Chapter no 14

The Maze Runner

Thomas watched as Alby unbuttoned the collar, then wrapped it around Ben’s neck; Ben finally looked up just as the loop of leather snapped closed with a loud pop. Tears glistened in his eyes; dribbles of snot oozed from his nostrils. The Gladers looked on, not a word from any of them.

“Please, Alby,” Ben pleaded, his shaky voice so pathetic that Thomas couldn’t believe it was the same guy who’d tried to bite his throat off the day before. “I swear I was just sick in the head from the Changing. I never would’ve killed him—just lost my mind for a second. Please, Alby, please.”

Every word from the kid was like a fist punching Thomas in the gut, making him feel more guilty and confused.

Alby didn’t respond to Ben; he pulled on the collar to make sure it was both firmly snapped and solidly attached to the long pole. He walked past Ben and along the pole, picking it up off the ground as he slid its length through his palm and fingers. When he reached the end, he gripped it tightly and turned to face the crowd. Eyes bloodshot, face wrinkled in anger, breathing heavily—to Thomas, he suddenly looked evil.

And it was an odd sight on the other side: Ben, trembling, crying, a roughly cut collar of old leather wrapped around his pale, scrawny neck, attached to a long pole that stretched from him to Alby, twenty feet away. The shaft of aluminum bowed in the middle, but only a little. Even from where Thomas was standing, it looked surprisingly strong.

Alby spoke in a loud, almost ceremonious voice, looking at no one and everyone at the same time. “Ben of the Builders, you’ve been sentenced to Banishment for the attempted murder of Thomas the Newbie. The Keepers have spoken, and their word ain’t changing. And you ain’t coming back. Ever.” A long pause. “Keepers, take your place

on the Banishment Pole.”

Thomas hated that his link to Ben was being made public—hated the responsibility he felt. Being the center of attention again could only bring more suspicion about him. His guilt transformed into anger and blame. More than anything, he just wanted Ben gone, wanted it all to be over.

One by one, boys were stepping out of the crowd and walking over to the long pole; they grabbed it with both hands, gripped it as if readying for a tug-of-war match. Newt was one of them, as was Minho, confirming Thomas’s guess that he was the Keeper of the Runners. Winston the Butcher also took up a position.

Once they were all in place—ten Keepers spaced evenly apart between Alby and Ben—the air grew still and silent. The only sounds were the muffled sobs of Ben, who kept wiping at his nose and eyes. He was looking left and right, though the collar around his neck prevented him from seeing the pole and Keepers behind him.

Thomas’s feelings changed again. Something was obviously wrong with Ben. Why did he deserve this fate? Couldn’t something be done for him? Would Thomas spend the rest of his days feeling responsible? Just end, he screamed in his head. Just be over!

“Please,” Ben said, his voice rising in desperation. “Pllllleeeeeeeeease!

Somebody, help me! You can’t do this to me!”

“Shut up!” Alby roared from behind.

But Ben ignored him, pleading for help as he started to pull on the leather looped around his neck. “Someone stop them! Help me! Please!” He glanced from boy to boy, begging with his eyes. Without fail, everyone looked away. Thomas quickly stepped behind a taller boy to avoid his own confrontation with Ben. I can’t look into those eyes again, he thought.

“If we let shanks like you get away with that stuff,” Alby said, “we never would’ve survived this long. Keepers, get ready.”

“No, no, no, no, no,” Ben was saying, half under his breath. “I swear I’ll do anything! I swear I’ll never do it again! Pllllleeeeeee—”

His shrill cry was cut off by the rumbling crack of the East Door beginning to close. Sparks flew from the stone as the massive right wall slid to the left, groaning thunderously as it made its journey to close off the Glade from the Maze for the night. The ground shook

beneath them, and Thomas didn’t know if he could watch what he knew was going to happen next.

“Keepers, now!” Alby shouted.

Ben’s head snapped back as he was jerked forward, the Keepers pushing the pole toward the Maze outside the Glade. A strangling cry erupted from Ben’s throat, louder than the sounds of the closing Door. He fell to his knees, only to be jerked back to his feet by the Keeper in front, a thick guy with black hair and a snarl on his face.

“Noooooooooo!” Ben screamed, spit flying from his mouth as he thrashed about, tearing at the collar with his hands. But the combined strength of the Keepers was way too much, forcing the condemned boy closer and closer to the edge of the Glade, just as the right wall was almost there. “Noooo!” he screamed again, and then again.

He tried to plant his feet at the threshold, but it only lasted for a split second; the pole sent him into the Maze with a lurch. Soon he was fully four feet outside the Glade, jerking his body from side to side as he tried to escape his collar. The walls of the Door were only seconds from sealing shut.

With one last violent effort, Ben was finally able to twist his neck in the circle of leather so that his whole body turned to face the Gladers. Thomas couldn’t believe he was still looking upon a human being— the madness in Ben’s eyes, the phlegm flying from his mouth, the pale skin stretched taut across his veins and bones. He looked as alien as anything Thomas could imagine.

“Hold!” Alby shouted.

Ben screamed then, without pause, a sound so piercing that Thomas covered his ears. It was a bestial, lunatic cry, surely ripping the boy’s vocal cords to shreds. At the last second, the front Keeper somehow loosened the larger pole from the piece attached to Ben and yanked it back into the Glade, leaving the boy to his Banishment. Ben’s final screams were cut off when the walls closed with a terrible boom.

Thomas squeezed his eyes shut and was surprised to feel tears trickling down his cheeks.

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