Thomas ended up in the large living room on the bottom floor of the Homestead with the same people he’d slept with two nights before. Silence settled over the room quickly, though he didn’t know if it was because people were actually asleep or just scared, quietly hoping against hope the Grievers didn’t come again. Unlike two nights ago, Teresa was allowed to stay in the building with the rest of the Gladers. She was near him, curled up in two blankets. Somehow, he could sense that she was sleeping. Actually sleeping.
Thomas certainly couldn’t sleep, even though he knew his body needed it desperately. He tried—he tried so hard to keep his eyes closed, force himself to relax. But he had no luck. The night dragged on, the heavy sense of anticipation like a weight on his chest.
Then, just as they’d all expected, came the mechanical, haunted sounds of the Grievers outside. The time had come.
Everyone crowded together against the wall farthest from the windows, doing their best to keep quiet. Thomas huddled in a corner next to Teresa, hugging his knees, staring at the window. The reality of the dreadful decision he’d made earlier squeezed his heart like a crushing fist. But he knew that everything might depend on it.
The tension in the room rose at a steady pace. The Gladers were quiet, not a soul moved. A distant scraping of metal against wood echoed through the house; it sounded to Thomas like a Griever was climbing on the back side of the Homestead, opposite where they were. More noises joined in a few seconds later, coming from all directions, the closest right outside their own window. The air in the room seemed to freeze into solid ice, and Thomas pressed his fists against his eyes, the anticipation of the attack killing him.
A booming explosion of ripping wood and broken glass thundered from somewhere upstairs, shaking the whole house. Thomas went numb as several screams erupted, followed by the pounding of fleeing footsteps. Loud creaks and groans announced a whole horde of Gladers running to the first floor.
“It’s got Dave!” someone yelled, the voice high-pitched with terror.
No one in Thomas’s room moved a muscle; he knew each of them was probably feeling guilty about their relief—that at least it wasn’t them. That maybe they were safe for one more night. Two nights in a row only one boy had been taken, and people had started to believe that what Gally had said was true.
Thomas jumped as a terrible crash sounded right outside their door, accompanied by screams and the splintering of wood, like some iron-jawed monster was eating the entire stairwell. A second later came another explosion of ripping wood: the front door. The Griever had come right through the house and was now leaving.
An explosion of fear ripped through Thomas. It was now or never.
He jumped up and ran to the door of the room, yanking it open. He heard Newt yell, but he ignored him and ran down the hall, sidestepping and jumping over hundreds of splintered pieces of wood. He could see that where the front door had been there now stood a jagged hole leading out into the gray night. He headed straight for it and ran out into the Glade.
Tom! Teresa screamed inside his head. What are you doing!
He ignored her. He just kept running.
The Griever holding Dave—a kid Thomas had never spoken to—was rolling along on its spikes toward the West Door, churning and whirring. The other Grievers had already gathered in the courtyard and followed their companion toward the Maze. Without hesitating, knowing the others would think he was trying to commit suicide, Thomas sprinted in their direction until he found himself in the middle of the pack of creatures. Having been taken by surprise, the Grievers hesitated.
Thomas jumped on the one holding Dave, tried to jerk the kid free, hoping the creature would retaliate. Teresa’s scream inside his mind was so loud it felt as if a dagger had been driven through his skull.
Three of the Grievers swarmed on him at once, their long pincers and claspers and needles flying in from all directions. Thomas flailed his arms and legs, knocking away the horrible metallic arms as he kicked at the pulsating blubber of the Grievers’ bodies—he only wanted to be stung, not taken like Dave. Their relentless attack intensified, and Thomas felt pain erupt over every inch of his body—needle pricks that told him he’d succeeded. Screaming, he kicked and pushed and thrashed, throwing his body into a roll, trying to get away from them. Struggling, bursting with adrenaline, he finally found an open spot to get his feet under him and ran with all his power.
As soon as he escaped the immediate reach of the Grievers’ instruments, they gave up and retreated, disappearing into the Maze. Thomas collapsed to the ground, groaning from the pain.
Newt was on him in a second, followed immediately by Chuck, Teresa, several others. Newt grabbed him by the shoulders and lifted him up, gripping him under both arms. “Get his legs!” he yelled.
Thomas felt the world swimming around him, felt delirious, nauseated. Someone, he couldn’t tell who, obeyed Newt’s order; he was being carried across the courtyard, through the front door of the Homestead, down the shattered hall, into a room, placed on a couch. The world continued to twist and pitch.
“What were you doing!” Newt yelled in his face. “How could you be so bloody stupid!”
Thomas had to speak before he faded into blackness. “No … Newt … you don’t understand….”
“Shut up!” Newt shouted. “Don’t waste your energy!”
