Finding Beta Readers: Some Advice

So as many of you know, I recently finished a book. It’s a book that can be accurately described as, “X-Men, but in a basement.” And because I wanted to know if it was good enough to publish, I started looking for beta readers. Since then, I’ve swapped manuscripts with two people and received three in-depth critiques so far, of which I am grateful for.

(Side note: I also sent out a manuscript to three other people, who have yet to even make a comment on the document. Which makes me wonder: did they not like the book? Or have they just not gotten around to finishing it? Either way, if you’re one of these people, and you still plan on critiquing said manuscript, please know that the document you’ve got is now out-of-date. I’ve already received three critiques, after all, and I’m already returning to the revision stage. If you’d like to read the updated version, let me know, but I should warn you, it may take a few weeks before you get it.)

So, yeah, I’m basically a professional beta reader now. Not a big deal.

And as someone who’s critiqued many people’s work in the past and has been critiqued several times myself, I’ve got some advice to share. This advice goes for people sharing entire manuscripts, or for those posting smaller bits of writing at places like Destructive Readers. Really, if you want anyone at all to read any piece of your writing, this advice is for you.)

1) For the love of God, proofread your work first.

Let me tell you about the first person I swapped critiques with. She sent me the document, and after reading the few paragraphs I thought to myself. “Oh dear. What have I got myself into?”

It wasn’t just that the story itself sucked. That would be understandable. The problem was the typos. So many typos. At least one in every paragraph, and she wrote short paragraphs. Now, I am no saint with typos, as my readers can attest, but had this person clicked the “spelling & grammar” option, at least half of these errors could’ve been fixed.

This guy knows how I felt

And the thing is, this writer did a great job critiquing my manuscript, so it wasn’t like she didn’t have have a proper grasp of the English language. Instead it seems like she busted out a first draft and sent it to me without a second glance.

Don’t do this. Don’t make your reader spend so much time fixing something you could easily fix yourself. Because now instead of focusing on the story, the characters, the world-building, etc., the reader’s going to get bogged down on the little details. Plus, it’s kind of rude. It’s like if you ordered something at a restaurant, and the chef came out and just threw all the individual ingredients at you.

(No, it’s not like that? Alright, I’ll work on my metaphors.)

2) Don’t get defensive.

This hasn’t happened to me personally, but I’ve seen other people on places like “Destructive Readers,” (or even worse: on actual Amazon reviews of a self-published book), where the author got defensive and lashed out at the negative reviewer. Don’t do this. No matter how misguided or mean-spirited you think the critique is, say thank-you and move on. Because critiquing is not a debate. You’re not going to change the readers’ mind by telling them they “just didn’t get it.” 

I get that writing is a personal experience for most, and it’s easy to take things personally. But I’ve critiqued a lot of really terrible, embarrassingly bad stories over the last year or so, and not once did I find myself judging the person who wrote it. Most people are able to separate the story from its author, and are not going to think less of you for writing a shitty book. (Unless the book is like, aggressively racist or whatever.) They will, however, think less of you for not being able to handle criticism.

3) Remember, you don’t actually have to follow anyone’s advice.

You should still follow point #2, of course, but that doesn’t mean you should listen to every little thing they have to say. Sure, if more than one person points something out, it’s almost definitely worth addressing, but there’s been times where I looked at a beta reader’s advice and thought, “nope!”

Because sometimes, beta readers are wrong. Sometimes they simply have different tastes or opinions that don’t match the audience you’re aiming for or the vision you have. And that’s okay. It doesn’t take any validity away from their other points, and it doesn’t make you an egotistical jerk for not listening to that one part of their critique.

