Holes, p.7Part #1 of Holes series by Louis Sachar
“So you think he stole your sunflower seeds?”
“No, he says he stole them, but I think it was—”
She stepped toward him and struck him across the face.
Mr. Sir stared at her. He had three long red marks slanting across the left side of his face. Stanley didn’t know if the redness was caused by her nail polish or his blood.
It took a moment for the venom to sink in. Suddenly, Mr. Sir screamed and clutched his face with both hands. He let himself fall over, rolling off the hearth and onto the rug.
The Warden spoke softly. “I don’t especially care about your sunflower seeds.”
Mr. Sir moaned.
“If you must know,” said the Warden, “I liked it better when you smoked.”
For a second, Mr. Sir’s pain seemed to recede. He took several long, deep breaths. Then his head jerked violently, and he let out a shrill scream, worse than the one before.
The Warden turned to Stanley. “I suggest you go back to your hole now.”
Stanley started to go, but Mr. Sir lay in the way. Stanley could see the muscles on his face jump and twitch. His body writhed in agony.
Stanley stepped carefully over him. “Is he—?”
“Excuse me?” said the Warden.
Stanley was too frightened to speak.
“He’s not going to die,” the Warden said. “Unfortunately for you.”
It was a long walk back to his hole. Stanley looked out through the haze of heat and dirt at the other boys, lowering and raising their shovels. Group D was the farthest away.
He realized that once again he would be digging long after everyone else had quit. He hoped he’d finish before Mr. Sir recovered. He didn’t want to be out there alone with Mr. Sir.
He won’t die, the Warden had said. Unfortunately for you.
Walking across the desolate wasteland, Stanley thought about his great-grandfather—not the pig stealer but the pig stealer’s son, the one who was robbed by Kissin’ Kate Barlow.
He tried to imagine how he must have felt after Kissin’ Kate had left him stranded in the desert. It probably wasn’t a whole lot different from the way he himself felt now. Kate Barlow had left his great-grandfather to face the hot barren desert. The Warden had left Stanley to face Mr. Sir.
Somehow his great-grandfather had survived for seventeen days, before he was rescued by a couple of rattlesnake hunters. He was insane when they found him.
When he was asked how he had lived so long, he said he “found refuge on God’s thumb.”
He spent nearly a month in a hospital. He ended up marrying one of the nurses. Nobody ever knew what he meant by God’s thumb, including himself.
Stanley heard a twitching sound. He stopped in mid-step, with one foot still in the air.
A rattlesnake lay coiled beneath his foot. Its tail was pointed upward, rattling.
Stanley backed his leg away, then turned and ran.
The rattlesnake didn’t chase after him. It had rattled its tail to warn him to stay away.
“Thanks for the warning,” Stanley whispered as his heart pounded.
The rattlesnake would be a lot more dangerous if it didn’t have a rattle.
“Hey, Caveman!” called Armpit. “You’re still alive.”
“What’d the Warden say?” asked X-Ray. “What’d you tell her?” asked Magnet. “I told her I stole the seeds,” said Stanley. “Good going,” said Magnet. “What’d she do?” asked Zigzag.
Stanley shrugged one shoulder. “Nothing. She got mad at Mr. Sir for bothering her.”
He didn’t feel like going into details. If he didn’t talk about it, then maybe it didn’t happen.
He went over to his hole, and to his surprise it was nearly finished. He stared at it, amazed. It didn’t make sense.
Or perhaps it did. He smiled. Since he had taken the blame for the sunflower seeds, he realized, the other boys had dug his hole for him.
“Hey, thanks,” he said.
“Don’t look at me,” said X-Ray.
Confused, Stanley looked around—from Magnet, to Armpit, to Zigzag, to Squid. None of them took credit for it.
Then he turned to Zero, who had been quietly digging in his hole since Stanley’s return. Zero’s hole was smaller than all the others.
