Scared? Teresa asked him as they ran.
No, I love things made out of blubber and steel. Can’t wait to see them. He felt no mirth or humor and wondered if there’d ever be a time again when he would.
So funny, she responded.
She was right next to him, but his eyes stayed glued up ahead. We’ll be fine. Just stay close to me and Minho.
Ah, my Knight in Shining Armor. What, you don’t think I can fend for myself?
Actually, he thought quite the opposite—Teresa seemed as tough as anybody there. No, I’m just trying to be nice.
The group was spread out across the full width of the corridor, running at a steady but quick pace—Thomas wondered how long the non-Runners would hold up. As if in response to the thought, Newt fell back, finally tapping Minho on the shoulder. “You lead the way now,” Thomas heard him say.
Minho nodded and ran to the front, guiding the Gladers through all the turns necessary. Every step was agonizing for Thomas. What courage he’d gathered had turned to dread, and he wondered when the Grievers would finally give chase. Wondered when the fight would begin.
And so it went for him as they kept moving, those Gladers not used to running such distances gasping in huge gulps of air. But no one quit. On and on they ran, with no signs of Grievers. And as the time passed, Thomas let the slightest trickle of hope enter his system—maybe they’d make it before getting attacked. Maybe.
Finally, after the longest hour of Thomas’s life, they reached the long alley that led to the last turn before the Cliff—a short corridor to the right that branched off like the stem of the letter T.
Thomas, his heart thumping, sweat slicking his skin, had moved up right behind Minho, Teresa at his side. Minho slowed at the corner, then stopped, holding up a hand to tell Thomas and the others to do the same. Then he turned, a look of horror on his face.
“Do you hear that?” he whispered.
Thomas shook his head, trying to squash the terror Minho’s expression had given him.
Minho crept ahead and peeked around the sharp edge of stone, looking toward the Cliff. Thomas had seen him do that before, when they’d followed a Griever to this very spot. Just like that time, Minho jerked back and turned to face him.
“Oh, no,” the Keeper said through a moan. “Oh, no.”
Then Thomas heard it. Griever sounds. It was as if they’d been hiding, waiting, and now were coming to life. He didn’t even have to look—he knew what Minho was going to say before he said it.
“There’s at least a dozen of them. Maybe fifteen.” He reached up and rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. “They’re just waiting for us!”
The icy chill of fear bit Thomas harder than ever before. He looked over at Teresa, about to say something, but stopped when he saw the expression on her pale face—he’d never seen terror present itself so starkly.
Newt and Alby had moved up the line of waiting Gladers to join Thomas and the others. Apparently Minho’s pronouncement had already been whispered through the ranks, because the first thing Newt said was “Well, we knew we’d have to fight.” But the tremor in his voice gave him away—he was just trying to say the right thing.
Thomas felt it himself. It’d been easy to talk about—the nothing-to-lose fight, the hope that just one of them would be taken, the chance to finally escape. But now it was here, literally around the corner. Doubts that he could go through with it seeped into his mind and heart. He wondered why the Grievers were just waiting—the beetle blades had obviously let them know the Gladers were coming. Were the Creators enjoying this?
He had an idea. “Maybe they’ve already taken a kid back at the Glade. Maybe we can get past them—why else would they just be sitting—”
A loud noise from behind cut him off—he spun to see more Grievers moving down the corridor toward them, spikes flaring, metal arms groping, coming from the direction of the Glade. Thomas was just about to say something when he heard sounds from the other end of the long alley—he looked to see yet more Grievers.
The enemy was on all sides, blocking them off completely.
The Gladers surged toward Thomas, forming a tight group, forcing him to move out into the open intersection where the Cliff corridor met the long alley. He saw the pack of Grievers between them and the Cliff, spikes extended, their moist skin pulsing in and out. Waiting, watching. The other two groups of Grievers had closed in and stopped just a few dozen feet from the Gladers, also waiting, watching.
Thomas slowly turned in a circle, fought the fear as he took it all in. They were surrounded. They had no choice now—there was nowhere to go. A sharp pulsing pain throbbed behind his eyes.
The Gladers compressed into a tighter group around him, everyone facing outward, huddled together in the center of the T intersection. Thomas was pressed between Newt and Teresa—he could feel Newt trembling. No one said a word. The only sounds were the eerie moans and whirrs of machinery coming from the Grievers, sitting there as if enjoying the little trap they’d set for the humans. Their disgusting bodies heaved in and out with mechanical wheezes of breath.
What are they doing? Thomas called out to Teresa. What are they waiting for?
She didn’t answer, which worried him. He reached out and squeezed her hand. The Gladers around him stood silent, clutching their meager weapons.
Thomas looked over at Newt. “Got any ideas?”
“No,” he replied, his voice just the tiniest bit shaky. “I don’t understand what they’re bloody waitin’ for.”
“We shouldn’t have come,” Alby said. He’d been so quiet, his voice sounded odd, especially with the hollow echo the Maze walls created.
