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The True Meaning of Smekday
By Adam Rex
Illustrated by Adam Rex
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When twelve-year-old Gratuity ("Tip") Tucci is assigned to write five pages on "The True Meaning of Smekday" for the National Time Capsule contest, she's not sure where to begin; when her mom started telling everyone about the messages aliens were sending through a mole on the back of her neck? Maybe on Christmas Eve, when huge bizarre spaceships descended on Earth and the aliens — called Boov — abducted her mother? Or when the Boov declared Earth a colony, renamed it "Smekland" (in honor of glorious Captain Smek), and forced all Americans to relocate to Florida via rocketpod?
In any case, Gratuity's story is much, much bigger than the assignment. It involves her unlikely friendship with a renegade Boov mechanic named J.Lo; a futile journey south to find Gratuity's mother at the Happy Mouse Kingdom; a cross-country road trip in a hovercar called Slushious; and an outrageous plan to save the Earth from yet another alien invasion.
About the Endnotes
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Copyright © 2007 by Adam Rex
Excerpt from Smek for President! copyright © 2014 by Adam Rex
All rights reserved. Published by Disney • Hyperion Books, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher.
For information address Disney • Hyperion Books, 114 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10011-5690.
For Steve Malk
And for Ms. Jennifer Lopez
Preview of Smek for President!
ASSIGNMENT: Write an essay titled
THE TRUE MEANING OF SMEKDAY.
What is the Smekday holiday? How has it changed in the year since the aliens left? You may use your own personal experiences from the alien invasion to make your points. Feel free to draw pictures or include photographs.
All essays will be sent to the National Time Capsule Committee in Washington, D.C. The committee will choose one winning essay to be buried with the National Time Capsule, which will be uncovered one hundred years from now.
Essays must be at least five pages long.
Daniel Landry Middle School
THE TRUE MEANING OF SMEKDAY
It was Moving Day.
Should that be capitalized? I never would have capitalized it before, but now Moving Day is a national holiday and everything, so I think it should be.
It was Moving Day, and everybody was crazy. You remember. It was chaos; people running around with armfuls of heirloom china and photo albums, carrying food and water, carrying their dogs and kids because they forgot that their dogs and kids could carry themselves. Crazy.
I remember one lady with a mirror, and I thought, Why save a mirror? And then I watched her run down the street with it in both hands, arms outstretched like she was chasing vampires. I saw a group of white guys dressed as Indians who were setting fires and dropping tea bags down manhole covers. There was a man holding a chessboard high over his head like a waiter, looking all around him on the pavement, shouting, “Has anyone seen a black bishop?” over and over. I remember Apocalypse Hal was on the corner by the Laundromat. Hal was a neighborhood street preacher who worked at the fish and crab place next door. He wore a sandwich board sign of Bible verses and shouted angry things at passersby like “The end times are near” and “Seafood sampler $5.99.” Now his sign just read “TOLD YOU SO,” and he looked more anxious than angry.
“I was right,” he said as I passed.
“About the fish or the apocalypse?” I asked. He followed beside me.
“Both. That should count for something, shouldn’t it? That I was right?”
“I don’t know.”
“I didn’t think it would be aliens,” he mumbled. “I thought it would be angels with flaming swords. Something like that. Hey! Maybe they are angels! You find some pretty weird descriptions of them in the Good Book. There’s this one angel in Revelation with three heads and wheels.”
“I think they’re just aliens, Hal,” I said. “Sorry.”
Apocalypse Hal stopped, but I kept walking. After a few seconds he called after me.
“Hey! Girl! D’you need help carrying stuff? Where’s your pretty mom?”
“I’m going to meet her right now!” I shouted. I didn’t look back.
“Haven’t seen her in a while!”
“’Sokay! Meeting her!” I said. It was a lie.
I was all alone because Mom had already been called up to the spaceships by signals from the mole on her neck. It was just me and my cat, and I have to tell you, I wasn’t feeling too friendly toward the cat. I’d carried her for a while, but she squirmed like a bag of fish, so I set her down. When I walked she followed me, flinching whenever someone ran by or honked a car horn, which was all the time. It was step step jerk, step step jerk, like she was doing the conga. Eventually I looked behind, then all around, and didn’t see her anymore.
“Fine,” I said. “See ya, Pig.” And that was that. My cat’s name is Pig. I probably should have mentioned that.
