She looked around the darkness of wherever she was as confusion bubbled inside of her. She was sat down, hands on her knees but the cold surface managed to somehow make itself known through the slightly baggy trousers she was wearing. She took a deep breath of the air, which made her cough slightly as the taste of damp was burning through it, before shakily standing up.
She searched the darkness, taking a step forwards with her arms extended from her sides to try and find a wall. She saw and felt nothing, so stepped forwards again.
But before her foot touched the ground the place shook as the sound of pulling chains burst into life. The sudden movement made her topple over, her head hitting the cold metal floor and making her groan. She stayed on the floor as the room – or platform as she had still not found any signs of walls – began to move upwards.
She took deep breaths every so often as she continued to move upwards in the darkness. Fear began to ebb into her and tried to overcome the confusion, but she fought it off as she closed her eyes.
The name flashed before her closed eyelids in a swirly writing she did not recognise. She nodded to herself before slowly opening her eyes. Her heart sank a little as darkness still sat around her.
Right, she thought as she slowly sat up, my name's Rachel.
She pulled her knees towards her chest before wrapping her arms around them and resting her chin between them. She closed her eyes again, hoping another word, another memory, would be written for her. But nothing except a slightly different darkness came.
Great, I'm in a lift thing and all I know is my freaking name, she thought with a sigh. She opened her eyes quickly and scanned the darkness once more. Realisation hit her and oddly brought a weak smile to her face.
But I know this is like a lift, she reasoned to herself as she felt her stomach drop slightly, so not everything's gone then.
She realised the thing had stopped moving and so stood up quickly. She balled her hands into fists, bringing them up towards her face. While little things like lifts and parks began to pop into her head people's faces and names seemed to be blurred somehow from the memories. She could not remember how she got to the lift and had no idea what to expect now it had stopped.
There was a sudden grinding sound and the thing jolted upwards before coming to a second stop. The movement threw Rachel into what she could only assume was a wall before she crumpled to the floor in a ball over her right shoulder. She saw stars and groaned slightly as she rubbed the back of her head, she could already feel a bump forming. Oh yay, she thought as she shakily stood back up in preparation for what was to come.
A scraping sound echoed – Rachel decided she was inside a metal container like a shipping yard's but smaller – around the box before a stream of light cut through the darkness. It was a small rectangle a few steps in front of her and dust seemed to dance around it.
There was a groan from above before another scraping sound came. Rachel looked around quickly, expecting someone to step out of the shadows but light quickly cleared them to reveal no one. She closed and rubbed her eyes at the sudden arrival of light – wishing for the darkness again as it did not hurt her eyes.
'Vi, get the rope down there for Newbie,' a voice called.
Rachel wearily opened her eyes and looked upwards with a squint, a hand raised to shield her eyes from the light a little more. A shadow passed across the light source before there was an echoing thud. Rachel scanned the room, it was larger than she had expected and much taller. She noticed the source of the thud, a rope now hung from the side and a loop sat by her toes.
'Take it Newbie,' a different voice called. Rachel thought it sounded kind but rolled her shoulders, uncertainty pumping through her veins.
She stepped into the loop and held onto the rest tightly so it hung by her face. She noticed it looked muddy and warn, a few strands beginning to peel away. She was pulled upwards, the light growing brighter and hurting her eyes more.
She felt a hand grab her left after a moment and looked up to see who was helping her. She could not see anything but sunlight patched with a few shadows, feeling a headache start behind her eyes. She clasped the hand as another grabbed her right and hastily pulled herself up out of the box with help.
She steadied her breathing as she pushed off the rope with her feet and then landed on solid ground – or at least for now. She coughed as she inhaled fresh air, being thankful for the lack of damp in it.
Finally Rachel sat up, feeling a hand on her back so as to prevent her from falling back into the box. She blinked several times as the world came into focus and then scanned the people before her. They were five girls all of a similar age. Age? She felt a wave of sadness as she realised she had no idea how old she was. The girls around her all looked to be in their early to mid teens – must be a teen too then, she thought – and were looking at her with boredom strong on their face, but she noticed worry behind their eyes.
'Welcome to Hell,' a dark skinned girl said in a voice that lacked all humour. Rachel realised she had been the one to order the rope.
'That's it Harri, scare her before she's even heard of the Grievers,' a very pale girl said with a smirk – Rachel realised that she had been the second voice when she was still in the metal box.
Rachel rubbed her forehead as she tried to look at where she was, but noticed the others girls seemed to be preventing her from doing so. She decided to survey them instead. They all appeared to have dirt smeared on their dark trainers, their trousers seemed to be two sizes too big at least and their long sleeves were rolled up. They mostly had hair tied back – only one had her hair cut right to her scalp – and it had a slight amount of sweat at its roots.
'Where,' Rachel started but the word caught pathetically in her throat. She watched as the girl referred to as Harri smirked before coughing to clear her throat, knowing annoyance had crossed her face as she looked away from them all. 'Where the freak am I?'
