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
After lunch Reuben, Shaun and I play some catch.
They pull some old mitts out of the closet.
“We used to play a lot of baseball when we were kids.” Reuben spins the ball in his hand. “The Angels have always been my team.”
Shaun slips on a glove, catches a fastball from Reuben and lobs one to me. ““The Dodgers are the only way to go. They’re going to win it this year, m’ijo,” he says. “Their pitchers are still the best in the Majors. And that’s all the reason you need.”
Reuben laughs at that. “Angels are coming back,” he says after I zing a ball right at strike level. “Not bad,” he adds. He lines his fingers on the threads and tosses the ball to his brother.
Shaun starts laughing at his own joke before he even says it. “The Angels might be good after some kind of Walking Dead apocalypse. And that’s only if they’re the only team to survive.”
My uncles start arguing after that, so my sisters, cousins and I take turns watching Snapers and Bella chase a tennis ball. We play keepaway from the dogs, which drives them wild. We’re all laughing and I start thinking what it would be like playing with them all the time. Snapers would really like that, I think.
After a few minutes Mom comes outside: “Time to leave for the camp.”
Everyone is disappointed. In a way I am too, partly because I was having fun, and partly because I don’t want to hear bad news. In the car we’re quiet though I’m still thinking about my sisters, cousins and uncles. Everything feels better though I can’t really explain it. It’s not like we’ve even heard from Dad. Maybe I’m just getting more comfortable with everything at Mom’s. Maybe I’m getting to know everyone. Then I wonder: will Dad? What will he think? I put it out of my head as we close in on the camp. This time I wait with Mom while she parks. We walk to the Family Tent together.
Everyone is quiet inside the tent. Stress lines the face of every grown up, like they’ve all been awake for a week straight, as if at any moment they’re going to hear the worst. Right away I feel guilty for having fun, for meeting my family, for feeling accepted by a bunch of people completely different than me. Sure, I knew I was dual ethnic. But I never knew what it meant. I hardly do now.
Rudy Perez is here. He smiles at Mom. She grimaces in return, hesitantly at that, like she would rather avoid him.
He asks me how I’m doing.
“I don’t know,” I say. “Okay, I guess. I just want to know if Dad’s alright.”
“We’ll find out soon, I hope.” He turns to Mom. “How are you, Sophia? It’s been a while.” He says it like he knows she’s had problems before.
I can see her ignoring the tone in his voice. “We’re helping Cameron cope with everything. He seems to be holding up. Why are so many people here?”
Rudy points to one of the televisions. “Watch.”
No sooner than he speaks the television monitor comes to life. Krishnankutty is near the monitor. He looks worn out and talks into a hand-held radio: “Team two site feed ready.”
Everyone goes quiet.
And then the image comes. A slow fading from black to a pixelated image of two dimly-lit dirt-covered faces.
Several gasps echo through the tent. Someone says, “Oh my god, Sammy?”
“They can hear you,” says Krishnankutty.
The man’s face is dirty and thin but it’s him: Sammy Bowser—I’ve been to his house before to watch the Super Bowl and eat a mountain of fried chicken and wedges. It hardly looks like him.
Sammy says, “Marnie? Is that you? I’m okay. Hungry. But okay. We have water. We’ve been rationing what little of everything we could find.”
Someone says, “Where’s Michael?”
A woman says, “Eulalio? Is he . . .” Her words are followed by sobs.
Then the man next to Sammy speaks. I recognize the voice. It’s weak but I know the sound. It’s Dad. Only, it hardly looks like him. His gaunt face is covered in shadows and dirt. His eyes are two sadly glowing points. Like the other man, he has a scratchy uneven beard that crawls down his neck. He speaks slow. It’s not his normal voice. Every word is painful. “Eulalio and Michael are alive but hurt,” Dad says. “Eulalio has sustained injuries to his chest. Michael has a broken leg. Both are in good spirits.”
“Dear god,” a woman cries. “Please do what you can for him. Please, please.”
“We are,” Dad says. “They’re as comfortable as we can make them, and determined. We’re all determined to get out of here.”
I hadn’t realized the tears streaming down my cheeks. My eyes burn. I can’t believe this image is really Dad. It’s really him. I’m shocked at how fast someone can physically change. He’s a shadow. Mom looks down at me. Her eyes are teary too.
“Say something,” she whispers. “Be brave.”
I don’t know what to say other than, “Dad? Are you okay?” My voice feels a thousand miles away, as if I haven’t said anything at all.
Dad seems to lift his head, like he can see me there in the tunnel. “Cameron?” he says. “The video feed isn’t working. I can hear you though. I’m okay. I’m okay,” he cries. “You keep me alive down here.”
I’m crying and trying not to at the same time. “Just come home,” I blurt. I don’t know what else to say.
“I will. Everyone is doing their best to make that happen.”
This time Krishnankutty interrupts. “That’s all for now everyone. We broke through to the . . .” he pauses. He’s choked up a little too.
“Final four,” I say, thinking of the basketball tournaments Dad and I always watch during March Madness.
Krishnankutty smiles. So does everyone amid the sobs and tears. “That’s it then,” he says. “We broke through to the Final Four of the Survivor Six an hour ago and just ran the feed down to them. You’ll get a chance to talk privately with your loved ones soon, but right now we need the rescuers to communicate with them so we can better assess the situation, especially their medical needs.”
When the screen goes black, my heart starts throbbing out of control. I can’t believe what we all just saw. Everyone is in disbelief. I’m so happy and scared.
“They’re alive,” someone says.
Mom hugs me. She’s crying.
“I knew he was alive,” she says, brushing some of my hair out of my watery eyes. “I just knew it.” She’s crying and it makes me cry even more. Everything does. Her. Dad looking so thin and weak. Snapers and Bella falling in love. Grandma. Grandpa. My sisters. My uncles and cousins. Everything.
Dad and I have both survived another hurdle. He’s communicated with the outside world just like before, and in a way I feel like I have too. I’ve rationed my strength. We both have. I spoke up right when he needed me. Right when I needed him. It seems to have gives us both some kind of energy. And we desperately need that. Now I wonder all over again: will I need to go to him? I will if I have to. I know it with all of my heart. I will go right in that tunnel and find him.
I also know one more thing: Only three more rules to go.