Alright, so for the third Workshop Wednesday I ... sort of realized these could also fall under my writing prompt challenges that I have a few of on the website, I found this awesome site tool called "Writer Igniter" ... you can find it here. Pretty much, it provides you with a: Character, Situation, Prop, and Setting. You can click shuffle to produce new results.
So I'm going to go with the what seems to be the default for my first whirl with Writer Igniter:
Character: Taxi Driver
Situation: Gets a Cryptic Letter
Prop: Lucky Penny
Setting: Rainy/Stormy avenue.
I've already had some thoughts on what to do, but haven't done too much of any real planning. The hardest part for me right now is coming up with a situation that can be seen as "cryptic". Mainly because this depends on the view of the character--in this case a taxi driver, whom I've decided isn't exactly on the up-and-up.
Frank Jefferson brought his cab to a stop beneath one of the city's many oak trees that lined the curbs, penned in by a crooked fence made of dented and battered patina bars. He let out a deep sigh, feeling his chest deflate beneath the pull of the seat belt. It had been three days since he and his team of chemists had found themselves suddenly out of a job. In desperation, he had taken up a job as a cab driver to cover the never ending flow of bills.
It was a slow night, perhaps he should've vied for Uber instead ... or Lyft. The trends killing the cab companies. He was a chemist, a rather successful one at that, but as silly as it sounded the implications and perceived complexities of the mobile applications needed or know-how to make that work seemed a more daunting task than just dragging a city cab around.
Bills. Endless bills. Frank's eyes fixed on the baronial envelope he'd found slipped under the mat on his doorstep and propped between his windshield and the dashboard. His name and address hand written. The flow and lean to the letters too quirky to be the usual form-filled, mass-printed fare. There was no address ... no stamps. He didn't want to open it. He didn't want to find another bill he'd forgotten to pay, or had to ask for an extension on. Another blow to his financial well being, another blow to his pride.
The envelope stared back. A tug on Frank's subconscious, a strange attraction to the letter ... the bill ... whatever exactly it was, wanted to be opened. It, doesn't looked terrible. Frank considered. He pulled his hand back. When had he started to reach out for the envelope?
"Maybe it's Renee, maybe she wanted to apologize?" Frank proposed to himself, "she always did like the handwritten letter approach ... the cute, slightly amateur prose you'd get from a high school poetry club. No. No it isn't." He went quiet once more. It wasn't her writing.
Frank pulled his eyes from the envelope. From the tattered little corners, the slight tears at the very edges.
The black street beyond, soaked from an evening of thunderstorms, glistened with yellow patches of light cast by streetlamps overhead. Despite the rain, Frank insisted on keeping his windows cracked a few inches. Enough to hear the soothing patter of raindrops falling from the eaves of the nearby apartments and storefronts, the gushing water through the storm drain, and the smell of petrichor and ozone. Petrichor Frank thought, mulling over the term, recalling small articles read during his scientific studies. Petrichor, the scent stemming from a pair of chemical reactions--plant oils and actinomycetes.
He reached down to the center console, fumbling around blindly at the second cup holder that sat just behind the one which held an old starbucks cup, one he would reuse at times for the little discount they offered on refills. Its contents were long-past warm, the scent of the bitter liquid as dead and cold as the street was now.
His fingers found what he'd been looking for. With a bit of effort he scraped up a little corroded penny. He thumbed Lincoln's worn profile. The penny itself was old, 1937. Old enough to where the tail-side of the coin had: ONE CENT declared once boldly, now not so much, across its center.
It was his lucky penny. The penny his dad had handed him after getting back from Europe at the end of the war. He'd been just sixteen then. It was a lifetime ago.
A calm washed over him, subduing a growing unease that had been pressing down on him since he'd stopped and fixated once more on the letter up on his dash. It had to be lucky to survive up to now, to survive decades of historic turmoils--world wars, depressions, who knows what else. To make it from 1937 to 2018 was pretty remarkable, for what many considered to be an unremarkable piece of coinage.
"Man up Frank." His fingers closed around the penny. With a sharp inhale he reached out with his free hand and grabbed the stupid little envelope, then dropped the penny back to its safe-spot in the second cup holder. "Man up. It's just a letter."
