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.
"See, the only way you can see the demons is if you are under the table drunk. So, bottoms up, buttercup. We gotta fight."
(Credit for the original prompt goes to the people over at /r/writingprompts, see the original thread here!)
A Midnight Visitor
“Move, move. *Move*!” the words tumbled out of the old man’s mouth in one exasperated gasp, an adenoidal tone that drew thoughts of chiding grade school teachers and hoity-toity Europeans.
“Who are you, sir?” Blain stood in the door way of his home shying back against the skittering leaves and cold December breeze, a Glock 22 clutched in hand, kept out of sight at the small of his back. He relaxed a bit, staring down at the geriatric bag of bones who stood, hunched, at a near four foot ten. Four foot five if one was being generous and counting the wisps of white hair that clung to the side of the man’s scalp. An incredulous sneer twisted Blain’s lips, he wasn’t on the clock, why was he having to deal with weird stuff? A waft of old-person smell hit him square in the face, a foul mix of ‘nursing home’ mixed with ‘vagrant who lives out of the 76 Gas Station bathroom’. “It’s midnight.”
“You got cotton in your ears boy? I said *move*.” The old man stiff armed Blain in the chest with surprising vigor, driving a lumpy leather handbag into his chest.
“Hey!” Blain tucked the Glock into his belt line. He had a tolerance for old people, but it didn’t stretch too far past physical contact and flying arthritic fists. “What’ve you got in this thing, man—*sir*?” the professionalism of his training kicking into gear. The old man maintained a bleach-knuckled grip on the bag, Blain noticed a small black gym back in the other hand.
“I’ll tell you a-as we move.” The old man stuttered and fixed Blain with a startlingly hard gaze, rheumy eyes a piercing shade of blue. The adenoidal tone of voice shifted to one of command that motivated passiveness into action, a tone Blain himself used daily on the streets.
Good Lord. A 5150. Blain sighed, the least he could do was let the old man in out of the cold while he waited for his buddies to arrive and haul the man back to the nearest hospital for psych evals. “Come in.” Blain stepped aside, letting the old man shuffle through, a tireless pep to his step. Blain scanned the porch for anyone else, perhaps he was on one of those hidden camera shows that judged the reaction of people in odd situations. As far as he could tell though, staring past the naked willow tree that stood alone in a pool of moonlight that spilled across a five by four foot island of grass, there was no one else to be seen. Just his Tundra parked behind a red Malibu beneath a pair of street lamps.
Still, something tugged at Blain, never mind the odd occurrence of a late night visitor, but something in the man’s voice belied an urgency. He shut the door and secured the bolt in place, turning after the old man who’d made a quick path for the dining room.
“What’re you doing?” Blain cut through his kitchen toward the sound of chairs scraping on hardwood, snagging his phone up from a small bar top sink which currently served as a temporary holding place for all of his junk mail and past-due bills.
“You see, the only way you can see the—” The old man started, he was a flurry of motion around Blain’s table, an animated cartoon of the hunched form that had been in the doorway no more than a minute before.
“*Stop.*” Blain thrust a hand out toward the man as he hefted a bulbous ceramic vase from the center of the table. The old man ignored him, shifting the vase to one corner where wilted roses within shed pedals onto the floor.
“You see, the only way you can—”
“I’m calling the police, guy.” Blain thumbed the pass-code into his phone, watching as the old man unrolled the handbag across the cleared table revealing a myriad of crosses made from various materials, and glass vials full of some clear liquid.
“I wouldn’t do that.” The old man shook his head and grimaced, we don’t need any more lives at risk than we have now. “You’re Ophilia’s friend right?”
“What?” Blain pulled his Glock. He knew when he was being threatened. The old man noted it with a dismissive flick of the wrist. “Yes, what does she have to do with—”
“Do you have any Bacardi?”
*Bacardi?* Blain cocked an eyebrow. “Bacardi? Like, the alcohol?"
"Any will do really, just a personal preference." The old man shrugged.
"Look, alright, this must be a joke. Tell Ophilia the gig is up.” Blain didn’t want to mention the borderline shameful amount of alcohol he had tucked around the house—his breakup had hit him a little harder than he’d cared to have admitted. “I have a bit.” *How many of the guys back at the precinct were in on this little charade? Roberts was on shift right now, he’d be able to take the old man back to wherever it was he’d escaped from.* “Let’s go back out front.”
“Sorry,” The old man paused, studying Blain, “I guess I should’ve asked for Malibu. Come to think of it you look like a Malibu drinker. Ophilia is gathering the others.”
“What the hell do you want guy? Others?” Blain found Roberts number in his contacts, keeping a keen eye on the old man. *How did he look like a Malibu drinker? What does that even mean?* The old man shoved past, flipping open cabinet drawers and pantry doors.
“Ah.” The old man shuffled through the dozen-or-so half filled bottles. “More than enough. They’ll be here any minute. *Bacardi.* Perhaps we can get you to an AA meeting after this.” The old man pulled two handles from the cabinet. “Can always count on you lawmen to have alcohol handy.”
“Wait. Who’s they?” Blain set a hand on the old man’s shoulder.
“Demons.” The old man shrugged free, back toward the dining room table.
“Demons?” Blain lifted the phone to his ear wheeling back toward the front door as the line began to ring. The old man’s reflection played out on the black face of the oven like it were a TV screen for a moment as he rummaged around his gym bag. The sound of Velcro ripping tugged at his curiosity, Blain gave his Glock a cursory look. “Go get your drinks elsewhere.” He didn’t have time for this—the old man was going back out front.
“No cops Blain.” Blain turned back around to see that the old man had donned a Kevlar vest.
*“Gun, gun, gun.”* Blain shouted reflexively, retreating back into the meager cover offered by kitchen counters and appliances, dropping his phone and raising the Glock as he registered the shotgun cradled in one arm. A tactical piece better suited for the SWAT team armory than this guy’s own collection.
“Drop it.” Blain ordered, his heart racing. “Drop the weapon guy, or you’re gone.”
The windows of the house began to rattle, the front door shuddering against its bolt. The smell of sulfur and brimstone permeated the walls. Through the window blinds a reddish glow began to pulsate softly. Blain watched sharp white beams of light dance along his backyard fence through his sliding glass door. Tactical lights cutting like knives through the midnight blackness. The old man hit a light switch on the wall, plunging the area into relative darkness.
“What the hell is going on!” Blain demanded. Between the Academy, and twelve years on the street, he’d never experienced this before. He drew a ragged breath, attempting to calm his heart’s frenzied beat.
“You see.” The old man was just a bulky mess of shadows now, faintly illuminated by the light spilling through from outside. He’d emptied the contents of one of the small glass vials into one of the Bacardi handles and offered it forward to Blain. “the only way you can see the demons, is if you’re under-the-table drunk. So bottoms up, buttercup. We gotta fight.”
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.