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My cousin's life, AI-ed...

I found an AI text prompt program and wondered where it would go with a snippet of my wayward cousin's life story...

And so I entered:

Night finally falls, thick with noxious fog. I turn onto Stewart Young Road and park on a campestral pullout overlooking a marsh. After a few minutes of silence, the toads start croaking. Loud. My girls will experience country living while they're still young. Spending some time in the sticks is the silver lining to life on the lam. I light a cig and pull open the ashtray. Full. The fog thickens, and I roll down the window and flick the ash to the ground. Smells like marsh gas. Pungent. As fog envelopes the car, I glance at my girls in the rearview mirror. They're wide-eyed, huddled, and silent. The marsh gas-infused fog swirls eddies around the tip of my cig and creeps around the window frame. The croak of the toads grows louder, synchronizing into a single steady beat. The miasma snakes down my arm. Spooky. So I roll the window up, leaving just enough space to tap my ash. Gaseous tendrils flow through the crack, so I blow back the night air with my cig smoke. I am Momma Bear. I must protect my cubs. Keep them safe, keep them fed, and keep their spirits free in this foreign hinterland. Cig spent, I crawl into the back seat and explain the new rules.

And the AI wrote (I prompted it to keep writing a number of times):

No talking, no moving, no touching. Just put your head down and sleep. I'll wake you when we get there. The sun rises through swirls of fog as I pull into the parking lot of the Comfort Inn, a small but accommodating chain motel. I turn off the engine and gaze through the rear window. No one is following us. Not yet. I look at the room key. Night's Inn. I laugh. How fitting. Inside, the room is clean, the sheets are crisp, the bathroom smells clean, and there are fresh towels. There's a chocolate on each pillow.

* * *

The next day, I drive the girls to the mall and treat them to lunch at the food court. They're on their best behavior. We talk about their favorite subjects, school, and their best friends. I ask them about their classes, their teachers, and their friends. I'm looking for clues, trying to get a feel for who they are and what their lives are like now.

"You know, I think about you girls all the time," I say. "I wonder what you're up to and who you're hanging out with. I wonder if you're happy, and I wonder if you miss me."

"Yeah, we miss you."

"I wonder if you think of me. I want you to know that I love you, and I miss you so much. I always wonder if you're okay."

"Yeah, we're okay."

Chapter Twenty-Three

May 5

I sit on the edge of the bed and look at my girls sprawled out on the floor, watching television. It's been a year since I've seen them. I sit there, stunned, unable to move. I have the urge to hold them and to squeeze them, but I don't. I'm afraid that if I touch them, the illusion will shatter. I'm afraid this will be the last time we'll see each other, so I don't want to jeopardize it. I have to get my nerve up.

"Hey, girls. Come here."

They look up at me with sleepy eyes, and I motion for them to come to me. They crawl over and sit on the bed. I pick up each of their hands and look into their eyes.

"I'm going to tell you what will happen now that you're here. I want you to listen carefully. Don't interrupt or ask questions. Do you understand?"

They nod. Finally, I'm able to talk. I tell them that we'll be leaving in the morning, and I'm going to take them somewhere. They may not like it at first, but they'll get used to it. They'll like it. They'll be safe there. They'll be happy. I tell them that I love them, and that I'll always love them, no matter what. They'll always be my girls.

"Okay, you girls go back to the TV. I have to use the bathroom."

I go into the bathroom, close the door, and sit on the toilet, unable to move. I start to shake, and tears begin to flow. I'm going to miss them. I'm going to miss them so much. I feel like I'm going to die. I hold my head in my hands and cry. I feel a hand on my shoulder.

"I'm sorry, Mom. I didn't mean to make you cry."

I turn around and look into my daughter's eyes.

"What are you doing in here? Get out. You're not supposed to be in here."

"I'm sorry, Mom."

"Get out. Now."

She leaves and I lean my head against the wall. I feel like a giant fist is squeezing my heart and I can't breathe. I turn on the faucet and cup my hands under the stream of hot, running water. I splash my face, and I smell the scent of my mother's lavender soap. I look at my face in the mirror. I look tired. The sadness in my eyes is unmistakable. I shut off the water and turn to look at the closed door. I have to go back out there. I have to get this over with. I take a deep breath and open the door. I walk out into the living room and look at my daughter. She's sitting on the floor, looking at me. I sit down on the couch and lean my head back. I'm going to miss them.

"Do you need anything?"


"Do you want to watch a movie?"


"Do you want to play a game?"


I look back at the TV and try to focus on the cartoon. I'm an idiot. They're watching TV. They're content. I'm not. I'm a mess. I want to hold them, hug them, and squeeze them. I want to hold onto them forever. I want to tell them that I love them and that I'm sorry. I want to tell them that I'm sorry for everything—for leaving them, for putting them in this situation, for putting them through this. I want to hold them and know that they're okay. I want to be their mom. I want to be the mom I always wanted to be. I want to be the mom they deserve. But I can't. I must be strong.

I have to let them go.

I have to let them go.

I have to let them go.

I have to let them go.

I have to let them go.

Chapter Twenty-Four

May 6

It's early morning, and I'm sitting with my girls at a small diner just across the Georgia border. I keep an eye on the door, looking for anyone who might be following us. I don't recognize the waitress. She's older, probably in her fifties. She's wearing a blue-and-white-checkered uniform. She has a cheery smile and a face like a country apple. She doesn't know anything about me. She's just doing her job, serving people breakfast. She's probably thinking about her kids and her grandkids, maybe her boyfriend, or maybe she's even thinking about her husband. People come and go in her life, but she's always here. She's always here. The girls are sloppy, and we're all covered in syrup. I'm always covered with syrup. My daughter smiles at me and sticks her tongue out.

"I'm hungry," she says.

"Me too," says the other.

I put an arm around each of them and pull them close. I smell the sugary syrup on their faces.

"I love you, girls."

"I love you too, Mom."

"I love you, Mommy."

We look into each other's eyes, and I feel a tear slide down my cheek. I hold them tight and squeeze them tight. They're so small and so sweet, and it's hard to imagine that we'll be parting ways. They're only four and six. They'll be okay. They'll make it. I have to believe that. We finish eating and head outside. I glance around, looking for anyone who might be watching. I look out the window and see a little girl sitting in a car. She's laughing. She's happy. She's a little girl, and she's just a little girl. I can't be a little girl any longer. I have to grow up and be a mommy.

I have to let them go.

I have to let them go.

I have to let them go.

I have to let them go.

I have to let them go.

Which all in all, save for the girls' ages (or perhaps the AI was stating their mental ages), is pretty freaking accurate to what actually happened...

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