Gratuity Tucci is on her own after her mom is abducted by the same aliens (Boov) that have conquered the human race and moved all Americans onto a reservation in Florida. With a Boov-loving cat named Pig, Gratuity is trying to avoid the aliens and drive herself to Florida when her car gets a flat outside a MoPo.
Here's an excerpt from early in Gratuity's essay titled, The True Meaning of Smekday:
For you time capsule types, MoPo was something called a convenience store, as in, "The soda is conveniently located right next to the donuts 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 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 drum roll.
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 drum roll 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 5.
“Perhaps you are being hungry,” the Boov told Pig. “Would you enjoy to join me in a jar of cough syrup?”
The drum roll 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 peeking through a gap in the leaves just in time too 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 though 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. A spool with antlers and buttons and this big something like a bubble on the side. 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’d probably prefer 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 the cat food and all the 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 it 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 told myself. “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!”
The Boov seemed to think about this for a second, then his eyes lit.
“Ahh. ‘My mom’!” he said, happily. “What is it about her, now?”
I shouted and kicked the glass.
“Aha,” the Boov nodded, as if I’d said something important. “Ah. So...can I come into the out now?”
“No!” I yelled. “You can not come into the out. You can never come into the out ever again!”
At this the Boov looked genuinely surprised, and panicked.
“Then...then...I will have onto shoot with my gun!”
I jumped back, palms up. In all the excitement, I hadn’t though of that. My eyes darted to where his hips would be, if he’d had any. I frowned.
“You don’t even have a gun!”
“Yes! YES!” he shouted, nodding furiously, as though I’d somehow proven his point. “NO GUN! So I will have to...have to...”
His whole body trembled.
“...SHOOT FORTH THE LASERS FROM MY EYEBALLS!”
I fell into a row of shelves. That one was new to me.
“Shoot forth the lasers?”
“SHOOT FORTH THE LASERS!”
“You can do that?”
The Boov hesitated. His eyes quivered. After a few seconds he replied,
I squinted. “Well, if you shoot your eye lasers, then I’ll have no choice but to...EXPLODE YOUR HEAD!”
“You humans can not to ex--”
“We can! We can too! We just don’t much. It’s considered rude.”
The Boov thought about this for a moment.
“Then...we are needing a...truce. You are not to exploding heads, and I will to not do my DEVASTATING EYE LASERS.”
“Okay,” I agreed. “Truce.”
A few moments passed in the utter quiet of the store.
“Soo...can I come into the out n--”
The Boov pointed over my head, tapping his fingertip against the glass.
“I can to fixing your car. I seen it is the broken.”
I folded my arms. “What would a Boov know about fixing cars?”
He huffed. “I am Chief Maintenance Officer Boov. I can to fix everything! I can surely to fix primitive humancar.”
I didn’t like that crack about my car, but it did need fixing.
“How do I know you’ll do anything? You’ll probably just call your friends to cart me off to Florida.”
The Boov furrowed what might have been his forehead. “Do not you want to go to Florida? Is where your people is to be. ALL humans decide to move on to Florida.”
“Hey! I don’t think we got to decide anything,” I said.
“Yes!” the Boov answered. “Florida!”
I sighed, and paced the aisle. When I looked back at the freezer case, I saw the Boov had picked up my cell phone.
“I could talk to them,” he said gravely. “I could call to them right now.”
It was true. He could.
I slid the broom handle free of the door, and opened it. The Boov lunged forward, and I instantly regretted everything, except then I realized he wasn’t attacking me. It must have been a hug, because I can’t think of any better word for it.
“See?” he said. “Boov and Humanskind can be friend. I always say!”
I patted him gingerly.
It sounds crazy, I know that, but suddenly I was searching the little town for supplies while the Boov worked on my car. I don’t think I have to mention at this point that Pig stayed with him.
I hit five abandoned stores, and found crackers, diet milkshakes, bottled water, really hard bagels, Honey Frosted Snox, tomato paste, dry pasta, a bucket of something called TUB! that came with its own spoon, and Lite Choconilla Froot Bites, which broke my usual rule against eating anything that was misspelled. The Boov had told me some things he liked, so I also carried a basket of breath mints, cornstarch, yeast, bouillon cubes, mint dental floss, and typing paper.
“Hey, Boov!” I shouted on my return. I could see him under the car, banging away. The car, I should mention, now sported three extra antennas. The holes in the windows were somehow not there anymore. There were tubes and hoses wrapped around, connecting certain parts of the car to certain other parts of the car, and a few of what I can only describe as fins. These appeared to be made from metal he’d salvaged from the convenience store. One of them showed a picture of a frozen drink, and the word “Slushious”.
There was an open tool box, and the tools were everywhere, all of them strange.
“This seems like an awful lot of trouble for one flat tire,” I said.
The Boov stuck out his head.
I stared back blankly for a second, then walked around to the other side. The tire was still flat.
“The car, it should to hover much better now!” he called happily.
“Hover?” I answered. “Hover better? I didn’t hover at all before!”
“Hm,” the Boov said, looking down. “So THIS is why the wheels are so dirty.”
“Sooo, it did to roll?”
“Yes,” I said crisply. “It rolled. On the ground.”
The Boov thought about this for a long few seconds.
“But...how did it to roll with this flat tire?”
I dropped the basket and sat down. “It doesn’t matter,” I said.
“Well” the Boov replied. “It will to hover wicked good now. I used parts fromto my own vehicle.”
He startled me at this point, the way he said “wicked”. It was slang. Something I didn't expect him to use. And it wasn’t even popular slang. Nobody said it anymore. Nobody but my mom, and sometimes me. I guess it made me think of Mom, and I guess it made me a little angry.
“Eat your dental floss, Boov,” I said, and kicked him the basket. He seemed to think nothing of it, and did as I said, sucking up strings of floss like spaghetti.
“You do not to say it right,” he said finally.
“’Boov’. The way you says it, it is too short. You must to draw it out, like as a long breath. ‘Bo-o-ov’.”
After a moment I swallowed my anger and gave it a try.
The Boov frowned. “Now you sound like sheep.”
I shook my head. “Fine. So, what’s your name? I’ll call you that.”
“Ah, no,” the Boov replied. “For humansgirl to correctly be pronouncing my name, you would need two heads. But, as a human name, I have to chosen ‘J.Lo’.”
I stifled a laugh. “J.Lo? Your Earth name is J.Lo?”
“Ah-ah,” J.Lo corrected. “Not ‘Earth’. ‘Smekland’.”
“What do you mean, ‘Smekland’?”
“That is the thing what we have named this planet. Smekland. As to tribute to our glorious leader, Captain Smek.”
“Wait,” I shook my head. “Woah. You can’t just rename the planet."
"Peoples who discover places gets to name it."
"But it’s called Earth. It’s always been called Earth.”
J.Lo smiled condescendingly. I wanted to hit him.
“You humans live too much in the pasttime. We did land onto Smekland a long time ago.”
“You landed last Christmas!”
“Ah-ah. Not ‘Christmas’. ‘Smekday’.”
So, anyway, that was how I learned the true meaning of Smekday. This Boov named J.Lo told me. The Boov didn’t like us celebrating our holidays, so they replaced them all with new ones. It was named after Captain Smek, their leader, who had discovered a New World for the Boov, which was Earth. I mean Smekland.
Whatever. The End.
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