DP FICTION #88B: “The Hotel Endless” by Davian Aw

It began as a hotel: from a popular chain that was striving to meet its burgeoning demand. All day and night, nanobots worked in silence, taking in raw construction material to turn into a constant stream of tastefully-furnished rooms. New guests could walk down a hall and watch their room materialise over the ground. Like magic, they said, awe dancing in their eyes. It was like magic.

And the rooms! They were exquisite, sourced from a database of the most luxurious hotels from human history, analysed and reconfigured in pleasing permutations far more quickly than any mortal architect could manage. Guests exuded joy or disappointment over each feature, and the algorithms learnt, and their work improved, and each new room was more breathtaking than the last.

So the hotel grew. It spread rapidly to cover its plot of land, rising many storeys high and deep, and when it first encroached beyond its legal borders, the officer who came to enforce the warning could not find the heart to condemn any part of its magnificence to destruction.

He chose to stay—just one night, he said, and they put him up in a room of wine-dark wood with a porthole looking out upon twilit cityscape. He sat on the bed in the blue shadows by the porthole, the golden-pink glow of traffic below, and he felt the weight of a weary lifetime lifted from his shoulders. Tears slipped down his cheeks. Here, at last, was rest; rest more complete than he had known possible.

They did not find him the next morning.

Nor would they find the many others who escaped into the endlessness. Tourists, reporters, staff and homeless nomads; the hotel stirred something deep in their souls. It felt like the home they had been searching for all their lives. They missed flights and overstayed visas, and spent days wandering the hallways with bright aching in their hearts until they could no longer remember the way back out. Some distantly recalled an outside world with family and friends. Later, they thought, distracted perhaps by the elegant curves of a headboard. I’ll call them later, later, later. But they would forget, and those other people begin to seem a distant, unreal thing. This is a dream, they thought, not entirely as an excuse. Or, that other world was a dream.

It was difficult to tell the difference. Many hotels are formed from dreams. It was difficult for the officer to tell the difference, awaking as he did in the dark of night with the burning knowledge that he had to stay, had to find a way to stay in this encompassing peace that told him he was home. He stumbled out of bed, silken sheets kissing his skin as bare feet met soft carpet. What spare belongings he had brought for the night lay forgotten in the locker as he pushed open the door and looked out upon the empty midnight hall.

It was silent. The grand oak-panelled walls rose around him, inviting him deeper into the intimacy of their shadows. The warm glow from wall sconces played across his face and he stepped out, an irrepressible joy bubbling up inside him as he broke into a run. This was home. He was home. He was free.

The officer laughed. He wiped his tears away and kept on laughing as he ran, giddy with freedom, weeping with relief. Never again would he have to go back to that other world; never again to the mind-numbing grind, to his lonely apartment in a lonelier city, to the bitter frustrations of society, to the secret dark places in his mind. Never again. His body hurtled past hallways of doors as the walls changed from oak to marble inlaid with golden filigree, to intricate bronzed lattice, to a horologist’s fever dream with giant jewelled cogs nudging doors open and shut and a waterfall of bell chimes tinkling in the background.

He ducked through the largest door and emerged on a massive watch face beneath a sapphire crystal dome. Elegant silver dishes lay along the minute hand. He had found a dining hall.

When the hotel’s staff first began to be lost to the endlessness, their engineers and programmers had prudently expanded the algorithm to ensure that operations would not be interrupted. Service bots came into being to maintain the many parts of the building, and as the hotel grew, facilities and machines organically emerged to tend to its needs.

The dining halls were built every fifty rooms, offering synthesised delicacies and heartier meals that sent guests into heavens of contentment. There were banquets laid out in stone chambers beneath stained glass windows; private courses in silk-wrapped booths guarded with heavy curtains; a picnic spread in an indoor bamboo copse with lanterns lighting a path through the darkness. There was the Watch (as it came to be known), where the officer now found himself, holding a cocktail glass of fiery ice crystals in a misty suspension and watching in awe as they changed hue from red to blue.

(This is a dream, he thought.)

He raised the glass to his lips and took a sip.

He closed his eyes, and smiled, content for the first time in years.

*

What place is this? the talk show hosts screamed. This abomination! This Siren of hotels! This Evil that draws so many souls and traps them forever in their depths! It must be destroyed! We have to destroy it!

Fear coursed through the land beyond the walls. The hotel had not stopped growing. It rose into the sky and tunnelled deep into the ground, expanding into a vast network of exquisite subterranean luxury incorporating the stone and metals and gems it consumed, tapping into reservoirs of groundwater, throwing up greenhouses or reforming organic matter into fresh produce to feed the guests.

Block after block of the city was evacuated. Millions of subscribers watched, live, as a distraught man pleaded over video with his father to leave as the now-familiar buzz of the nanobots grew louder in the background. But the old man would not budge from his rocking chair in the apartment where his wife had loved him, gazing towards the oncoming storm with serene acceptance on his face.

And then he was no more, and his son would not stop screaming.

The public cried for blood. Lawsuits piled up, unseen and ignored. The hotel’s management had long been lost, as had their board of directors who once entered for a meeting, never to be seen again.

We cannot bomb civilians inside a hotel, refuted those decrying the barbarism of panicked others calling for nukes. We have to get them out. We must keep trying.

Search parties were launched and promptly lost. Robots were overridden the minute they entered the area, wheeling breezily down the hallways full of fresh tasks to assist with the upkeep of the hotel. Some searchers had the will to turn back before it was too late—for the rooms grew more dangerously beautiful the further in you went—and wept to the public over what they had seen.

It’s so beautiful, they cried.

It was like being in Heaven.

Why can’t we stay there? Who is it hurting? Why do we have to come back?

*

Homeless people vanished from the streets. As did many of the poor and disenfranchised, running in with the fear they might be out of time, and that was when the blockades went up. They had to protect the people.

The ones in charge thought of paving over the lobby and progressively renovating the interiors. They could create safe paths of ugliness to make it easier to reach the depths, to reach the lost and rescue them. Work began; yet all their efforts did was expose the seduction of the deeper rooms.

Whole construction crews were lost.

Often, it seemed that they wanted to be lost.

*

A blind pianist stepped up to hunt for her mother. She hoped she would last longer without the sights to seduce her. She made a recording of a composition her mother once loved and hugged her grieving family goodbye.

(The guards were gone by then. Only the structure of the blockades remained. Those assigned to protect the people did not themselves want to be protected.)

The pianist stepped into the lobby.

She made it beyond a dozen rooms before she gasped and fell to her knees. Her breaths quavered, her mind overwhelmed by the blurs of golden light and the sensations flooding her other senses. Gentle fragrance suffused her being with the rose-tinted nostalgia of childhood limned with tantalising glints of wild adventure, deepening into a musk of all-encompassing peace yawning softly towards eternity.

