. The carpet and walls were steel gray. Pencil cactuses grew in the corners like skeleton hands. The furniture was black leather, and every seat taken" (18.16).
Dead people are everywhere. It's crowded. Percy knows they are dead people because when he looks directly at any one of them, they are "transparent."
They walk up to the security guard:
[…] he was tall and elegant, with chocolate-colored skin and bleached-blond hair shaved military style. He wore tortoiseshell shades and a silk Italian suit that matched his hair. A black rose was pinned to his lapel under a silver name tag. (18.20)
Folks, meet Charon – the guy who ferries you across the River Styx to Hades central.
The waiting list to get across the Styx is impossibly long.
Percy bribes Charon with lots of drachmas (stolen from Crusty's) and promises to discuss a pay raise for Charon with Hades.
Charon agrees to take them across the Styx on the next boat.
They start out taking an elevator, but the elevator soon becomes a boat: "We were standing on a wooden barge. Charon was poling us across a dark, oily river, swirling with bones, dead fish, and other, stranger things – plastic dolls, crushed carnations, soggy diplomas with gilt edges" (18.84).
The ceiling way above is covered with pointy stalactites. The shore is covered in green mist.
It is scary in the Underworld.
When they reach the shore, they see a black sand beach and a high wall stretching as far as the eye can see.
Percy thinks, "the entrance to the Underworld looked like a cross between airport security and the Jersey Turnpike" (18.97).
There's an ATTENDENT ON DUTY line (which is super-slow and super-long), and there is an EZ DEATH line. Those among the dead who don't wish to be judged can simply choose the EZ DEATH which leads to the Asphodel Fields. The Asphodel Fields are kind of like purgatory – neither good nor bad, just blah.
Those who wish to be judged for a chance to make it to the Fields of Elysium (kind of like heaven) must wait out the long line and must face three judges. The judges are people like Thomas Jefferson, King Minos, and Shakespeare.
Then, they meet Cerberus – the giant Rottweiler puppy with three heads that guards the Underworld.
The two ATTENDENT ON DUTY lines veer to either side of Cerberus. The EZ DEATH line flows right between Cerberus's legs. The dead spirits don't even have to crouch as they make their way through – he's a ginormous puppy.
Cerberus can detect the living among the dead spirits; he can sniff out any trespassers.
Percy tries to play fetch with Cerberus.
Cerberus communicates with Grover, telling him they have ten seconds before he's going to eat them up.
Annabeth gets the idea to play fetch with Cerberus using a red rubber ball she stole from the Waterworld gift store.
Cerberus doesn't get to play very much as he guards the entrance to Hades, watching dead people walk around him all day.
Annabeth knows that he must want to play fetch.
Cerberus has a great time with her, and Percy and Grover scoot through the EZ DEATH line without Cerberus ever finding out.
Annabeth scoots by too after she makes Cerberus "stay" and throws him the ball one last time.
As the three pass through the metal detector, all kinds of alarms go off: "Magic detected!" (18.192).
They hide in a hollowed out, rotten tree as security ghouls gather to see what the problem is.
Annabeth sheds a little tear as she hears Cerberus crying for her in the distance. He misses the attention.