The maze runner, p.8
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       The Maze Runner, p.8

         Part #1 of The Maze Runner series by James Dashner
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Page 8

 

  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.

  “Take a seat,” Chuck said. “I’ll get you something—but I swear this is the last time. Just be glad Frypan isn’t around—he hates it when we raid his fridge. ”

  Thomas was relieved they were alone. As Chuck fumbled about with dishes and things from the fridge, Thomas pulled out a wooden chair from a small plastic table and sat down. “This is crazy. How can this be for real? Somebody sent us here. Somebody evil. ”

  Chuck paused. “Quit complaining. Just accept it and don’t think about it. ”

  “Yeah, right. ” Thomas looked out a window. This seemed a good time to bring up one of the million questions bouncing through his brain. “So where does the electricity come from?”

  “Who cares? I’ll take it. ”

  What a surprise, Thomas thought. No answer.

  Chuck brought two plates with sandwiches and carrots over to the table. The bread was thick and white, the carrots a sparkling, bright orange. Thomas’s stomach begged him to hurry; he picked up his sandwich and started devouring it.

  “Oh, man,” he mumbled with a full mouth. “At least the food is good. ”

  Thomas was able to eat the rest of his meal without another word from Chuck. And he was lucky that the kid didn’t feel like talking, because despite the complete weirdness of everything that had happened within Thomas’s known reach of memory, he felt calm again. His stomach full, his energy replenished, his mind thankful for a few moments of silence, he decided that from then on he’d quit whining and deal with things.

  After his last bite, Thomas sat back in his chair. “So, Chuck,” he said as he wiped his mouth with a napkin. “What do I have to do to become a Runner?”

  “Not that again. ” Chuck looked up from his plate, where he’d been picking at the crumbs. He let out a low, gurgly burp that made Thomas cringe.

  “Alby said I’d start my trials soon with the different Keepers. So, when do I get a shot with the Runners?” Thomas waited patiently to get some sort of actual information from Chuck.

  Chuck rolled his eyes dramatically, leaving no doubt as to how stupid an idea he thought that would be. “They should be back in a few hours. Why don’t you ask them?”

  Thomas ignored the sarcasm, digging deeper. “What do they do when they get back every night? What’s up with the concrete building?”

  “Maps. They meet right when they get back, before they forget anything. ”

  Maps? Thomas was confused. “But if they’re trying to make a map, don’t they have paper to write on while they’re out there?” Maps. This intrigued him more than anything else he’d heard in a while. It was the first thing suggesting a potential solution to their predicament.

  “Of course they do, but there’s still stuff they need to talk about and discuss and analyze and all that klunk. Plus”—the boy rolled his eyes—”they spend most of their time running, not writing. That’s why they’re called Runners. “

  Thomas thought about the Runners and the maps. Could the Maze really be so massively huge that even after two years they still hadn’t found a way out? It seemed impossible. But then, he remembered what Alby said about the moving walls. What if all of them were sentenced to live here until they died?

  Sentenced. The word made him feel a rush of panic, and the spark of hope the meal had brought him fizzled with a silent hiss.

  “Chuck, what if we’re all criminals? I mean—what if we’re murderers or something?”

  “Huh?” Chuck looked up at him as if he were a crazy person. “Where did that happy thought come from?”

  “Think about it. Our memories are wiped. We live inside a place that seems to have no way out, surrounded by bloodthirsty monster-guards. D
oesn’t that sound like a prison to you?” As he said it out loud, it sounded more and more possible. Nausea trickled into his chest.

  “I’m probably twelve years old, dude. ” Chuck pointed to his chest. “At the most, thirteen. You really think I did something that would send me to prison for the rest of my life?”

  “I don’t care what you did or didn’t do. Either way, you have been sent to a prison. Does this seem like a vacation to you?” Oh, man, Thomas thought. Please let me be wrong.

  Chuck thought for a moment. “I don’t know. It’s better than—”

  “Yeah, I know, living in pile of klunk. ” Thomas stood up and pushed his chair back under the table. He liked Chuck, but trying to have an intelligent conversation with him was impossible. Not to mention frustrating and irritating. “Go make yourself another sandwich—I’m going exploring. See ya tonight. ”

  He stepped out of the kitchen and into the courtyard before Chuck could offer to join him. The Glade had gone back to business as usual—people working the jobs, the doors of the Box closed, sun shining down. Any signs of a crazed girl bearing notes of doom had disappeared.

  Having had his tour cut short, he decided to take a walk around the Glade on his own and get a better look and feel for the place. He headed out for the northeast corner, toward the big rows of tall green cornstalks that looked ready to harvest. There was other stuff, too: tomatoes, lettuce, peas, a lot more that Thomas didn’t recognize.

  He took a deep breath, loving the fresh whiff of dirt and growing plants. He was almost positive the smell would bring back some sort of pleasant memory, but nothing came. As he got closer, he saw that several boys were weeding and picking in the small fields. One waved at him with a smile. An actual smile.

  Maybe this place won’t be so bad after all, Thomas thought. Not everyone here could be a jerk. He took another deep breath of the pleasant air and pulled himself out of his thoughts—there was a lot more he wanted to see.

  Next was the southeast corner, where shabbily built wooden fences held in several cows, goats, sheep, and pigs. No horses, though. That sucks, Thomas thought. Riders would definitely be faster than Runners. As he approached, he figured he must’ve dealt with animals in his life before the Glade. Their smell, their sound—they seemed very familiar to him.

  The smell wasn’t quite as nice as the crops, but still, he imagined it could’ve been a lot worse. As he explored the area, he realized more and more how well the Gladers kept up the place, how clean it was. He was impressed by how organized they must be, how hard they all must work. He could only imagine how truly horrific a place like this could be if everyone went lazy and stupid.

  Finally, he made it to the southwest quarter, near the forest.

  He was approaching the sparse, skeletal trees in front of the denser woods when he was startled by a blur of movement at his feet, followed by a hurried set of clacking sounds. He looked down just in time to see the sun flash off something metallic—a toy rat—scurrying past him and toward the small forest. The thing was already ten feet away by the time he realized it wasn’t a rat at all—it was more like a lizard, with at least six legs scuttling the long silver torso along.

  A beetle blade. It’s how they watch us, Alby had said.

  He caught a gleam of red light sweeping the ground in front of the creature as if it came from its eyes. Logic told him it had to be his mind playing tricks on him, but he swore he saw the word WICKED scrawled down its rounded back in large green letters. Something so strange had to be investigated.

  Thomas sprinted after the scurrying spy, and in a matter of seconds he entered the thick copse of trees and the world became dark.

  CHAPTER 10

  He couldn’t believe how quickly the light disappeared. From the Glade proper, the forest didn’t look that big, maybe a couple of acres. Yet the trees were tall with sturdy trunks, packed tightly together, the canopy up above thick with leaves. The air around him had a greenish, muted hue, as if only several minutes of twilight remained in the day.

  It was somehow beautiful and creepy, all at once.

  Moving as fast as he could, Thomas crashed through the heavy foliage, thin branches slapping at his face. He ducked to avoid a low-hanging limb, almost falling. Reaching out, he caught hold of a branch and swung himself forward to regain his balance. A thick bed of leaves and fallen twigs crunched underneath him.

  All the while, his eyes stayed riveted on the beetle blade scuttling across the forest floor. Deeper it went, its red light glowing brighter as the surroundings darkened.

  Thomas had charged thirty or forty feet into the woods, dodging and ducking and losing ground with every second, when the beetle blade jumped onto a particularly large tree and scooted up its trunk. But by the time Thomas reached the tree, any sign of the creature had vanished. It had disappeared deep within the foliage—almost as if it had never existed.

  He’d lost the sucker.

  “Shuck it,” Thomas whispered, almost as a joke. Almost. As strange as it seemed, the word felt natural on his lips, like he was already morphing into a Glader.

  A twig snapped somewhere to his right and he jerked his head in that direction. He stilled his breath, listened.

  Another snap, this time louder, almost like someone had broken a stick over their knee.

  “Who’s there?” Thomas yelled out, a tingle of fear shooting across his shoulders. His voice bounced off the canopy of leaves above him, echoing through the air. He stayed frozen, rooted to the spot as all grew silent, except for the whistling song of a few birds in the distance. But no one answered his call. Nor did he hear any more sounds from that direction.
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