And because I only wrote this post to rant about points one and two, here are a couple of minor bits of advice that I will elaborate very little on:

  • If you’re asking someone to critique your story, make sure to actually tell them what it’s about, and how long it is.
  • One person sent me a copy of her manuscript where it ended mid-sentence. And I emailed her and said, basically, “Is this a mistake, or are you trying to pull off a Sopranos, here?” Because if it were the latter, that would be a pretty ballsy move. Not even The Sopranos was able to pull off a Sopranos ending. She responded with, essentially, “oops, my bad. Here’s the real document,” and sent me a version of the manuscript that was slightly more polished, and came with an actual ending. And I was pissed because I just spent two weeks pushing myself through a typo-ridden manuscript only to find out I’d been given the rough draft by accident.
  • So, don’t do that last bullet-point.
  • (And yes. That person was the same writer from advice #1.)
  • Okay, enough giving you guys advice, I’m just gonna rant some more. How the hell do you accidentally send someone the older copy of your manuscript, and not realize it at all during the weeks he spent critiquing it? There’s carelessness, and then there’s that.
  • I wasted two weeks of my life, dammit.
  • Okay, more like around fifteen hours or so of total work put in, but still.
  • Excuse me while I go chop down a tree.

Wow, so this post quickly veered off track. I’d like to end this post by saying good luck to all you writers out there, and I’d like to say thank you to those who critiqued my manuscript. You’re the best.

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My Super Awesome Time Travel Novella: Part 9

Sorry for not posting in a while but I have 2 good excuses.

1) I came down with a bad case of pneumonia. I was too busy coughing up phlegm to do anything productive.

2) After my health improved, I reread the ending to this and realized that not only is the ending really anti-climactic, but it was also borderline plagiarism. (That’s what you get when you don’t plan ahead, people!) So I’ve been editing it a bit in an attempt to not make it the worst thing ever. I still might get sued for plagiarism, but at least now my ending’s slightly original.

Also, keep your expectations low from now on. Just to be safe.

Chapter 9: The Penultimate Chapter

No bullet came out of the gun, and everyone save Smith sighed with relief.

Trying to make sense of this, I tried to count in my head the amount of bullets Smith shot earlier. Was it four of five times he shot the cyborg? The obvious answer was six, but there was no way it was more than five.

Then I remembered when L. Smith had shot down the hallway earlier in an attempt to wake Chloe. It added up.

“Thank goodness,” said Chloe, breathing a sigh of relief.

“I’m so glad you didn’t just die right there,” said Jake. “I would have been all like ‘Oh no!'”

“I know, right?” said Chloe. “That was quite the nail-biter. Even worse if you had to wait over a week to find out what happened.”

While the two were talking Smith just calmly reloaded his gun. “You do realize I could just shoot you again, right?”

“Okay,” said Chloe, indifferently. She even yawned. “You can kill me.”

“What?” asked Smith, just as surprised as the rest of us.

“You heard me,” she said. “You can kill me, but you probably shouldn’t.” Smith eyed her suspiciously. So did I. Chloe hadn’t been acting herself since she woke up, thought that was probably because of the current life-or-death situation at hand.

“You know something, don’t you?” asked Smith.

“Yeah,” said Chloe. “I’m surprised you, being from the future and all, haven’t figured it out.”

“If you know something that could potentially save your life, why are you just telling us about it now and not when I was about to kill you a couple seconds ago?” asked Smith.

“I counted the bullets,” she said. “I heard one in my dream where I shot a rabbit, but the gun was way too loud and realistic to just be part of the dream. And then you shot at the cyborg five times.”

“So what is it?”

She looked at the cyborg, “Now, I’m no expert, but I believe time traveling cyborgs have a self destruct system set automatically inside them when they die, probably so its remains won’t be found in the eighteenth century and cause a huge paradox.

Smith’s eyebrows raised a foot and his head turned towards the cyborg so fast I’m surprised he didn’t break his neck.

“How do you even know that?” I asked.

“I’ll explain later,” she said, as Smith turned over the body and cut into the flesh. Instead of blood and intestines and other humany stuff, there was a compute the size of a paperback novel buried inside. It was beeping slowly, barely audible, with the space between beeps getting shorter and shorter.

Beep… Beep… Beep… Beep.. Beep..

Smith, who wasted no time, picked me up by the chair and dragged me into the other room. Then he did the same for Jake, but Jake was being as difficult as possible. He was wiggling his legs and shaking his entire body back and forth—it was almost impossible to get him through the door.

