What the Empress and I Found on the Beach of Bowling Balls

Back on the GPT-3 theme again, there’s another GPT-3 client at shortlyread.com. It doesn’t use any special training as far as I’m aware (like AI Dungeon has choose your story dot com), and I don’t know if it has any hidden inputs.

It has very (very!) little documentation about what it actually does, but at the moment its top-level entities are “Prompts” (which are rendered as story titles, basically) and “Stories” (which are stories). You can create a Prompt, and optionally share it for other users to see, and given a Prompt (your own or one someone has shared) you can write a story based on it, in what appears to be an input box of their own devising.

At any time, you can push the “Write for me” button, and it will invoke GPT-3; with exactly what inputs isn’t clear, but one speculates that it’s the Prompt and the most recent part of the Story and anything that one has entered into the optional “Background” section (which I’ve never tried). The result of invoking GPT-3 will be appended to your story, and then you can go back to editing it or whatever.

You can post (share, publish) stories, unless you’ve started it as a Private Story, in which case you can’t. It looks like there is a Naughty Story filter that is applied to stories that aren’t Private. There doesn’t seem to be any way to move a story between Private and not-private, at least at the moment that I’ve found. There’s some kind of length limit beyond which you can no longer share a non-Private story. I think that’s what’s going on anyway when a story gets too long and the button greys out, but there’s no message so who knows.

Anyway! That explanation was too long. Here’s a story, where I wrote the Prompt (the title) and the first sentence, and then nudged it a bit later on when it said something that seemed contrary to the overall feel; but all I did was remove a few things that I didn’t like, break up overlong paragraphs, and give it one sentence or less as a hint later on. Mostly GPT-3 gets all the credit!

What the Empress and I Found on the Beach of Bowling Balls

The second sun was just setting, and the woman dressed as the Tarot Empress accompanied me down to the bowling-ball-covered beach. I followed her, a well-formed, middle-aged woman with thighs strong and thick from years of walking barefoot across the sand of this cove. She led me to a particularly large bowling ball—its surface polished and gleaming, it looked like a mirror—and beckoned me to sit next to her.

We had both wanted to hear the story of the day we found a strange, golden seashell. The day I threw the shell to her, and it had crushed her lovely face.

And that was what we were about to do. I took off my extravagant crimson-and-gold dress—the Empress had told me never to wear orange, even if I was seeing her—and lay down next to her pale body on the bowling-ball beach. She wore only her crown and her signature long white robe, and she scratched the wide, curled-up tail of the cat that was wrapping itself around her neck.

“The story begins at the end. . .” she said, and put her feet up over my feet. Her skin was always so warm.

“I was going to say ‘The story begins with me being as old as I am now,’” I replied, “But I reckon I got to the end pretty quick for that. You tell it, I’m kinda rattled by memories and their emotional aftermath.”

The Empress smiled, revealing trim, white teeth. She was good with her stories, and I pulled my knees up to my chest to listen. “You see,” she began, “I was just a little girl when I first found the seashell.”

I interjected, “You must’ve been seven or eight, right?”

“My memory is vague, but yes—and I admit I was an extraordinarily clever eight-year -old. My family had a mansion right on this beach, and I was always digging in the sand. I would dig for hours on end and never find anything of much interest—the most exciting thing was a sparkling rock. It was a perfect little sphere with a black center, and I put it in my pocket.”

Overhead, the lightbirds wrote ancient glyphs in the sky with their tales.

“At some point that day,” the Empress continued, “I dug up a buried stream of coins. That was exciting, but the most exciting thing of all was when I dug a little deeper, and the next shovel-full of sand revealed a dazzling golden seashell. It was the shape of a flower, and it was so gleaming that I knew it must be valuable. Clearly an endless wealth of happiness and prosperity would follow if I owned this shell. It was beautiful. . .”

I interrupted her again. “And did your family use it for unscrupulous business deals?”

“No, of course not!” She laughed. “Looking back on it now, I believe that this shell actually did belong to me. I remember those golden sands well—I remember that I found that shell in the sands outside my master’s study. I had just gotten back from my first trip to the mall with my mother—she had taken me to get the uniform for my first year at primary school—and my father was in his study looking through the accounts.”

“So you were the smartest eight-year-old working as a businesswoman?”

“Yes, yes, of course. Nothing’s changed on that front.” Her eyes narrowed as she pulled her long curls towards her crown, her braid was looking disheveled. “My father had every detail covered. And so I took the shell from his study and I ran through those golden sands back to the mansion. I felt like I was streaking through them, really; they were so vibrant, lending their gold light to the rest of the world. I dug a hole in the sand outside my bedroom window, and I buried the shell there, where no one could find it.”

I was waiting for this point, the moment of the interrupted story, when she threw it to me.

She must have seen my puzzled expression, because she leaned close to me and whispered, “And then I invited you to come over.” Her light violet eye was bright, as though she had the shell’s gleam herself. Her pale skin, though, was far too thin—the soft lines of her face were visible through the pale, white complexion. She whispered again, “It was a cold day in the beginning of the fall when I saw you walk onto the beach with your mother. You had thrown a rope up over the branch of the Kite-Tree and, standing on the other end, you hauled yourself up to the top. I saw you jump off the Kite Tree and land in the sand. I followed you to the mansion.”

“You didn’t invite me to your mansion?” I asked, confused.

“For you,” she whispered, and then said, “I had to be quick. I arrived at the mansion long before you did. My father was in his study, going through papers again. He was in an especially fraught mood—it seemed he was more fixated on our fortune now. I told him I was going to go for a walk on the beach and didn’t want him to wait dinner for me. He was relieved he wouldn’t have to deal with me and my mood for the night; he was always easier to deal with when I was away doing something than when I was around.”

“You have moody days?” I asked as I lifted my knees up to my chest. We were getting colder by the moment as the wind blew stronger.

“Pardon?” She smiled.

“Should we move on, then?” I asked.

“Do you remember that day?” she asked. “The day you jumped off the Kite Tree?”

“Yeah, I remember,” I said. “I came to your mansion.”

“You did.” She nodded. “I saw you coming towards me. You were running, but your eyes were on the ground with every step. I asked if you were all right, and I think you said, ‘Yes, I’m all right.’”

“I was overwhelmed by you,” I said. Because I had been.

The Empress smiled in the cold wind . “You convinced me to go for a walk with you along the beach. I was so cold that I was only in my light summer dress and my hair was entirely down. I didn’t have on shoes. But I went with you anyway, and you showed me a seashell.”

“Our lives were in the seashell, then,” I said, remembering .

“To you, they were,” she said. “They always have been. When I looked at it, I saw a creative, enthusiastic child full of abundant energy and love for our strange world.”

“And you?” I asked.

“And me, too,” she said. “But that’s not the real story.”

“Then what is the real story?” I asked impatiently.

“Just wait for it,” she replied. “Do you remember what you showed me inside of it?”

I nodded. “A blazing fire, a table with a set of plates. We were having a feast. A feast! You were the Empress, I was the Emperor, and together we were holding the Empire in our hands. You wanted us to rule the world.”

“You forget that I also showed you a sweet little cottage,” she said. “You were inside it with the woman of your dreams. You had the Empress with you and she looked at you contentedly. You would have stayed there with your love and your family forever,” she added. “ You would have stayed there, quite content, but you somehow knew that the world had to be held in your hands.”

“That’s not really how I remember it,” I said, confused. “I would have stayed in that cottage with the Empress and I would have lived there with her happily without caring for anything else in the world.”

“You were looking at a possibility,” she said. “You were looking at a possible path for yourself. I saw it, too.” I noticed her pushing closer to the fire, pulling a blanket closer around her shoulders. “And then, you opened up a jar of jam and you offered me some on a slice of toast.”

“Jam?” I repeated.

“Jam,” she replied. “The Empress asked for more jam and you gave her more. She put the perfect spoonful of marmalade onto her toast.”

“That’s the most outrageous thing I’ve heard in my life,” I said. “The Empress would never demean herself like that.”

“She would have for you, ” the Empress said.

My breath caught. “She would have? You would have?” I asked.

She nodded . “I would have for you. Because I saw the man I would love and the Emperor I would serve. You were cute, too. You were so earnest. I wanted to reach out and touch his cheeks. You were so good, so pure, so true. ”

“But you didn t,” I said softly .

She shook her head. “No, I didn’t. Because I couldn’t.”


“I had to do the right thing.” She sighed. “It was night already by the time we got back to the hermit-house. It was already a scandal at court.”

I put another blanket over her. Above us, the stars blinked signals to the sea. From the back of the beach house, there was the sound of the waves following up the shore. The air was humid, and through it, I could see her eyes. They were focused on the fire.

“We sat at opposite ends of the room,” she continued, “You told me that you were an orphan, that you had nowhere else to go, and that you were simply passing through. You told me about the fire the night before, and then you asked me if I had ever been in love. You asked me if I had ever loved anyone.”

“I did,” I said.

She nodded . “You asked me if I had ever been in love. You asked me if I had loved anyone, and I knew what you were really asking. You wanted me to tell you that I loved you, but I couldn’t admit it. It was time to say goodbye, but I couldn’t say it.”

“I’m glad you couldn’t,” I whispered.

“So am I,” she said.

The beach and the night surrounded us, and the glow of the fire cast a warm light upon her face. I was close enough to her now. I could have touched her shoulder. I could have reached out and held her hand. I moved closer to her. There was no one there, no one to see us or stop us, and I knew this was the last chance I would have to ask her.

“I have to know, Empress.”

She leaned away from the fire and towards me.

“What?” she asked.

“Did you love me?”

“Yes,” she said. “I did.”

“Did you love me enough to stay with me?”

“I did.”

As I held her in the dark of the night , I knew I’d never give up the memory of that day. It was the only day I knew I owed her, and I owed her this – an unrepayable love.

It doesn’t completely make sense, either locally or globally, but still I like it a lot.

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