The weird thing about writing for people in the future is that you don’t know how much you need to explain. Do people still keep pets in your time? Do you still have cats? I’m not asking if cats still exist—right now we have a lot more cats than we know what to do with. But I’m not really writing this for people right now.
I mean, if anyone besides my teacher ever sees these words, it’ll be because I won the contest and this essay was buried in the time capsule with the photographs and newspapers, and it was dug up a hundred years later, and now you’re reading it in, like, a five-legged chair while snacking on roast planet or whatever. And it seems like you should know everything about my time already, but then I think of how little I know about 1913, so maybe I should clear up a few things. This story starts in June 2013, about six months after the alien Boov arrived. Which also makes it six months after the aliens completely took over, and about a week after they decided the entire human race would probably be happier if they all moved to some little out-of-the-way state where they could keep out of trouble. At the time I lived in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania was on the eastern side of the United States. The United States was this big country where everybody wore funny T-shirts and ate too much.
I’d been living by myself after Mom left. I didn’t want anyone to know. I had learned to drive our car short distances by nailing cans of corn to my church shoes so I could reach the pedals. I made a lot of mistakes at first, and if anyone was walking on the sidewalk at 49th and Pine after dark on March 3rd, 2013, I owe you an apology.
But eventually I got really good. Like, NASCAR good. So, while most people were reporting to the Boovish rocket pods for relocation to Florida, I figured I’d drive there myself, with no help from anyone. I got directions off the Internet, which wasn’t as easy as it used to be, because the Boov had started shutting it down. But the route looked easy. The website said it would take three days, but most drivers weren’t as good as I was, and they wouldn’t be eating frosting and root beer so they could drive nonstop, either. I worked my way through knots of people, past a woman with a baby in a crystal punch bowl, past a man carrying rotting boxes that bled baseball cards all over the streets, and finally to the community tennis courts, where I’d left the car.
It was a little hatchback, the size and color of a refrigerator and only about twice as fast. But it didn’t use much gas, and I didn’t have much money. I’d drained our bank account, and there was less than I’d expected in the rainy-day fund that Mom had kept at the bottom of an underwear drawer in a panty hose egg labeled “DEAD SPIDERS.” As if I hadn’t always known it was there. As if I wouldn’t have wanted to look at dead spiders.
I threw the camera bag and backpacks into the backseat, and suddenly got a dead weight in my stomach from the loneliness of it all. I turned my head this way and that, looking past the panicky people. Looking past a man wearing oven mitts and holding a pot roast, for God’s sake, pardon my language. I don’t know what or who I was looking for—certainly not the cat. But I called her anyway.
“Pig!” I yelled. “PIIIIIIIIIIG!”
Shouting “Pig” outdoors usually attracts some attention, but no one paid me any that day. Actually, on my third “Pig,” one guy ducked, but I’m still not sure what that was about.
Anyway, just as I was turning to get in the car, a fat gray cat came barreling across the street and leaped up onto the dashboard. She turned around and stretched her cheek out for a scratch.
“Oh,” I said. “Okay. I guess you can come. But you’ll have to do your business at rest stops.”
By this point, I was thinking it would be nice to have some company, as I didn’t expect to see anyone else for a couple days. I assumed the highways would be empty, you see, what with nearly everybody taking the rocket pods.
I was right and I was wrong.
Did you know that cats don’t like riding in cars? They don’t, or at least mine didn’t. Before we started out, I reset the trip odometer, so I know that Pig spent the first twenty-two and a half miles staring out the rear windshield and hissing. She clung to the headrest of the passenger seat like a Halloween decoration, back arched and poofy.
“Calm down!” I shouted as I dodged abandoned cars on the highway. “I’m a really good driver!”
She stopped hissing and started growling, sort of. You know how cats growl. Like pigeons who smoke too much.
“I could have left you home, you traitor. You could have moved in with your precious Boov.”
I have no trouble looking at a cat and steering at the same time, but for some reason the car sort of hopped over a skin of tire tread in the road, and Pig squealed and shot off the headrest, looped around the backseat a couple of times, and darted over the gearshift, finally curling into a ball under the brake pedal.
“Uh-oh,” I muttered. I pressed the brake gently, trying to coax her out. She hissed and took a swipe at the can of corn under my shoe.
