By Dan Ayres
‘Give u a handjob’.
This was the unassuming, a little confusing, suggestion-cum-question-cum-directive that changed the world, or at least the gay one.
It was the only information on the Grindr bio of Johnny Armstrong, along with a close up avatar showing plump lips, sea-green eyes and freckles aplenty.
Johnny was new to London and to Grindr. Johnny was 18. He had moved here from Somerset with a selection of tie-dye T-shirts and charms from his earth-mother-Mother. He had inheritance money and a sparkling sensation in his palms. He was bright eyed, bushy tailed, and out to explore.
Johnny found his flat in a hip corner of Soho by propositioning a guy on Grindr. His name was Stefan and he was a self-confessed “Grindr mannequin”.
Stefan: Not interested
Johnny: Sorry, I’m not looking. It’s about the room
Johnny: You said you have a room available on your profile
Johnny: I’m interested
Stefan: £900 pcm, £2000 deposit available from next week
Stefan: can u afford
Johnny: Yeah. Sounds great. Can I come see it?
Stefan: OK. Tuesday evening from 7pm. 128 Durham Road. Bring wine.
“So you’re clean?” Stefan asked Billy, lighting a Silk Cut and sipping an espresso. He was still in his dressing gown and feeling worse for wear after an impromptu sex party in an Islington apartment the night before.
“Oh yeah. Absolutely. Never touched drugs in my life. Except for a bit of hash…”
“I don’t mean that. You’re clean and tidy?”
“Oh shit. Yeah. Absolutely. My mum raised me well. Although to be honest, I was raised in a barn. A barn-conversion at least.”
Stefan raised a perfectly plucked eyebrow, surveying the eager-eyed redhead before him.
He had got rid of his previous housemate, Aaron, by fucking with the wi-fi connection. Aaron was a hyper-masc masc who would clean up on Grindr. Aaron made Stefan feel small and femme, everything he had spent his twenties striving not to be. But when the internet kept giving out at peak hunting times, Aaron was gone like a shot.
This farm boy, on the other hand, wasn’t going to be competition. He might even give Stefan a bohemian edge.
“Alright. You’re in. House rules: don’t drink my milk, don’t eat my toast, don’t use my Tetleys. Wash up any mess you make and pick up the bath mat after you shower. Oh, and from time to time there’ll be parties in the sitting room. I would advise discretion at these times.”
“You got it,” Johnny beamed.
“Just one more question,” said Stefan, dragging deep on his fag. “What’s this on your profile about a hand job?”
Johnny smiled sheepishly and looked down at his freckled hands.
“It’s kind of my special trick,” he said. “Something only I can do. It’s called the Johnny Special.”
Stefan raised the other perfectly plucked eyebrow.
“You’ll have to do a lot more than that to impress them these days I can tell you.”
Then Johnny was in. His Ganesh throw hung up, his wind chimes dancing over the Soho murmur.
For a while Stefan convinced himself he was content. He was the alpha of the first six guys in the Grindr radius. He was tanned (thanks to the sun-bed sessions), his teeth were sparkling white (thanks to the Pearl Drops), and he had an almost full head of hair (thanks to his recent transplant). Johnny was quiet and kept himself to himself.
“Who’s that?” the men would ask on a Friday night, looking up from powder and cock, as Johnny scurried through the room.
“Oh that’s just Johnny. My lodger. He’s an art student.” The men would nod, impressed, then dive back down to syphon up whatever needed syphoning up.
The first to take Johnny up on his kind offer was a banker called Wayne.
Wayne: A hand job? Nothing else?
Wayne: Haha that’s funny
Wayne: u do chems?
Johnny: What’s that?
Wayne: umm drugs
Wayne: oh right
Wayne: you really 18?
Wayne: Dam you cute but weird tho
Wayne: those eyes
Wayne: OK, so I just come over and you give me a hand job and that’s it.
Wayne: haha ok fuck it let’s do it. Give me your address
“Hi, I’m here to see Johnny.”
“Are you indeed,” Stefan said, surveying the man’s sharp suit, sweaty forehead and shifty eyes.
“He’s just through there. Follow the smell of incense.”
That night Stefan had his own Grindr date round. An Italian. A man of equal stature and gym physique to Stefan. A 9 to his 10. A top to his bottom.
