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.
Alright so I for Workshop Wednesday #2 I'm sharing a piece I worked on not too long ago. For those who do not know, I am a pretty big fan of World of Warcraft. Specifically the Goblins in Warcraft lore. They've got the goofy tinkering quirks of Warcraft Gnomes, and some other flavors on fantasy game goblins, with an air of criminality. The whole organized crime, mob-esque feel is fun to think about. The picture below of "Jastor Gallywix" gives a pretty good feel.
So I wanted to write something in the vein as Blizzard's Goblin Gangsters. You can learn more about them here, and see some cool artwork.
Scene Description: So when I think of the mob, or organized crime and stories about them ... one of the top things that comes to mind is the constant paranoia which must be on the back of every criminals mind. You may have heard the saying: "There is no honor among thieves", it seems crime lords/kingpins are never short of people who want to kill them.
So that's what I set out to write about. I wanted a scene which had the feel of a seedy backroom deal, and the way greed could lead to a lowering of defenses. How perhaps the level of paranoia over someone trying to kill you is warranted in that line of work. I also ended the scene in a way which would try and propel the reader onto the next scene/chapter if it were a longer piece.
I think I accomplished these goals in the piece below and I'm happy to see your thoughts, critiques, and otherwise in the comments! Please keep in mind the Workshop Wednesday pieces undergo very little editing. They're extremely raw, so I have no doubt spelling or grammar errors will be lurking within the sentences.
“Welcome to the big time, pal.” The shadowed creature behind the oak wood desk extinguished his cigar in a battered ashtray nestled between a crown of white candles, melted to little more than shapely blobs among tattered papers and knickknacks which littered the work space.
The cigar let out a faint hiss, like a serpent warning its prey to back away while it still could. Coils of smoke framed the beady-eyed face which now contorted into a shark-like grin, causing the shadows cast by the soft flickering candlelight from below to slither deeper into sunken eye sockets. As if to spur a response, a scarred green hand reached forth into the pool of light that bathed the desk and nudged a bulging burlap coin purse a tad closer. They jingled and clinked like prisoner chains. Even from all the way down the narrow corridors of the club Howell could hear the muffled plucks of a double bass and warbles of trumpets as the band drew their song to a close—cheers and applause followed down from the lounge to this back office, slipping beneath the crack of the wooden door and chestnut colored carpet.
A sucker is born every minute. Howell licked his lips, playing out a visible show of apprehension glazed with minor-anticipation. The earthy taste of the cigar hung in the air. He returned the shark grin with a smirk of his own, nodding an acknowledgment to the pint-sized, two-bit, pointy-eared crime boss which stood atop a plushly upholstered chair behind the desk—almost eye level, now. How such a scrawny goblin had ever risen to the top of one of the most feared crime organizations in Gobblesprocket was beyond figuring out. That coin purse, assuming the coinage within was legitimate, held a lot of money.
“So this is it?” Howell reached slowly to adjust the collar of his trench coat, noting an almost imperceptible flinch of the fat ogre bodyguard which loomed over both himself and the goblin a few feet away. The ogre sunk back into the hollow between two bookshelves as Howell eased him back with a calming gaze. Far enough away to be forgettable, but close enough to snap a poor fools neck if the moment came Howell thought. "It wasn't easy to get hold of that damn book. Havelock Stormbound has been hunting for this to bring back to Talon City's academics."
“Lis’n pal, you should be thankin’ me.” The goblin tugged the bottom of his suit coat flat, smoothing out one a few of the hundred wrinkles which marred the front. “I could just have Lug ‘ere snap your neck and be done with it.” The ogre grunted something low and guttural—a shiver went down Howells spine.
“But you’re too smart for that Tact.” Howell reached for the coin purse.
“That’s Sprock Tact to you, guy.” piped a voice from near the ogre.
Sprock? No doubt short for sprocket. As in sprocket wrench. Howell wondered at the obsession these little green freaks had with tools.
“My apologies.” Howell paused and gave a respectful nod toward Tact, and his rebuker—a plump goblin sinking into a tufted chintz armchair. A shock of red hair was plastered down with grease on the goblin's head, it swallowed the fiery light radiating from the dozens of candles on an end table next to him that had melted together into large blocks of beige wax. The plump goblin turned his glare from Howell back to the shotgun he had been obsessively cleaning for the last hour.
Howell grabbed the sack of coins and stuffed it away inside his coat, the weight of the cash a foreign feeling.
But a great one.
“Take it, you’ll be wealthy, kid.” Sprock Tact let himself down from the chair, nestling into the plush red cushions of his seat as he sat back and studied Howell through devious eyes. “Give it here.” Tact snapped and jabbed a long-nailed finger toward the small leather satchel at Howell’s side.
Howell obeyed, slipping the long strap of the bag over his head before dropping it onto a relatively clutter-free edge of the desk and letting the flap fall open. “There you go.”
“If this ain’t the book you said it was, you won’t be needing those coins.” Tact snatched the leather-bound book from the satchel, swift action stimulated by unmasked greed and anticipation. The book bulged from what seemed like pages barely contained by the golden locks and straps which kept it shut. Tact tugged at the straps, they didn’t budge.
“I didn’t know how to open it.” Howell shrugged innocently, tucking his hands back into his pockets.
Tact glowered, then sighed. “I almost didn’t believe ‘em when they said what you were bringing. A great way to end my week, and expand my collection. The only other discovered book like this was lost shortly after archaeological efforts uncovered them ... no one knows where or how." Sprock Tact gave a knowing look, his tone conveying that he indeed knew where. "Snotch, open this baby up.” Tact tossed the journal toward the shotgun-polishing lackey.
“May I be on my way?” Howell jerked his head toward the door, the band had started up a new tune which rolled in the familiar three-four time.
“Yea get outta here.” Tact flicked his hand, shooing away a dog he no-longer had any interest in. “If this ain’t legit, finding you won’t be hard. If it’s legit, then you did good kid. I’ll have some more work for you I’m sure.”
“Noted.” Howell fiddled with a small device sewn into the liner of his coat pocket, running a finger along the bevel of the button which pushed against the coat’s fabric. It was hard not to laugh, or at least chuckle, at the obliviousness of the crime lord. A gangster so known for his caution and paranoia, had thrown that same caution to the wind as soon as Howell had found a tempting enough item in which the prospective reward obliterated the risk of letting in some unknown kid.
Howell nodded toward Snotch and the ogre, as motionless as a statue, before turning around and heading out. He ignored Snotch ... that one gave him the creeps.
The door clicked shut behind him, and with it ended the feeling of unfriendly eyes boring into his back. Howell turned and squinted against the frosted glass, watching as two pointy-eared silhouettes melded into a fat, ogre-shaped, shadow eclipsing the flickering candlelight behind them. Excited voices from within told Howell they’d essentially forgotten about him by now, their attention rapt by the book. Having such big ears, he wondered if they’d hear the click of the striker before they died. Probably not, Howell guessed, if they did, it would be too late for them anyway.
He put his back to the door and pressed a device in his coat that rested against his leg, driving his index finger down on a small button.
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.