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
The 12 Rules of Survival | Episode 33: Hall of Lights
Twelfth Rule of Survival: You Never Really Lose Someone
Hall of Lights
As we reach the area of the collapse where Peter’s mom and Marcus were found, neither of us can believe that Mason and Denise have been caught.
“They’re going to be in so much trouble,” Clayton whispers.
“They are?” I say. “What about us?”
“We’ll be buried in here if we’re not careful,” Clayton whispers.
I nod in agreement as we both gaze to an area partly lit with floodlights.
A terrible disaster has occurred here.
A section of cement rings must have given way during the earthquake, releasing massive amounts of water and earth. Water continues to trickle down the giant curved walls into a pool. The pool seems like it could hide a swamp monster.
Floodlights have been set up and a shaft has been dug through the remains of dirt, rock, and giant pieces of the cement ceiling. It has been braced with wood and metal and forms a long rectangular corridor resembling a mineshaft. Lights flicker inside as far as I can see. It’s the most surreal place ever—a hall of lights in the middle of all this destruction.
“What is that?” Clayton whispers.
“Some kind of hole towards the trapped workers,” I say. “We didn’t hear about this on the news.”
Just then we take cover. A couple of men appear from the shaft. They linger at the opening for someone to come out.
A generator nearby powers the lights. Three golf carts are parked next to that. Some heavy machinery vehicles are here too, including one that seems like a very small Gabby used for drilling smaller round holes. Also, some loader machines, and one very large dump truck that you could fit a house inside.
Luckily the workers couldn’t see us because of the way the floodlights are angled, though we’re pretty well hidden behind a pile of rocks.
Finally two more men appear from the depths of the shaft. At first they’re nothing more than shadows. Then we hear them talking and see their forms. The taller of the two, a Japanese man in a hardhat, is Mr. Tamaki. He says, “Site No. 1 can be repaired after the new geological assessment. We must know what we’re dealing with . . .”
He’s interrupted by one of the waiting men. “Mr. Tamaki. I have an urgent message.”
Mr. Tamaki turns to the man next to him. “Excuse me, Mr. Marks. We’ll follow up in a few minutes. What is it, Bryan?”
“A boy is missing.” Bryan is dressed in a blue jeans and a shirt covered in dirt stains. He must be a worker like Dad, not one of the businessmen, though Dad rarely came home messy like that.
Mr. Tamaki appears confused. “A boy? What boy?”
“Arthur Flint’s kid.”
“What?” Mr. Tamaki shakes his head in bewilderment. “Did he run away from home? Sounds like a police matter.”
“It’s more than a police matter,” Bryan says. “He ran away from camp. No one knows where he is.”
Mr. Tamaki seems pained. “When did he go missing?” he asks.
“Maybe an hour ago.”
“An hour? And you’re just now telling me?”
Bryan is obviously confused. “We’ve only known for a few minutes. And sir?”
Mr. Tamaki appears bewildered. He can tell something else is wrong too. “Quit delaying. Just tell me.”
“Two children were found in the tunnel.”
“In the tunnel? So the boy has been found?”
“What do you mean, not exactly?”
“The boy we found says his name is Superchunk. The girl says her name is Super Fine.”
Clayton and I nearly lose it. So, Mason is funny after all. Denise too.
“Superfunk and Super Fine?” Mr. Tamaki is completely confused. “So, is this the boy?”
“He doesn’t fit the description of Mr. Flint’s son. They think this is another kid. Maybe a friend.”
“How many boys are missing?”
“Officially? Just one.”
Mr. Tamaki seems to think for a long moment. Finally he turns to Mr. Marks. “Do you mind riding back with them? We can catch up in my office later.”
“I don’t mind,” Mr. Marks says. “You’ve got another serious matter on your hands.”
Mr. Tamaki turns to Bryan. “What’s the boy’s name again?”
“No, the one who is missing.”
“Yes, that’s right.” Mr. Tamaki nods.
My heart once again bumps crazily like a pinball racking up points off the bumpers in my chest. I suck in some air. I can’t believe this. It really hasn’t taken long for them to find out I’m missing. I guess Mom was watching me closer than I thought.
“We’re dead,” Clayton whispers. Though he’s terrified like me, he still wants to laugh about Superchunk and Super Fine.
“At least they bought us a little bit of time,” I say.
I peek around the rock pile again when a rock about the size of an apple tumbles loose. It falls down the little hill and rolls a short ways. I duck behind the pile.
Mr. Tamaki briefly glances my way but takes no other notice of the rocks. After all, tons of strange noises crash, wheeze, whine and boom down here in the tunnel. Water splashes and drips, a generator growls and sputters. It seems those big machines have only just recently shut down. I bet that’s where the metal ripping sounds were coming from.
Mr. Tamaki motions to Bryan. “You two take the cart and drive Mr. Marks back to camp. I’ll go back on foot.”
Bryan doesn’t like this. “You can’t walk back to camp, Mr. Tamaki.”
Mr. Tamaki’s face turns serious, as if he can’t be argued with. “I can,” he says, “and I will. If I get tired I’ll come back for the other cart or call you on a radio. Now do as I say. Check back with me in thirty minutes. My radio is on. And patrol for the boy on your way back. He might be hovering around the entrance.”
