But from what he could tell, naps were frowned upon in the giant working farm of the Glade.
He stood with Newt in front of the barn of the Blood House, getting ready for his first training session with a Keeper. Despite the rough morning, he was actually excited to learn more, and for the chance to get his mind off Ben and the graveyard. Cows mooed, sheep bleated, pigs squealed all around him. Somewhere close by, a dog barked, making Thomas hope Frypan didn’t bring new meaning to the word hot dog. Hot dog, he thought. When’s the last time I had a hot dog? Who did I eat it with?
“Tommy, are you even listening to me?”
Thomas snapped out of his daze and focused on Newt, who’d been talking for who knew how long; Thomas hadn’t heard a word of it. “Yeah, sorry. Couldn’t sleep last night.”
Newt attempted a pathetic smile. “Can’t blame ya there. Went through the buggin’ ringer, you did. Probably think I’m a slinthead shank for gettin’ you ready to work your butt off today after an episode the likes of that.”
Thomas shrugged. “Work’s probably the best thing I could do. Anything to get my mind off it.”
Newt nodded, and his smile became more genuine. “You’re as smart as you look, Tommy. That’s one of the reasons we run this place all nice and busylike. You get lazy, you get sad. Start givin’ up. Plain and simple.”
Thomas nodded, absently kicking a loose rock across the dusty, cracked stone floor of the Glade. “So what’s the latest on that girl from yesterday?” If anything had penetrated the haze of his long morning, it had been thoughts of her. He wanted to know more about her, understand the odd connection he felt to her.
“Still in a coma, sleepin’. Med-jacks are spoon-feeding her whatever soups Frypan can cook up, checking her vitals and such. She seems okay, just dead to the world for now.”
“That was just plain weird.” If it hadn’t been for the whole Ben-in-the-graveyard incident, Thomas was sure she would’ve been all he’d thought about last night. Maybe he wouldn’t have been able to sleep for an entirely different reason. He wanted to know who she was and if he really did know her somehow.
“Yeah,” Newt said. “Weird’s as good a word as any, I ’spect.”
Thomas looked over Newt’s shoulder at the big faded-red barn, pushing thoughts of the girl aside. “So what’s first? Milk cows or slaughter some poor little pigs?”
Newt laughed, a sound Thomas realized he hadn’t heard much since he’d arrived. “We always make the Newbies start with the bloody Slicers. Don’t worry, cuttin’ up Frypan’s victuals ain’t but a part. Slicers do anything and everything dealin’ with the beasties.”
“Too bad I can’t remember my whole life. Maybe I love killing animals.” He was just joking, but Newt didn’t seem to get it.
Newt nodded toward the barn. “Oh, you’ll know good and well by the time sun sets tonight. Let’s go meet Winston—he’s the Keeper.”
Winston was an acne-covered kid, short but muscular, and it seemed to Thomas the Keeper liked his job way too much. Maybe he was sent here for being a serial killer, he thought.
Winston showed Thomas around for the first hour, pointing out which pens held which animals, where the chicken and turkey coops were, what went where in the barn. The dog, a pesky black Lab named Bark, took quickly to Thomas, hanging at his feet the entire tour. Wondering where the dog came from, Thomas asked Winston, who said Bark had just always been there. Luckily, he seemed to have gotten his name as a joke, because he was pretty quiet.
The second hour was spent actually working with the farm animals—feeding, cleaning, fixing a fence, scraping up klunk. Klunk. Thomas found himself using the Glader terms more and more.
The third hour was the hardest for Thomas. He had to watch as Winston slaughtered a hog and began preparing its many parts for future eating. Thomas swore two things to himself as he walked away for lunch break. First, his career would not be with the animals; second, he’d never again eat something that came out of a pig.
Winston had said for him to go on alone, that he’d hang around the Blood House, which was fine with Thomas. As he walked toward the East Door, he couldn’t stop picturing Winston in a dark corner of the barn, gnawing on raw pigs’ feet. The guy gave him the willies.
Thomas was just passing the Box when he was surprised to see someone enter the Glade from the Maze, through the West Door, to his left—an Asian kid with strong arms and short black hair, who looked a little older than Thomas. The Runner stopped three steps in, then bent over and put his hands on his knees, gasping for breath. He looked like he’d just run twenty miles, face red, skin covered in sweat, clothes soaked.
Thomas stared, overcome with curiosity—he’d yet to see a Runner up close or talk to one. Plus, based on the last couple of days, the Runner was home hours early. Thomas stepped forward, eager to meet him and ask questions.
But before he could form a sentence, the boy collapsed to the ground.
Thomas didn’t move for a few seconds. The boy lay in a crumpled heap, barely moving, but Thomas was frozen by indecision, afraid to get involved. What if something was seriously wrong with this guy? What if he’d been … stung? What if—
Thomas snapped out of it—the Runner obviously needed help.
“Alby!” he shouted. “Newt! Somebody get them!”
Thomas sprinted to the older boy and knelt down beside him. “Hey—you okay?” The Runner’s head rested on outstretched arms as he panted, his chest heaving. He was conscious, but Thomas had never seen someone so exhausted.
“I’m … fine,” he said between breaths, then looked up. “Who the klunk are you?”
“I’m new here.” It hit Thomas then that the Runners were out in the Maze during the day and hadn’t witnessed any of the recent events firsthand. Did this guy even know about the girl? Probably—surely someone had told him. “I’m Thomas—been here just a couple of days.”
The Runner pushed himself up into a sitting position, his black hair matted to his skull with sweat. “Oh, yeah, Thomas,” he huffed. “Newbie. You and the chick.”
Alby jogged up then, clearly upset. “What’re you doin’ back, Minho? What happened?”
“Calm your wad, Alby,” the Runner replied, seeming to gain strength by the second. “Make yourself useful and get me some water—I dropped my pack out there somewhere.”
But Alby didn’t move. He kicked Minho in the leg—too hard to be playful. “What happened?”
“I can barely talk, shuck-face!” Minho yelled, his voice raw. “Get me some water!”
Alby looked over at Thomas, who was shocked to see the slightest hint of a smile flash across his face before vanishing in a scowl. “Minho’s the only shank who can talk to me like that without getting his butt kicked off the Cliff.”
Then, surprising Thomas even more, Alby turned and ran off, presumably to get Minho some water.
Thomas turned toward Minho. “He lets you boss him around?”
Minho shrugged, then wiped fresh beads of sweat off his forehead. “You scared of that pip-squeak? Dude, you got a lot to learn. Freakin’ Newbies.”
The rebuke hurt Thomas far more than it should have, considering he’d known this guy all of three minutes. “Isn’t he the leader?”
“Leader?” Minho barked a grunt that was probably supposed to be a laugh. “Yeah, call him leader all you want. Maybe we should call him El Presidente. Nah, nah—Admiral Alby. There you go.” He rubbed his eyes, snickering as he did so.
Thomas didn’t know what to make of the conversation—it was hard to tell when Minho was joking. “So who is the leader if he isn’t?”
“Greenie, just shut it before you confuse yourself more.” Minho sighed as if bored, then muttered, almost to himself, “Why do you shanks always come in here asking stupid questions? It’s really annoying.”
“What do you expect us to do?” Thomas felt a flush of anger. Like you were any different when you first came, he wanted to say.
“Do what you’re told, keep your mouth shut. That’s what I expect.”
Minho had looked him square in the face for the first time with that last sentence, and Thomas scooted back a few inches before he could stop himself. He realized immediately he’d just made a mistake—he couldn’t let this guy think he could talk to him like that.
He pushed himself back up onto his knees so he was looking down at the older boy. “Yeah, I’m sure that’s exactly what you did as a Newbie.”
Minho looked at Thomas carefully. Then, again staring straight in his eyes, said, “I was one of the first Gladers, slinthead. Shut your hole till you know what you’re talking about.”
Thomas, now slightly scared of the guy but mostly fed up with his attitude, moved to get up. Minho’s hand snapped out and grabbed his arm.
“Dude, sit down. I’m just playin’ with your head. It’s too much fun—you’ll see when the next Newbie …” He trailed off, a perplexed look wrinkling his eyebrows. “Guess there won’t be another Newbie, huh?”
Thomas relaxed, returned to a sitting position, surprised at how easily he’d been put back at ease. He thought of the girl and the note saying she was the last one ever. “Guess not.”
Minho squinted slightly, as if he was studying Thomas. “You saw the chick, right? Everybody says you probably know her or something.”
Thomas felt himself grow defensive. “I saw her. Doesn’t really look familiar at all.” He felt immediately guilty for lying—even if it was just a little lie.
Thomas paused, not having thought of her in that way since she’d freaked out and delivered the note and her one-liner—Everything is going to change. But he remembered how beautiful she was. “Yeah, I guess she’s hot.”
Minho leaned back until he lay flat, eyes closed. “Yeah, you guess. If you got a thing for chicks in comas, right?” He snickered again.
“Right.” Thomas was having the hardest time figuring out if he liked Minho or not—his personality seemed to change every minute. After a long pause, Thomas decided to take a chance. “So …,” he asked cautiously, “did you find anything today?”
Minho’s eyes opened wide; he focused on Thomas. “You know what, Greenie? That’s usually the dumbest shuck-faced thing you could ask a Runner.” He closed his eyes again. “But not today.”
“What do you mean?” Thomas dared to hope for information. An answer, he thought. Please just give me an answer!
“Just wait till the fancy admiral gets back. I don’t like saying stuff twice. Plus, he might not want you to hear it anyway.”
Thomas sighed. He wasn’t in the least bit surprised at the non-answer. “Well, at least tell me why you look so tired. Don’t you run out there every day?”