The Maze Runner Series Complete Collection, Page 2James Dashner
He paused, and Thomas realized his face must’ve whitened even more when he heard that last part.
“Man,” Alby said, then ran his hands over his short hair as he let out a long sigh. “I ain’t good at this—you’re the first Greenbean since Nick was killed.”
Thomas’s eyes widened, and another boy stepped up and playfully slapped Alby across the head. “Wait for the bloody Tour, Alby,” he said, his voice thick with an odd accent. “Kid’s gonna have a buggin’ heart attack, nothin’ even been heard yet.” He bent down and extended his hand toward Thomas. “Name’s Newt, Greenie, and we’d all be right cheery if ya’d forgive our klunk-for-brains new leader, here.”
Thomas reached out and shook the boy’s hand—he seemed a lot nicer than Alby. Newt was taller than Alby too, but looked to be a year or so younger. His hair was blond and cut long, cascading over his T-shirt. Veins stuck out of his muscled arms.
“Pipe it, shuck-face,” Alby grunted, pulling Newt down to sit next to him. “At least he can understand half my words.” There were a few scattered laughs, and then everyone gathered behind Alby and Newt, packing in even tighter, waiting to hear what they said.
Alby spread his arms out, palms up. “This place is called the Glade, all right? It’s where we live, where we eat, where we sleep—we call ourselves the Gladers. That’s all you—”
“Who sent me here?” Thomas demanded, fear finally giving way to anger. “How’d—”
But Alby’s hand shot out before he could finish, grabbing Thomas by the shirt as he leaned forward on his knees. “Get up, shank, get up!” Alby stood, pulling Thomas with him.
Thomas finally got his feet under him, scared all over again. He backed against the tree, trying to get away from Alby, who stayed right in his face.
“No interruptions, boy!” Alby shouted. “Whacker, if we told you everything, you’d die on the spot, right after you klunked your pants. Baggers’d drag you off, and you ain’t no good to us then, are ya?”
“I don’t even know what you’re talking about,” Thomas said slowly, shocked at how steady his voice sounded.
Newt reached out and grabbed Alby by the shoulders. “Alby, lay off a bit. You’re hurtin’ more than helpin’, ya know?”
Alby let go of Thomas’s shirt and stepped back, his chest heaving with breaths. “Ain’t got time to be nice, Greenbean. Old life’s over, new life’s begun. Learn the rules quick, listen, don’t talk. You get me?”
Thomas looked over at Newt, hoping for help. Everything inside him churned and hurt; the tears that had yet to come burned his eyes.
Newt nodded. “Greenie, you get him, right?” He nodded again.
Thomas fumed, wanted to punch somebody. But he simply said, “Yeah.”
“Good that,” Alby said. “First Day. That’s what today is for you, shank. Night’s comin’, Runners’ll be back soon. The Box came late today, ain’t got time for the Tour. Tomorrow morning, right after the wake-up.” He turned toward Newt. “Get him a bed, get him to sleep.”
“Good that,” Newt said.
Alby’s eyes returned to Thomas, narrowing. “A few weeks, you’ll be happy, shank. You’ll be happy and helpin’. None of us knew jack on First Day, you neither. New life begins tomorrow.”
Alby turned and pushed his way through the crowd, then headed for the slanted wooden building in the corner. Most of the kids wandered away then, each one giving Thomas a lingering look before they walked off.
Thomas folded his arms, closed his eyes, took a deep breath. Emptiness ate away at his insides, quickly replaced by a sadness that hurt his heart. It was all too much—where was he? What was this place? Was it some kind of prison? If so, why had he been sent here, and for how long? The language was odd, and none of the boys seemed to care whether he lived or died. Tears threatened again to fill his eyes, but he refused to let them come.
“What did I do?” he whispered, not really meaning for anyone to hear him. “What did I do—why’d they send me here?”
Newt clapped him on the shoulder. “Greenie, what you’re feelin’, we’ve all felt it. We’ve all had First Day, come out of that dark box. Things are bad, they are, and they’ll get much worse for ya soon, that’s the truth. But down the road a piece, you’ll be fightin’ true and good. I can tell you’re not a bloody sissy.”
