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When the Sky Turned Red
The comet was coming. We could see the red streak in the sky for days.
Written by: Charlene Putney and Katherine Meikle using LAIKA
Illustrations by: Andrey Kurenkov with MidJourney
Narration by: Andrey Kurenkov with ElevenLabs
Five days ago everything fell apart when the sky turned red. I had no idea what we had done to anger the gods, or how we had come to be in this situation. But I knew it was the end. I made plans. So this morning, when I awoke to the blood-drenched clouds, alive: I had no idea what to do next.
I called upon my friend, and the first thing he said to me was "You can't be here anymore. You've got to keep out of people's way." I didn't know what he meant by that, so I asked him "What are you afraid of?" He slammed the door in my face, but I could hear his shout from behind the heavy wood. "Afraid? I'm afraid of nothing anymore. Just leave me alone!" So I did. I walked back down the stairs from his loft, and into the empty crimson streets where nothing remained of the old ways, where nothing remained the way I remembered it.
But wait... a cat in a doorway. A parcel of vegetables wrapped in newsprint. A wasp landing on some rubbish. Maybe it's not all lost? My thoughts were all jumbled up like clothes in a washerwoman's basket. I was trying to remember the truth - the red truth - when I was seized by the soldiers and flung into their cart, which took me towards the gallows. And as we began to move, the streets filled up again.
People came out of their homes, shouting and jeering at me as the cart rocked over the cobblestones. The soldiers looked at me with a strange repulsion, but something else too. Fear? Could it be fear I saw in their faces? I looked around and saw the same faces on both sides of the cart too. I counted at least a hundred like that. Three hundred more must be buried by now.
Why don't they understand? I tried to explain the situation, but they bound my hands and gagged me. With bitter eyes and vicious lips they said that I should have slept longer than the night. They said that I should have taken a bigger draught of the poisoned water I added to the village well.
The cart trundled on, and a woman stepped out of the crowd and shrieked at me, "Are you the murderer of my brother?" I couldn't speak with the gag in my mouth, but I shook my head, using my eyes to implore her to believe me. How could she see this bloodied sky and blame me? How could I murder what was already dead, or soon would be? She should thank me. She spat on the ground, and turned away.
Look, what harm did I do? The comet was coming. We could see the red streak in the sky for days. All I did was help those who could not help themselves. And here we are in this scarlet-tinged world, where nothing makes sense anymore, where nothing can live for long. And they want me to pay? For the end of the world we knew? I can pay. It is the only way, after all, I shall ever get out of this.
The cart rolls on, and I can see the gallows now, a red rope against a red sky. The heavens themselves bleed for me. I shall be hanged. I shall be hanged, I shall be hanged! Do they think everything will be better then? Do they think, as my legs twitch and my neck snaps, that their loved ones will return? That the sky will clear back to blue and the crops will grow and everything will be happily ever after? Can they be so naive? Don't they know the world is going to end in a few hours? And this is how they want to spend their last moments? It went better for their relatives: a gentle sleep, a dreamless rest, and then no more.
The cart stops suddenly, and I fall to the ground. Dark earth presses against my cheek, and a worm who has no more idea of what's coming than the soldiers do. The soldiers carry me to the gallows and loop the noose around my neck. It's no use fighting. The time has come, and I've got nothing to live for. Neither do they, but they don't accept it yet. A shout. A crack. A brief flash of pain. Red like the red of the sky. And then? Blessed darkness. Liberty. I am free and at peace.
The idea started with a fragment of a phrase: “Five days ago everything fell apart.” Using several different brains over the hour of creation (including: Lovecraft, Algernon Blackwood, Robespierre, Marcus Aurelius, Lewis Carroll, Mary SHelley, Sheridan Le Fanu, Edgar Allen Poe, and more!), we created this story. You can see the black text as written by a human, and the pink text as written by AI:
LAIKA is a creativity tool that lets writers collaborate with a personalised artificial intelligence writing partner.
LAIKA learns from a writer’s own body of work, so that it speaks in the writer’s own voice, offering creative suggestions and improvements to their text.
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