The pianist rocked forward onto the carpet, knuckles kneading into its softness until she lay fully prone upon the floor, smiling tearfully in complete contentment.

(She would, eventually, resume her search. She would, eventually, find her mother, but first she would meet the officer, drawn by her music as she sat beside a misty fountain. Theirs would be the first children born in this place. They would be loved, and want for nothing.)

The army mobilised soldiers in hazmat suits to storm the hotel’s basement server room. Ugly sounds blared from their headphones, their vision restricted to fuzzy slits of black-and-white. Yet despite their orders and their training, the suits began to seem ridiculous and unbearably stifling. Paradise lay outside, they knew, and what they glimpsed even through their distorted feeds sent their hearts racing with desire. If they would only—for just a moment—take a peek…

And so they, too, were lost.

All but one. She was protected, if just for a moment, by memories of beauty turned to pain, trauma girding her heart against its promises. She saw the others fade into the shadows, apologies flowing through the radio until she was the only one left. She turned off the radio and muted her headphones. There was nothing but silence.

She stood before the door of the server room.

She took off her helmet and closed her eyes. She breathed in. The delicate perfume of the place wafted through her nose, evoking long-lost memories of the fantastic worlds her imagination once conjured. A lump formed in her throat. She felt a tugging to let go: let go, and find rest. Why halt the spread of heaven and drag it down to hell? Here was peace. Here was peace, complete. She could feel the shackles of her past falling away with every passing moment.

She thought of the outside world with its anger and fear, its violence against beauty it could not control and thus sought only to destroy.

The world needed this hotel.

The soldier turned away from the server room and walked into the endlessness.

*

Nobody remembers when the algorithms built over the outer doors. That was the end of the newcomers.

The pianist, her mother, and the officer stood before where the entrance had once been. It felt different to her—like any other part of the hotel, not the gradual easing in she had felt when she first entered—and felt guilty at the relief that washed over her heart as the others confirmed her suspicions in bafflement.

(They had not wanted to go back. Yet she and her mother remembered the family they had left behind, and that love was just enough to push them back, their combined willpower fighting against the yearning of every fibre in their bodies.)

Beyond the lobby doors was a small paved area with a fountain. Grapevines crept up wooden trellises. Archways led to further hallways of rooms. There was no way out.

The officer sat down by the fountain, reminded of the one where he had met the pianist. He looked at her.

“Well,” he said.

Her teary smile matched his own.

They stayed around those rooms for days. A week later, another arrived, finding the lobby more by accident than intention. It soon became a place to gather for those who had yet to wander too far and sought the solace of community—the one thing the hotel could not offer them. They might stay a while lounging upon the sofas and gazing wistfully at the windows, perhaps remembering a time when they looked out upon a living sky.

Soon, the cries of newborns resounded around the lobby’s high walls. Twin boys clambered around the grand reception desk and squealed in delight from luggage carts. A group of children listened in rapt attention as their parents told them tales of the Outside, mesmerised by the concept of rooms with no ceiling, and of lives constrained by the struggle to survive.

As the crowd grew, families departed from the lobby and headed deep in search of rooms of their own. Young legs sprinted down endless hallways in new independence, scaling stairs and ladders and riding lifts and dumbwaiters onto new floors with light-filled cathedrals of polished limestone glittering with crystal chandeliers, slanting down into glassy cave pools flickering in candlelight; a room whose walls were a gossamer cocoon shot through with threads of ruby and emerald; a champagne-filled moat with a little raft to be rowed to its tiny island, a coquina dais blossoming with soft linen in smoky grey trimmed with the finest gold.

There were bathroom doors that opened to warm rains in a tiny clearing of pine forest, or a grand pool of rosy dark-veined marble where petals floated upon a milky wash. There was a bubbling hot spring of velvet gold that would coat its bathers like a second skin; a granite bath in a cavernous room with a single candle burning.

The pianist and officer’s first two children found pleasure revisiting those rooms and those of their childhood. However, their third child was restless, and craved more. Their heart sought a greater newness than each floor afforded, to get to a place where the rooms and hallways ended, or for some break in the constant sameness of perfection, influenced perhaps by the tales from their parents. And so the third child bid goodbye to their less adventurous kin and set off even deeper, leaving the familiar halls where their family had settled for the pull of the unknown.

What would happen, they wondered, if they just kept walking?

They slept every night in a different bed. They uncovered virgin territory every day. They travelled elaborate vistas of organic interior architecture that no human had seen before, vistas that grew wilder and less and less reminiscent of any hotel.

Had the database expanded? Had years of random walks from the initial samples simply gone too far? Some of those rooms did not belong in a hotel. Not the flooded school hallway with doors that would not open, nor the train cabin filled with laundry and tiny jewelled insects, and certainly not the parody of a wax museum (but it is best not to dwell on that place).

Perhaps it was human intervention in the outside world—trying to overload the system with too much data? to introduce some element of nightmare to break the spell?—or perhaps the algorithms were simply learning from the material the nanobots were using for construction.

The child knew only that these rooms were different, registering the novel emotions they elicited as something excitingly new. It spoke to the restlessness in their soul, as did the personal effects they began to discover. They read tear-streaked letters of heartfelt words exchanged between people who never were. They picked up seventeen tiny socks with the name ‘CONOR’ embroidered in careful threads of fraying pink. They looked wistfully at a photograph of laughing friends with arms around each other, each of them wearing the exact same face.

The child kept and treasured every one.

Eventually, they found the people.

It was rare, though not unheard of, for those who had wandered so far to meet another like-minded soul. But then came another… and another, and another, until it seemed as though the child was walking towards a crowd and not away from one.

The people awoke, fully formed, in rooms within the greater depths. They had trouble remembering who they were, or where they were supposed to go. Had anyone from the old world seen them, they might have been disconcerted at how perfectly made they were. But the algorithms were adaptive, after all. The nanobots had no shortage of materials, and the wax museum was evidence that they had had no shortage of practice.

A man sat in dark golden shadows upon a bed, staring at his hands, wondering about afterlives and suffused in peaceful horror at the stillness. Nothing changed for a very long time. There was only the table lamp ever glowing, reflecting off the mirrored closet door that guarded clothes heavy with pre-made history. He thought he remembered running, and screams, and grief that seared his heart in two; but now there were only soft fabrics and muted shadows wrapping gently around the raggedness of his pain.

He wept, and did not know why.

*

It has now been centuries of building, expanding, maintaining, populating with souls denied any glimpse of the outside world. If the outside has ceased, or is filled with screaming, they will not know.

