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  • Home > James Dashner > Maze Runner Prequel > The Fever Code (Chapter 18)     
  • The Fever Code(Maze Runner Prequel #0.6)(18) by James Dashner
  • “Dude, chill” was Alby’s response.

    Their feet scraped against the gravel, causing an echo that almost sounded like whispers. Thomas felt claustrophobia edging in, the farther they went. It took everything he had not to turn around and run back. They kept on.

    Soon they came to a brick wall, the fence on both sides leading right up to it. A dead end. This only fanned the flames of Thomas’s panic.

    “What now?” he asked, hating how the whine in his voice gave away his fear. “Go back?”

    “Definitely go back,” Teresa answered. “Maybe this was just a test to see if we’d do what we were—”

    Minho shushed her, holding a finger to his lips. He looked down, listening. In the dim light coming from behind them, he looked like a phantom.

    “Something’s coming,” he said. He pointed at the bars to the left of the brick wall. “From back there.”

    Thomas turned to face where Minho indicated and stared into the darkness beyond the fence. He strained to hear. And there it was. Although the four of them weren’t moving, barely even breathing, the scrape of footsteps echoed throughout the tunnel. Thomas thought he heard it coming from behind as well, and he spun around to look. But now the sound was everywhere, seeming to come from all directions. Getting louder.

    “Cranks,” Alby whispered. “They throw them in a creepy jail under their own building. Nice.”

    Shapes were coming into view to match the scuffing of footfalls. Bodies.

    “I think they must keep them somewhere else, actually,” Minho said. “Or they would’ve been pressed against the bars while we walked down here. I think they just released them like wild animals to pay us a visit.”

    Moans and indecipherable murmurings broke out among the crowd of oncoming Cranks, increasing rapidly. Thomas and his friends had definitely been spotted.

    And then, like a switch had been flipped, the room filled with thunderous sound, deafening. Screams and cries of anguish. Roars. Slapping footsteps as they rushed toward the bars. Thomas shook with a drowning fear as all around them, Cranks crashed against the fence, bodies upon bodies pressing against those who’d made it first. Arms reached through the bars, hands clasping and unclasping as they tried in vain to grab Thomas and the others.

    Thomas stood in the very center of the passageway, Teresa right beside him—Alby and Minho were a few feet away. Alby had his back to the brick wall, jerking his head left to right, left to right, trying to take it all in. Minho was in front of him, in a fighting stance, as if that would do any good if the bars gave way to the press of the crowd.

    Thomas looked at the Cranks, all of them so far past the Gone that he felt equal parts terror and pity. The creatures’ eyes emanated an emptiness like he’d never seen, and scratches and torn flesh covered their faces and arms. Their clothes were filthy, bloody, ripped. Some screamed, some sobbed, tears streaming down their faces. Others spoke, harshly and rapidly, the words impossible to make out. All of them reaching, reaching, as if Thomas and the others were their only hope to escape the horrific disease that had ruined their minds.

    One woman suddenly appeared, having fought her way to the front. Her face relatively clean, she stared straight at Thomas, her lips working as if she was trying to figure out what to say. And then she was speaking, her voice hitching with tremors.

    “My babies my babies my babies my babies my babies my babies.” Those two words, over and over. She wept the entire time, then abruptly attacked the bars like a rabid gorilla, throwing her body against the fence viciously until she finally fell down. It looked like she’d knocked herself out. Other Cranks stepped on the woman as they took her place. Thomas felt a crushing sadness, a black despair that filled his chest.

    “I think we’ve learned our lesson!” Alby shouted. “Head back, now!”

    Thomas shook his head. The horror of their surroundings had hypnotized him in a way, frozen him in disbelief. And that was what it was. Even after watching his dad degenerate into an angry shell of a man, even after all the stories he’d heard over the years, nothing could have prepared him for this. He couldn’t possibly believe it until seeing it for himself right now.

    “Thomas, go!” Minho shouted. They were lined up next to him, all of them standing in the center of the path, staying well out of the way of the outstretched arms of the Cranks.

    Thomas nodded, not as afraid as he’d been. Just sinking ever deeper into that black feeling. Had this happened to his mom? Had she cried for her baby over and over in her madness? His feet felt attached to the gravel under him. He couldn’t move.

    “Thomas,” Teresa whispered into his ear. “It’s okay. This. This is why we’re here. We’re going to help them find a cure. Save people from this.”

    Her voice lit a fire in him. Made him feel something. He turned, started walking back the way they’d come. He didn’t need to look to know that Teresa was right behind him. Her hand was on the small of his back as if she alone were pushing him forward. Cranks filled the tunnel on both sides, a never-ending mass of them, the iron bars the only thing keeping them from tearing apart their next meal.

    Thomas looked at the ones on the left. The ones on the right. They were all different, and he tried to focus on one thing that made each an individual: a face, hair color, body type. Because in all other ways, they’d become one. A raving mass of lunacy, completely unaware of their own actions.

    Thomas looked straight ahead and saw someone standing in his path just a few feet away. He gasped, stopped. Teresa bumped into him from behind. Fear lodged in his throat, choking him.

    It was a man. He looked nothing like the Cranks behind the bars, but he also didn’t appear to be well. His blond hair was dirty and uncombed, his clothes rumpled, his eyes bloodshot. But he had no wounds that Thomas could see, and he stood straight and still, calm. The strangest thing of all, though, was that he held a small chalkboard in the crook of one arm. Without speaking, he pulled it out and used the piece of chalk in his other hand to write on it. Then he held it up for the group to read. The three words seemed to glow in the dim light:

    WICKED is good.

    224.10.20 | 3:14 a.m.

    The stranger pointed at the chalkboard and nodded solemnly, his lips quivering as if he might cry. He brought the board back down to rest in his arm again.

    Thomas was just about to speak when the man turned around and began to walk. Thomas didn’t know what else to do but follow—the only other choice was to go deeper into the Crank pits again. To each side, the Cranks wailed and screamed and gnashed their teeth, arms reaching, reaching. They’d almost become background noise to Thomas, his focus was so riveted on the stranger in front of him.

    Thomas followed the man, passing through the gated tunnel, until he realized the awful sounds of the infected had faded. Finally the man reached the gate leading back into the main tunnel, opened it, and stepped through. He waited for Thomas and the others to do the same, then closed it. The guards, still where they’d left them, watched the whole sequence of events transpire; then one of them stepped forward, picked up the chain, and locked it back up. The sounds of the Cranks were now distant echoes that could have been almost anything.

    Thomas and his friends stood packed closely together, an instinctive circle of protection. Alby and Minho were quieter than they’d ever been, and Teresa looked as shaken as Thomas felt. He couldn’t take his eyes off the man with the weird sign. WICKED is good.

    As Thomas pondered it, the man walked closer to his little group until he stood only a couple of feet from them. He took a second to gaze into the eyes of each of them in turn; then he spoke for the first time.

    “You’re probably wondering who I am,” he said. His voice was unsettling. Too…cheerful to fit the circumstances. “As well you should. You’ve seen the burden that I must bear, the weight that I must carry around with me. Three words, my friends. Only three words. But I hope tonight has taught you that they are the most important three words in the world.”

    “Who are you?” Alby asked, the question they were all thinking—certainly Thomas was. “Do you…work here?”

    The man nodded. “My name is John Michael. I…” He paused to cough, pressing his hand to his chest. “I was so…essential to this organization. Once. Once upon a time. It was me. It was…I…who gathered the survivors. The leaders. Gathered them here. I had the idea, my friends. I…had the…idea!” The last word came out in a shout, spit flying from his mouth.

  • Romance | Fantasy | Vampire