The boys continue digging holes every day. Clouds build, and all the boys hope the rain will reach Camp Green Lake. They imagine it will rain so hard the lake will fill up so they can go for a swim.
When there is lightning, Stanley can see a big mountain in the distance. On top of it is a strange rock that looks like a fist with a huge thumb sticking up. He remembers his great-grandfather’s words about staying alive in the desert: “I found refuge on God’s thumb.” Stanley has always wanted to know what that meant. When he was a little boy, he used to ask his dad about it, but his dad never knew the answer.
One day, Zigzag claims it is July 8, his birthday. Stanley, who has not kept track of days or dates for a long time, is doubtful Zigzag really knows what day it is. The boys do not give Zigzag special treatment, but Mr. Sir gives him an extra carton of juice.
With Zero’s math help, Stanley figures out that he is about to dig his forty-fifth hole. He tells himself the forty-fifth is the hardest, but it is not true. He is stronger now, and his body has adjusted to the conditions. Mr. Sir gives him water normally now, so Stanley feels like he has all the water he needs.
Stanley does not really like sitting around while Zero does some of his work. He keeps telling the boys that he and Zero have a deal, but the boys constantly give Stanley a hard time about being a slave driver who thinks he is better than everyone else. They pretend they all want to dig for Stanley. At lunch, Zigzag starts shoving Stanley. Mr. Pendanski sees and tells Stanley he should hit back. Stanley tries, briefly, but soon Zigzag is on top of him. Zero leaps on Zigzag’s back and tries to choke him. Mr. Pendanski fires his gun into the air.
All the counselors come running, and the Warden comes too. The boys all play down what has just happened, but Zigzag tells the Warden that Zero is digging part of Stanley’s hole every day. The Warden tells Stanley this is not allowed. Stanley explains that he is teaching Zero to read and write and that this is surely more important than digging holes.
The Warden questions Zero, asking what he learned the day before. Zero is slow to answer, but Stanley knows it is just because he does not like answering questions. When the Warden presses him, Zero correctly tells her what c-a-t and f-a-t spell. However, he gets h-a-t wrong, saying it spells chat instead of hat. Everyone ridicules Zero for this, and the Warden tells the boys they have to stop the reading lessons.
The Warden says Stanley has to dig his own holes. Stanley tries to get permission to keep giving Zero the lessons anyway, but she says no. The counselors claim that learning to read causes Zero too much stress. They say he is too stupid to learn and will get violent if Stanley pushes him to try.
Mr. Pendanski hands Zero his shovel. “Here, take it, Zero. It’s all you’ll ever be good for.” Zero does take it, but this time he does not stand by quietly through this verbal abuse. He says he will never dig another hole, and he hits Mr. Pendanski with the shovel.
All the counselors draw their guns, but the Warden tells them not to shoot. This is not for Zero’s sake but because she does not want an investigation of the camp. Zero leaves, but the Warden is not concerned because she knows Zero will eventually have to come back to camp for water. She tells the counselors to guard the shower room and the Wreck Room to catch Zero when he sneaks in for a drink. She says she wants the boy brought to her when he sneaks back.
Before she leaves, the Warden tells the boys from D tent that even though there are only six of them, she wants seven holes.