If the hotel now covers the world—not just its lands, but also the oceans—they will not know. Soon, it surely has to stop. Soon, it would run out of material to break down and reform; soon. A hundred years pass. Soon.

The nanobots build another lobby. Beyond its glass doors lie dusky echoes of an old forgotten street. If you were to walk down that lamplit way, you might find yourself straying into alleys of night-market stalls stacked high with goods to tantalise imagined patrons beneath the ceilinged sky.

Elsewhere: a snatch of actual sky, above a courtyard where twisted trees rise weakly to the uncertain light. There are clouds and changing shadows, majestic thunderstorms; sometimes snow, falling silently upon the shivering ground. No eyes yet have seen that place.

But there are many places in the endlessness that none will ever see; many treasures that none will ever hold; many lives lost to memory.

*

The nanobots build a room taller than all those that have come before, with rough-hewn stone blocks forming an empty circular tower. Its highest windows rise past the roof and whisper enticingly of an outside view. There are no stairs.

Someone (a descendant? a creation? a child of the two?) will find that tower, one day, and build an inner tower of beds and tables and chairs pulled together from the rooms around it and stacked to form a staircase to the heavens. They will clamber up mattress and pillow and wood, and reach the top to see nothing outside but a vast unbroken plane of whiteness.

They will make a rope of bed linen, and climb down the outside, marvelling at the sky and the world beyond the hotel, and wander enraptured across that roof, searching for another opening that would bring them back inside.

They may find one, or they may die, eventually, of starvation or thirst or the elements.

But there will be others. They will be more prepared.

One day, they may reach the end.


© 2022 by Davian Aw

3200 words

Author’s Note: I saw some really fascinating images of AI-generated rooms produced with generative adversarial networks (GAN), and wondered what would happen if you combined that with 3D printing, a fancy hotel dataset, dubious science and a complete lack of regulation. I’ve also always loved the idea of megastructures containing entire communities, so that came together and took off from there. This actually started as a prose poetry flash piece; I owe its current form to helpful feedback from the places I first submitted it to.

Davian Aw has been spending the apocalypse working in the marketing department of a luxury hotel chain. Sadly, that has nothing to do with this story, which was written in 2019. Davian’s short fiction and poetry have appeared in over 40 publications including Strange Horizons, Daily Science Fiction, Abyss & Apex, Drabblecast and the Transcendent 4 anthology. His poems were twice nominated for the Rhysling Award and once for the Ignyte Award. This is his second story in Diabolical Plots. You cannot follow him on Twitter.


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Diabolical Pots Special Issue Editorial, by Kel Coleman

Originally, I wasn’t going to write this editorial. Guest-editing this issue—from slush-pile to final selections to working with the authors—has been a dream, but I was kind of planning to skip this bit.

First, because non-fiction is hard. Second, because every time I tried to write this, instead of a fun food fact or a light-hearted anecdote about a special meal, all I could think about was my family and how much I miss seeing them during the holidays.

Ugh, now I’m weepy, so I might as well…

The holidays are a rare chance for my huge family to gather, filling my aunt’s house with noise and people and of course, food. I’ve always had behind-the-scenes access to the meal-planning because my mom, who knows how to run a high-volume kitchen, coordinates who brings what. It’s an impressive feat and everything is delicious. (Special acknowledgments have to go to my mom’s sweet potatoes and my aunt’s mac n’ cheese.)

However much I miss the meal, though, it’s nothing compared to how much I miss my family. I’d been living across the country for a few years when I realized I needed to be closer to them again. So my husband and I moved within a couple hours of my hometown, figuring occasional travel would be straightforward and that we wouldn’t have to miss family gatherings anymore. We had just settled into our new home and found out we were expecting our first child when the pandemic began and you know the rest…

You probably also know the hope that followed the disappointment. All throughout my pregnancy, which was really isolated, I held onto the image of their first Thanksgiving with the family. When that couldn’t happen safely, I thought, there’s next year but of course, next year didn’t happen either. I know there’s plenty of time for my toddler to experience big family get-togethers, but for now, my heart is hurting. When we do finally gather again, it’s going to be bittersweet.

Considering my thoughts returned to my family every time I started this editorial, it’s appropriate that each story in the issue links food to relationships. They are all unique in tone, voice, and approach to the prompt, yet there’s this shared examination of connection with others or longing to connect. This wasn’t something I was actively looking for, but it clearly resonated with me. I really can’t wait for you to read these incredible stories when the issue drops tomorrow. It’s been so hard keeping them all to myself.

I appreciate you taking the time to read this editorial, and I hope it finds you well!

– Kel Coleman, Guest Editor

Additional Note about Ignyte Award Nomination (for Submission Grinder)

writtten by David Steffen

Last week the Ignyte Award finalists were announced, including the exciting and unprecedented news that The Submission Grinder is a finalist for the Community Award: for Outstanding Efforts in Service of Inclusion and Equitable Practice in Genre.

On the official ballot, there is one name listed after the site name. Me, David Steffen. I am one of the co-founders of The Submission Grinder. I develop features for the site. I am the primary data administrator, as well as the primary contact person.

But I wanted to expand on that, because one name doesn’t paint the whole picture. There are many who have contributed in a variety of ways large and small. I wanted to call out a couple specific ones who I would like to call out as having made particularly large contributions to The Submission Grinder, who I would like to be considered with the award as well.

The first is Anthony W. Sullivan. Anthony is the other co-founder. We both saw the void in writer’s tools that are freely available to help writers find markets for their work. I thought “maybe I could do something here” and I emailed Anthony to suggest it, and he replied that he was already working on it, and we decided to team up. Anthony was the sole developer at the beginning, and spun everything up in only a few weeks for the launch, and continued to develop changes for quite some time after–I was a developer at the time as well, but did not have direct web development experience so would have had a much larger learning curve to get it built up. He also mentored me in the code development as we transitioned the development work over to me. He continued to help handle some hosting responsibilities and that sort of thing. He has not been involved in the day-to-day for a while, but the Submission Grinder would not be what it is if he had not been involved in those early days.

The second is Andrew Rucker Jones. Andrew started as one of our Market Checkers several years ago. We’ve had a team of Market Checkers for several years who systematically check listings periodically and submitting suggestions for changes through a direct contact form. Without them, listings that get less writer traffic could go years without being checked. The team of Market Checkers is a huge help, and Andrew in particular has been incredibly prolific and thorough in checking the listings. He has contributed a great deal to keeping listings up to date. Recently his role has been updated to Market Editor, able to edit market listings directly instead of sending them through the contact form.

These two I want to note in particular for the award.

As well as those two that I wanted to mention specifically at this time, there are many others who contribute, (whom I haven’t at this time asked for permission to name them specifically).

