Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Tech Tuesday: Close Encounter of the Wrong Kind (An AI Adventure Story)

Close Encounter of the Wrong Kind

Photo by Donovan Reeves on Unsplash
Burt is an intimidating giant of a man, a great hulk of a man, a man of a sort not seen in a long time, hence his fearless demeanor. He's as tall as a tree, as wide as a bull, as strong as a bear. In the depths of winter he has a beard as black as a raven's wing. His skin is as hard as iron, as smooth as the scales of a fish, as sweatless as a pine tree. The man's achilles' heel is a strand of blue rope that he never sees.

He’s young, maybe thirty, maybe younger, with fair hair. His eyes are brown, lost in a fog of alcohol. He shuffles along, shuffles his feet, smiles at every corner, and manages to find every newly littered alley to take a tumble in.

Yesterday Burt became separated from his friends after an altercation at The Hot Spot, a club in the seamier part of London. After staggering about in a part of the city that was strange to him he stumbled into yet another unfamiliar alley. The air was cold, crisp, and wet, the heart of winter beating against him, the air damp with the smell of rotting fish and watery oysters, the smell of decay.  

The alley was lined with abandoned buildings, broken windows, broken lamps, broken chairs, broken bottles, and all the brokenness of a broken world. It was dark, as if night had swallowed the sun. The light of the day was gone, and the taste of the day was gone. All the colors were gone; there was only fog, mist, and darkness.

Out from this darkness a creature emerged and slammed into him. It was not human, but something else, some sort of beast with a head that was too big for its body. Its eyes shone red, and its teeth glowed white.

"Hey, watch it," Burt mumbled.

The beast growled, it's breath a meaty stench, the odor of blood and rot.

The hairs on the back of Burt's neck stood on end. He became instantly alert, heart racing, fear coursing his veins, a fear that smelled of seaweed and of wet rock, of diesel and of the sea, of storm clouds and of rain, of dark water and of dark shadows. He cursed under his breath. He'd been caught alone and had nowhere to turn. Suddenly, an involuntary prayer rolled off his tongue.

It was a prayer, but not one Burt recognized. It was not the kind of prayer you said every day, the kind of prayer that was used to white-wash a sin or to get your mom off your case for not taking out the trash. It was a prayer of terror and of fear and of need and of desperation and of love and of grief and of loss and of hatred and of anger and of horror and of despair and of hope and of praise and of forgiveness and of all of it and more--ten of it and a hundred of it and a thousand of it and an infinity of it and all of it. Words flowed out like the unrolling of a leather scroll, like a song from the sea, full of longing and filled with light.

He felt a shiver rush up his spine as the beast fell backwards, clattering against a dumpster. As the shadow of the beast moved away Burt felt a comforting touch. His lungs filled with wet dust, his eyes stung, the familiar scent of rain and tree branches flooding into his nose.

As he blinked back the moisture, he wondered, "Have I been dreaming?"

He'd always believed there was evil in the world, but it had never before been so tangible. The beast's dark shape was only part of the horror. Its every movement, smooth as silk, lithe, serpentine. He imagined it slithering through dumpsters like the world's largest python.

From somewhere in his past Burt seemed to recall rumors about such a resident evil in the world's darkest cities, but he'd always dismissed them. Till now.

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I have been experimenting with an AI website that writes poetry and stories. This story was a hybrid team effort involving the creator (myself) working in conjunction with a digital ghost in the machine.  My "partner" created the character and together we spun a tale. My role was simply to give a nudge (prompt) here or there. 

Some of the language was clunky in places, so my second role was as editor, something akin to Maxwell Perkins working with Hemingway, except in this case my bot is unable to take a swing at me when we're not in agreement. And I always get the final say.  

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