"I hereby open this Gathering, about a punishment for Josiah of the Runners, who has killed George, also of the Runners, and Tim of the Sloppers, who went into the Maze while he was fully aware of the consequences."
Alby looks at the two boys, who are sitting on two chairs in front of the half circle of Keepers.
Tim is blushing, his face and ears turning bright red, and Josiah is just looking annoyed, and angry.
Winston can't blame him; he is sure he would be annoyed, too, if he would get injured, and would be punished for defending himself. He also finds it ridiculous to force an injured Glader to join a Gathering. That is what has happened to as well Josiah as Newt.
He wishes that Flore was there. She would be able to find the right words to talk Tim and Josiah to freedom. Winston has never been so well with words; he always chooses the wrong ones and, one way or another, he always manages to make it seem like he wants the worst punishment possible.
His mind wanders back to last Gathering, but he quickly puts the thoughts away.
Don't think about what you've said to Lauren, a strict voice in his head commands. Not now.
He focuses on Alby again, who gestures at the two 'rulebreakers', as the leader calls it himself.
"Tell us your part of what happened," he says, his deep voice rumbling through the entire council room.
"Eh... Well..." Tim begins, but Josiah cuts him off by putting a hand on his shoulder.
"I'll just start, all right?" he asks his friend.
Tim nods, his face turning even redder.
Winston watches the boys with raised eyebrows, wondering what the heck is going on here. Perhaps that's just how best friends treat each other.
He listens carefully as Josiah starts to talk, knowing that he is going to have to say something about it later on.
"I was running, with George, just doing our job," the Runner tells. His voice sounds irritated. "We had just turned around to go back to the Glade when George grabbed his knife. He put it against my throat, forcing me to go stand against the wall. He said something, that he wanted to 'get rid of the faint-hearted shucks'."
Nearly all of the Keepers pale at that, and Winston knows exactly why.
A couple of weeks ago, Gally got stung by a Griever. He went totally crazy, and convinced his friends – Billy, George and that month's Greenie, Victor – to 'get rid of the faint-hearted shucks'. They were the only people to ever use that term. The four of them had attacked Newt, and they surely would have killed him if Nick, Alby and Minho hadn't intervened in time.
It's still a bit of a sensitive topic.
"I kicked the knife out of his hand," Josiah continues, "and he started to hit me. He went totally crazy, and I knew that he was going to kill me, so I pulled out my bow and arrow, and George picked up the knife. That was when I killed him. I would've been dead instead of him, if I hadn't done that."
Gally opens his mouth to say something, but Alby gestures that he has to shut up.
"I've run all the way back, from the outer sections of Section Five to the Glade. I would've bled to death if Tim hadn't saved me in time."
Tim clears his throat, taking over the talking.
"Josiah had just reached the last corridor to the Glade," he says. "The Doors already started to close, and I knew that he wasn't going to make it, and then he fell, and I knew that he wasn't going to make it, and nobody did something, so I just did what I had to do and saved a fellow Glader and my best friend."
The Slopper's kind face is twisted in a tense frown; Winston can tell that he doesn't think that this is fair.
It isn't fair to punish someone for saving his friend's life.
"Well," Zart points out, "I have heard very clearly that you said 'Shuck the rules!' when you went into the Maze, Tim."
Tim pinches his jaws on each other, but looks down. "That's right, yeah."
"All right," Alby suddenly shouts, out of the blue. "This has already been taking too long, and I'm hungry. Let's just say three days and nights in the Slammer, only water and bread. Starting from tomorrow. Gathering closed."
The leader stands up and starts to walk away.
"But..." Gally and Billy sputter at the same moment. "What about George? Josiah killed him!"
"I said: Gathering closed," Alby snaps at them. "Nobody cares about George."
He walks away and slams the door shut behind him. Winston looks around in the room.
Billy and Gally are still standing in the middle of the room, their mouths opened as if they still want to argue with Alby. Josiah and Tim just look really satisfied with their light punishment, though they do their best to hide it.
Gally growls and points at Josiah with a big index finger.
"This isn't over yet," he yells furiously. "We're going to find a way to take revenge for killing George, and believe me, it's going to be really bloody!"
Then he stalks out of the room, Billy following closely.
Frypan stands up.
"I think Alby is right," he says, lazily stretching his arms. "I'm hungry as hell. Let's get out of here."
Approvingly nodding, the Gladers follow him out of the council room. Only Tim and Josiah stay behind, whispering to each other.
Winston wonders what they are talking about, but his growling stomach and the urge to tell this to Flore wins from his curiosity, so he leaves the two boys behind and starts to make his way towards the picnic tables.