She spoke to him before the world fell apart.
Hey, are you still asleep?
Thomas shifted in his bed, felt a darkness around him like air turned solid, pressing in. At first he panicked; his eyes snapped open as he imagined himself back in the Box?that horrible cube of cold metal that had delivered him to the Glade and the Maze. But there was a faint light, and lumps of dim shadow gradually emerged throughout the huge room. Bunk beds. Dressers. The soft breaths and gurgly snores of boys deep in slumber.
Relief filled him. He was safe now, rescued and delivered to this dormitory. No more worries. No more Grievers. No more death.
A voice in his head. A girl's. Not audible, not visible. But he heard it all the same, though never could he have explained to anyone how it worked.
Exhaling a deep breath, he relaxed into his pillow, his razor-edged nerves settling down from that fleeting moment of terror. He spoke back, forming the words with his thoughts.
Teresa? What time is it?
No idea, she replied. But I can't sleep. I probably dozed for an hour or so. Maybe more. I was hoping you were awake to keep me company.
Thomas tried not to smile. Even though she wouldn't be able to see it, it would be embarrassing all the same. Didn't give me much choice in the matter, did you? Kind of hard to sleep when someone's talking directly into your skull.
Waa, waa. Go back to bed, then.
No. I'm good. He stared at the bottom of the bunk above him?featureless and darkly fuzzy in the shadow?where Minho was currently breathing like a guy with ungodly amounts of phlegm lodged in his throat. What've you been thinking about?
What do you think? Somehow she projected a jab of cynicism into the words. I keep seeing Grievers. Their disgusting skin and blubber bodies, all those metal arms and spikes. It was way too close for comfort, Tom. How're we gonna get something like that out of our heads?
Thomas knew what he thought. Those images would never leave?the Gladers would be haunted by the horrible things that had happened in the Maze for the rest of their lives. He figured that most if not all of them would have major psychological problems. Maybe even go completely nutso.
And above it all, he had one image burned into his memories as strongly as a branded mark from a searing hot iron. His friend Chuck, stabbed in the chest, bleeding, dying as Thomas held him.
Thomas knew he would never forget that. But what he said to Teresa was: It'll go away. Just takes a little time, that's all.
You're so full of it, she said.
I know. How ridiculous was it that he loved hearing her say something like that to him? That her sarcasm meant things were going to be okay? You're an idiot, he told himself, then hoped she didn't hear that thought.
I hate that they separated me from you guys, she said.
Thomas understood why they had, though. She was the only girl and the rest of the Gladers were teenage boys?a bunch of shanks they didn't trust yet. Guess they were protecting you.
Yeah. I guess. Melancholy seeped into his brain with her words, stuck to them like syrup. But it sucks being alone after everything we went through.
Just on the other side of that big common room where we ate last night. It's a small room with a few bunks. I'm pretty sure they locked the door when they left.
See, told ya they wanted to protect you. Then he quickly added, Not that you need protecting. I'd put my money on you against at least half these shanks.
Okay, three-quarters. Including me.
A long stretch of silence followed, though somehow Thomas could still sense her presence. He felt her. It was almost like how, even though he couldn't see Minho, he knew his friend lay only a few feet above him. And it wasn't just the snoring. When someone is close by, you just know it.
Despite all the memories of the last few weeks, Thomas was surprisingly calm, and soon sleep overpowered him once more. Darkness settled on his world, but she was there, next to him in so many ways. Almost . . . touching.
He had no concept of time passing while in that state. Half asleep, half enjoying her presence and the thought that they'd been rescued from that horrible place. That they were safe, that he and Teresa could get to know each other all over again. That life could be good.
Blissful sleep. Hazy darkness. Warmth. A physical glow. Almost floating.
The world seemed to fade away. All became numb and sweet. And the darkness, somehow comforting. He slipped into a dream.
He's very young. Four, maybe? Five? Lying in a bed with blankets pulled to his chin.
A woman sits next to him, her hands folded in her lap. She has long brown hair, a face just beginning to show signs of age. Her eyes are sad. He knows this even though she's trying very hard to hide it with a smile.