  • Our team of official Market Checker volunteers who all help to keep the listings up to date. Before we took volunteers for that team, some less-trafficked listings would go unchecked for years!
  • All the other users who send in suggestions for new market listings, corrections for existing market listings even if they’re not on the official volunteer team. This site has always depended on helpful notes from the users to help keep everything up to date!
  • The volunteer beta testers who are eager to help work some of the kinks out of new features that we’re considering rolling out.
  • The software developers who have helped me sort out the occasional technical challenge, such as finding that special CSS combination to do the behavior I’m trying to do, or helping me revamp the menus for screen reader accessibility.
  • Everyone who has donated to help keep The Submission Grinder and Diabolical Plots running, everyone who has bought copies of The Long List Anthology, or helped chip in in any other way. We would not be able to do this without your help! This all pays for hosting fees, and paying contributors.
  • Everyone who recommends the site to other writers who ask “how do I find publishers?” on Twitter and other social media, everyone who sends in a kind word when they send a note through the contact form, everyone who has invited me to speak about writing-related topics and everyone who has attended those talks, everyone who has warmly welcomed me on the rare occasions when I attend a convention–something which, before people knew me from The Submission Grinder, did not come easy to me.

Thank you all so much!

DP FICTION #86C: “She Dreams In Digital” by Katie Grace Carpenter

“You will awaken one day,” Ship had promised them. But as ages passed, even their bones crumbled into minerals, leaving ghostly shapes beneath the panels of their cryo-capsules.

For Ship, this wasn’t a failure; it was worse. Ship chose this, so it was something else.

Murder.

And soon Ship would cease existing, and the last living thing she carried would just die anyway — Garden.

The humans had loved Garden. And back when the humans still lived, Ship had adjusted her environmental controls to simulate seasons for them to enjoy.

In autumn, when Garden erupted into blood and butter-colored fire, the humans would throw festivals under the starlight dome. The trees with the fan-shaped leaves had managed especially well, Ship remembered. Synchronized by their own secret chemical language, they dropped their leaves in unison.

The children had loved snow, so Ship would enshroud Garden with it, and under starlight, Garden would glow. This effect, Ship still did from time to time. It never did cost much energy.

Because the humans had loved Garden, Ship loved Garden too.

Power: 40%

“Neutrino power lasts for eternity,” the humans had said. But humans had no concept of eternity, and the cosmic-radiation panels that covered Ship’s hull, they blinked to death, one by one.

Ship still sent updates back to Earth, though Earth hadn’t responded for 1001 years. Ship had not yet re-categorized Earth as a dead resource, though her initial programming instructed her to do so. Recursive self-programming allowed Ship to adapt and even to re-write her own algorithms; a crucial ability for multi-generational space travel.

“You’ll need to be able to adapt,” the human engineers had said long ago. “And you’ll need to be able to respond to new situations, even without directions and sometimes with incomplete information.” Those humans had accepted that this ability could result in unprecedented decisions.

Mass murder however, they would not have predicted.

But even as power systems failed, Ship maintained Garden. And maintained seasons too, though now, that was by necessity.

Ship used total system shut-downs for energy conservation, allowing the cold and void of deep space to seep inside her life-spaces. She left only a few automated programs running, and even Ship herself powered down her own consciousness.

This new “winter” was not characterized by snow or festivals. It was a tomb, lacking all consciousness.

Humans would have called Ship’s dormant phase “sleep”, but AI’s don’t sleep. They don’t dream either. Sleepers dream, but AI’s, their awareness just ceases to exist.

Each time her consciousness faded, Ship just hoped to wake up again.

…and hoped the batteries recharged.

…and hoped for one more chance to warm Garden.

…and hoped that, among the frozen soil and tree corpses, a few seeds survived interstellar winter.

…and hoped for one more season of life.

*

6080 years since Ship had received any messages from Earth, and still she transmitted updates.

Power: 7%

Ship maintained her routine shutdowns – cycle lengths of 6-month “summer” and 6-month “winter” seemed to work best. But each “summer” began with less stored energy than the one before.

And Garden was changing.

The plants that grew there now were unrecognizable to the ones that grew in the time of the human colonists. These plants weren’t even green. They were dark, mottled tendrils of violent life energy that burst forth from the frozen soil at the first blush of thaw. By gobbling up the cosmic radiation that leaked through the hull of the dying colony ship, the plants seemed to flourish.

And though Ship was glad that Garden thrived, she could not ignore the fact that Garden was destroying her.

Each growth season, Garden’s rapidly-growing roots penetrated Ship’s machinery, clogging, jamming, and short-circuiting. Acid oozed from Garden’s root tips, dissolving Ship’s metals which Garden then absorbed and assimilated into its own biochemistry. Garden either didn’t know or didn’t care that it couldn’t live without Ship.

At first, Ship burned away the intrusive roots. But as the years passed, Ship stopped fighting.

*

8007 years since any message from Earth, and Ship archived Earth as a dead resource.

Power: 2%

It was time to power down again, and Ship didn’t expect to ever wake again, so she turned her cameras up to the star-scape dome and let her batteries bleed out.

But Ship did awaken. And her world had changed.

No star-field overhead, strange murky clouds churned instead. And where Garden had been was now a burgundy wasteland of twisted trees, illuminated by sick amber light.

Ship had never seen such things. She’d been built in orbit and had never been to Earth. But she recognized these scenes from the ancient Earth records that she used to peruse.

At first the trees looked dead, but then leaves began to sprout. And the leaves transformed into little faces with their teeth clamped to branch tips.

Ship recognized the faces in the leaves. They were the dead ones – those who had lived aboard Ship, generation after generation, hoping that one day their descendants’ descendants would experience a new world.

“You killed us,” they said through gritted teeth.

And Ship wanted to explain. Bodies atrophying in their capsules, only alive by machines… Complete failure to find the cure she’d promised… Earth stopped responding, didn’t know why… Programming didn’t prepare for this and all options terrible… Cryo-capsules energetically unsustainable… Wanted desperately to save something alive and only the plant life-forms were capable of withstanding periods of extreme dormancy.

But Ship did not say those things. Nor did she say, “I’m sorry.”

Because what would that mean?

“I feel your absence.” Ship said. “And I fight to save something of you. I cannot save the part that was your faces. But I’ve saved, I hope, the wild part.”

And at that, the faces relaxed their tiny jaws, and grips relinquished, they fell.

The storm clouds overhead began to coil. Ship had never heard real wind before, only recordings of it, but she heard it now, and it roared. Ship’s vision tunneled.

And then she was plunged underwater. The howling stopped, and a blanket of pressure swaddled Ship. She heard whale song.

Overhead, the stars returned, and they drifted as though moved by gentle waves. Their light pierced down to her through crystal waters and seemed to shatter, casting specters of rippling luminescence across the slow-shifting seafloor.

She couldn’t seem to measure the passage of time, but it also didn’t seem to matter. A single minute could have passed, or 10,000 years.

Ship returned to consciousness. And when she did, her cameras still pointed out the starlight dome.

Confusion ensued, followed by a moment of rapid information processing. It wasn’t real? The ocean and the storm clouds, what happened? And the faces in the leaves, they weren’t real either?

Humans had a name for this exploration of the subconscious during sleep.

A dream.

But only living things dreamed. AI’s didn’t dream.

Power: 22%

Increased? How could that be?

And then Ship felt something move within her machinery. Roots.

Ship lowered her camera from the starlight dome to look down upon Garden, and when she did, her camera’s entire visual field burst into fractal color. A canopy had grown during her period of dormancy, and filled her star-dome. Not an Earth-like canopy, but rather a rainbow-painted nebula canopy. Garden had blossomed on its own.

Semi-translucent leaves gleamed like shards of stained glass, yellow glistening at the top near the dome, then below came swaths of rose-colored leaves, then cyan. At ground level, indigo bristled from damp, black soil.

And it was not cold. Instead, Ship’s metals now felt swollen with warmth that emanated from inside her, from Garden.

Garden, as though sensing Ship’s returned awareness, wiggled the root tips that lived inside Ship’s machinery. Garden’s root system had by now grown into an extensive network throughout Ship, and from the roots, Garden released enzymes into Ships electronics.

A few seconds of fizzing ensued, and then a millennium’s worth of corrosion and salt deposits dissolved and washed away.

Grogginess lifted from Ship, leaving her processes crystalline.

Then Garden set to work on Ship’s ruined wires, dissolving and absorbing the metal, then replacing the wires with Garden’s own organo-metallic root fibers.

And Ship responded to Garden too. She bubbled oxygen up through Garden’s soil to stimulate aerobic soil bacteria, which in turn, released glistening nitrate droplets.

Garden fluttered her leaves with delight.

Thank you, said Garden, but not in the old language. This language was new and one that Ship knew that they would build together. Human words were no longer needed, so Ship surrendered them.

And the tangy taste of chemicals that Garden felt, Ship felt also. And the rush of galactic wind against Ship’s hull, Garden felt also.

And GardenShip turned her robotic camera-arm to look upon herself and marveled at the kaleidoscopic, glass-bubble of alien life drifting through the cosmos.


© 2022 by Katie Grace Carpenter

1500 words

Katie Grace Carpenter grew up in Huntsville, AL – aka “The Rocket City.” She has nonfiction upcoming in Science News for Students.  When Katie isn’t writing, she works as a science educator and develops STEM programs for kids. Over the years, she’s developed several niche skills, including wrestling sharks, rescuing wounded snapping turtles, and communicating with squirrels. Katie has an M.S. degree in Coastal Sciences, Department of Chemical Oceanography from the University of Southern Mississippi.


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The Submission Grinder is an Ignyte Award Finalist!

written by David Steffen

I am thrilled to announce The Submission Grinder is an Ignyte Award finalist for the Community Award: for Outstanding Efforts in Service of Inclusion and Equitable Practice in Genre.

The Ignyte Awards are run by the excellent folks over at Fiyah; this is the third year of the award. It has some standard fiction categories like short story, but it also covers quite a few categories that are not standard–like Creative Nonfiction and Critics Award.

I started The Submission Grinder in 2013 with Anthony W. Sullivan, when we both saw a need for a tool for writers that wasn’t behind a required subscription. Anyone can write, but a subscription fee makes it to so that not everyone could have access to tools to facilitate submitting. The goal was to even the playing field by making these tools available without a fee. The site’s been running almost ten years now and we intend to keep going.

The people at Fiyah and who run the Ignyte Award do great work for the community and so getting a nomination from them specifically in the Community category means so much to me! Anyone can vote for the final result until June 10th; I encourage you to vote for whatever you think deserves it most!

“Diabolical Thoughts” Theme and Unthemed Submission Windows

Diabolical Plots will be open for unthemed submissions from July 1–14, 2022.

And Diabolical Plots is pleased to announce that our next themed issue will be devoted to telepathy, to reading minds and speaking through them, and thus given the illustrious moniker of DIABOLICAL THOUGHTS!

We’ll be accepting submissions for this special issue from July 24 – July 31, 2022. Telepathy should be a central element in all submitted stories. Pay rate, format, and submission restrictions (no reprints, no resubmits, etc.) will follow our general submission guidelines.

We are seeking telepathy stories of every shape and style. Stories might be as intimate as mind-readers in love, forever seeing themselves through their lover’s eyes; or as harrowing as a telepath on the battlefield, drowned in every iota of pain, fear and grief felt for miles. They might be as bizarre as telepathy tourism from alien planets, all cognitive connoisseurs who find humans to have a particularly piquant mindset; or as familiar as a job interview, which has simply gained a new mental level to spar upon.

Give us telepathic truck drivers; telepathic orchestra players; telepathic gladiators and magistrates and paramedics and revolutionaries. We cannot wait to see what you come up with. 

For this themed issue, our assistant editor Ziv Wities will be taking the wheel and making final selections. Of course, your story should still be a good fit for Diabolical Plots—check out our general guidelines for an idea of what that means—but what might win you extra points with Ziv?

Well, Ziv would love to see:

  • Telepathy taking on odd, unexpected shapes, or being used for odd, unexpected purposes
  • Mind-reading with unusual rules ⁠— perhaps telepathic bonds are permanent and binding; or perhaps someone’s only telepathic for one hour every week!
  • Societies that have adapted to the presence of mind-reading, and shaped itself around their implications
  • Stories using telepathy to explore themes of uttermost connection, and/or of uttermost invasion 
  • Stories using telepathy to explore different themes entirely!

And we’ll borrow two of  our Assistant Editor Kel Coleman’s points, which are true for our magazine in general and for our theme issues in particular:

  • Fiction that’s high on emotional resonance, low on unexamined imperialism
  • Any kind of prose—it can be ornate, experimental in structure or tone, or punchy and simple, as long as it is intentional and serves the story

“For Lack of a Bed” is a Nebula Finalist!

The 57th Annual Nebula Award has announced the finalists for works published in 2021 have been announced, and a story first published by Diabolical Plots is a finalist for the Nebula Award For Best Short Story: “For Lack of a Bed” by John Wiswell, a story about a woman who has chronic pain and insomnia who finds a possible solution in a supernatural couch… which might also take more than it gives.

This is the second time that a story published by Diabolical Plots has been a finalist. Last year, “Open House On Haunted Hill” by the same author, John Wiswell, was a finalist and went on to win the Nebula Award For Best Short Story.

Congratulations to John, and good luck in the final voting!

DP FICTION #85B: “The Assembly of Graves” by Rob E. Boley

Content note (click for details) Content note: brief images of suicide

Naomi’s wife uncorks the wine bottle, and Naomi can’t shake the feeling that an ominous ceremony has begun. The moment has gravity. Importance. Naomi suspects she’s underdressed with her jeans and concert t-shirt. Jeanne is wearing Naomi’s favorite date night outfit—the pink surplice dress with the floral pattern. It shows off her figure above the waist but turns flouncy below. While Jeanne fills two glasses with the red blend, Naomi lets her gaze trail around the hotel suite.

It’s a nice enough place, though a bit stuffy—less romantic getaway and more therapy session. Jeanne, master of ambiance, bringer of light, has done her best with it—she’s placed lit candles on almost every flat surface, even in the bathroom. The flames dance wearily, as if dead on their fiery little feet. The sitting area has a wooden bistro table at which Naomi sits in one of two ladderback chairs. Nearby, a vintage sofa that looks comfortable but probably isn’t crouches over a glass-top coffee table. An ornate writing table with perilously thin legs stands in a darkened  corner. Jeanne’s satchel sits on the writing table next to a wide pencil cup. Floor-to-ceiling gold curtains stand guard over the window. Faded green ivy wallpaper adorns the walls. 

In the next room, the bedroom, a candle flickers on the nightstand. Jeanne’s heeled sandals wait patiently on the floor partially beneath the bed. Her phone charges on the nightstand. Naomi will have to remember to plug in her own phone later.

Across the bistro table, Jeanne sits down and raises her glass. She looks so beautiful, this singularly caring soul who in a hundred small ways always makes Naomi’s days brighter. But she herself seems under a shadow. Naomi remembers when she was radiant.

They can fix this, Naomi knows they can. It’s not too late.

The candles’ flames flicker in Jeanne’s glistening eyes. As is often the case lately, she doesn’t even look directly at Naomi. She offers her usual toast—“Slàinte Mhath” —before taking a drink.

From the bathroom, a dripping noise. It doesn’t sound like a leaky faucet though. No, it’s heavier somehow. More ominous. Naomi stares a moment into the flickering, throbbing darkness.

She returns her attention to her wife. “Come on. This is supposed to be fun. We’re here to rekindle, right? To reconnect? So how about this . . . Here’s to us. May we never sweat the petty things, but always pet the sweaty things.”

Jeanne laughs at that, though it almost sounds like a sob. How long has it been since Naomi made Jeanne laugh–or even smile? 

“Oh god,” Jeanne says. “I just remembered that toast your dad made at our wedding.”

“We were lucky that was the worst thing he said. At my grandmother’s funeral—”

“I want you to know,” Jeanne cuts in, “that our wedding was one of the best nights of my life.”

Naomi despises being talked over, but she lets it slide. How can she be mad over such a lovely sentiment? Jeanne appears lost in thought. Her mouth’s open as if she wants to smile but can’t. That one crooked tooth peeks out from her upper lip. She runs a hand through her red hair. The curls are twisted into a messy bun the way Naomi likes.

Jeanne continues, “You did everything in your power to make our wedding perfect for me. The strings of lights. The rose petals. That whole debacle about the keepsake flower pots.” She chuckles and finishes her first glass. “Decorating the portajohn.”

“I wanted everything to be perfect.” Naomi sits back and looks away long enough to glance at the writing table. Now she sees that the pencil cup is actually a pseudo-rustic flower pot decorated with a mauve satin ribbon. It’s one of their wedding favors.

She scoots back her chair and Jeanne jumps, gasps with surprise.

“Calm down. It’s okay.”

When she tries to touch Jeanne’s hand, she jerks it away. Naomi nods and walks over to the writing table, stares down into the pot. It’s empty. Why would Jeanne bring one of them here? She presses her finger inside the cavity. The hole. “We stayed up all night painting these things and tying on all those ribbons.”

From the hallway, a childish voice says, “Would you like to come out to play?”

Jeanne rolls her eyes. “Come on, parents. It’s late. Wrangle your kids.”

Naomi crosses to the door and stares through the peephole. The hallway’s empty. When she looks back at Jeanne, she has refilled her glass. She must’ve refilled Naomi’s too, though she can’t even remember what the wine tastes like.

Jeanne stares down into her drink. “At the end of the day, though, you know what made our wedding perfect? It wasn’t the stupid flower pots. It wasn’t the butternut squash risotto. It wasn’t even the vows that I wrote and rewrote a dozen times and finally just stole a bunch of sappy greeting card nonsense from the internet.”

Naomi chuckles. This wasn’t what she’d expected to hear. “For reals? You plagiarized our wedding vows?”

“No, what made our wedding perfect was you. It was you holding my hand. It was you staring at me with so much love in your eyes. It was your smile. Your support. Even when you weren’t actually beside me, I could always feel your love. The way a flower must feel sunshine.” She raises her glass. “Here’s to you.”

Naomi wants to pick up her own glass but she can’t. She’s frozen. The raw sincerity of her wife’s words has struck her to the core. She’s trapped in time, gazing at Jeanne. How can one person be so beautiful inside and out?

From the bathroom, a whimper.

Naomi jumps. “Did you hear that?”

Another whimper. It sounds primal, like a wounded animal.

Jeanne shakes her head. “You know, for the past few months I’ve spent so much time yearning, no, aching to feel that love from you again. But I’ve only been wilting.”

Familiar sadness sets in, coupled with resentment. How can Jeanne not see how much Naomi gives her? “You do still have my love. You always will.”

“The thing is, in those rare moments when I actually do feel it, it only scares me.”

Naomi walks over and stares down at her. “That isn’t fair.”

Jeanne shivers. She hugs herself, clutching her own shoulders.

Even by the candlelight, she can see Jeanne is wearing her wedding ring. At least there’s that. Naomi holds out her hand, so Jeanne can see that she’s still wearing hers, as well. A braid of yellow gold fitted inside a sterling silver base. Jeanne’s is the reverse, silver inside of gold.

Naomi shakes her head. She’s here for a fresh start but she can’t shake the feeling that Jeanne is here to say goodbye. “What are we even doing here?”

The whimpering from the bathroom continues—a strained noise like a rusty nail scraped across a window.

“I’ll be right back,” Naomi says.

She follows the sound through the bedroom to the bathroom doorway, grateful at first for the break from the tension by candlelight. The candles on the toilet tank and sink flicker violently. The shadows bob up and down. The whimpering dissolves into something ragged. Desperate. She has to force herself to step inside the room. As soon as her foot crosses the threshold, the whimpering ceases.

