Aliens on Vacation


By Clete Barrett Smith

Illustrated by Christian Slade

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13-year-old David discovers that his grandmother's inn is a portal for comical aliens from all over the universe—a secret that, until now, she has been able to keep from her small town.

Scrub isn't happy about having to spend the summer with his hippie grandmother in "Middle of Nowhere," Washington. When he arrives at her Intergalactic Bed & Breakfast, he's not surprised by its 1960s-meets-Star Wars decor; but he is surprised by the weird looking guests. It turns out that each room in the inn is a portal and his grandma is the gatekeeper, allowing aliens to vacation on Earth. She desperately needs Scrub's help with disguising the tourists as humans. As if that weren't difficult enough, the town sheriff is already suspicious of Granny. One wrong move and Scrub could blow Grandma's cover, forcing the B&B to shut down forever. And when it comes to aliens, every move seems wrong . . .

Full of cosmic chaos and mind-bending mayhem, Scrub's summer adventure will leave readers wanting to make a return trip.


Text copyright © 2011 by Clete Barrett

Smith Illustrations copyright © 2011 by Christian Slade

Excerpt from Magic Delivery copyright © 2014 by Clete Barrett Smith

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.

ISBN 978-1-4231-3363-6


For Myra,

When the taxi pulled up to Grandma’s place, I wanted to burrow under the seat and cower in shame. I blinked a few times, but the view didn't get any better. Of all the places my parents had dumped me for a summer, this was the dumpiest.

The sign out front said it all: THE INTERGALACTIC BED AND BREAKFAST. The three-story Victorian home had at least the potential to be normal, with its white picket fence and rocking chairs on the wraparound porch, but…no. The house was jet black, with huge murals of comets and stars and planets on each side, painted on with what looked like glittery nail polish.

I wondered if I would have to submit a formal application to be the town freak, or if being related to Grandma meant I would be automatically awarded the title.

The taxi driver filled his stubbly cheeks with air and blew it out as he studied the front entrance. “This has gotta be the place, kid.”

“Yep,” I said.

He scratched his jowls with the back of his hand. “You know, I saw a documentary one time about the nut jobs who obsess over those old Star Trek shows. ‘Trekkies.’ This one guy, a dentist, he decorated his office like that ship…whaddaya call it?…oh yeah, the Enterprise. Even made his assistants wear these crazy space uniforms.” He looked at the crowd of silver spaceship sculptures on Grandma’s lawn. “Is this one of those kinds of places?”

“Yep,” I said.

He was quiet for a moment. Then he said, “Those people are kind of weird.”

“Yep,” I said.

Muttering to himself, the driver pushed his door open and walked to the trunk to grab my suitcase. I stayed in the back of the taxi, not ready to accept the fact that I had to spend the next two months, three days, and fourteen hours of my life here.

The place was a dead end. Just past Grandma’s fence the asphalt gave out, and the street turned into a narrow road of mud and gravel, twisting up into the hills to disappear into the forest. A mile or so back, the sign at the entrance to the town had read: welcome to forest grove, washington: your oasis in the wilderness. They sure got the wilderness part right.

My mind churned with escape fantasies. I could make friends with the driver and stay in the taxi as he shuttled tourists around all summer. I could sleep in the trunk and buy meals from gas station vending machines. I bet he’d even let me drive once in a while, maybe at night, out on the country roads with no cops around. Then we could—

The daydream died when the taxi driver wrenched my door open with a screech of rusted metal. “All right, fella, you can sit there all day if you want. But I’ll have to start charging you by the hour.”

I willed my legs to push me out of the taxi, then dug into the pocket of my jeans for some cash. After carefully counting out a thick wad of ones and fives, I realized that I was blowing almost half the money my parents had given me for the summer just on the taxi ride. I double-checked the fare meter, worried that maybe the driver was charging too much, taking advantage of a kid traveling alone. But I shook it off. After all, it had taken over two hours to get here from the airport, every minute of travel time sucking me deeper into the wilderness. This whole state was nothing but trees and mountains. They probably had to do some heavy logging this morning just to clear out a space for my airplane to land.