“Is this a prison?” Thomas asked; he dug in the darkness of his thoughts, trying to find a crack to his past.
“Done asked four questions, haven’t ya?” Newt replied. “No good answers for ya, not yet, anyway. Best be quiet now, accept the change—morn comes tomorrow.”
Thomas said nothing, his head sunk, his eyes staring at the cracked, rocky ground. A line of small-leafed weeds ran along the edge of one of the stone blocks, tiny yellow flowers peeping through as if searching for the sun, long disappeared behind the enormous walls of the Glade.
“Chuck’ll be a good fit for ya,” Newt said. “Wee little fat shank, but nice sap when all’s said and done. Stay here, I’ll be back.”
Newt had barely finished his sentence when a sudden, piercing scream ripped through the air. High and shrill, the barely human shriek echoed across the stone courtyard; every kid in sight turned to look toward the source. Thomas felt his blood turn to icy slush as he realized that the horrible sound came from the wooden building.
Even Newt had jumped as if startled, his forehead creasing in concern.
“Shuck it,” he said. “Can’t the bloody Med-jacks handle that boy for ten minutes without needin’ my help?” He shook his head and lightly kicked Thomas on the foot. “Find Chuckie, tell him he’s in charge of your sleepin’ arrangements.” And then he turned and headed in the direction of the building, running.
Thomas slid down the rough face of the tree until he sat on the ground again; he shrank back against the bark and closed his eyes, wishing he could wake up from this terrible, terrible dream.
Thomas sat there for several moments, too overwhelmed to move. He finally forced himself to look over at the haggard building. A group of boys milled around outside, glancing anxiously at the upper windows as if expecting a hideous beast to leap out in an explosion of glass and wood.
A metallic clicking sound from the branches above grabbed his attention, made him look up; a flash of silver and red light caught his eyes just before disappearing around the trunk to the other side. He scrambled to his feet and walked around the tree, craning his neck for a sign of whatever he’d heard, but he saw only bare branches, gray and brown, forking out like skeleton fingers—and looking just as alive.
“That was one of them beetle blades,” someone said.
Thomas turned to his right to see a kid standing nearby, short and pudgy, staring at him. He was young—probably the youngest of any in the group he’d seen so far, maybe twelve or thirteen years old. His brown hair hung down over his ears and neck, scraping the tops of his shoulders. Blue eyes shone through an otherwise pitiful face, flabby and flushed.
Thomas nodded at him. “A beetle what?”
“Beetle blade,” the boy said, pointing to the top of the tree. “Won’t hurt ya unless you’re stupid enough to touch one of them.” He paused. “Shank.” He didn’t sound comfortable saying the last word, as if he hadn’t quite grasped the slang of the Glade.
Another scream, this one long and nerve-grinding, tore through the air and Thomas’s heart lurched. The fear was like icy dew on his skin. “What’s going on over there?” he asked, pointing at the building.
“Don’t know,” the chubby boy replied; his voice still carried the high pitch of childhood. “Ben’s in there, sicker than a dog. They got him.”
“They?” Thomas didn’t like the malicious way the boy had said the word.
“Who are They?”
“Better hope you never find out,” the kid answered, looking far too comfortable for the situation. He held out his hand. “My name’s Chuck. I was the Greenbean until you showed up.”r />
This is my guide for the night? Thomas thought. He couldn’t shake his extreme discomfort, and now annoyance crept in as well. Nothing made sense; his head hurt.
“Why is everyone calling me Greenbean?” he asked, shaking Chuck’s hand quickly, then letting go.
“Cuz you’re the newest Newbie.” Chuck pointed at Thomas and laughed. Another scream came from the house, a sound like a starving animal being tortured.
“How can you be laughing?” Thomas asked, horrified by the noise. “It sounds like someone’s dying in there.”
“He’ll be okay. No one dies if they make it back in time to get the Serum. It’s all or nothing. Dead or not dead. Just hurts a lot.”
This gave Thomas pause. “What hurts a lot?”
Chuck’s eyes wandered as if he wasn’t sure what to say. “Um, gettin’ stung by the Grievers.”
“Grievers?” Thomas was only getting more and more confused. Stung. Grievers. The words had a heavy weight of dread to them, and he suddenly wasn’t so sure he wanted to know what Chuck was talking about.
Chuck shrugged, then looked away, eyes rolling.
Thomas sighed in frustration and leaned back against the tree. “Looks like you barely know more than I do,” he said, but he knew it wasn’t true. His memory loss was strange. He mostly remembered the workings of the world—but emptied of specifics, faces, names. Like a book completely intact but missing one word in every dozen, making it a miserable and confusing read. He didn’t even know his age.
“Chuck, how … old do you think I am?”
The boy scanned him up and down. “I’d say you’re sixteen. And in case you were wondering, five foot nine … brown hair. Oh, and ugly as fried liver on a stick.” He snorted a laugh.
Thomas was so stunned he’d barely heard the last part. Sixteen? He was sixteen? He felt much older than that.
“Are you serious?” He paused, searching for words. “How …” He didn’t even know what to ask.
“Don’t worry. You’ll be all whacked for a few days, but then you’ll get used to this place. I have. We live here, this is it. Better than living in a pile of klunk.” He squinted, maybe anticipating Thomas’s question. “Klunk’s another word for poo. Poo makes a klunk sound when it falls in our pee pots.”
Thomas looked at Chuck, unable to believe he was having this conversation. “That’s nice” was all he could manage. He stood up and walked past Chuck toward the old building; shack was a better word for the place. It looked three or four stories high and about to fall down at any minute—a crazy assortment of logs and boards and thick twine and windows seemingly thrown together at random, the massive, ivy-strewn stone walls rising up behind it. As he moved across the courtyard, the distinct smell of firewood and some kind of meat cooking made his stomach grumble. Knowing now that it was just a sick kid doing the screaming made Thomas feel better. Until he thought about what had caused it …
“What’s your name?” Chuck asked from behind, running to catch up.
“Your name? You still haven’t told us—and I know you remember that much.”
“Thomas.” He barely heard himself say it—his thoughts had spun in a new direction. If Chuck was right, he’d just discovered a link to the rest of the boys. A common pattern to their memory losses. They all remembered their names. Why not their parents’ names? Why not a friend’s name? Why not their last names?
“Nice to meet you, Thomas,” Chuck said. “Don’t you worry, I’ll take care of you. I’ve been here a whole month, and I know the place inside and out. You can count on Chuck, okay?”
Thomas had almost reached the front door of the shack and the small group of boys congregating there when he was hit by a sudden and surprise rush of anger. He turned to face Chuck. “You can’t even tell me anything. I wouldn’t call that taking care of me.” He turned back toward the door, intent on going inside to find some answers. Where this sudden courage and resolve came from, he had no idea.
Chuck shrugged. “Nothin’ I say’ll do you any good,” he said. “I’m basically still a Newbie, too. But I can be your friend—”
“I don’t need friends,” Thomas interrupted.
He’d reached the door, an ugly slab of sun-faded wood, and he pulled it open to see several stoic-faced boys standing at the foot of a crooked staircase, the steps and railings twisted and angled in all directions. Dark wallpaper covered the walls of the foyer and hallway, half of it peeling off. The only decorations in sight were a dusty vase on a three-legged table and a black-and-white picture of an ancient woman dressed in an old-fashioned white dress. It reminded Thomas of a haunted house from a movie or something. There were even planks of wood missing from the floor.
The place reeked of dust and mildew—a big contrast to the pleasant smells outside. Flickering fluorescent lights shone from the ceiling. He hadn’t thought of it yet, but he had to wonder where the electricity came from in a place like the Glade. He stared at the old woman in the picture. Had she lived here once? Taken care of these people?
“Hey, look, it’s the Greenbean,” one of the older boys called out. With a start, Thomas realized it was the black-haired guy who’d given him the look of death earlier. He looked like he was fifteen or so, tall and skinny. His nose was the size of a small fist and resembled a deformed potato. “This shank probably klunked his pants when he heard old Benny baby scream like a girl. Need a new diaper, shuck-face?”
“My name’s Thomas.” He had to get away from this guy. Without another word, he made for the stairs, only because they were close, only because he had no idea what to do or say. But the bully stepped in front of him, holding a hand up.
