The maze runner, p.40
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       The Maze Runner, p.40

         Part #1 of The Maze Runner series by James Dashner
 
Page 40

 

  Wait! Thomas called to her mind. Are you sure you know the words?

  She turned to him and scowled. “I’m not an idiot, Tom. Yes, I’m perfectly capable of remembering—”

  A loud bang from above and behind them cut her off, made Thomas jump. He spun around to see a Griever plop through the Griever Hole, appearing as if by magic from the dark square of black. The thing had retracted its spikes and arms to enter—when it landed with a squishy thump, a dozen sharp and nasty objects popped back out, looking deadlier than ever.

  Thomas pushed Chuck behind him and faced the creature, holding out his spear as if that would ward it off. “Just keep typing, Teresa!” he yelled.

  A skinny metallic rod burst out of the Griever’s moist skin, unfolding into a long appendage with three spinning blades, which moved directly toward Thomas’s face.

  He gripped the end of his spear with both hands, squeezing tightly as he lowered the knife-laced point to the ground in front of him. The bladed arm moved within two feet, ready to slice his skin to bits. When it was just a foot away, Thomas tensed his muscles and swung the spear up, around, and toward the ceiling as hard as he could. It smacked the metal arm and pivoted the thing skyward, revolving in an arc until it slammed back into the body of the Griever. The monster let out an angry shriek and pulled back several feet, its spikes retracting into its body. Thomas heaved breaths in and out.

  Maybe I can hold it off, he said quickly to Teresa. Just hurry!

  I’m almost done, she replied.

  The Griever’s spikes appeared again; it surged ahead and another arm popped out of its skin and shot forward, this one with huge claws, snapping to grab the spear. Thomas swung, this time from above his head, throwing every bit of strength into the attack. The spear crashed into the base of the claws. With a loud clunk, and then a squishing sound, the entire arm ripped free of its socket, falling to the floor. Then, from some kind of mouth that Thomas couldn’t see, the Griever let out a long, piercing shriek and pulled back again; the spikes disappeared.

  “These things are beatable!” Thomas shouted.

  It won’t let me enter the last word! Teresa said in his mind.

  Barely hearing her, not quite understanding, he yelled out a roar and charged ahead to take advantage of the Griever’s moment of weakness. Swinging his spear wildly, he jumped on top of the creature’s bulbous body, whacking two metal arms away from him with a loud crack. He lifted the spear above his head, braced his feet—felt them sink into the disgusting blubber—then thrust the spear down and into the monster. A slimy yellow goo exploded from the flesh, splashing over Thomas’s legs as he drove the spear as far as it would sink into the thing’s body. Then he released the hilt of the weapon and jumped away, running back to Chuck and Teresa.

  Thomas watched in sick fascination as the Griever twitched uncontrollably, spewing the yellow oil in every direction. Spikes popped in and out of the skin; its remaining arms swung around in mass confusion, at times impaling its own body. Soon it began to slow, losing energy with every ounce of blood—or fuel—it lost.

  A few seconds later, it stopped moving altogether. Thomas couldn’t believe it. He absolutely couldn’t believe it. He’d just defeated a Griever, one of the monsters that had terrorized the Gladers for more than two years.

  He glanced behind him at Chuck, standing there with eyes wide.

  “You killed it,” the boy said. He laughed, as if that one act had solved all their problems.

  “Wasn’t so hard,” Thomas muttered, then turned to see Teresa frantically typing away at the keyboard. He knew immediately that something was wrong.

  “What’s the problem?” he asked, almost shouting. He ran up to look over her shoulder and saw that she kept typing the word PUSH over and over, but nothing appeared on the screen.

  She pointed at the dirty square of glass, empty but for its greenish glow of life. “I put in all the words and one by one they appeared on the screen; then something beeped and they’d disappear. But it won’t let me type in the last word. Nothing’s happening!”

  Cold filled Thomas’s veins as Teresa’s words sank in. “Well … why?”

  “I don’t know!” She tried again, then again. Nothing appeared.

  “Thomas!” Chuck screamed from behind them. Thomas turned to see him pointing at the Griever Hole—another creature was making its way through. As he watched, it plopped down on top of its dead brother and another Griever started entering the Hole.

  “What’s taking so long!” Chuck cried frantically. “You said they’d turn off when you punched in the code!”

  Both Grievers had righted themselves and extended their spikes, had started moving toward them.

  “It won’t let us enter the word PUSH,” Thomas said absently, not really speaking to Chuck but trying to think of a solution …

  I don’t get it, Teresa said.

  The Grievers were coming, only a few feet away. Feeling his will fade into blackness, Thomas braced his feet and held up his fists halfheartedly. It was supposed to work. The code was supposed to—

  “Maybe you should just push that button,” Chuck said.

  Thomas was so surprised by the random statement that he turned away from the Grievers, looked at the boy. Chuck was pointing at a spot near the floor, right underneath the screen and keyboard.

  Before he could move, Teresa was already down there, crouching on her knees. And consumed by curiosity, by a fleeting hope, Thomas joined her, collapsing to the ground to get a better look. He heard the Griever moan and roar behind him, felt a sharp claw grab his shirt, felt a prick of pain. But he could only stare.

  A small red button was set into the wall only a few inches above the floor. Three black words were printed there, so obvious he couldn’t believe he’d missed it earlier.

  Kill the Maze

  More pain snapped Thomas out of his stupor. The Griever had grabbed him with two instruments, had started dragging him backward. The other one had gone after Chuck and was just about to swipe at the kid with a long blade.

  A button.

  “Push!” Thomas screamed, louder than he’d thought possible for a human being to scream.

  And Teresa did.

  She pushed the button and everything went perfectly silent. Then, from somewhere down the dark tunnel, came the sound of a door sliding open.

  CHAPTER 58

  Almost at once the Grievers had shut down completely, their instruments sucked back through their blubbery skin, their lights turned off, their inside machines dead quiet. And that door …

  Thomas fell to the floor after being released by his captor’s claws, and despite the pain of several lacerations across his back and shoulders, elation surged through him so strongly he didn’t know how to react. He gasped, then laughed, then choked on a sob before laughing again.

  Chuck had scooted away from the Grievers, bumping into Teresa—she held him tightly, squeezing him in a fierce hug.

  “You did it, Chuck,” Teresa said. “We were so worried about the stupid code words, we didn’t think to look around for something to push—the last word, the last piece of the puzzle. ”

  Thomas laughed again, in disbelief that such a thing could be possible so soon after what they’d gone through. “She’s right, Chuck—you saved us, man! I told you we needed you!” Thomas scrambled to his feet and joined the other two in a group hug, almost delirious. “Chuck’s a shucking hero!”

  “What about the others?” Teresa said with a nod toward the Griever Hole. Thomas felt his elation wither, and he stepped back and turned toward the Hole.

  As if in answer to her question, someone fell through the black square—it was Minho, looking as if he’d been scratched or stabbed on ninety percent of his body.

  “Minho!” Thomas shouted, filled with relief. “Are you okay? What about everybody else?”

  Minho stumbled toward the curved wall of the tun
nel, then leaned there, gulping big breaths. “We lost a ton of people…. It’s a mess of blood up there … then they all just shut down. ” He paused, taking in a really deep breath and letting it go in a rush of air. “You did it. I can’t believe it actually worked. ”

  Newt came through then, followed by Frypan. Then Winston and others. Before long eighteen boys had joined Thomas and his friends in the tunnel, making a total of twenty-one Gladers in all. Every last one of those who’d stayed behind and fought was covered in Griever sludge and human blood, their clothes ripped to shreds.

  “The rest?” Thomas asked, terrified of the answer.

  “Half of us,” Newt said, his voice weak. “Dead. ”

  No one said a word then. No one said a word for a very long time.

  “You know what?” Minho said, standing up a little taller. “Half might’ve died, but half of us shucking lived. And nobody got stung—just like Thomas thought. We’ve gotta get out of here. ”

  Too many, Thomas thought. Too many by far. His joy dribbled away, turned into a deep mourning for the twenty people who’d lost their lives. Despite the alternative, despite knowing that if they hadn’t tried to escape, all of them might’ve died, it still hurt, even though he hadn’t known them very well. Such a display of death—how could it be considered a victory?

  “Let’s get out of here,” Newt said. “Right now. ”

  “Where do we go?” Minho asked.

  Thomas pointed down the long tunnel. “I heard the door open down that way. ” He tried to push away the ache of it all—the horrors of the battle they’d just won. The losses. He pushed it away, knowing they were nowhere near safe yet.

  “Well—let’s go,” Minho answered. And the older boy turned and started walking up the tunnel without waiting for a response.

  Newt nodded, ushering the other Gladers past him to follow. One by one they went until only he remained with Thomas and Teresa.

  “I’ll go last,” Thomas said.

  No one argued. Newt went, then Chuck, then Teresa, into the black tunnel. Even the flashlights seemed to get swallowed by the darkness. Thomas followed, not even bothering to look back at the dead Grievers.

  After a minute or so of walking, he heard a shriek from ahead, followed by another, then another. Their cries faded, as if they were falling….

  Murmurs made their way down the line, and finally Teresa turned to Thomas. “Looks like it ends in a slide up there, shooting downward. ”

  Thomas’s stomach turned at the thought. It seemed like it was a game—for whoever had built the place, at least.

  One by one he heard the Gladers’ dwindling shouts and hoots up ahead. Then it was Newt’s turn, then Chuck’s. Teresa shone her light down on a steeply descending, slick black chute of metal.

  Guess we have no choice, she said to his mind.

  Guess not. Thomas had a strong feeling it wasn’t a way out of their nightmare; he just hoped it didn’t lead to another pack of Grievers.

  Teresa slipped down the slide with an almost cheerful shriek, and Thomas followed her before he could talk himself out of it—anything was better than the Maze.

  His body shot down a steep decline, slick with an oily goo that smelled awful—like burnt plastic and overused machinery. He twisted his body until he got his feet in front of him, then tried to hold his hands out to slow himself down. It was useless—the greasy stuff covered every inch of the stone; he couldn’t grip anything.

  The screams of the other Gladers echoed off the tunnel walls as they slid down the oily chute. Panic gripped Thomas’s heart. He couldn’t fight off the image that they’d been swallowed by some gigantic beast and were sliding down its long esophagus, about to land in its stomach at any second. And as if his thoughts had materialized, the smells changed—to something more like mildew and rot. He started gagging; it took all his effort not to throw up on himself.

  The tunnel began to twist, turning in a rough spiral, just enough to slow them down, and Thomas’s feet smacked right into Teresa, hitting her in the head; he recoiled and a feeling of complete misery sank over him. They were still falling. Time seemed to stretch out, endless.

  Around and around they went down the tube. Nausea burned in his stomach—the squishing of the goo against his body, the smell, the circling motion. He was just about to turn his head to the side to throw up when Teresa let out a sharp cry—this time there was no echo. A second later, Thomas flew out of the tunnel and landed on her.

  Bodies scrambled everywhere, people on top of people, groaning and squirming in confusion as they tried to push away from each other. Thomas wiggled his arms and legs to scoot away from Teresa, then crawled a few more feet to throw up, emptying his stomach.

  Still shuddering from the experience, he wiped at his mouth with his hand, only to realize it was covered in slimy filth. He sat up, rubbing both hands on the ground, and he finally got a good look at where they’d arrived. As he gaped, he saw, also, that everyone else had pulled themselves together into a group, taking in the new surroundings. Thomas had seen glimpses of it during the Changing, but didn’t truly remember it until that very moment.

  They were in a huge underground chamber big enough to hold nine or ten Homesteads. From top to bottom, side to side, the place was covered in all kinds of machinery and wires and ducts and computers. On one side of the room—to his right—there was a row of forty or so large white pods that looked like enormous coffins. Across from that on the other side stood large glass doors, although the lighting made it impossible to see what was on the other side.

  “Look!” someone shouted, but he’d already seen it, his breath catching in his throat. Goose bumps broke out all over him, a creepy fear trickling down his spine like a wet spider.
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