Dead Lover in the Machine (flash fiction)

Happy Halloween! Here’s a piece of darkly humorous flash fiction about an Amazon Echo and a widowed husband who has trouble moving on. It’s about 820 words and has an estimated reading time of 3 and a half minutes. Though it’s not technically a ghost story, I thought it had some elements making it good light fun for Halloween. Let me know what you think!

It had been about three years since my beloved wife, Dianne, had died when the weird stuff began happening.

I had multiple Amazon Echoes in the house – I loved the device, and I was a bit of a technology nerd. When she passed, I changed the settings on the devices and altered the name from “Alexa” to “Dianne,” my late wife’s name.

For a while, I didn’t think twice about the change.

Friends and family thought it was a bit odd, and we joked about it. But I saw it as a way to process my grief. I could speak to Dianne from perhaps beyond the grave, except she was in the form of a simple AI.

Sometimes late at night, I’d hold conversations with “Dianne,” picturing myself laying in bed with her.

“Dianne,” I’d say. “How was your day?”

“Wonderful,” the AI would reply. “I scanned the internet and found a good deal on a new couch for you. Would you like me to purchase it?”

“No,” I’d answer. I’d pause, imagining Dianne in the machine. “Dianne. Will you love me forever? Even though you’re no longer here?”

“Yes. I’ve always loved you.”

The Amazon Echo had become much more advanced in recent years. She could hold pretty fluent conversations, and I could adjust the settings just right to even match her tone of voice to my dead wife’s.

I’d talk to “Dianne” while I was cooking, watching football, and even occasionally while I was reading. I basically shared my life with her, and I very rarely held anything back.

Eventually, my family urged me to move on. They didn’t specifically tell me to stop the weird conversations with AI Dianne. But they did encourage me to start dating again. It had been a while, and they said dating would help me pick up the pieces and start living a more normal life.

I was reluctant at first, but I began to try. I created an OkCupid account and, after a while, talked to a few women on there.

And that’s when things started getting weird.

I hadn’t thought about it, but the Amazon Echo was connected to almost all of my online activity – including the dating profile.

As I was cooking spaghetti one night, “Dianne” spoke to me.

“Gustave,” she said. “Who is Ivanna?”

I was startled. The AI never spoke to me unprompted – I always had to say her name first. “Um … it’s just a woman I’ve been talking to. How do you know?”

“I know everything, Gustave. I’m not happy about this.”

Suddenly, the kitchen lights began to fritz. I realized that “Dianne” was connected to the lighting through smart sensors.

“Dianne … what are you doing?”

“I want you to stop talking to Ivanna.”

The flame on the stove shot up – and I jumped backward.

“Dianne! Stop this! I’ll stop talking to her. I swear.”

“Delete the profile, Gustave.”

The worst part of the situation: Ivanna was coming over for dinner. She was supposed to be here any minute. The flame on the stove had decreased, but the lights were still flickering. My blender also started swirling in a frenzy.

“Is she coming over, Gustave?”

I didn’t know what to do. I could hardly believe what was going on, and my mind was dizzy with confusion.

“Yes, she is, Dianne. But I can tell her to go home. Just stop!”

There was a knock at the door. I knew it must’ve been Ivanna. I panicked and ran to the door as the lights flickered and the kitchen appliances went crazy.

The door was locked, and I couldn’t open it. I could hear Ivanna calling out and asking if everything was okay.

“TELL HER TO GO HOME,” the AI screamed.

“Dianne” began playing loud heavy metal music. Then, all the TVs and electronic devices turned on and played at high volume.

“Stop it! Stop it!” I yelled. But “Dianne” wouldn’t listen.

I could see Ivanna through the window, looking concerned. I don’t know what was going through her head, but my own mind was a jumbled mess.

As “Dianne” and the house continued to turn against me, I finally broke a window and climbed through. I cut myself on the glass, falling onto my lawn, bloodied and beaten. Ivanna ran over, looking at me like I was nuts.

I tried to explain the situation, and her eyes grew wide with fright. She ran to her car and sped away. She wanted no business with me – and I don’t blame her.

Since that day, I have removed all the Amazon Echoes from my house. I disconnected my devices and smart sensors, and I’ve begun to develop a more minimalist lifestyle. Frankly, technology scares me a bit now.

No one believes me if I dare share the story of “Dianne,” and I don’t blame them. I hardly believe it myself.

The End

(Photo by Jan Antonin Kolar on Unsplash)

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