Thomas felt someone examining his arms and legs, ripping his clothes away from his body, checking for damage. He heard Chuck’s voice, couldn’t help feeling relief that his friend was okay. A Med-jack said something about him being stung dozens of times.
Teresa was by his feet, squeezing his right ankle with her hand. Why, Tom? Why would you do that?
Because… He didn’t have the strength to concentrate.
Newt yelled for the Grief Serum; a minute later Thomas felt a pinprick on his arm. Warmth spread from that point throughout his body, calming him, lessening the pain. But the world still seemed to be collapsing in on itself, and he knew it would all be gone from him in just a few seconds.
The room spun, colors morphing into each other, churning faster and faster. It took all of his effort, but he said one last thing before the darkness took him for good.
“Don’t worry,” he whispered, hoping they could hear him. “I did it on purpose….”
Thomas had no concept of time as he went through the Changing.
It started much like his first memory of the Box—dark and cold. But this time he had no sensation of anything touching his feet or body. He floated in emptiness, stared into a void of black. He saw nothing, heard nothing, smelled nothing. It was as if someone had stolen his five senses, leaving him in a vacuum.
Time stretched on. And on. Fear turned into curiosity, which turned into boredom.
Finally, after an interminable wait, things began to change.
A distant wind picked up, unfelt but heard. Then a swirling mist of whiteness appeared far in the distance—a spinning tornado of smoke that formed into a long funnel, stretching out until he could see neither the top nor the bottom of the white whirlwind. He felt the gales then, sucking into the cyclone so that it blew past him from behind, ripping at his clothes and hair like they were shredded flags caught in a storm.
The tower of thick mist began to move toward him—or he was moving toward it, he couldn’t tell—increasing its speed at an alarming rate. Where seconds before he’d been able to see the distinct form of the funnel, he now could see only a flat expanse of white.
And then it consumed him; he felt his mind taken by the mist, felt memories flood into his thoughts.
Everything else turned into pain.
The voice was distant, warbled, like an echo in a long tunnel.
“Thomas, can you hear me?”
He didn’t want to answer. His mind had shut down when it could no longer take the pain; he feared it would all return if he allowed himself back into consciousness. He sensed light on the other side of his eyelids, but knew it would be unbearable to open them. He did nothing.
“Thomas, it’s Chuck. Are you okay? Please don’t die, dude.”
Everything came crashing back into his mind. The Glade, the Grievers, the stinging needle, the Changing. Memories. The Maze couldn’t be solved. Their only way out was something they’d never expected. Something terrifying. He was crushed with despair.
Groaning, he forced his eyes open, squinting at first. Chuck’s pudgy face was there, staring with frightened eyes. But then they lit up and a smile spread across his face. Despite it all, despite the terrible crappiness of it all, Chuck smiled.
“He’s awake!” the boy yelled to no one in particular. “Thomas is awake!”
The booming sound of his voice made Thomas wince; he shut his eyes again. “Chuck, do you have to scream? I don’t feel so good.”
“Sorry—I’m just glad you’re alive. You’re lucky I don’t give you a big kiss.”
“Please don’t do that, Chuck.” Thomas opened his eyes again and forced himself to sit up in the bed in which he lay, pushing his back against the wall and stretching out his legs. Soreness ate at his joints and muscles. “How long did it take?” he asked.
“Three days,” Chuck answered. “We put you in the Slammer at night to keep you safe—brought you back here during the days. Thought you were dead for sure about thirty times since you started. But check you out—you look brand-new!”
Thomas could only imagine how non-great he looked. “Did the Grievers come?”
Chuck’s jubilation visibly crashed to the ground as his eyes sank down toward the floor. “Yeah—they got Zart and a couple others. One a night. Minho and the Runners have scoured the Maze, trying to find an exit or some use for that stupid code you guys came up with. But nothing. Why do you think the Grievers are only taking one shank at a time?”
Thomas’s stomach turned sour—he knew the exact answer to that question, and some others now. Enough to know that sometimes knowing sucked.
“Get Newt and Alby,” he finally said in answer. “Tell them we need to have a Gathering. Soon as possible.”
Thomas let out a sigh. “Chuck, I just went through the Changing. Do you think I’m serious?”
Without a word, Chuck jumped up and ran out of the room, his calls for Newt fading the farther he went.
Thomas closed his eyes and rested his head against the wall. Then he called out to her with his mind.
She didn’t answer at first, but then her voice popped into his thoughts as clearly as if she were sitting next to him. That was really stupid, Tom. Really, really stupid.
Had to do it, he answered.
I pretty much hated you the last couple days. You should’ve seen yourself. Your skin, your veins…
You hated me? He was thrilled she’d cared so much about him.
She paused. That’s just my way of saying I would’ve killed you if you’d died.
Thomas felt a burst of warmth in his chest, reached up and actually touched it, surprised at himself. Well … thanks. I guess.