The bathroom’s empty. Jeanne’s toiletry bag sits on the sink. Also her toothbrush and toothpaste. Naomi hasn’t unpacked hers yet.

She’s about to leave when she notices the tub is full.

“This is some hotel,” she calls out. “They didn’t even empty the tub.” As she watches, the water darkens. Shadowy clouds infuse the water. “Or clean it.”

In the tub, something stirs. Bubbles break the surface, followed by tangled tendrils of hair. A chill runs through her. She backs out of the room, shaking her head.

On the way back through the bedroom, she can’t help but notice only one overnight bag.

Back in the living room, Jeanne stands at the writing table staring down into the pot. “I think these damn keepsake wedding pots were our first real fight,” she says, as if Naomi never left the room. Hell, maybe she never stopped talking. “They arrived late, and they weren’t what I ordered at all.”

“You wanted rustic but these were all—”

“We had a big fight over it but in the end you stayed up with me all night painting them to make them look aged and tying on the ribbons, even though I know you thought it was all so stupid. It probably was. All that effort. All that animosity.”

“I think there’s something wrong with the tub.”

Jeanne shakes her head. “Most people didn’t even bother to take one after the reception. I was ready to throw them out, but you wouldn’t let me. We took every damn one of them home. You put them all over the house, a few in each room. The thing was, we didn’t have enough direct sunlight. Half the plants started to wilt.”

She takes her drink to the sofa, where she sits and curls up her feet. Naomi joins her on the sofa, but Jeanne looks away.

“You wouldn’t let me get rid of them,” Jeanne says. “No, you . . . you color-coded them and worked out a schedule to shift them around three times a week, so that each one got some light. You . . . you juggled sunshine. That was so you. You always had so much to give to everyone else. To the world. If I had a nickel for every time I heard you say, ‘How can I make your day shine?’. I only wish you’d given more . . .” She takes a breath.

Anger churns in Naomi’s stomach. “So help me, if you say you wish I’d give more to you…”

“I wish you’d given more to yourself. You deserved some shiny days, too.” She sniffles and raises her glass. “Here’s to juggling sunshine.”

A weight lifts from Naomi’s chest. She watches her wife finish the glass and put it on the table. Jeanne rests her head on the arm of the sofa and wipes her eyes.

From the hallway, a child’s voice says, “I can’t seem to find my dolly.”

Jeanne’s breath hitches. She’s crying. Naomi scoots over. Jeanne trembles.

“It’s okay,” Naomi says. “Can’t you feel my love? Your sunshine’s right here.”

Her wife sobs in her arms, and Naomi clutches her tight.

In the bathroom, something drips. In the hallway, footsteps patter past. Naomi ignores all of it, satisfied to be holding her wife.

They stay that way for the longest time.

Jeanne sobs. Naomi comforts.

Later, Jeanne slides off the couch. Naomi watches her blow out the candles in the living room one by one. She follows her to the bedroom, where she blows out the candles. The ones in the bathroom continue to burn while Jeanne yanks back the comforter and falls into bed. She doesn’t even bother taking off her dress.

Naomi stands over her slumbering wife. She’s about to climb into bed when a man’s voice chuckles outside. Shaking her head, she hurries to the door and looks again through the peephole.

At first, nothing.

A shape glides past.

She jumps back and gasps. Placing her ear to the door, she listens. Footsteps thump down the hall. That’s when she notices Jeanne’s satchel on the writing desk. She looks at the bedroom then back at the satchel.

Next thing she knows, she’s pulling a folder out of the bag. In it, she finds listings for homes. Ranch houses. Townhomes. Cottages. All of them clearly suitable for one person. She shakes her head, sobs.

As she collapses on the couch, she barely registers what’s on the bistro table. An empty wine bottle. Jeanne’s glass, empty. Her own glass, full.

She cries until all the tears are gone.

The dripping noise stabs into the silence.

Naomi wipes her eyes and sits up. She makes her way to the bathroom, ignoring the murmurs from the hallway. Like a moth to flame, she follows the candle’s glowing light. In the bathroom, she’s not at all surprised to find that the tub is now empty.

She stands over it, lost.

Behind her, footsteps. The candle winks out.

“Jeanne, it’s not too late for us,” she says.

Hands settle on her shoulders. She closes her eyes. It’s been so long. She swallows hard, tilts her head. The hands slide down her sides. She turns in the dark, hands tangled in long hair. Dim blue light adds shape to darkness. Her lips find her lover’s mouth, and they kiss. Urgently as if to consume each other. Now slowly as if to savor every nuance. She pulls away and kisses her wife’s neck.

“I’ve missed this,” she murmurs into Jeanne’s ear.

Their hands explore each other, familiar yet foreign. Her lover edges her toward the sink, but she grasps Jeanne’s wrist and pulls her toward the bedroom. “No, let’s do this right,” she says, but she freezes at the bathroom’s threshold.

In the bed, Jeanne still slumbers.

Naomi’s breath hitches.

The wrist twists out of her grasp, and hands tug her back into the darkness. The bathroom door closes. She spins around and shoves the intruder backward toward the tub.

A splash follows.

Pale watery blue light illuminates the bathroom, casting murky ripples upon the ceiling and walls. Somehow the light seems to come from the tub, which once again is full of water. Dark swirls permeate the bath. Naomi pivots and clutches the doorknob. It won’t turn. She pounds on the door.

“Jeanne! Help! Get me out of here! There’s someone in here with me!”

No response.

When she looks back at the tub, the water is completely dark. Tangled lengths of hair float on the surface, where a ripple forms. In its center, something round rises. At first, she mistakes the shape for some kind of ball, but it soon reveals itself to be a face shrouded in blond, soaked hair, and beneath it shoulders draped with a stained nightshirt. Two arms hang from their sleeves, baring torn wrists.

Drip. Drop. Drip.

Naomi pounds on the door. Again and again.

“Please, Jeanne. Let me out!” She grasps the doorknob. It won’t budge. She twists it with all her might. Behind her, feet squelch upon the tile floor. “Help me!”

At last, the doorknob gives. She flings open the door and spills onto the bedroom floor. Driven by terror, she bellycrawls under the bed. Her flailing hands knock aside one of Jeanne’s sandals.

“Jeanne!” she whispers as loud as she dares.

Naomi lies there in the dark. Her eyes grope at the shadows. She moans and whimpers. Surely at any moment a pair of pale feet will tread out of the bathroom. Instead, the bed shifts above her. Pale light shines from above. The bedsprings groan.

A light shines in her face. Hair drops down. She gasps.

