"Alby! Get your shuck face over here!" I yelled. "We're leaving, now." A dark-skinned boy with close-cropped hair raised his hand to let me know he'd heard me but didn't come over. That shank, I thought, irritated. I stretched while waiting for Alby; faintly, I heard the Greenbean's voice—he was always asking questions. Trying my best to shut out the newbie's voice, I walked over to the Door, having just noticed the Banishment pole lying in the opening. I tossed it to another Runner without even glancing his way.
"Alright, shuckface," announced Alby. "I'm ready now."
"It's about time," I muttered half-heartedly. "All right, let's go."
We entered the Maze at a fast walk until we reached my section of the Maze; then, I broke into a run and heard Alby do the same. The walls leading to the Door were the same as yesterday—they always stayed the same. The walls for Section Eight, however, had shifted overnight, as they always did. I noted the differences from yesterday as we went, noticing that, once again, the walls seemed to be following the patterns they usually did.
"So… where is it?" panted Alby. I rolled my eyes; all the Gladers were in fairly good shape—we had to be; however, the Runners, of course, were in the best shape, which was obvious. Running my butt off every single day really showed on my body.
"We're no where near close yet," I replied evenly. The previous day, I'd found a dead Griever lying in the Maze, something that never happened. When I had reported back, Alby had insisted he come with me to examine it and so we'd set out today. The biggest thing that had the Gladers worried was the question of what killed it. As far as we knew, Grievers were the only things in the Maze. So what could possibly kill a Griever? I wondered, not for the first time.
At about noon, we reached the end of Section Eight, and the dead Griever. It was still lying there, same as it had yesterday, curled up like some great spider. Its blubbery skin was still moist and spikes protruded from its bloated body. The monstrous thing was completely still. The entire Maze suddenly seemed much more threatening. I noticed the silence right away—nothing moved, no wind blew, and we heard no other Grievers around. So why… My thoughts trailed off, unable to figure out what I was confused about.
Alby and I crouched down beside the Griever, silently studying it while on high alert for sound, any sound at all. It was too quiet and my instincts screamed at me to get out of there as fast as possible. At the same time, I knew we couldn't give up. We had to find out something.
"There aren't any marks on its body," I said to Alby. "No physical damage. Nothing hurt it."
"Could it be a disease?" asked Alby. "Maybe the Creators are tired of this… whatever it is."
I shook my head. "I really doubt that," I sighed.
"Me too," replied Alby.
"It's been… what? Two years? If the Creators weren't bored of this before, then they sure aren't now." I slowly stood up to walk around to the other side of the Griever. For the next few minutes, Alby and I discussed increasingly far-fetched reasons and methods behind the Griever's death before admitting defeat. We were completely at a loss. No explanation sounded even just a little bit plausible.
Finally, Alby stood up in frustration and kicked the shuck thing.
Instantly, two things became very obvious to us—one, that kicking the dead Griever was a terrible idea. Two, that the dead Griever was actually not so dead.
The Griever sprung to life, whirring and clicking mechanically. Its slimy body, sparsely covered with hair, pulsed with its breathing, if it could even be called breathing. Metal spikes protruded at random from its blubbery body and it went completely nuts on Alby, whirring and clicking away like something possessed. At first, stunned, I didn't react at all as the thing stung him. Finally, I managed to collect my thoughts and assess the situation.
I whipped out one of the knives that Runners always bring with them and a wooden pole topped with barbed wire. From a distance, I tried to fend it off with the long pole. I was scared out of my mind: I was scared that the Griever was going to kill Alby, scared that it was going to kill me: I was terrified that we were never going to make it out of the Maze alive.
At last, the Griever left Alby lying on the ground, motionless, and came after me. Although that had been my goal, now that I'd accomplished it, I was seriously rethinking it. I swallowed hard as it rolled towards me, the ominous sucking sound of its metal spikes receding into its blubbery body and coming back out chilling me to the bone. I raised my knife hand and extended the barbed-wire-topped pole away from my body, steeling myself for what I was about to do.
It came towards me rapidly, and when it was close enough, I propelled myself over it in a huge leap, landing behind it and quickly pivoting to stab it with my knife. Dark goo oozed out of the large wound, smelling of a weird mixture of wet animal and overheated mechanical parts. Alternatively stabbing at it with the wooden pole and the knife, I managed to beat it into submission and finally killed the thing.
I wiped some of the Griever goo off my arm in disgust and went to Alby. I knelt down beside him and gently shook his shoulders. "Hey, shuckface," I said, "wake up." I heard his heartbeat and saw his chest rise and fall with his breathing, but he didn't respond. I moved to grab him and throw him over my shoulder when I heard it.