Bryan starts to protest again but Mr. Tamaki cuts him off. “Go, now.”
The three men get in a cart. The engine whines as they dart back down the tunnel.
I’ve snuck from the rock pile behind some barrels. I really want a drink of soda or a bite of cookie but hold my breath instead.
Mr. Tamaki is near the other cart. I can’t tell if he’s grabbing anything or not as I finally exhale. He seems to be moving some things around.
I suck in another breath, trying to relax, trying to think. Why is he hanging around? I thought he said he was going to walk back? Just like a grown-up to take his sweet old time. Then, Mr. Tamaki sits down. Wait, why is he sitting down? Seriously? He’s sitting on a box and looking at his watch, then at the shaft of lights. I look at them too. I have to get in this green-lit hallway to nowhere. If there’s one thing, I’m more determined than ever to rescue Dad. But I better do it fast, especially since I know people are looking for me. I just have to get past him into that shaft. It’s the only way through.
Then Mr. Tamaki talks—right to me!
“You can come out now, Mr. Flint,” he says.
My face turns flush. The pinball inside me ricochets a few more times. I’m like a statue. Frozen and alone. I want to melt, swirl between rocks.
Then Mr. Tamaki talks to me again. “It’s just us. No one is here. Come have a seat. I know you’re over there.”
Oh man. He’s got x-ray vision or something.
“Don’t do it,” Clayton whispers.
What can I do? I’m caught. I step from behind the barrels.
“It’s alright,” he says. “Come sit.”
Sit? I feels like it takes forever but I slowly walk to a little bucket that he’s turned upside-down. I push the hardhat back up over my eyes.
“Tell your friend to join us,” he says.
I don’t have to say anything. Clayton sheepishly follows.
Mr. Tamaki motions to the shaft and all the lights in it. “Do you know where that goes?” he asks.
I’m terrified. I think I know but shake my head anyway.
“Mysterious, isn’t it?”
I nod. The lights seem to hum, to sing.
Mr. Tamaki gives me a gentle smile. “It’s almost like your father will come walking through at any moment.”
This scares me. I peer into the shaft and really expect to see Dad. He’s just going to be there. I know it. Instead, after a few long seconds, there’s only the same hall of lights flickering at us.
“We want to see what we want to see,” he says. “But sometimes there is only disappointment.”
I don’t know how, but I find the courage to ask why.
Mr. Tamaki watches curiously. He wipes dust off his pants. “I don’t think you want to be haunted any more than you already have been.”
He’s right. I don’t. I’ve been haunted by Dad, David, fires, earthquakes, holes, Mom, Mr. Boles, Mason, this mountain, this tunnel . . . and now, this shaft. The shaft glows green and yellow. Sickly. Its strings of bulbs form an energy that pulls at me to enter. If I step inside, will I ever come out?
“Still, you wonder,” he says. “You have come this far. You are very brave. All of you. Even Super Fine and Superchunk.”
Clayton laughs. I don’t.
“Perhaps you are meant to go all the way inside,” Mr. Tamaki says. “Perhaps you are meant to stop here, to talk to me, to get in the cart and take a ride out of this place of persecution.”
“Why haven’t I heard from Dad again?” I ask. It’s been way more than a week since the earthquake and I can’t think of anything else to ask but the questions that are burning my stomach and throat. “Is he dead?” I don’t know why I say the last part. I guess if anyone knows, Mr. Tamaki does.
Mr. Tamaki’s eyes seem to flicker along with the shaft’s lights. I can’t tell if he’s about to say that everyone is gone, or tell me the answers are in that shaft. The lights blink. So do his eyes. The glow there seems to form unspoken words.
I walk to the opening of the shaft. I wonder again what’s on the other side.
“Many years ago my family had to escape a burning city,” he says. “I remember my grandfather told me about a terrible fire. Everything melted. Even shadows. And what didn’t melt turned to coals. It seemed the flames themselves were alive—horrible creatures like living lava. They were coming for us . . .”
I instantly understand and nod.
He raises his eyebrows. “You’ve seen such flames?”
“Yes,” I say, considering whether or not to run into the shaft.
“I don’t want to trouble you with most of the story but it was probably a similar feeling to what you’re going through. This kind of hopelessness that humans sometimes share.”
I don’t answer. Instead, I look again into the shaft. There’s a heartbeat in there, as if the walls are alive. This mountain is alive . . .
What is the right thing to do?” Mr. Tamaki asks. “This is what we all ask ourselves in times like this.”
Is he asking himself? Or me? I don’t want to answer. Right answers are so difficult lately. Right answers scare me more than anything. I come back and sit down. “I just want to help,” I say.
“Each time you help someone it heals you a little bit.” I wonder if he means that in all of this, no matter who is trying to help, the process can fix some things in ourselves.
Then he says something that takes away some of the pain. It’s nothing really. It’s just not what I’m expecting. Not so deep inside this mountain.
“Cameron?” he asks. “What’s in your backpack?”
I hesitate to turn around, to break the spell of these lights. But I do. “Sandwiches,” I say. “Want one?”