Despite his own curiosity, Thomas didn’t bother trying to force his way through to get a look—the bodies were too tightly squeezed together. But he had caught a glimpse of her before being blocked off. She was thin, but not too small. Maybe five and a half feet tall, from what he could tell. She looked like she could be fifteen or sixteen years old, and her hair was tar black. But the thing that had really stood out to him was her skin: pale, white as pearls.
Newt and Alby scrambled out of the Box after her, then forced their way through to the girl’s lifeless body, the crowd re-forming behind to cut them off from Thomas’s view. Only a few seconds later, the group parted again, and Newt was pointing straight at Thomas.
“Greenie, get over here,” he said, not bothering to be polite about it.
Thomas’s heart jumped into his throat; his hands started to sweat. What did they want him for? Things just kept getting worse and worse. He forced himself to walk forward, trying to seem innocent without acting like someone who was guilty who was trying to act innocent. Oh, calm it, he told himself. You haven’t done anything wrong. But he had a strange feeling that maybe he had without realizing it.
The boys lining the path to Newt and the girl glared at him as he walked past, as if he were responsible for the entire mess of the Maze and the Glade and the Grievers. Thomas refused to make eye contact with any of them, afraid of looking guilty.
He approached Newt and Alby, who both knelt beside the girl. Thomas, not wanting to meet their stares, concentrated on the girl; despite her paleness, she was really pretty. More than pretty. Beautiful. Silky hair, flawless skin, perfect lips, long legs. It made him sick to think that way about a dead girl, but he couldn’t look away. Won’t be that way for long, he thought with a queasy twist in his stomach. She’ll start rotting soon. He was surprised at having such a morbid thought.
“You know this girl, shank?” Alby asked, sounding ticked off.
Thomas was shocked by the question. “Know her? Of course I don’t know her. I don’t know anyone. Except for you guys.”
“That’s not …,” Alby began, then stopped with a frustrated sigh. “I meant does she look familiar at all? Any kind of feelin’ you’ve seen her before?”
“No. Nothing.” Thomas shifted, looked down at his feet, then back at the girl.
Alby’s forehead creased. “You’re sure?” He looked like he didn’t believe a word Thomas said, seemed almost angry.
What could he possibly think I have to do with this? Thomas thought. He met Alby’s glare evenly and answered the only way he knew how. “Yes. Why?”
“Shuck it,” Alby muttered, looking back down at the girl. “Can’t be a coincidence. Two days, two Greenies, one alive, one dead.”
Then Alby’s words started to make sense and panic flared in Thomas. “You don’t think I …” He couldn’t even finish the sentence.
“Slim it, Greenie,” Newt said. “We’re not sayin’ you bloody killed the girl.”
Thomas’s mind was spinning. He was sure he’d never seen her before—but then the slightest hint of doubt crept into his mind. “I swear she doesn’t look familiar at all,” he said anyway. He’d had enough accusations.
Before Newt could finish, the girl shot up into a sitting position. As she sucked in a huge breath, her eyes snapped open and she blinked, looking around at the crowd surrounding her. Alby cried out and fell backward. Newt gasped and jumped up, stumbling away from her. Thomas didn’t move, his gaze locked on the girl, frozen in fear.
Burning blue eyes darted back and forth as she took deep breaths. Her pink lips trembled as she mumbled something over and over, indecipherable. Then she spoke one sentence—her voice hollow and haunted, but clear.
“Everything is going to change.”
Thomas stared in wonder as her eyes rolled up into her head and she fell back to the ground. Her right fist shot into the air as she landed, staying rigid after she grew still, pointing toward the sky. Clutched in her hand was a wadded piece of paper.
Thomas tried to swallow but his mouth was too dry. Newt ran forward and pulled her fingers apart, grabbing the paper. With shaking hands he unfolded it, then dropped to his knees, spreading out the note on the ground. Thomas moved up behind him to get a look.
Scrawled across the paper in thick black letters were five words:
She’s the last one.
An odd moment of complete silence hung over the Glade. It was as if a supernatural wind had swept through the place and sucked out all sound. Newt had read the message aloud for those who couldn’t see the paper, but instead of erupting in confusion, the Gladers all stood dumbfounded.
Thomas would’ve expected shouts and questions, arguments. But no one said a word; all eyes were glued to the girl, now lying there as if asleep, her chest rising and falling with shallow breaths. Contrary to their original conclusion, she was very much alive.
Newt stood, and Thomas hoped for an explanation, a voice of reason, a calming presence. But all he did was crumple the note in his fist, veins popping from his skin as he squeezed it, and Thomas’s heart sank. He wasn’t sure why, but the situation made him very uneasy.
Alby cupped his hands around his mouth. “Med-jacks!”