After half a minute of awkwardly trying to position Jake’s chair through the doorway (all while yelling at him to stay still), Smith dropped the chair, causing the hind legs to break off and the back part of the chair to become slightly dislocated. The moment Jake fell he started slamming his feet against the front legs of the chair, which his feet were tied to. Smith then dragged Jake by the hair over towards me. He shut the door, locking Chloe in with the time bomb.

“Hey!” I yelled.

“What?”

“What about Chloe? We need her!”

“Yeah,” said Jake, still kicking, “she’s the third musketeer!”

“While that is an excellent point, Jake,” said Smith. “She has no value to me, so why risk my life to save her?”

“What about Lindsey’s?” asked Jake. “I believe she’s the only last living one of your team.” That was true. Two other dead bodies were lying just five, six feet away from us.

Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep.

Smith walked back into the room to get Lindsey, giving Jake just enough time to kick off his chair’s front legs. It took him about five seconds to fully stand up, and when he did he stood awkwardly hunched over. Then he slammed the back of the chair against the wall, splitting the back in half. He did it again, and again, and the chair fell apart, dropping to the floor.

Now his only real problem was the handcuffs behind his back, which extremely limited his ability to pick up the gun lying next to the dead body by the computer. He walked over to it, picked up the gun, and from what I could tell (I couldn’t see behind me), he shot the chain in the handcuffs with the gun. While that did successfully free himself from the handcuffs, it also sent a bullet scraping into the back of his shoulder.

“Ow.” said Jake, not really that badly hurt. Probably the adrenaline rush eased the pain. Either way, we had some slightly more pressing issues.

At the sound of the bullet Smith dropped Lindsey, who he had just gotten through the door, and turned around towards Jake, who was now pointing a gun at him.

Beep beep beep beep beep beep beep beep….

“Get Chloe out of there,” said Jake, his voice suddenly sounding three years older. Smith looked down at his gun, which hung at his belt, and back at Jake, who looked ready to shoot to kill. He obeyed.

Jake followed him into the room, and Smith walked out with Chloe behind him, completely unbound and carrying his gun. “Ha ha,” said Jake, “the tide just completely turned in our favor.”

“How secure is this door?” asked Chloe.

“Secure enough to stop the explosion,” said Smith.

“Good,” said Chloe, who then shoved him into the room and locked the door behind him.

“Hey, isn’t that a little too dark?” asked Jake as they heard Smith’s pounding from the other side.

“The guy kills for money,” she said. “And then he tried to kill me, which I’m not a fan of. If we let him live he’ll probably come back to kill us.

“What about Lindsey?” asked Jake. We all looked at her unmoving body.

“Honestly,” said Chloe. “I think she might be dead. Or at least suffered some severe brain damage.”

“Hey, can you guys unchain me?” I asked. And as the bomb went off in the other room (followed by uncomfortable silence), Chloe and Jake took off the chains.

“Ok,” I said, “So I think we should take all the chronivators and go back home.” They agreed. We searched around the base (first Chloe, with a cold detachment, stripped the chronivators off the two dead guys) until we found what I guess was the supply room. Here was the rest of the chronivators, including ours, where everything in our pockets was emptied out on the table. I saw the piece of paper Jake gave to us earlier and showed Chloe.

“Oh yeah!” she said, and then rewrote the letter on a separate but identical looking piece of paper. “We need you to do this thing for us,” she said to Jake.

“I’m not stripping for you.”

“No, I mean I need you to go back in time and deliver this message to us. Right before we were captured by Smith.”

“How do I know the exact time and place?” he asked, then looked back at the chronivator. “Oh, wait. It’s in the history section for this device. I just set the time back a few. How long after I left did Smith & Friends pop up?”

“About three minutes I think,” I said. “Put two chronivators on at once.”

“Ooh, that’s a good idea,” he said.

“You’re the one who gave it to me.”

“Actually, I’m gonna need three chronivators,” he said. “Imma get a magician’s suit.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because I want to be like a wizard, popping out of nowhere and whatnot.”