“Hold on there, Greenie.” He jerked a thumb in the direction of the upper floor. “Newbies aren’t allowed to see someone who’s been … taken. Newt and Alby won’t allow it.”
“What’s your problem?” Thomas asked, trying to keep the fear out of his voice, trying not to think what the kid had meant by taken. “I don’t even know where I am. All I want is some help.”
“Listen to me, Greenbean.” The boy wrinkled up his face, folded his arms. “I’ve seen you before. Something’s fishy about you showing up here, and I’m gonna find out what.”
A surge of heat pulsed through Thomas’s veins. “I’ve never seen you before in my life. I have no idea who you are, and I couldn’t care less,” he spat. But really, how would he know? And how could this kid remember him?
The bully snickered, a short burst of laughter mixed with a phlegm-filled snort. Then his face grew serious, his eyebrows slanting inward. “I’ve … seen you, shank. Not too many in these parts can say they’ve been stung.” He pointed up the stairs. “I have. I know what old Benny baby’s going through. I’ve been there. And I saw you during the Changing.”
He reached out and poked Thomas in the chest. “And I bet your first meal from Frypan that Benny’ll say he’s seen ya, too.”
Thomas refused to break eye contact but decided to say nothing. Panic ate at him once again. Would things ever stop getting worse?
“Griever got ya wettin’ yourself?” the boy said through a sneer. “A little scared now? Don’t wanna get stung, do ya?”
There was that word again. Stung. Thomas tried not to think about it and pointed up the stairs, from where the moans of the sick kid echoed through the building. “If Newt went up there, then I wanna talk to him.”
The boy said nothing, stared at Thomas for several seconds. Then he shook his head. “You know what? You’re right, Tommy—I shouldn’t be so mean to Newbies. Go on upstairs and I’m sure Alby and Newt’ll fill you in. Seriously, go on. I’m sorry.”
He lightly slapped Thomas’s shoulder, then stepped back, gesturing up the stairs. But Thomas knew the kid was up to something. Losing parts of your memory didn’t make you an idiot.
“What’s your name?” Thomas asked, stalling for time while he tried to decide if he should go up after all.
“Gally. And don’t let anyo
ne fool you. I’m the real leader here, not the two geezer shanks upstairs. Me. You can call me Captain Gally if you want.” He smiled for the first time; his teeth matched his disgusting nose. Two or three were missing, and not a single one approached anything close to the color white. His breath escaped just enough for Thomas to get a whiff, reminding him of some horrible memory that was just out of reach. It made his stomach turn.
“Okay,” he said, so sick of the guy he wanted to scream, punch him in the face. “Captain Gally it is.” He exaggerated a salute, feeling a rush of adrenaline, as he knew he’d just crossed a line.
A few snickers escaped the crowd, and Gally looked around, his face bright red. He peered back at Thomas, hatred furrowing his brow and crinkling his monstrous nose.
“Just go up the stairs,” Gally said. “And stay away from me, you little slinthead.” He pointed up again but didn’t take his eyes off Thomas.
“Fine.” Thomas looked around one more time, embarrassed, confused, angry. He felt the heat of blood in his face. No one made a move to stop him from doing as Gally asked, except for Chuck, who stood at the front door, shaking his head.
“You’re not supposed to,” the younger boy said. “You’re a Newbie—you can’t go up there.”
“Go,” said Gally with a sneer. “Go on up.”
Thomas regretted having come inside in the first place—but he did want to talk to that Newt guy.
He started up the stairs. Each step groaned and creaked under his weight; he might’ve stopped for fear of falling through the old wood if he weren’t leaving such an awkward situation below. Up he went, wincing at every splintered sound. The stairs reached a landing, turned left, then came upon a railed hallway leading to several rooms. Only one door had a light coming through the crack at the bottom.
“The Changing!” Gally shouted from below. “Look forward to it, shuck-face!”
As if the taunting gave Thomas a sudden burst of courage, he walked over to the lit door, ignoring the creaking floorboards and laughter downstairs—ignoring the onslaught of words he didn’t understand, suppressing the dreadful feelings they induced. He reached down, turned the brass handle, and opened the door.