Stanley was the first one finished. He spat in his hole, then showered and changed into his cleaner set of clothes. It had been three days since the laundry was done, so even his clean set was dirty and smelly. Tomorrow, these would become his work clothes, and his other set would be washed.
He could think of no reason why Zero would dig his hole for him. Zero didn’t even get any sunflower seeds.
“I guess he likes to dig holes,” Armpit had said.
“He’s a mole,” Zigzag had said. “I think he eats dirt.”
“Moles don’t eat dirt,” X-Ray had pointed out. “Worms eat dirt.”
“Hey, Zero?” Squid had asked. “Are you a mole or a worm?”
Zero had said nothing.
Stanley never even thanked him. But now he sat on his cot and waited for Zero to return from the shower room.
“Thanks,” he said as Zero entered through the tent flap.
Zero glanced at him, then went over to the crates, where he deposited his dirty clothes and towel.
“Why’d you help me?” Stanley asked.
Zero turned around. “You didn’t steal the sunflower seeds,” he said.
“So, neither did you,” said Stanley.
Zero stared at him. His eyes seemed to expand, and it was almost as if Zero were looking right through him. “You didn’t steal the sneakers,” he said.
Stanley said nothing.
He watched Zero walk out of the tent. If anybody had X-ray vision, it was Zero.
“Wait!” he called, then hurried out after him.
Zero had stopped just outside the tent, and Stanley almost ran into him.
“I’ll try to teach you to read if you want,” Stanley offered. “I don’t know if I know how to teach, but I’m not that worn-out today, since you dug a lot of my hole.”
A big smile spread across Zero’s face.
They returned to the tent, where they were less likely to be bothered. Stanley got his box of stationery and a pen out of his crate. They sat on the ground.
“Do you know the alphabet?” Stanley asked.
For a second, he thought he saw a flash of defiance in Zero’s eyes, but then it passed.
“I think I know some of it,” Zero said. “A, B, C, D.”
“Keep going,” said Stanley.
Zero’s eyes looked upward. “E …”
“F,” said Stanley.
“G,” said Zero. He blew some air out of the side of his mouth. “H … I … K, P.”
“H, I, J, K, L,” Stanley said.
“That’s right,” said Zero. “I’ve heard it before. I just don’t have it memorized exactly.”
“That’s all right,” said Stanley. “Here, I’ll say the whole thing, just to kind of refresh your memory, then you can try it.”
He recited the alphabet for Zero, then Zero repeated it without a single mistake.
Not bad for a kid who had never seen Sesame Street!
“Well, I’ve heard it before, somewhere,” Zero said, trying to act like it was nothing, but his big smile gave him away.
The next step was harder. Stanley had to figure out how to teach him to recognize each letter. He gave Zero a piece of paper, and took a piece for himself. “I guess we’ll start with A.”
He printed a capital A, and then Zero copied it on his sheet of paper. The paper wasn’t lined, which made it more difficult, but Zero’s A wasn’t bad, just a little big. Stanley told him he needed to write smaller, or else they’d run out of paper real quick. Zero printed it smaller.
“Actually, there are two ways to write each letter,” Stanley said, as he realized this was going to be even harder than he thought. “That’s a capital A.
Zero nodded as if he understand, but Stanley knew he had made very little sense.
He printed a lowercase a, and Zero copied it.
“So there are fifty-two,” said Zero.
Stanley didn’t know what he was talking about.
“Instead of twenty-six letters. There are really fifty-two.”
Stanley looked at him, surprised. “I guess that’s right. How’d you figure that out?” he asked.
Zero said nothing.
“Did you add?”
Zero said nothing.
“Did you multiply?”
“That’s just how many there are,” said Zero.
Stanley raised and lowered one shoulder. He didn’t even know how Zero knew there were twenty-six in the first place. Did he count them as he recited them?
He had Zero write a few more upper- and lowercase A’s, and then he moved on to a capital B. This was going to take a long time, he realized.
“You can teach me ten letters a day,” suggested Zero. “Five capitals and five smalls. After five days I’ll know them all. Except on the last day I’ll have to do twelve. Six capitals and six smalls.”
