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Thomas nodded, but didn’t say anything. He agreed completely but had no concrete ideas on what to do. If he could just make it to tomorrow, maybe he and Teresa could come up with something to help.

Thomas glanced over at Alby, who was staring at the floor, seemingly lost in his own gloomy thoughts. His face still wore the long, weary look of depression, his eyes sunken and hollow. The Changing had been aptly named, considering what it had done to him.

“Alby?” Newt asked. “Are you gonna pitch in?”

Alby looked up, surprise crossing his face as if he hadn’t known that anyone else was in the room. “Huh? Oh. Yeah. Good that. But you’ve seen what happens at night. Just because Greenie the freaking superboy made it doesn’t mean the rest of us can.”

Thomas rolled his eyes ever so slightly at Minho—so tired of Alby’s attitude.

If Minho felt the same way, he did a good job of hiding it. “I’m with Thomas and Newt. We gotta quit boohooing and feeling sorry for ourselves.” He rubbed his hands together and sat forward in his chair. “Tomorrow morning, first thing, you guys can assign teams to study the Maps full-time while the Runners go out. We’ll pack our stuff shuck-full so we can stay out there a few days.”

“What?” Alby asked, his voice finally showing some emotion. “What do you mean, days?”

“I mean, days. With open Doors and no sunset, there’s no point in coming back here, anyway. Time to stay out there and see if anything opens up when the walls move. If they still move.”

“No way,” Alby said. “We have the Homestead to hide in—and if that ain’t workin’, the Map Room and the Slammer. We can’t freaking ask people to go out there and die, Minho! Who’d volunteer for that?”

“Me,” Minho said. “And Thomas.”

Everyone looked at Thomas; he simply nodded. Although it scared him to death, exploring the Maze—really exploring it—was something he’d wanted to do from the first time he’d learned about it.

“I will if I have to,” Newt said, surprising Thomas; though he’d never talk about it, the older boy’s limp was a constant reminder that something horrible had happened to him out in the Maze. “And I’m sure all the Runners’ll do it.”

“With your bum leg?” Alby asked, a harsh laugh escaping his lips.

Newt frowned, looked at the ground. “Well, I don’t feel good askin’ Gladers to do something if I’m not bloody willing to do it myself.”

Alby scooted back on the bed and propped his feet up. “Whatever. Do what you want.”

“Do what I want?” Newt asked, standing up. “What’s wrong with you, man? Are you tellin’ me we have a choice? Should we just sit around on our butts and wait to be snuffed by the Grievers?”

Thomas wanted to stand up and cheer, sure that Alby would finally snap out of his doldrums.

But their leader didn’t look in the least bit reprimanded or remorseful. “Well, it sounds better than running to them.”

Newt sat back down. “Alby. You gotta start talkin’ reason.”

As much as he hated to admit it, Thomas knew they needed Alby if they were going to accomplish anything. The Gladers looked up to him.

Alby finally took a deep breath, then looked at each of them in turn. “You guys know I’m all screwed up. Seriously, I’m … sorry. I shouldn’t be the stupid leader anymore.”

Thomas held his breath. He couldn’t believe Alby had just said that.

“Oh bloody—” Newt started.

“No!” Alby shouted, his face showing humility, surrender. “That’s not what I meant. Listen to me. I ain’t saying we should switch or any of that klunk. I’m just saying … I think I need to let you guys make the decisions. I don’t trust myself. So … yeah, I’ll do whatever.”

Thomas could see that both Minho and Newt were as surprised as he was.

“Uh … okay,” Newt said slowly. As if he was unsure. “We’ll make it work, I promise. You’ll see.”

“Yeah,” Alby muttered. After a long pause, he spoke up, a hint of odd excitement in his voice. “Hey, tell you what. Put me in charge of the Maps. I’ll freaking work every Glader to the bone studying those things.”

“Works for me,” Minho said. Thomas wanted to agree, but didn’t know if it was his place.

Alby put his feet back on the floor, sat up straighter. “Ya know, it was really stupid for us to sleep in here tonight. We should’ve been out in the Map Room, working.”

Thomas thought that was the smartest thing he’d heard Alby say in a long time.

Minho shrugged. “Probably right.”

“Well … I’ll go,” Alby said with a confident nod. “Right now.”

Newt shook his head. “Forget that, Alby. Already heard the bloody Grievers moaning out there. We can wait till the wake-up.”

Alby leaned forward, elbows on his knees. “Hey, you shucks are the ones giving me all the pep talks. Don’t start whining when I actually listen. If I’m gonna do this, I gotta do it, be the old me. I need something to dive into.”

Relief flooded Thomas. He’d grown sick of all the contention.

Alby stood up. “Seriously, I need this.” He moved toward the door of the room as if he really meant to leave.

“You can’t be serious,” Newt said. “You can’t go out there now!”

“I’m going, and that’s that.” Alby took his ring of keys from his pocket and rattled them mockingly—Thomas couldn’t believe the sudden bravery. “See you shucks in the morning.”

And then he walked out.

