Not quite understanding how, he knew what he needed to do. He didn’t get it. The feeling—the epiphany—was a strange one, foreign and familiar at the same time. But it felt … right.
“I want to be one of those guys that goes out there,” he said aloud, not knowing if Chuck was still awake. “Inside the Maze.”
“Huh?” was the response from Chuck. Thomas could hear a tinge of annoyance in his voice.
“Runners,” Thomas said, wishing he knew where this was coming from. “Whatever they’re doing out there, I want in.”
“You don’t even know what you’re talking about,” Chuck grumbled, and rolled over. “Go to sleep.”
Thomas felt a new surge of confidence, even though he truly didn’t know what he was talking about. “I want to be a Runner.”
Chuck turned back and got up on his elbow. “You can forget that little thought right now.”
Thomas wondered at Chuck’s reaction, but pressed on. “Don’t try to—”
“Thomas. Newbie. My new friend. Forget it.”
“I’ll tell Alby tomorrow.” A Runner, Thomas thought. I don’t even know what that means. Have I gone completely insane?
Chuck lay down with a laugh. “You’re a piece of klunk. Go to sleep.”
But Thomas couldn’t quit. “Something out there—it feels familiar.”
“Go … to … sleep.”
Then it hit Thomas—he felt like several pieces of a puzzle had been put together. He didn’t know what the ultimate picture would be, but his next words almost felt like they were coming from someone else. “Chuck, I … I think I’ve been here before.”
He heard his friend sit up, heard the intake of breath. But Thomas rolled over and refused to say another word, worried he’d mess up this new sense of being encouraged, eradicate the reassuring calm that filled his heart.
Sleep came much more easily than he’d expected.
Someone shook Thomas awake. His eyes snapped open to see a too-close face staring down at him, everything around them still shadowed by the darkness of early morning. He opened his mouth to speak but a cold hand clamped down on it, gripping it shut. Panic flared until he saw who it was.
“Shh, Greenie. Don’t wanna be wakin’ Chuckie, now, do we?”
It was Newt—the guy who seemed to be second in command; the air reeked of his morning breath.
Though Thomas was surprised, any alarm melted away immediately. He couldn’t help being curious, wondering what this boy wanted with him. Thomas nodded, doing his best to say yes with his eyes, until Newt finally took his hand away, then leaned back on his heels.
“Come on, Greenie,” the tall boy whispered as he stood. He reached down and helped Thomas to his feet—he was so strong it felt like he could rip Thomas’s arm off. “Supposed to show ya somethin’ before the wake-up.”
Any lingering haze of sleep had already vanished from Thomas’s mind. “Okay,” he said simply, ready to follow. He knew he should hold some suspicion, having no reason to trust anyone yet, but the curiosity won out. He quickly leaned over and slipped on his shoes. “Where are we going?”
“Just follow me. And stay close.”
They snuck their way through the tightly strewn pack of sleeping bodies, Thomas almost tripping several times. He stepped on someone’s hand, earning a sharp cry of pain in return, then a punch on the calf.
“Sorry,” he whispered, ignoring a dirty look from Newt.
Once they left the lawn area and stepped onto the hard gray stone of the courtyard floor, Newt broke into a run, heading for the western wall. Thomas hesitated at first, wondering why he needed to run, but snapped out of it quickly and followed at the same pace.
The light was dim, but any obstructions loomed as darker shadows and he was able to make his way quickly along. He stopped when Newt did, right next to the massive wall towering above them like a skyscraper—another random image that floated in the murky pool of his memory wipe. Thomas noticed small red lights flashing here and there along the wall’s face, moving about, stopping, turning off and on.
“What are those?” he whispered as loudly as he dared, wondering if his voice sounded as shaky as he felt. The twinkling red glow of the lights held an undercurrent of warning.
Newt stood just a couple of feet in front of the thick curtain of ivy on the wall. “When you bloody need to know, you’ll know, Greenie.”
“Well, it’s kind of stupid to send me to a place where nothing makes sense and not answer my questions.” Thomas paused, surprised at himself. “Shank,” he added, throwing all the sarcasm he could into the syllable.
Newt broke out in a laugh, but quickly cut it off. “I like you, Greenie. Now shut it and let me show ya somethin’.”
Newt stepped forward and dug his hands into the thick ivy, spreading several vines away from the wall to reveal a dust-frosted window, a square about two feet wide. It was dark at the moment, as if it had been painted black.
“What’re we looking for?” Thomas whispered.
“Hold your undies, boy. One’ll be comin’ along soon enough.”
A minute passed, then two. Several more. Thomas fidgeted on his feet, wondering how Newt could stand there, perfectly patient and still, staring into nothing but darkness.
Then it changed.
Glimmers of an eerie light shone through the window; it cast a wavering spectrum of colors on Newt’s body and face, as if he stood next to a lighted swimming pool. Thomas grew perfectly still, squinting, trying to make out what was on the other side. A thick lump grew in his throat. What is that? he thought.
