HENRY stared at the big red F on his English quiz. He’d studied. Hard. His parents would kill him. At the least, they’d forbid him from attending the Katy Perry Live in Hologram concert over the weekend, so he might as well be dead, because everyone at school would be there. Three weeks into his last year of high school and he was already on his way to flunking out. He blamed Ellil. Mr. Duffy walked up and down the aisles between desks, passing out the remaining papers and accompanying each with a judgmental grunt.
Catty-corner behind Henry, Ellil clicked his tongue. “Dude.” Henry turned toward him with a glare that he hoped relayed “I know you think that’s subtle, but everyone can hear you.” Not that Ellil would care. Ellil held whispered conversations in the middle of classes all the time and never got in trouble beyond a gentle, “Mr. Goundry, if you don’t mind.” When that failed to shut him up, the teachers handed out detentions to the students on the other end of the conversation, hoping they would stop responding. Not responding to Ellil was often the worse option, because Ellil didn’t stop seeking his target’s attention until he got what he wanted. More than one teacher had, in a fit of pique, banished Ellil and the other student into the hall so Ellil could say what he wanted to say. As Henry had been that cobanished student a number of times, he could attest that it was never anything important. Scanning his quiz, he saw all the topics Mr. Duffy had probably covered while Henry was in the hall listening to Ellil talk about his weekend plans, his breakfast, or a prank he’d thought up for the next raid onto Rek Academy, the neighboring rival school.
“Dude,” Ellil repeated. He reached across the aisle with a note. His classmates kept their eyes on their results as Henry grabbed it. It was a leaflet. “Mr. MacDougal’s Fun House & Arcade!” it said. “Half-price games before 10 PM!”
“Tonight,” Ellil said.
“Fine,” Henry mouthed. He shoved it in his pocket.
“Problem, Mr. Mekes?”
Shit. Henry looked up to see Mr. Duffy standing beside his desk. “No, sir.” Students weren’t required to address teachers as “sir” or “ma’am” at Ruslington Academy, but Henry didn’t know a single student who would dare call Mr. Duffy anything else. Not even Ellil.
“Was that a note?” Mr. Duffy made no gesture, but Henry pulled it out of his pocket and handed it over, slumping lower in his seat. Mr. Duffy pocketed it without reading it and returned to the front of the room. He prayed Mr. Duffy would forget about it. Getting caught with even the intention to go to the boardwalk was big trouble.
“Henry.” Henry ignored Ellil’s hissed attempt to catch his attention. Once the bell rang, Henry made a beeline for the door.
“Detention after school. Forty-five minutes.”
“I have a guitar lesson, sir.”
“You’ll have to make your excuses.”
“IT’S GOING to be awesome,” Ellil said. He flung his arm around Henry’s shoulders as they navigated around a pair of unicyclists on the boardwalk. “They’ve got Skee-Ball. Who has Skee-Ball anymore?”
Henry flexed his hand, trying to work out the soreness of writing “I will not waste my teacher’s time with irrelevancy” five hundred times. Playing guitar after that had been hell. “You’re going to make me break curfew, aren’t you?” Henry asked.
“It won’t hurt you.”
“It won’t hurt you. Your dad donated a building to the school, and he runs the country. I’m there on scholarship.”
Ellil gave him a half hug. “And don’t you worry; I’ve taken you in like Little Orphan Annie. Trust me, no one’s going to touch you.”
Henry tugged on the sleeves of his olive-green school blazer. He’d grown three inches since freshman year and now his arms and shoulders spent all their time trying to escape its seams. “I’m not comforted.”
Ellil grinned, unperturbed.
The boardwalk held the second slot on the school’s list of locations forbidden to students (Rek Academy’s campus took the first), but every weekend, upperclassmen and a few resourceful underclassmen took their chances with its “moral shortcomings” and ventured into the arcades and restaurants. Aliens were in abundance, filling up the boardwalk in their wild costumes in colors so bright they swirled in Henry’s vision. Their hair, adorned in feathers and beads, reached to the skies. The boardwalk was the one place where aliens outnumbered humans and where no one seemed to mind. Here, away from their government-assigned jobs and mandated medication, which dampened their natural urges and allowed them to better adjust to human society, they displayed their native talents, each more fascinating than the one before it, from fire-eating to illusions to jaw-dropping feats of strength. Henry’s first experience was freshman year, also with Ellil. He’d seen an alien lift a 300-pound human man over his head. He’d received a week’s detention and an irate phone call from his parents, but it had been worth it. Ellil had spent five minutes with the headmaster, emerged with a smile, and dragged Henry out the next weekend.
