The source of the sounds he’d been hearing made sense now. When the Griever rolled, it made the metallic whirring sound, like the spinning blade of a saw. The spikes and the arms explained the creepy clicking sounds, metal against stone. But nothing sent chills up and down Thomas’s spine like the haunted, deathly moans that somehow escaped the creature when it sat still, like the sound of dying men on a battlefield.
Seeing it all now—the beast matched with the sounds—Thomas couldn’t think of any nightmare that could equal this hideous thing coming toward him. He fought the fear, forced his body to remain perfectly still, hanging there in the vines. He was sure their only hope was to avoid being noticed.
Maybe it won’t see us, he thought. Just maybe. But the reality of the situation sank like a stone in his belly. The beetle blade had already revealed his exact position.
The Griever rolled and clicked its way closer, zigzagging back and forth, moaning and whirring. Every time it stopped, the metal arms unfolded and turned this way and that, like a roving robot on an alien planet looking for signs of life. The lights cast eerie shadows across the Maze. A faint memory tried to escape the locked box within his mind—shadows on the walls when he was a kid, scaring him. He longed to be back to wherever that was, to run to the mom and dad he hoped still lived, somewhere, missing him, searching for him.
A strong whiff of something burnt stung his nostrils; a sick mixture of overheated engines and charred flesh. He couldn’t believe people could create something so horrible and send it after kids.
Trying not to think about it, Thomas closed his eyes for a moment and concentrated on remaining still and quiet. The creature kept coming.
Thomas peeked down without moving his head—the Griever had finally reached the wall where he and Alby hung. It paused by the closed Door that led into the Glade, only a few yards to Thomas’s right.
Please go the other way, Thomas pleaded silently.
The Griever’s spikes popped out; its body rolled toward Thomas and Alby.
It came to a stop, then rolled once more, right up to the wall.
Thomas held his breath, not daring to make the slightest sound. The Griever now sat directly below them. Thomas wanted to look down so badly, but knew any movement might give him away. The beams of light from the creature shone all over the place, completely random, never settling in one spot.
Then, without warning, they went out.
The world turned instantly dark and silent. It was as if the creature had turned off. It didn’t move, made no sound—even the haunting groans had stopped completely. And with no more lights, Thomas couldn’t see a single thing.
He was blind.
He took small breaths through his nose; his pumping heart needed oxygen desperately. Could it hear him? Smell him? Sweat drenched his hair, his hands, his clothes, everything. A fear he had never known filled him to the point of insanity.
Still, nothing. No movement, no light, no sound. The anticipation of trying to guess its next move was killing Thomas.
Seconds passed. Minutes. The ropy plant dug into Thomas’s flesh—his chest felt numb. He wanted to scream at the monster below him: Kill me or go back to your hiding hole!
Then, in a sudden burst of light and sound, the Griever came back to life, whirring and clicking.
And then it started to climb the wall.
The Griever’s spikes tore into the stone, throwing shredded ivy and rock chips in every direction. Its arms shifted about like the legs of the beetle blade, some with sharp picks that drove into the stone of the wall for support. A bright light on the end of one arm pointed directly at Thomas, only this time, the beam didn’t move away.
Thomas felt the last drop of hope drain from his body.
He knew the only option left was to run. I’m sorry, Alby, he thought as he unraveled the thick vine from his chest. Using his left hand to hold tight to the foliage above him, he finished unwrapping himself and prepared to move. He knew he couldn’t go up—that would bring the Griever across the path of Alby. Down, of course, was only an option if he wanted to die as quickly as possible.
He had to go to the side.
Thomas reached out and grabbed a vine two feet to the left of where he hung. Wrapping it around his hand, he yanked on it with a sharp tug. It held true, just like all the others. A quick glance below revealed that the Griever had already halved the distance between them, and it was moving faster yet, no more pauses or stops.
Thomas let go of the rope he’d used around his chest and heaved his body to the left, scraping along the wall. Before his pendulum swing took him back toward Alby, he reached out for another vine, catching a nice thick one. This time he grabbed it with both hands and turned to plant the bottom of his feet on the wall. He shuffled his body to the right as far as the plant would let him, then let go and grabbed another one. Then another. Like some tree-climbing monkey, Thomas found he could move more quickly than he ever could’ve hoped.
The sounds of his pursuer went on relentlessly, only now with the bone-shuddering addition of cracking and splitting rock joined in. Thomas swung to the right several more times before he dared to look back.
The Griever had altered its course from Alby to head directly for Thomas. Finally, Thomas thought, something went right. Pushing off with his feet as strongly as he could, swing by swing, he fled the hideous thing.
Thomas didn’t need to look behind him to know the Griever was gaining on him with every passing second. The sounds gave it away. Somehow, he had to get back to the ground, or it would all end quickly.
