Then he turned and left the room, slamming the door behind him.
Thomas sat frozen in his chair, a sickness growing in his stomach like an infestation. He’d been through the whole gamut of emotions in the short time since he’d arrived at the Glade. Fear, loneliness, desperation, sadness, even the slightest hint of joy. But this was something new—to hear a person say they hate you enough that they want to kill you.
Gally’s crazy, he told himself. He’s completely insane. But the thought only increased his worries. Insane people could really be capable of anything.
The Council members stood or sat in silence, seemingly as shocked as Thomas at what they’d just seen. Newt and Winston finally let go of Minho; all three of them sullenly walked to their chairs and sat down.
“He’s finally whacked for good,” Minho said, almost in a whisper. Thomas couldn’t tell if he’d meant for the others to hear him.
“Well, you’re not the bloody saint in the room,” Newt said. “What were you thinking? That was a little overboard, don’t ya think?”
Minho squinched up his eyes and pulled his head back, as if he were baffled by Newt’s question. “Don’t give me that garbage. Every one of you loved seeing that slinthead get his dues, and you know it. It’s about time someone stood up to his klunk.”
“He’s on the Council for a reason,” Newt said.
“Dude, he threatened to break my neck and kill Thomas! The guy is mentally whacked, and you better send someone right now to throw him in the Slammer. He’s dangerous.”
Thomas couldn’t have agreed more and once again almost broke his order to stay quiet, but stopped himself. He didn’t want to get in any more trouble than he was already in—but he didn’t know how much longer he could last.
“Maybe he had a good point,” Winston said, almost too quietly.
“What?” Minho asked, mirroring Thomas’s thoughts exactly.
Winston looked surprised at the acknowledgment that he’d said anything. His eyes darted around the room before he explained. “Well … he has been through the Changing—Griever stung him in the middle of the day just outside the West Door. That means he has memories, and he said the Greenie looks familiar. Why would he make that up?”
Thomas thought about the Changing, and the fact that it brought back memories. The idea hadn’t occurred to him before, but would it be worth it to get stung by the Grievers, go through that horrible process, just to remember something? He pictured Ben writhing in bed and remembered Alby’s screams. No way, he thought.
“Winston, did you see what just happened?” Frypan asked, looking incredulous. “Gally’s psycho. You can’t put too much stock in his rambling nonsense. What, you think Thomas here is a Griever in disguise?”
Council rules or no Council rules, Thomas had finally had enough. He couldn’t stay silent another second.
“Can I say something now?” he asked, frustration raising the volume of his voice. “I’m sick of you guys talking about me like I’m not here.”
Newt glanced up at him and nodded. “Go ahead. This bloody meetin’ can’t be much more screwed up.”
Thomas quickly gathered his thoughts, grasping for the right words inside the swirling cloud of frustration, confusion and anger in his mind. “I don’t know why Gally hates me. I don’t care. He seems psychotic to me. As for who I really am, you all know just as much as I do. But if I remember correctly, we’re here because of what I did out in the Maze, not because some idiot thinks I’m evil.”
Someone snickered and Thomas quit talking, hoping he’d gotten his point across.
Newt nodded, looking satisfied. “Good that. Let’s get this meeting over with and worry about Gally later.”
“We can’t vote without all the members here,” Winston insisted. “Unless they’re really sick, like Alby.”
“For the love, Winston,” Newt replied. “I’d say Gally’s a wee bit ill today, too, so we continue without him. Thomas, defend yourself and then we’ll take the vote on what we should do with you.”
Thomas realized his hands were squeezed up into fists on his lap. He relaxed them and wiped his sweaty palms on his pants. Then he began, not sure of what he’d say before the words came out.
“I didn’t do anything wrong. All I know is I saw two people struggling to get inside these walls and they couldn’t make it. To ignore that because of some stupid rule seemed selfish, cowardly, and … well, stupid. If you want to throw me in jail for trying to save someone’s life, then go ahead. Next time I promise I’ll point at them and laugh, then go eat some of Frypan’s dinner.”
Thomas wasn’t trying to be funny. He was just dumbfounded that the whole thing could even be an issue.
“Here’s my recommendation,” Newt said. “You broke our bloody Number One Rule, so you get one day in the Slammer. That’s your punishment. I also recommend we elect you as a Runner, effective the second this meeting’s over. You’ve proven more in one night than most trainees do in weeks. As for you being the buggin’ Keeper, forget it.” He looked over at Minho. “Gally was right on that count—stupid idea.”
The comment hurt Thomas’s feelings, even though he couldn’t disagree. He looked to Minho for his reaction.
The Keeper didn’t seem surprised, but argued all the same. “Why? He’s the best we have—I swear it. The best should be the Keeper.”
“Fine,” Newt responded. “If that’s true, we’ll make the change later. Give it a month and see if he proves himself.”
Minho shrugged. “Good that.”
Thomas quietly sighed in relief. He still wanted to be a Runner—which surprised him, considering what he’d just gone through out in the Maze—but becoming the Keeper right away sounded ridiculous.
Newt glanced around the room. “Okay, we had several recommendations, so let’s give it a go-round—”
“Oh, come on,” Frypan said. “Just vote. I vote for yours.”
“Me too,” Minho said.
Everyone else chimed in their approval, filling Thomas with relief and a sense of pride. Winston was the only one to say no.
Newt looked at him. “We don’t need your vote, but tell us what’s bonkin’ around your brain.”
Winston gazed at Thomas carefully, then back to Newt. “It’s fine with me, but we shouldn’t totally ignore what Gally said. Something about it—I don’t think he just made it up. And it’s true that ever since Thomas got here, everything’s been shucked and screwy.”
“Fair enough,” Newt said. “Everyone put some thought into it—maybe when we get right nice and bored we can have another Gathering to talk about it. Good that?”
Thomas groaned at how invisible he’d become. “I love how you guys are just talking about me like I’m not here.”
“Look, Tommy,” Newt said. “We just elected you as a buggin’ Runner. Quit your cryin’ and get out of here. Minho has a lot of training to give you.”
It hadn’t really hit Thomas until then. He was going to be a Runner, explore the Maze. Despite everything, he felt a shiver of excitement; he was sure they could avoid getting trapped out there at night again. Maybe he’d had his one and only turn of bad luck. “What about my punishment?”
“Tomorrow,” Newt answered. “The wake-up till sunset.”
One day, Thomas thought. That won’t be so bad.
The meeting was dismissed and everyone except Newt and Minho left the room in a hurry. Newt hadn’t moved from his chair, where he sat jotting notes. “Well, that was good times,” he murmured.
Minho walked over and playfully punched Thomas in the arm. “It’s all this shank’s fault.”
Thomas punched him back. “Keeper? You want me to be Keeper? You’re nuttier than Gally by a long shot.”
Minho faked an evil grin. “Worked, didn’t it? Aim high, hit low. Thank me later.”
Thomas couldn’t help smiling at the Keeper’s clever ways. A knock on the opened door grabbed his attention—he turned to see who it was. Chuck stood there, looking like he’d just been chased by a Griever. Thomas felt the grin fade from his face.
“What’s wrong?” Newt asked, standing up. The tone of his voice only heightened Thomas’s concern.
Chuck was wringing his hands. “Med-jacks sent me.”
“I guess Alby’s thrashing around and acting all crazy, telling them he needs to talk to somebody.”
Newt made for the door, but Chuck held up his hand. “Um … he doesn’t want you.”
“What do you mean?”
Chuck pointed at Thomas. “He keeps asking for him.”
For the second time that day, Thomas was shocked into silence.
“Well, come on,” Newt said to Thomas as he grabbed his arm. “No way I’m not going with ya.”
Thomas followed him, with Chuck right behind, as they left the Council room and went down the hall toward a narrow, spiraling staircase that he hadn’t noticed before. Newt took the first step, then gave Chuck a cold glare. “You. Stay.”
For once, Chuck simply nodded and said nothing. Thomas figured that something about Alby’s behavior had the kid’s nerves on edge.
“Lighten up,” Thomas said to Chuck as Newt headed up the staircase. “They just elected me a Runner, so you’re buddies with a stud now.” He was trying to make a joke, trying to deny that he was terrified to see Alby. What if he made accusations like Ben had? Or worse?
“Yeah, right,” Chuck whispered, staring at the wooden steps in a daze.
With a shrug Thomas began climbing the stairs. Sweat slicked his palms, and he felt a drop trickle down his temple. He did not want to go up there.
Newt, all grim and solemn, was waiting for Thomas at the top of the stairwell. They stood at the opposite end of the long, dark hallway from the usual staircase, the one Thomas had climbed on his very first day to see Ben. The memory made him queasy; he hoped Alby was completely healed from the ordeal so he didn’t have to witness something like that again—the sickly skin, the veins, the thrashing. But he expected the worst, and braced himself.
He followed Newt to the second door on the right and watched as the older boy knocked lightly; a moan sounded in reply. Newt pushed open the door, the slight creak once again reminding Thomas of some vague childhood memory of haunted-house movies. There it was again—the smallest glimpse at his past. He could remember movies, but not the actors’ faces or with whom he’d watched them. He could remember theaters, but not what any specific one looked like. It was impossible to explain how that felt, even to himself.
Newt had stepped into the room and was motioning for Thomas to follow. As he entered, he prepared himself for the horror that might await. But when his eyes lifted, all he saw was a very weak-looking teenage boy lying in his bed, eyes closed.