The 12 Rules of Survival | Episode 28: Nightmare


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


It’s raining again. A great sea of mud lies everywhere. The mountain, purple and black, is laughing. Mom holds me outside the tent where some family members stand in the rain. We’re all worn and tired. More than that, everyone is nervous because of the short-lived tremor. I’m thinking that everything is starting to feel worse, worse than the fire.

I face the mountain. I want to scream: Why are you doing this? You’re just a mountain. You’re not fire. You’re not the sky, or the sun. You’re just a mountain! You can’t keep them all inside you!

Just when I’m about to really let it out, Krishnankutty passes us. “I’ll be back soon.” He taps his clipboard. “You can all return to the tent. And try not to worry. This has happened before. Losing the video feed, I mean.”

I feel that somehow my anger at everything has caused the shaking. It feels like I’ll never see Dad again.

“It’s going to be okay,” Mom says.

“You don’t understand,” I say. “Everything could have collapsed.”

“You have to have more faith than that,” Mom says.

“How do you know he’s okay?”

“I’m sure he’s felt a million of these. The earth resettles after an earthquake. And it does it more than once. Everything in nature takes time.”

I wonder what she means by that last part: everything in nature . . . I wonder if she’s talking about her own life, or me, or us. Nothing feels settled all of a sudden. Everything feels weird again. School and this whole camp and all the news people everywhere and people trapped. The only thing I can tell myself is to keep having hope. I need to be strong. For Dad.

After a while Peter Koh arrives at the tent. He gives me a half smile. “Want to play some checkers?”

“You should,” Mom says to me.

“Okay,” I say.

It takes a while but after endless rounds of checkers I’ve finally calmed down.

“Man I’m bored with this game,” Peter says a few hours later. “How many rounds have we played?”

“Fifty-seven games over the time I’ve known you,” I say. “Fifteen today. King me.”

He falls backwards. “I’m done. I can’t. I need soda. I need pizza. I need Mom out of the ground. Dad is driving me nuts. He doesn’t sleep. He doesn’t eat. He’s a zombie maniac. I don’t know what I’d do without having you around to play all these checker games. I probably would have hopped on tractor and raced into the tunnel.”

“Me too,” I say, thinking that isn’t a bad idea. If I could only drive one. Peter doesn’t know he’s hit on something that’s dug at my heart more than anything. I’m haunted all over again by the need to race into the tunnel, to face the mountain. I have to go in there.

“I don’t ever want to be an adult,” he says.

“When are they getting your Mom out?” I don’t usually ask this kind of question but figure if anyone’s going to survive, it will be the first two of the Survivor Six: Cindy Koh and Marcus Jones who are trapped beneath Drill Site No. 1. Dad is part of the Final Four. They’re beneath Drill Site No. 2.

“Tomorrow, I hear.”


 “What about the Final Four?” he asks.

“Three to four more days, I think. That’s what the news says. Krishnankutty probably told us but I’m not here all the time.” I sigh after I say this. I keep tasting dirt in my mouth, like I’m down in the tunnel with Dad after the tremor turned the air to thick dust.

That’s the thing—I have to keep reminding myself to breathe. Ever since Dad became trapped. It’s something Mrs. Lucas says to do when things get tough. In a way I know I’ve fulfilled the Tenth Rule of Survival: Make friends. I’ve gotten to know Mom’s family. My sisters are talking to me. I’ve made friends with Peter. I’ve even gotten to know some of the other survivor families.

Dad’s going to be okay, I tell myself. The mountain didn’t completely collapse. He’s fine. I just need to keep thinking about the rules. Focus on the rules.