Thomas was surprised at its simplicity. About twenty feet across, the Map Room had concrete walls bare of any decoration. A wooden table stood in the exact center, eight chairs tucked in around it. Neatly stacked piles of paper and pencils lay about the table’s surface, one for each chair. The only other items in the room were eight trunks, just like the one containing the knives in the weapons basement. Closed, they were evenly spaced, two to a wall.
“Welcome to the Map Room,” Minho said. “As happy a place as you could ever visit.”
Thomas was slightly disappointed—he’d been expecting something more profound. He took in a deep breath. “Too bad it smells like an abandoned copper mine.”
“I kinda like the smell.” Minho pulled out two chairs and sat in one of them. “Have a seat, I want you to get a couple of images in your head before we go out there.”
As Thomas sat down, Minho grabbed a piece of paper and a pencil and started drawing. Thomas leaned in to get a better look and saw that Minho had drawn a big box that filled almost the entire page. Then he filled it with smaller boxes until it looked exactly like an enclosed tic-tac-toe board, three rows of three squares, all the same size. He wrote the word GLADE in the middle, then numbered the outside squares from one to eight, starting in the upper left corner and going clockwise. Lastly, he drew little notches here and there.
“These are the Doors,” Minho said. “You know about the ones from the Glade, but there are four more out in the Maze that lead to Sections One, Three, Five, and Seven. They stay in the same spot, but the route there changes with the wall movements every night.” He finished, then slid the paper over to rest in front of Thomas.
Thomas picked it up, completely fascinated that the Maze was so structured, and studied it as Minho kept talking.
“So we have the Glade, surrounded by eight Sections, each one a completely self-contained square and unsolvable in the two years since we began this freaking game. The only thing even approaching an exit is the Cliff, and that ain’t a very good one unless you like falling to a horrible death.” Minho tapped the Map. “The walls move all over the shuck place every evening—same time as our Doors close shut. At least, we think that’s when, because we never really hear walls moving any other time.”
Thomas looked up, happy to be able to offer a piece of information. “I didn’t see anything move that night we got stuck out there.”
“Those main corridors right outside the Doors don’t ever change. It’s just the ones a little deeper out.”
“Oh.” Thomas returned to the crude map, trying to visualize the Maze and see stone walls where Minho had penciled lines.
“We always have at least eight Runners, including the Keeper. One for each Section. It takes us a whole day to map out our area—hoping against hope there’s an exit—then we come back and draw it up, a separate page for each day.” Minho glanced over at one of the trunks. “That’s why those things are shuck full of Maps.”
Thomas had a depressing—and scary—thought. “Am I … replacing someone? Did somebody get killed?”
Minho shook his head. “No, we’re just training you—someone’ll probably want a break. Don’t worry, it’s been a while since a Runner was killed.”
For some reason that last statement worried Thomas, though he hoped it didn’t show on his face. He pointed at Section Three. “So … it takes you a whole day to run through these little squares?”
“Hilarious.” Minho stood and stepped over to the trunk right behind them, knelt down, then lifted the lid and rested it against the wall. “Come here.”
Thomas had already gotten up; he leaned over Minho’s shoulder and took a look. The trunk was large enough that four stacks of Maps could fit, and all four reached the top. Each of the ones Thomas could see were very similar: a rough sketch of a square maze, filling almost the whole page. In the top right corners, Section 8 was scribbled, followed by the name Hank, then the word Day, followed by a number. The latest one said it was day number 749.
Minho continued. “We figured out the walls were moving right at the beginning. As soon as we did, we started keeping track. We’ve always thought that comparing these day to day, week to week, would help us figure out a pattern. And we did—the mazes basically repeat themselves about every month. But we’ve yet to see an exit open up that will lead us out of the square. Never been an exit.”
“It’s been two years,” Thomas said. “Haven’t you gotten desperate enough to stay out there overnight, see if maybe something opens while the walls are moving?”
Minho looked up at him, a flash of anger in his eyes. “That’s kind of insulting, dude. Seriously.”
“What?” Thomas was shocked—he hadn’t meant it that way.
“We’ve been bustin’ our butts for two years, and all you can ask is why we’re too sissy to stay out there all night? A few tried it in the very beginning—all of them showed up dead. You wanna spend another night out there? Like your chances of surviving again, do ya?”
Thomas’s face reddened in shame. “No. Sorry.” He suddenly felt like a piece of klunk. And he certainly agreed—he’d much rather come home safe and sound to the Glade every night than ensure another battle with the Grievers. He shuddered at the thought.