Thomas wondered what that word meant—he knew he’d heard it before—but then he was abruptly knocked aside. Two older boys were pushing their way through the crowd—one was tall with a buzz cut, his nose the size of a fat lemon. The other was short and actually had gray hair already conquering the black on the sides of his head. Thomas could only hope they’d make some sense of everything.
“So what do we do with her?” the taller one asked, his voice much higher pitched than Thomas expected.
“How should I know?” Alby said. “You two shanks are the Med-jacks—figure it out.”
Med-jacks, Thomas repeated in his head, a light going off. They must be the closest thing they have to doctors. The short one was already on the ground, kneeling beside the girl, feeling for her pulse and leaning over to listen to her heartbeat.
“Who said Clint had first shot at her?” someone yelled from the crowd. There were several barks of laughter. “I’m next!”
How can they joke around? Thomas thought. The girl’s half dead. He felt sick inside.
Alby’s eyes narrowed; his mouth pulled into a tight grin that didn’t look like it had anything to do with humor. “If anybody touches this girl,” Alby said, “you’re gonna spend the night sleepin’ with the Grievers in the Maze. Banished, no questions.” He paused, turning in a slow circle as if he wanted every person to see his face. “Ain’t nobody better touch her! Nobody!”
It was the first time Thomas had actually liked hearing something come out of Alby’s mouth.
The short guy who’d been referred to as a Med-jack—Clint, if the spectator had been correct—stood up from his examination. “She seems fine. Breathing okay, normal heartbeat. Though it’s a bit slow. Your guess is as good as mine, but I’d say she’s in a coma. Jeff, let’s take her to the Homestead.”
His partner, Jeff, stepped over to grab her by the arms while Clint took hold of her feet. Thomas wished he could do more than watch—with every passing second, he doubted more and more that what he’d said earlier was true. She did seem familiar; he felt a connection to her, though it was impossible to grasp in his mind. The idea made him nervous, and he looked around, as if someone might’ve heard his thoughts.
“On the count of three,” Jeff, the taller Med-jack, was saying, his tall frame looking ridiculous bent in half, like a praying mantis. “One … two … three!”
They lifted her with a quick jerk, almost throwing her up in the air—she was obviously a lot lighter than they’d thought—and Thomas almost shouted at them to be more careful.
“Guess we’ll have to see what she does,” Jeff said to no one in particular. “We can feed her soupy stuff if she doesn’t wake up soon.”
“Just watch her closely,” Newt said. “Must be something special about her or they wouldn’t have sent her here.”
Thomas’s gut clenched. He knew that he and the girl were connected somehow. They’d come a day apart, she seemed familiar, he had a consuming urge to become a Runner despite learning so many terrible things…. What did it all mean?
Alby leaned over to look in her face once more before they carried her off. “Put her next to Ben’s room, and keep a watch on her day and night. Nothin’ better happen without me knowing about it. I don’t care if she talks in her sleep or takes a klunk—you come tell me.”
“Yeah,” Jeff muttered; then he and Clint shuffled off to the Homestead, the girl’s body bouncing as they went, and the other Gladers finally started to talk about it, scattering as theories bubbled through the air.
Thomas watched all this in mute contemplation. This strange connection he felt wasn’t his alone. The not-so-veiled accusations thrown at him only a few minutes before proved that the others suspected something, too, but what? He was already completely confused—being blamed for things only made him feel worse. As if reading his thoughts, Alby walked over and grabbed him by the shoulder.
“You ain’t never seen her before?” he asked.
Thomas hesitated before he answered. “Not … no, not that I remember.” He hoped his shaky voice didn’t betray his doubts. What if he did know her somehow? What would that mean?
“You’re sure?” Newt prodded, standing right behind Alby.
“I … no, I don’t think so. Why are you grilling me like this?” All Thomas wanted right then was for night to fall, so he could be alone, go to sleep.
Alby shook his head, then turned back to Newt, releasing his grip on Thomas’s shoulder. “Something’s whacked. Call a Gathering.”
He said it quietly enough that Thomas didn’t think anyone else heard, but it sounded ominous. Then the leader and Newt walked off, and Thomas was relieved to see Chuck coming his way.
“Chuck, what’s a Gathering?”
He looked proud to know the answer. “It’s when the Keepers meet—they only call one when something weird or terrible happens.”
“Well, I guess today fits both of those categories pretty well.” Thomas’s stomach rumbled, interrupting his thoughts. “I didn’t finish my breakfast—can we get something somewhere? I’m starving.”
Chuck looked up at him, his eyebrows raised. “Seeing that chick wig out made you hungry? You must be more psycho than I thought.”
Thomas sighed. “Just get me some food.”
The kitchen was small but had everything one needed to make a hearty meal. A big oven, a microwave, a dishwasher, a couple of tables. It seemed old and run-down but clean. Seeing the appliances and the familiar layout made Thomas feel as if memories—real, solid memories—were right on the edge of his mind. But again, the essential parts were missing—names, faces, places, events. It was maddening.