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Thomas had to agree. “What do they do with people when they catch them?” Did he really want to know?

Newt just shrugged, his indifference not very convincing. More likely he didn’t want to talk about it.

“So tell me about the Runners,” Thomas said suddenly. The words seemed to pop out of nowhere. But he remained still, despite an odd urge to apologize and change the subject; he wanted to know everything about them. Even after what he’d seen last night, even after witnessing the Griever through the window, he wanted to know. The pull to know was strong, and he didn’t quite understand why. Becoming a Runner just felt like something he was born to do.

Newt had paused, looking confused. “The Runners? Why?”

“Just wondering.”

Newt gave him a suspicious look. “Best of the best, those guys. Have to be. Everything depends on them.” He picked up a loose rock and tossed it, watching it absently as it bounced to a stop.

“Why aren’t you one?”

Newt’s gaze returned to Thomas, sharply. “Was till I hurt my leg few months back. Hasn’t been the bloody same since.” He reached down and rubbed his right ankle absently, a brief look of pain flashing across his face. The look made Thomas think it was more from the memory, not any actual physical pain he still felt.

“How’d you do it?” Thomas asked, thinking the more he could get Newt to talk, the more he’d learn.

“Runnin’ from the buggin’ Grievers, what else? Almost got me.” He paused. “Still gives me the chills thinkin’ I might have gone through the Changing.”

The Changing. It was the one topic that Thomas thought might lead him to answers more than anything else. “What is that, anyway? What changes? Does everyone go psycho like Ben and start trying to kill people?”

“Ben was way worse than most. But I thought you wanted to talk about the Runners.” Newt’s tone warned that the conversation about the Changing was over.

This made Thomas even more curious, though he was just fine going back to the subject of Runners. “Okay, I’m listening.”

“Like I said, best of the best.”

“So what do you do? Test everybody to see how fast they are?”

Newt gave Thomas a disgusted look, then groaned. “Show me some smarts, Greenie, Tommy, whatever ya like. How fast you can bloody run is only part of it. A very small part, actually.”

This piqued Thomas’s interest. “What do you mean?”

“When I say best of the best, I mean at everything. To survive the buggin’ Maze, you gotta be smart, quick, strong. Gotta be a decision maker, know the right amount of risk to take. Can’t be reckless, can’t be timid, either.” Newt straightened his legs and leaned back on his hands. “It’s bloody awful out there, ya know? I don’t miss it.”

“I thought the Grievers only came out at night.” Destiny or not, Thomas didn’t want to run into one of those things.

“Yeah, usually.”

“Then why is it so terrible out there?” What else didn’t he know about?

Newt sighed. “Pressure. Stress. Maze pattern different every day, tryin’ to picture things in your mind, tryin’ to get us out of here. Worryin’ about the bloody Maps. Worst part, you’re always scared you might not make it back. A normal maze’d be hard enough—but when it changes every night, couple of mental mistakes and you’re spendin’ the night with vicious beasts. No room or time for dummies or brats.”

Thomas frowned, not quite understanding the drive inside him, urging him on. Especially after last night. But he still felt it. Felt it all over.

“Why all the interest?” Newt asked.

Thomas hesitated, thinking, scared to say it out loud again. “I want to be a Runner.”

Newt turned and looked him in the eye. “Haven’t been here a week, shank. Little early for death wishes, don’t ya think?”

“I’m serious.” It barely made sense even to Thomas, but he felt it deeply. In fact, the desire to become a Runner was the only thing driving him on, helping him accept his predicament.

Newt didn’t break his gaze. “So am I. Forget it. No one’s ever become a Runner in their first month, much less their first week. Got a lot of provin’ to do before we’ll recommend you to the Keeper.”

Thomas stood and started folding up his sleeping gear. “Newt, I mean it. I can’t pull weeds all day—I’ll go nuts. I don’t have a clue what I did before they shipped me here in that metal box, but my gut tells me that being a Runner is what I’m supposed to do. I can do it.”

Newt still sat there, staring up at Thomas, not offering to help. “No one said you couldn’t. But give it a rest for now.”

Thomas felt a surge of impatience. “But—”

“Listen, trust me on this, Tommy. Start stompin’ around this place yappin’ about how you’re too good to work like a peasant, how you’re all nice and ready to be a Runner—you’ll make plenty of enemies. Drop it for now.”

Making enemies was the last thing Thomas wanted, but still. He decided on another direction. “Fine, I’ll talk to Minho about it.”

“Good try, ya buggin’ shank. The Gathering elects Runners, and if you think I’m tough, they’d laugh in your face.”

“For all you guys know, I could be really good at it. It’s a waste of time to make me wait.”

Newt stood to join Thomas and jabbed a finger in his face. “You listen to me, Greenie. You listenin’ all nice and pretty?”

Thomas surprisingly didn’t feel that intimidated. He rolled his eyes, but then nodded.