Thomas was in no mood for whining—they had to do something. “Well, we’d be no better off in the Homestead. Hate to say it, but if one of us dies, that’s better than all of us.” He really hoped the one-person-a-night thing was true now. Seeing all these Grievers close up hit home with an explosion of reality—could they really fight them all?
A long moment passed before Alby replied. “Maybe I should …” He trailed off and started walking forward—in the direction of the Cliff—slowly, as if in a trance. Thomas watched in detached awe—he couldn’t believe his eyes.
“Alby?” Newt said. “Get back here!”
Instead of responding, Alby took off running—he headed straight for the pack of Grievers between him and the Cliff.
“Alby!” Newt screamed.
Thomas started to say something himself, but Alby had already made it to the monsters and jumped on top of one. Newt moved away from Thomas’s side and toward Alby—but five or six Grievers had already burst to life and attacked the boy in a blur of metal and skin. Thomas reached out and grabbed Newt by the arms before he could go any farther, then pulled him backward.
“Let go!” Newt yelled, struggling to break loose.
“Are you nuts!” Thomas shouted. “There’s nothing you can do!”
Two more Grievers broke from the pack and swarmed over Alby, piling on top of each other, snapping and cutting at the boy, as if they wanted to rub it in, show their vicious cruelty. Somehow, impossibly, Alby didn’t scream. Thomas lost sight of the body as he struggled with Newt, thankful for the distraction. Newt finally gave up, collapsing backward in defeat.
Alby’d flipped once and for all, Thomas thought, fighting the urge to rid his stomach of its contents. Their leader had been so scared to go back to whatever he’d seen, he’d chosen to sacrifice himself instead. He was gone. Totally gone.
Thomas helped steady Newt on his feet; the Glader couldn’t stop staring at the spot where his friend had disappeared.
“I can’t believe it,” Newt whispered. “I can’t believe he just did that.”
Thomas shook his head, unable to reply. Seeing Alby go down like that … a new kind of pain he’d never felt before filled his insides—an ill, disturbed pain; it felt worse than the physical kind. And he didn’t even know if it had anything to do with Alby—he’d never much liked the guy. But the thought that what he’d just seen might happen to Chuck—or Teresa …
Minho moved closer to Thomas and Newt, squeezed Newt’s shoulder. “We can’t waste what he did.” He turned toward Thomas. “We’ll fight ’em if we have to, make a path to the Cliff for you and Teresa. Get in the Hole and do your thing—we’ll keep them off until you scream for us to follow.”
Thomas looked at each of the three sets of Grievers—not one had yet made a move toward the Gladers—and nodded. “Hopefully they’ll go dormant for a while. We should only need a minute or so to punch in the code.”
“How can you guys be so heartless?” Newt murmured, the disgust in his voice surprising Thomas.
“What do you want, Newt?” Minho said. “Should we all dress up and have a funeral?”
Newt didn’t respond, still staring at the spot where the Grievers seemed to be feeding on Alby beneath them. Thomas couldn’t help taking a peek—he saw a smear of bright red on one of the creatures’ bodies. His stomach turned and he quickly looked away.
Minho continued. “Alby didn’t wanna go back to his old life. He freaking sacrificed himself for us—and they aren’t attacking, so maybe it worked. We’d be heartless if we wasted it.”
Newt only shrugged, closed his eyes.
Minho turned and faced the huddled group of Gladers. “Listen up! Number one priority is to protect Thomas and Teresa. Get them to the Cliff and the Hole so—”
The sounds of the Grievers revving to life cut him off. Thomas looked up in horror. The creatures on both sides of their group seemed to have noticed them again. Spikes were popping in and out of blubbery skin; their bodies shuddered and pulsed. Then, in unison, the monsters moved forward, slowly, instrument-tipped appendages unfolding, pointed at Thomas and the Gladers, ready to kill. Tightening their trap formation like a noose, the Grievers steadily charged toward them.
Alby’s sacrifice had failed miserably.
Thomas grabbed Minho by the arm. “Somehow I have to get through that!” He nodded toward the rolling pack of Grievers between them and the Cliff—they looked like one big mass of rumbling, spiked blubber, glistening with flashes of lights off steel. They were even more menacing in the faded gray light.
Thomas waited for an answer as Minho and Newt exchanged a long glance. The anticipation of fighting was almost worse than the fear of it.
“They’re coming!” Teresa yelled. “We have to do something!”
“You lead,” Newt finally said to Minho, his voice barely more than a whisper. “Make a bloody path for Tommy and the girl. Do it.”
Minho nodded once, a steel look of resolve hardening his features. Then he turned toward the Gladers. “We head straight for the Cliff! Fight through the middle, push the shuckin’ things toward the walls. What matters most is getting Thomas and Teresa to the Griever Hole!”
Thomas looked away from him, back at the approaching monsters—they were only a few feet away. He gripped his poor excuse for a spear.