The whir, click, click, whir that meant another Griever was coming close.
In a desperate gamble, I threw Alby over my shoulder and held the knife in my other hand, taking off at a run. I ran as fast as I possibly could, a lopsided gait, looking like some awkward beast of burden. I heard more following us; panic rose in my chest.
For the next few hours, it was a game of luck and guessing. Periodically, one or two Grievers would catch up and I would toss Alby onto the ground to fight them off, managing to kill them without getting stung. Each time a Grievers' spikes narrowly missed me, I thought of how many times Alby must have been stung. At the same time, I anxiously thought of the time slipping away like sand through my fingers.
Finally, the Door was in sight. By now, Alby had half woken up, and I had one of his arms around my shoulder, pulling him forward. I glanced up and noticed the Greenbean standing near the Door, peering into the Maze. "They got him!" I yelled hoarsely, my mouth dry as sandpaper, feeling as though the words scraped my throat raw. My exhausted muscles trembled and I almost felt it would be better if I decided to lie down in the middle of the corridor and wait for the Grievers to come.
"Newt!" I heard Thomas scream. "They're coming! I can see 'em!"
I was so close. Seeing Newt come pelting towards Thomas and the Door gave me one last burst of energy, and I lurched forward again with renewed vigor. Suddenly, Alby slipped from my trembling, weak grasp and he collapsed facedown on the grass in the Maze. Desperation and hopelessness filled me; the Doors began to close and I tried to get Alby back on his feet. My efforts were for nothing. I gave up and dragged him by the ankles towards the rapidly closing Doors. I knew there was no way we'd make it but I tried anyway. My strength failed me and I collapsed on top of Alby.
"Don't do it, Tommy! Don't you bloody do it!" ordered Newt as loudly as he could. It was too late, though, and the Greenbean had already thrown himself into the Maze at the last second as the Door slammed shut, barely missing crushing him in between. The loud boom echoed throughout the Maze like maniacal laughter.
For a moment, we stared at each other, frozen in place, terrified. That slinthead newbie leaned back against the just-closed Door and closed his eyes, puffing out his cheeks in disbelief. Alby let out an abrupt exclamation and I moaned in frustration, in exhaustion, in fear. I forced myself onto my aching feet, sweaty, filthy, and scratched up and in need of a good lie-down. That poor shank Alby looked even worse than I did—bruised and all beat up, his clothes ripped by those metal spikes, dark face with an unhealthy pallor to it.
"Greenie," I said in a dangerously quiet voice, "if you think that was brave comin' out here, listen up." Unexpectedly angry with Thomas, I felt my hands shaking with something other than fear for the first time that day. "You're the shuckiest shuck-faced shuck there ever was. You're as good as dead, just like us."
"I couldn't just sit there and leave you guys out here," he retorted. Well, it seemed that someone had decided to man up—at the most inconvenient time possible.
I rolled my eyes in exasperation. "And what good are you with us?" I demanded. "Whatever, dude. Break the Number One Rule, kill yourself, whatever."
The Greenie's voice was filled with resentment as he said, "You're welcome. I was just trying to help."
A bitter laugh escaped me. What good can some shuck-faced idiot do here? I thought to myself. Instead of speaking, I lowered myself stiffly onto the ground beside Alby; the Greenbean joined me. I was tempted to smack him away but figured that would waste precious seconds—it was night now, and the Griever always came out at night. We weren't going to make it out of here alive. Alby's already ashen face was still losing color and his breathing had become rapid and shallow.
"What happened?" asked Thomas quietly.
I jerked my hand irritably in a vague motion at him. "Don't wanna talk about it," I muttered, feeling for Alby's pulse. "Let's just say the Grievers can play dead really well."
"So he was… bitten? Stung, whatever? Is he going through the Changing?" Man, that newbie sure asked a lot of questions. Maybe if he just listened, instead of talked, he'd actually learn a thing or two.
I sighed. "You've got a lot to learn," I said.
Hollowly, clenching his fists, Thomas asked, "Is he going to die?"
I shifted my weight back on my heels, wearily preparing myself to stand up. "Since we didn't make it back before sunset, probably. Could be dead in an hour—I don't know how long it takes if you don't get the Serum." I stood up, my stiff, sore muscles screaming in protest. "Course, we'll be dead, too, so don't get all weepy for him. Yep, we'll all be nice and dead soon." My brain hadn't quite caught up to what my mouth had said yet, so it came out a bit more callous and blunt than I'd meant.
"We're really going to die?" whispered the Greenie. "You're telling me we have no chance?" It was almost more of a statement than a question.
"None," I repeated firmly.
"Oh, come on," snapped Thomas, "there has to be something we can do. How many Grievers'll come at us?" He stared into the corridors of the Maze as though he could see through the Maze walls and watch their paths. Man, this shank was really getting on my nerves.
"I don't know," I said sourly.
"But… what about Ben? And Gally, the others who've been stung and survived?"
I looked at him in disbelief, amazed that anyone could be this dumb and still breathe and talk at the same time. "Didn't you hear me?" I said slowly, loudly. "They made it back before sunset, you dong. Made it back and got the Serum. All of them." Thomas pressed the matter stubbornly, until I turned away and ignored him, grabbing Alby's arms and instructing Thomas to grab his feet so we could drag him over to the Door. "Give 'em one body that's easy to find in the morning," I explained bleakly.
That pigheaded Greenie just wouldn't let the issue rest. After several heated moments of him trying to have hope and me reasserting that we were dead already, I heard it. I heard the whir, click, click, whir that meant Grievers were on the way. "Ah, man, oh man," I almost whimpered. Despite all my insistence that we were dead, I was so scared. I was so scared. I could've klunked my pants then and there. "We have to split up—it's our only chance. Just keep moving. Don't stop moving!" Instantly, I turned and ran.
For the next hour or so—I don't know, I lost track of time –I kept moving, never stopping. I kept track of my turns and twists, avoiding Grievers and fighting them off if I had to. I stopped abruptly when I heard the sounds of multiple Grievers, and the sound of one person breathing heavily. The Greenbean. Thomas. I carefully peered around the corner with my peripherals, watching him. He made a desperate dive to one side to avoid a Griever coming at him head-on, giving me an idea. He darted off again, coming my way, closely followed by four Grievers. Should I leave him? I wondered. He could slow me down.
Or, he could be an asset.
I reached out and grabbed him; I heaved him into the corridor with me his legs still bicycling as though running. "Just shut up and follow me," I growled in his ear. I steadied him on his feet and then ran, knowing he would follow me. I took the turns with ease, knowing exactly where we were. "I just saw… the dive move you did… back there…" I began to explain in between ragged breaths. All this time, the Grievers continued to gain on us. We just couldn't compete with those half-machines, no matter how good a shape we were in—and the Greenie was holding up much better than I'd expected.
As we reached our destination, I noticed Thomas's pace increase involuntarily in excitement. "Don't get excited," I warned him. I stopped at the edge of the Cliff, Thomas nearly tumbling over in his abrupt halt.
"I don't get it," whispered Thomas.
"Careful," I responded. "You wouldn't be the first shank to fall off the Cliff." I reached out and shook Thomas's shoulder, forcibly turning his body to face the oncoming Grievers. "Did you forget something?" I started explaining my plan, but the Greenie interrupted me. He caught on fast. We stood just in front of the Cliff, facing the monsters coming towards us.
"We need to be in sync!" I shouted. "On my mark!"
For some reason, the Grievers lined up nicely in a line—maybe it was that this particular passageway way just narrow enough that they couldn't cluster together. Whatever it was, it didn't matter. The plan would either work, or it wouldn't. We would die, or we wouldn't. I kept my eyes fixed on the Grievers until the moment was right. "Now!" I screamed. At the last possible millisecond, we dove out of the way and one Griever after another sailed into the empty space, vanishing over the Cliff. We had to convince the final one to join its brethren with a sharp kick to the behind, but at last, they were all gone.
Time passed by and we were numb, sitting on the ground. "I can't believe we're alive," he finally murmured, not exactly speaking to me. I merely nodded. "Are there more of them? Did we just kill them all?" That guy never stopped asking questions.
"Somehow, we made it to sunrise, or we would've had ten more on our butts before long." I shifted and let out a groan. I was so beat. "I can't believe it." No one had ever gotten through a night in the Maze before.
I had to answer more of the Greenie's questions before he finally blinked as though just realizing we were alive and said, "We have to get back. Gotta get Alby off the wall." Confused, I waited for Thomas to explain himself before getting up and following him, refusing to believe he was still alive. We got into yet another question-and-answer sessions on our way back towards the Door—I had to admit, the Greenbean was kind of growing on me.
Upon reaching the main corridors, we saw Newt and a few other Gladers. I nearly smiled—man, it was good to see those shanks again. Newt refused to let Thomas or me get Alby down from where Thomas had tied him up with ivy, and we went to see the Med-jacks, Thomas following behind me.
I think he'd earned his right to become a Runner.