Thomas followed Chuck’s gaze and looked up. “Yeah, makes you wonder about this place.” For the second time in twenty-four hours, Chuck had nailed it. The sky did look like a ceiling. Like the ceiling of a massive room. “Maybe something’s broken. I mean, maybe it’ll be back.”
Chuck finally quit gawking and made eye contact with Thomas. “Broken? What’s that supposed to mean?”
Before Thomas could answer, the faint memory of last night, before he fell asleep, came to him, Teresa’s words inside his mind. She’d said, I just triggered the Ending. It couldn’t be a coincidence, could it? A sour rot crept into his belly. Whatever the explanation, whatever that had been in the sky, the real sun or not, it was gone. And that couldn’t be a good thing.
“Thomas?” Chuck asked, lightly tapping him on the upper arm.
“Yeah?” Thomas’s mind felt hazy.
“What’d you mean by broken?” Chuck repeated.
Thomas felt like he needed time to think about it all. “Oh. I don’t know. Must be things about this place we obviously don’t understand. But you can’t just make the sun disappear from space. Plus, there’s still enough light to see by, as faint as it is. Where’s that coming from?”
Chuck’s eyes widened, as if the darkest, deepest secret of the universe had just been revealed to him. “Yeah, where is it coming from? What’s going on, Thomas?”
Thomas reached out and squeezed the younger boy’s shoulder. He felt awkward. “No clue, Chuck. Not a clue. But I’m sure Newt and Alby’ll figure things out.”
“Thomas!” Minho was running up to them. “Quit your leisure time with Chucky here and let’s get going. We’re already late.”
Thomas was stunned. For some reason he’d expected the weird sky to throw all normal plans out the window.
“You’re still going out there?” Chuck asked, clearly surprised as well. Thomas was glad the boy had asked the question for him.
“Of course we are, shank,” Minho said. “Don’t you have some sloppin’ to do?” He looked from Chuck to Thomas. “If anything, gives us even more reason to get our butts out there. If the sun’s really gone, won’t be long before plants and animals drop dead, too. I think the desperation level just went up a notch.”
The last statement struck Thomas deep down. Despite all his ideas—all the things he’d pitched to Minho—he wasn’t eager to change how things had been done for the last two years. A mixture of excitement and dread swept over him when he realized what Minho was saying. “You mean we’re going to stay out there overnight? Explore the walls a little more closely?”
Minho shook his head. “No, not yet. Maybe soon, though.” He looked up toward the sky. “Man—what a way to wake up. Come on, let’s go.”
Thomas was quiet as he and Minho got their things ready and ate a lightning-fast breakfast. His thoughts were churning too much about the gray sky and what Teresa—at least, he thought it had been the girl—had told him in his mind to participate in any conversation.
What had she meant by the Ending? Thomas couldn’t knock the feeling that he should tell somebody. Everybody.
But he didn’t know what it meant, and he didn’t want them to know he had a girl’s voice in his head. They’d think he’d really gone bonkers, maybe even lock him up—and for good this time.
After a lot of deliberation, he decided to keep his mouth shut and went running with Minho for his second day of training, below a bleak and colorless sky.
They saw the Griever before they’d even made it to the door leading from Section Eight to Section One.
Minho was a few feet ahead of Thomas. He’d just rounded a corner to the right when he slammed to a stop, his feet almost skidding out from under him. He jumped back and grabbed Thomas by the shirt, pushing him against the wall.
“Shh,” Minho whispered. “There’s a freaking Griever up there.”
Thomas widened his eyes in question, felt his heart pick up the pace, even though it had already been pumping hard and steady.
Minho simply nodded, then put his finger to his lips. He let go of Thomas’s shirt and took a step back, then crept up to the corner around which he’d seen the Griever. Very slowly, he leaned forward to take a peek. Thomas wanted to scream at him to be careful.
Minho’s head jerked back and he turned to face Thomas. His voice was still a whisper. “It’s just sitting up there—almost like that dead one we saw.”
“What do we do?” Thomas asked, as quietly as possible. He tried to ignore the panic flaring inside him. “Is it coming toward us?”
“No, idiot—I just told you it was sitting there.”
“Well?” Thomas raised his hands to his sides in frustration. “What do we do?” Standing so close to a Griever seemed like a really bad idea.
Minho paused a few seconds, thinking before he spoke. “We have to go that way to get to our section. Let’s just watch it awhile—if it comes after us, we’ll run back to the Glade.” He took another peek, then quickly looked over his shoulder. “Crap—it’s gone! Come on!”
Minho didn’t wait for a response, didn’t see the look of horror Thomas had just felt widen his own eyes. Minho took off running in the direction where he’d seen the Griever. Though his instincts told him not to, Thomas followed.