'As close to Hell as you'll ever wanna be,' Rachel recognised the pale girl's voice but this time it sounded distant. 'Welcome to the Glade, Newbie. I'm Sonya.'
Rachel looked up and noticed Sonya had held out a hand with a weak attempt of a reassuring smile on her face. Rachel hesitated in taking it, glancing around at the others first, before allowing herself to be helped up again. She managed to look at where she was, she could just see over the others' shoulders now she was standing.
There were two large walls that she could immediately see. Between her and them stood two large buildings – in relation to the other tiny building – which would probably be better referred to as ruins, but they looked like the only shelter available. A few other teenage girls were wandering from one towards the large walls. Rachel noticed, as she turned to look behind her, a small farm and another smallish building. She could just see a wooded area which, even between the sinister tree branches in the shade, looked the most welcoming place to her.
'What'll she work as?' a cold voice asked. It snapped Rachel from her observations of the Glade, as it had been formally introduced, and she turned to look at the girl.
Her eyes were narrowed as they darted across Rachel's face. Her hair fell to passed her shoulders and shone as if made of silver in the sunlight. She had her hands comfortably resting on her hips with her elbows out so as to create a barrier between her and the girls on either side of her.
'Stick it Beth,' a girl with grey eyes spat. 'Let Newbie breath and be shown around first.'
Rachel allowed a small smirk at Beth being put in her place – the girl had lowered her arms and so no longer formed a barrier, but her eyes glinted dangerously. She noticed that Beth scowled at her. What've I done to her? She wondered as Beth wandered off, muttering something which made the grey eyed girl take a breath as if to calm herself.
'Right, Harriet, Sonya, you can go back to work. Viola, go get Amelia,' the grey eyed girl ordered.
Sonya gave Rachel a small smile before pulling Harriet away with her and Rachel turned to look at the other girl – she was reasonably muscular but looked kind – before she wandered off.
'I'm Emily by the way,' the grey eyed girl said with a weak smile.
'Rachel,' she introduced before holding out her hand – she got the fleeting image of being taught that manner, but the person who had taught her it appeared as different from the person she was shaking hands with as two crash test dummies. 'So, what is this? Actually, more importantly, why am I here?' Rachel pulled her hand away and scanned Emily's face.
Emily gave a small smirk before turning and wandering towards an ivy patched grey wall. She raised a hand and beckoned Rachel to follow her. Rachel took a step forwards before the sound of chains working cut through the mumblings and farmyard sounds. She turned around, peering down the hole where she had come from, and watched as the box descended into darkness. She felt a tiny tug at her heart; despite the uncertainty of the box it had made her feel safe, as a hatch slide from the floor to cover the hole. Looks like I'm stuck here, she thought with a sigh before following Emily.
Emily was waiting by a clear bit of wall, leaning against it with a warm smile on her face and arms folded. Next to her was a hole in the wall as if a door was meant to be there. Behind it Rachel noticed a corridor which ended in a T-junction, as if it was the beginning of a maze. She stopped a few steps away from the entrance, trying to see what was down the two sideways but failing. She then turned to Emily, who was still waiting patiently.
'This beauty of a place is the Maze. It's been two years and we've no idea what the moving walls mean. But you don't need to worry about that sticking place yet, not until the next Newbie comes. For now you'll find a job that's right for you,' Emily explained, resting a hand on Rachel's shoulder and steering her to face away from the Maze's entrance.
Two years? She thought as worry seeped into her, they've been here two years.
Rachel rolled her shoulder away but followed the leader towards the wooded area. She scanned the other walls, each had a doorway in their centre and the two to her left were casting a weak shadow onto an area of green where a few cows and sheep grazed. She noticed the girl, Viola, talking to a small girl who was sheering a sheep before she wandered into the small building. The other girl placed the knife in her pocket, stood up and then skipped out of the pen and towards where Rachel and Emily stood silently.
When the girl reached them Emily tapped her shoulder, smiled at Rachel and then wandered towards the largest building in the courtyard. Rachel noticed she was wringing her hands behind her, as if worried, before the other girl stepped into her line of view.
The girl had a cherub face with a wide toothy smile. Strawberry blonde hair fell to her shoulders but was held away from her face by being tucked behind her ears. Her pale green eyes were large as she looked up at Rachel and they shone merrily. Rachel felt a tug at her heart, wherever they were she did not think it was good, and this girl could not have been more than thirteen years old.
'Alright Newbie, I'm Amelia and your tour guide for today,' the small girl beamed as she explained it in an overly happy voice.
'Name's Rachel, not Newbie,' Rachel sighed, but she could not help but smile at the happy looking Amelia. 'Anyway, before you start, how ... how old would you say I am?' Rachel felt her cheeks burn slightly as the question escaped her, but she needed to know. She needed something which might help her remember why she was in the odd place, something which might help her remember what life was like before the lift.
Amelia smiled. 'Come on, lots to see,' she said, before starting back towards the farm.
Rachel felt her heart sink slightly before she scratched the back of her head. Now she thought about it she realised her hair was tied up and that the fuzzy part above her line of vision was a fringe. She scrapped the hair and pulled it into her line of vision – noticing her hands were lightly tanned. Right, she thought with a weak smile as she began to follow Amelia and tucked her fringe behind her ear. So I've got golden hair, it's a start I guess.
After a few steps Rachel had caught up with Amelia and was walking next to her. A few girls smiled and waved at the skipping youngster, who waved and giggled in reply.
When they reached the pen Amelia jumped to sit on the wooden fence and crossed her arms over her knees. 'Sixteen, about one hundred and ... sixty-eight? Centimetres tall with dark brown eyes and only a smile which kind of shows annoyance so far,' Amelia answered with a smile. 'I asked for a basic description of meself when I got here, seems we all ask.'
'It's weird,' Rachel rolled her eyes at her own blindingly obvious statement. 'I mean, remembering farms and animals and stuff but not how we look. And what even is the point of this place?'
'Stop with the questions Newbie and ask 'em at the end of the sticking tour,' Amelia grinned, before giggling as if she had said something she was not meant to. 'Right, Rachel, this is the farm. We get meat, milk and wool from here so we 'ave extra supplies. We also 'ave the garden here for fruit and veg. That big building's the meat house,' she explained before jumping from the fence and lowering her voice so Rachel had to crouch slightly to hear her. 'Wouldn't annoy the Bleeders if I were you. You ain't got anger problems 'ave ya?' concern flashed across her face as she lead the way to the smallest building.
'You know about as much about me as I do Amelia. What would you say?' Rachel sighed quietly as she followed her tour guide.
With each new building Amelia told Rachel about the jobs that happened. She heard about the Oddies who basically cleaned and fixed things, the Afters who looked after the dead, the Cooks who appeared to be the only ones with a usual name and the Mappers who tried to find a pattern in the Maze's wall movements. At the end of the tour Amelia explained about the Home.
'Yeah the Medics work in there,' Amelia said as they reached the largest building, a group of girls stood outside it. 'Only one in there at the moment's Mel, she was really nice 'till she got Stung.'
Rachel was barely paying attention though as she scanned the group outside the Home. There were only about six of them but in the middle she noticed a grinning Beth. She noticed Amelia bump into the older girl, her eyes widening before she stepped back next to Rachel and looked at the group.
'Come to look at the freak then Newbie?' Beth sneered, the other girls laughed and Rachel noticed that Amelia had stopped smiling for once.
'Mel ain't a freak, you're the whack job 'round here,' Amelia muttered to herself, making Rachel smirk.
'What was that Amy?' Beth asked, her voice worryingly calm.
'Leave her alone,' Rachel said, courage surging though her as she stepped between Amelia and Beth. 'From what I've heard this place's for the ill. Show a little respect.'
Beth laughed, taking a step forwards as the others around her giggled. 'Or what Newbie? You'll throw me off the Cliff? You'll make me regret the sticking day I got here? I'd love to see that.'
Rachel inhaled deeply; eyes locking with the girl's who seemed to have a problem with her, despite them not even knowing each other until about half an hour earlier. She could feel Amelia's hand on her sleeve but ignored it. She tried to figure out what made Beth hate her, trying to read something behind the stranger's eyes but could not make anything out other than annoyance.
Beth let out a cold laugh and folded her arms. 'Thought as much. You haven't got the guts. She hasn't got the guts to go see ickle Mel,' Beth baited as she turned to a bored looking brunette.
'She's not allowed to,' Amelia gasped, her hand tightening on Rachel's sleeve.
'She's not allowed to in those sticks's books. But whatever they say I'm the boss around here. Don't forget that Newbie, I'm the Queen Bee around here,' Beth said in a low voice as one of the other girl's slowly opened the door into the Home and a haunting scream reverberated around the Glade.
Rachel jumped and turned around, looking for the source of the sound which had sent a shiver down her spine. But she saw nothing which was odd, a few of the girls looked around before carrying on with what they had been doing. She turned slowly back to Beth; realising Amelia no longer had a hold of her sleeve.
'Newbie's scared of Mel's Changing,' Beth sang with a cruel smile which reminded Rachel of a hungry alligator. 'Best way to overcome fear of the unknown is to go look at it. Go on, go up the stairs.'
Rachel could not help but realise Beth had a point. The only way to make the haunting scream normal – well, as normal as it appeared to the other girls – was to go look at its source. But she also knew that Beth was teasing her with the darkened staircase behind her. She had no idea quite how much trouble she would get in – the fear Amelia had shown gave her a vague idea though – but it may answer some of the questions she had yet to ask.
'Fine,' Rachel said confidentially as worry built within her. She watched as the girls parted with cruel smirks so she could enter the Home. She could feel Amelia by her elbow, dancing worriedly, before she stepped forwards.
The corridor was covered in peeling paintwork with darkened floorboards which appeared to have some missing. A picture of an elderly looking woman hung on the wall to her left as she ascended the staircase. With every other step the floorboard would creak and the handrail groan as she held it loosely. She could hear the voices from below growing fainter – the older girls forcing Amelia to stay quiet – as worried whispers from above began to sound clearer.