“The Falling Ash” — Cooperative Fiction in the OpenAI Playground

Beau Johnson
6 min readMar 30, 2021


Displaying not only the co-writing capabilities and comprehension of AI interpretations but also displaying multiple options created by the AI given the entirety of the text.

Human authored text in bold.

AI authored text in Italics.

The earth was silent beneath her feet. The tremors had finally calmed. The trees were still in the frightened air. No breeze. No distant echoes or bird songs or falling stones. Her heart was racing and she was breathing hard. It seemed like days had passed since she’d left the village. She hadn’t gone far, but the trees had grown thick and tangled in the night. It had taken her longer than she’d thought to find her way through them, even with the moonlight to guide her. She’d been trying to run, but it was too dark to see well. Her feet kept slipping in the soft dirt and she’d fallen more times than she could count. But now she was here, on the edge of the clearing where the village used to be. And there was no village anymore. There were no homes or barns or crops or animals. There were only charred remains and ruined buildings that once contained life and laughter and love. Nothing else remained of those things that made up a home. It was all gone now, destroyed by a fire big enough to burn a whole village in a single night. Or maybe it had been an explosion. She hadn’t seen what had happened for herself; only heard it from a distance as she fled for her life. Her brother had told her all about it before he died, but he hadn’t said exactly what had happened — just that it did.

She buried her shame — turned away from the guilt she felt for running — and focused on finding her family. What was left of them. She’d lost her mother and father to the fire, but she had siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins. She knew they’d gone to the woods for safety. She hoped that at least some of them had survived. As she walked across the clearing toward the forest she tried to imagine what it must have been like. She didn’t have to create too many horrendous scenarios as it was clear her parents didn’t get far. Their flesh may be scarred, clothes turned to charred tatters, and wedding bands melted into the dry, blackened remains of what once were fingers — but she knew in her heart, immediately, the smoldering husks at her feet were her parents. She didn’t want to go any farther, but she had to know. She had to find out if any of her other family members had survived. Maybe they’d found shelter in the woods. Maybe they’d escaped the village altogether. She couldn’t help but hope for that. It was all she had.

Tears were silently carving trails through the ash and dirt on her face. Her eyes burned with smoke, shame, and anger… and the gripping fist of loneliness tightening around her stomach. She gently touched the dark, encrusted heap of agony that had been her parents and watched the carbon drift into the air despite her attempts to be gentle. Her throat tightened, but she forced herself to look. Memories roared back and collided with raging despair, she allowed herself to sob openly. Heaving, body shaking howls spasms of selfish pain and unimaginable loss. Her hands raked through the ashen remains, sending plumes of the last of her family into the wavering air of the still smoldering earth all around her. She sobbed and sobbed until her mind was empty and she was too tired to care about anything anymore.

There was nothing left of that life she once knew. Nothing left but ashes, ruins, and her memories. Maybe it was for the best. Perhaps it was a sign…but she could think of no cloud throned diety that would punish her with such pain and expect faith and fealty. She stood. Forcing clarity and forging determination from grief. She looked around at the cold reality of her life in the flickers in the coals of her now former life. She allowed herself one last glance at her parents and for the first time saw them for what they were — bodies. Burned bodies. Remains. No longer her parents, but human relics — and incomplete relics at that. Limbs were missing. Not burned away. Not reduced to ash and blackened ichor — but not there at all. To be burned alive was one thing, but what further indignities did her family suffer? Was it simply fire? an explosion? Fire doesn’t cleave limbs and secret them away. The blankets of ash surrounding her as far ash she could see revealed only her footprints and her footprints alone.

AI Option 1

Her family was gone. All of them. She was alone. She wiped her tears away and looked up at the sky. The sun was rising and she had to find her family. She’d never find them in the light, but she could search for them in the dark. She knew the woods well enough to navigate by moonlight and she knew how to survive on her own. She’d have to hunt, but that wasn’t a problem. Her father had taught her how to hunt when she was just a child. She could do it again now that she needed to feed herself instead of just the village. She’d have to trap animals, but she could do that too — and if it came down to it — she could eat bugs and roots if she had to. Whatever it took, she would find them — or what was left of them — and they would be together again; even if it meant she had to drag their corpses back across the clearing and into the woods with her own two hands…

AI Option 2

She turned away, and with a heavy heart, set off into the woods.

She didn’t know where she was going. She’d never been in these woods before. She’d never even ventured far from the village before. All she knew was that her family had gone to the woods for safety and she was going to find them. The trees were thick and tall around her. Their branches and leaves blocked out most of the moonlight, but she could still see well enough to make her way through them. She tried not to think about what might be watching her from the shadows between the trees or from above. She tried not to think about what might be waiting for her in the darkness ahead. She tried not to think about how alone she was in this world now… or how alone she would always be now.

She’d been walking for hours and it was getting harder to see in the dark forest. The moon was fading behind the trees and clouds were gathering in the sky above her. It wasn’t raining yet, but it looked like it might start soon. She wished it would start sooner rather than later.

AI Option 3

She walked away from the ashes of her parents with a heavy heart and a sense of loss that threatened to overwhelm her. She had no idea where she was going, but she had to find shelter before it was too late. The sun would be up soon and the night had been long enough already. She didn’t want to think about what might happen if she got caught in the light of day by whatever had done this to her village. She didn’t want to think about anything at all anymore; she just wanted to run and hide and never come out again. But she couldn’t do that. She couldn’t just leave her home like this, no matter how much she wanted to, no matter how much it would hurt her to stay here.

She turned around and looked back at what was left of her village one last time before she started walking into the woods. It was such a beautiful place… once upon a time. But it wasn’t beautiful anymore and it wouldn’t be again. Not for a long time — perhaps never again.



Beau Johnson

Progressive Education Pontification | Creator of Imagined Places