Zero looks like a rotting jack-o’-lantern. He is so dehydrated that when he talks, his tongue looks like it is wriggling uselessly in his mouth. Stanley explains that he has no water, that he tried bringing the water truck but failed. He says it is time to return to camp, but Zero refuses to go.
Zero takes Stanley under the boat and offers him some sploosh, which turns out to be a jar of brown-colored liquid. Zero explains that he found sixteen jars of the strange stuff when he arrived at the boat. They are why he is still alive.
Zero knocks the top off of a jar with his shovel, which he took with him when he ran away from camp. Although Stanley is frightened of the broken glass and the hundred-year-old contents of the jar, he is unable to resist the liquid. He drinks. The sploosh tastes wonderful, sweet and spicy and fruity. Stanley thinks it might once have been canned peaches. The boys pass the jar back and forth until it is empty. Only then does Zero tell Stanley there are none left.
Soon after the boys eat the sploosh, Zero collapses to the ground, moaning. Again Stanley tries to insist on taking Zero back, and again Zero refuses. After a while Stanley gives in, and the boys set out toward the Big Thumb on the thin hope that Stanley’s great-grandfather really did find refuge there once long ago. They take Stanley’s burlap sack, four unbroken jars that used to contain sploosh, and Zero’s shovel. Before they set out, Stanley warns Zero about the unlikeliness of their finding shelter on the Big Thumb. Zero points out that he has nothing to lose.
The boys walk for hours. Zero periodically collapses to the ground in agony. Stanley can do nothing to help, and he knows that Zero is probably ill from the sploosh. The same bacteria are probably going to make Stanley sick, too. When Zero’s attacks are over, he gets to his feet and uses his shovel as a crutch to keep walking. For a while, Stanley spells out short words for Zero to sound out. It gives them something to think about besides the likelihood that they will die before they reach the Big Thumb.
At the far edge of the lake bed, the boys find huge white cliffs that rise about fifty feet above where they are standing. Stanley picks a likely spot and starts to climb. Zero follows, his body trembling all over. Two-thirds of the way up, Stanley stops on a big ledge, unable to see a way to go higher. Zero convinces Stanley to boost him up and hand him the shovel. Then Zero holds the shovel in place while Stanley climbs up its shaft. Stanley actually accomplishes this, and he is amazed at his own strength. He could not have done such a thing before Camp Green Lake. While Stanley climbs, Zero cuts himself badly on the shovel, but he does not seem to mind.
The boys make it to the top of the cliff and walk on, now in the shadow of the Big Thumb.