A small cry escaped from deep within Thomas’s chest, and he didn’t know if it was audible or something he just felt inside, imagined. Brenda stood next to him, silent—transfixed, maybe—her light still fixed on the hideous stranger.
The man took a lumbering step toward them, having to wave his one good arm to keep his balance on the one good leg.
“Rose took my nose, I suppose,” he repeated; the bubble of phlegm in his throat made a disgusting crackle. “And it really blows.”
Thomas held his breath, waiting for Brenda to make the first move.
“Get it?” the man said, his snarl trying to morph into a grin. He looked like an animal about to pounce on its prey. “It really blows. My nose. Taken by Rose. I suppose.” He laughed then, a wet chortle that made Thomas worry he might never sleep in peace again.
“Yeah, I get it,” Brenda said. “That’s some funny stuff.”
Thomas sensed movement and looked over at her. She had pulled a can from her bag, slyly, and now gripped it in her right hand. Before he could wonder whether it was a good idea and whether he should try to stop her, she pulled her arm back and tossed the can at the Crank. Thomas watched it fly, watched it crash into the man’s face.
He let out a shriek that iced Thomas to the core.
And then others appeared. A group of two. Then three. Then four more. Men and women. All dragging themselves out of the darkness to stand behind the first Crank. All just as gone. Just as hideous, consumed fully by the Flare, raging mad and injured head to toe. And, Thomas noticed, all missing their nose.
“That didn’t hurt so bad,” the leading Crank said. “You have a pretty nose. I really want a nose again.” He stopped snarling long enough to lick his lips, then went right back to it. His tongue was a gruesomely scarred purple thing, as if he chewed it when bored. “And so do my friends.”
Fear pushed up and through Thomas’s chest, like toxic gas rejected by his stomach. He now knew better than ever what the Flare did to people. He’d seen it back at the windows of the dormitory—but now he faced it on a more personal level. Right in front of him, with no bars to keep them away. The faces of the Cranks were primitive and animalistic. The lead man took another lurching step, then another.
It was time to go.
Brenda didn’t say anything. She didn’t need to. After she pulled out another can and flung it toward the Cranks, Thomas turned around with her and they ran. The psychotic shrill of their pursuers’ cries rose behind them like the battle call of a demon army.
Brenda’s flashlight beam shakily crisscrossed left and right, bouncing as they sprinted straight past the slew of right and left turns. Thomas knew they had an advantage—the Cranks looked half broken, riddled with injury. Surely they wouldn’t be able to keep up. But the thought that even more Cranks might be down here, maybe even waiting for them up ahead …
Brenda pulled up and turned right, grabbing Thomas’s arm to drag him along. He stumbled the first few steps, got his feet under him, pushed himself back to full speed. The angry shouts and catcalls of the Cranks faded a bit.
Then Brenda turned left. Then right again. After this second turn she flicked off the flashlight but didn’t slow.
“What’re you doing?” Thomas asked. He held a hand out in front of him, sure he was going to smack into a wall at any second.
A shush was the only response he got. He wondered about how much he was trusting Brenda. He’d put his life in her hands. But he didn’t see what other options he had, especially now.
She pulled up again a few seconds later, stopping completely. They stood in darkness, catching their breath. The Cranks were distant but still loud enough, coming closer.
“Okay,” she whispered. “Right about … here.”
“What?” he asked.
“Just follow me into this room. There’s a perfect hiding spot in here—I found it while exploring once. There’s no way they’ll stumble on it. Come on.”
Her hand tightened around his, pulled him to the right. He sensed that they were passing through a narrow door; then Brenda pulled him down to the floor.
“There’s an old table here,” she said. “Can you feel it?”
She pushed his hand out until he felt hard, smooth wood.
“Yeah,” he answered.
“Just watch your head. We’re gonna crawl under it and then through a small notch in the wall that leads to a hidden compartment. Who knows what it’s for, but no way those Cranks’ll find it. Even if they have a light, which I doubt.”
Thomas had to wonder how they got around without one, but he saved the question for later—Brenda was already on the move, and he didn’t want to lose her. Staying close, his fingers brushing her foot, he followed her as she scooted on her hands and knees under the table and toward the wall. Then they crawled through a small square opening into the long, narrow compartment. Thomas felt around, patting the surfaces to get a sense of where he was. The ceiling was only about two feet off the ground, so he continued to drag himself farther into the crevice.
Brenda lay with her back against the far wall of the hideout by the time Thomas awkwardly got himself in position. They had no choice but to lie stretched out, on their sides. It was a squeeze, but he fit, facing the same direction she did, his back pressed against her front. He felt her breath on his neck.
“This is real comfy,” he whispered.
“Just be quiet.”
Thomas scooted up a little so his head could rest against the wall; then he relaxed. He settled in, taking deep, slow breaths and listening for any sign of the Cranks.
At first the silence was so deep it had a buzz to it, a ringing in his ears. But then came the first traces of Crank noises. Coughing, random shouts, lunatic giggles. They came closer by the second, and Thomas felt a moment of panic, worried that they’d been stupid to trap themselves like this. But then he thought about it. The odds of the Cranks finding the hidden cubbyhole were slim, especially in the darkness. They’d move on, hopefully going far away. Maybe even forgetting about him and Brenda altogether. That was better than a prolonged chase.