The driver grabbed my cash, took one more look at the Intergalactic Bed and Breakfast, and shook his head. “Lotsa luck, kid,” he said before slamming the door and driving away.

I stared at Grandma’s place and snorted. There had already been lotsa luck for me since school let out for the summer last week. It had all been bad luck.

I thought this was going to be the first summer that I actually got to stay home. But Mom had a last-minute business trip to Jacksonville to lead one of her management seminars for corporate honchos. And Dad had to help one of his partners in the law firm get a new office up and running in Atlanta.

They could have dished out a little extra cash for our housekeeper to stay at our place full-time for the summer. I spend enough time with her anyway. Or, since I’m old enough now, they could have let me crash with friends. Heck, for a chance to be closer to home I could have survived another stay with Mom’s sister and her annoying little kids in Lakeland (like the summer after fourth grade) or even another two-month sentence confined to the smelly cabins of the Happy Camper Sleepaway Adventure (summer after fifth grade).

But instead they shipped me out of Tampa, Florida, and all the way across the country to stay with Dad’s mom. We had never been out here to visit before, but that wasn’t too unusual; my parents don’t really travel unless it’s for work.

I walked toward the front gate, kicking a little too hard at rocks in my path and looking up at my bizarre prison for the summer. How was I supposed to make the seventh grade all-star basketball team now? Coach set up summer practices three times a week and tournaments almost every weekend. I was finally going to have the chance to show him I could play point guard better than Tyler Sandusky. Everyone knows that Coach figures out the starting lineup during the summer schedule. The official tryouts in the winter only last two days, and they’re a joke.

Now Tyler would win our bet on which one of us will be in the starting five, and I’d have to fork over a month’s allowance. In fact, I’d be lucky to even make the team as a bench-gargoyle, just sitting there and watching Tyler play. More likely I’d be back on the intramural squad, playing with the other rejects who didn’t make the real team, while Tyler traveled all over Hillsborough County with the all-stars, competing against the other middle schools. Some of those bigger schools even have cheerleaders.

Not that it would make much difference to Mom or Dad, since they’re usually too busy to come to my games. They barely looked up from their suitcases as I pled my case for being able to stay home and play ball this summer. Maybe even start lifting some weights. I doubted that a fully-equipped weight room was on the amenity list for an Intergalactic Bed and Breakfast.

“Success is a by-product of a well-trained mind. The body is much less important,” my mom had said, neatly folding the fourth navy blue business suit to go in her luggage. “Set goals, and then envision incremental steps for success each day to achieve your objective.” Nice advice, Mom. That was probably line 4, paragraph 3b of her corporate training seminar brochure, and somehow I don’t think Coach had read that one. Dad’s response was about as helpful. He just cleared his throat and said that some things were more important than sports.

So I supposed I might as well forget about hoops and join the Sci-Fi/Fantasy Club. There were no tryouts for that one, just a willingness to give up any hope of appearing normal and fitting in at school. Those guys (and I do mean guys—no cheerleader would be caught dead, alive, or zombie at one of their events) dressed up in costumes and ran around with foam swords and plastic laser guns. In public. They even learned to speak languages that didn’t exist, like Klingon or Elvish. (I have enough trouble with Intro to Spanish.) Sure, they looked like they were having fun, but…was it worth making such geeks of themselves?

As I studied Grandma’s place, I realized it must cater to people like that after they’ve grown up, a place to escape the old nine-to-five and relive those Sci-Fi/Fantasy Club glory days. Should be a real interesting bunch to hang out with this summer.

It was hard to tell it was summer at all, here. It couldn’t have been more than sixty-five degrees, the temperature on Christmas Day back home. Not a scrap of blue sky anywhere, the thick layer of clouds so low it seemed like it was being propped up by all of those trees.

A sheriff’s car cruised down the street, and the driver stared at me as he passed. A wide-brimmed hat cast a shadow over his round face, partially obscuring his frown and bushy mustache. A toothpick jutted out the side of his mouth. His gaze stayed fixed on me as he drove by.

Just past Grandma’s place he pulled a wide U-turn, tires splashing through the mud puddles of the dirt road, then headed back to town. Must be a pretty pathetic small town if the arrival of a single outsider is cause for a law enforcement drive-by.

The door to Grandma’s place opened up then. The person who stepped out made the whole scene even more bizarre.

He was at least seven feet tall and so impossibly skinny that his shabby thrift-store suit looked like it was draped over a hanger and walking around by itself. The sleeves were way too short, and the arms that flopped out were the gray color of dying fish.

He scanned the road, neck on a swivel, the skin stretched over his gaunt face the same dead-fish hue as his arms. Then in three giant strides he was down the porch steps, across the front walkway, and standing on the other side of the fence from me.

He bent in half at the waist, lowering his head until his gray carrot of a nose was touching the mailbox. With short wet doggy sniffs, he smelled the mailbox all over.

He straightened back up and looked at me. He squinched his eyes and tilted his head, like maybe he was trying to remember something. Finally, he grabbed the brim of his old-man fedora with both hands, lifted it straight off his head, and nodded once at me.

Okay…I wasn’t too sure how I was supposed to respond to that, so I just sort of waved a little.

Then he jammed his hat back on his gray, bald head, stepped over the fence, and took off down the sidewalk. Five more strides with those beanpole legs, and he was halfway down the street toward town.

What? I knew a place like the Intergalactic Bed and Breakfast would attract some oddball types, but still…

I opened the gate and saw a small notebook lying on the ground. Had the tall guy dropped it? I picked it up and flipped through the first couple of pages. They looked something like this:

I knew it. The journal was like something one of the sci-fi/ fantasy guys would put together. I wondered which imaginary language this guy was learning.

I tucked the journal into my carry-on bag and lugged it and my suitcase down the walkway.

Click! Click!

I stopped, looked around. Didn’t see anything.

I switched the heavy suitcase to my other hand and kept walking.


There! Close, in the bushes, a camera sticking out from the green leaves.

“Hey!” I shouted, dropping my suitcase. The branches shuddered, and the mysterious photographer shot out from the bushes, jumped the side fence, and disappeared into the forest. I could just make out that the person was about my height; but my only clear glimpse was a yellow baseball cap with a long ponytail sticking out, bouncing with each step.

I had hoped there might be some people my age around here…but not if they were going to hide in the bushes and take pictures.

So what was I dealing with here? A suspicious sheriff, a mailbox-sniffer, and small-town paparazzi. “This place sure has quite the welcoming committee.”

I sighed. Did talking to myself mean I was going crazy, or just that being blood-related to the person who owned this place meant that weirdness was carving out a genetic foothold in my behavior? Either way, not a real good sign.

I finally reached the porch. The welcome mat was decorated with clusters of stars grouped together to spell out all are welcome who come in peace.

An old-timey brass knocker in the shape of a smiley-face moon hung in the middle of the door. I lifted it and let it crash against the door a couple of times. A muffled cry from inside the house sounded like it could have been “Come in.”

This was it. I had tried everything to get out of this—begging, negotiating, hiding, praying—but none of it had worked, and now I was actually here. I took a deep breath, grabbed the doorknob, and got ready to start getting it over with.

When I was a kid I used to read superhero comic books. But most people in middle school think those are immature, so I've stepped up to graphic novels now.

But I still sneak in a superhero comic occasionally, usually when Marvel runs their alternate reality stories, called the What If…? series. For example, What If Spider-Man Joined the Fantastic Four? or What If Wolverine Were Lord of the Vampires?

These mash-ups make for fun storylines…but the effect was a little more unsettling in real life. I opened the door to Grandma’s place, and it looked like someone had tried to answer the question What If 1967 Met 2167?

I expected the space-age stuff, of course. Star Wars movie posters on the walls, mobiles of planets and constellations dangling from the ceiling, that sort of thing.

But it all looked so much stranger for being a mash-up with the hippie era. The front door opened onto a sitting room where outer space mingled with the spaced out: lava lamps, fat wine bottle candleholders in wicker casings, strings of multicolored beads dangling from furniture made of driftwood. A wisp of incense smoke drifted across a stained-glass picture of all the planets in the solar system, only in this version the sun was a giant peace sign.

The entire universe was still celebrating the Summer of Love at Grandma’s place.

I couldn’t believe that my dad the corporate lawyer had grown up here. But it was getting easier to see why he’d never been back.

And then I saw Grandma. Dad had e-mailed her some pictures of me. But I think that she hadn’t really figured out the mysterious workings of the computer, so we didn’t usually get many of her sent back to us. But I had seen a few that she had snail-mailed, so I recognized her.

And I noticed the same thing in person that I did in those pictures: she sure didn’t look old enough to be someone’s grandma. Her hair wasn’t squashed up in a gray bun on top of her head or anything: it was blond, and really long. It was parted in the middle and it framed her face, dropping all the way to her waist in waves. And she didn’t really have many wrinkles. Maybe all that peace and love had been good to her.

By the way she was dressed, it was obvious she did the decorating around here. She wore a loose, earth-toned tunic-thingy that fell to her knees, printed with swirling colors, like one of those abstract works of art that look like a little kid painted it. She wore wool socks with sandals made out of corkboard-looking material, and she was draped in dozens of bamboo necklaces and bracelets. Dad must have acquired his taste for three-piece suits after he went off to law school.

Grandma saw me at the door and glided over to me. Her glasses were tinted pink, and the oversized lenses made her eyes look really big. “Welcome back, young traveler,” she said. Her voice was soft and she pronounced each word separately. “I don’t think I remember your GRADE. It’s been so busy around here lately.”

My grade? Did we have to start there? It’s supposed to be summer vacation. “Well, I just finished sixth and I’m going into…”

Before I could finish, she put her soft hands on my face. It wasn’t like a typical distant relative pinching a kid’s cheeks at Thanksgiving dinner; it was more like she was…I don’t know, tugging at them. And she studied my face really closely. Weird. But maybe she was trying to find some family resemblance. I sure hoped she didn’t.

Grandma let go and shook her head. “No, I’m afraid I don’t remember your GRADE at all. But you look fantastic. Very natural.”

“Ummm…thanks?” I said. She must have meant healthy. My dad had said she was into organic food and that kind of stuff. What else could I expect at a place like this?

Grandma looked past me, out the door and down the street. “I’m searching for another one of my guests. I wonder if you’ve seen him? He’s quite tall.” She stretched her arm up over her head as high as she could. “And he looks sort of…well, grayish, you could say.” She frowned slightly. “Wait. Not grayish. That sounds rather odd, doesn’t it? I probably shouldn’t say that out loud. I meant ‘ashen.’ That’s it, his skin is quite ashen.”

“Long nose?” I said. “Dark suit?”

Her eyes shone behind her pink glasses. “That’s him exactly. You’ve seen him, then? Oh, I’m so pleased.” She kept looking at me, standing very still, like maybe I was going to pull that tall guy out of my pocket.

“He just left,” I said.

“Oh, I do hope he’s not frightened,” she said. “Such a gentle creature.” She pushed her bamboo bracelets up her forearm to read her watch. “I really should go and look for him, but there’s just so much to do around here.” She seemed to be talking to herself, so I didn’t say anything.

I suddenly smelled something bitter. “Is something burning?” I asked.

“Heaven and Earth!” she cried, hustling down the hall, her tunic fluttering behind her. She flung open the swinging door to the kitchen. A clanging of pots and pans was followed by cold water hitting hot metal with that psssshhh sound.

Finally, she reappeared in the doorway, wiping her hands on a dish towel and shaking her head. “A total loss, I’m afraid. So much for my famous tofu-and-squash stuffing with brown rice and wild mushrooms.” She sighed. “All of this has become a bit too much for a one-woman show.” She stretched out both arms to indicate the entire bed-and-breakfast. “Especially when that one woman gets a little bit older each year.” She tilted her head and studied me. “But please, forgive my poor manners. May I help you? I assume you have been out visiting the town with your parents. Will they be back soon?”

“No. No, it’s me. Scrub, er—David.” I wasn’t sure which name Dad had told her. Scrub is a pretty embarrassing name, obviously, but I couldn’t even remember the last time someone called me David.

She just kept looking at me.

“You know…your grandson,” I said. Man, she was even spacier than the decorations.

Her eyes got round again. “But you weren’t supposed to be here until Tuesday.”

“Well…I’m pretty sure that it is Tuesday.” Apparently there were no Earth calendars on Planet New Age Hippie.

Grandma got a confused, faraway look in her eyes. Then she counted on her fingers and muttered something to herself that didn’t quite sound like English. Finally she snapped out of it. “How swiftly spins the wheel of the cosmos. Tuesday already.” She shook her head and that long hair waved back and forth. “I’ve been so busy lately that the days have raced by without stopping to say hello properly.”

She looked at me and smiled again. “Oh, but it’s really you, then? How wonderful.” She threw both arms around me in a bear hug. She could really squeeze hard for someone with such skinny arms. I just kind of stood there. We’re not bear-huggers in my family. Not really human-huggers, either. “Please forgive me. I told you all of this was too much for a one-woman show.”

Grandma stopped the hugging and stepped back, holding my face in her hands. This time it felt more normal. “But enough about my troubles; let’s get a good gander at you.” She peered at me through her pink lenses. “It’s a handsome young man you are, well and truly. Starting to look just like your father. Can’t believe I didn’t notice it before.” She stared at me like she was trying to memorize my face. It was a different feeling, to be looked at so carefully. Back home, everyone was so busy with their own stuff that I sort of felt invisible sometimes. Which was fine with me.

Grandma was really smiling now, all of her teeth showing and her eyes bunched up. “Of course, the last time I saw you was at your first birthday party, so I guess it’s a good thing you’ve grown so much.” She laughed at her little joke. “And your name was David then, but now you go by…Scrub? That’s a colorful nickname. How did you get it?”

Second grade. Our class production of Robin Hood. All the kids who didn’t want speaking parts—like me—were dressed up as trees. Except I was pretty short in grade school, and my mom had made the costume too small, so I was about half the size of the other trees. And on opening night, Tyler Sandusky’s older brother was in the front row. When I went onstage he said, loud enough for everyone in the first five rows to hear, “It’s supposed to be Sherwood Forest, not Sherwood Scrub Brush.” All of his stupid friends laughed. Tyler was there, and he laughed, too. Anyway, the name just kind of stuck. What also stuck was my determination never to open myself up to that kind of embarrassment again.

“Oh, it’s not a nickname. It’s just…you know, something that everyone calls me.”

“Well, I like it,” Grandma said. “And I’m a woman who understands the need to choose a title for yourself. When I went off to college I told everyone that my name was Sunshine. No one has called me Vernus Mae since, and thank the Creator for that.” She finally let go of my face. “Is Scrub what I shall call you?”

I shrugged. “I guess.” At least I was used to it.

“You can simply call me Grandma, if you don’t mind. I think I’d rather like that.”


“Now, after your big day of travel, I suppose you’d like something hot to eat before I start peppering you with more questions. I could sauté some gluten squares in soy sauce, and I think there’s some spinach salad left over, an offering fresh from the soil of Mother Earth—I have a vegetable garden right in the backyard.”

Yikes. Not really what I’m used to. Back home, a delivery service drops off a load of “gourmet” frozen entrées the first Friday of each month. The chest freezer in the garage is full of them. Mom still writes out a note with the microwave instructions every morning and evening, even though I’ve been heating them up myself since about second grade.

Grandma must have read my expression. “Or perhaps a bit of organic couscous with cucumber slices?”

Oh, boy. I hope this town is at least big enough to have a McDonald’s. “Um, thanks, but actually I just need to use the bathroom, if you don’t mind.”

“Of course. Let me show you where—” Grandma was interrupted by several sounds. First, a door slammed upstairs, then a teakettle whistled and the phone rang, and then there was, I don’t know, kind of a wet squelching sound coming in through one of the windows. Grandma tried to look in four directions at once. “Great Galaxies, never a dull moment these days. I’m sorry—”

“It’s okay, I’m sure I can find it.”

Grandma smiled at me. “A fine young man and a charmer, Scrub, I can tell. It will be so good to have you here this summer.” She opened a cupboard and plucked one of several keys hanging from hooks. “Here you go. Room Two-C, upstairs. Settle in and make yourself comfortable. There’s a bathroom up there as well.” The phone rang again and the teakettle whistle became a screech. Something thumped upstairs. Grandma glided away, calling to me over her shoulder. “Sorry to run. I’ll check in with you soon.”

Then she was gone, pushing through the swinging door into the kitchen. I grabbed my suitcase and hauled it up the hardwood staircase.

The halls were long and narrow, with high ceilings. The space theme continued up here, every guest room door bordered by gray plastic panels with all kinds of fakey-looking knobs and switches, like they were supposed to be portals on a spaceship or something. Atop each door was a theme sign: welcome to the milky way! or blast off to the asteroid belt!

I set down my suitcase in front of room 2c (the andromeda express!), then looked for the bathroom. I stopped at the first door without a room number. I knocked softly and called “Hello?” before easing the door open a crack.

Whoa. There was something that looked kind of like a public men’s room urinal…but it was mounted on the ceiling. The sink was really low, practically on the ground. The claw-foot bathtub was tilted at a forty-five-degree angle and filled with what looked like super-foamy pink shaving cream.

And the mess. Purple slime oozed out of the ceiling-urinal in long, goopy ropes, and an orange puddle with bright blue polka dots seeped out from under the sink.

I had had to go to the bathroom pretty bad for over an hour, but I wasn’t even sure where I would start in here. Maybe this was taking the space theme a little too far?

Grandma appeared behind me. “Oh, I’m sorry, Scrub, that’s supposed to be locked.” She grabbed the knob and shut the door. “That’s not a…well, that’s not a bathroom for you. Try the next door.” She nodded toward the adjacent door as she hurried down the hall and up the next staircase.

When I stepped out of the bathroom, there was a family of five approaching from the other end of the hall. On all fours. Seriously. All of them, the parents and the kids, were bear-walking down the hall, studying the floor like Sherlock Holmes.

I scrunched up against the wall to give them room to pass, and walked quickly toward my room.


  • "It's hard to find good, fresh middle school science fiction, and what makes Clete Barrett Smith's story so endearing is his focus on the theme of tolerance, a timely subject with the new anti-bullying legislation. Tweens will easily relate to Scrub who longs for adult attention and wants to feel needed and fit in with his peers. Little bits of humor...add interest."—School Library Journal
  • "With goofy alien illustrations to kick start each chapter, this tale explores the confusion of impending teen-hood and the importance of a sense of purpose, plus how cool it would be to have friendly aliens living among us. Ideal for upper-elementary readers dabbling in sci-fi."—Kirkus Reviews

On Sale
May 8, 2012
Page Count
272 pages

Clete Barrett Smith

About the Author

Clete Barrett Smith ( was a teacher for over ten years in Bellingham, WA and has won several screenwriting awards. It took him about two years to get from idea to book deal, sneaking in an hour or two in the afternoons and dedicating his Sundays to writing, all while working toward his master's degree at Vermont College. He credits support from his wife, Myra, and two young daughters for getting him through the rigorous process. He used his experiences in the small towns and forested mountains of the Pacific Northwest when writing the Intergalactic Bed & Breakfast series.

Learn more about this author