Chapter no 7

The Maze Runner

They started at the Box, which was closed at the moment—double doors of metal lying flat on the ground, covered in white paint, faded and cracked. The day had brightened considerably, the shadows stretching in the opposite direction from what Thomas had seen yesterday. He still hadn’t spotted the sun, but it looked like it was about to pop over the eastern wall at any minute.

Alby pointed down at the doors. “This here’s the Box. Once a month, we get a Newbie like you, never fails. Once a week, we get supplies, clothes, some food. Ain’t needin’ a lot—pretty much run ourselves in the Glade.”

Thomas nodded, his whole body itching with the desire to ask questions. I need some tape to put over my mouth, he thought.

“We don’t know jack about the Box, you get me?” Alby continued. “Where it came from, how it gets here, who’s in charge. The shanks that sent us here ain’t told us nothin’. We got all the electricity we need, grow and raise most of our food, get clothes and such. Tried to send a slinthead Greenie back in the Box one time—thing wouldn’t move till we took him out.”

Thomas wondered what lay under the doors when the Box wasn’t there, but held his tongue. He felt such a mixture of emotions— curiosity, frustration, wonder—all laced with the lingering horror of seeing the Griever that morning.

Alby kept talking, never bothering to look Thomas in the eye. “Glade’s cut into four sections.” He held up his fingers as he counted off the next four words. “Gardens, Blood House, Homestead, Deadheads. You got that?”

Thomas hesitated, then shook his head, confused.

Alby’s eyelids fluttered briefly as he continued; he looked like he could think of a thousand things he’d rather be doing right then. He pointed to the northeast corner, where the fields and fruit trees were

located. “Gardens—where we grow the crops. Water’s pumped in through pipes in the ground—always has been, or we’d have starved to death a long time ago. Never rains here. Never.” He pointed to the southeast corner, at the animal pens and barn. “Blood House—where we raise and slaughter animals.” He pointed at the pitiful living quarters. “Homestead—stupid place is twice as big than when the first of us got here because we keep addin’ to it when they send us wood and klunk. Ain’t pretty, but it works. Most of us sleep outside anyway.”

Thomas felt dizzy. So many questions splintered his mind he couldn’t keep them straight.

Alby pointed to the southwest corner, the forest area fronted with several sickly trees and benches. “Call that the Deadheads. Graveyard’s back in that corner, in the thicker woods. Ain’t much else. You can go there to sit and rest, hang out, whatever.” He cleared his throat, as if wanting to change subjects. “You’ll spend the next two weeks working one day apiece for our different job Keepers—until we know what you’re best at. Slopper, Bricknick, Bagger, Track-hoe— somethin’ll stick, always does. Come on.”

Alby walked toward the South Door, located between what he’d called the Deadheads and the Blood House. Thomas followed, wrinkling his nose up at the sudden smell of dirt and manure coming from the animal pens. Graveyard? he thought. Why do they need a graveyard in a place full of teenagers? That disturbed him even more than not knowing some of the words Alby kept saying—words like Slopper and Bagger—that didn’t sound so good. He came as close to interrupting Alby as he’d done so far, but willed his mouth shut.

Frustrated, he turned his attention to the pens in the Blood House area.

Several cows nibbled and chewed at a trough full of greenish hay. Pigs lounged in a muddy pit, an occasionally flickering tail the only sign they were alive. Another pen held sheep, and there were chicken coops and turkey cages as well. Workers bustled about the area, looking as if they’d spent their whole lives on a farm.

Why do I remember these animals? Thomas wondered. Nothing about them seemed new or interesting—he knew what they were called, what they normally ate, what they looked like. Why was stuff like that still lodged in his memory, but not where he’d seen animals before, or

with whom? His memory loss was baffling in its complexity.

Alby pointed to the large barn in the back corner, its red paint long faded to a dull rust color. “Back there’s where the Slicers work. Nasty stuff, that. Nasty. If you like blood, you can be a Slicer.”

Thomas shook his head. Slicer didn’t sound good at all. As they kept walking, he focused his attention on the other side of the Glade, the section Alby had called the Deadheads. The trees grew thicker and denser the farther back in the corner they went, more alive and full of leaves. Dark shadows filled the depths of the wooded area, despite the time of day. Thomas looked up, squinting to see that the sun was finally visible, though it looked odd—more orange than it should be. It hit him that this was yet another example of the odd selective memory in his mind.

He returned his gaze to the Deadheads, a glowing disk still floating in his vision. Blinking to clear it away, he suddenly caught the red lights again, flickering and skittering about deep in the darkness of the woods. What are those things? he wondered, irritated that Alby hadn’t answered him earlier. The secrecy was very annoying.

