The other boys leave Stanley to finish Zero’s hole alone. Nobody offers to help. Stanley digs and feels angry at them, at the counselors, at his “no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing great-great-grandfather,” and at himself. He knows he should have helped Zero learn to read because it was right, not because Zero gave him a rest from digging every day. He knows he should try to help Zero now. Nobody will stop Stanley if he runs away, but he is scared. He does not know what to do about water—unless he can somehow get to the rock formation he thinks of as the Big Thumb.
Stanley considers many ways to help Zero. He thinks of going to the Warden and telling her where he really found the lipstick tube on the condition that she will not hurt Zero. But Stanley knows he will not be able to prevent her from torturing his information out of him, and she might hurt X-Ray, too, for lying about the lipstick tube.
Zero is not back by morning, and nobody talks about him. Stanley only has to dig one hole. He keeps looking for Zero, but he knows it may already be too late. He hopes Zero has found the Big Thumb on his own, if it is indeed the place Stanley thinks it is—where his great-grandfather once found water.
When Stanley is finished with his hole, he finds the counselors and the Warden waiting for him at the camp. They ask Stanley if he has seen Zero, but Stanley says no. Mr. Pendanski says that Zero is a ward of the state and that nobody cares about him. Together, right in front of Stanley, all the counselors agree to destroy Zero’s files and pretend he never came to Camp Green Lake.
Two days later, a kid arrives to take Zero’s bunk. The boys name the newcomer Twitch because he fidgets all the time. Twitch is a car thief.
At night, Stanley lies in his bunk and imagines that Zero is still alive. He imagines Zero crawling through the desert, desperate for water. The next morning when the water truck arrives, Stanley takes the second to last place in line, ahead of Twitch. Stanley knows he cannot find Zero on two feet. He needs a car—and there could be no better choice right now than a car with a huge water tank on its back.
Before his turn comes to fill his canteen, Stanley sneaks around to look into the cab of the water truck. The keys are still in the ignition. He does not know how to drive, but he decides to try. He climbs into the driver’s seat and hits the gas. The car does not move, and Twitch yells to put it in gear. Stanley puts it in drive and tries the gas again. The car zooms forward and lurches into a hole.
There is no way Stanley can get the truck to move again. He knows that he cannot blame bad luck this time. This problem is his own fault for not steering properly. Stanley runs away on his feet instead.
As Stanley flees, he feels his canteen banging against his chest. He never even filled it. It is empty.