Again Stanley stared at him, amazed that he was able to figure all that out.
Zero must have thought he was staring for a different reason, because he said, “I’ll dig part of your hole every day. I can dig for about an hour, then you can teach me for an hour. And since I’m a faster digger anyway, our holes will get done about the same time. I won’t have to wait for you.”
“Okay,” Stanley agreed.
As Zero was printing his B’s, Stanley asked him how he figured out it would take five days. “Did you multiply? Did you divide?”
“That’s just what it is,” Zero said. “It’s good math,” said Stanley.
“I’m not stupid,” Zero said. “I know everybody thinks I am. I just don’t like answering their questions.”
Later that night, as he lay on his cot, Stanley reconsidered the deal he had made with Zero. Getting a break every day would be a relief, but he knew X-Ray wouldn’t like it. He wondered if there might be some way Zero would agree to dig part of X-Ray’s hole as well. But then again, why should he? I’m the one teaching Zero. I need the break so I’ll have the energy to teach him. I’m the one who took the blame for the sunflower seeds. I’m the one who Mr. Sir is mad at.
He closed his eyes, and images from the Warden’s cabin floated inside his head: her red fingernails, Mr. Sir writhing on the floor, her flowered makeup kit.
He opened his eyes.
He suddenly realized where he’d seen the gold tube before.
He’d seen it in his mother’s bathroom, and he’d seen it again in the Warden’s cabin. It was half of a lipstick container.
He felt a jolt of astonishment.
His mouth silently formed the name Kate Barlow, as he wondered if it really could have belonged to the kissin’ outlaw.
One hundred and ten years ago, Green Lake was the largest lake in Texas. It was full of clear cool water, and it sparkled like a giant emerald in the sun. It was especially beautiful in the spring, when the peach trees, which lined the shore, bloomed with pink and rose-colored blossoms.
There was always a town picnic on the Fourth of July. They’d play games, dance, sing, and swim in the lake to keep cool. Prizes were awarded for the best peach pie and peach jam.
A special prize was given every year to Miss Katherine Barlow for her fabulous spiced peaches. No one else even tried to make spiced peaches, because they knew none could be as delicious as hers.
Every summer Miss Katherine would pick bushels of peaches and preserve them in jars with cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and other spices which she kept secret. The jarred peaches would last all winter. They probably would have lasted a lot longer than that, but they were always eaten by the end of winter.
It was said that Green Lake was “heaven on earth” and that Miss Katherine’s spiced peaches were “food for the angels.”
Katherine Barlow was the town’s only schoolteacher. She taught in an old one-room schoolhouse. It was old even then. The roof leaked. The windows wouldn’t open. The door hung crooked on its bent hinges.
She was a wonderful teacher, full of knowledge and full of life. The children loved her.
She taught classes in the evening for adults, and many of the adults loved her as well. She was very pretty. Her classes were often full of young men, who were a lot more interested in the teacher than they were in getting an education.
But all they ever got was an education.
One such young man was Trout Walker. His real name was Charles Walker, but everyone called him Trout because his two feet smelled like a couple of dead fish.
This wasn’t entirely Trout’s fault. He had an incurable foot fungus. In fact, it was the same foot fungus that a hundred and ten years later would afflict the famous ballplayer Clyde Livingston. But at least Clyde Livingston showered every day.
“I take a bath every Sunday morning,” Trout would brag, “whether I need to or not.”
Most everyone in the town of Green Lake expected Miss Katherine to marry Trout Walker. He was the son of the richest man in the county. His family owned most of the peach trees and all the land on the east side of the lake.
Trout often showed up at night school but never paid attention. He talked in class and was disrespectful of the students around him. He was loud and stupid.
A lot of men in town were not educated. That didn’t bother Miss Katherine. She knew they’d spent most of their lives working on farms and ranches and hadn’t had much schooling. That was why she was there—to teach them.
