Nicholas Belardes is a dual-ethnic Chicano writer. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in the YA-themed edition of The Latinx Archive: Speculative Fiction for Dreamers (Ohio State University Press), Southwestern American Literature (Texas State University), Carve Magazine, Pithead Chapel, Barrelhouse, and others.
He illustrated map drawings for the New York Times best-selling novel West of Here, and is the author of the first twitterature in novel form, Small Places, which has been studied as part of digimodernism in literature by scholars who seek to discover the fusion of art with digital technologies, in specific, electronic fiction as a new literary current.
Sometimes a ghostwriter of contemporary fiction and YA, he currently lives in San Luis Obispo, California with his wife Jane. The 12 Rules of Survival is his first MG novel. You can find him at nicholasbelardes.com or on Twitter @nickbelardes
Artist: Timothy Banks timothybanks.com or on Twitter @teabanks
In class everything’s kind of blurry, fuzzy.
I’m sitting at my desk, no news all afternoon. I have a sick feeling in my stomach even though I say hi to lots of students. I hear voices but don’t always see faces. Most everyone says hi to me. They swirl around me like a tornado. Tommy Warren, Jon Pox, Simon Borrows. Everybody. Bobby Richardson and Mary Espinoza think I’m some kind of hero for running from Mr. Boles. Others do too.
Bobby wheezes because he has asthma then asks through thin lips: “Did you really dive into a bush?”
Mary, who is all freckles, says, “Clayton told me you crawled through mud and didn’t get suspended.”
Mallory Whitehead kind of freaks out about the whole thing: “Oh my god, Cameron, I’m so sorry. I just hope . . . I just hope . . .” She covers her mouth. I wonder if she’s going to throw up.
Clayton says, “Hey, Space Slug.”
Denise says hi too. She gives me a little hug even though Mrs. Lucas has to remind her we’re a “no touching” school. Some parents say it’s weird, that you should be able to hug your friends, but whatever.
The one that really gets me is when Chelsea Ocampo surprisingly says, “I’m glad you’re back, Cameron. I hope your Dad’s going to be okay.”
At least she doesn’t hate me. After she saw me covered in mud and rainwater, I thought for sure she’d never speak to me again. Not that she likes me or anything. It still feels good when the girl you like doesn’t think you’re the bearer of all things cootie related.
Then there’s the creepiest classmate award. This one goes to Mason Maeng. I have to say, I did not see this coming. I thought for sure he’d be the first to run up, eager to say he would have dug his own father out of the mountain by now. The first to say that he would single-handedly pilot Gabby out the other side of the planet. The first to say that my Dad was probably trapped under rocks and would have to have both legs, both arms, and one ear amputated. But he won’t even look at me. He seems jealous that the attention isn’t on him for once. Believe me, I don’t want any of the attention. In fact, it makes me feel weird that so many kids would greet me. I just want to shrink into my desk and read today’s lessons. Except for math. By the way, ever since the bathroom incident I feel guilty for ever wanting to burn my math books. I admit this to no one.
“In your chairs,” says Mrs. Lucas. She pushes a different pair of glasses up the bridge of her nose today—sleek black cat eyes. Her black dress has lots of flowing layers and her lips are dark red. She waves one of our workbooks. “Open to chapter five. Okay? Read pages 21 through 37. Now, Mason,” she eyes him. He opens his book as slowly as possible. “Afterwards,” she addresses us again, “we’re going to talk about explorations on the Columbia River. Later we’re going to map some of our own adventures.”
Now that I have my book open the words don’t make sense. I keep reading the same lines over and over. It’s like I can’t see them. They’re out of focus. Doesn’t help that Mason keeps staring at me.
Finally I’m able to settle down and read something about a ship, the Columbia Rediviva. In 1792 it was the first to sail onto the Columbia River. The river was named after the ship. Then much later, America named a space shuttle after the ship. As you know, I’m much more interested in anything that has to do with outer space, or things that fly in general. I learned that the shuttle was doomed after re-entering Earth’s atmosphere and crossing California, Arizona and New Mexico. The book has a sidenote: “At 9:00:18 a.m. on February 1, 2003, many people witnessed the orbiter disintegrate over Texas leaving multiple ion trails as it broke into pieces. The entire crew of six died.” I’ve read other details on the Internet. A charred helmet was found in Texas partly buried in the ground between two oak trees while the sole of a space boot landed at a nearby farm. Someone said a cow died from falling debris. James Couch, an old World War Two veteran who saw the helmet, according to a news report, said while sipping his coffee: “They were trying their best to accomplish something to better mankind. They were like pioneers of the Wild West, blazing a trail and making their way—this time in outer space. And now they’re gone.”
I think about the Columbia Rediviva again. My book says rediviva is Latin for “revived.” I flip through my dictionary.
Revive means to regain or restore life, consciousness or strength. All I can think about is that word. Over and over again the word repeats in my head.
Will Dad be revived? Will I? Will Dad have the strength to keep going? Can he feel his way around? I’m really glad Gabby isn’t a spaceship right now. Still, I wonder: does Dad have the strength to move? Can he see? Will Gabby be restored? Revived?
I’m starting to feel really nervous, helpless and blind. I don’t want the six tunnel workers to die like the six astronauts. My arms feel like huge weights. And I can’t stand that Mason keeps glancing at me.
Denise doesn’t like his staring either. “Will you stop?” she says.
Mason smiles. “Stop what?”
This causes Mrs. Lucas to get involved. “Mason,” she says, “Eyes on your own work.”
Mason smiles again and turns around.
I whisper “thanks” to Denise.
Since I can’t pay attention to what I’m reading, I take out the phone in the middle of class. When I was in the Family Tent I saw people looking at their phones for news information. So I downloaded some news sites. I now can keep myself updated without having to rely on grownups to tell me everything.
This is really daring actually. No one is supposed to ever look at a phone during school hours. My heart starts this pounding thing like I’m underwater and it’s boing-boinging away in my chest. I try to hold the phone so Mrs. Lucas can’t see.
Denise shakes her head at me. She doesn’t want me to get in trouble. But she doesn’t understand. Dad is trapped in the dark. I need to look. I have to know the rescuers are doing something. I have to know what’s it’s like in the tunnel. I have to know what Dad will see. Is he completely in the dark? I hope everyone who is trapped has light.
I notice Mrs. Lucas looking at me. At first I start to put the phone away. But then I see her make a gesture. She says, “It’s okay.”
My heart starts beating normal again and I click on the news app and can now see up-to-the-minute reports. I start reading. Everyone is still trapped and a video line failed when they tried to get it into the tunnel. Instead they are widening the hole some more so then can get water and food down to the survivors. Also, that second hole they’re digging? It’s getting closer to breaking through.
At recess Clayton and his sister come over to me. “Want to play, STUPID?” Clayton asks. We play that instead of HORSE, that way the loser has to be stupid until lunch. I agree, though I suggest we play something shorter like GOAT, that way the loser just makes weird animal sounds.
We shoot around but I can’t make any shots. Should have figured I wouldn’t be able to focus. When we start the game I hardly make any baskets.
Denise feels sorry for me but can’t help sinking shots. “Sorry,” she says.
When I’m about to lose, Clayton purposely messes up. “I don’t mind being a goat today,” he laughs.
“You don’t have to try,” Denise swishes another basket.
The game ends and Clayton starts making a bunch of crying goat sounds, which makes us all laugh. We then get asked to play some full court. I decide to go sit on a bench near the field. I’m back to reading news on my phone when Mason comes up to me. He’s waited for the perfect time when Clayton and Denise aren’t around.
He looks proud of himself. I guess smug is the word. “Must feel good to use your phone during class,” he says. “Are you using it to communicate with monsters in the mountain?”
My body tenses. I’m getting ready to run. “It’s just for a few days,” I say. I put my phone away in case he tries to take it. “Are you going to try to punch me in the stomach for using it?”
“Not today,” he says, pacing strangely. “I don’t really feel like hitting a crazy person.”
“That’s a first.”
“You do realize I have better things to than try to pound your face in.”
“Lots of things, crazy boy.”
“You know. Artwork.”
“Since when do you like art?” Soon as I spit that sentence out I realize what’s up.
“My specialty is rodents,” he says, “people who look like moles.”
Suddenly I’m furious. “Clayton had to clean disgusting bathroom trash and call his parents yesterday.”
“He did?” Mason laughs like I said something really funny. “That’s too bad. Guess you can’t call yours. By the way, did I forget to put my name on my mole-man art? Created by the Mason the Magnificent! Ahh, dumb, I guess it’s too late. At least I left my mark in that trashcan. Gotta’ love matches and paper.”
I try to stare through him as he snorts: “It’s so funny that you idiots didn’t see what was going on. You guys were just really into my artwork, huh?”
I’m so angry I can’t say what I’m thinking. My face must be red. I can feel the tears.
“Must be good to see your Dad on the news,” he starts walking away. “Hey. If he isn’t already squished like road pizza, tell him I said hi.”