My name is Akiko. You know how whenever something really amazing happens to you, you just can't wait to tell all your friends about it? And how sometimes the amazing thing that happened to you is so incredible and mind-blowing that even after you've told your friends about it they think you made the whole thing up? And how sometimes you don't even dare to tell any of your friends about the amazing thing that happened to you because it all took place while you were on another planet in a distant galaxy, surrounded by aliens and robots and exploding volcanoes and stuff, and if you were foolhardy enough to even begin to tell your friends a word of it, they would decide then and there that you are completely and irreversibly out of your mind?
Don't you hate that?
Well, hey, right now I don't care whether people who read this think I'm making it up. If they think I'm a few cards short of a full deck, they can go right ahead and think that. My only concern is to put all this stuff down on paper, in the exact order it happened, and to get the details right. Because if I don't write it down and I end up forgetting some of it after a while, that really would make me crazy.
Here's what you need to know:
1. I'm an ordinary sixth grader. A human being, I swear.
2. A few years back I became friends with a bunch of space people from a planet called Smoo.
3. Since then, every few months or so, these friends of mine come to Earth and say they need to take me into outer space because . . . well, they've always got one excuse or another, and it always sounds pretty reasonable at the time.
All right. Now I can tell the story.
When it comes to meeting up with me on Earth, my friends from Smoo have made some pretty weird entrances over the years: appearing in rocket ships disguised as police cars, intergalactic transit systems on shopping mall rooftops, you name it. But the way they showed up this last time really raised the bar in terms of sheer ridiculousness.
I was on vacation with my mom and dad. We were staying at my aunt Lucille's house in Minnesota. (Aunt Lucille, who has an unexplainable fondness for big floppy hats and bright orange lipstick, has made some pretty weird entrances of her own over the years, but that's a different story.) We'd been there for a couple of days, and my cousin Earl had grabbed his fishing poles and taken me down to Wacahoota Creek to see if we could catch anything "big enough to stick in the bathtub and scare the bejeezies outta Mom." Me, I wasn't sure I wanted to see Aunt Lucille any more freaked out than she already was on a day-to-day basis. But hey, it was my third day in the backwoods of Minnesota, and my entertainment options-even my reasons for staying awake-were severely limited.
So there I was with Cousin Earl, sitting at the end of a mossy makeshift dock with a fishing pole in my hands, staring down into the brown-black waters of Wacahoota Creek. In spite of Earl's claim that this spot was "world famous" as the best fishing hole in Putnam County, we'd caught nothing but dead leaves and, in what was possibly the low point of the vacation so far, a pair of discarded diapers from somewhere upstream.
"That reminds me of a funny story," Earl said, tossing the diapers as far as he could back upstream (thereby all but guaranteeing that we would catch them again a few minutes later). "This one's a real gut buster."
He went to his tackle box and began noisily rummaging through it. "You know what a gut buster is, right?" Earl had an amazing ability to tell "funny stories" that weren't funny and-this takes talent-really weren't even stories. They started at point A, moved on to point G, and then just sort of petered out somewhere in the middle of an entirely different alphabet.
Without waiting for me to either confirm or deny that I knew what a gut buster was, Earl launched into his diaper-related tale. I stopped listening by around the third rambling sentence.
Then, to my shock, I actually felt something tugging on my line.
"Hey, Earl . . . ," I said, then nearly bit my tongue off trying to stop myself midsentence. There, about six inches below the surface of Wacahoota Creek, was a small glass dome, the kind you would see at the top of a deep-sea submersible on the Discovery Channel. Through the dome, which was attached to a submarine-like vessel, I saw the face of none other than Spuckler Boach, grinning from ear to ear and giving me an enthusiastic thumbs-up. Behind Spuckler, squeezing in to make sure I'd see him, was a cheerful but panicky-looking Mr. Beeba.
I blinked in disbelief: my friends from Smoo had somehow found their way into the best fishing hole in Putnam County and were inches from rising to the surface and scaring the bejeezies out of my cousin Earl.
I motioned furiously to Spuckler and Mr. Beeba to stay underwater.
"What's up?" said Earl, still rummaging through his tackle box. "Getting crawdad nibbles again?"
"No!" I said a little too loudly, setting my fishing pole on the edge of the dock. "I mean, um . . ." I tried desperately to come up with a good reason for having said "Hey, Earl" two seconds earlier, one that wouldn't encourage him to come back over. The interstellar submarine had not broken the surface of Wacahoota Creek, but if Earl joined me on my side of the dock, he'd see it as plainly as I did. "Could, could, could you go back and repeat that last part of the story? It was, uh, so funny I gotta hear it again."
Earl turned his face in my direction, so pleased with my sudden appreciation of his genius for storytelling that he failed to notice I'd broken into a sweat. "Which part? The part about the bald-headed squirrel or the part about surfer dude from Saskatoon?" I briefly marveled at the fact that these two topics had not only nothing to do with each other but also nothing whatsoever to do with diapers. "Um, both. You should be a stand-up comedian, Earl, I swear."
Earl chuckled, cleaning his glasses with the hem of his T-shirt. "You are not the first person to say that."
The second Earl turned back to his tackle box, I began motioning to Spuckler that he should steer their submarine as far as he could downstream and that I would catch up with them in-I pointed to an imaginary wristwatch and splayed all my fingers two times-twenty minutes.