Drabblecast Cover for Stay by Shane BevinThis week’s episode is brought to you by J.R. Hamentaschen’s fourth horror fiction anthology “You Know It’s True.” Grab a copy for kindle or otherwise, here!

For our story this week, take a trip with us to the Fourteenth Floor, where you are every guest.  We bring you “Stay,” by Davian Aw.

You were every guest on the fourteenth floor: none of you alike, a host of strangers across ages and ethnicities, genders and histories, but I knew it was you from the look on your face, and your eyes–your eyes were always the same.

“Stay,” you’d say, a plea steeped in sadness, sometimes desperation, anger, loneliness, or lust…


by Davian Aw


You were every guest on the fourteenth floor: none of you alike, a host of strangers across ages and ethnicities, genders and histories, but I knew it was you from the look on your face, and your eyes–your eyes were always the same.

“Stay,” you’d say, a plea steeped in sadness, sometimes desperation, anger, loneliness, or lust.

Nothing else stayed the same. Not me. Not the rooms, each one different from the ones that I saw through each door, for when I went through, they became other rooms in strange other hotels in impossible places– baby unicorns nursing on a sunny carpet, furniture carved out of iridescent candy, a star-washed vista spilling bright darkness past the sterile edges of an expansive viewport.

“Stay,” you’d say, or cry, or shout, and the trolley of fresh linen I’d left in the hallway would suddenly seem a distant, unimportant thing. So we’d chat through the night till you fell asleep, an old professor too long starved of conversation; or I’d be a sounding board for ideas for the script you were writing for that big break you were positive was coming your way.

Some nights I held you as you sobbed, a runaway teenage girl pouring out her heart to the cute bellboy. Some days we were two kids building a blanket fort or giggling over glasses of cold chocolate milk. Once, you were a starlet and I had a camera, and you made me stay just long enough to watch it be smashed to pieces.

“It’s the grief,” they tell me. “It plays tricks with your mind.” They show me the lift: there is no fourteenth floor. They show me your obituary, trying to be gentle, but they don’t understand there are other worlds than these.

“Tell me,” you said that first time, that first room, as I entered with a stack of fresh towels to see you lounging casually on the bed with a crossword in hand, “What’s a six-letter word for something hidden? It’s got a ‘C’ in the middle. Ends with a ‘T’.”

“Secret,” I said.

“Ah, yes.” You smiled. “Thank you.”

There were twenty storeys to the hotel when viewed from outside. The lift went up to twenty-two. Both four and fourteen were missing–unlucky numbers–but it was luck every time the lights blinked out and the doors shuddered open to show me your floor.

It was so quiet there, lamplight muted in the hallway, soft shadows on the walls as I made my way down. I never could visit all of you, though time moved slower outside, for I had tasks to complete and hours to account for. In some rooms you were gone, and the door merely opened to a room that could have been any room in this hotel, if not for the fog outside the windows or television sets that played nothing but dramatic readings of pasta recipes. But soon there would be a new guest, new you, new invitation to stay and redeem myself for the time it mattered most and I couldn’t.

Last Tuesday, I opened a door to find you the bassist in a hot new boy band. I was your stalker fangirl wearing a T-shirt with a funny tagline and your face on it. Your people yelled at me to leave.

“I’m sorry,” I rambled.

“It’s all right,” you said. “You can stay.”

I often said I was sorry. I tried to, whenever I could, whenever I didn’t get distracted making out with you in a charred tower beneath the harsh beauty of a nuclear sunset, or by the sight of you, widowed and down on your knees, begging forgiveness from the ghost that I was in that world. It made debts seem arbitrary–universe-shackled things–non-transferable to worlds outside their own, telling me it was meaningless to apologize to any other version of you; but still. But still.

They suggested counseling. I stopped talking about the fourteenth floor.

Here’s my darkest secret: a part of me always hoped to discover a room in which you were dying. Perhaps then it would end–having seen your last moments, being able to hold you and love you until you were gone. Perhaps, in that world, they would let me attend your funeral.

Perhaps, in that world, they would let me say goodbye.

I must have said a hundred goodbyes to all the yous that were not you. Yet the pain still remains, like the void you left behind when you vanished through that door on that day three months ago.

I remember the room where we were each other, and wearing your body made me too self-conscious to stay. “I’m sorry,” I said in your voice to my face. “I’m sorry. But I’ve got to go.”

“No,” you cried, wrapping my arms around me, weeping my tears into your shoulder.

“Please. Don’t go. Just stay with me–”

“I’m sorry,” I said, pulling away from your embrace the same way that you had pulled away from mine, and rushed out onto the path of the same oncoming car amidst the sound of my voice screaming out your name.

That was the most difficult of all the rooms. It was harder even than the one where we grieved our dying child and I thought of all the children that our bodies could never make.

Perhaps that’s why I walked more slowly back to the lobby that day, and that was the first time I saw the sign, up next to a window with muslin curtains letting in the foggy light:

We are upgrading to serve the Elder Gods better. 
 During this period, you may experience intermittent anomalies in reality. 
 We apologize for the inconvenience.

There was a number to call for further enquiries. I turned back to an empty room to try it, but all I heard was a solemn voice reciting confessions in Chinese.

Perhaps it was a clue to the mystery of the rooms. I had to solve the mystery of the fourteenth floor, and then everything would finally make sense, unlike how nothing has made sense since the paramedics wheeled you through the doors of the ward and only let your family in.

But all these doors would let me in, and the next day, in the next room, you were a very pretty woman tutoring me in high school physics, and my teenage boy attention span kept wandering off the subject.

“What do you know about other worlds?” I asked.

You laughed. “That’s not part of the syllabus,” you said. “It’s all just a theory, really. Why do you ask?”

I shrugged. “I wanted to hear the science behind it.”

“Your parents aren’t paying me for this,” you said. Still, you relented, and we spent the evening discussing quantum superposition and undead cats, and that puzzling loyalty we feel to the world we were born in–as though it matters more than others, as though it is more real, as though that world is the real reality and everything else but whimsy, as though the first version of each person we come to know is the truest manifestation of their soul.

After the funeral, your family wouldn’t let me back into our house. They said it was theirs now, for they were your closest kin. They threw out a few boxes of my things and nothing more, and, just like that, I have nothing to show for our fourteen years together, a stretch of time excised from my life as though it never were.

“Where do you keep disappearing to?” my supervisor asked, but she was angry and didn’t believe me when I told her the truth.

“I don’t care if you were stuck in a magic closet,” she said. “You can do that when you’re off the clock, not on it.”

I never liked going back, but I always did. Reality is compelling–a form of self-punishment, perhaps, the thought that we don’t deserve the fantasy. Or perhaps something inside us always pulls us home, no matter how glorious the other realms may be.

There’s no other reason I can think of for going home, every time, treating your floor as just another on the natural route from thirteen to fifteen, instead of refusing to leave and spending forever weaving my way through an extravagance of you.

This time, we were an elderly couple who had bribed our way onto a colonizing spaceship, just for the chance to take our final breaths a thousand years hence on alien soil. The planet now lay before us, majestic out the viewport, but our lungs weren’t strong enough to adapt to the atmosphere of that brave new world.

“I know it’s too much to ask,” you whispered, as noisy able-bodied youth boarded shuttles in droves. “But… could you-”

“I’ll stay,” I said, and together we made that deserted spaceship into a home, orbiting forever in a universe of us. I assume we did, for I left when you slipped off into sleep, your hand in my hand, your tired smile warmed in the glow of an alien sun.

The sign by the lift was gone the next day.

It was the last time I found myself on the fourteenth floor. I was a midwife and you were being born. You grasped my finger. Your eyes told me to stay. Your father came and carried you away.

The next day, and all the days after that, the lifts went straight from thirteen to fifteen.

I missed you.

I miss you.

They say it’s a good thing–that I’ve acknowledged you’ve gone, and moved on to the depression stage of grief. It doesn’t feel like a good thing. I cry every night, for in my dreams I see a crowd of you begging me to stay, and I didn’t; I didn’t.

I’ve barely been able to sleep since you left, haunted by the memory of your eyes as they raised you onto the stretcher. You reached out to grasp my hand with a grip weaker than I had ever known. “Stay with me,” you whispered, and then they took you away, and those were the last words I ever heard you say.

What did they tell you, when you asked for me? Did they say I had forgotten, that I did not care, that it hurt me too much to see you this way? Did you call for me, right at the end?

Are you still calling for me?

I’ve been compulsively riding the lifts between thirteen and fifteen. Guests have complained.

I might lose my job. I sneak off to the stairwell each lunch break to drill through the cement landing of the fifteenth floor.

I broke through last week: just a tiny hole, but the coin I dropped in didn’t land on the thirteenth floor. I look at it glinting there in the light of another sun, and know it was real. All of this was real.

I’m coming back tomorrow with larger tools. I hope I can get in before they catch me. But I’m going to find my way back to you, just one last time to that realm where I might wander through the beautiful multitudes of you for eternity and a day; for this time, when I get back,

I promise: I’ll stay.