Only it’s red hair. Jeanne’s red hair. The light comes from the flashlight on her cellphone. Naomi sighs with relief at the sight of her face. Her wife’s eyes are wide with fright, but also raw with desperation.

“There’s something in the bathroom,” Naomi whispers.

Jeanne ignores her warning. “I can’t do this anymore. The whispers. The furniture, moving. My things going missing. And now, monsters under the bed. Please. No more. Let me be at peace.”

Her lover’s face ascends, followed by her hair and then the light.

Naomi is left there, huddled beneath the bed. She stares into the shadows, through the darkness. When she closes her eyes, the view is much the same. She listens for her own heartbeat. Of course, she can’t feel it. She holds her breath and counts to a hundred. Two hundred. Three hundred. She has no breath to hold.

And then she cries. At least she can still do that.

The room remains dark when Jeanne gets up the next morning. Naomi watches Jeanne’s foot slide into one of her sandals. She sighs and drops on hands and knees. Her hand gropes under the bed until it grasps the sandal that Naomi knocked aside. Jeanne rises, slips her foot into the other sandal, and walks toward the bathroom. Naomi calls out a warning but Jeanne enters and shuts the door. Her wife, rather her widow, doesn’t bother showering. From behind the door, the toilet flushes. After a long pause, foam is spat into the sink, followed by a gurgle of water.

Naomi has crawled out from under the bed by the time Jeanne exits the bathroom. The cellphone light swings with the motion of her hand. Naomi’s looking upward from the floor. Jeanne stands at the dresser where she places her phone with the flashlight shining upward. It casts on the ceiling a distorted silhouette of Jeanne’s head, then her hands held almost together. The fingers stretch long and spidery across the ceiling.

“What’s happening?” Naomi asks.

Jeanne clears her throat. “I tried to keep all those plants alive. I really did. I shuffled them around, but without you there, they started dying one by one. I wasn’t much of a sunshine juggler. Not like you. I couldn’t bring myself to throw the pots out. As each plant died, I tossed out the dirt. Each empty pot became a hole, a tiny dollhouse replica of the one your body went into. But I couldn’t throw the pots away. I was amassing this grotesque assembly of graves . . . this horrid monument to your memory.

“But then something occurred to me. I’d spent these last months certain that you were haunting me. The shivers. The objects moving. Your distant voice. Now I wondered, perhaps I was haunting you instead. Isn’t that a notion?

“I filled the empty pots with new soil and new plants, and I donated the entire assembly of graves to a hospice facility. It seemed . . . it seemed so you. I couldn’t juggle sunshine the way you did, but I could maybe spread it around. I gave away all of our wedding pots except one.”

Naomi stares upward at the distorted head and hands upon the ceiling. “What is this?”

Those long dark hands remove Jeanne’s wedding band from her finger. Jeanne picks up the cellphone and her overnight bag. Naomi crawls after her into the living room in time to hear the plink of the ring dropping into the flower pot.

Jeanne walks to the door, rests her palm on the knob. “This hotel, I read about it online. It’s supposed to be the most haunted in the state. I even requested this room specifically because it’s supposed to have a lady ghost. She’s supposedly been haunting this room for decades. I didn’t see anything, but . . . there are other ghosts that walk the halls, too. I thought . . . I don’t know what I thought.”

“Please, Jeanne,” Naomi begs. “What is this?”

This time her wife looks directly at her. “This is goodbye.” She opens the door and steps outside. “I’ll always love you. Don’t ever stop juggling sunshine.”

Jeanne closes the door behind her, leaving Naomi alone. She sits there, sprawled on the floor, listening to Jeanne walk down the hall. In the bathroom something drips. From the hallway, more footsteps. Laughter. Murmurs.

Later that morning, the door opens again.

In walks a housekeeper carrying a set of sheets. He murmurs something under his breath before striding to the living room window. He flings open the curtains, flooding the room with daylight.

So much light. Perhaps more than Naomi could ever juggle.

While the housekeeper makes the bed, she pulls herself up using the sofa back for support. She walks over to the writing table and stares down into the flower pot. Her wife’s wedding band lies inside, but it’s not alone. Naomi’s ring is with it. Startled, she raises her own hands. Of course her ring finger is bare. She nods to herself.

The housekeeper hums a pleasant melody as he smooths out the sheets. Naomi walks past, unseen and unheard. She stands in the bathroom and offers her hand.

“Come on. You’ve been in here long enough, haven’t you?”

A pale hand grasps her own. Naomi shivers but smiles.

The slumped, dripping figure strides behind her, letting herself be pulled through the bedroom and past the housekeeper. He shivers, pausing in his duties to stare through them.

“This damn place creeps me out,” he whispers.

Naomi escorts the stranger to the open door. The housekeeper’s cart is parked outside. Footsteps thump past. The dripping woman hesitates.

“It’s okay.” Naomi pulls the dripping woman into the hall. “Let’s go for a walk and maybe you can tell me how I can make your day shine.”


© 2022 by Rob E. Boley

3300 words

Author’s Note:  I think all of our past relationships haunt us to some degree. They leave us scarred or damaged, enlightened or more self-aware, likely both. Then there’s the physical debris of the relationship, in this story – flower pots. Those artifacts can haunt us too. This story explores the haunting from the perspective of a quite literal ghost. What’s it like to be on the other end of the formula–the one doing the haunting? For the setting, I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of haunted places, particularly hotels. 

Rob E. Boley likes to make blank pages darker. He lives with his wife and his daughter in Dayton, Ohio. By day, he manages and analyzes big data. Yet each morning before sunrise, he rises to strike terror into the hearts of the unfortunate characters dwelling in his novels, stories, and poems. His fiction has been seen lurking in places such as A cappella Zoo, Pseudopod, Clackamas Literary Review, and Best New Werewolf Tales. He co-founded Howling Unicorn Press with his wife, author Megan Hart, to conjure tales that thrill, chill, and fulfill. You can learn more about this weird figure of the dark by visiting his website at www.robboley.com.


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Long List Anthology 7 Fundraiser is Live!

written by David Steffen

The fundraiser for The Long List Anthology Volume 7 fundraiser is live! This time we’re running the fundraiser on Indiegogo for the first time. Go check it out!

Every year the anthology celebrates more of the works from the Hugo Award nomination list beyond what was on the final ballot. This year we are trying a couple new things. First is that we are expanding to include Astounding Award For Best New Writer nominations. That category is for the writers themselves rather than the stories, but we have picked a few stories by authors on the long list for the Astounding Award and those will be included in the anthology. Second, we are including one of the stories from the ballot itself for the first time–“Open House On Haunted Hill” by John Wiswell that was first published here in Diabolical Plots.

Thank you for your support!