Alby stopped walking, and Thomas was surprised to see they’d reached the South Door; the two walls bracketing the exit towered above them. The thick slabs of gray stone were cracked and covered in ivy, as ancient as anything Thomas could imagine. He craned his neck to see the top of the walls far above; his mind spun with the odd sensation that he was looking down, not up. He staggered back a step, awed once again by the structure of his new home, then finally returned his attention to Alby, who had his back to the exit.

“Out there’s the Maze.” Alby jabbed a thumb over his shoulder, then paused. Thomas stared in that direction, through the gap in the walls that served as an exit from the Glade. The corridors out there looked much the same as the ones he’d seen from the window by the East Door early that morning. This thought gave him a chill, made him wonder if a Griever might come charging toward them at any minute. He took a step backward before realizing what he was doing. Calm down, he chided himself, embarrassed.

Alby continued. “Two years, I’ve been here. Ain’t none been here longer. The few before me are already dead.” Thomas felt his eyes widen, his heart quicken. “Two years we’ve tried to solve this thing, no luck. Shuckin’ walls move out there at night just as much as these

here doors. Mappin’ it out ain’t easy, ain’t easy nohow.” He nodded toward the concrete-blocked building into which the Runners had disappeared the night before.

Another stab of pain sliced through Thomas’s head—there were too many things to compute at once. They’d been here two years? The walls moved out in the Maze? How many had died? He stepped forward, wanting to see the Maze for himself, as if the answers were printed on the walls out there.

Alby held out a hand and pushed Thomas in the chest, sent him stumbling backward. “Ain’t no goin’ out there, shank.”

Thomas had to suppress his pride. “Why not?”

“You think I sent Newt to ya before the wake-up just for kicks? Freak, that’s the Number One Rule, the only one you’ll never be forgiven for breaking. Ain’t nobody—nobody—allowed in the Maze except the Runners. Break that rule, and if you ain’t killed by the Grievers, we’ll kill you ourselves, you get me?”

Thomas nodded, grumbling inside, sure that Alby was exaggerating. Hoping that he was. Either way, if he’d had any doubt about what he’d told Chuck the night before, it had now completely vanished. He wanted to be a Runner. He would be a Runner. Deep inside he knew he had to go out there, into the Maze. Despite everything he’d learned and witnessed firsthand, it called to him as much as hunger or thirst.

A movement up on the left wall of the South Door caught his attention. Startled, he reacted quickly, looking just in time to see a flash of silver. A patch of ivy shook as the thing disappeared into it.

Thomas pointed up at the wall. “What was that?” he asked before he could be shut down again.

Alby didn’t bother looking. “No questions till the end, shank. How many times I gotta tell ya?” He paused, then let out a sigh. “Beetle blades—it’s how the Creators watch us. You better not—”

He was cut off by a booming, ringing alarm that sounded from all directions. Thomas clamped his hands to his ears, looking around as the siren blared, his heart about to thump its way out of his chest. But when he focused back on Alby, he stopped.

Alby wasn’t acting scared—he appeared … confused. Surprised. The alarm clanged through the air.

“What’s going on?” Thomas asked. Relief flooded his chest that his

tour guide didn’t seem to think the world was about to end—but even so, Thomas was getting tired of being hit by waves of panic.

“That’s weird” was all Alby said as he scanned the Glade, squinting. Thomas noticed people in the Blood House pens glancing around, apparently just as confused. One shouted to Alby, a short, skinny kid drenched in mud.

“What’s up with that?” the boy asked, looking to Thomas for some reason.

“I don’t know,” Alby murmured back in a distant voice.

But Thomas couldn’t stand it anymore. “Alby! What’s going on?” “The Box, shuck-face, the Box!” was all Alby said before he set off

for the middle of the Glade at a brisk pace that almost looked to Thomas like panic.

“What about it?” Thomas demanded, hurrying to catch up. Talk to me! he wanted to scream at him.

But Alby didn’t answer or slow down, and as they got closer to the box Thomas could see that dozens of kids were running around the courtyard. He spotted Newt and called to him, trying to suppress his rising fear, telling himself things would be okay, that there had to be a reasonable explanation.

“Newt, what’s going on!” he yelled.

Newt glanced over at him, then nodded and walked over, strangely calm in the middle of the chaos. He swatted Thomas on the back. “Means a bloody Newbie’s comin’ up in the Box.” He paused as if expecting Thomas to be impressed. “Right now.”

“So?” As Thomas looked more closely at Newt, he realized that what he’d mistaken for calm was actually disbelief—maybe even excitement.

“So?” Newt replied, his jaw dropping slightly. “Greenie, we’ve never had two Newbies show up in the same month, much less two days in a row.”

And with that, he ran off toward the Homestead.

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