“Bone Ship,” by Sarah Diemer
Ellie is stationed with her dad on the Bone Ship–a graveyard floating in space. When her old girlfriend comes to visit, Ellie shows her around the ship, disturbing the strange, ghostly presence that haunts it.
(photo by koke)
(Part of Project Unicorn: A Lesbian YA Extravaganza, updated twice weekly on Mondays and Fridays with a free, original, never-before-published YA short story featuring a lesbian heroine. Also, every story is a work of genre fiction [Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Dystopian, Post-apocalyptic, etc.].)
by Sarah Diemer
“I don’t believe in ghosts.”
Her words sound bratty, but she’s pale when she says them, mouth in a tiny, firm line, like she’s holding her fear behind her teeth. I shrug, press the elevator’s “down” button.
“What does that mean?” she asks, watching me closely. I shrug again, fold my arms carefully, biting down on my lip.
“I don’t either,” I tell her slowly, carefully.
And then, like the ultimate joke, I think: but they believe in us.
The elevator door whooshes open, letting in the stale air from floor seventeen—the basement. There are only seventeen levels on the ship…I know that sounds like a lot, but I haven’t seen planet-side in ten months.
Seventeen levels grows as close as a coffin when you spend ten months with the dead.
She wrinkles her nose, grimacing when the door opens. I know she can smell it. We recycle the air, put it through countless filters, but that’s the thing about death…it touches you whether you want it to or not. It clings to my clothes, my hair, that wretched scent, the formaldehyde sickly sweet and cloying. I run a finger through my hair now, cast a tight, sidelong glance at her. But she sees me do it, raises an eyebrow.
“This way,” I clear my throat, gesture down the right angle of the hall. She moves out and I follow, keeping my eyes carefully attached to her boots and not any higher.
Well. Maybe just a little.
“I can’t imagine…” is what she’s saying, voice trailing off into silence when we round the bend. I turn my direction, glance over what she’s staring at, mouth open.
I remember feeling that awe, once. It’s crazy, isn’t it? Bring up enough earth for an eight-foot deep graveyard. In a ship. Between planetary systems. It sounds like something from a book, but then that stupid Starchild religion makes otherwise smart people do stupid things, and…well. Here we are.
On the Bone Ship.
With the dead.
The dirt goes on for a good, long while. The opposite wall—made entirely of five foot thick glass—seems to be a towering, distant skyscraper. And there, in the dirt, are the grave markers, smooth stone carved with names and dates, like an idyllic, spooky New England cemetery. But we’re not in New England. We’re not even on Earth.
“So much trouble…” she sighs, crosses her arms. She glances at me when she shakes her head. “So much trouble. And for what? So bodies aren’t cremated into ash, shipped out into space…it’s just a bunch of carbon, anyway…” She sighs for a long moment, glances at the nearest gravestone. I dug that grave this morning with the press of a button, depositing the little metal casket into it as the machine creaked around me.
“It’s creepy,” is what she says, her words clipped short. I shrug again, laugh a little.
“Yeah,” I agree, crossing my arms, too. “But it’s what they want.”
She’s watching me. A shiver runs through me—I can’t help it. I glance up and into her eyes, and they’re an icy green. Green. Like a planet.
“Don’t you get lonely?” she asks then, voice soft, sweet. It cuts me deeper than metal. My palms are slick, suddenly. I rub them against my thighs, the chemical fabric warm beneath my fingers.
“I mean, I’ve got Dad,” I say, snorting, tossing my nose up like it’s not true.
Of course I get lonely.
“I’ve just…Stars…” Her voice quavers as she looks away, rubbing at her eyes. Her fingers glisten…was she crying? “I’ve just missed you, Ellie.”
I promised myself I wouldn’t do this, but I am. I’m beside her in a heartbeat, my fingers at her waist, pulling her toward me, and then we’re kissing.
This is stupid, this is stupid…I keep thinking.
But I’m feeling something else entirely.
A puff of air against my cheek. I back away, breathe out. Her eyes have gone wide and she’s staring across the graveyard, hand to her cheek, too.
She felt it.
“What…what was that…” she whispers, staring at the graves. The artificialness of the fluorescents overhead casts everything in a sickly white glow. There’s nothing frightening about the angular lines of the gravestones, but I’ve never liked being down here alone, just the same. Dad calls it superstition.
But he never feels the hands on his shoulder, the breath against his face.
He never hears someone calling his name. Never sees the blur along the corner of his eyes.
Never feels someone watching him.
“It’s nothing,” I tell her smoothly, easily, but she’s watching me with wide eyes, stepping away from the dirt, shoes clicking against the metal walkway.
“It’s fucking creepy,” she says, a shiver passing through her. “Can we go, now? I’d like to see your room…” She threads her fingers through mine, single brow raised. I swallow. When Dad took this position, I knew I’d have to leave the school…leave her.
But yes. I’ve missed her, too.
“Sure…” I murmur, and we move toward the elevator.
As the door shuts, I swear I see a shape against the glass.
But then she’s kissing me.
And I forget it.
I don’t remember anything.
I don’t know why I’m here. I’m tied to this thing, this slab of stone on dirt. It bears a name and a date. AnnaMaria Chovin. Born, 8210. Died 8227.
Outside the glass: a hundred thousand stars.
Inside the glass, she moves.
She’s beautiful. Ellie. A girl named Ellie. I try to speak to her, try to get her to notice me, but she never does. I don’t know why. I’ve tried so long and so hard.
I love her. Ellie.
Please hear me, Ellie.
If you liked “Bone Ship,” you can now enjoy entire months’ worth of stories in the Project Unicorn short story collections on your eReader, and support the project at the same time!
Sarah Diemer is an award-winning author of lesbian young adult (YA), speculative fiction. Her debut novel, The Dark Wife, the YA, lesbian retelling of the Persephone myth won the 2012 Golden Crown Literary Award for Speculative Fiction, and was nominated for a Parsec Award (first two chapters of the audiobook). She writes her lesbian adult fiction under the pen name Elora Bishop, including the Sappho’s Fables: Lesbian Fairy Tales series, which she co-writes with her wife, author Jennifer Diemer.
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