A light pattering of steady rain resumed on his windshield, somewhere in the distance the roll of thunder reverberated through the city streets.
"Do it. Just do it." he couldn't help but hear those words in the voice of that one kid from the Transformers movie, a snippet of video that had gone viral or whatever the term was now, that one of the younger guys had shown him.
He hooked his finger beneath a loose fold until the flap pulled tightly on the adhesive and strips of scotch tape that had been placed at half-inch intervals along the seam. Someone's very ... obsessive. Frank started to tug at the flap, his hesitant tugs growing more confident, more encouraged as seconds past.
The envelope tore loudly in the confines of the cab. A thunderous rip to challenge the stormy skies beyond, and interrupt the lonely whine of a siren that slipped through the gap in the windows.
He pulled a sheet of legal pad out, free from its confines. The yellow lined paper had been folded in three, exactly measured as to not allow one end to overlap onto the other.
Read it. Was that his own thought? It seemed a rather aggressive demand.
Read it now. His fingers obeyed, unfolding the letter before any intentional mental thought to do so had occurred. Light.
He focused on the unfolded letter, reaching up to jab the interior cab lighting. It bathed the driver's seat in a weak light. But it was enough.
Frank, the letter began simply enough. It was only a paragraph at a quick glance. He kept on. As you know, the time for all things is sholskl lkms. What? He did a quick double-take. Sure enough the words descended into a rather mindless, incoherent babble. A purposeful babble, sets of the random letters spaced out with a distinct order, but with no sense or legitimate wording behind them. Oijsl kskw an wksi owlaks hjijjkn. What is th-- BEHIND.
"What?" Frank tossed the letter down in his lap. Not daring to look at it again, a feeling of dread poured over him. Ominous dread. Sudden gibberish, and then BEHIND. He looked in his rear-view mirror, the glare from the overhead lamp making it pointless. Blinding him to anything in the backseat, or out the back window. "You're being ridiculous. Getting frightened over nothing." Frank said, his words barely audible beneath his breath. His heart had begun racing in those last few seconds.
The letter, now swallowed by the shadows between his legs, had folded in on itself a bit.
He reached for it. Fingers trembling. As he lifted the letter up his eyes caught a glimpse of the final word. The lone, bold word.
Frank's head jerked up, ears twitching at the sound of a deafening roar, something bestial.
He dropped the letter, jabbing out the overhead lamp.
His breaths were quick. His eyes fell to the rear-view mirror once more.
Glowing red eyes stared back.
Twink pinpricks of menacing, demonic light.
So, part of my writing routine involves doing standalone scenes periodically, whether to practice a specific part of the craft, or to work on alternate openings and test settings for manuscripts currently in the works.
Jax Jensen is a special agent for an organization called the Department of Inquiry, that serves the Intergalactic Federation of Free Planets. Think a role heavily influenced by Judge Dredd, or Imperial Guard/Soviet Commissar. The role of the DOI Agent is to essentially do internal investigations, and crack down on corruption or disloyalty.
In the scene below, designed to be an opener for a piece, he has freshly arrived at his hotel in a tropical paradise and is taking in the scenery, and talking with his AI Assistant Keeper, before a startling turn of events.
Jax Jensen, a Special Agent with the Department Of Inquiry, stepped out onto the windswept gallery that ringed the fifth story of the Regal Stay Resort. Jensen swirled a cognac colored liquid around the short glass snifter cradled in his left hand as a light breeze carried the scent of ocean brine and a faint taste of saltiness to his lips.
Shivering slightly, He was still settling into the more relaxed atmosphere that swim trunks and a light t-shirt offered. It was a stark, but welcome, break from the heavy uniform he was normally confined to. His sandals clacked along the tiled walkway as he strolled, stepping to the rhythm of waves crashing against a cliffside that vanished into white churning depths below. Coming to a stop, Jensen ran his hand along the steel rail which capped the outer wall. His eyes slowly scanned the massive crowds gathered on the pearlescent beach below, who were sprawled out in hundreds of small groups divided into camps of multi-colored umbrellas and fields of beach towels. Following the distinct wakes of sleek watercraft as they carved graceful trails a mile out, Jensen noticed two single-man cutters in a seemingly reckless pursuit of one another.