In contrast to the city’s never-ending lights, which polluted the sky with eternal dusk all night long, the sky over the ocean was black enough to show stars and, blinking red among them, the aircraft warning lights of the ranching outposts. Ranching was one of the coolest jobs, second to wrangling. Wranglers traveled to other planets to trade for animals. They flew top-secret aircraft and darted through herds of animals to round them onto transport carriers like cowboys used to do with horses. They were ex-Air Force, mostly, and all of them were daredevils. With Earth’s domesticated animals almost wiped out from plague a few hundred years before Henry was born and the survivors dangerous to eat, meat had to be found elsewhere. The space explorers had been sharing meals with alien peoples for decades, so it was easy to ask them for recommendations for which animals tasted best and flourished in captivity and which peoples would be most receptive to trade.
From there, a few outdated exploration outposts were turned into ranches because the animals couldn’t be brought back to Earth for fear of how they would impact the remaining indigenous animals and how Earth’s animals would impact them. To work on a ranching outpost, a person needed degrees in math, agricultural engineering, and animal husbandry. To be a wrangler, he (or she; there were female wranglers, but not many) needed a pilot’s license and “a complete lack of common sense,” according to Mr. Duffy, whose brother was one. Henry liked to think of himself as the rancher to Ellil’s wrangler. Maybe one day they’d make it reality, unless Ellil followed his father’s footsteps into politics. Henry’s dad was in insurance. He didn’t see himself going into that. He’d have to buckle down at school before he could dream of qualifying to be a rancher, though, which made it all the more annoying that he couldn’t tell Ellil “no,” ever.
A fire thrower drew Henry’s mind away from the sky and back to the boardwalk. Henry had never paid attention to Mr. MacDougal’s Funhouse & Arcade. It sat on the rundown end of the boardwalk, where fire-eating jugglers gave way to strutting strippers with tasseled breasts. Bad enough he went to the boardwalk at all without venturing down to that end. Henry peered into the arcade’s black interior. “I don’t think there’s Skee-Ball here,” Henry said. He looked up at the sign over the front. Maybe the dim F in “Funhouse,” which made the sign read “unhouse,” was an intentional statement. “Maybe fun’s a euphemism….”
“Nah, it has to be here. The ad said.” Ellil grabbed Henry’s wrist and tugged him forward.
“I don’t know if we should be here….”
“You’re not going back to the dorms until we have some fun.”
“Look! There they are!” Ellil dragged Henry over to the token booth, bought a handful for each of them, and bounced toward the Skee-Ball machines. Henry trailed after him.
Turned out, Skee-Ball actually was fun. Plus, his score was hella good. He left Ellil in the dust.
“I’m going for a soda,” Ellil said after Henry trounced his score a fifth time.
“Maybe it will help your coordination.”
“That’s what I’m counting on.”
Henry laughed and returned to his game. He was up to one thousand tickets. He had already given the prize table a once over. He needed five hundred more to earn the life-size stuffed Ogga Boinga. As a child, he’d had a smaller one and had slept with his nose pressed against the orange tummy and bear head with the trumpet-shaped nose. His five-year-old cousin would love this one.
“Dude.” Henry swept up another string of tickets from the game as Ellil came back in an excited rush without sodas. “There’s an alien in the backroom.”
“What?” Henry whipped around to peer into the unexplored darkness at the back of the long gaming corridor.
“They’ve got a fucking alien in the backroom.”
“Does it work in the kitchen or something?”
Ellil peered down his nose at him. “Henry. How naïve are you?”
“I know nothing exciting ever happens in the suburbs, but come on—you have to have heard about this.”
“It’s not….” Henry gave up on correcting Ellil again that Wayward was a town proper, not a suburb, and focused on the other thing. The alien. “What?”
“Some places sell sex with aliens,” Ellil said, in his “Jaded City-ite Lectures the Country Bumpkin” voice that Henry hated. As his enthusiasm grew, his tone gave way to pure excitement. “Like, black market underground shit. They say it’s like a drug. Like the best high ever. No addiction, no shock from coming down, not even dry mouth. This is so awesome. Totally makes up for Skee-Ball sucking. Come on.” Ellil headed for the back.
“Wait. Black market?” Henry pulled out of Ellil’s grip. “I can’t do anything illegal.”
Ellil stared at him. “You’re with me. You can do whatever you want.”
“I know. I just….” Henry rubbed his wrist. “I don’t want to. I don’t want to break the law just because I can.”
“Okay. Hey. I get it. I’m sorry.” Ellil put both hands up and patted the air, placating. “I’m a dick. You’re right. You know my dad says you’re a good example for me. I should listen to you more.”
Henry smiled. He never could stay mad at Ellil for more than a few seconds. “My mom says the opposite about you.”
“I guess I didn’t make a great impression on her what with almost getting you suspended your first week.” Ellil grinned back.
“Not really. Plus, she’s still angry at your dad for getting my dad so drunk at his bachelor party that he almost missed his wedding. Which was twenty years ago, so, you know, she holds a grudge pretty well.”
Ellil flung an arm over Henry’s shoulder. “I’m glad you take after your dad, then.”
Henry decided against telling Ellil that his dad waged a silent war against the neighbor’s tree that dropped baseball-size nuts into their backyard that broke lawnmower blades.
“If you don’t want to try the alien, that’s fine, but I’ve always wanted to, so at least come with me and watch my back.”
“I don’t know….”
“It’s only seven hundred tickets to do it. You’ve got enough for both of us now. Come on.”
“Are you telling me that it takes fewer tickets to have sex with an alien than it does to get a miniblender?” Henry gestured at the prize table.
“Yes,” Ellil said without hesitation. “Those blenders are amazing. My step-mom has one. They chop ice like you wouldn’t believe.”
Henry glanced toward the entrance, expecting to see Headmaster Dowe or Mr. Duffy or, oh gods, his mother. “I don’t like this.”
“Come on, man. It’s my dream.”
“Fine. But if there’s any sign of trouble, I’m running.”
“Understood.” Ellil snapped Henry’s ticket string in half and walked to the back. Sighing, Henry followed.
Beyond a row of neglected arcade games, a man sat on a stool beside a black curtain. Fluorescent light seeped from behind it. The man was six feet tall at least, judging from the way his feet touched the floor despite the stool’s height. He had a soft belly, framed by a black T-shirt, but he wasn’t fat. He looked like a former athlete who’d settled into a casual, but not sedentary, life. Seeing Henry and Ellil approach, he set his magazine down.
Expecting to see a naked woman on the open pages, Henry was surprised to see wedding dresses instead. The guy already had on a wedding band, and he looked like he was in his late thirties, so Henry took a guess. “Is your daughter getting married?”
The guy looked pleased. “How did you know?”
Before Henry could say that his dad had read him Sherlock Holmes when he was younger, Ellil jumped in. “He’s a bright boy. We’re all proud of him. Also, we’d like time behind the curtain.” He handed over the tickets he’d taken from Henry.
Back to business, the man asked, “Are you both needing ‘time’?”
“Just me,” Ellil said.
“I’m just watching to make sure he doesn’t do anything stupid,” Henry said.
The man swiped Henry’s remaining tickets.
“Just in case you change your mind while you’re in there. It’s slicked up already, so don’t bother prepping it. Do what you came to do and get out.”
“Sure thing,” Ellil said.
“Congratulations on your daughter’s wed—” Ellil yanked him through the curtain before Henry could finish. Given how pristine the floors and counters were, they could have been standing in a medical facility. A padded table stood in the middle, just like at a doctor’s office. Henry stared at the naked alien strapped by its ankles and wrists and lying bent over and belly-down on top of it. The alien rested its head on its arms, as the straps around its wrists gave some leeway for movement.
The alien looked like a man. Henry had expected something that looked like a thing, like the real-life version of one of the toys at the prize table. Given how excited Ellil was, he’d anticipated that the aliens people sought for sex would be more exotic. Instead of shiny scales or wings or even pincers, this alien had a long, slightly thick body, black hair on its head, and reddish-blond hairs everywhere else. It had freckles, for all the gods’ sake. It looked older than Henry and Ellil, but not by much. Maybe early twenties. Henry stretched a finger out to touch it, a single poke against its side to see if it felt human too. He’d seen aliens of all kinds, including aliens that resembled humans, though he didn’t know any very well. Most of them that lived on Earth were humanoid, but Henry had wondered if under their clothes there was a difference. Unless this one had a special alien penis, Henry couldn’t distinguish it from an actual person.
“Ah, shit, it’s a dude,” Ellil said.
Henry snapped his finger back to his side.
The alien, which had been facing away, turned its head to lie on its other cheek, so they saw its face for the first time. It blinked and closed its eyes. “You were wanting to rape a girl alien?” Henry asked.
“It’s not rape. It wants it.” Ellil poked the alien’s naked leg.
“It’s strapped to a table and drugged out of its head.” Henry crouched down and wiggled his fingers at it until it opened its eyes. He glanced at Ellil. “Maybe we should get someone. It looks sick.”
“Do you think it makes me gay if I fuck an alien that looks like a dude? No offense.”
“None taken. And yes.” Henry settled down to study its eyes. Whenever he said he was sick, his mother looked at his eyes and then told him if she thought he was faking. The alien had gray eyes. Henry had never seen something with gray eyes. They settled on Henry, and Henry used all his effort to look away, because the alien held him enrapt. His mother had told him about aliens’ seductive powers and warned him to be careful around them. He’d thought she’d made it up, but now he saw the truth in her warnings.
“Huh.” Ellil slapped its left butt cheek. The alien came to life, jumping forward as much as it could under the straps. Its mouth fell open. “See? Just needed to hit its on switch.” He spat on his fingers and shoved them up the alien’s ass. “God, it’s so hot. Henry, you have to feel this.”
“I’m all right,” Henry said. He stayed crouched in front of the creature, unwilling to give up its gaze, even though it was wrong to want it. Ellil opened his trousers and, though the alien blocked part of the view, Ellil’s groan and rough movement indicated when he’d shoved inside.
“Oh fuuuuuck.” Ellil squeezed the alien’s ass, spreading and squeezing as he thrust forward. The alien made no reaction.
“Do you think this is its natural form?” Henry asked. He watched the alien’s eyes as he talked to Ellil.
“Probably,” Ellil said. “I don’t think shape-shifters exist. Pretty sure that’s a myth.” He staggered his words between short puffs of breath.
“I guess,” Henry said. Beads of sweat rolled down the alien’s temple. Henry wiped a stream of it away with his thumb, drawing it down the alien’s hairline. Before he realized what he was doing, he popped it into his mouth and sucked. He grew lightheaded and glad that he was on his knees, because he’d never live down collapsing in front of Ellil. He passed his thumb down the other side of its face, traced over the cheekbone, and pressed gently on its mouth until the lips parted and he was able to slide his thumb inside. The tongue felt like a human tongue, broad and flat. The alien sucked on Henry’s thumb like a pacifier, like a cock, Henry imagined with a white rush of desire and guilt. He reached down with his other hand and palmed his own. He was starting to get hard. What would it be like to play with himself a bit while he fucked this creature’s mouth with his thumb? Though his conscience niggled against him, most of what he’d heard about aliens was how much they loved sex. He’d only be doing what it wanted. He made short work of his button and zipper, pulled his cock out through his boxers, and worked his hand over it.
“You’re going to fuck it, right?” Ellil asked. “This is, I swear to God, Henry, this is amazing. They say this isn’t addictive, but damn.” He fell over the alien’s back, sweat pouring down his face.
“You look like you’re about to have a heart attack,” Henry said.
“It would be worth it.”
The creature’s tongue made an appearance on the edge of its lips, licking the cleft of Henry’s hand, not with the deftness he might expect from an experienced sexual object but with the flat, uncoordinated swipes of a drugged mouth. Even so, Henry knew right then that his thumb would not be enough. He had to have his cock in its mouth. His first time was supposed to be on his wedding night. His parents had raised him with that belief. He sure as hell wasn’t supposed to give up his virginity to an alien’s hot mouth. But he couldn’t stop now with temptation as enchanting as this. He was an eighteen-year-old guy, after all. He stood, cock wagging in front of the alien’s head. With no reaction whatsoever, it opened wider and Henry slid inside. His knees turned to jelly the moment he felt the tongue and lips touch, so warm around him. He hunched forward and caught himself on the table. “Oh shit.”
“Must be good if you’re using that kind of language.” Ellil grinned. He slapped its ass again and the alien jumped; Henry felt the reaction in his cock, and it almost sent him right over the edge, but he got hold of himself in time because damn, it was too soon to stop now. Ellil got more physical, pounding its ass, sending the alien jerking forward, impaling it on Henry’s cock, driving it right down the alien’s throat. It moaned, making vibrations of sound around Henry’s fragile skin.
“Fuck. Yeah. Alien slut. God. Slut.” Ellil groaned. “Like it, don’t you? Humans fucking you in the ass. In the mouth. Like the slut you are. It’s what you’re made for. Yeah. Like it. Show us how much you like it.”
Henry shut out Ellil’s rush of dirty language. The alien was so beautiful that he didn’t want to hear it demeaned. Anything that could make him feel this good deserved to be praised, not called names. Maybe it didn’t speak English and couldn’t understand them. Or maybe it heard those phrases so often that it thought they were praise. The alien squirmed with intent now, not against the bonds, but using them to increase its pleasure. Its wide eyes bore into Henry like sex and desire lived within them. Henry wanted to fall into them, felt that he could, be soaked up, absorbed by them. He stroked its outstretched throat and sucked his fingers clean and oh wow.
He was floating. Leaving the room far away for some place bright and shiny. He heard Ellil, still going on with his dirty litany, but nothing brought him down, nothing at all, until his own body betrayed him and he tensed into the alien’s throat. The alien kept its mouth clamped around his cock and cleaned him before releasing him. Henry staggered backward a half step and dropped to his knees. He had a handful of the alien’s hair, pulling its head closer, and his tongue in its mouth before he was aware of his actions. To his shock, nothing happened. It was almost enough for Henry to come to his senses, but then the alien’s tongue began to work against his and the lips sought his, as if the creature was doing all it could do to draw Henry in with its mouth since it did not have the use of its arms.
Ellil yelled out his climax.
Henry was lost in the alien. The kiss ended only when Ellil pulled him backward.
“Damn. I must have been fucking the wrong end. You look wasted, dude.”
Henry could only blink up at him. If he tried to stand, he’d fall. He’d never felt anything like this. It was terrifying, and he wanted to do it again. Right now. The alien lowered its head back to the table. Henry tried to read its expression, but there was nothing in it. It seemed unaware that anything had passed between them, never mind the most amazing moment of Henry’s life. He pushed his cock back into his trousers and did up the fly. Ellil checked himself in the mirror.
“We can get back before curfew if we hurry.” Henry couldn’t tell if Ellil was disappointed that Henry had had the better experience. He felt bad anyway. It had been Ellil’s idea, after all.
“Thought you didn’t care about curfew.”
Ellil shrugged. “I’m thinking about you.”
Ellil went out first. Henry couldn’t resist a final look back. The alien was looking at him, as if it had expected Henry to turn around. It made no overt reaction, but Henry could swear that it was trying to communicate something. Then it shifted its gaze away from Henry, and Henry convinced himself he had imagined it. He hurried after Ellil. He felt sick and distracted. It was the effects of the high slipping away. Had to be.
When they got out into the street, Ellil talked about the next day’s physics test as if nothing had happened.
HENRY stuffed his biology homework into his messenger bag. Another bright F to hide from his parents. Headmaster Dowe had called him into his office three times in the past three months to talk about his dropping GPA. Henry had told him there was trouble at home, which was a massive lie. His parents still acted like they were on their honeymoon after twenty years of marriage, and they doted on Henry. But it was easier and safer to say “Things are difficult at home” than the truth.
The truth was that he was out until three every night sitting beside an alien object of curiosity, that he watched this alien as men thrust into it in the back room of a seedy arcade. He sat with his back against the wall and his knees pulled up to his chest, and the alien watched him back. He knew that it wasn’t really watching, not with sentient awareness like a person would. It just happened to orient its head in Henry’s direction when it heard Henry’s pen scratching in his notebook as he pretended to study. It almost never looked away, though, not while it was being fucked, which it was, constantly, by a stream of men who seemed to think that Henry was a sort of guard.
It had started because Ellil wanted another go. Claiming that Henry’s “stupid dreamy face” was making him jealous, Ellil went back to MacDougal’s alone. Henry wanted to let Ellil have his fun, but he couldn’t concentrate on anything as he thought of Ellil with the alien. Henry went back after that. But he didn’t touch the alien. He couldn’t think about how he’d touched it that first night without confusing himself with memories of desire and repulsion. He couldn’t shake the feeling that he’d raped it or the memory of how pleasurable the alien’s mouth had felt around his cock. He watched the other men, probably glaring sometimes when they got too rough. He started feeling protective. Maybe it was his version of the apology he couldn’t voice.
Aside from the first time when he had almost unconsciously fucked its mouth, Henry had just watched. He didn’t want to get stupid with the drugged effect again. The satisfaction he got now came from being near it, from being watched by it. The alien made Henry feel like he mattered. It was a difficult thing to explain. He knew he shouldn’t be getting his worth from something that had no feelings; he didn’t even know if its eyesight was strong enough to see him the few feet away where he sat. He felt a connection, though, and it kept him coming back. The first few times he sat for an hour alone. The fourth time, Madsen, the man outside the curtain taking tickets, came in and caught him sitting. After that, he started letting others go in, too, but still took enough tickets from Henry to cover all his hours, so he made double profit. Henry didn’t know what Madsen told them, but they ignored him and went about their business. Madsen gave Henry one treasure, though: the alien’s name.
Watching Kaden get fucked was fascinating. Its eyes dilated, and Henry could tell that it was trying to spread its legs wider, even though they were tied open. Some of the men spanked Kaden as they drove into it—hard, stinging slaps—and this set Kaden’s breath stuttering too. Despite his guilt, Henry palmed himself through the khaki pants of his school uniform, almost erupting when he saw Kaden’s tongue drift out of its full lips. Only the punter calling out that Henry should join in snapped Henry back to reality, and he blushed red as he moved his hand back to his knee, even though he wanted to slide his fingers into Kaden’s mouth. The fact that he was in a room with a stranger stopped him. He couldn’t do something so intimate in front of someone he didn’t know.
There was a bit of mesh fencing that had been burrowed under and hidden by a shrub in the back of the school grounds, and this was how Henry let himself back onto campus in the minutes before dawn. Then he had a few hours of sleep until he had to be up for class.
Ellil had had the idea that Henry should take his homework. Ellil had accompanied him a few times since Henry started keeping watch, “to take the edge off,” he’d said, but then he’d started dating a girl from the junior class and lost interest in going.
It took some practice to do his homework and watch Kaden at the same time, but he got the hang of it. Some of the regulars even greeted him now, but he put his head down and focused on conjugating his Latin verbs. All kinds of men came in to fuck Kaden. Some were business men who paid with cash, some college kids who played games like Henry did until they earned enough tickets to see the alien, some were men that Henry would cross the street to avoid if he saw them outside, and who proved his fear legitimate in the way they treated Kaden. Some men Madsen made him clear out for, politicians mostly, until Henry became as much a part of the room as Kaden and they stopped telling Madsen to make him leave.
He was in the middle of his Latin homework when he heard a harsh, rasping sound. It took his brain a moment to parse it into speech and then to get decipherable words out of it.
There was no one in the room except for himself and Kaden, but Kaden didn’t talk. It never had.
“Did you say something?” he whispered.
Kaden’s mouth opened, but before it could repeat what it had said, if it’d said anything, the curtain slid back and Madsen came through.
“Closing time, kid. Get on out.” As ever, he spoke to Henry with gentle gruffness. Henry asked him about his daughter’s wedding as Madsen took his tickets each night, so they’d developed a bond over place settings and the high cost of hors d’ oeuvres.
“Right. Let me get my books.” He must have lost track of time. He’d never stayed late enough for Madsen to close up on him. He packed up his books. “Listen, it sounded like it said….”
But Madsen whistled a soft tune to the alien. It oriented its head toward him. Madsen wiped a cotton ball over its buttocks, which were red from the night’s hand slaps, and injected something into one cheek.
“What’s that for?” Henry said.
“Helps keep him calm when I untie him.”
Henry didn’t see h