“Yeah, well.” Minho returned his gaze to the Maps in the trunk, much to Thomas’s relief. “Life in the Glade might not be sweet livin’, but at least it’s safe. Plenty of food, protection from the Grievers. There’s no way we can ask the Runners to risk staying out there—no way. Least not yet. Not until something about these patterns gives a clue that an exit might open up, even temporarily.”
“Are you close? Anything developing?”
Minho shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s kind of depressing, but we don’t know what else to do. Can’t take a chance that one day, in one spot, somewhere, an exit might appear. We can’t give up. Ever.”
Thomas nodded, relieved at the attitude. As bad as things were, giving up would only make them worse.
Minho pulled several sheets from the trunk, the Maps from the last few days. As he flipped through them, he explained, “We compare day to day, week to week, month to month, just like I was saying. Each Runner is in charge of the Map for his own Section. If I gotta be honest, we haven’t figured out jack yet. Even more honest—we don’t know what we’re looking for. Really sucks, dude. Really freaking sucks.”
“But we can’t give up.” Thomas said it in a matter-of-fact tone, as a resigned repeat of what Minho had said a moment earlier. He’d said “we” without even thinking about it, and realized he was truly part of the Glade now.
“Right on, bro. We can’t give up.” Minho carefully returned the papers and closed the trunk, then stood. “Well, we gotta bust it fast since we took time in here—you’ll just be following me around your first few days. Ready?”
Thomas felt a wire of nervousness tighten inside him, pinching his gut. It was actually here—they were going for real now, no more talking and thinking about it. “Um … yeah.”
“No ‘ums’ around here. You ready or not?”
Thomas looked at Minho, matched his suddenly hard gaze. “I’m ready.”
“Then let’s go runnin’.”
They went through the West Door into Section Eight and made their way down several corridors, Thomas right beside Minho as he turned right and left without seeming to think about it, running all the while. The early-morning light had a sharp sheen about it, making everything look bright and crisp—the ivy, the cracked walls, the stone blocks of the ground. Though the sun had a few hours before hitting the noon spot up above, there was plenty of light to see by. Thomas kept up with Minho as best he could, having to sprint every once in a while to catch back up.
They finally made it to a rectangular cut in a long wall to the north that looked like a doorway without a door. Minho ran straight through it without stopping. “This leads from Section Eight—the middle left square—to Section One—the top left square. Like I said, this passage is always in the same spot, but the route here might be a little different because of the walls rearranging themselves.”
Thomas followed him, surprised at how heavy his breaths had already become. He hoped it was only jitters, that his breathing would steady soon.
They ran down a long corridor to the right, passing several turns to the left. When they reached the end of the passage, Minho slowed to barely more than a walk and reached behind him to pull out a notepad and pencil from a side pocket in his backpack. He jotted a note, then put them back, never fully stopping. Thomas wondered what he’d written, but Minho answered him before he could pose the question.
“I rely … mostly on memory,” the Keeper huffed, his voice finally showing a hint of strain. “But about every fifth turn, I write something down to help me later. Mostly just related to stuff from yesterday—what’s different today. Then I can use yesterday’s Map to make today’s. Easy-peasy, dude.”
Thomas was intrigued. Minho did make it sound easy.
They ran for a short while before they reached an intersection. They had three possible choices, but Minho went to the right without hesitating. As he did so, he pulled one of his knives from a pocket and, without missing a beat, cut a big piece of ivy off the wall. He threw it on the ground behind him and kept running.
“Bread crumbs?” Thomas asked, the old fairy tale popping into his mind. Such odd glimpses of his past had almost stopped surprising him.
“Bread crumbs,” Minho replied. “I’m Hansel, you’re Gretel.”
On they went, following the course of the Maze, sometimes turning right, sometimes turning left. After every turn, Minho cut and dropped a three-foot length of ivy. Thomas couldn’t help being impressed—Minho didn’t even need to slow down to do it.
“All right,” the Keeper said, breathing heavier now. “Your turn.”
“What?” Thomas hadn’t really expected to do anything but run and watch on his first day.
“Cut the ivy now—you gotta get used to doing it on the run. We pick ’em up as we come back, or kick ’em to the side.”
Thomas was happier than he thought he’d be at having something to do, though it took him a while to become good at it. First couple of times, he had to sprint to catch up after cutting the ivy, and once he nicked his finger. But by his tenth attempt, he could almost match Minho at the task.
On they went. After they’d run awhile—Thomas had no idea for how long or how far, but he guessed three miles—Minho slowed to a walk, then stopped altogether. “Break time.” He swung off his pack and pulled out some water and an apple.
Thomas didn’t have to be convinced to follow Minho’s lead. He guzzled his water, relishing the wet coolness as it washed down his dry throat.