“Oh my, fallen into the lap of luxury have we?” Keeper’s voice broke the sounds of paradise, a haughty and slightly condescending tone lacing his words. “Don’t get too comfortable.”
“Pipe down.” Jensen scowled at the comm-link bound around his wrist, “make yourself useful and find out who botched my travel arrangements back in McCarr to get me a room in this place.” He ran a hand through his hair and leaned forward on the railing taking a draw of the cognac while watching the cutters’ game of chase. The smooth liquid mixed well with the salted air. His gaze wandered from the cutters a little ways away to a much more rundown--affordable as the Department’s financial officers would call it—travel lodge whose sun-bleached pool and spotty walls contrasted greatly with the freshly painted exterior of the more modern Regal Stay. The smaller lodging looked as if a painter had chosen the color palette from a selection of vomit bile hues.
“It seems your lodging was made by President Brant’s office, not the DOI Travel Officer.”
“There is a god. Or ... gods.” Jensen muttered, “damn the travel officers.”
“Glenda is a lovely woman.” Keeper said, “throws fantastic parties.”
“What would you know about that?” Jensen cocked an eyebrow, his interest returning to his comm-link. “She doesn’t throw parties.”
“None that you’re invited to. I however am granted access through her own Home Interface Systems. Lovely lady.”
“Whatever, Keeps.” Jensen wasn’t sure whether to believe his AI assistant’s outlandish claim. “What’s my assignment brief say?”
“Standard apprehension.” Keeper muttered incoherently, mimicking the droning habit he’d picked up off a congressional staffer as he pretended to skim through the pages of assignment details. Even though Jensen knew that his assistant had processed all of the information in less than a second. “Intel thinks the cartel knows you’ve been dispatched here.”
“An agent in general.” Keeper answered.
“Go on…” Jensen swirled his drink.
“An asset of the Dark Hearts cartel has been operating a highly lucrative gambling business beneath the nose of the Kalgary Gaming Commission. Seems like a pretty profitable drug smuggling gig too.”
“Seems a bit excessive to call a DOI agent out here for something local officials should be handling.” Jensen took another long draw, watching out of the corner of his eye as a rather fetching woman in a tight fitting, flowery cocktail dress stepped out from her room onto the same gallery. I need to remember to send Brant’s office a handwritten thank you.
“Er, well.” Keeper hesitated. “The fact that the illicit gains are funding a hefty portion of the RLF efforts on Renia took it out of local hands.” Keeper paused, then quickly, “and the fact that thirteen local officers have wound up dead trying to stop i—”
“What?” Jensen stifled a choke, mid-sip, “lead with that next time.” A sudden feeling of vulnerability swept away the relaxation that had set in, and the fact that he was so exposed out on the gallery came to the forefront of his mind.
Jensen stepped back from the railing, scanning a few of the other high rise buildings that dotted the area. Sunlight reflecting off the glass walls of other luxury towers hindered his effort to scan all the areas an observer could hide, no matter how fiercely he squinted.
“You’ve been out here for a few minutes now, don’t let the fear ruin your luck.”
“Easy for the disembodied assistant to say.” Turning back toward his door, Jensen lifted the snifter to down the last of his brandy. The glass exploded in his hand, seemingly on contact as it brushed his lips.
Jensen fell in a quick spiral, landing with his back toward the Regal Stay’s inside wall. Taking cover, a sharp crack whipped the air, a bite was taken from the smooth concrete wall. Blood streamed from his lips and hand, disorientation playing with his senses. A shriek erupted from the nearby woman as she ran inside.
“Jax!” Keeper shouted.
I will do my best to be posting new content every Wednesday. Tentatively dubbed "Workshop Wednesday" I will relatively unedited practice pieces I create to work on certain aspects of the writing craft. Bear in mind military service and training schedules are unpredictable and may be cause for the occasional late post.
In the future I plan to have a set schedule for posting about other writing-related things, or topics in my interest field such as Table Top War Gaming and Video Games.
Thank you for your support and feedback!
Matthew Taylor was born February 13, 1991 in Simi Valley, California. He earned a Bachelor's degree in Political Science from California State University Channel Islands, where he served as treasurer and briefly President of one of the campus's two political clubs. While earning his degree he continued to write and hone his craft, eventually releasing an initial few short stories on Kindle.