The Scorch Trials
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.
Thomas shrieked, started swatting at the scarred and bruised hand. His eyes were still adjusting to the brightness of Brenda's flashlight; he squinted to see the firm grip the man had on his shirt. The Crank pulled, slamming Thomas's body against the wall. His face smashed into the hard concrete and a burst of pain exploded around his nose. He felt blood trickling down.
The man pushed him back a few inches, then pulled him forward again. Pushed and pulled again. And again, slamming Thomas's face into the wall each time. Thomas couldn't believe the strength of the Crankit seemed impossible based on how he looked. Weak and horribly injured.
Brenda had her knife out, was trying to crawl over him, get in position to slash at the hand.
"Careful!" Thomas yelled. That knife was awfully close. He grabbed the man's wrist and wriggled it back and forth, trying to loosen that iron grip. Nothing worked, and the man kept pulling and pushing, battering Thomas's body as he hit the wall.
Brenda screamed and went for it. She swept across Thomas and her blade flashed as she drove it right into the Crank's forearm. The man let out a demonic wail and let go of Thomas's shirt. His hand disappeared through the doorway, leaving a trail of blood on the floor. His shrieks of pain continued, loud with trailing echoes.
"We can't let him get away!" Brenda yelled. "Hurry, get out there!"
Thomas, hurting all over, knew she was right and was already squirming to get his body in position. If the man reached the other Cranks, they'd all come back. They might have heard the commotion and already be turning around.
Thomas finally got his arms and head through the opening; then it became easier. He used the wall for leverage and pushed himself the rest of the way out, his eyes glued to the Crank, waiting for another attack. The man was only a few feet away, cradling his wounded arm against his chest. Their eyes met, and the Crank snarled like a wounded animal, bit at the air.
Thomas started to stand up but his head banged into the bottom of the table. "Shuck!" he yelled, then scrambled out from under the old slab of wood. Brenda was right on his heels, and soon they were both standing over the Crank, who lay on the ground in a fetal position, whimpering. Blood dripped from his wound onto the floor, already forming a small puddle.
Brenda held her flashlight in one hand, the knife in the other, its point aimed at the Crank. "Should've gone with your psycho friends, old man. Should've known better than to mess with us."
Instead of responding, the man suddenly spun on his shoulder, kicking his good leg out with shocking speed and strength. He hit Brenda first, sent her crashing into Thomas, and they both crumpled to the floor. Thomas heard the knife and flashlight clatter across the cement. Shadows danced on the walls.
The Crank staggered to his feet, ran for the knife, which had come to rest by the door to the hallway. Thomas pushed himself up and dove forward, crashing into the backs of the man's knees and tackling him to the ground. The man spun, swinging an elbow as he did so. It connected with Thomas's jaw; he felt another explosion of pain as he fell, his hand naturally flying up to his face.
Then Brenda was there. She jumped on the Crank, hit him in the face twice, stunning him, by the looks of it. She took advantage of the brief moment and somehow yanked the man around again so that he lay on his stomach, flat on the floor. She grabbed his arms and pinned them behind him, pushing up in a way that looked incredibly painful. The Crank wrenched and thrashed, but Brenda had him pinned with her legs as well. He started screaming, a horrific, piercing wail of pure terror.
"We have to kill him!" she yelled over it.
Thomas had gotten to his knees and was looking on in a stupor of inaction. "What?" he asked, drugged with exhaustion, too stunned to process her words.
"Get the knife! We have to kill him!"
The Crank kept screaming, a sound that made Thomas want to run as far away as possible. It was unnatural. Inhuman.
"Thomas!" Brenda yelled.
Thomas crawled over to the knife, picked it up, looked at the crimson goo on its sharp blade. He turned back to Brenda.
"Hurry!" she said, her eyes lit with anger. Something told him that her anger was no longer just for the Crankshe was mad at him for taking so long.
But could he do this? Could he kill a man? Even a crazed lunatic of a man who wanted him dead? Who wanted his shuck nose, for crying out loud?
He shambled back to her, holding the knife as if it were tipped with poison. As if just holding it might make him catch a hundred diseases and die a slow and agonizing death.
The Crank, arms yanked behind him, pinned to the floor, continued to scream.
Brenda caught Thomas's gaze, spoke with determination. "I'm gonna flip himyou need to stab him in the heart!"
Thomas started to shake his head, then stopped. He had no choice. He had to do this. So he nodded.
Brenda let out a cry of effort and fell to the right side of the Crank, using her body and her grip on his arms to make the man twist onto his side. Impossibly, his shrieks grew even louder. His chest was now there for the taking, arched and sticking up right in front of Thomas, just inches away.
"Now!" Brenda yelled.
Thomas tightened his grip on the knife. Then he put his other hand on it for more support, all ten fingers clasped tightly around the handle, blade pointing toward the floor. He had to do this. He had to do it.
"Now!" Brenda yelled again.
The Crank, screaming.
Sweat pouring down Thomas's face.
His heart, pumping, thumping, rattling.
Sweat in his eyes. His whole body aching. The terrible, inhuman screams.
Thomas used all his strength and plunged the knife into the Crank's chest.
The next thirty seconds were a horrible, horrible thing for Thomas.
The Crank struggled. Spasmed. Choked and spat. Brenda held him while Thomas twisted the knife. Pushed it deeper. Life took its time as it drained from the man, as the light in his maddened eyes faded, as the grunts and the physical strain to hold on slowly quieted and stilled.
But finally, the Flare-infected man died, and Thomas fell backward, his whole body a tense coil of rusty wire. He gasped for breath, fought the sickening swell in his breast.
He'd just killed a man. He'd taken the life of another person. His insides felt full of poison.
"We need to go," Brenda said, jumping to her feet. "There's no way they didn't hear all that racket. Come on."
Thomas couldn't believe how unaffected she was, how quickly she'd moved on from what they'd done. But then again, they didn't have much choice. The first sign of the other Cranks came echoing down the hall, like the sounds of hyenas bouncing through a canyon.
Thomas forced himself to stand, pushed down the guilt that threatened to consume him. "Fine, but no more of this." First the head-eating silver balls. Now fighting Cranks in the darkness.
"What do you mean?"
He'd had enough of long black tunnels. Enough to last a lifetime. "I want daylight. I don't care what it takes. I want daylight. Now."
Brenda didn't argue. She guided him through several twists and turns and soon they found a long iron ladder leading toward the sky, out of the Underneath. The disturbing noises of Cranks lingered in the distance. Laughs and shouts and giggles. An occasional scream.
Moving the round manhole cover took some serious pushing, but it gave way and they climbed out. They found themselves standing in gray twilight, surrounded by enormously tall buildings in every direction. Broken windows. Garbage strewn over the streets. Several dead bodies lying about. A smell of rot and dust. Heat.
But no people. None living, anyway. Thomas felt a moment of alarm that some of the dead might be his friends, but that wasn't the case. The scattered bodies were older men and women, and decay had already set in.
Brenda slowly turned in a circle, getting her bearings. "Okay, the mountains should be down that street." She pointed, but it was impossible to tell because they didn't have a clear view and the buildings hid the setting sun.
"You sure?" Thomas asked.
"Yeah, come on."
As they set off down the long and lonely street, Thomas kept his eyes peeled, scanning every broken window, every alley, every crumbled doorway. Hoping to see some sign of Minho and the Gladers. And hoping not to see any Cranks.
They traveled until dark, avoiding contact with anyone. They did hear the occasional scream in the distance, or the sounds of things crashing inside a building now and then. Once, Thomas saw a group of people scurry across a street several blocks away, but they seemed not to notice him or Brenda.
Just before the sun disappeared completely for the day, they turned a corner and came into full view of the city's edge, maybe another mile farther. The buildings ended abruptly, and behind them the mountains rose in all their majesty. They were several times bigger than Thomas would've guessed upon first glimpsing them a few days earlier, and were dry and rocky. No snowcapped beautiesa hazy memory from his pastin this part of the world.
"Should we go the rest of the way?" Thomas asked.
Brenda was busy looking for a place to hide. "Tempting, but no. First off, it's too dangerous running around here at night. Second, even if we made it, there'd be no place for cover out there unless we made it all the way to the mountains. Which I don't think we could do."
As much as Thomas dreaded spending another night in this wretched city, he agreed. But the frustration and worry over the other Gladers were eating away at his insides. He weakly replied, "Okay. Where should we go, then?"
They wound up in an alley that ended in a large brick wall. At first Thomas thought it was a terrible idea to sleep in a place that had only one way out, but Brenda convinced him otherwiseCranks would have no reason to enter the alley since it didn't lead anywhere. Plus, she pointed out, there were several large, rusted trucks in which to hide.
They ended up inside one that looked like it had been torn apart for anything usable. The seats were tattered but they were soft, and the cab was big. Thomas sat behind the wheel, pushing the seat as far back as it would go. Surprisingly, he felt somewhat comfortable once settled. Brenda was just a couple of feet to his right, settling in herself. Outside, the darkness grew complete, and the distant sounds of active Cranks came through the broken windows.
Thomas was exhausted. Sore. In pain. Had dried blood all over his clothes. Earlier, he'd cleaned his hands, scrubbing them until Brenda yelled at him to quit wasting their water. But having the blood of that Crank on his fingers, on his palms ... he couldn't take it. His heart sank every time he thought of it, but he could no longer deny a terrible truth: if he hadn't had the Flare beforea slim hope that Rat Man had liedhe'd surely caught it by now.
And now, sitting in the darkness, his head propped against the truck's door, thoughts of what he'd done earlier came storming into his mind.
"I killed that guy," he whispered.
"Yeah, you did," Brenda responded, her voice soft. "Otherwise he would've killed you. Pretty sure that's doing the right thing."
He wanted to believe it. The guy had been fully gone, consumed by the Flare. He probably would've died soon anyway. Not to mention he'd been doing everything possible to hurt them. To kill them. Thomas had done the right thing. But guilt still gnawed at him, crept through his bones. Killing another human. It wasn't easy to accept.
"I know," he finally responded. "But it was so ... vicious. So brutal. I wish I could've just shot him from a distance with a gun or something."
"Yeah. Sorry it had to go down that way."
"What if I see his nasty face every night when I go to sleep? What if he's in my dreams?" He felt a surge of irritation at Brenda for making him stab the Crankmaybe unwarranted when he really considered how desperate they'd been.
Brenda shifted in her seat to face him. Moonlight illuminated her just enough that he could see her dark eyes, her dirty but pretty face. Maybe it was bad, maybe he was a jerk. But looking at her made him want Teresa back.