Sample text for Akiko on the planet Smoo / written and illustrated by Mark Crilley.

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Counter My Name is Akiko. This is the story of the adventure I had a few months ago when I went to the planet Smoo. I know it's kind of hard to believe, but it really did happen. I swear.

I'd better go back to the beginning: the day I got the letter.

It was a warm, sunny day. There were only about five weeks left before summer vacation, and kids at school were already itching to get out. Everybody was talking about how they'd be going to camp, or some really cool amusement park, or whatever. Me, I knew I'd be staying right here in Middleton all summer, which was just fine by me. My dad works at a company where they hardly ever get long vacations, so my mom and I have kind of gotten used to it.

Anyway, it was after school and my best friend, Melissa, and I had just walked home together as always. Most of the other kids get picked up by their parents or take the bus, but Melissa and I live close enough to walk to school every day. We both live just a few blocks away in this big apartment building that must have been built about a hundred years ago. Actually I think it used to be an office building or something, but then somebody  cleaned it up and turned it into this fancy new apartment building. It's all red bricks and tall windows, with a big black fire escape in the back. My parents say they'd rather live somewhere out in the suburbs, but my dad has to be near his office downtown.

Melissa lives on the sixth floor but she usually comes up with me to the seventeenth floor after school. She's got three younger brothers and has to share her bedroom with one of them, so she doesn't get a whole lot of privacy. I'm an only child and I've got a pretty big bedroom all to myself, so that's where Melissa and I spend a lot of our time.

On that day we were in my room as usual, listening to the radio and trying our best to make some decent card houses. Melissa was telling me how cool it would be if I became the new captain of the fourth-grade safety patrol.

"Come on, Akiko, it'll be good for you," she said. "I practically promised Mrs. Miller that you'd do it."

"Melissa, why can't somebody else be in charge of the safety patrol?" I replied. "I'm no good  at that kind of stuff. Remember what happened when Mrs. Antwerp gave me the lead role in the Christmas show?"

Melissa usually knows how to make me feel better about things, but even she had to admit last year's Christmas show was a big disaster.

"That was different, Akiko," she insisted. "Mrs. Antwerp had no idea you were going to get stage fright like that."

"It was worse than stage fright, Melissa," I said. "I can't believe I actually forgot the words to 'Jingle Bells'."

"This isn't the Christmas show," she said. "You don't have to memorize any words to be in charge of the safety patrol." She was carefully beginning the third floor of a very ambitious card house she's been working on for about half an hour.

"Why can't I just be a member of the safety patrol?" I asked her.

"Because Mrs. Miller needs a leader," she said. "I'd do it, but I'm already in charge of the softball team."

And I knew Melissa meant it, too. She'd been in charge of everything at school if she could. Me, I prefer to let someone else be the boss. Sure, there are times when I wish I could be the one who makes all the decisions and tells everybody else what to do. I just don't want to be the one who gets in trouble when everything goes wrong.

"Besides," Melissa continued, "it would be a great way for you to meet Brendan Fitzpatrick. He's in charge of the boys' safety patrol." One thing about Melissa, No matter what kind of conversation you have with her, one way or another you end up talking about boys.

"What makes you so sure I want to meet Brendan Fitzpatrick?" The card house I'd been working on had completely collapsed, and I was trying to decide whether it was worth the trouble to start a new one.

"Trust me, Akiko," she said with a big grin, "everyone wants to meet Brendan Fitzpatrick."

"I don't even like him," I said, becoming even more anxious to change the subject.

"How can you not like him?" she asked, genuinely puzzled. "He's one of the top five cute guys in the fourth grade."

"I can't believe you actually have a list of who's cute and who isn't."

That was when my mom knocked on my door. (I always keep the door shut when Melissa's over. I never want my mom to hear.)

"Akiko, you got something in the mail," she said, handing me a small silvery envelope.

She stared at me with this very curious look in her eyes. I don't get letters very often. "Are you sure you don't want this door open?" she asked. "It's kind of stuffy in here."

"Thanks, Mom. Better keep it closed."

It was all I could do to keep Melissa from snatching the letter from me once my mom was out of sight. She kept stretching out her hands all over the place like some kind of desperate basketball player, but I kept twisting away, holding the envelope against my chest with both my hands so she couldn't get it.

"It's from a boy, isn't it? I knew it, I knew it!" she squealed, almost chasing me across the room.

"Melissa, this is not from a boy," I said, turning my back to get a closer look at the thing. My name was printed on the front in shiny black lettering, like it had been stamped there by a machine. The envelope was made out of a thick, glossy kind of paper I'd never seen before. There was no stamp and no return address. Whoever sent the thing must have just walked up and dropped it in our mailbox.

"Go on! Open it up!" Melissa exclaimed, losing patience.

I was about to, when I noticed something printed on the back of the envelope:


"Um, Melissa, I think this is kind if private," I said, bracing myself. I knew she wasn't going to take this very well.

"What?" She tried to get the envelope out of my hands. "Akiko, I can't believe you. We're best friends!"

I thought it over for a second and realized that it wasn't worth the weeks of badgering I'd get if I didn't let her see the thing.

"All right, all right. But you have to promise not to tell anyone else. I could get in trouble for this."

I carefully tore the envelope. Inside was a single sheet of paper with that same shiny black lettering:



And that's all it said. It wasn't signed, and there was nothing else written on the other side.

"Outside my window? On the seventeenth floor?"

"It's got to be a joke." Melissa had taken the paper out of my hands and was inspecting it closely. "I think it is from someone at school. Probably Jimmy Hampton. His parents have a printing press in their basement or something."

"Why would he go to so much trouble to play a joke on me?" I said. "He doesn't even know me." I had this strange feeling in my stomach. I went over to the window and made sure it was locked.

"Boys are weird," Melissa replied calmly. "They do all kinds of things to get your attention."

Library of Congress subject headings for this publication: Science fiction, Adventure and adventurers Fiction, Japanese Americans Fiction