I looked up at the road, dodged an empty motorcycle, then glanced back down at my feet.
“C’mon, Pig,” I said reassuringly (while swerving to avoid a minivan). “Come on out…(oil tanker)…I’ll give you a treat!” (Sports car. Why had everyone just left their cars?)
“Mrrr?” said Pig.
“Yeah! You want a treat? Treat? Treat?” I lilted over and over like a songbird.
Pig still hadn’t moved, but I had a stretch of clear road. I was just keeping my eye on a big rig on the left, in the distance, and that’s when I saw something move. It hung in the air over the trailer, lazily bobbing up and down. It was a mass of bubbles; soap bubbles: maybe. But some were the size of softballs, and others like basketballs, and they all stuck and interlaced together to make a star shape as big as a washing machine. Like this:
It didn’t move with the breeze, it just dipped and rose slightly, as though tethered with invisible string to the big rig’s smokestack. And as my eyes traced down the smokestack, I saw something else. Or someone else, standing on the road.
“There’s a guy or something,” I said, as much to myself as to Pig. The guy, or woman, or whatever, was wearing bright safety orange, easy to see, and maybe some kind of clear plastic helmet, and I thought, Radiation suit? and then we got close enough to see it was one of them. A Boov.
“Okay…okay,” I whispered, and pulled the car as far to the right as I could without hitting the barricade.
The Boov noticed my approach and turned that weird body to face me. The sun was glinting off its helmet, but I think it raised its arm, palm out in a way that must be recognized across the galaxy as stop. Then again, it was hard to tell. They had such small arms.
I couldn’t stop, but I could take my foot off the gas, so I slowly lost speed as I hugged the shoulder of the road and said Hail Marys under my breath.
We were getting really close now, close enough to see that awful mess of legs under the Boov’s body, and the broad, flat head inside the helmet. It made its gesture again, more forcefully, and it was definitely stop. I lifted my hand in return and smiled and waved and kept my eyes on the road. I didn’t want to look at it anymore. So I almost missed it when the Boov’s other arm whipped down to its side and snapped back up with something in its hand. All at once I recognized the thing from the TV, one of those horrible guns you saw a lot of when we’d still been trying to fight. Terrible guns that didn’t even make a noise, or a light. They just pointed at you and then half your body was gone, just like that.
Well, one thing I could still do was hit the gas. I ducked and slammed on the pedal, and the car lurched forward, not nearly fast enough, scraping the highway barricade and sending up sparks like the Fourth of July.
The Boov shouted something I couldn’t hear or understand. I tried to make a poor target of myself, swerving back and forth and looking up just in time to avoid hitting an SUV. I looked out at my right-side mirror and saw that it had been wrenched off by the barricade, so I looked at my rearview mirror and noticed that most of the SUV wasn’t there anymore, a huge chunk scooped out as clean as ice cream, and so I tried to look at my left-side mirror, but it wasn’t there anymore, either. I turned and saw the Boov fading into the distance, far away now. It wasn’t chasing me.
“Oh boy, Pig,” I said softly, and Pig crawled out from under the brake like it wasn’t anything to her one way or the other.
A minute later I pulled to the side of the road and stopped, and looked around at the car. The Boov gun had disintegrated my mirror, and there was a hole in the left rear window where the beam had entered the car. I craned my neck and saw there was an even bigger hole in the rear windshield where it’d left. Each hole was as perfect as could be, like a biscuit cutter through dough.
“I hate them,” I said. “I hate them. We were really lucky, Pig.”
But Pig didn’t hear. She was stretched out on the passenger seat, asleep.
Why did the Boov shoot? I didn’t know—all I was doing was driving to Florida, like they wanted. But at mile forty-eight I found out why nobody else was on the road. There wasn’t one.
We were curving around a bend when the car bucked over a pothole. My seat belt went taut as I jerked forward and back, pain twisting up my neck. Pig rolled off her seat, woke up briefly on the floor of the car, and fell back asleep where she was.
I swerved around chunks of asphalt and rounded something that was less like a pothole and more like an empty swimming pool. Then another curve, and the road was gone. My little car dropped off a shelf of pavement into a crater of earth and tar, and I jiggled the steering wheel as I mashed my corn-can foot against the brake. We skidded and plowed through twisted metal curlicues that were once a barricade, then slid down the embankment, rolled over twice, and came to an abrupt stop in a MoPo parking lot.
