Crank PalaceJames Dashner
Crank Palace, a Maze Runner novella© 2020 James Dashner
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used factiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locations, organizations, or person, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in articles and reviews.
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Cover design by Scott Carpenter
Digital ISBN: 9781626015661
Trade ISBN: 9781626015678
Hardcover ISBN: 9781626015685
First edition, November 2020
Praise for the Maze Runner series:
A #1 New York Times Bestselling Series
A USA Today Bestseller
A Kirkus Reviews Best Teen Book of the Year
An ALA-YASLA Best Fiction for Young Adults Book
An ALA-YALSA Quick Pick
“[A] mysterious survival saga that passionate fans describe as a fusion of Lord of the Flies,
The Hunger Games, and Lost.”—EW
“Wonderful action writing—fast-paced… but smart and well observed.”—Newsday
“[A] nail-biting must-read.”—Seventeen
“Breathless, cinematic action.”—Publishers Weekly
“Heart pounding to the very last moment.”
[STAR] “James Dashner’s illuminating prequel [The Kill Order] will thrill fans of this Maze Runner [series] and prove just as exciting for readers new to the series.”
—Shelf Awareness, Starred
“Take a deep breath before you start any James Dashner book.”—Deseret News
my loving wife, my hilarious best friend,
my adventure partner,
who has always been my first reader
and biggest supporter.
To our children,
Wesley, Bryson, Kayla, and Dallin,
the final pieces of the puzzle,
who’ve continually inspired me
and kept me on track with life.
my son Wesley’s (and now our family) friend,
who provided the spark for the character of Keisha.
Finally, to my readers,
who show me each and every day
how to fight for a better future.
I’ve always been fascinated by viruses and plagues. What does that say about me? Not sure. But our world history is chock-full of devastating periods of illness and disease that wiped out huge proportions of the population. There are many scary things in life, many things that can kill you, but for me personally, dying from a microscopic invader that you can’t see coming... well, that’s some serious terror right there.
It should come as no surprise, then, that the Flare virus was a central element of The Maze Runner series. I was fully aware that such a plot point had been done ad nauseam, in many variations, in books and movies and television shows before I wrote about it. That didn’t faze me. I wanted terror as a backdrop, and so I chose my most terrifying thing, with a twist. A virus that attacks your brain, drives you slowly insane, takes away every aspect of your humanity, until you’re a raging, mindless beast.
Happy stuff, I know!
And now we have a virus of our own raging its way across the world. Covid-19 is no Flare, but it has brought just as much fear and suffering to those afflicted by its reach. And as of this writing, it’s nowhere close to being contained. Scary. Heart-wrenching. Hopefully conquered sooner than later by humans pulling together to defeat it.
The reason I mention it is because a large chunk of Crank Palace was written after the latest coronavirus began its mad spread across continents, seemingly sparing no corner of the Earth, no matter how far. That was an odd experience. It added depth, a level of personal, relatable fear that might’ve been missing in earlier books. Most of all, I know it’s affected many of my readers out there.
Two thousand and twenty has also brought to the forefront many of the others struggles you face. And I just want you to know that I care for you, deeply, that my gratitude for your support and love of this series is beyond my ability to craft words. And many things are in development to show you in a more tangible way just how much gratitude I’ve felt over these last years and months, as well as a desire to listen and learn from you.
This novella is something I’d been planning for a while, but it really gained steam over the last year or so. It’s about Newt, during a period of The Death Cure in which we don’t really know what happened to him. Certainly not what was going on inside his head. Well, you’re about to find out. It will be a bittersweet journey, I’m sure.
This one is for you. All of my proceeds, from every version, every language, etc., will be going to charitable causes chosen by my followers on social media. It’s the first, small way I can begin to say thank you, delivered in a neat little package, where you can live and celebrate and mourn with Newt one last time. I hope you enjoy the read.
Welcome to the Neighborhood
There they go.
Newt looked through the grimy glass of the Berg’s porthole, watching as his friends walked toward the massive, imposing gate that barred one of the few passages into Denver. A formidable wall of cement and steel surrounded the city’s battered-but-not-broken skyscrapers, with only a few checkpoints such as the one Newt’s friends were about to use. Attempt to use. Looking up at the gray walls and the iron-colored bolts and seams and hinges of the reinforcements on the doors, it would be impossible not to think of the Maze, where the madness had all begun. Quite literally.
Newt had felt a lot of pain in his life, both inside and out, but he believed that very moment, watching Tommy and the others leave him for the last time, was his new rock bottom. He closed his eyes, the sorrow bearing on his heart like the weight of ten Grievers. Tears leaked out of his squeezed eyelids, ran down his face. His breath came in short, stuttered gasps. His chest hurt with the pain of it. A part of him desperately wanted to change his mind, accept the reckless whims of love and friendship and open the Berg’s slanting hatch door, sprint down its rickety frame, join his friends in their quest to find Hans, get their implants removed, and accept whatever came next.
But he’d made up his mind, as fragile as it might be. If ever in his life he could do one thing right, the thing that was unselfish and full of good, this was it. He’d spare the people of Denver his disease, and he’d spare his friends the agony of watching him succumb to it.
He hated it. He hated the people trying to find a cure. He hated that he wasn’t immune and he hated that his best friends were. All of it conflicted, battled, raged inside him. He knew that he was slowly going insane, a fate rarely escaped when it came to the virus. It had come to a point where he didn’t know if he could trust himself, both his thoughts and his feelings. Such an awful circumstance could drive a person mad if they weren’t already well on their way to that lonely destination. But while he knew that he still had an ounce of sense, he n
eeded to act. He needed to move, before all those heavy thoughts ended him even sooner than the Flare.
He opened his eyes, wiped his tears.
Tommy and the others had already made it through the checkpoint—they’d entered the testing area, anyway. What happened after that was cut from Newt’s view with the closing of a gate, the final puncture in his withering heart. He turned his back to the window, pulled in several deep breaths, trying to dampen the anxiety that threatened him like a 30-meter wave.
I can do this, he thought. For them.
He got to his feet, ran to the bunk he’d used on the flight from Alaska. He had almost no possessions in this world, but what little he owned he threw into a backpack, including some water and food and a knife he’d stolen from Thomas to remember him by. Then he grabbed the most important item—a journal and pen he’d found in one of the random cabinets on the Berg. It had been blank when he’d discovered the compact book, though a little tattered and worn, its endless white pages flipping by like the rattled wings of a bird when he thumbed through it. Some former lost soul, flying to who knows where on this bucket of metal, had once thought to write down the story of their life but chickened out. Or died. Newt had decided on the spot to write his own story, keep it a secret from everyone else. For himself. Maybe someday for others.
The long blast of a horn sounded from outside the walls of the ship, making Newt flinch and throw himself onto the bed. His heart sputtered out a few rapid beats while he tried to reorient. The Flare made him jumpy, made him quick to anger, made him a sodden mess in every way. And it was only going to get worse—in fact, it seemed like the bloody thing was working overtime on his poor little brain. Stupid virus. He wished it was a person so he could kick its arse.
The noise stopped after a few seconds, followed by a silence still as darkness. Only in that silence did Newt realize that before the horn there’d been the ambient noise of people outside, erratic and... off. Cranks. They must be everywhere outside the walls of the city, those past the Gone, trying to get inside for no other reason than the madness that told them to do it. Desperate for food, like the primal animals they’d become.
What he would become.
But he had a plan, didn’t he? Several plans, depending on the contingencies. But each plan had the same ending—it was just a matter of how he got there. He would last for as long as he needed to write what he needed in that journal. Something about that simple, empty little book, waiting to be filled. It had given him a purpose, a spark, a winding course to ensure the last days of his life had reason and meaning. A mark, left on the world. He would write all the sanity he could muster out of his head before it was taken over by its opposite.
He didn’t know what the horn had been or who had blown it or why it was suddenly quiet outside. He didn’t want to know. But perhaps a path had been cleared for him. The only item left to settle was how to leave it with Thomas and the others. Maybe give them a little closure. He’d already written one depressing note to Tommy; might as well write another.
Newt decided that his journal would survive if it weighed less by one page. He tore it out and sat down to write a message. Pen was almost to paper when he stalled, as if he’d had the perfect thing to say but it floated out of his mind like vanished smoke. Sighing, he itched with irritation. Anxious to get out of that Berg, walk away—limp or no limp—before something changed, he scribbled down a few lines, the first things that popped in his head.
They got inside somehow. They’re taking me to live with the other Cranks.
It’s for the best. Thanks for being my friends.
It wasn’t totally true, but he thought about those horns and all that commotion he’d heard outside the Berg and figured it was close. Was it short and curt enough to prevent them from coming after him? To get it through their thick skulls that there was no hope for him and that he’d only get in the way? That he didn’t want them to watch him turn into a mad, raving, cannibalistic former human?
Didn’t matter. Didn’t matter at all. He was going one way or another.
To give his friends the best shot they had at succeeding, with one less obstacle.
One less Newt.
The streets were chaos, a mass of disorder shaken up like dice and spilled across the land.