It was strange to know that the night grew later, that darkness should’ve swallowed the world around them, but to see only the pale gray light outside. It made Thomas feel off-kilter, as if the urge to sleep that grew steadily with every passing minute were somehow unnatural. Time slowed to an agonizing crawl; he felt as if the next day might never come.

The other Gladers settled themselves, turning in with their pillows and blankets for the impossible task of sleeping. No one said much, the mood somber and grim. All you could hear were quiet shuffles and whispers.

Thomas tried hard to force himself to sleep, knowing it would make the time pass faster, but after two hours he’d still had no luck. He lay on the floor in one of the upper rooms, on top of a thick blanket, several other Gladers crammed in there with him, almost body to body. The bed had gone to Newt.

Chuck had ended up in another room, and for some reason Thomas pictured him huddled in a dark corner, crying, squeezing his blankets to his chest like a teddy bear. The image saddened Thomas so deeply he tried to replace it, but to no avail.

Almost every person had a flashlight by their side in case of emergency. Otherwise, Newt had ordered all lights extinguished despite the pale, deathly glow of their new sky—no sense attracting any more attention than necessary. Anything that could be done on such short notice to prepare for a Griever attack had been done: windows boarded up, furniture moved in front of doors, knives handed out as weapons …

But none of that made Thomas feel safe.

The anticipation of what might happen was overpowering, a suffocating blanket of misery and fear that began to take on a life of its own. He almost wished the suckers would just come and get it over with. The waiting was unbearable.

The distant wails of the Grievers grew closer as the night stretched on, every minute seeming to last longer than the one before it.

Another hour passed. Then another. Sleep finally came, but in miserable fits. Thomas guessed it was about two in the morning when he turned from his back to his stomach for the millionth time that night. He put his hands under his chin and stared at the foot of the bed, almost a shadow in the dim light.

Then everything changed.

A mechanized surge of machinery sounded from outside, followed by the familiar rolling clicks of a Griever on the stony ground, as if someone had scattered a handful of nails. Thomas shot to his feet, as did most of the others.

But Newt was up before anyone, waving his arms, then shushing the room by putting a finger to his lips. Favoring his bad leg, he tiptoed toward the lone window in the room, which was covered by three hastily nailed boards. Large cracks allowed for plenty of space to peek outside. Carefully, Newt leaned in to take a look, and Thomas crept over to join him.

He crouched below Newt against the lowest of the wooden boards, pressing his eye against a crack—it was terrifying being so close to the wall. But all he saw was the open Glade; he didn’t have enough space to look up or down or to the side, just straight ahead. After a minute or so, he gave up and turned to sit with his back against the wall. Newt walked over and sat back down on the bed.

A few minutes passed, various Griever sounds penetrating the walls every ten to twenty seconds. The squeal of small engines followed by a grinding spin of metal. The clicking of spikes against the hard stone. Things snapping and opening and snapping. Thomas winced in fear every time he heard something.

Sounded like three or four of them were just outside. At least.

He heard the twisted animal-machines come closer, so close, waiting on the stone blocks below. All hums and metallic clatter.

Thomas’s mouth dried up—he’d seen them face to face, remembered it all too well; he had to remind himself to breathe. The others in the room were still; no one made a sound. Fear seemed to hover in the air like a blizzard of black snow.

One of the Grievers sounded like it was moving toward the house. Then the clicking of its spikes against the stone suddenly turned into a deeper, hollower sound. Thomas could picture it all: the creature’s metal spikes digging into the wooden sides of the Homestead, the massive creature rolling its body, climbing up toward their room, defying gravity with its strength. Thomas heard the Grievers’ spikes shred the wood siding in their path as they tore out and rotated around to take hold once again. The whole building shuddered.

The crunching and groaning and snapping of the wood became the only sounds in the world to Thomas, horrifying. They grew louder, closer—the other boys had shuffled across the room and as far away from the window as possible. Thomas finally followed suit, Newt right beside him; everyone huddled against the far wall, staring at the window.

Just when it grew unbearable—just as Thomas realized the Griever was right outside the window—everything fell silent. Thomas could almost hear his own heart beating.

Lights flickered out there, casting odd beams through the cracks between the wooden boards. Then a thin shadow interrupted the light, moving back and forth. Thomas knew that the Griever’s probes and weapons had come out, searching for a feast. He imagined beetle blades out there, helping the creatures find their way. A few seconds later the shadow stopped; the light settled to a standstill, casting three unmoving planes of brightness into the room.

The tension in the air was thick; Thomas couldn’t hear anyone breathing. He thought much the same must be going on in the other rooms of the Homestead. Then he remembered Teresa in the Slammer.

He was just wishing she’d say something to him when the door from the hallway suddenly whipped open. Gasps and shouts exploded throughout the room. The Gladers had been expecting something from the window, not from behind them. Thomas turned to see who’d opened the door, expecting a frightened Chuck or maybe a reconsidering Alby. But when he saw who stood there, his skull seemed to contract, squeezing his brain in shock.