“What?” Thomas asked, thinking it kind of strange that Chuck was suddenly acting like an adult instead of the little kid desperate for a friend he’d been only moments earlier.
A loud boom exploded through the air, making Thomas jump. It was followed by a horrible crunching, grinding sound. He stumbled backward, fell to the ground. It felt as if the whole earth shook; he looked around, panicked. The walls were closing. The walls were really closing—trapping him inside the Glade. An onrushing sense of claustrophobia stifled him, compressed his lungs, as if water filled their cavities.
“Calm down, Greenie,” Chuck yelled over the noise. “It’s just the walls!”
Thomas barely heard him, too fascinated, too shaken by the closing of the Doors. He scrambled to his feet and took a few trembling steps back for a better view, finding it hard to believe what his eyes were seeing.
The enormous stone wall to the right of them seemed to defy every known law of physics as it slid along the ground, throwing sparks and dust as it moved, rock against rock. The crunching sound rattled his bones. Thomas realized that only that wall was moving, heading for its neighbor to the left, ready to seal shut with its protruding rods slipping into the drilled holes across from it. He looked around at the other openings. It felt like his head was spinning faster than his body, and his stomach flipped over with the dizziness. On all four sides of the Glade, only the right walls were moving, toward the left, closing the gap of the Doors.
Impossible, he thought. How can they do that? He fought the urge to run out there, slip past the moving slabs of rock before they shut, flee the Glade. Common sense won out—the maze held even more unknowns than his situation inside.
He tried to picture in his mind how the structure of it all worked. Massive stone walls, hundreds of feet high, moving like sliding glass doors—an image from his past life that flashed through his thoughts. He tried to grasp the memory, hold on to it, complete the picture with faces, names, a place, but it faded into obscurity. A pang of sadness pricked through his other swirling emotions.
He watched as the right wall reached the end of its journey, its connecting rods finding their mark and entering without a glitch. An echoing boom rumbled across the Glade as all four Doors sealed shut for the night. Thomas felt one final moment of trepidation, a quick slice of fear through his body, and then it vanished.
A surprising sense of calm eased his nerves; he let out a long sigh of relief. “Wow,” he said, feeling dumb at such a monumental understatement.
“Ain’t nothin’, as Alby would say,” Chuck murmured. “You kind of get used to it after a while.”
Thomas looked around one more time, the feel of the place completely different now that all the walls were solid with no way out. He tried to imagine the purpose of such a thing, and he didn’t know which guess was worse—that they were being sealed in or that they were being protected from something out there. The thought ended his brief moment of calm, stirring in his mind a million possibilities of what might live in the maze outside, all of them terrifying. Fear gripped him once again.
“Come on,” Chuck said, pulling at Thomas’s sleeve a second time. “Trust me, when nighttime strikes, you want to be in bed.”
Thomas knew he had no other choice. He did his best to suppress everything he was feeling and followed.
They ended up near the back of the Homestead—that was what Chuck called the leaning structure of wood and windows—in a dark shadow between the building and the stone wall behind it.
“Where are we going?” Thomas asked, still feeling the weight of seeing those walls close, thinking about the maze, the confusion, the fear. He told himself to stop or he’d drive himself crazy. Trying to grasp a sense of normalcy, he made a weak attempt at a joke. “If you’re looking for a goodnight kiss, forget it.”
Chuck didn’t miss a beat. “Just shut up and stay close.”
Thomas let out a big breath and shrugged before following the younger boy along the back of the building. They tiptoed until they came upon a small, dusty window, a soft beam of light shining through onto the stone and ivy. Thomas heard someone moving around inside.
“The bathroom,” Chuck whispered.
“So?” A thread of unease stitched along Thomas’s skin.
“I love doing this to people. Gives me great pleasure before bedtime.”
“Doing what?” Something told Thomas Chuck was up to no good. “Maybe I should—”
“Just shut your mouth and watch.” Chuck quietly stepped up onto a big wooden box that sat right under the window. He crouched so that his head was positioned just below where the person on the inside would be able to see him. Then he reached up with his hand and lightly tapped on the glass.
“This is stupid,” Thomas whispered. There couldn’t possibly be a worse time to play a joke—Newt or Alby could be in there. “I don’t wanna get in trouble—I just got here!”
Chuck suppressed a laugh by putting his hand over his mouth. Ignoring Thomas, he reached up and tapped the window again.
A shadow crossed the light; then the window slid open. Thomas jumped to hide, pressing himself against the back of the building as hard as he could. He just couldn’t believe he’d been suckered into playing a practical joke on somebody. The angle of vision from the window protected him for the moment, but he knew he and Chuck would be seen if whoever was in there pushed his head outside to get a better look.
“Who’s that!” yelled the boy from the bathroom, his voice scratchy and laced with anger. Thomas had to hold in a gasp when he realized it was Gally—he knew that voice already.
