Page 29

“Okay, Greenie.” Alby sighed, clearly done with the conversation. “Go find some dinner—your terrible prison sentence of one day is over.”

“One was plenty.” Despite wanting answers, Thomas was ready to get away from the Slammer. Plus, he was starving. He grinned at Alby, then headed straight for the kitchen and food.

Dinner was awesome.

Frypan had known Thomas would be coming late, so he’d left a plate full of roast beef and potatoes; a note announced there were cookies in the cupboard. The Cook seemed fully intent on backing up the support he’d shown for Thomas in the Gathering. Minho joined Thomas as he ate, prepping him a little before his first big day of Runner training, giving him a few stats and interesting facts. Things for him to think about as he went to sleep that night.

When they were finished, Thomas headed back to the secluded place where he’d slept the night before, in the corner behind the Deadheads. He thought about his conversation with Chuck, wondered how it would feel to have parents say good night to you.

Several boys milled about the Glade that night, but for the most part it was quiet, like everyone just wanted to go to sleep, end the day and be done with it. Thomas didn’t complain—that was exactly what he needed.

The blankets someone had left for him the night before still lay there. He picked them up and settled in, snuggling up against the comforting corner where the stone walls met in a mass of soft ivy. The mixed smells of the forest greeted him as he took his first deep breath, trying to relax. The air felt perfect, and it made him wonder again about the weather of the place. Never rained, never snowed, never got too hot or too cold. If it weren’t for the little fact they were torn apart from friends and families and trapped in a Maze with a bunch of monsters, it could be paradise.

Some things here were too perfect. He knew that, but had no explanation.

His thoughts drifted to what Minho had told him at dinner about the size and scale of the Maze. He believed it—he’d realized the massive scale when he’d been to the Cliff. But he just couldn’t fathom how such a structure could have been built. The Maze stretched for miles and miles. The Runners had to be in almost superhuman shape to do what they did every day.

And yet they’d never found an exit. And despite that, despite the utter hopelessness of the situation, they still hadn’t given up.

At dinner Minho had told him an old story—one of the bizarre and random things he remembered from before—about a woman trapped in a maze. She escaped by never taking her right hand off the walls of the maze, sliding it along as she walked. In doing so, she was forced to turn right at every turn, and the simple laws of physics and geometry ensured that eventually she found the exit. It made sense.

But not here. Here, all paths led back to the Glade. They had to be missing something.

Tomorrow, his training would begin. Tomorrow, he could start helping them find that missing something. Right then Thomas made a decision. Forget all the weird stuff. Forget all the bad things. Forget it all. He wouldn’t quit until he’d solved the puzzle and found a way home.

Tomorrow. The word floated in his mind until he finally fell asleep.


Minho woke Thomas before dawn, motioning with a flashlight to follow him back to the Homestead. Thomas easily shook off his morning grogginess, excited to begin his training. He crawled out from under his blanket and eagerly followed his teacher, winding his way through the crowd of Gladers who slept on the lawn, their snores the only sign they weren’t dead. The slightest glow of early morning illuminated the Glade, turning everything dark blue and shadowed. Thomas had never seen the place look so peaceful. A cock crowed in the Blood House.

Finally, in a crooked cranny near a back corner of the Homestead, Minho pulled out a key and opened up a shabby door leading to a small storage closet. Thomas felt a shiver of anticipation, wondering what was inside. He caught glimpses of ropes and chains and other odds and ends as Minho’s flashlight crisscrossed the closet. Eventually, it fell on an open box full of running shoes. Thomas almost laughed, it seemed so ordinary.

“That right there’s the number one supply we get,” Minho announced. “At least for us. They send new ones in the Box every so often. If we had bad shoes, we’d have feet that look like freaking Mars.” He bent over and rummaged through the pile. “What size you wear?”

“Size?” Thomas thought for a second. “I … don’t know.” It was so odd sometimes what he could and couldn’t remember. He reached down and pulled off a shoe he’d worn since coming to the Glade and took a look inside. “Eleven.”

“Geez, shank, you got big feet.” Minho stood up holding a pair of sleek silver ones. “But looks like I’ve got some—man, we could go canoeing in these things.”

“Those are fancy.” Thomas took them and walked out of the closet to sit on the ground, eager to try them on. Minho grabbed a few more things before coming out to join him.

“Only Runners and Keepers get these,” Minho said. Before Thomas could look up from tying his shoes, a plastic wristwatch dropped into his lap. It was black and very simple, its face showing only a digital display of the time. “Put it on and never take it off. Your life might depend on it.”

Thomas was glad to have it. Though the sun and the shadows had seemed plenty to let him know roughly what time it was up to that point, being a Runner probably required more precision. He buckled the watch onto his wrist and then returned to fitting on his shoes.

Minho continued talking. “Here’s a backpack, water bottles, lunch pack, some shorts and T-shirts, other stuff.” He nudged Thomas, who looked up. Minho was holding out a couple of pairs of tightly cut underwear, made from a shiny white material. “These bad boys’re what we call Runnie-undies. Keeps you, um, nice and comfy.”

“Nice and comfy?”

“Yeah, ya know. Your—”

“Yeah, got it.” Thomas took the underwear and other stuff. “You guys really have this all thought out, don’t you?”

“Couple of years runnin’ your butt off every day, you figure out what you need and ask for it.” He started stuffing things into his own backpack.

Thomas was surprised. “You mean, you can make requests? Supplies you want?” Why would the people who’d sent them there help so much?

“Of course we can. Just drop a note in the Box, and there she goes. Doesn’t mean we always get what we want from the Creators. Sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t.”

“Ever asked for a map?”

Minho laughed. “Yeah, tried that one. Asked for a TV, too, but no luck. I guess those shuck-faces don’t want us seeing how wonderful life is when you don’t live in a freaking maze.”

Thomas felt a trickle of doubt that life was so great back home—what kind of world allowed people to make kids live like this? The thought surprised him, as if its source had been founded in actual memory, a wisp of light in the darkness of his mind. But it was already gone. Shaking his head, he finished lacing up his shoes, then stood up and jogged around in circles, jumping up and down to test them out. “They feel pretty good. I guess I’m ready.”

Minho was still crouched over his backpack on the ground; he glanced up at Thomas with a look of disgust. “You look like an idiot, prancin’ around like a shuck ballerina. Good luck out there with no breakfast, no packed lunch, no weapons.”

Thomas had already stopped moving, felt an icy chill. “Weapons?”

“Weapons.” Minho stood and walked back to the closet. “Come here, I’ll show ya.”

Thomas followed Minho into the small room and watched as he pulled a few boxes away from the back wall. Underneath lay a small trapdoor. Minho lifted it to reveal a set of wooden stairs leading into blackness. “Keep ’em down in the basement so shanks like Gally can’t get to them. Come on.”

Minho went first. The stairs creaked with every shift of weight as they descended the dozen or so steps. The cool air was refreshing, despite the dust and the strong scent of mildew. They hit a dirt floor, and Thomas couldn’t see a thing until Minho turned on a single lightbulb by pulling a string.

The room was larger than Thomas had expected, at least thirty square feet. Shelves lined the walls, and there were several blocky wooden tables; everything in sight was covered with all manner of junk that gave him the creeps. Wooden poles, metal spikes, large pieces of mesh—like what covers a chicken coop—rolls of barbed wire, saws, knives, swords. One entire wall was dedicated to archery: wooden bows, arrows, spare strings. The sight of it immediately brought back the memory of Ben getting shot by Alby in the Deadheads.

“Wow,” Thomas murmured, his voice a dull thump in the enclosed place. At first he was terrified that they needed so many weapons, but he was relieved to see that the vast majority of it was covered with a thick layer of dust.

“Don’t use most of it,” Minho said. “But ya never know. All we usually take with us is a couple of sharp knives.”

He nodded toward a large wooden trunk in the corner, its top open and leaning against the wall. Knives of all shapes and sizes were stacked haphazardly all the way to the top.

Thomas just hoped the room was kept secret from most of the Gladers. “Seems kind of dangerous to have all this stuff,” he said. “What if Ben had gotten down here right before he went nuts and attacked me?”

Minho pulled the keys out of his pocket and dangled them with a clickety-clank. “Only a few lucky toads have a set of these.”

“Still …”

“Quit your bellyachin’ and pick a couple. Make sure they’re nice and sharp. Then we’ll go get breakfast and pack our lunch. I wanna spend some time in the Map Room before we head out.”

Thomas was pumped to hear that—he’d been curious about the squat building ever since he’d first seen a Runner go through its menacing door. He selected a short silvery dagger with a rubber grip, then one with a long black blade. His excitement waned a little. Even though he knew perfectly well what lived out there, he still didn’t want to think about why he needed weapons to go into the Maze.

A half hour later, fed and packed, they stood in front of the riveted metal door of the Map Room. Thomas was itching to go inside. Dawn had burst forth in all her glory, and Gladers milled about, readying for the day. Smells of frying bacon wafted through the air—Frypan and his crew trying to keep up with dozens of starving stomachs. Minho unlocked the door, cranked the wheel-handle, spinning it until an audible click sounded from inside, then pulled. With a lurching squeal, the heavy metal slab swung open.

“After you,” Minho said with a mocking bow.

Thomas went in without saying anything. A cool fear, mixed with an intense curiosity, gripped him, and he had to remind himself to breathe.

The dark room had a musty, wet smell, laced with a deep coppery scent so strong he could taste it. A distant, faded memory of sucking on pennies as a kid popped into his head.

Minho hit a switch and several rows of fluorescent lights flickered until they came on full strength, revealing the room in detail.