The air around the car was orange with dust. I clutched the steering wheel like a life preserver. Pig was sprawled on her back in the crook where the windshield meets the dash. Our eyes met, and she gave me a short hiss.
So that was it. Nobody was taking their cars because the Boov had destroyed the highways. Of course they had.
I wearily unbuckled myself and fell out of the car. Pig followed and stretched and darted off after a bug.
I nearly puked. Can I say that in a school paper? That I puked? Because when I said “nearly,” what I really meant was “repeatedly.”
While I was bent over I noticed we’d blown a tire. I wasn’t sure if there was a spare, but it didn’t matter much one way or the other since I didn’t know how to change it. All Mom had ever taught me about vehicle maintenance was the number of a tow truck to call if you stopped moving forward.
Well, it was a long shot, but I figured I might as well try to call somebody. I wasn’t likely to get any answer, but we were too far from home to walk back now. I popped open the glove box and retrieved the emergency cell phone that only had one hour of talking time on it and was NOT A TOY. I flipped it open and pushed the power button, and it suddenly crackled to life. Strange voices gibbered back and forth on the other end.
“But I didn’t even dial yet,” I mumbled, and the voices stopped. “Hello?” I said.
The voices came again in bleats and pops, like a lamb stepping on bubble wrap. They grew louder, more agitated.
I quickly hit the power button again and flapped the phone shut. It was like something gross and alien in my hand now, so I pushed it back into the glove box and put a car manual on top of it.
Car manual, I thought. It might tell me how to change the tire. No. Later. It can wait.
I sat down. The sky was clear again, and blue. In the distance was a small town I didn’t know. The tallest building was an old stone church, and this had a clean bite taken out of its bell tower. Nearby I could see broken telephone poles hanging like limp marionettes. I’d been sitting long enough.
“Maybe there’s still some food in the MoPo store,” I said brightly, looking for Pig.
For you time-capsule types, MoPo was something called a convenience store, as in, “The soda is conveniently located right next to the doughnuts and lottery tickets.” People who want to understand better how the human race was conquered so easily need to study those stores. Almost everything inside was filled with sugar, cheese, or weight-loss tips.
It was dark inside, but I’d expected that. Pig followed me to the door, which opened with a jingle, and into the empty store. The shelves were nearly bare, probably looted, except for some moldy bread and yogurt health snacks called NutriZone Extreme FitnessPlus Blaster Bars with Calcium. There was also a bag and a few tins of cat food, which was nice. I sat on the cold linoleum floor and ate one of the pink health bars, and Pig had a tin of Sea Captain’s Entree.
“I don’t think we’re going to make it to Florida,” I said.
“Florida. That’s where we’re going. Big state, full of oranges.”
Pig went back to her food, and I took another bite of what I was beginning to think was just a big eraser.
“Maybe we can stay here. We’re pretty far outside the city. The Boov might not even notice.”
“Sure we could. We could live in someone’s house. Or a hotel. And the town’s probably full of canned food.”
“Fine. You’re so smart, give me one reason why it wouldn’t work.”
“Oh, you say that about everything.”
Pig purred and settled down for a nap. I leaned back against an ATM and shut my eyes against the setting sun. I don’t remember falling asleep, but it was dark outside when I woke with a loaf of bread under my head and heard the jingle of the front door.
I gasped for breath and scampered under a shelf. Too late I remembered Pig, who was nowhere to be seen. Something moved through the vacant store, its footsteps like a drumroll.
Go away, go away, I chanted in my head at what I was sure was a Boov. It skibbered past my row of shelves, and I got a look at its cluster of tiny elephant legs, clad in a light blue rubber suit. Boov. Probably sent to find me.
Then the drumroll stopped. A wet, nasally voice said, “Oh. Hello, kitten.”
“How did you come to be inside of the MoPo?”
I heard Pig purr loudly, the skunk. She was probably rubbing up against each one of its eight legs.
“Did someone…let you to inside, hm?”
My heart pounded. As if Pig might say, Yeah, Gratuity did. Aisle five.
“Perhaps you are being hungry,” the Boov told Pig. “Would you enjoy to join me in a jar of cough syrup?”
The drumroll resumed. They were moving again. I poked my neck out of the shelf in time to see them walk through a door marked EMPLOYEES ONLY.
