The Hunt for Dark Infinity Online - The 13th Reality #2 - James Dashner

Prologue

The Illness

The boy stared at his world gone mad.

The wintry, white face of the mountain housing the End of the Road Insane Asylum towered behind him, its forever-frozen peak lost in the gray clouds blanketing the sky. Before him, the boy saw the last person of his village succumb to the claws of insanity.

The man was filthy, barely clothed, scraped from head to toe. He thrashed about in the muddy grass of what used to be the village commons, clutching at things above him that were not there. The man’s eyes flared, wide and white, as if he saw ghosts swarming in for the haunt. He screamed now and then, a raw rasp that revealed the condition of his ruined throat. Then, spurred by something unseen, the man got up and sprinted away, stumbling and getting back up again, running wildly, arms flailing.

The boy finally tore his eyes away, tears streaming as he looked back toward the icy mountain. A lot of the crazies were already there, filling the asylum to capacity—prospective inmates had been turned away for a week now, left to wander the streets and fight others who were as mad as they were.

The boy had not eaten in two days. He’d not slept in three, at least not peacefully. He’d stopped grieving for his parents and brother and started worrying about how to survive, how to live. He tried not to think—

You are mine, now.

The boy jumped, looking around for the source of the voice. Someone had spoken to him, as clear a sound as he’d ever heard. But no one was there.

There’s no need to be alarmed. The Darkin Project will be fully functional soon. Until then, survive. This is an automatic recording. Good-bye for now.

The boy spun in a tight circle, searching his surroundings. He saw only the burnt ruins of his village—weeds, dust, trash. A rat skittered across the ruined road. Someone was screaming, but it was very far away.

The boy was alone.

The voice was in his head.

It had begun.

Part

1

The Unwanted Wink

Chapter

1

The Two Faces of

Reginald Chu

Mr. Chu hated his first name. It was evil.

Crazy, perhaps, for an adult to think such a thing—especially a science teacher—but as he walked down the dark, deserted street, he felt the truth of it like a forty-pound weight in his gut. He’d felt it since childhood—an odd uneasiness every time someone called his name. A black pit in his belly, like rotting food that wouldn’t digest.

“Mr. Chu!”

The sharp ring of the woman’s voice slicing through the air startled him out of his thoughts. His breath froze somewhere inside his lungs, sticking to the surface, making him cough until he could breathe again. He looked up, relieved to see it was only Mrs. Tennison poking her frilly head out a high window, no doubt spying on her neighbors. Her hair was pulled into dozens of tight curlers, her face covered in a disgusting paste that looked like green frosting.

Mr. Chu drew another deep, calming breath, embarrassed he’d been jolted so easily. “Hi, Mrs. Tennison,” he called up to her. “Nice night, huh?”

“Yeah,” she said in an unsure voice, as if suspecting him of trouble. “Why, uh, why are you out so late? And so far away from your house? Maybe you’d like to, uh, come up for a cup of tea?” She did something with her face that Mr. Chu suspected was supposed to be a tempting smile, but looked more like a demented clown with bad gas.

Mr. Chu shuddered. He’d rather share a cup of oil sludge with Jack the Ripper than spend one minute in Mrs. Tennison’s home, listening to her incessant jabbering about town gossip. “Oh, better not—just walking off some stress,” he finally said. “Enjoying the night air.” He turned to walk away, glad to have his back to her.

“Well, be careful!” she yelled after him. “Been reports of thugs in the town square, mobbin’ and stealin’ and such.”

“Don’t worry,” he replied without looking back. “I’ll keep an eye out.”

He quickened his step, turned a corner, and relaxed into a nice and easy gait. His thoughts settled back to the strange fear he had of his own first name. The name he avoided whenever possible. The reason he always introduced himself as “Mr. Chu” to everyone he met.

Having taught science at Jackson Middle School in Deer Park, Washington, for more than twenty years, he’d hardly ever been called anything but Mr. Chu. Single and childless, his parents long dead, and separated from his brothers and sisters