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
I’m standing outside the front door to a house I’ve never been.
The walls are stucco. Spanish tiles cover the roof. A magnolia tree towers over the lawn. The birdbath out front is filled with water and bits of leaves from surrounding rosebushes. Three red clay steps lead to a porch.
Snapers sits next to me and lets out a little whine. He’s clearly more excited than I am. Or maybe he’s feeling the same thing as me. Cold fear. Terror. A pile of slithery things in his guts.
I fight against these feelings. Bravery, I remind myself. I have to be brave though any second I feel I might run down the street. Dad wouldn’t want me to do that. Neither would Mr. Perez who is now gone, or Patricia who is here with me. I have to do the right thing. The brave thing.
I have no idea where I am. Even so, I want to be able to turn off gravity, to fly, to soar over the roof to the mountain where Dad’s trapped. I want to burrow inside and find him. Why can’t I be at the tunnel? What’s happening to Dad?
Does he have enough air?
Is he having trouble breathing?
Is he neck deep in water, spewed from the mouth of some giant hidden deep underground?
Can he talk to anyone?
Maybe he’s completely in the dark. I can’t shake these feelings of terror at what Dad might be going through, that every creature from beneath the mountain might be slipping through cracks, crevices, and gaping holes to infest Gabby’s innards the way cockroaches and slippery grey things with tentacle eyes do. I really hope Dad is able to fight them off.
Patricia doesn’t say much as she flips through some forms. I don’t feel like talking to her anyway. I still don’t answer any questions. I’m not even listening actually, though I did hear her say her first and last name when riding in her car: Patricia Williams. She said she was taking me to be with family. I have no idea what she’s talking about. Who can possibly be my family other than Dad and Snapers? It’s just the three of us. I’ve never known a grandparent, cousin, uncle, aunt, nothing. No one. Unless . . .
No way. I won’t even think it.
I take off my backpack. It’s feeling heavy so I set it down next to my suitcase. I grip hard at Snapers’ leash, ready to bolt. I think how tough this all is, how bravery is like trying to hold a slippery fish.
Patricia knocks on the door. She’s holding Snapers’ dog bowls. I insisted on bringing them because, well, they’re his.
The door to the house briefly opens.
A girl younger than me holds back a growling pug.
The crazy little dog is square shaped, with short legs, hardly any muzzle, and a piggishly curled tail. The pug first sees me, then Snapers, then a split-second later totally freaks out, trying to jump out of the girl’s arms. The girl squeals. Snapers starts to wag his tail. He thinks it’s funny. He barks and pulls me forward. The little girl slams the door. Snapers stops and cocks his head to the side. All we can hear is the pug barking: ra-ra-ra-ra-ra!
Then we hear yelling.
And more barking.
The dog is really freaking out.
I don’t know whether to cry or laugh. It’s kind of funny. My emotions are all over the place because up until now all I can think about are my feelings or what’s happened to Dad.
Patricia pushes the doorbell again in case the girl is ignoring us but all it does is make the pug freak out more. I’m trying to be brave.
There’s more yelling.
Finally the door opens. A woman in the entryway seems bothered by our presence.
I’m completely shocked. I didn’t even want to think this was possible. Finally, I my voice squeaks: “Mom?”