“So why not dress like a wizard?”

“Actually,” said Chloe. “That’s exactly what you were wearing when we saw you. Then you popped up a second time with cut hair and you were back in your normal clothes.”

“Okay,” said Jake, counting with his fingers, “So I first go and get a magician’s suit, then I go and give you friendly advice, then I come back here. Then I go back in time again, get a haircut, go back to my house and get my clothes, go back to where you were, and then back here again. All to establish a mostly meaningless time loop.”

“Exactly.” Chloe handed him the newly written letter. Jake disappeared, only to come back a second later in a magician’s suit. Chloe told him what to do next. “Then you said to us ‘And by the way, the chronivator can travel to different places, not just different times,’ and then Josh says ‘If only you went back in time to when we were in 1969 to tell us that,’ and you say, ‘Well, too bad.'”

“Okay, got it.” Jake disappeared again.

“How did you memorize all that?” I asked.

“What? I remember everything,” she said. This was not true; many hours of our lives have been spent looking for one of Chloe’s possession, which she could have sworn she’d put over there. I was about to bring this up, but there were more important things going on.

Jake popped up again, now in his normal clothes and freshly cut hair. “That was fun. Now what?”

“We still have some time travel related things to do,” said Chloe.

“Okay, Miss Sudden Expert on Time Travel,” said Jake, “What else do we have to do?”

“The fortune cookies,” she said. “Where did those cookies come from?”

“So it might have been us who put them there and put everything all into motion?” I asked.

“Possibly,” she said, checking the fridge. “Yes, it definitely was.” She pulled out of the side door four fortune cookies. “They just had it in the fridge. That’s a sign.”

“There’s a slight problem with that,” I said.

“What?”

“There’s no way we could take off the wrapper for one of them, take out the paper without breaking it, put another fortune paper in it, and wrap it up exactly as it were.”

“I have an idea!” said Jake, and then grabbed one of the fortune cookies in Chloe’s hands and smashed it on the ground,

“What the hell, Jake?” I asked.

“Haha, I’ll explain later.” Then he picked up a gun, entered some digits into the chronivator and reappeared seconds later with a new fortune cookie.

“What did you do?”

“I went to an actual fortune cookie factory—this one’s located in America, ironically— wrote down that specific fortune on one paper, and watched that specific paper be inserted into the cookie and wrapped up in a bag exactly like those ones.”

“How’d you get them all to do that?” I asked.

“Oh, I just held them all at gunpoint,” he said. “They were so shocked by me appearing out of nowhere that they were too afraid to fight back.”

“That’s awful, Jake.”

“Hey, the factory was from the future, so no paradoxes were caused, no one died, which is always a good thing, and now we have the fortune cookie just as we want it,” he said. “But how do we know which one Josh picks?”

“Remember what Smith said? Time wants certain things to happen, so no matter where you put it, Josh’ll end up picking it up. If you think about it, but not too much, it makes perfect sense.”

“Okay,” Jake grabbed the bag of fortune cookies and vanished for three seconds. As he returned someone else reappeared behind him. He was a tall, skinny kid with acne, and he looked familiar.

“Who the hell are you?” I asked, and Chloe immediately answered.

“Josh, that’s you.”

“What, the ugly acne kid? He looks nothing like me.”

“I’m a cyborg created to look exactly like Joshua Blitz, as of May 17th, 2013,” he said.

“I don’t see any resemblance,” I said, picking apart every flaw of this person. “And stop slouching!” I yelled at me.

“That’s not important right now,” he said. “The important thing is that I give you this.” He pulled out a coin from his pocket and threw it at me. I caught it and looked at the date. This was the coin.

“How’d you get it from me?”

“When you were at Bill’s Deli in 1969, I pick-pocketed you as Smith shot down those policemen. Neither of you even noticed me.”

“But… why?”

“Because Jake programmed me to.”

“Aww, thanks Jake.”

“No problem.”

For a second we had a nice, peaceful moment where everything had worked out. Most, if not all of our questions had been answered, Smith’s men were dead, we had the coin, and we were off to live our merry lives in our normal time zone. Then we heard a noise from the other room.