But after the Italian spunked, slept and snored, Stefan was alarmed to hear noises unlike any he had heard before through the wall. Whatever Johnny was doing to the sweaty banker was causing ecstasy on a scale Stefan had never experienced, not at any Grindr date or any session in the ‘chemsex’ scene.
When the Italian rolled over and slung an arm over Stefan, he felt repulsed. The man hadn’t even been bothered to get his back and shoulders waxed. Unable to sleep, Stefan lit a vanilla-scented candle and started scrolling through Grindr, propositioning the right kind of men for a weekend session.
In the morning, Stefan caught Wayne leaving Johnny’s room backwards, whispering “thank you” over and over again.
“You look like a different person,” Stefan remarked, lighting a Silk Cut to accompany his Earl Grey.
“I am,” smiled the man, looking Stefan deep into the eye. “I’m free.”
Friday night for Stefan was PnP. Party and play. He’d get home from his shift as Marketing Manager for the Colgate floss range, and begin meticulously racking up supplies. GHB, meth, mephedrone. It was all pre-planned, sealed in an Excel Spreadsheet. The men would come at 7 and they’d have wine and nibbles. At 7.30 they’d have their first line and a bit of foreplay. 8 would bring the first round of GHB, and by 9 Stefan expected to be in a fucking frenzy.
The next day he was in full recovery mode when the doorbell rang. His gut was a hive of guilt and poison. It twisted into a knot when he opened the door.
“Hey, I’m here for Johnny.”
Big shoulders and eyes like sapphire studs. User name – SAM SMASHER. Times Stefan had messaged him with a proposition? 5. Times replied? None. Hours Stefan had stared at his profile? 2.5.
“So… umm… Is he in?”
Stefan couldn’t find the words, so he merely stepped out the way. The man winked and walked into Johnny’s room.
Stefan’s pulse elevated. He felt an unbearable combination of jealousy and heat. The night before had been fuck after fuck but none had filled the gap. The drugs hadn’t allowed him to come. He busied himself moving cups around with quivering hands until curiousity overwhelmed. He headed to the door and looked through the keyhole.
“So how does this work then?” Sam was already topless and towering over Johnny. “Do we kiss?”
Stefan couldn’t see Johnny, but it sounded like he was smiling when he said, “No need. Just take off the rest of your clothes and lie down on the bed.”
“So it’s like a massage then? I hope I get my happy ending.”
“You will,” Johnny reassured.
As Stefan watched Sam undress, he felt the blood hammer round his own body and concentrate in his brain and cock. It still throbbed with the frenzy of the unsatisfying session the night before. He couldn’t help it. He started touching himself as he stared through the keyhole. He watched as Johnny mounted Sam, a pendant swinging to and fro from his neck. His back a Milky Way of freckles.
“I need you to breathe in and out as deep as you can, right into the chamber below your abdomen. You know it’s there, you just haven’t thought about it before.”
“Sure thing, guru,” Sam tried to joke, but he sounded nervous.
“Deeper. Much deeper.”
Stefan bit his lip to the sound of Sam sucking in air.
“Good. Now let it settle. Swirl. I’m going to begin touching you now. Is that ok?”
“Great. Keep breathing deep. All the way to that chamber beyond your abdomen. I’m going to help you unlock the doors. I’m going to release all the demons you carry in there. But you need to come along with me. Can you do that for me, Sam?”
Johnny’s farm boy accent was silk soft. Stefan saw Sam nod and his cock grow large.
“Great. That’s great. Now look me in the eye. No, really in the eye. It’s not easy anymore I know. You might feel like it burns. You might feel like you need to cry when you do. That’s ok.”
Johnny was pulsing up and down.
“We’ve forgotten how to love, Sam. It’s a long time since you’ve been loved. Truly loved.”
The rhythm of his hand matched the rhythm of his body.
“Don’t look away, Sam. Keep those eyes locked at all times. It’s very important. Keep that breath deep. Now, with my other hand I’m going to reach down to the base of your spine. Is that OK? I’m gonna draw the energy all the way up through your body. Don’t be scared, stay with me. Soon you’ll feel your stars exploding behind your eyes. But you gotta stay with me. Are you with me?”
“I’m with you.”
“Good. Sam, you’re about to be free.”
Stefan came to his own shuddering orgasm as Sam’s moans reached peak climax.
Sam was still moaning as Johnny gathered up his spunk.
“You mind if I keep this?”
His response was an ecstatic groan.
Stefan looked down at his own come settling on his shaved belly. He felt shame burn around him. He felt exhaustion. He hurried to the shower to try and wash it all away.
After that, the men came in a steady stream. Word of “The Johnny Special” spread throughout London. Conversations from the Queen Billy to The Glory Hole singing its praises.
“So it’s just a hand job?’
“No way, it’s so much more. It’s the Johnny Special. Not only is it the hottest fucking thing in the world, but it gets rid of all the shit. All the guilt and fear. You come out feeling new-born. You come out with no desire to get fucked up, no shame. Just lightness and light.”
“Sounds fucking mental. Show me his profile.”
Bit by bit, Stefan began to notice something changing. The whole feeling of Soho. Bars and pubs and clubs he had been going to throughout his twenties were emptying out. His prime targets on Grindr were disappearing. He noticed more and more men wearing white. Smiling as they walked. Not furtively checking apps or rolling smokes or sniffing. But just… smiling.
They wore little white beaded bracelets. They held hands and did yoga in Soho Square. The more Stefan saw, the more uncomfortable he got.
Finally, one of the men propositioned him as he was passing from one Pret to another.
“Hi brother! Would you like to join the Freed movement?”
Stefan looked into the glassy eyes of the man and realised with a start that they had once fucked. Stefan had looked up at that same face in the whirl of a Vauxhall sex session and willed the man to fuck him harder. Faster. Deeper. He had choked Stefan until he almost passed out.
Now he was wearing satin and smelt like lavender.
“Freed?” said Stefan.
“Yeah, it’s a movement of gay men who have been liberated from the torture we inflict on ourselves. We’ve built an app to connect our new community. And we have a guru. Maybe you know him? His name is Johnny Armstrong.”
Stefan looked down to see that emerald eye superimposed on the graphic of a smartphone and a tagline that read: “Join the Freed revolution”.
“What the fuck is this?” Stefan barged into Johnny’s room, interrupting him mid meditation, waving the flyer around.
“Oh, that. It’s a new app. My followers designed it.”
“You have followers now? Followers?”
“Yeah, Stefan. I’ve helped a lot of people out.”
“You’ve certainly fucked a lot of people up.”
“I’ve freed them, Stefan. That’s what I’ve done. You know, I could help you too. I see you suffer, don’t think that I don’t. I see how scornful you are, how much you struggle with your addictions. I see how much you push yourself to look just right, and choose only the men who fall into the right category. Life doesn’t have to be like that. I can free you too.”
Stefan’s breath was heavy. He couldn’t meet Johnny’s gaze so instead looked around the room. His eye settled on a complicated network of glass tubes in the corner, like an elaborate science experiment. A silvery-white liquid flowed freely through the tubes.
“What in God’s name… is that?”
Johnny smiled, without looking round.
“I call it The Organism. It’s my network of men I’ve freed. One day I reckon it’ll be as big as a city!”
The heavy cocktail of hate and fear in Stefan’s stomach began to gurgle.
“Get. The. Fuck. Out. You fucking little freak. NOW.”
So in a flash, Johnny went. He didn’t have time to pack up his stuff. Presumably his community was just waiting to take him in. Stefan swore he wouldn’t enter Johnny’s room. The lingering incense made him sick.
In the weeks that followed, as if hit by a curse, Stefan lost it all. The job. The gym membership. The six pack. The days blurred into an increasingly desperate scramble to keep the men coming. He’d proposition twenty at a time, flinging out the same message: Session tonight?
Some of the faces he’d recognise would respond.
Not tonight mate. It’s a Tuesday.
Sort yourself out.
Get some help.
Other faces would simply disappear. Blocked. Pulled out like Jenga blocks. So he’d expand his radius. Ask men he’d never asked before. The faceless Harrys and Barrys with heaving barrel chests the colour of pork.
What you got? they’d respond.
Meth, GHB, mephedrone.
The holy fucking trinity.
He’d start taking at 3 and wait. Shudder and shake. Pull the curtains open and closed. Have a Silk Cut to still the nerves. He’d put on porn to get him in the mood. The craving for cock and oblivion built in, hardwired. He’d line up line after line waiting for The Men to come.
Until finally, one day, one year on from the coming of Johnny, they don’t.
You fucking coming or what?
No reply. Nothing. The whole thing frazzles static.
Then he hears it. The suctioning sound. The slimes and swirls. The Organism swilling the come around. On the screen, a perfect bronzed Californian slides down on the cut cock of a trucker and both moan in well-rehearsed delight.
The clip is interrupted with Johnny’s serene green gaze. An ad.
“Come along to Freed, salvation for gay men.”
Stefan slams down the screen, picks up the chrome IKEA stool and storms into Johnny’s old room.
Dust and incense. Tubes channeling moon juice. Stefan clutches metal. His drug-fuelled porn-fuelled blood-fuelled cock surges and beats like an electric eel seeking a home. Releasing the scream that’s built and curdled inside, Stefan brings the stool down upon on The Organism, releasing an explosion of incarcerated come.
Rishikesh, India. Wayne pauses mid mantra. The ethereal smile that has shone on his face for the past six months freezes. Fades. Guru Swayambu crouches down. “What is it child? What troubles you?”
“I need cock.”
Brentford recovery centre, London. Ben sets his sapphire eyes firmly on the wet ones of a crying man.
“Don’t worry. We can help you here. You’ll learn to feel loved again. But I’m afraid I’ll have to take this away.” He gestures to the bottle of vodka. The man nods sadly and Ben gives him a kind smile and walks away. Abruptly, the feeling of lightness and serenity shatters, replaced by a heavy weight. A dull throb. A surfacing of old desires. He looks at the vodka bottle. Brings out his smartphone. Suddenly, for the first time since the Johnny Special, Ben wants – no – needs to get fucked.
‘Freed’ Ashram and HQ, Soho. A vast pyramid is filled with revellers dressed in white. They sit cross-legged on the tatami and sing “om nami padma hum.” They clap their bangled hands together. Some of them turn to one another and smile and kiss.
On the stage, smiling serenely, sat in the lotus position, The Revered Johnny Armstrong. Behind him, a swirling new Organism, ten times the size, and a huge projection of the Freed app filled with smiling men.
A cry surfaces from amongst the worshippers. A muscular man leaps to his feet, screaming in distress.
Johnny looks up calmly.
“What is it, brother Aaron?”
“What… what’s happened? I’ve lost it. That feeling of bliss. It’s gone. It’s back… all the stuff I left behind. It’s back.”
Johnny rises calmly.
“I think I know what is happening brother. Never fear, I’ll release you once more. But first, there is someone who needs our help.”
A mutter rumbles amongst the men.
“What I am about to show you may shock you. It may bring back haunting memories. But take heart, my brothers. What we do, we do for the good of the community.”
Johnny takes hold of the iPad connected to the projector and exits the Freed app. As he scrolls through the other apps, a few of the men preempt their guru’s next move.
“No, not that, Your Holiness. Anything but that!”
But it is too late. The black mask superimposed over the orange background comes to the fore. As squares filled with avatars and body parts fill the projection, the Freed men struggle with their memories. Some of them begin to cry. Others hold each other. They are haunted by their Grindr past.
Johnny scrolls through a litany of men, until he finds him. That same sun-bed-kissed velour that he contacted a year before. Eyebrow raised, six pack primed.
“This man needs our help. And how can we help him brothers? Through our collective love. I want us all in this room to meditate now. Take the image of Stefan deep into your hearts and send him all the love and bliss and light you can manage. Together, we can free him too.”
There is palpable hesitation in the air, but Johnny crouches down and begins to hum.
The men parrot their master. Their liberator.
The ancient sound deepens and enriches.
Just two tube stops away, splayed out on a laminate floor, tears stream from Stefan’s eyes. They run down onto his chest, finding his own freshly released hot come and countless other specimens, as well as blood from the shards of glass that pierced his skin. The liquids meet and mix like paint on an easel. His legs are split apart. His palms face upwards. He looks, for all the world, like a fallen angel.
He whispers through his tears three words at the ceiling, over and over again, like a mantra:
“Thank you, Johnny. Thank you, Johnny. Thank you, Johnny.”
o o o
is currently writing a number of surreal short stories that explore the dark and freaky sides of social media and dating apps, particularly from an LGBTQ perspective. His stories have been published in a number of online journals that you can check out over on his website