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
It’s morning. The dogs stretch and so do I. The covers are all tangled but it’s warm. We’re in a happy nest.
Snapers groans for me to get up. I say, “Just a minute.”
Bella lets out a yawn. Then I see the morning light through the window and realize I don’t recognize the tree outside or the back yard fence.
Again, I’m not home.
Dad isn’t either. He’s been in the dark all night. Is he okay? I don’t know. I try to imagine but can’t. I feel like I need to see the tunnel again, something beyond imagination. I think of the rescuers, the rescue dogs, the machinery, the drills, the news on my phone, the photos of Dad, the endless words of news stories talking about other underground disasters, and how many dozens of men and women have died deep beneath the earth in countries around the world. This tragedy is nothing like the China rail tunnel collapse in the Yunnan Province, the news says. The safety measures are unprecedented. The rescue effort is monumental. I don’t understand any of it. I just want Dad back.
I’m skipping school even though I told Clayton I’d be there to play some hoops. What was I thinking? I can’t go play hoops. As much as I want everything to be normal. Nothing is. Dad has been trapped in a mountain for days. I have to keep thinking about that.
Mom is driving me to the Family Tent. I can tell she wants to tell me something. It’s the way she’s quiet. The way her jaw tightens. The way she seems to be thinking about something and her lips start to move.
We’re stopped at a streetlight when she finally speaks. “Cameron,” she says. “You need to start talking to your sisters.”
This is not what I expect her to say. I thought she was going to tell me that the drill broke through Tunnel Site No. 2. I suddenly feel lost. Out of rhythm. I guess I had gotten used to her not telling me to do anything. I start wondering if Grandma Benita talked to her. I try not to panic though I’m sure she hears it in my voice. “Why?” I say, not sure what’s going to come out of my mouth next. Of course something stupid does. “What did I do?” I say.
She looks at me like I’m being a little too much. “Even the dogs like each other now,” she says.
I’m trying to be tough. No tears or anything like that. “Snapers never hated Bella,” I say. “Snapers never hates anyone.”
“No matter what you think, you’re in a good place until your dad comes home,” Mom says.
I’m not sure I believe her as I watch reflections of my life pass in the window. “I hate the way they look at me,” I say.
“They’re your family.” Mom turns a corner. The mountain really looms now. “You have to try to accept this even while keeping all your thoughts and hope on your Dad’s safety. You’re related to them and we’ve all agreed to help you. All of us.”
“Right,” I say. “Like my sisters agreed.”
Mom doesn’t like this. I know her just enough to tell she’s upset with me. “How can you think you know them when you don’t even look their way? I’ve talked to your sisters,” she says. “Both of them. They’re afraid just like you’re afraid.”
“I doubt it,” I say, staring at the mountain. My feelings linger as if floating in the sky, hanging from clouds. In my mind’s eye, I imagine Sharon and Maria standing in the distance. They might be my family, but they feel like strangers.
“You shouldn’t doubt,” Mom says. After passing through the checkpoint, she drops me off near the Family Tent. “I’ll be there in a few minutes,” she says. “You know where to go in the meantime?”
“I know,” I say.
Her voice softens. “You’re very brave,” she says. “Don’t think I haven’t noticed.”
I don’t say anything and shut the door. I know she’s just parking the car but I’m feeling more alone than ever.
Pretty soon I hear Krishnankutty talking to families in the tent. Everyone is calm right now. No one is yelling. I’m not even sure what’s being said as he walks out of the tent, glances at me, then continues over to the Press Tent.
Just then Peter Koh runs up to me. “My mom,” he says. “She’s alive!”
I instantly forget about thinking how much my sisters hate me. “What happened?”“They finally lowered a video line in and I saw her,” Peter says. “I talked to her. She’s not hurt too bad. Just her arm. Well, she’s weak and hungry too. But she’s going to get out! She’s going to make it! She and another worker. Marcus Jones.”
“That’s really awesome,” I say, walking away, feeling angry and selfish. I just want to hear from Dad. It’s eating at me. I’m jealous. I want to throw something. I don’t even know if Dad has a candy bar, or a broken arm, or if he’s a ghost in the mountain.
“Cameron?” he says. “Where you going? What’s wrong?”
I’m so angry I whirl around.
“My dad has no food! No water. No air. No light. Nothing! Nothing!”
“Hey, I’m sorry.” Peter shrinks away. “I just thought you’d want to know.”
Tears stream out. Peter is gone, melted into the darkness of the tent. But I keep talking to no one and everyone. “He has nobody,” I say. “No one. There’s no one.”
I’m crying and it’s not a good cry. I feel awful and hurt.
Several big people come toward me. I hardly notice them in the blur of everything.
A woman I don’t know puts her arms around me while I cry that no one is there for Dad, that no one will let me go in the tunnel and help.
“I just want to go into the mountain,” I scream and look over at it. The mountain is towering and brown and ugly and I can see the tunnel hole open like a mouth again. “I wish it swallowed me,” I cry. “The way it swallowed them. All of them.” I’m so angry I could tear it all down.
Soon Mom is here too, also holding me. This stranger. Mom. Peter somewhere in the darkness like a ghost wailing too. Somehow I’ve struck a nerve.
We’re all crying. We’re all drawn to the mouth and the darkness and desolation it hides. We’re all separate from someone. All a part of the dark. A part of the hidden rain. No one wants to be eaten. No one can stop crying.