“Out there’s the Maze,” Newt whispered, eyes wide as if in a trance. “Everything we do—our whole life, Greenie—revolves around the Maze. Every lovin’ second of every lovin’ day we spend in honor of the Maze, tryin’ to solve somethin’ that’s not shown us it has a bloody solution, ya know? And we want to show ya why it’s not to be messed with. Show ya why them buggin’ walls close shut every night. Show ya why you should never, never find your butt out there.”
Newt stepped back, still holding on to the ivy vines. He gestured for Thomas to take his place and look through the window.
Thomas did, leaning forward until his nose touched the cool surface of the glass. It took a second for his eyes to focus on the moving object on the other side, to look past the grime and dust and see what Newt wanted him to see. And when he did, he felt his breath catch in his throat, like an icy wind had blown down there and frozen the air solid.
A large, bulbous creature the size of a cow but with no distinct shape twisted and seethed along the ground in the corridor outside. It climbed the opposite wall, then leaped at the thick-glassed window with a loud thump. Thomas shrieked before he could stop himself, jerked away from the window—but the thing bounced backward, leaving the glass undamaged.
Thomas sucked in two huge breaths and leaned in once again. It was too dark to make out clearly, but odd lights flashed from an unknown source, revealing blurs of silver spikes and glistening flesh. Wicked instrument-tipped appendages protruded from its body like arms: a saw blade, a set of shears, long rods whose purpose could only be guessed.
The creature was a horrific mix of animal and machine, and seemed to realize it was being observed, seemed to know what lay inside the walls of the Glade, seemed to want to get inside and feast on human flesh. Thomas felt an icy terror blossom in his chest, expand like a tumor, making it hard to breathe. Even with the memory wipe, he felt sure he’d never seen something so truly awful.
He stepped back, the courage he’d felt the previous evening melting away.
“What is that thing?” he asked. Something shivered in his gut, and he wondered if he’d ever be able to eat again.
“Grievers, we call ’em,” Newt answered. “Nasty bugger, eh? Just be glad the Grievers only come out at night. Be thankful for these walls.”
Thomas swallowed, wondering how he could ever go out there. His desire to become a Runner had taken a major blow. But he had to do it. Somehow he knew he had to do it. It was such an odd thing to feel, especially after what he’d just seen.
Newt looked at the window absently. “Now you know what bloody lurks in the Maze, my friend. Now you know this isn’t joke time. You’ve been sent to the Glade, Greenie, and we’ll be expectin’ ya to survive and help us do what we’ve been sent here to do.”
“And what’s that?” Thomas asked, even though he was terrified to hear the answer.
Newt turned to look him dead in the eye. The first traces of dawn had crept up on them, and Thomas could see every detail of Newt’s face, his skin tight, his brow creased.
“Find our way out, Greenie,” Newt said. “Solve the buggin’ Maze and find our way home.”
A couple of hours later, the doors having reopened, rumbling and grumbling and shaking the ground until they were finished, Thomas sat at a worn, tilted picnic table outside the Homestead. All he could think about was the Grievers, what their purpose could be, what they did out there during the night. What it would be like to be attacked by something so terrible.
He tried to get the image out of his head, move on to something else. The Runners. They’d just left without saying a word to anybody, bolting into the Maze at full speed and disappearing around corners. He pictured them in his mind as he picked at his eggs and bacon with a fork, speaking to no one, not even Chuck, who ate silently next to him. The poor guy had exhausted himself trying to start a conversation with Thomas, who’d refused to respond. All he wanted was to be left alone.
He just didn’t get it; his brain was on overload trying to compute the sheer impossibility of the situation. How could a maze, with walls so massive and tall, be so big that dozens of kids hadn’t been able to solve it after who knew how long trying? How could such a structure exist? And more importantly, why? What could possibly be the purpose of such a thing? Why were they all there? How long had they been there?
Try as he might to avoid it, his mind still kept wandering back to the image of the vicious Griever. Its phantom brother seemed to leap at him every time he blinked or rubbed his eyes.
Thomas knew he was a smart kid—he somehow felt it in his bones. But nothing about this place made any sense. Except for one thing. He was supposed to be a Runner. Why did he feel that so strongly? And even now, after seeing what lived in the maze?
A tap on his shoulder jarred him from his thoughts; he looked up to see Alby standing behind him, arms folded.
“Ain’t you lookin’ fresh?” Alby said. “Get a nice view out the window this morning?”
Thomas stood, hoping the time for answers had come—or maybe hoping for a distraction from his gloomy thoughts. “Enough to make me want to learn about this place,” he said, hoping to avoid provoking the temper he’d seen flare in this guy the day before.
Alby nodded. “Me and you, shank. The Tour begins now.” He started to move but then stopped, holding up a finger. “Ain’t no questions till the end, you get me? Ain’t got time to jaw with you all day.”