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
To The Mountain
We’re all packed in the car. Mom is driving. I’m crammed in the back with Maria and Sharon, Snapers and Bella. Grandma Benita is in the passenger seat. Bella crawls from lap to lap taking nips at Snapers’ floppy black ears every time his head pops up from the floorboards.
Mom is already annoyed. “Whose idea was it to bring the dogs?”
Sharon and Maria both point to each other. “Hers,” they say in unison.
“I helped them, m’ija,” Grandma Benita admits. She’s running lipstick across her lips, probably so she can kiss everyone at the rescue site.
Mom groans her disapproval about the dogs.
Sharon has turned toward the back window. “Hey, I didn’t know Reuben and Shaun were driving behind us with Alex, Tanzina and Janelly,” she says. “Everyone’s coming to the party!”
“It’s not a party, m’ija.” Grandma Benita puts away her lipstick. “It’s a rescue.”
“Oh,” Maria says, turning to me. “What’s the camp like? Does it really have games?”
“We’re not going to play games, m’ija,” Grandma Benita says.
“I just call it the Family Tent,” I say. “There was a checker board but it might be gone.” I’m feeling sick to my stomach. They’re all treating this like a celebration and it’s nothing like that. “Everything else in the camp is off limits,” I add, watching Snapers lick my shoe. Here I am going to the mountain again, only this time I’m embarrassed. I should be going by myself.
“Off limits?” Grandma Benita wipes lipstick from her teeth. “That’s not what I heard.” She’s talking about my adventure into the tunnels.
“Tell us about your journey again,” Sharon says, wide-eyed. “Were there lots of fallen rocks?” She knows about my running away. Everyone does. I told them all about it. Not to mention I was briefly on MSNBC. They interviewed me saying, “I was on a journey to see my dad.” An entire segment aired titled, “The Boy Who Trekked Into The Mountain And Lived.” Some famous reporter narrated it, saying, “Ten-year-old Cameron Flint of Sunland, California, went on an unauthorized expedition with three friends into the collapsed High-Speed Rail Tunnel hoping to find his trapped father, Arthur Flint.” When a reporter asked what we found deep in the tunnel, I can be seen replying, “never-ending darkness.” Now I’m sort of famous I guess.
“It was pretty dark and grey,” I tell my sister. “I heard things.” I don’t tell her about the shaft of greenish lights at the collapsed wall and how I almost went inside, or about how Mr. Tamaki and I talked about fire.
“What kind of things?” she asks. Her eyes are really wide.
I imagine being in the tunnel all over again, walking in the dark, shining my light onto the grey ceiling. “Metal sounds. Like something with big wheels or legs,” I add, “walking and scraping.”
“Sounds scary,” she shivers.
“That’s not scary,” Maria says.
Mom chimes in this time: “Cameron says it was scary. Why can’t you believe him?”
While they argue, I’m nervous and quiet, thinking how Dad will soon have to squeeze into a cage and be brought up through a thousand-foot hole. It’s going to be the worst elevator ride ever, squeezing slowly upward through hundreds and hundreds of feet of dirt and rocks. How will he be able to breathe? I worry things might go wrong. I wonder if there will be a lack of oxygen, or if the cable to his rescue chamber will snap the same way the video communications cable was lost, or that somehow, like being pulled up from the ocean deep, some kind of the bends will set in and Dad will go mad from bubbles forming and throughout his body, causing his joints to ache, his chest to burn and his mind to hallucinate with strange ghosts and lights. When I looked it all up in Mrs. Lucas’ class, I saw that the bends only happen to divers, people on spaceships, and depressurized airplanes. Do rescue cages count? The articles about the trapped workers don’t say anything about that though they do talk about psychological damage, effects of starvation, fear, paranoia, desperation, hopelessness. Everything is terrifying though I have to trust that the rescuers have sent food and air, that the real terror for all of us, especially Dad, is the final one: going up through the hole.
I can’t stop thinking about the last time I spoke with Dad. He was so upset that our communications were lost. If he freaked out then, how much more is he going to freak out when he sees all of us together?
“It’s going to be okay, m’ijo,” Grandma Benita says. “We’re all going to be there to welcome your dad home. It will be a new life for everyone. You’ll see.”
I groan silently to myself. What does she mean by that? Why does everyone have to come? They’re making me so nervous. I just know Dad is either going to scream how much he hates Mom, or he’s going to jump back in the hole and I’ll never see him again.
Sharon’s eyes are two mischievous lights. She tickles Bella, making her back legs kick like a frog. “I can’t wait to tell your dad how much you hate his pozole,” she grins.
Please don’t, I think, horrified. None of this is making me feel better as I turn and stare out the window. I watch the mountain. It gets closer and closer until it completely blocks out the tiny sliver of moon.
“Can we cheer when they come out of the hole?” Maria asks.
Grandma Benita really loves the idea. “Of course you can. Every person they bring up, you should cheer with all your soul.”
“I can do that,” Maria says.
“Me too,” adds Sharon.
I glance at my sisters. I’m no longer praying that Dad gets out of the mountain, but that they will forget all about pozole by the time he reaches the surface.