And if worse came to worst, he and Brenda could easily defend themselves through the tiny opening into the compartment. Maybe.
The Cranks were close now; Thomas had to fight the urge to hold his breath. All they needed was for an unexpected gasp for oxygen to give them away. Despite the darkness, he closed his eyes to concentrate on listening.
The swishes of shuffling feet. Grunts and heavy breathing. Someone banged on a wall, a series of deadened thumps against the concrete. Arguments broke out, frantic exchanges of gibberish. He heard a “This way!” and a “That way!” More coughing. One of them gagged and spit violently, like he was trying to rid himself of an organ or two. A woman laughed, so full of madness the sound made Thomas shudder.
Brenda found his hand, squeezed it. Once again, Thomas felt a ridiculous surge of guilt, like he was cheating on Teresa. He couldn’t help that this girl was so touchy-feely. And what a stupid thing to think when you have—
A Crank entered the room right outside their compartment. Then another. Thomas heard their wheezy intakes of breath, the scrapes of their feet against the floor. Another entered, those footsteps a long slide and thump, long slide and thump. Thomas thought it might be the first man they’d seen, the only one who’d spoken to them—the one with the arm and leg shaking and useless.
“Little booooooy,” the man said, a taunting and creepy call. Definitely him—Thomas couldn’t forget that voice. “Little girrrrrrrrl. Come out come out make a sound make a sound. I want your noses.”
“Nothin’ in here,” a woman spat. “Nothin’ but an old table.”
The creak of wood scraping against the floor sliced through the air, then ended abruptly.
“Maybe they’re hiding their noses under it,” the man responded. “Maybe they’re still attached to their sweet little pretty faces.”
Thomas shrank back against Brenda when he heard a hand or shoe scruff along the floor just outside the entrance to their little hiding place. Just a foot or two away.
“Nothin’ down there!” the woman said again.
Thomas heard her move away. He realized that his whole body had tensed into a pack of taut wires; he forced himself to relax, still careful to control his breathing.
More shuffling of feet. Then a haunting set of whispers, as if the trio had met in the middle of the room to strategize. Were their minds still sound enough to do such a thing? Thomas wondered. He strained to hear, to catch any words, but the harsh puffs of speech remained indecipherable.
“No!” one of them shouted. A man, but Thomas couldn’t tell if it was the man. “No! No no no no no no no no.” The words quieted into a murmured stutter.
The woman cut him off with her own chant. “Yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes.”
“Shut up!” the leader said. Definitely the leader. “Shut up shut up shut up!”
Thomas felt cold inside, though sweat was beading on his skin. He didn’t know if this exchange had any meaning whatsoever or was just more evidence of madness.
“I’m leaving,” the woman said, her words broken by a sob. She sounded like a child left out of a game.
“Me too, me too.” This from the other man.
“Shut up shut up shut up shut up!” the leader yelled, this time much louder. “Go away go away go away!”
The sudden repetition of words creeped Thomas out. Like some control over language had snapped in their brains.
Brenda was squeezing his hand so hard it hurt. Her breath was cool against the sweat on his neck.
Shuffles of feet and swishing of clothes outside. Were they leaving?
The sounds decreased sharply in volume when they entered the hallway, tunnel, whatever. The other Cranks in their party seemed to have left already. Soon it became silent all over again. Thomas only heard the faint sounds of his and Brenda’s breath.
They waited in the darkness, lying flat on the hard ground, facing the small doorway, pressed together, sweating. The silence stretched out, turned back into the buzz of absent sound. Thomas kept listening, knowing they had to be absolutely sure. As much as he wanted to leave that little compartment, as uncomfortable as it was, they had to wait.
Several minutes passed. Several more. Nothing but silence and darkness.
“I think they’re gone,” Brenda finally whispered. She flicked on her flashlight.
“Hello, noses!” a hideous voice yelled from the room.
Then a bloody hand reached through the doorway and grabbed Thomas by the shirt.
|Chapter 1||Chapter 2||Chapter 3||Chapter 4||Chapter 5||Chapter 6|
|Chapter 7||Chapter 8||Chapter 9||Chapter 10||Chapter 11||Chapter 12|
|Chapter 13||Chapter 14||Chapter 15||Chapter 16||Chapter 17||Chapter 18|
|Chapter 19||Chapter 20||Chapter 21||Chapter 22||Chapter 23||Chapter 24|
|Chapter 25||Chapter 26||Chapter 27||Chapter 28||Chapter 29||Chapter 30|
|Chapter 31||Chapter 32||Chapter 33||Chapter 34||Chapter 35||Chapter 36|
|Chapter 37||Chapter 38||Chapter 39||Chapter 40||Chapter 41||Chapter 42|
|Chapter 43||Chapter 44||Chapter 45||Chapter 46||Chapter 47||Chapter 48|
|Chapter 49||Chapter 50||Chapter 51||Chapter 52||Chapter 53||Chapter 54|
|Chapter 55||Chapter 56||Chapter 57||Chapter 58||Chapter 59||Chapter 60|
|Chapter 61||Chapter 62||Chapter 63||Chapter 64||Chapter 65|
|Book 1: Maze Runner||Book 2: Scorch Trials||Book 3: Death Cure||Prequel: Kill Order|