SOME PEOPLE TRY to tell you that fish is brain food. That’s a bunch of baloney. For sheer inspiration and mental stimulation, I’ve found that few things on Earth can match my abuela’s chicken mole nachos.

When Benny and I blew through the front door at my house, something that sounded like a goose with a sinus infection was honking out Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds.” I know the song—and that noise—because my grandma plays sax for a ska band called Marley’s Ghost. It’s kinda cool and kinda weird at the same time. But my dad says it keeps her out of trouble.

“Abuelita, we’re home!” I called.

Instantly, my shaggy dog, Zeppo, galumphed into the room and leaned against me, wagging his tail—his signal that he wanted to be scratched behind the ears. I obliged him.

“¡Hola, mijo!” Abuelita called. “Just let me finish this riff.”

A few honks, a squeak, and a snort later, she appeared in the living room doorway carrying a golden saxophone. Abuelita lives with us during the week while my mom is down in LA with Veronica. On those days, I miss my mom something fierce, but to be honest, my grandma is the better cook. This week they were both here, because Veronica was home on hiatus—that’s Hollywood talk for a short break in filming.

After her usual kiss and hug, Abuelita said, “Your mother’s off running errands with your sister. Are you boys hungry?”

“Always,” said Benny.

“We’re working on an important project,” I said. “Any chance of some nachos with the leftover chicken mole?”

“Mmm, mole,” said Benny, perking up.

She beamed. “It’ll be ready before you know it.”

We always have snacks over at my place and not Benny’s because his mom only offers the kind of healthy snacks that contain no molecules of actual food in them.

Zeppo followed Benny and me into the family room and flopped down on the floor. We did searches for aliens in Monterrosa and giant bugs in Monterrosa on my dad’s computer. (Mr. Chu would’ve been proud of our research skills.)

Unfortunately, we didn’t turn up anything that was useful. Our giant-bug search uncovered insect-collecting articles from the natural history museum, a photo of a titan beetle (as big as your face!), and a review of Hotel Monterrosa that mentioned someone finding a huge cockroach in the bathroom.

The alien search results weren’t any better—just a blurry video of a UFO that might have been a motorcycle headlight, and a letter to the editor complaining about the newspaper using the words “illegal aliens” in a headline. (As someone whose grandma moved here from Mexico before she was an American citizen, I had to agree with the letter writer. Abuelita was no alien. She may be a little unusual, but she didn’t come in a spaceship.)

While we worked, the house began smelling better and better. Finally, Abuelita showed up with a massive plate of nachos, and we took a break. Several bites of cheesy goodness later, I realized two things: (a) my abuela was a truly awesome cook, and (b) why do a web search when we had a longtime Monterrosa resident in the same room?

“Hey, Abuelita?” I said.

She looked up from rubbing Zeppo’s belly. “Hmm?”

“We’re doing this, um, report on aliens and giant bugs in Monterrosa.” I glanced at Benny, uncomfortable about fibbing to her.

He crunched down on another cheese-drenched chip. “Yeah, and we’re not really getting anywhere.”

I scratched my cheek. “I was wondering, have you ever heard of aliens in Monterrosa?”

“Aliens?” Abuelita ruffled the thick fur on Zeppo’s chest. “I think the way they say it these days is ‘undocumented immigrants.’”

“No, the other kind,” said Benny. “Like E.T.?”

My grandma snorted out a laugh. “Seriously? A few years back, a couple of people claimed they saw UFOs. But it was just airplanes.”

“Okay, scratch aliens,” I said. “How about great big bugs?”

“Like las cucarachas?” Her eyes twinkled.

“Bigger than cockroaches,” I said.

Really big bugs,” Benny added. He spread his arms as wide as he could, a nacho chip in each hand.

Abuelita stood and stretched. She frowned slightly as she stared out the window.

“What is it?” I asked.

“It’s crazy,” she said.

Benny glanced over at me. “We’re used to crazy,” he said.

“We’ve spent a lot of time there,” I added.

Dipping a chip into her own gooey concoction, my abuela said, “It’s just a rumor—and an old one, from twenty-five years ago.”

“Well?” I prompted.

She nibbled thoughtfully. “Back before that old army base closed, some people used to say they were doing experiments with insects out there.”

“With insects?” said Benny. “What, like trying to cross a pill bug with a tank?”

Abuelita chuckled. “Who knows? We had no proof—just rumors of giant bugs.”

“That’s all?” I asked.

Her eyebrows lifted. “Oh, I almost forgot. My friend Elena once claimed that she saw an ant the size of a coyote running off with someone’s pet cat.”

I sat up straight.

Benny’s eyes got big. “Wow. Really?”

My abuela shrugged. “Of course, Elena also claimed that she was secretly going out with Robbie Dungworth, but that was just tonterías—nonsense. Robbie was secretly going out with me.”

Benny and I just gaped.

She popped the rest of the chip into her mouth. “Enjoy!” And with that, Abuelita strolled off to continue practicing.

“Wow,” Benny repeated.

“You said it.” I rubbed my jaw. “I don’t know which is weirder—rumors of giant ants or my abuela dating someone named Robbie Dungworth.”

“Do you think there really could be huge insects out there?”

“Who knows?” I said.

Since it was getting late and so far Benny and I had uncovered only spooky rumors and unsettling tales, we decided to revisit the whole thing later. In the meantime, we dedicated ourselves to polishing off the nachos.

Hey, even heroes deserve a break every now and then.

By the time we reached the last cheesy clumps, Benny and I had seriously slowed down. We sprawled on the sofa with the platter between us and Zeppo at our feet.

Studying the cheese dangling off a chip in his hand, Benny said, “Back at the comics store, you said something.”

“I do that sometimes. Which something do you mean?”

“Before we figure out whether the lunch ladies are bugs or aliens or garden gnomes, we first have to prove that they’re not really themselves.”

I set my uneaten chip back down on the platter. “That sounds like me.”

Benny gently thwacked his cheese strand and watched it sway. “I think I may have figured out a way to do that.”

Too stuffed to eat another bite, I said, “Ugh, must you play with your food?”

“That’s it exactly,” said Benny.


And then he told me his plan.