Thomas hated these people. He hated all of them. Except Chuck. “Get me away from these guys,” Thomas said. He realized that Chuck might actually be his only friend in the world.
“You got it,” Chuck replied, his voice chipper, as if thrilled to be needed. “But first we should get you some food from Frypan.”
“I don’t know if I can ever eat again.” Not after what he’d just seen.
Chuck nodded. “Yeah, you will. I’ll meet you at the same tree as before. Ten minutes.”
Thomas was more than happy to get away from the house, and headed back toward the tree. He’d only known what it was like to be alive here for a short while and he already wanted it to end. He wished for all the world he could remember something about his previous life. Anything. His mom, his dad, a friend, his school, a hobby. A girl.
He blinked hard several times, trying to get the image of what he’d just seen in the shack out of his mind.
The Changing. Gally had called it the Changing.
It wasn’t cold, but Thomas shuddered once again.
Thomas leaned against the tree as he waited for Chuck. He scanned the compound of the Glade, this new place of nightmares where he seemed destined to live. The shadows from the walls had lengthened considerably, already creeping up the sides of the ivy-covered stone faces on the other side.
At least this helped Thomas know directions—the wooden building crouched in the northwest corner, wedged in a darkening patch of shadow, the grove of trees in the southwest. The farm area, where a few workers were still picking their way through the fields, spread across the entire northeast quarter of the Glade. The animals were in the southeast corner, mooing and crowing and baying.
In the exact middle of the courtyard, the still-gaping hole of the Box lay open, as if inviting him to jump back in and go home. Near that, maybe twenty feet to the south, stood a squat building made of rough concrete blocks, a menacing iron door its only entrance—there were no windows. A large round handle resembling a steel steering wheel marked the only way to open the door, just like something within a submarine. Despite what he’d just seen, Thomas didn’t know which he felt more strongly—curiosity to know what was inside, or dread at finding out.
Thomas had just moved his attention to the four vast openings in the middle of the main walls of the Glade when Chuck arrived, a couple of sandwiches cradled in his arms, along with apples and two metal cups of water. The sense of relief that flooded through Thomas surprised him—he wasn’t completely alone in this place.
“Frypan wasn’t too happy about me invading his kitchen before suppertime,” Chuck said, sitting down next to the tree, motioning to Thomas to do the same. He did, grabbed the sandwich, but hesitated, the writhing, monstrous image of what he’d seen in the shack popping back into his mind. Soon, though, his hunger won out and he took a huge bite. The wonderful tastes of ham and cheese and mayonnaise filled his mouth.
“Ah, man,” Thomas mumbled through a mouthful. “I was starving.”
“Told ya.” Chuck chomped into his own sandwich.
After another couple of bites, Thomas finally asked the question that had been bothering him. “What’s actually wrong with that Ben guy? He doesn’t even look human anymore.”
Chuck glanced over at the house. “Don’t really know,” he muttered absently. “I didn’t see him.”
Thomas could tell the boy was being less than honest but decided not to press him. “Well, you don’t want to see him, trust me.” He continued to eat, munching on the apples as he studied the huge breaks in the walls. Though it was hard to make out from where he sat, there was something odd about the stone edges of the exits to the outside corridors. He felt an uncomfortable sense of vertigo looking at the towering walls, as if he hovered above them instead of sitting at their base.
“What’s out there?” he asked, finally breaking the silence. “Is this part of a huge castle or something?”
Chuck hesitated. Looked uncomfortable. “Um, I’ve never been outside the Glade.”
Thomas paused. “You’re hiding something,” he finally replied, finishing off his last bite and taking a long swig of water. The frustration at getting no answers from anyone was starting to grind his nerves. It only made it worse to think that even if he did get answers, he wouldn’t know if he’d be getting the truth. “Why are you guys so secretive?”
“That’s just the way it is. Things are really weird around here, and most of us don’t know everything. Half of everything.”
It bothered Thomas that Chuck didn’t seem to care about what he’d just said. That he seemed indifferent to having his life taken away from him. What was wrong with these people? Thomas got to his feet and started walking toward the eastern opening. “Well, no one said I couldn’t look around.” He needed to learn something or he was going to lose his mind.
“Whoa, wait!” Chuck cried, running to catch up. “Be careful, those puppies are about to close.” He already sounded out of breath.
“Close?” Thomas repeated. “What are you talking about?”
“The Doors, you shank.”
“Doors? I don’t see any doors.” Thomas knew Chuck wasn’t just making stuff up—he knew he was missing something obvious. He grew uneasy and realized he’d slowed his pace, not so eager to reach the walls anymore.
“What do you call those big openings?” Chuck pointed up at the enormously tall gaps in the walls. They were only thirty feet away now.