I slid out and ran, unthinking, for the door. I pushed through with a shove and a tinkling sound and thought, Oh, yeah. The bell. A quick look behind me and I was off. I sped to the car, retrieved my bag, and made for a row of hedges that lined the parking lot. I was safely behind them and watching through a gap in the leaves just in time to see the Boov peek out of the MoPo. He, it, squeezed through the door and looked from side to side, scanning the lot for whatever had been dumb enough to forget the door jingled. Then he gave a start when he saw my car, and smiled back at Pig. I could see her through the door, her front paws up on the glass.
“Hello, hm?” the Boov shouted. He looked up toward the ruined highway and whistled through his nose.
I tried to make myself as small as possible, tried to stop my heart from pounding, or the blood from thrumming in my ears. The Boov pattered across the asphalt toward something new, something I hadn’t noticed before.
In the corner of the lot was this crazy-looking thing, like a huge spool of thread with antlers. It was all plasticky and blue, and it was hanging in the air, about six inches above the ground.
“I would not to hurt you!” the Boov shouted again. “If you would enjoy to be my guest, there is enough cough syrup and teething biscuits for everyone!”
It, he, whatever, hopped his squat body atop the big spool, clamping down around the edges with his little elephant legs. His tiny frog arms reached up and gripped the antlers, and with a few flicks and twists, the blue plastic thing rose a foot in the air and sailed up the hill of shale and weeds to the highway.
“’Allo!” he shouted as he drifted away. “There is no to fear! The Boov are no longer eating you people!”
The Boov’s weird little scooter disappeared over the ridge, and I darted out toward the store—for what? To get Pig? She probably preferred to stay with the Boov. But she was all I had, and the car wouldn’t drive on a flat tire, and my only thought was to vanish into this little town and hope the Boov didn’t try too hard to find me.
“Time to go, Pig,” I said as I burst into the MoPo, my guts jangling like a nervous doorbell. She tried to slip out the door, after the alien, I guess, but I scooped her up.
I pushed all the cat food and health bars into my bag and dashed out to the car. One last check to make certain I had everything, then I was gone. At the passenger door I remembered the cell phone, and wondered if I should take it, and it was about that time that I got a wicked idea.
Pig squirmed in my arms.
“Wrooowr’ftt,” she said.
I laughed. “Don’t worry. We’re not going anywhere. We’ll just march into the store and wait for your friend to come back.”
Pig hissed quietly to herself.
Let me tell you how I thought this next part happened. I figured the Boov hovered around the old highway for a bit, dum de dum, thinking, I sure for to am hoping I find Gratuity or whoever it am being, I eat her or I am to be turning her in or beaming her to Florida or something, then the Boov maybe checked around the MoPo and probably in my car, and then he thought, Ho hum, it am probably being just my imagination, there am no girl or whatever, me sure am stupid, sheep noise bubble wrap bubble wrap.
Then the Boov parked his antler spool and went back inside the MoPo, and wondered where Pig was, and when the door stopped jingling, he heard something. So he thought, What am that? and went to investigate. And as he neared the frozen food section, he could maybe tell it was the voices of other Boov, even though he was so stupid. And he saw there was a freezer door standing open that hadn’t been open before, so he went right over to it and peeked in and made a sheep noise. Maybe at that moment he noticed all the freezer shelves on the floor next to my cell phone, but it didn’t matter, because that was right when I kicked his alien butt inside and barred the door shut with a broom handle.
The Boov hopped up and down and turned to face me. I was happy to see he looked pretty startled, or frightened, and he pressed his thick face against the glass to get a good look at his captor. I did a little dance.
“What for are you did this?” he said. I think that’s what he said. It was hard to hear through the glass. I wondered, suddenly, if he’d run out of air after a while. The thought made me uneasy, and I had to remind myself of the situation I was in.
“Good,” I whispered. “I hope he does run out of air.” I wished he could have been really cold in there, too, but there wasn’t any electricity.
“What?” said the Boov faintly. “What said you?” His eyes darted from side to side like little fish. His frog fingers pawed at the glass.
“I said, you’re getting what you deserve! You stole my mom, so I get to steal one of you!”
“You stole my mom!”
- On Sale
- Aug 14, 2012
- Page Count
- 432 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers