Science Fiction & Fantasy

Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017

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Fiction

Beautiful Boys

You know who I’m talking about.

You can see them on Sunday afternoons, in places like Knoxville, Tennessee or Flagstaff, Arizona, playing pool or with their elbows on the bar, drinking a beer before they head out into the dusty sunlight and get into their pickups, onto their motorcycles. Some of them have dogs. Some of their dogs wear bandanas around their necks. Some of them, before they leave, put a quarter into the jukebox and dance slowly with the waitresses, the pretty one and then the other one.

Then they drive or ride down the road, heading over the mountains or through the desert, toward the next town. And one of the waitresses, the other one, the brunette who is a little chubby, feels a sharp ache in her chest. Like the constriction that begins a panic attack.

• • • •

“Beautiful Boys” is a technical as well as a descriptive term. Think of them as another species, Pueri Pulchri.

Pueri Pulchri cor meum furati sunt. The Beautiful Boys have stolen my heart.

• • • •

They look like the models in cigarette ads. Lean, muscular, as though they can work with their hands. As though they had shaved yesterday. As though they had just ridden a horse in a cattle drive, or dug a trench with a backhoe.

They smell of aftershave and cigarette smoke.

• • • •

That night, when she makes love to her boyfriend, who works at the gas station, the other waitress will think of him.

She and her boyfriend have been together since high school.

She will imagine making love to him instead of her boyfriend: the smell of aftershave and cigarettes, the feel of his skin under her hands, smooth and muscled. The rasp of his stubble as he kisses her. She will imagine him entering her and cry aloud, and her boyfriend will congratulate himself.

Afterward, she will stare into the darkness and cry silently, until she falls asleep on the damp pillow.

• • • •

Would statistics help? They range from 5’11” to 6’2”, between 165 and 195 pounds. They can be any race, any color. They often finish high school, but seldom finish college. On a college campus, they have almost unlimited access to what they need: fertile women. But they seldom stay for more than a couple of semesters.

They are more likely than human males to engage in criminal activities. They sell drugs, rob liquor stores and banks, but are seldom rapists. Sex, for them, is a matter of survival. They need to ensure that the seed has been implanted.

They seldom hold jobs for more than six months at a time. You can see them on construction sites, working as ranch hands, in video stores. Anything temporary.

They seldom marry, and those marriages inevitably end in desertion or divorce. They move on quickly.

They always move on. I believe that on this planet, their lifespan is approximately seven years. I have never seen a Beautiful Boy older than twenty-nine.

• • • •

Oscar Guest is not his real name.

He had all the characteristics. Tall, brown skin, high cheekbones: a mixture of Mexican and American Indian ancestry. Black hair pulled back into a ponytail, black eyes with the sort of lashes that sell romance novels or perfume. He was wearing a t-shirt printed with the logo of a rock band and faded jeans.

“I hear you’re paying $300 to participate in a study,” he said.

It’s a lot of money, particularly considering our grant. But we choose our test subjects carefully. They have to fit the physical and aesthetic criteria (male, 5’11”-6’2”, 165-195 pounds, unusually attractive). Even then, only about 2% of those we test are Beautiful Boys.

I could tell he was one of them at once. I’ve developed a sort of sensitivity. But of course that identification would have to be verified by testing.

• • • •

Sometimes, the Beautiful Boy doesn’t move on immediately. Sometimes, he stays around after the dance. He gets a job in construction, starts dating the pretty waitress. If she insists, they might even get married.

By the time he leaves, she’s pregnant.

As far as we know, Beautiful Boys mate and reproduce like human males. Based on anecdotal evidence, we suspect they’re superior lovers, but that data has not been verified. We are writing a grant to study their reproductive cycle. However, we are still at the stage of identifying them, of convincing the general population that they are here, among us, an alien species.

• • • •

We always perform the standard tests: blood tests, skin and hair analysis. Beautiful Boys are physiologically identical to human males, but show a higher incidence of drug use. They typically have lower body fat, more lean muscle. I have known some to live on a diet of Cheetos and beer. They don’t need to diet or exercise. It’s as though their metabolism is supercharged.

What Oscar used to eat: Cocopuffs with milk, orange juice from concentrate, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, leftover pizza, Oreos, beer.

Although I have no statistical evidence, I believe Beautiful Boys need more carbohydrates than human males. Once, at night, I walked into the kitchen and saw him standing in front of the open refrigerator, in his boxer briefs, drinking maple syrup from the jug.

• • • •

He showed up at my house.

“Hey, Dr. Leslie, it’s me, Oscar,” he said when I opened the door. “I was wondering if there’s anything else I can do for the study. My landlord just kicked me out and I don’t have money for another place.”

“Why did he kick you out?” I asked. It was 2 a.m. I stood at the door in my pajamas and a robe, trying not to yawn.

“I got in a fight.”

“A fight? You mean in the apartment?”

“Yeah,” he said. “With the wall.”

He showed me his bloody fists. I told him to come in and cleaned his knuckles, then bandaged them.

“How much have you been drinking?” I asked.

“A lot,” he said. He looked sober, although he smelled like beer. Beautiful Boys have a higher than average tolerance for alcohol. That metabolism again.

“You can spend the rest of the night on the sofa,” I said. “Tomorrow, you’ll have to find a new apartment.”

The next morning, I woke up to the smell of pancakes. He was in the kitchen, fixing the screen door that had always stuck. “Hey, Dr. Leslie,” he said. “I made you pancakes. How come you don’t have a man around to fix this door, a beautiful lady like you?”

“My husband decided that he preferred graduate students,” I said.

“Seriously? What an idiot. This door should work a lot better now. Anything else you want me to fix around here?”

The pancakes were stacked on a plate, on the kitchen table. I sat down, poured syrup over them, and started to eat.

• • • •

I have devised a test that identifies Beautiful Boys with ninety-eight percent accuracy. I believe Beautiful Boys emit a particular set of pheromones to attract human women. I do not know whether this is a conscious or unconscious process.

We put the test subject in an empty room. My research assistant, a blonde Tri Delt, enters the room and asks the test subject a series of questions. The questions themselves are irrelevant: What is your favorite color? If you could be any animal, what would you be? (A statistically significant number of Beautiful Boys identify themselves as predators, wolves or mountain lions.) After he has answered the questions, we inform the test subject that he has been enrolled in the study and give him the study t-shirt, in exchange for the shirt he is currently wearing. We take that shirt and put it in a sterile plastic bag.

Later, three testers smell the t-shirt and rate their sexual arousal on a scale of one to ten. Human males typically elicit no more than a five. Beautiful Boys average in the seven to nine range. Our testers are all female. I have found that the best testers are brunette, a little chubby, nearsighted. They are most responsive to the chemicals that Beautiful Boys emit.

• • • •

Why have they come to Earth?

For the same reason aliens always come to Earth in old science fiction movies: Mars needs women.

Where is their home planet? I’m not sure even they know.

Sometimes Oscar would stare off into space, and I would say, “What are you thinking about?”

He would say, “Just a place I used to play when I was a kid.” Then he would roll over and say, “Hey, how about it? Are you up for a quickie?”

He was a superior lover. I do not, of course, know if that is a characteristic of all Beautiful Boys, or unique to Oscar. I think of him sometimes, when I’m alone at night: his smooth brown skin, mostly hairless, with the muscles articulated underneath. The black eyes looking down into mine. He would grin, kiss the tip of my nose. He was always affectionate, like a puppy. One day he brought me flowers he’d stolen from the college’s botanical gardens.

“You really shouldn’t have,” I said. “I mean, seriously.”

“I know,” he said. “But what’s what makes it fun.”

One day, he came to me and said, “Dr. Leslie, I’ve got to go. My dad down in Tampa is sick, and I need to take care of him for a while.”

I didn’t tell him, you don’t have a father in Tampa. You landed here on an alien spaceship with others of your kind. Where, I don’t know.

“Give me your father’s address,” I said. “I’ll send you some books.”

He scribbled an address down on a slip of paper.

We made love one last time. It was like all the other times: intimate, affectionate, effective. Like being made love to by a combination of teenage boy, eighteenth-century libertine, and robot. Then I gave him $500 and he drove off in his pickup.

A week later, I missed my period. I was angry with myself, told myself I should have been more careful. Although I suppose my therapist would tell me that I unconsciously wanted this to happen.

I found a phone number for the address in Tampa. It was a bicycle repair shop, where they had never heard of Oscar Guest.

• • • •

The study has three stages. The first one, nearly complete, involves devising a test to identify Beautiful Boys. That test has been devised, with ninety-eight percent accuracy. We are in the process of writing up our results.

The second stage, for which we are currently seeking funding, focuses on understanding their reproductive cycle. We believe Beautiful Boys belong to a species that only produces males. To reproduce, they depend on the females of other species. In order to spread their genes and avoid inbreeding, they leave the planet on which they were born and travel to another planet, where they transform themselves into particularly appealing males of the target species. They travel around that planet, implanting their offspring.

The third stage focuses on the offspring they produce with human women. What are these children like? We do not know when Beautiful Boys first began coming to Earth, although we suspect their presence as far back as the early twentieth century. There were probably Beautiful Boys seducing women in both World Wars, in Korea, in Vietnam. There are certainly alien children among us. We should find out as much about them as we can.

• • • •

I’m going to call him Oscar Jr.

I didn’t need the ultrasound to tell me that he was a boy. Of course he would be.

What will my Oscar be like? Will he play with Matchbox cars? Will he watch Scooby Doo? Someday, will he ask about his father?

We don’t know what happens to the children of Beautiful Boys, which is why completing the third phase of the study is so important. We don’t know if some of them have the lifespan of human males, or if they all repeat the reproductive cycle of their fathers. Will Oscar go to college, settle down with a nice brunette, have my grandchildren?

Or, after high school, after we have argued because he’s been smoking pot again and he’s told me that he needs to find himself, waving a battered copy of On the Road, will he drive to the mountains, find the ship with others of his kind, fly to another planet and become whatever the women want there: green, with six arms and gills, like something out of an old science fiction movie?

I don’t know. I think I would love him, even with six arms and gills.

• • • •

I think of them sometimes, all the Beautiful Boys, driven to reproduce as salmon are driven to spawn. Driving across the country like an enormous net whose knots are bars, cheap apartments, college dorm rooms. And because I’m a scientist, I’m comforted by what science teaches us: that life is infinitely stranger than we can understand, that its patterns are beyond our comprehension. But that they tie us to the stars and to each other, inextricably. Like a net.

Theodora Goss

Theodora Goss

Theodora Goss’s publications include the short story collection In the Forest of Forgetting (2006); Interfictions (2007), a short story anthology coedited with Delia Sherman; Voices from Fairyland (2008), a poetry anthology with critical essays and a selection of her own poems; The Thorn and the Blossom (2012), a novella in a two-sided accordion format; and the poetry collection Songs for Ophelia (2014).  Her work has been translated into ten languages, including French, Japanese, and Turkish. She has been a finalist for the Nebula, Crawford, Locus, Seiun, and Mythopoeic Awards, and on the Tiptree Award Honor List. Her short story “Singing of Mount Abora” (2007) won the World Fantasy Award. She teaches literature and writing at Boston University and in the Stonecoast MFA Program.