The 12 Rules of Survival | Episode 27: Collapse

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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

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Krishnankutty tells me to stand at a mark on the floor so the mic can pick up my voice. “I’ll be with your mom right outside the tent,” he says.

The video monitor is on, crackling in darkness. A tiny beam of light appears. Everything is murky. It brightens in the corner of the screen like a freshly broken glo-stick spreading light. I see a shoulder, then Dad from the chest up. He wears a hard hat. His work clothes are dirty like he’s been rubbed with charcoal. He scratches his beard and the side of his face. His hand is a little shaky.

“Can you see me?” He lets out a long, rattled cough. He talks slow. His breaths come heavy. “Don’t worry about that,” he says. He can always tell when I’m worried. “I’m fine.” His eyes angle up at something out of my vision. “It’s just the air. So much dust in here we can hardly breathe. All the food tastes like dirt.” He pauses. “We had another tremor a little while ago. The mountain settles sometimes.”

“Hi Dad.” I don’t know what else to say.

“They told me you were in good hands and being taken care of,” he says. “It’s good to see you with my own eyes though. You look healthy. Where you staying?”

The tears are starting to build. I try to talk but swallow instead.

“Snapers okay?” he asks.

I can barely talk. I squint out a few tears and wipe them away. “Yeah.”

“Good, I was afraid you both wouldn’t eat.” He pauses. “How’s school going? You able to concentrate in all this mess?”

I want to tell Dad about Mr. Boles blaming me for the fire in the bathroom and the mole-man graffiti but then don’t. “It’s okay. I’m behind on some of my work,” I say.

“Kind of funny to be in another Hobbit hole,” he says. “This one’s a little bigger than the last one.”

I laugh and cry because it’s so strange to be talking to him like this. “I wish I was there with you.”

Dad takes a breath and lets it settle into his chest. “I wish you were too, buddy. We’re survivors.” He seems to lean toward the camera so the others don’t hear. “You’d make everyone laugh. And you’d probably sing better than us. We’re terrible singers.”

I wipe my eyes and laugh again.

“You making any friends?” he asks. “Probably lots of worker’s family members there and rescuers.”

“Some,” I say suddenly thinking of Mom, my sisters, Patricia, my cousins, even Bella. I’m too terrified to tell him the truth.

Dad starts coughing harder this time. “Where’d you say you were staying?”

“Dad? You okay?” I cry.

I’m still watching the screen when another tremor comes. I can feel this one and can see Dad does too.

“Take cover,” someone yells behind Dad.

Dad is still looking right at me. “Cameron!” he starts to yell but the feed is cut and the screen goes black.

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