The 12 Rules of Survival | Episode 20: School Troubles


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 or on Twitter @nickbelardes

Artist: Timothy Banks or on Twitter  @teabanks

Part Eight

Eighth Rule of Survival: Ration Supplies

School Troubles

I’m at school for part of the day again. It’s recess. A hint of autumn fills the air. The sky is clear but my head isn’t. I can’t even say how long Dad has been in the mountain. I can’t even remember what Mrs. Lucas was just teaching. I’m not usually so empty-headed about everything.

I’m halfway down the hall when I ask Clayton: “Hey, what did we just learn in Mrs. Lucas’ room?”

“I dunno.” He picks up a basketball from the box outside Mr. Williams’ room then wriggles his foot. “It feels weird. I hurt it yesterday.”

I keep walking. “How?” I ask.

He shakes his foot again. “I twisted it playing basketball in the driveway.”

I turn on my phone’s news app. Nothing new has been reported about the trapped workers.

Clayton catches up, half limping. “I remember now. We learned about how Jupiter could have been a star and how Mrs. Lucas wants to be an astronaut.”

“That’s dumb. Everybody wants to be an astronaut,” I say.

“No they don’t.” He starts telling me about his twisted ankle again. “It was worse yesterday when I stepped on Denise’s foot. I totally ate the garage door. I think it’s gonna be okay.” He tests his foot as he makes some dribble moves.

“You’re barely limping,” I say. After I refresh the app, two news stories catch my eye: Survivors In Good Spirits, Can’t Wait To Be Released, and Rescuers Say Survivors Communicated Through Patterned Echoes.

Clayton notices the headlines. “Anything new? About your dad I mean?”

“Hold on. I’m checking.” I know the first story is about Peter’s mom and Marcus. I’m glad they’re in good spirits but I need to know about Dad. I click on the second news story and stop in my tracks. Clayton stops too . . .

LOS ANGELES, Calif. – While the drill hasn’t yet broken through at Tunnel Site No. 2 after what experts are calling the San Gabriel earthquake, rescue crews trying to reach four of six trapped workers say they have evidence that missing workers are alive.

Ravi Krishnankutty, spokesperson for Yamaki TBM Company, builders of the High-Speed Rail Tunnel in the San Gabriel Mountains, says rescuers paused their drilling to lower highly sensitive listening devices in the bore hole late Friday evening. They say sounds coming from the tunnel are life signs from the trapped workers.

“What we are hearing,” Mr. Krishnankutty said to CNN, “are patterned sound echoes from the Tunnel Boring Machine grinders themselves. This can only be done by Yamaki workers manipulating the machinery. The TBM cannot do this on its own. This means the generator below is working, and trapped workers are trying to communicate with those at the surface. Activating the grinders makes a far greater echo than if the workers were banging on pipes. Though they must have some kind of airflow to sporadically run the machine . . . Rescuers estimate to break through to Tunnel Site No. 2 some time during the night.”

I look up at Clayton. “Workers are alive where Dad is trapped.”

“Is that good news?” Clayton bounces the ball between his legs and we start walking again. “That’s good news, right, Space Slug?”

“I think so. I mean, yeah. They keep saying they’re going to break through to the tunnel. They say tonight now. At first they thought it might have been yesterday.”

“Maybe they had to get a bigger drill. Do you think there are enough supplies down there?”

“I hope so.”

Clayton bounces the basketball a few more times. I can tell he wants to go play. Suddenly he tucks the ball under his arm, “Uh oh. Jerk alert.”

Just then Mason walks past, snickering. He scrunches his face, makes mole-teeth snapping sounds and sniffs the air at us. “Do you smell smoke?” he says. “You know, like that mountain fire? Like that trash can?”

Clayton fake throws the ball at his head, which makes Mason dive to the ground. Clayton starts laughing. “Man, why do you pick on Cameron?” Clayton says. “That wasn’t cool the way you framed us.”

“That’s it,” Mason says getting up and wiping the dirt from his pants. “Be prepared, losers. The mole graffiti will return along with a new fire. You’ll both be expelled once the boys’ bathroom sink is found in flames.”

Clayton fake throws the ball again.

Mason ducks and scrambles away.

We start to laugh, but then Clayton groans.

The yard-duty teacher, Mr. Gonzales, has his eyes on Clayton. He blows his whistle and walks over. “Give me the ball,” he says.

Mason can’t stop laughing as he heads out to the field where some kids are playing catch with a football. Clayton hands the ball to Mr. Gonzales.

Mr. Gonzales easily palms the ball. He’s six-feet, three-inches tall. “A basketball is not a missile or something you use to intimidate someone else,” he says.

“I wasn’t going to do it,” Clayton starts to say. “He . . .”

“I don’t want to hear about it,” Mr. Gonzales interrupts. “Go find something else to do for the rest of recess. Something that doesn’t require a ball. And make sure it’s away from Mason.”

Clayton and I walk away. “That’s not fair,” Clayton says. “Ever since Mason got us in trouble, Mr. Gonzales has been all over me for every little thing.”

“If my dad wasn’t trapped I’d probably get yelled at too,” I say.

“I don’t know why you’re even here,” he says.

That’s an easy answer. “Because all the adults act crazy at the Family Tent,” I say. “It’s boring. You just wait and wait. I’m only staying at school part of the day anyway.”

Clayton watches Mason throw the football. “We have to get him back,” he says. “His beady-eyed mole artwork isn’t going to get us in trouble again. I can’t even go in the boys’ restroom because of him.”

“We have to catch him in the act,” I say.

Clayton sits on a bench. “There may be something seriously wrong with him, but he’s tough to catch.”

I stuff my phone in my pocket. “I know.”

Clayton is bummed. He jumps back up. “Man, let’s go to class.”

I don’t say it, but I’m feeling really bummed too. Dad, Mason, Mr. Boles, Mom’s house. Even school doesn’t help me get my mind off everything.

It’s getting harder and harder to survive. At least I have a pretty good idea that I’m going to find out about Dad soon. More workers are alive down there in the tunnel. At least I know that much.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *