Hardcore, softcore, the most sensual, tasteful erotica: porn in all its varieties once aroused Howard Foker. Now he only saw cartoonish figures clumsily and mechanically acting out their crude lusts. No doubt about it. Sex, for Howard, had become a vast wasteland, both disgusting and tedious.
Howard clicked off the video’s remote control, terminating one rather histrionic orgasm in mid-moan. Tossing the CD into a pile with its ilk, he yawned and gazed distractedly out the window at the dead, gray, asexual sky.
Two of the locust-like horde of annoying, cutesy, cuddling couples strolled by, a sure sign that Valentine’s Day–’VD Day’, Howard sarcastically dubbed it–was in the offing. A powerful urge to sleep hit him. The merest hint of sexual desire–his or anyone else’s–now literally exhausted him like an adrenaline shot in reverse.
Married for thirty-five years, he had been appalled when he had returned to the mating game after divorcing Rita two years ago. Gone were the days when you could casually meet a lover or future spouse in a public place, such as at the laundromat, as he had met Rita in the 1980s.
Despite these depressing thoughts, Howard nevertheless smiled with satisfaction at his smart decision to bail out of the vapid game known as the modern singles scene. Sexual coupling was now a highly professional, convoluted, Internet-based process: online relationship coaches, introduction websites (and their hotshot teams of marketing reps pretending to be ‘counselors’), chat rooms, dating apps, and, last but not least, the racket of Singles Events, where patrons were suckered into attending expensive personal development seminars–a mix of gossip and group therapy–while thinking they were going to meet their ‘soulmate’ and ‘dance the romantic night away.’
Nevertheless, Howard still fretted about his future love life. What would be his next moves in the chess game of romance? How was he going to meet that special someone…? After two years, sleeping alone was getting tiresome, even if interrupted occasionally by a one-night stand.
His iPhone chimed. It was a text message from Robert Shivers:
“Happy Valentine’s Day, Howard! Let’s go to the singles dance tonight at Club Cool. It could be hot! Meet me there at 8 pm.”
Bless mobile phones, thought Howard, as he grinned at his device’s mindless face. It had saved him from a personal visit by Robert Shivers, with his annoying, endlessly upbeat manner that he had cultivated through too many personal self-development workshops.
Shivers! What a misnomer. The only people who shivered in his presence were the women he asked for dances and/or dates at local single events. In fact, the only reason he had ever socialized with this clown in the past was that it made Howard look good in front of women.
Still, even if he had to hang out with Shivers tonight, and tolerate his pal’s childish, squealing noises that sounded like a little kid asking to be taken to McDonald’s, it could be a nice diversion from being alone with this foul mood. And since women were quickly bored by Robert’s vacuous chit-chat, they might turn to Howard for a more interesting conversation that could ultimately even lead to a few dates, offering a refreshing break from his sexual despair.
Howard texted Robert back:
“Okay, Robert, you are on. You drive ahead. I will meet you there at 8 sharp.”
Howard arrived 20 minutes later than he had promised, but oddly, though the club’s car park was full, the building itself was dark–apparently shuttered. The VD dance should have begun by now.
As he looked at the blackness surrounding him, a vague fragment of a line from a story read years ago in college flashed back to Howard: “Oh, what is the object of this darkness that has come over me…has someone buried me when I was not looking.” Was it Dorothy Parker or Dorothy Porter or another writer? Hell, if he could remember, but it sure summed up his feelings tonight. Howard lit a cigarette to try to chase away this fresh mood of gloom. This anti-sex obsession was really starting to eat at him.
Finishing his smoke, Howard rang the club’s number but only got a voicemail that clicked off without a specific recorded message. The Mystery of the Missing VD Dance had deepened. Where was the club’s manager, Zappa Jones, a florid-faced little control freak perpetually strutting about in a shiny-reptilian 1980s tuxedo, who always personally answered the phone? Howard decided to go check it out. Had there been some crisis that had caused the patrons and staff to flee the premises and move the dance to another venue? The nosy security guards who always lurked around the Club Cool’s grounds to keep the building from being vandalized would surely know.
Despite his cynicism about the dating game scene, Howard hoped that tonight’s dance was still on; he had actually started to look forward to it, if nothing else but to laugh at the clumsy efforts of washed-up, overweight middle-aged playboys and playgirls trying to relive their glory days of smooth pickup lines and hot disco dance moves, despite the occasional twinges of arthritic knee pain.
Howard started to scramble out of his car, only to be yanked back in by the tangled web of safety belts. The straps squeezed and gripped his chest like muscular tentacles, pinning him to his seat while his car’s electric doors clicked, automatically locking him in. Thick clouds of bright smoke billowed up around his car’s windows, sealing the trapped, struggling Howard inside his cushy Mercedes.
Just then, a large pulpy slab of wet, pink flesh, oozing slimy drool, smacked against the windshield, noisily sucking the glass. It was followed by another and another until Howard could hear loud squishing sounds bombarding his entire car, which began to jiggle, shake, and lift. Howard, already missing the peace of his earlier, quieter, gloomy moments, grabbed his suddenly violently nauseous stomach with one hand while quickly punching in 9-11 on his mobile with his other. Instead of a quietly confident police operator answering, a rough, booming voice thundered: “Asexuals of the Cosmos, Unite!”
Disgusted and gagging at the sight of the drooling hunk of pink flesh battened to his windshield—and on the cusp of vomiting up his dinner—all a desperate Howard could think of was to call the most annoying person in the world, Robert Shivers, and ask him to dial 9-11 as soon as possible. As Howard started to tap in Shivers’ numbers on his mobile, he could smell the pleasant, perfumy odor of the bright smoke now seeping into his car’s interior. Howard got no further than punching in the first three digits of his friend’s number when he began comfortably to drowse, his phone finger going slack as peace descended on his mind and stomach…
If Howard had been asked a week earlier what his expectations would have been if he had known he was going to be abducted by an alien spaceship, Howard, who had seen his fair share of sci-fi films, would have surmised a craft brimming with gleaming technological devices unknown to human science. Howard was, however, in for a rude shock.
There was no shiny operating room with an unconscious Howard stretched out on a smooth, metallic gurney awaiting a scan of his organs and brain by alien doctors wielding silent, blinking-red sensors. Instead, his automobile was parked in a massive, greasy open cargo bay, the size of a mall’s car lot, ringed by dilapidated pubs and 1950s-style movie theaters with fading blue paint peeling off the walls. Overhead, long strings of high-intensity incandescent lamps like the Friday Night football lights at the local high school stadium gave the scene the look and feel of a ghostly, half-constructed movie set.
A non-tentacled, bald-headed humanoid, skin the prickly texture and color of kumquat, a face with no eyelids, stone-dead gray pupils, a little clenched mouth, and wearing a neatly pressed, khaki-colored flight suit, opened the car door and freed Howard–now well-rested after his snooze–from his seat belts.
The humanoid led Howard by the arm to the front of one of the crumbling movie theaters. The marquee’s message read in dirty, chipped-plastic block letters: OPENING TONIGHT: THE SAVING OF CIVILIZATION! A GREAT ADVENTURE BEGINS!
As Howard and his alien host walked up the threadbare, faded-flowery carpet leading from the theater’s shabby lobby to the cinema’s main auditorium fronting a small screen, a dome-shaped servo-robot, with a dispenser like a square mouth, two short rubber arms ending in claws, and limping on one rusty wheel, rolled up to Howard and the humanoid.
The robot whirred; then handed each of them a small cup of popcorn, which had dropped from its dispenser. Howard seated himself in the back row, while the humanoid slid into a seat two rows down. The popcorn was unsalted, stale, and dry without butter. Howard discreetly spat out his first mouthful, while dumping the few remaining kernels behind his seat.
The film began. Silent, without opening credits, it was a low-quality animated production with crudely drawn cartoonish figures bodily resembling department store manikins: naked, pink, asexual, with herky-jerky, quasi-robotic motions and the facial images of famous actors and actresses from the history of cinema: Marilyn Monroe, Greta Garbo, Cary Grant, Sophia Loren, Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, and many other Hollywood sex symbols.
The various figures staggered toward each other in a confused, halting way. The Marilyn Monroe figure suddenly, but not without hesitation, tried to kiss the Cary Grant figure, who just stared at her with a puzzled look, mixed with disgust, and then turned away. Others also stumbled around like broken windup toys, first pressing close to each other, then, faces scowling with revulsion and confusion, rushing in the opposite direction. Brad Pitt turned and ran, his face pale and sickly, when he stared at Sophia Loren, who stood cold and stony, while Gary Cooper mechanically marched away from the weak, fumbling embraces of Jean Harlow.
Then, giving up all pretense of even the feeblest sexual interest, the figures began to fight each other–a brawl rather than an orgy. With one punch, the Greta Garbo figure sent Burt Lancaster’s herky-jerky body sprawling, while Ava Gardner was busy strangling Clark Gable, whose bobblehead shook wildly.
Howard immediately thought of his feelings earlier in the day: his growing revulsion at the sight of porn, as well as his general alienation from the singles game and all matters sexual. This film was brilliantly expressing those emotions, with these ‘actors,’ instead of coupling, running away from their conventionally desirable partners and/or physically attacking them. His alien abductors were showing him an anti-porn film whose performers’ normal lascivious desires had been muddled and deformed, rendering them anti-sexual if not asexual.
Just then, the film abruptly and noisily sputtered, without closing credits, to a halt, like the crude 35-millimeter porn films that Howard’s college dorm mates used to show on their Retro-Stag Nights. As Howard mulled over his opinions about the film, he noted that the prickly-skinned alien had turned and was watching him intently, a peculiar sparkle in his previously stony eyes.
After declining another offer of popcorn from the little robot with the one gimpy, rusty wheel, his alien host grabbed Howard again by the arm–more aggressively this time, Howard noted–and led him to the pub next door. Howard was seated in an empty bar area surrounded by softly glowing, grungy neon walls, which reminded him of a shabby pizza joint where he used to hang out in college.
Another dome-shaped servo-robot appeared and offered Howard a cup of wine. Howard winced at its bitter, chemical taste, but–as there was no place to spit–he reluctantly swallowed the ill-tasting liquid.
The bald-headed humanoid spoke excellent English, with an American accent, though his voice came from the general vicinity of his head, not from the little zipper of his mouth, which remained clenched.
“My name is Archie, though my real name is codified in a language which earthlings could never understand. I am a colleague of Circulas Gittoo, the tentacled being that captured you. Gittoo, who communicates only by exhaling a vocabulary of odors rather than expressing words, can obviously not have a conversation with you. But he wants to assure you that you will be compensated for any damage to your car caused by his suckers.”
“That is very generous of Circulas Gittoo,” said Howard, not sure if his sarcastic tone would be noted in a conversation with an alien species, “but why was I abducted? If you are holding me hostage for money or sex, I can provide neither.”
“Our Federation has no desire for the laughable toy paper you call your ‘money’, but the issue of sex is of interest, though not,” Archie’s slit of a mouth puckered primly like an old-fashioned puritanical dowager’s, “in the way you think…”
“In other words, none of your Federation members are in love with me,” said Howard, laughing, feeling more lighthearted after surmising that these aliens seem to have no nefarious intent, a realization which also helped further soothe his unsettled stomach. His gloomy mood was lifting. This abduction adventure was exactly the diversion he had needed. Far better than mingling with the pathetic but dreary victims of the singles scene at Club Cool.
Ignoring Howard’s joke–or not getting it–Archie continued. “I hope you enjoyed your orientation film. It sums up our Federation’s ideology of asexuality. You heard the message we sent you when we intercepted your call to the police. Unlike earthlings, we don’t waste our time and resources sending space probes to investigate dead hunks of rock. We are on a far more important cosmic mission: to unite civilizations throughout the universe to join us in the cause of a glorious asexual future. Sexuality is a primitive desire shared by many societies throughout the cosmos that eventually leads to their violent disintegration. Only by freeing them from its yoke can true happiness, peace, and stability–civilization itself–be found… which is where you come in, Howard.”
“So, obviously, you are not here to watch and enjoy human porn, including my collection if sex is of no interest,” Howard replied, feeling a twinge of his earlier disgust at those images.
Archie’s hard eyes glittered fiercely. “Our aerial surveillance teams–what you humans now call ‘UAP’–that routinely monitor human thoughts and feelings just happened to be hovering over your neighborhood when they picked up the transmission of your feelings of revulsion toward sex and the human ‘mating game,’ as you label it. Howard, we want to help you save the earth’s future–your future–from the misery and violence that always follows in the aftermath of sex.”
Before he could quiz Archie for further details, Howard’s body and legs went rubbery and began to sway uncontrollably from side to side, as if he were being tossed by a rough sea. Archie’s face wobbled, blurred, dissolved. The wine’s lingering, odd tangy-chemical aftertaste faded as Howard lost consciousness.
Howard felt the cool, pleasant sensation of air-conditioned metal against his neck. Awakening, wriggling, trying to stir, he found himself flat on his back, strapped tightly to a large gurney. Above him, a wide flat-screen, two-way monitor displayed the face of Archie.
“Well, Howard I hope you are excited because you are beginning a new chapter of your life…” giggled the Archie-image delightedly, though his mouth’s little slit did not smile, “… discovering the joy and peace that artificially induced asexuality brings… courtesy of a bold, innovative procedure implemented by genius aliens from the other side of the cosmos… Not quite, I am sure, what your pundits and scientists meant when they spoke of ‘First Contact’–or Steven Spielberg envisioned when he produced Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” Archie’s prim little mouth exploded into a vast, pink, quivering orifice, hurling waves of uproarious laughter that quickly collapsed into little snorts that squished exactly like Circulus Gittoo’s tentacled sucker.
Before Howard could ask Archie if these squishy little chuckles meant that Archie was somehow related to whatever species Gittoo belonged to, a familiar voice nearby called out to him. It was Robert Shivers.
“How do you like the singles scene now, Howard? You are there, single, alone, and about to lose your sexual desires–and hence your love life–forever.” His voice was no longer whiny and childish, but metallic and vicious.
Shivers’ face edged into Howard’s line of vision and stared angrily down at him. Robert’s hitherto weak, wandering eyes now had a focused, hard-edged gaze. There was more than a bit of steel in that look, worried Howard–inklings of a new and dangerous version of Robert Shivers.
Shivers continued. “I was abducted, like you, a few months ago, but now work for Archie and the Federation. I am fully on board with their plan to destroy the sex lives of all those selfish bastards out there, who, like you, have mocked me behind my back to women, as well as sabotaged my love life by disrupting my efforts to chat up women at singles events. And, yeah: their surveillance team showed me a recent transcript read-out of your private thoughts about me. You are a hypocrite, a psychopath, a sorry excuse for a human being… and just because you are burned out on sex and the mating game?… so what?… no one feels sorry for you, always wallowing in self-pity…”
Howard listened, stunned and speechless, as Robert raged at him. Howard always thought Shivers had no better than a primitive 200-word vocabulary at best, but this new, articulate Bob Shivers was a revelation. As Robert unleashed his tirade, his heretofore flabby jowls did not jiggle and droop, but were hard and clenched as if made of stone, like a blunt instrument ready to clobber Howard.
“So, Howard, how do you like the new, more assertive Robert Shivers now?” asked the Archie-face from the monitor screen. “Being an abductee of ours is the best personal self-development experience you can find. We take good care of our captives, helping them find happy, satisfying lives back among other earthlings.”
“But what about me? How can making me asexual help me find happiness and satisfaction?” asked Howard, instantly regretting his earlier bitter feelings about sex and the singles scene that had attracted these aliens to him.
“Not that long ago,” Archie replied in an annoyed tone as if scolding a naughty child, “you were moaning and groaning about how you were burnt out on ‘all matters sexual’, as well as on the earthling ‘mating game,’ as you call it…. We are going to free you from those useless desires, which will lighten your recent gloomy moods…”
Just then, the Archie persona vanished as the screen dissolved into blankness. Seconds later, row after row of people appeared like a TV studio audience staring into the cameras. Howard recognized some familiar faces: Mary Harris, John Ditter, Sally Jason, and others, who were regular attendees at Club Cool singles events and who often used to open up to Howard about their unhappy love lives, cheating partners, and domestic abuse.
Then, it suddenly dawned on Howard: these were the attendees at the Club Cool VD dance that had earlier vanished, a conclusion cinched as soon as Howard noticed the cheesy little valentine hearts pasted on their nametags, which they still wore. They had been abducted, too.
“Yes, Howard.” This time the voice was not from Robert Shivers or Archie, but from the Club Cool manager and singles event impresario, Mr. Zappa Jones, who rose from the front row, still garbed in his sleazy black 1980s-style tuxedo and showing the same florid face, albeit now bloated and purple with fury. Howard despised this fool, who had once thrown a drunken Howard out of a previous Club Cool singles dance for groping a female patron—an allegation that Howard had bitterly denied.
Furious that this glorified bouncer seemed to be reading his mind, Howard opened his mouth to rage at Zappa Jones, but the slimy drool cut him short. “Get over it, Howard… you are under our control–my control—now. “
“Your… control…?” Howard stammered.
“Yeah, Archie, Gittoo, and their Federation have delegated your procedure to us as they figure that earthlings are best a-sexed by other earthlings since we all communicate on the same wavelength. Don’t worry… we have been professionally trained by the Federation in the details. It is not difficult, and is painless and noninvasive… but our Club Cool team,” Zappa Jones dramatically swept his hand in an arc over the audience of dance patrons, “has decided to make some changes in the Federation’s agenda. Whatever the ambitions of the Federation to a-sex the human race, let alone other aliens throughout the cosmos, our team, including Robert Shivers, has voted not to a-sex ourselves, but to a-sex only you. And while the decision has been ratified by the entire club’s membership, Robert Shivers has been specifically delegated to perform the procedure on you because he is your best friend whom you trust.”
“But will the Federation be pleased with that decision…?” Howard asked. “I saw the orientation film and had my chat with Archie. They want to save entire civilizations, not just individuals, by eradicating sexual desire as a threat to…”
“I know… to the universe’s ‘happiness, peace, and stability’… I had the same orientation as you did,” Zappa Jones rudely snapped. “But the Federation is practical, too. It is still trying to understand the psychological consequences of mass asexuality on humans; the Federation members realize that if they a-sex everybody right away, humans might become uncomfortable, if not annoyed, or even hostile. One day, the Federation wants to meet earth’s leaders to explain the need to promote asexuality as a public health benefit, so maintaining some goodwill toward humanity, in general, is necessary. For now, only a select elite has been chosen by the Federation, in complete agreement with Club Cool, to receive the procedure. And you, Howard, are among the lucky few. No more sexual desire means no more compulsion to date… so no more singles scene for you. We are doing you a big favor, pal, by ridding you of your torments. “
“I know what your real game is,” Howard fumed. “You, Robert, and the other male scum at the Club Cool are trying to push me out… trying to corner the market and eliminate me because I get all of the dates.”
Female laughter burst from the audience.
“Hey, Howard,” yelled Melissa Randall, “remember me…? I turned down your offer of a date because you are so boring.”
Other women chimed in:
“Yeah, boring in bed, too,” Mary Arnold said, snickering.
“Took me to a greasy spoon to eat on our first night out, got drunk, then groped me…” Sandra Baker shouted angrily.
Annoyed, Zappa Jones waved for everyone to be quiet. “Ok, team, we get the point. Howard Foker is a miserable failure, not only as a human being but as a date. But it is now time for action, not talk…”
The monitor screen abruptly went blank, cutting off Zappa Jones’ impending tirade. Looming up again over Howard, Shivers’ face was now transformed into a fiendish hoggish-like creature, Porky Pig pasted with demonic, reddish-purple slobbering lips grafted onto his cheeks and jowls.
Brandishing a long, gleaming metal wand, studded with blinking red sensors like Christmas tree lights, Robert nosily smacked his blubbery lips and threw a sarcastic air kiss at Howard.
“Sorry, Howard, about my face, which you probably consider downright repulsive, but it actually expresses a mix of joy and victorious pride among certain members of the Federation… the Whoofians who have generously loaned it to me via a temporary mask implant to celebrate this glorious moment of your a-sexing.”
“You shameless bastard, flunky ally of creepy aliens, you tricked me into coming to the Club Cool VD dance so I would be trapped, abducted, and a-sexed!” screamed Howard.
Shivers’ Porky Pig persona relaxed into a soft pile of reddish-purple flesh. His voice was kind. “Howard, my friend, it is pointless to dwell on the past. You should look forward to a glorious future where you are free of the emotional stress caused by sex and the singles scene.”
At that, Robert Shivers began to wave the blinking wand over Howard’s body. Warm currents of air wafted blissfully over his skin; that same perfumy odor from the Gittoo abduction event rose to his nostrils. Howard felt a peace he had never known; he started to drift in and out of consciousness, as if pleasantly delirious.
After a few more minutes, Robert Shivers switched off the wand and rudely thrust his hoggish face three inches from Howard’s nose.
“Howard, one last thing,” Shivers’ voice was still kind, “this is our final goodbye, old pal. That device I waved over your body was actually designed by the Federation to painlessly and humanely execute their alien colleagues who have been convicted of serious criminal offenses against their laws. However, the Federation, in complete accord with the Club Cool’s team consensus, has decided to use it as an alternative to the regular a-sexing procedure, which is unfortunately offline due to technical glitches.”
Struggling to remain conscious, but his mind drifting toward darkness and oblivion, Howard muttered thickly: “You mean I am going to die… like a stupid alien who has been convicted of some crime that only aliens can commit…I thought I was only going to be a-sexed…?”
“Dead people,” Robert Shivers replied in a perfectly calm voice, “don’t have a sex life.”
This story previously appeared in The Chamber Magazine, November 2021.
Edited by Marie Ginga
Thomas White’s speculative fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in online and print literary magazines in Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada. In addition, he is a Wiley-Blackwell Journal author and contributor to various journals on topics ranging from the meaning of Evil to reality as a computer simulation.