On the next switch, he let his hand slip a bit before clasping tightly. The ivy-rope burned his palm, but he’d slipped several feet closer to the ground. He did the same with the next vine. And the next. Three swings later he’d made his way halfway to the Maze floor. Scorching pain flared up both his arms; he felt the sting of raw skin on his hands. The adrenaline rushing through his body helped push away his fear—he just kept moving.
On his next swing, the darkness prevented Thomas from seeing a new wall looming in front of him until it was too late; the corridor ended and turned to the right.
He slammed into the stone ahead, losing his grip on the vine. Throwing his arms out, Thomas flailed, reaching and grabbing to stop his plunge to the hard stone below. At the same instant, he saw the Griever out of the corner of his left eye. It had altered its course and was almost on him, reaching out with its clasping claw.
Thomas found a vine halfway to the ground and grasped it, his arms almost ripping out of their sockets at the sudden stop. He pushed off the wall with both feet as hard as he could, swinging his body away from it just as the Griever charged in with its claw and needles. Thomas kicked out with his right leg, connecting with the arm attached to the claw. A sharp crack revealed a small victory, but any elation ended when he realized that the momentum of his swing was now pulling him back down to land right on top of the creature.
Pulsing with adrenaline, Thomas drew his legs together and pulled them tight against his chest. As soon as he made contact with the Griever’s body, disgustingly sinking inches into its gushy skin, he kicked out with both feet to push off, squirming to avoid the swarm of needles and claws coming at him from all directions. He swung his body out and to the left; then he jumped toward the wall of the Maze, trying to grab another vine; the Griever’s vicious tools snapped and clawed at him from behind. He felt a deep scratch on his back.
Flailing once again, Thomas found a new vine and clutched it with both hands. He gripped the plant just enough to slow him down as he slid to the ground, ignoring the horrible burn. As soon as his feet hit the solid stone floor, he took off, running despite the scream of exhaustion from his body.
A booming crash sounded behind him, followed by the rolling, cracking, whirring of the Griever. But Thomas refused to look back, knowing every second counted.
He rounded a corner of the Maze, then another. Pounding the stone with his feet, he fled as fast as he possibly could. Somewhere in his mind he tracked his own movements, hoping he’d live long enough to use the information to return to the Door again.
Right, then left. Down a long corridor, then right again. Left. Right. Two lefts. Another long corridor. The sounds of pursuit from behind didn’t relent or fade, but he wasn’t losing ground, either.
On and on he ran, his heart ready to blow its way out of his chest. With great, sucking heaves of breath, he tried to get oxygen in his lungs, but he knew he couldn’t last much longer. He wondered if it’d just be easier to turn and fight, get it over with.
When he rounded the next corner, he skidded to a halt at the sight in front of him. Panting uncontrollably, he stared.
Three Grievers were up ahead, rolling along as they dug their spikes into the stone, coming directly toward him.
Thomas turned to see his original pursuer still coming, though it had slowed a bit, clasping and unclasping a metal claw as if mocking him, laughing.
It knows I’m done, he thought. After all that effort, here he was, surrounded by Grievers. It was over. Not even a week of salvageable memory, and his life was over.
Almost consumed by grief, he made a decision. He’d go down fighting.
Much preferring one over three, he ran straight toward the Griever that had chased him there. The ugly thing retracted just an inch, stopped moving its claw, as if shocked at his boldness. Taking heart at the slight falter, Thomas started screaming as he charged.
The Griever came to life, spikes popping out of its skin; it rolled forward, ready to collide head-on with its foe. The sudden movement almost made Thomas stop, his brief moment of insane courage washing away, but he kept running.
At the last second before collision, just as he got a close look at the metal and hair and slime, Thomas planted his left foot and dove to the right. Unable to stop its momentum, the Griever zoomed straight past him before it shuddered to a halt—Thomas noticed the thing was moving a lot faster now. With a metallic howl, it swiveled and readied to pounce on its victim. But now, no longer surrounded, Thomas had a clear shot away, back down the path.
He scrambled to his feet and sprinted forward. Sounds of pursuit, this time from all four Grievers, followed close behind. Sure that he was pushing his body beyond its physical limits, he ran on, trying to rid himself of the hopeless feeling that it was only a matter of time before they got him.
Then, three corridors down, two hands suddenly reached out and yanked him into the adjoining hallway. Thomas’s heart leaped into his throat as he struggled to free himself. He stopped when he realized it was Minho.
“Shut up and follow me!” Minho yelled, already dragging Thomas away until he was able to get his feet under him.
Without a moment to think, Thomas collected himself. Together, they ran through corridors, taking turn after turn. Minho seemed to know exactly what he was doing, where he was going; he never paused to think about which way they should run.
As they rounded the next corner, Minho attempted to speak. Between heaving breaths, he gasped, “I just saw … the dive move you did … back there … gave me an idea … we only have to last … a little while longer.”