He wants to say something, ask her a question. But he can't. He's not really here. Just witnessing it all from a place he doesn't quite understand. She begins to talk, a sound so simultaneously sweet and angry it disturbs him.
"I don't know why they chose you, but I do know this. You're special somehow. Never forget that. And never forget how much"?her voice cracks and tears run down her face?"never forget how much I love you. "
The boy replies, but it's not really Thomas speaking. Even though it is him. None of it makes sense. "Are you gonna be crazy like all those people on TV, Mommy? Like . . . Daddy?"
The woman reaches out and runs her fingers through his hair. Woman? No, he can't call her that. This is his mother. His . . . mommy.
"Don't you worry about that, honey," she says. "You won't be here to see it. "
Her smile has gone away.
Too fast the dream faded into blackness, leaving Thomas in a void with nothing but his thoughts. Had he seen another memory crawl up from the depths of his amnesia? Had he really seen his mom? There'd been something about his dad being crazy. The ache inside Thomas was deep and gnawing, and he tried to sink further into oblivion.
Later?how much later he had no idea?Teresa spoke to him again.
Tom, something's wrong.
That was how it started. He heard Teresa say those three words, but it seemed from far away, as if spoken down a long and cluttered tunnel. His slumber had become a viscous liquid, thick and sticky, trapping him. He became aware of himself, but realized he was removed from the world, entombed by exhaustion. He couldn't wake up.
She screamed it. A piercing rattle in his head. He felt the first trickle of fear, but it was more like a dream. He could only sleep. And they were safe now, nothing to worry about anymore. Yeah, it had to be a dream. Teresa was fine, they were all fine. He relaxed again, let himself drown in slumber.
Other sounds snuck their way into his consciousness. Thumps. The clang of metal against metal. Something shattering. Boys shouting. More like the echo of shouts, very distant, muted. Suddenly they became more like screams. Unearthly cries of anguish. But still distant. As if he'd been wrapped in a thick cocoon of dark velvet.
Finally something pricked the comfort of sleep. This wasn't right. Teresa had called for him, told him something was wrong! He fought the deep sleep that had consumed him, clawed at the heavy weight pinning him down.
Wake up! he yelled at himself. Wake up!
Then something disappeared from inside him. There one instant, gone the next. He felt as if a major organ had just been ripped from his body.
It had been her. She was gone.
Teresa! he screamed out with his mind. Teresa!
Are you there?
But there was nothing, and he no longer felt that comforting sense of her closeness. He called her name again, then again, as he continued to struggle against the dark pull of sleep.
Finally, reality swept in, washed away the darkness. Engulfed in terror, Thomas opened his eyes and shot to a sitting position on his bed, scooted out until he got his feet under him and jumped up. Looked around.
Everything had gone crazy.
The other Gladers in the room were running around, shouting. And terrible, horrible, awful sounds filled the air, like the wretched squeals of animals being tortured. There was Frypan, pointing out a window, his face pale. Newt and Minho were running to the door. Winston, hands held up to his frightened, acne-plagued face like he'd just seen a flesh"“eating zombie. Others stumbling over each other to look out the different windows, but keeping their distance from the glass. Achingly, Thomas realized he didn't even know most of the names of the twenty boys who'd survived the Maze, an odd thought to have in the middle of all that chaos.
Something at the corner of his eye made him turn to look toward the wall. What he saw immediately wiped away any peace and safety he'd felt talking to Teresa in the night. Made him doubt such emotions could even exist in the same world in which he now stood.
Three feet from his bed, draped by colorful curtains, a window looked out into a bright, blinding light. The glass was broken, jagged shards leaning against crisscrossed steel bars. A man stood on the other side, gripping the bars with bloody hands. His eyes were wide and bloodshot, filled with madness. Sores and scars covered his thin, sun"“burnt face. He had no hair, only diseased splotches of what looked like greenish moss. A vicious slit stretched across his right cheek; Thomas could see teeth through the raw, festering wound. Pink saliva dribbled in swaying lines from the man's chin.