But Trout didn’t want to learn. He seemed to be proud of his stupidity.
“How’d you like to take a ride on my new boat this Saturday?” he asked her one evening after class.
“No, thank you,” said Miss Katherine.
“We’ve got a brand-new boat,” he said. “You don’t even have to row it.”
“Yes, I know,” said Miss Katherine.
Everyone in town had seen—and heard—the Walkers’ new boat. It made a horrible loud noise and spewed ugly black smoke over the beautiful lake.
Trout had always gotten everything he ever wanted. He found it hard to believe that Miss Katherine had turned him down. He pointed his finger at her and said, “No one ever says ‘No’ to Charles Walker!”
“I believe I just did,” said Katherine Barlow.
Stanley was half asleep as he got in line for breakfast, but the sight of Mr. Sir awakened him. The left side of Mr. Sir’s face had swollen to the size of half a cantaloupe. There were three dark-purple jagged lines running down his cheek where the Warden had scratched him.
The other boys in Stanley’s tent had obviously seen Mr. Sir as well, but they had the good sense not to say anything. Stanley put a carton of juice and a plastic spoon on his tray. He kept his eyes down and hardly breathed as Mr. Sir ladled some oatmeal-like stuff into his bowl.
He brought his tray to the table. Behind him, a boy from one of the other tents said, “Hey, what happened to your face?”
There was a crash.
Stanley turned to see Mr. Sir holding the boy’s head against the oatmeal pot. “Is something wrong with my face?”
The boy tried to speak but couldn’t. Mr. Sir had him by the throat.
“Does anyone see anything wrong with my face?” asked Mr. Sir, as he continued to choke the boy.
Nobody said anything.
Mr. Sir let the boy go. His head banged against the table as he fell to the ground.
Mr. Sir stood over him and asked, “How does my face look to you now?”
A gurgling sound came out of the boy’s mouth, then he managed to gasp the word, “Fine.”
“I’m kind of handsome, don’t you think?”
“Yes, Mr. Sir.”
Out on the lake, the other boys asked Stanley what he knew about Mr. Sir’s face, but he just shrugged and dug his hole. If he didn’t talk about it, maybe it would go away.
He worked as hard and as fast as he could, not trying to pace himself. He just wanted to get off the lake and away from Mr. Sir as soon as possible. Besides, he knew he’d get a break.
“Whenever you’re ready, just let me know,” Zero had said.
The first time the water truck came, it was driven by Mr. Pendanski. The second time, Mr. Sir was driving.
No one said anything except “Thank you, Mr. Sir” as he filled each canteen. No one even dared to look at his grotesque face.
As Stanley waited, he ran his tongue over the roof of his mouth and inside his cheeks. His mouth was as dry and as parched as the lake. The bright sun reflected off the side mirror of the truck, and Stanley had to shield his eyes with his hand.
“Thank you, Mr. Sir,” said Magnet, as he took his canteen from him.
“You thirsty, Caveman?” Mr. Sir asked.
“Yes, Mr. Sir,” Stanley said, handing his canteen to him.
Mr. Sir opened the nozzle, and the water flowed out of the tank, but it did not go into Stanley’s canteen. Instead, he held the canteen right next to the stream of water.
Stanley watched the water splatter on the dirt, where it was quickly absorbed by the thirsty ground.
Mr. Sir let the water run for about thirty seconds, then stopped. “You want more?” he asked.
Stanley didn’t say anything.
Mr. Sir turned the water back on, and again Stanley watched it pour onto the dirt.
“There, that should be plenty.” He handed Stanley his empty canteen.
Stanley stared at the dark spot on the ground, which quickly shrank before his eyes.
“Thank you, Mr. Sir,” he said.
There was a doctor in the town of Green Lake, one hundred and ten years ago. His name was Dr. Hawthorn. And whenever people got sick, they would go see Doc Hawthorn. But they would also see Sam, the onion man.
Holes by Louis Sachar / Young Adult have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes