io9 is proud to present fiction from Lightspeed Magazine. Once a month, we'll be featuring a story from Lightspeed's current issue.
This month's selection is taken from Lightspeed's January 2015 issue. The story is "He Came From a Place of Openness and Truth" by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam. You can read the story below. Enjoy!
Image © 2015 by Galen Dara.
He Came From a Place of Openness and Truth
Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam
Mickey and I worked together at Hillman's Horror House, and maybe the thrill of scaring people was what made me notice him. I'd never thought about another guy that way before, and so when I first got that electric jolt as his hand brushed mine in the changing room, I felt like I might puke. I went to the bathroom, where instead of throwing up I jacked off into the toilet.
Mickey was a weird one, sure as hell. He had this damn goofy laugh like he was hacking up a hairball and these glasses so thick you could probably use the lenses as hockey pucks. He never talked to anyone at school except this one kid named Allen who was really into these books with half-naked women holding ray guns on the covers. Guys liked to chat the kid up so they could get a better look at his books during class when they weren't allowed to pull their phones out. Like they couldn't go a second without looking at that shit. I never saw anything all that good about Allen's books. They were cartoon women, after all, and no way a real woman would ever look that way, where they stood with their legs spread like they were just waiting for some high school loser to come and peer up there. But how would I know? I didn't have much experience with girls. They were kinda alien to me. Mickey liked the kid for his company, or so it seemed; he hung around him even when he didn't have a book. And the way Mickey looked at me, I knew he didn't care about those covers.
At the haunted house, Mickey was a trailer, which meant that he stood at the entrance in a cheap alien mask and made people think he was a statue until he started following back behind them. I was a slider, so I slid out in front of people, crossing their paths in a shriek of black and sweat. I liked making people scream. At first, I tried not to talk to Mickey, but it was hard, him being the only other high school boy working there. Eventually he caught up to me after my shift and asked if I wanted to go out for waffles, his treat. I was hungry, and he seemed okay despite the grabby hands, so I went, though I told him straight up I would buy my own waffles. He seemed cool with this, and we talked a lot about all kinds of interesting stuff. He complimented my sliding, which made me feel good, and we laughed about all the dumb teachers at school, and it turned out that he even liked hockey as much as me. I invited him to come play with us in the parking lot one day. Next hockey game he showed up smiling but didn't play, just stood off to the side, grinning. I liked being watched like that. I fantasized about it for the next two weeks, but in my fantasies it wasn't just hockey. He watched me eat my morning bagel. He watched me read before bed at night. He watched me wash my hair during my locker room shower.
It wasn't two weeks from that day that I grabbed him by the collar after work and asked him did he want to come out back. Earlier that day I'd seen Mickey talking to some tall, skinny college guy, and it made me want Mickey's lips on my body all of a sudden.
That started a routine: every day outside of Hillman's, and then it was in my bedroom while my mom was asleep, and then it was in the bathroom at the waffle place. I started referring to Mickey as my boyfriend, in my head at least, and I even let him kiss me on the mouth after he was done.
"But I'm not gay," I told him, I said to the mirror, to the friends who teased me about how much time I spent with Mickey. "I don't ever do anything back."
"Whatever, man," my friends said. "It's okay. Be gay. Go out and get yourself a thong and some fucking glitter and a rainbow flag or whatever, just don't expect us to start watching musicals with you."
"I don't like musicals," I said. "I fucking hate glitter."
I didn't want to be gay. I just wanted to keep letting Mickey suck me off for as long as I liked it.
But I didn't get tired of Mickey. Halloween came and went, and Hillman's closed for the season so that we were both out of work and with a whole lot of free time on our hands all of a sudden, and it got to where Mickey and I were hanging out every weekend, eating lunch together with all our friends at one table, even Allen, who got weirder and wouldn't ever look me in the eye. I didn't want anything to change, so when Mickey told me that he loved me, I didn't know what to do. I didn't say anything back.
We lay in my bed, naked and warm under the covers, and I liked the tickle of his leg hairs on mine but I pushed him away anyway.
"What did you go and say that for?" I said.
"I do. I love you, Ben. I thought you would return the sentiment. I was told it was good to say this."
"Jesus, Mickey, told by who? Who are you talking about us with?"
"It is true. I love you."
"Shit, maybe it's true and maybe it isn't. But you shouldn't have gone and said it. Don't you like things like they are?"
"I like things. I like you. I like your semen."
"Holy hell, man, why do you have to talk like that?" I lurched up from bed and started rooting around the floor for my clothes, which we'd thrown all over the place as we came in. My mom never checked on us up here, and it was probably this reason that we always went to my house and not Mickey's, though I'd never really asked about his parents, or his house. I flipped the light on. Mickey squinted at me. He was thin and cute, damn it, and I felt like a prize asshole for knowing so little about him.
"What's your last name, Mickey?" I asked. I hadn't even looked him up on Facebook. "Where do you live? Why don't we ever go to your place? Is it your parents? Do they know about me?"
Mickey shrugged but said nothing, just stared up at me with these round, hopeless eyes. I wondered, did he know what I was about to say, what I was about to do? Did he even realize that it wasn't fair of me to keep him like this when I couldn't say I love you and I couldn't even tell him his own damn last name?
"I think you should get out of here. I don't think we should see each other anymore."
I thought he would argue, beg, give me something to work with, but all he did was crawl out of bed, slip on his clothes, and go without a word. At school for the next few months he shielded his eyes every time he saw me in the hallway. Every now and then he'd utter a hello as he passed. I didn't say it back.
• • •
Those days without Mickey I played a lot of hockey. And jacked it. And while I could get started with porn, the girls and boys in those videos weren't enough. I had to think of Mickey to finish. My friends asked why he didn't sit with us anymore. I tried to learn more about my friends until I was certain I knew every question that might be asked about them ever. I already knew their last names, sure, but I made it a point to also know their favorite food, color, band, movie, and what they wanted to do when they grew up.
• • •
Before I knew it, Halloween was here again and I was sliding at Hillman's. Mickey was there, too, and on break I never saw him with another guy, and I hadn't stopped thinking about him while jacking it, so I figured maybe it was time to give him another try, but this time the right way, with dates and shit. I asked him to go out with me after work. We went to a twenty-four-hour shithole diner down the street from Hillman's and we munched burgers and I asked him all kinds of questions, which he didn't answer. He always turned the conversation right back to me. Finally I figured I knew what he wanted before he would open up so I gave it to him.
"I was wrong before, okay?" I whispered across the table. "I can tell you right now I fucking love you, Mickey, so if you would please just open up and give me something to go off here, I'd really appreciate a little slack."
He grabbed my hand across the table. I felt like everyone in the diner turned their heads to stare, but no one was looking, really. "I come from a place you know nothing about. I come from a place of openness and truth. The place I come from, we do not have to hide who we are." He never did any facial expressions when he talked, just the same gaze behind those glasses. I think that's one of the things I like about him; his no-frills way of saying things, of acting.
"Damn it." I pulled my hand away. "Is that what you want? Listen, Mick, my parents will kill me if I come out."
"I want you to be with me," he said. "I want your semen. I want you to stay with me so I can have your juices always any time."
He wanted us to live together? The prospect didn't seem half bad. Sex any time I wanted it? A warm body to hold and be held by in the night? I imagined he intended for us to get a place together; we were seventeen, almost old enough to buy cigarettes and spray paint. But as I thought about it, I realized I didn't for sure know Mickey's age.
"Are you seventeen?" I asked.
"No," he said.
"Are you eighteen?" I asked.
"No," he said.
I got queasy cause if he wasn't seventeen and he wasn't eighteen that would make him older or younger, and either he was moved up some grades and I was in some deep shit, or he stayed back, and I wasn't sure I liked that option either, since it meant that he might not have a lot going on in that head, and I always thought he was a smart dude. Given the choice, I would've chosen older, but I didn't like being wrong regardless, so I asked him even though I wasn't sure I wanted to know: "How old are you?"
"I am eighty-five of your Earth years," he said.
I laughed uneasily. "Yeah, sure, but I'm being serious. You can't be much younger or older than me, right? Are you younger than me?"
"No," he said.
"Well, thank goodness." I pumped my fists in the air, more relieved than I thought I'd be. I'd just have to take it, I figured, as he was probably ashamed of being held back and all. When I really thought about it, I realized that it might be better that way, if we were living together; he could buy cigarettes already, and maybe, just maybe, he was close to old enough to buy beer.
"Let me think on it," I said, and then we were okay again, like it had never even been brought up. That night I walked him home for the first time and expected that he would let me into his house to meet his mother and all, but he didn't, and I was nervous, so I didn't pry. I did wonder, though, if she knew about me, if she knew about me and her son, if she knew that he was planning on moving out with me and living a big gay life. I told myself I owed it to Mickey to at least break it to my mom, even if I didn't decide to go on with his plan to live together after all. But I couldn't tell her. Instead I kept on with Mickey, and it was better this time. We even did more than just blowjobs.
About two weeks later, though, my mom brought it on herself. First she asked me, straight up, why I never hung out with girls, and so I thought, well here's as good a chance as ever, and so I told her, "I hang out with Mickey."
"Well, yeah," she said. "But why don't you two ever have any girls over? You can bring girls over, you know, so long as you let me know beforehand and you're careful and safe if something like that does happen, which I know is a high possibility, but which I feel I should advise you, as your mother, isn't the smartest thing in the world."
"That's cool," I said. "Can Mickey come over?"
She rolled her eyes but told me that yes, of course he could come over, he could always come over so long as I kept getting all my schoolwork done. "I love Mickey," she said. "He's a smart boy. He's a much better influence than your other friends."
That's what she said, no shit, and so when, about two hours later, she walked in on us in the middle of things, as it were, she was partly mad and partly just confused.
"What are you two doing?" she screamed, picking up the closest thing to her and throwing it so hard it nearly knocked us both over. I hurried to grab up the blankets and pull them over me so she wouldn't see the hard-on shrinking between my legs, but Mickey stayed poised with his ass in the air until she yelled at him to get the hell out, and he did pretty fast for someone who never showed the least signs of sportiness.
"We're not going to tell your father," was the first thing she said to me as she sat on the edge of my bed. "Don't you dare tell him."
If there ever was a chance, it was then, so I flat out told her no, I was tired of secrets and that I loved Mickey and it was their problem, not mine. I grabbed up my clothes, slipped them on, and left the room. My mom wrung her hands, begging me to please not do what I was about to do, but I wanted Mickey to stay with me, and he'd said himself that in his house they were open, and it sounded like a good way to be.
I found my dad watching football in the living room, but really he wasn't watching. He was cracking pecans and pretending like one was the excuse to do the other, but Dad never really did like football all that much. He admitted once to me, though, that he loved cracking nuts. I laughed a lot when he said that, but later I thought it was kind of sad that he felt like he had to cover up his real love with something he thought every man should like. Huh. That's actually not a bad point, now that I think about it, and maybe deep down watching him watch football even though he didn't really love it egged me on even more at that moment, and so when I said to him, "Dad, I'm in love with Mickey," maybe I believed that because of this football-nuts thing he might take the news in stride.
He didn't. There were a whole lot of mean words, and I'll admit that I cried a little, and he teared up, even, and my mom definitely cried, and when he told me to leave the house, I was more than ready to.
There was only one place I wanted to go.
Mickey didn't answer when I rang the doorbell, and neither did his parents, but when I tried the door it was unlocked so I went on inside. The house didn't smell lived in, which I thought was weird. It smelled like a hospital, like a really sterile place, and I thought to myself that yeah, Mickey always did seem real clean, too clean maybe, for a high school boy. The house was dark, so I fumbled along the wall for a light switch, and when I found one, I flipped it.
I couldn't breathe after what I saw.
The whole of the living room to my left and the whole of the dining room to my right was filled with what looked like naked sculptures of me, only they seemed real, like wax. They stood in rows with closed eyes and were connected to these silver stands that strapped their feet in place. They were totally still except that their chests moved in sleep breaths, and I wondered what sort of bizarre motor must have been in place, cause I'd never seen breathing sculptures before. At first I was scared to touch them — it's weird seeing yourself from the outside, and that was what freaked me out right away. Then the reality hit and I remembered where I was and that was what freaked me out, but rather than get the hell out of there like a sane person, I went up to one and touched its cheek. It felt like it was real skin, but it didn't move or anything. Whatever the material, it was damn good, and it looked very much like me, maybe a little different in the nose, but otherwise it could have been my twin. I took a step and my foot squished some sort of thin rubber tube on the ground, the same color as the carpet. I looked down and saw that it was connected to the twin me at the spine. They were all attached to these tubes, which led up some stairs. I started to follow when I heard Mickey's voice behind me, saying my name.
"Stay away from me," I said as I turned, holding my fingers up like a cross, for some weird reason. My heart was beating really fast, faster even than it had that first time outside Hillman's. He stood in the door to the living room, blocking my way out, with a bag in his hands.
"Just let me leave, please, please," I said.
"I'm glad you found this. This is what I came here to do," he said. "They asked me to come do this for them. It is necessary to the continuance of our people. See, I carry your seed in my hyoglossal pouch." He opened his mouth. Something wasn't right about his tongue, and I had to look away or I'd start to freak myself out remembering how good his mouth felt when he went down on me. "And when I return home it is warm and safe. I combine it with our own special chromosomal mixture and I make these clones of you." He seemed proud of it.
"Clones?" I recalled his alien mask, the way he spoke of the place he came from. I remembered those dumb paperbacks with the blue-skinned beasts in the background.
"This is all you wanted from me? This is all I'm good for?" I said, looking around at the so many faces, like a hundred mirrors, but none of them looked as sad as I felt.
"No, no," he said. "You do not understand. I chose you. My species realized that past methods of collection were inefficient. We once collected from one specimen then moved on. We revised our plan for Earth. We would collect from one specimen multiple times. I chose you. Of all the boys, I chose you, because you are kind and you are smart and you are beautiful." Mickey stepped closer, and I realized too late that I should have backed away; that's what you do when you're scared of someone, when you're mad at someone, and damn it if I wasn't both at him at the same time. But then he got so close I could smell him, all weird and musty like he was, and he hugged me, and I couldn't stay mad. It was even kind of cool, that he was from another planet and shit.
"What's in the bag?" I asked right in his ear.
"Let me show you!" And we broke apart and he pulled all kinds of awesome shit he'd bought for me from the bag at his feet: potato chips, grab bags of candy, bananas, orange juice, chocolate chip cookies. Damn, I thought, I'm going to like living with you. He didn't ask me why I was there, even, and that night, in a bedroom where about twelve replicas of myself surrounded us, he didn't ask why I was sniffling beside him, not saying anything. Damn, I thought, I really do love the bastard.
• • •
The first few months with Mickey were pretty awesome. We ate what we wanted, though Mickey often grumbled about healthy food and how we had to keep our bodies clean and in shape and all this other alien shit I ignored on account of he was from another planet and knew jack shit about what was good for a teenage boy. We stayed out late with friends even on school nights, though we never invited them over on account of the weird replicas. They were okay not visiting our house. I think it might have made them uncomfortable, despite how cool they were about the gay thing. We convinced some homeless dude with an ID outside the liquor store to buy us booze in exchange for money; Mickey had a lot of money, sent from his parents or guardians or whatever on whatever spaceship he'd come down on. I didn't understand much about how he got here, though he explained it to me. Honestly, looking up at the sky always made me feel all weak-kneed and scared, like the whole concept of something out there I could never see meant it was all monsters and things I didn't and wouldn't ever understand, so I didn't try too hard to get it. I did ask him once how long he'd be staying. "As long as I need to," he said, and this was a comfort, and I didn't feel I needed to ask any more questions, really.
He never wanted to talk about his home, anyhow. I never talked about my parents either. I know some therapists might say how we were repressing our bad memories, but I'd say that yeah, of course we were, on account of we had way too much partying to do and not near enough time to do it, what with school and sex and all to take up our time.
Yeah, life was pretty good for Mickey and me, for a while. Until three things happened all at once.
First I found a replica in Mickey's closet, which he'd been hiding from me, on purpose, though he says he just put him in there cause he didn't fit with the me replicas. We were playing hide-and-seek like children. Mickey said he'd never played it as a kid; they didn't have it where he was from or something, and so we were playing when I hid in the closet. I thought the replica beside me was another me, of course; they were everywhere, so I jokingly slid my hand between its legs to feel what I felt like down there from outside my body and it felt pretty good, actually, until Mickey flung open the door and the light revealed me to be groping Allen.
"What the fuck?" I screamed as I jumped out of the closet. When I saw it was just a replica, I breathed a sigh of relief until I realized what that meant; he'd sucked off Allen just the same as he did me.
"What is wrong?"
"What the fuck is this?" I said, sitting on the edge of the bed, my head fuzzy.
"You are upset?"
"Of course I'm upset. When did this happen?"
"I thought Allen was to be my source," Mickey said, standing in front of me. "I did not know yet that you existed. It takes time to find the one perfect for replicating. Allen was good, but not as good as you."
"Shit, did you use a condom at least? Who knows what that kid sticks his dick in."
"Condoms defeat the purpose of our mission," said Mickey. "If asked, we are instructed to move on to the next specimen."
"Good god," I said. "You haven't done this with a bunch of dudes, have you?" The thought of all those hands all over my boyfriend made my stomach churn. I both wanted and didn't want to know any more. Openness and truth? Bullshit. What does an alien know about honesty?
"You are my third specimen. The first did not take. His emissions were not potent enough for the replication process."
"Well, I've only done things with you," I said.
"My planet needs your people there, or else we are at risk of dying."
I made the mistake then of asking one of the questions I'd told myself I wouldn't ask. And this was the second thing that ruined our happiness in that house.
"What does that even mean? Why do you need so many replicas? What's with all these clones?" I looked around at them, and they seemed creepy all of a sudden, like a sinister thing I'd been ignoring.
Mickey stood with his arms straight at his sides, as he often did, and I realized just how strange his posture was. How had I never suspected before he told me? "Our landscape is harsh," he said. "We require vast technologically advanced structures to survive and live good lives. But we have other work to do. We are too busy to build. It makes our hands rough, and we have other tasks that are more important to the survival of not only our people but people on other planets as well. Our people do not love the life of physical labor. Your people are better for this. Your brains are structured more for this than for the intellectual work that is our specialty. So we came to the conclusion that it would be best to come here and, rather than take your people off your planet, for you would likely be unwilling to go, we have replicated you so that we can take a crew of you back with us." He placed his hand on one of the clones, right on his shoulder, like he was an old friend. "When we wake your clones, we will load them into our ships. On our planet, you will build our structures for us, and then you will help us maintain them. It would be a hard, boring life for our people, but yours will feel right at home.
"Wait a fucking second," I said. "You didn't tell me that's what these clones were for! I don't want to go work myself to death on your sorry-ass planet."
Mickey shook his head, smiling. "No, no," he said. "You won't be going. It is just these replicas that will go. Don't worry. You and I will be together here, until I am asked to return to my planet."
When he said that, my mind went all fuzzy and blank, like I didn't even know how to respond. I tried to come up with something, anything, to say to him, but everything just seemed pointless, and the idea of the Allen clone and Mickey leaving and the me clones gave me this pressure in the chest that I couldn't shake. I couldn't go home, that was for damn sure, and I couldn't try to explain why I was upset, cause holy hell, Mickey and I were from different worlds, and there wasn't ever going to be anything I could do about that.
I locked myself in our room with the music turned way, way up. I stared at the replicas, and looking at them made me so mad I wanted to pummel them to pieces like those body builder punching bags shaped like men. I couldn't touch them, though. I couldn't hurt myself. I crawled under the bed where it was dark and closed my eyes and thought about what it all meant, this alien shit. Was I meant to do something here, something big, like in the movies? I could destroy all the clones. Would Mickey have to leave if I did that?
What must have been a couple of hours later, I heard this crazy echoing sound coming from downstairs and suddenly I wasn't worried about higher purposes, I just wanted to know what the damn noise was and make sure Mickey was safe out there.
I crept through the house, my heart pounding, until I found Mickey in the kitchen in the dark with some device clutched to his ear. He was making this wracking belly sound like his body was gurgling, and when I flipped on the light he didn't look at me, just kept on making those noises.
"What the fuck was that noise?" I asked, but he still didn't say anything until the gurgling stopped and he dropped the little metal device and curled into himself on the floor there. "What's wrong, Mickey?"
"I understand why you are upset," he said, not looking up at me. "Your replicas will be used by my kind and not given a choice. I did not realize that choice is important to your people. It is important to ours, too."
"What does that mean, though? Can we stop it?"
"It is stopped already. The replicas are no good. My people have asked me just now, over the communicator, to destroy the replicas. We have made a mistake once more. It is not good to have so many of one replica. That way spreads blight. They say that the blight is making your people perish in alarming numbers. My people say more diversity is needed, so that the blight does not take so many. They want one of you, and one of you only. The rest they say to unplug and let rot in here. They have ordered me home."
For once in our whole time together I thought I saw something human in his face rather than the plaster gaze he usually gave.
"But you said just a minute ago . . . I mean, you seemed like you wanted to go home, eventually. And I'm not so sure I'm against destroying all these clones, Mickey. To be honest, I don't know if I like the idea of so many of me existing all in the same place. This should be good news, right? After all, what, you didn't think we would stay together, and I sure never thought that."
"Stop," he said. "You lie when you say that. And as for the other part, I will quote your people when I say that you don't know what you have until it is gone. I didn't know what I wanted until just now. Ben, I chose you. I chose. And I do not want to go back. I do not ever want to go back."
Aw, hell, I thought, and I rushed across the room and wrapped my arms so tight around him I thought I might break him if he weren't so tough, built of whatever alien skin he had in him or on him, I'd never asked much about if he looked like this all the time or just here on Earth, but I figured he had to be different somehow in his chemical makeup. And so what did I do right there, to comfort him? I kissed him. I unzipped his pants and reached my hands into his boxers and then we made love, that's right, love, on the kitchen floor, and when it was over, this third of our problems, we figured out just what we were going to do next.
• • •
Turns out that aliens are pretty damn good at road trips. They have the stamina, yeah, to go across country like they were driving down the street for bread. They have the money, too, what with all the cash their people gave them, compensating for every possible emergency that might arise when they sent them down here. As for keeping ourselves under the radar, making sure my parents didn't come looking for us, though we might, we agreed, go looking for them again someday to make our amends, we sent one of my replicas in my place. When we turned him on, he smiled at me, but he didn't even look at Mickey, really. It was weird but kind of cool to see him walking around. He already had my memories and everything, so it was easy to drop him off in my parents' driveway. I'm sure Mom and Dad loved that I came to my senses and no longer had Mickey around or even spoke of him anymore. As for the gay stuff, I don't know if that's the way the replica swung or even if I could say I swing that way or if Mickey's replicas even have ways to swing or if people do. Maybe there's just a lot of love and when it finds you, you do what you can with it.
The rest of the replicas we unplugged and drove, truckload by truckload, out to surrounding cities. This will create some confusion one of these days, to be certain, but it seemed like the best option, and besides I thought it was one damn funny practical joke. We gave Allen his replica, to do with what he wished, and he was sure psyched about that, though not so happy that we were leaving him. We told him that we'd be back one day and gave him the keys to our house, for him to do what he wanted in there. Maybe he'll do great things with it. Maybe when Mickey's people come looking, they'll find Allen and take him up there with them and he'll get some of what he's always wanted.
I try not to think too hard about what's going to happen or what did happen, just the good parts, like Mickey's hand in mine, or the open windows in the car we bought, or the look of mountains, true-to-life mountains, and the way I feel when we drive toward them. And the look of the alien mask he snuck along, which he sometimes wears when he blows me, and how it's never like you think it'll be, this life stuff, which is something new I'm learning all the time.
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