"I'm a Crank!" the horror of a man yelled. "I'm a bloody Crank!"
And then he started screaming two words over and over and over, spit flying with every shriek.
"Kill me! Kill me! Kill me! . . . "
A hand slammed down on Thomas's shoulder from behind; he cried out and spun around to see Minho staring past him at the maniac screaming through the window.
"They're everywhere," Minho said. His voice had a gloom to it that perfectly matched how Thomas felt. It seemed as if everything they'd dared hope for the previous night had dissolved to nothing. "And there's no sign of those shanks who rescued us," he added.
Thomas had lived in fear and terror the past few weeks, but this was almost too much. To feel safe only to have that snatched away again. Shocking even himself, though, he quickly set aside that small part of him that wanted to jump back into his bed and bawl his eyes out. He pushed away the lingering ache of remembering his mom and the stuff about his dad and people going crazy. Thomas knew that someone had to take charge?they needed a plan if they were going to survive this, too.
"Have any of them gotten in yet?" he asked, a strange calm washing over him. "Do all the windows have these bars?"
Minho nodded toward one of the many lining the walls of the long rectangular room. "Yeah. It was too dark to notice them last night, especially with those stupid frilly curtains. But I'm sure glad for 'em. "
Thomas looked at the Gladers around them, some running from window to window to get a look outside, others huddling in small groups. Everyone had a look of half disbelief, half terror. "Where's Newt?"
"Right here. "
Thomas turned to see the older boy, not knowing how he'd missed him. "What's goin' on?"
"You think I have a bloody clue? Bunch of crazies want to eat us for breakfast, by the looks of it. We need to find another room, have a Gathering. All this noise is driving nails through my buggin' skull. "
Thomas nodded absently; he agreed with the plan but hoped Newt and Minho would take care of it. He was eager to make contact with Teresa?he hoped her warning had just been part of a dream, a hallucination from the drug of deep and exhausted slumber. And that vision of his mom . . .
His two friends moved away, calling out and waving their arms to collect Gladers. Thomas took a tremulous glance back at the shredded madman at the window, then looked away immediately, wishing he hadn't reminded his brain of the blood and torn flesh, the insane eyes, the hysterical screaming.
Kill me! Kill me! Kill me!
Thomas stumbled to the farthest wall, leaned heavily against it.
Teresa, he called out again with his mind. Teresa. Can you hear me?
He waited, closing his eyes to concentrate. Reaching out with invisible hands, trying to grasp some trace of her. Nothing. Not even a passing shadow or brush of feeling, much less a response.
Teresa, he said more urgently, clenching his teeth with the effort. Where are you? What happened?
Nothing. His heart seemed to slow until it almost stopped, and he felt like he'd swallowed a big hairy lump of cotton. Something had happened to her.
He opened his eyes to see the Gladers gathered around the green-painted door that led to the common area where they'd eaten pizza the night before. Minho was jerking on the round brass handle to no avail. Locked.
The only other door was to a shower and locker room, from which no other exits existed. There was that, and the windows. All with those metal bars. Thank goodness. Each one had raging lunatics screaming and yelling on the other side.
Even though worry ate at him like spilled acid in his veins, Thomas gave up momentarily on trying to contact Teresa and joined the other Gladers. Newt was having a go at the door, with the same useless result.
"It's locked," he muttered when he finally gave up, his arms falling weakly to his sides.
"Really, genius?" Minho said, his powerful arms folded and tensed, veins bulging all over the place. Thomas thought for a split second he could actually see the blood pumping through them. "No wonder you were named after Isaac Newton?such an amazing ability to think. "
Newt wasn't in the mood. Or maybe he'd just learned long ago to ignore Minho's smart-aleck remarks. "Let's break this bloody handle off. " He looked around as if he expected someone to give him a sledgehammer.
"I wish those shuck . . . Cranks would shut up!" Minho yelled, turning to glower at the closest one, a woman who looked even more hideous than the first man Thomas had seen. A bleeding wound crossed her face, ending on the side of her head.