Crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch, squish! Damn, I’ve stepped in a cow pie.
I know I should be watching where I’m stepping, not daydreaming, staring off past the palms to the horizon. The hens scratching at the side of the mucky dirt road cluck away to each other, and I imagine they’re making fun of me, trudging away down the road now with one shoe clumped with manure. I try to rinse it off in the ditch, startling an unsuspecting frog off a muddy rock in the process, but it’s not much use. I’ll be smelling manure now for the rest of my walk, but it’s not the worst smell in the world.
I walk a little more carefully now, dodging potholes and puddles and watching closely for any more leavings from the livestock. It’s overcast and gloomy, and the tin shacks sprinkled alongside the road look somber, as if they’re depressed too when the sun’s not out. At one house—yes, a proper house, this one, with cement block walls and grimy windows—the ratty curtain in the window twitches ever so slightly, and I know I’m being watched.
Suddenly I feel very alone on this unfamiliar road. Three shacks further down the road, somebody’s washing flaps in the wind, a string of colourful flags calling out that there’s human life here on this god-forsaken road. They’re here; I know they are, hunkered down inside their shacks and sheds, peeking out at me from behind tattered curtains and plywood doors. I look again at the clouds and think they’d better bring their washing in before it gets a free rinse that’ll take ages longer to dry.
I approach the fork in the road with trepidation, gazing first one way, then the other. The main road veers to the left, curving off into another cluster of rusty shacks, and I know it winds down toward the city, toward safety, toward escape. The road to the right is old and rarely used. It’s just two dirt ruts cutting through the grass, really, with a strip of weeds down the middle that would scrape along the undercarriage if you were driving.
The road to the right is a lonely road, leading into the unforgiving jungle with its insatiable humidity and mosquitoes and blood and bullets, and it is the one I must take.
This unfinished story was written as part of a writing exercise from Writers’ HQ on how to create realistic fictional locations. The instructions, in part, were to: “Head over to Mapcrunch, click the green GO button, and drop yourself into a randomized location somewhere in the world. Take in the view. Explore for a while. Or click the button again until you come across somewhere you might like to write about. Then, take another 10-15 minutes to note down all the details you can see or imagine. Use all five senses as well as your writers’ sixth sense to weasel out interesting things that might be brooding in the shadows.”
I love exercises like this as a no-pressure way to explore a scene and practice making a setting come to life. Sometimes I develop what I’ve written into something complete. Other times, like this little vignette, it stays buried on my hard drive and never gets used.
Do you ever write to prompts or exercises like this? Do you find that the work ends up becoming a completed story or part of your WIP? Drop a comment below and share your thoughts.