“I’d call them big openings,” Thomas said, trying to counter his discomfort with sarcasm and disappointed that it wasn’t working.
“Well, they’re doors. And they close up every night.”
Thomas stopped, thinking Chuck had to have said something wrong. He looked up, looked side to side, examined the massive slabs of stone as the uneasy feeling blossomed into outright dread. “What do you mean, they close?”
“Just see for yourself in a minute. The Runners’ll be back soon; then those big walls are going to move until the gaps are closed.”
“You’re jacked in the head,” Thomas muttered. He couldn’t see how the mammoth walls could possibly be mobile—felt so sure of it he relaxed, thinking Chuck was just playing a trick on him.
They reached the huge split that led outside to more stone pathways. Thomas gaped, his mind emptying of thought as he saw it all firsthand.
“This is called the East Door,” Chuck said, as if proudly revealing a piece of art he’d created.
Thomas barely heard him, shocked by how much bigger it was up close. At least twenty feet across, the break in the wall went all the way to the top, far above. The edges that bordered the vast opening were smooth, except for one odd, repeating pattern on both sides. On the left side of the East Door, deep holes several inches in diameter and spaced a foot apart were bored into the rock, beginning near the ground and continuing all the way up.
On the right side of the Door, foot-long rods jutted out from the wall edge, also several inches in diameter, in the same pattern as the holes facing them on the other side. The purpose was obvious.
“Are you kidding?” Thomas asked, the dread slamming back into his gut. “You weren’t playing with me? The walls really move?”
“What else would I have meant?”
Thomas had a hard time wrapping his mind around the possibility. “I don’t know. I figured there was a door that swung shut or a little mini-wall that slid out of the big one. How could these walls move? They’re huge, and they look like they’ve been standing here for a thousand years.” And the idea of those walls closing and trapping him inside this place they called the Glade was downright terrifying.
Chuck threw his arms up, clearly frustrated. “I don’t know, they just move. Makes one heck of a grinding noise. Same thing happens out in the Maze—those walls shift every night, too.”
Thomas, his attention suddenly snapped up by a new detail, turned to face the younger boy. “What did you just say?”
“You just called it a maze—you said, ‘same thing happens out in the maze.’”
Chuck’s face reddened. “I’m done with you. I’m done.” He walked back toward the tree they’d just left.
Thomas ignored him, more interested than ever in the outside of the Glade. A maze? In front of him, through the East Door, he could make out passages leading to the left, to the right, and straight ahead. And the walls of the corridors were similar to those that surrounded the Glade, the ground made of the same massive stone blocks as in the courtyard. The ivy seemed even thicker out there. In the distance, more breaks in the walls led to other paths, and farther down, maybe a hundred yards or so away, the straight passage came to a dead end.
“Looks like a maze,” Thomas whispered, almost laughing to himself. As if things couldn’t have gotten any stranger. They’d wiped his memory and put him inside a gigantic maze. It was all so crazy it really did seem funny.
His heart skipped a beat when a boy unexpectedly appeared around a corner up ahead, entering the main passage from one of the offshoots to the right, running toward him and the Glade. Covered in sweat, his face red, clothes sticking to his body, the boy didn’t slow, hardly glancing at Thomas as he went past. He headed straight for the squat concrete building located near the Box.
Thomas turned as he passed, his eyes riveted to the exhausted runner, unsure why this new development surprised him so much. Why wouldn’t people go out and search the maze? Then he realized others were entering through the remaining three Glade openings, all of them running and looking as ragged as the guy who’d just whisked by him. There couldn’t be much good about the maze if these guys came back looking so weary and worn.
He watched, curious, as they met at the big iron door of the small building; one of the boys turned the rusty wheel handle, grunting with the effort. Chuck had said something about runners earlier. What had they been doing out there?
The big door finally popped open, and with a deafening squeal of metal against metal, the boys swung it wide. They disappeared inside, pulling it shut behind them with a loud clonk. Thomas stared, his mind churning to come up with any possible explanation for what he’d just witnessed. Nothing developed, but something about that creepy old building gave him goose bumps, a disquieting chill.
Someone tugged on his sleeve, breaking him from his thoughts; Chuck had come back.
Before Thomas had a chance to think, questions were rushing out of his mouth. “Who are those guys and what were they doing? What’s in that building?” He wheeled around and pointed out the East Door. “And why do you live inside a freaking maze?” He felt a rattling pressure of uncertainty, making his head splinter with pain.
“I’m not saying another word,” Chuck replied, a new authority filling his voice. “I think you should get to bed early—you’ll need your sleep. Ah”—he stopped, held up a finger, pricking up his right ear—”it’s about to happen.”