“You better stop this nonsense, before others hear about it. That’s not how it works around here, and our whole existence depends on things working.”

He paused, but Thomas said nothing, dreading the lecture he knew was coming.

“Order,” Newt continued. “Order. You say that bloody word over and over in your shuck head. Reason we’re all sane around here is ’cause we work our butts off and maintain order. Order’s the reason we put Ben out—can’t very well have loonies runnin’ around tryin’ to kill people, now can we? Order. Last thing we need is you screwin’ that up.”

The stubbornness washed out of Thomas. He knew it was time to shut up. “Yeah” was all he said.

Newt slapped him on the back. “Let’s make a deal.”

“What?” Thomas felt his hopes rise.

“You keep your mouth shut about it, and I’ll put you on the list of potential trainees as soon as you show some clout. Don’t keep your trap shut, and I’ll bloody make sure ya never see it happen. Deal?”

Thomas hated the idea of waiting, not knowing how long it might be. “That’s a sucky deal.”

Newt raised his eyebrows.

Thomas finally nodded. “Deal.”

“Come on, let’s get us some grub from Frypan. And hope we don’t bloody choke.”

That morning, Thomas finally met the infamous Frypan, if only from a distance. The guy was too busy trying to feed breakfast to an army of starving Gladers. He couldn’t have been more than sixteen years old, but he had a full beard and hair sticking out all over the rest of his body, as if each follicle were trying to escape the confines of his food-smeared clothes. Didn’t seem like the most sanitary guy in the world to oversee all the cooking, Thomas thought. He made a mental note to watch out for nasty black hairs in his meals.

He and Newt had just joined Chuck for breakfast at a picnic table right outside the Kitchen when a large group of Gladers got up and ran toward the West Door, talking excitedly about something.

“What’s going on?” Thomas asked, surprising himself at how nonchalantly he said it. New developments in the Glade had just become a part of life.

Newt shrugged as he dug into his eggs. “Just seein’ off Minho and Alby—they’re going to look at the buggin’ dead Griever.”

“Hey,” Chuck said. A small piece of bacon flew out of his mouth when he spoke. “I’ve got a question about that.”

“Yeah, Chuckie?” Newt asked, somewhat sarcastically. “And what’s your bloody question?”

Chuck seemed deep in thought. “Well, they found a dead Griever, right?”

“Yeah,” Newt replied. “Thanks for that bit of news.”

Chuck absently tapped his fork against the table for a few seconds. “Well, then who killed the stupid thing?”

Excellent question, Thomas thought. He waited for Newt to answer, but nothing came. He obviously didn’t have a clue.


Thomas spent the morning with the Keeper of the Gardens, “working his butt off,” as Newt would’ve said. Zart was the tall, black-haired kid who’d stood at the front of the pole during Ben’s Banishment, and who for some odd reason smelled like sour milk. He didn’t say much, but showed Thomas the ropes until he could start working on his own. Weeding, pruning an apricot tree, planting squash and zucchini seeds, picking veggies. He didn’t love it, and mostly ignored the other boys working alongside him, but he didn’t hate it nearly as much as what he’d done for Winston at the Blood House.

Thomas and Zart were weeding a long row of young corn when Thomas decided it was a good time to start asking questions. This Keeper seemed a lot more approachable.

“So, Zart,” he said.

The Keeper glanced up at him, then resumed his work. The kid had droopy eyes and a long face—for some reason he looked as bored as humanly possible. “Yeah, Greenie, what you want?”

“How many Keepers total are there?” Thomas asked, trying to act casual. “And what are the job options?”

“Well, you got the Builders, the Sloppers, Baggers, Cooks, Map-makers, Med-jacks, Track-Hoes, Blood Housers. The Runners, of course. I don’t know, a few more, maybe. Pretty much keep to myself and my own stuff.”

Most of the words were self-explanatory, but Thomas wondered about a couple of them. “What’s a Slopper?” He knew that was what Chuck did, but the boy never wanted to talk about it. Refused to talk about it.

“That’s what the shanks do that can’t do nothin’ else. Clean toilets, clean the showers, clean the kitchen, clean up the Blood House after a slaughter, everything. Spend one day with them suckers—that’ll cure any thoughts of goin’ that direction, I can tell ya that.”

Thomas felt a pang of guilt over Chuck—felt sorry for him. The kid tried so hard to be everyone’s friend, but no one seemed to like him or even pay attention to him. Yeah, he was a little excitable and talked too much, but Thomas was glad enough to have him around.

“What about the Track-hoes?” Thomas asked as he yanked out a huge weed, clumps of dirt swaying on the roots.

Zart cleared his throat and kept on working as he answered. “They’re the ones take care of all the heavy stuff for the Gardens. Trenching and whatnot. During off times they do other stuff round the Glade. Actually, a lot of Gladers have more than one job. Anyone tell you that?”