He sprinted down the long corridor after Minho, turned left, then right. At every turn, they slowed so the Keeper could look around the corner first. Each time he whispered back to Thomas that he’d seen the tail end of the Griever disappearing around the next turn. This went on for ten minutes, until they came to the long hallway that ended at the Cliff, where beyond lay nothing but the lifeless sky. The Griever was charging toward that sky.
Minho stopped so abruptly Thomas almost ran him over. Then Thomas stared in shock as up ahead the Griever dug in with its spikes and spun forward right up to the Cliff’s edge, then off, into the gray abyss. The creature disappeared from sight, a shadow swallowed by more shadow.
“That settles it,” Minho said.
Thomas stood next to him on the edge of the Cliff, staring at the gray nothingness beyond. There was no sign of anything, to the left, right, down, up, or ahead, for as far as he could see. Nothing but a wall of blankness.
“Settles what?” Thomas asked.
“We’ve seen it three times now. Something’s up.”
“Yeah.” Thomas knew what he meant, but waited for Minho’s explanation anyway.
“That dead Griever I found—it ran this way, and we never saw it come back or go deeper into the Maze. Then those suckers we tricked into jumping past us.”
“Tricked?” Thomas said. “Maybe not such a trick.”
Minho looked over at him, contemplative. “Hmm. Anyway, then this.” He pointed out at the abyss. “Not much doubt anymore—somehow the Grievers can leave the Maze this way. Looks like magic, but so does the sun disappearing.”
“If they can leave this way,” Thomas added, continuing Minho’s line of reasoning, “so could we.” A thrill of excitement shot through him.
Minho laughed. “There’s your death wish again. Wanna hang out with the Grievers, have a sandwich, maybe?”
Thomas felt his hopes drop. “Got any better ideas?”
“One thing at a time, Greenie. Let’s get some rocks and test this place out. There has to be some kind of hidden exit.”
Thomas helped Minho as they scrabbled around the corners and crannies of the Maze, picking up as many loose stones as possible. They got more by thumbing cracks in the wall, spilling broken chunks onto the ground. When they finally had a sizable pile, they hauled it over right next to the edge and took a seat, feet dangling over the side. Thomas looked down and saw nothing but a gray descent.
Minho pulled out his pad and pencil, placed them on the ground next to him. “All right, we gotta take good notes. And memorize it in that shuck head of yours, too. If there’s some kind of optical illusion hiding an exit from this place, I don’t wanna be the one who screws up when the first shank tries to jump into it.”
“That shank oughtta be the Keeper of the Runners,” Thomas said, trying to make a joke to hide his fear. Being this close to a place where Grievers might come out at any second was making him sweat. “You’d wanna hold on to one beauty of a rope.”
Minho picked up a rock from their pile. “Yeah. Okay, let’s take turns tossing them, zigzagging back and forth out there. If there’s some kind of magical exit, hopefully it’ll work with rocks, too—make them disappear.”
Thomas took a rock and carefully threw it to their left, just in front of where the left wall of the corridor leading to the Cliff met the edge. The jagged piece of stone fell. And fell. Then disappeared into the gray emptiness.
Minho went next. He tossed his rock just a foot or so farther out than Thomas had. It also fell far below. Thomas threw another one, another foot out. Then Minho. Each rock fell to the depths. Thomas kept following Minho’s orders—they continued until they’d marked a line reaching at least a dozen feet from the Cliff, then moved their target pattern a foot to the right and started coming back toward the Maze.
All the rocks fell. Another line out, another line back. All the rocks fell. They threw enough rocks to cover the entire left half of the area in front of them, covering the distance anyone—or anything—could possibly jump. Thomas’s discouragement grew with every toss, until it turned into a heavy mass of blah.
He couldn’t help chiding himself—it’d been a stupid idea.
Then Minho’s next rock disappeared.
It was the strangest, most hard-to-believe thing Thomas had ever seen.
Minho had thrown a large chunk, a piece that had fallen from one of the cracks in the wall. Thomas had watched, deeply concentrating on each and every rock. This one left Minho’s hand, sailed forward, almost in the exact center of the Cliff line, started its descent to the unseen ground far below. Then it vanished, as if it had fallen through a plane of water or mist.
One second there, falling. Next second gone.
Thomas couldn’t speak.
“We’ve thrown stuff off the Cliff before,” Minho said. “How could we have ever missed that? I never saw anything disappear. Never.”
Thomas coughed; his throat felt raw. “Do it again—maybe we blinked weird or something.”
Minho did, throwing it at the same spot. And once again, it winked out of existence.
“Maybe you weren’t looking carefully other times you threw stuff over,” Thomas said. “I mean, it should be impossible—sometimes you don’t look very hard for things you don’t believe will or can happen.”
They threw the rest of the rocks, aiming at the original spot and every inch around it. To Thomas’s surprise, the spot in which the rocks disappeared proved only to be a few feet square.
“No wonder we missed it,” Minho said, furiously writing down notes and dimensions, his best attempt at a diagram. “It’s kind of small.”