But that wasn’t the scary part. The scary part was how normal everything felt—as if the world had been arcing toward this moment since the day its rocky surface first cooled and the oceans ceased to boil. Remnants of suburbs lay in scattered, trashy ruin; buildings and homes with broken windows and peeled paint; garbage everywhere, strewn about like the tattered pieces of a shattered sky; crumpled, filthy, fire-scorched vehicles of all sorts; vegetation and trees growing in places never meant for them. And worst of all, Cranks ambling about the streets and yards and driveways as if merchants were about to begin a massive winter market: All items half-price!
Newt’s old injury was acting up, making his limp worse than usual. He stumbled to the corner of a street and sat down heavily, leaned against a fallen pole whose original purpose would forever remain a mystery. In the oddest, most random of occurrences, the words winter market had rattled him. He didn’t understand fully why. Even though his memory had been wiped long ago, it had always been a strange thing. He and the others recalled countless things about the world that they’d never seen or experienced—airplanes; football; kings and queens; the telly. The Swipe had been more like a tiny machine that burrowed its way through their brains and snipped out the specific memories that made them who they were.
But for some reason, this winter market—this odd thought that had found its way into his musing on the apocalyptic scenes around him—was different. It wasn’t a relic of the old world that he knew merely by word association or general knowledge. No. It...
Bloody hell, he thought. It was an actual memory.
He looked around as he tried to process this, saw Cranks of various stages shambling about the streets and parking lots and cluttered yards. He could only assume these people were infected, every one of them, no matter their actions or tendencies—otherwise why would they be out here, out in the open like this? Some had the awareness and normal flow of movement that he still did, early on in that infection, their minds still mostly whole. A family huddled together upon wilting grass, eating scavenged food, the mom holding a shotgun for protection; a woman leaned against a cement wall, her arms folded, crying—her eyes revealed the despair of her circumstances, but not madness, not yet; small clusters of people talked in hushed whispers, observing the chaos around them, probably trying to come up with plans for a life that no longer had plans anyone might desire.
Others in the area were seemingly in-between the first and last stages, acting erratic and angry, uncertain, sad. He watched a man march across an intersection with his young daughter in tow, holding her hand, looking for all the world as if they might be going to a park or to the store for candy. But right in the middle of the street he stopped, dropped the girl’s hand, looked at her like a stranger, then wailed and wept like a child himself. Newt saw a woman eating a banana—where had she gotten a buggin’ banana?—who stopped midway through, tossed it on the ground, then started stomping it with both feet as if she’d found a rat nibbling at her baby in a knocked-over pram.
And then there were, of course, those who had, without a doubt, traveled well past the Gone, that line in the sand that divided humans from animals, people from beasts. A girl, who couldn’t have been older than 15 or 16, lay flat on the ground in the middle of the nearest road, babbling incoherently, chewing on her fingers hard enough that blood dripped back down onto her face. She giggled every time it did so. Not far from her, a man crouched over a chunk of what looked like raw chicken, pale and pink. He didn’t eat it, not yet, but his eyes darted left and right and up and down, empty of sanity, ready to attack any fool who dared try to take his meat away. Farther down that same street, a few Cranks were f
ighting each other like a pack of wolves, biting and clawing and tearing as if they had been dropped in a gladiator’s coliseum and only one would be allowed to walk away alive.
Newt lowered his eyes, sank onto the pavement. He slipped the backpack from his shoulders and cradled it in his arms, felt the hard edge of the Launcher he’d stolen from Jorge’s weapons stash on the Berg. Newt didn’t know how long the energy-dependent, electric-firing projectile device would last, but he figured it couldn’t hurt to have it. The knife resided in the pocket of his jeans, folded up, a pretty sturdy one, if it ever came to hand-to-hand battle.
But that was the thing. Like he’d thought earlier, everything he saw around him had become the “new normal” of sorts, and for the life of him he couldn’t figure out why he wasn’t terrified. He felt no fear, no apprehension, no stress, no innate desire to run, run, run. How many times had he come across Cranks since escaping the Maze? How many times had he almost soiled his pants from sheer terror? Maybe it was the fact that he was now one of them, quickly descending to their level of madness, that stayed his fear. Or maybe it was the madness itself, destroying his most human of instincts.
And what of that whole winter market thing? Was the Flare finally releasing him from the hold of the Swipe he’d been subjected to by WICKED? Could that perhaps be the ticket to his final journey past the Gone? He already felt the most acute and abject despair he’d ever felt in his life, abandoning his friends forever. If memories of his life before, of his family, began to invade him without mercy, he didn’t know how he could possibly take it.