But they were still a hundred feet away.
The right wall was closing fast, seeming to quicken its pace the more Thomas willed it to slow down. There were only seconds left until it shut completely. They had no chance of making it in time. No chance at all.
Thomas turned to look at Newt: limping along as well as he could, he’d only made it halfway to Thomas.
He looked back into the Maze, at the closing wall. Only a few feet more and it’d be over.
Minho stumbled up ahead, fell to the ground. They weren’t going to make it. Time was up. That was it.
Thomas heard Newt scream something from behind him.
“Don’t do it, Tommy! Don’t you bloody do it!”
The rods on the right wall seemed to reach like stretched-out arms for their home, grasping for those little holes that would serve as their resting place for the night. The crunching, grinding sound of the Doors filled the air, deafening.
Five feet. Four feet. Three. Two.
Thomas knew he had no choice. He moved. Forward. He squeezed past the connecting rods at the last second and stepped into the Maze.
The walls slammed shut behind him, the echo of its boom bouncing off the ivy-covered stone like mad laughter.
For several seconds, Thomas felt like the world had frozen in place. A thick silence followed the thunderous rumble of the Door closing, and a veil of darkness seemed to cover the sky, as if even the sun had been frightened away by what lurked in the Maze. Twilight had fallen, and the mammoth walls looked like enormous tombstones in a weed-infested cemetery for giants. Thomas leaned back against the rough rock, overcome by disbelief at what he had just done.
Filled with terror at what the consequences might be.
Then a sharp cry from Alby up ahead snapped Thomas to attention; Minho was moaning. Thomas pushed himself away from the wall and ran to the two Gladers.
Minho had pulled himself up and was standing once again, but he looked terrible, even in the pale light still available—sweaty, dirty, scratched-up. Alby, on the ground, looked worse, his clothes ripped, his arms covered with cuts and bruises. Thomas shuddered. Had Alby been attacked by a Griever?
“Greenie,” Minho said, “if you think that was brave comin’ out here, listen up. You’re the shuckiest shuck-faced shuck there ever was. You’re as good as dead, just like us.”
Thomas felt his face heat up—he’d expected at least a little gratitude. “I couldn’t just sit there and leave you guys out here.”
“And what good are you with us?” Minho rolled his eyes. “Whatever, dude. Break the Number One Rule, kill yourself, whatever.”
“You’re welcome. I was just trying to help.” Thomas felt like kicking him in the face.
Minho forced a bitter laugh, then knelt back on the ground beside Alby. Thomas took a closer look at the collapsed boy and realized just how bad things were. Alby looked on the edge of death. His usually dark skin was losing color fast and his breaths were quick and shallow.
Hopelessness rained down on Thomas. “What happened?” he asked, trying to put aside his anger.
“Don’t wanna talk about it,” Minho said as he checked Alby’s pulse and bent over to listen to his chest. “Let’s just say the Grievers can play dead really well.”
This statement took Thomas by surprise. “So he was … bitten? Stung, whatever? Is he going through the Changing?”
“You’ve got a lot to learn” was all Minho would say.
Thomas wanted to scream. He knew he had a lot to learn—that was why he was asking questions. “Is he going to die?” he forced himself to say, cringing at how shallow and empty it sounded.
“Since we didn’t make it back before sunset, probably. Could be dead in an hour—I don’t know how long it takes if you don’t get the Serum. Course, we’ll be dead, too, so don’t get all weepy for him. Yep, we’ll all be nice and dead soon.” He said it so matter-of-factly, Thomas could hardly process the meaning of the words.
But fast enough, the dire reality of the situation began to hit Thomas, and his insides turned to rot. “We’re really going to die?” he asked, unable to accept it. “You’re telling me we have no chance?”
Thomas was annoyed at Minho’s constant negativity. “Oh, come on—there has to be something we can do. How many Grievers’ll come at us?” He peered down the corridor that led deeper into the Maze, as if expecting the creatures to arrive then, summoned by the sound of their name.
“I don’t know.”
A thought sprang into Thomas’s mind, giving him hope. “But … what about Ben? And Gally, and others who’ve been stung and survived?”
Minho glanced up at him with a look that said he was dumber than cow klunk. “Didn’t you hear me? They made it back before sunset, you dong. Made it back and got the Serum. All of them.”
Thomas wondered about the mention of a serum, but had too many other questions to get out first. “But I thought the Grievers only came out at night.”
“Then you were wrong, shank. They always come out at night. That doesn’t mean they never show up during the day.”
Thomas wouldn’t allow himself to give in to Minho’s hopelessness—he didn’t want to give up and die just yet. “Has anyone ever been caught outside the walls at night and lived through it?”
Thomas scowled, wishing he could find one little spark of hope. “How many have died, then?”
Minho stared at the ground, crouched with one forearm on a knee. He was clearly exhausted, almost in a daze. “At least twelve. Haven’t you been to the graveyard?”
“Yeah.” So that’s how they died, he thought.
“Well, those are just the ones we found. There are more whose bodies never showed up.” Minho pointed absently back toward the sealed-off Glade. “That freaking graveyard’s back in the woods for a reason. Nothing kills happy time more than being reminded of your slaughtered friends every day.”
Minho stood and grabbed Alby’s arms, then nodded toward his feet. “Grab those smelly suckers. We gotta carry him over to the Door. Give ’em one body that’s easy to find in the morning.”
Thomas couldn’t believe how morbid a statement that was. “How can this be happening!” he screamed to the walls, turning in a circle. He felt close to losing it once and for all.
“Quit your crying. You should’ve followed the rules and stayed inside. Now come on, grab his legs.”
Wincing at the growing cramps in his gut, Thomas walked over and lifted Alby’s feet as he was told. They half carried, half dragged the almost-lifeless body a hundred feet or so to the vertical crack of the Door, where Minho propped Alby up against the wall in a semi-sitting position. Alby’s chest rose and fell with struggled breaths, but his skin was drenched in sweat; he looked like he wouldn’t last much longer.
“Where was he bitten?” Thomas asked. “Can you see it?”
“They don’t freaking bite you. They prick you. And no, you can’t see it. There could be dozens all over his body.” Minho folded his arms and leaned against the wall.
For some reason, Thomas thought the word prick sounded a lot worse than bite. “Prick you? What does that mean?”
“Dude, you just have to see them to know what I’m talking about.”
Thomas pointed at Minho’s arms, then his legs. “Well, why didn’t the thing prick you?”
Minho held his hands out. “Maybe it did—maybe I’ll collapse any second.”
“They …,” Thomas began, but didn’t know how to finish. He couldn’t tell if Minho had been serious.
“There was no they, just the one we thought was dead. It went nuts and stung Alby, but then ran away.” Minho looked back into the Maze, which was now almost completely dark with nighttime. “But I’m sure it and a whole bunch of them suckers’ll be here soon to finish us off with their needles.”
“Needles?” Things just kept sounding more and more disturbing to Thomas.
“Yeah, needles.” He didn’t elaborate, and his face said he didn’t plan to.
Thomas looked up at the enormous walls covered in thick vines—desperation had finally clicked him into problem-solving mode. “Can’t we climb this thing?” He looked at Minho, who didn’t say a word. “The vines—can’t we climb them?”
Minho let out a frustrated sigh. “I swear, Greenie, you must think we’re a bunch of idiots. You really think we’ve never had the ingenious thought of climbing the freaking walls?”
For the first time, Thomas felt anger creeping in to compete with his fear and panic. “I’m just trying to help, man. Why don’t you quit moping at every word I say and talk to me?”
Minho abruptly jumped at Thomas and grabbed him by the shirt. “You don’t understand, shuck-face! You don’t know anything, and you’re just making it worse by trying to have hope! We’re dead, you hear me? Dead!”
Thomas didn’t know which he felt more strongly at that moment—anger at Minho or pity for him. He was giving up too easily.
Minho looked down at his hands clasped to Thomas’s shirt and shame washed across his face. Slowly, he let go and backed away. Thomas straightened his clothes defiantly.
“Ah, man, oh man,” Minho whispered, then crumpled to the ground, burying his face in clenched fists. “I’ve never been this scared before, dude. Not like this.”
Thomas wanted to say something, tell him to grow up, tell him to think, tell him to explain everything he knew. Something!
He opened his mouth to speak, but closed it quickly when he heard the noise. Minho’s head popped up; he looked down one of the darkened stone corridors. Thomas felt his own breath quicken.
It came from deep within the Maze, a low, haunting sound. A constant whirring that had a metallic ring every few seconds, like sharp knives rubbing against each other. It grew louder by the second, and then a series of eerie clicks joined in. Thomas thought of long fingernails tapping against glass. A hollow moan filled the air, and then something that sounded like the clanking of chains.
All of it, together, was horrifying, and the small amount of courage Thomas had gathered began to slip away.
Minho stood, his face barely visible in the dying light. But when he spoke, Thomas imagined his eyes wide with terror. “We have to split up—it’s our only chance. Just keep moving. Don’t stop moving!”
And then he turned and ran, disappearing in seconds, swallowed by the Maze and darkness.
Thomas stared at the spot where Minho had vanished.
A sudden dislike for the guy swelled up inside him. Minho was a veteran in this place, a Runner. Thomas was a Newbie, just a few days in the Glade, a few minutes in the Maze. Yet of the two of them, Minho had broken down and panicked, only to run off at the first sign of trouble. How could he leave me here? Thomas thought. How could he do that!
The noises grew louder. The roar of engines interspersed with rolling, cranking sounds like chains hoisting machinery in an old, grimy factory. And then came the smell—something burning, oily. Thomas couldn’t begin to guess what was in store for him; he’d seen a Griever, but only a glimpse, and through a dirty window. What would they do to him? How long would he last?