Without warning, Chuck suddenly popped his head up toward the window and screamed at the top of his lungs. A loud crash from inside revealed that the trick had worked—and the litany of swearwords following it let them know Gally was none too happy about it. Thomas was struck with an odd mix of horror and embarrassment.
“I’m gonna kill you, shuck-face!” Gally yelled, but Chuck was already off the box and running toward the open Glade. Thomas froze as he heard Gally open the door inside and run out of the bathroom.
Thomas finally snapped out of his daze and took off after his new—and only—friend. He’d just rounded the corner when Gally came screaming out of the Homestead, looking like a ferocious beast on the loose.
He immediately pointed at Thomas. “Come here!” he yelled.
Thomas’s heart sank in surrender. Everything seemed to indicate that he’d be getting a fist in the face. “It wasn’t me, I swear,” he said, though as he stood there, he sized the boy up and realized he shouldn’t be so terrified after all. Gally wasn’t that big—Thomas could actually take him if he had to.
“Wasn’t you?” Gally snarled. He ambled up to Thomas slowly and stopped right in front of him. “Then how do you know there was something you didn’t do?”
Thomas didn’t say anything. He was definitely uncomfortable but not nearly as scared as a few moments earlier.
“I’m not a dong, Greenie,” Gally spat. “I saw Chuck’s fat face in the window.” He pointed again, this time right at Thomas’s chest. “But you better decide right quick who you want as your friends and enemies, hear me? One more trick like that—I don’t care if it’s your sissy idea or not—there’ll be blood spilled. You got that, Newbie?” But before Thomas could answer Gally’d already turned to walk away.
Thomas just wanted this episode over. “Sorry,” he muttered, wincing at how stupid it sounded.
“I know you,” Gally added without looking back. “I saw you in the Changing, and I’m gonna figure out who you are.”
Thomas watched as the bully disappeared back into the Homestead. He couldn’t remember much, but something told him he’d never disliked someone so strongly. He was surprised by how much he truly hated the guy. He really, really hated him. He turned to see Chuck standing there, staring at the ground, clearly embarassed. “Thanks a lot, buddy.”
“Sorry—if I’d known it was Gally, I never would’ve done it, I swear.”
Surprising himself, Thomas laughed. An hour ago, he’d thought he’d never hear such a sound come out of his mouth again.
Chuck looked closely at Thomas and slowly broke into an uneasy grin. “What?”
Thomas shook his head. “Don’t be sorry. The … shank deserved it, and I don’t even know what a shank is. That was awesome.” He felt much better.
A couple of hours later, Thomas was lying in a soft sleeping bag next to Chuck on a bed of grass near the gardens. It was a wide lawn that he hadn’t noticed before, and quite a few of the group chose it as their bedtime spot. Thomas thought that was strange, but apparently there wasn’t enough room inside the Homestead. At least it was warm. Which made him wonder for the millionth time where they were. His mind had a hard time grasping names of places, or remembering countries or rulers, how the world was organized. And none of the kids in the Glade had a clue, either—at least, they weren’t sharing if they did.
He lay in silence for the longest time, looking at the stars and listening to the soft murmurs of various conversations drifting across the Glade. Sleep felt miles away, and he couldn’t shake the despair and hopelessness that coursed through his body and mind—the temporary joy of Chuck’s trick on Gally had long since faded away. It’d been one endless—and strange—day.
It was just so … weird. He remembered lots of little things about life—eating, clothes, studying, playing, general images of the makeup of the world. But any detail that would fill in the picture to create a true and complete memory had been erased somehow. It was like looking at an image through a foot of muddy water. More than anything else, perhaps, he felt … sad.
Chuck interrupted his thoughts. “Well, Greenie, you survived First Day.”
“Barely.” Not now, Chuck, he wanted to say. I’m not in the mood.
Chuck pulled himself up to lean on an elbow, looking at Thomas. “You’ll learn a lot in the next couple of days, start getting used to things. Good that?”
“Um, yeah, good that, I guess. Where’d all these weird words and phrases come from, anyway?” It seemed like they’d taken some other language and melded it with his own.
Chuck flopped back down with a heavy flump. “I don’t know—I’ve only been here a month, remember?”
Thomas wondered about Chuck, whether he knew more than he let on. He was a quirky kid, funny, and he seemed innocent, but who was to say? Really he was just as mysterious as everything else in the Glade.
A few minutes passed, and Thomas felt the long day finally catch up to him, the leaded edge of sleep crossing over his mind. But—like a fist had shoved it in his brain and let go—a thought popped into his head. One that he didn’t expect, and he wasn’t sure from where it came.
Suddenly, the Glade, the walls, the Maze—it all seemed … familiar. Comfortable. A warmth of calmness spread through his chest, and for the first time since he’d found himself there, he didn’t feel like the Glade was the worst place in the universe. He stilled, felt his eyes widen, his breathing stop for a long moment. What just happened? he thought. What changed? Ironically, the feeling that things would be okay made him slightly uneasy.