It sounded sort of like a ‘zleep!,’ the sound the chronivator made every time someone used it. We all followed to the hallway where Lindsey had laid unconscious. Except her body wasn’t there.

“Of course,” said Chloe, letting out an exasperated sigh. “You leave your enemies alive, they come back to kill you.”

“Okay Jake, let’s get out of here,” I said. “Before she gets back.”

“Uh… sorry, Josh. but none of these recharge for another three minutes.”

“We should probably get out of this place,” said the cyborg version of me. “Lindsey knows this base a lot better than any of us. You guys all know the area of Wappingers’ Creek, so you’ll have a better chance of fighting back there.”

“Sounds like good advice,” said Jake. “Where’s the exit?”

“The third door to the left,” said Chloe, as if she’d been here her whole life. Before we left I stopped by one of the dead guys’ guns and picked it up. I didn’t know much about guns, but I knew a little about this one; this was exactly the same type of gun as my uncle’s. I remember being allowed to shoot it once and managing to be somewhat accurate.

As we entered the woods, we heard two people teleport directly behind us. I turned around, first noticing Lindsey, with her wounds suddenly healed, and then the man beside her. He looked familiar but it took me a while to remember who he was: the guy back in 1969 that Smith put in charge of getting rid of the dead bodies. I guess he didn’t die after all.

I didn’t have time to ask him exactly what happened to him, since the cyborg version of me pulled out his gun and pointed it at him, not before being shot by the other guy in the head twice.

The moment he opened fire the three of us ran into the woods, me grabbing Chloe’s hand and trying to make sure she didn’t get shot in the face.

The problem was, Lindsey and the Other Guy were trained soldiers, both a million times faster than us, and when Jake tripped as they were ten feet away, it became apparent that we weren’t going to get away by running.

Jake, hesitating, aimed at Lindsey and shot through an entire magazine, missing every single time. Even worse was that Jake had no idea how to reload a gun.

Chloe and I were hiding behind a tree, and I hesitantly pulled out what looked like my uncle’s shotgun, pointed and pulled the trigger. Much to everyone’s surprise, I hit my mark. The gun flew out of the Other Guy’s hand. He let out a horrific scream as he clutched his bloody disfigured hand with his other bloody, disfigured hand and dropped the ground.

Lindsey aimed at me, and I went back to cover just in time. I turned back to shoot again when Chloe did something unexplainable. Just as I was set in the motion of pulling the trigger, she jumped into the line of fire. No warning, no explanation. Nothing. An almost impossible amount of blood drenched the ground; her lifeless body collapsed, her face completely unrecognizable.

I could have let out a scream—a yell, some sort of sign of despair, but I was too shocked to do anything. The gun was kicked out of my hand. I barely noticed. I looked up and into the inside of a barrel.

“All I wanted was the coin,” said Lindsey. With vague interest I noticed she was crying. “I didn’t want anyone to die. I just wanted to be rich. Please, just tell me where the coin is, and I won’t shoot.”

Before I could answer, Jake tackled me to the ground, and I entered the time vortex yet again.

My Super Awesome Time Travel Novella (Chapter 2)

Chapter 1: This is More of a Prologue

Is this novella ever gets published (very very very very very unlikely), I want this to be its cover.

This is my second chapter of “My Super Awesome Time Travel Novella” (Yes, that’s that actual name). I’m a little iffy about this chapter, because usually my second chapters slump compared to the surrounding ones. Also there’s a part at the end that I feel is a little too out of left field, even for me.

Keep in mind that this novella is comedy/drama, that references Doctor Who, Looper, The Terminator series, Back to the Future Trilogy, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, 11/23/63, Superman, Artemis Fowl: The Time Paradox and much more. Feel free to critique this as much as you want.

Chapter 2: The Fortune Cookies

This part of the story still confuses me.

My time traveling adventures started off as a normal Saturday afternoon at the mall with Chloe and two other friends. Because we were all either fifteen or fourteen years old, we rarely went to restaurants or any type of traditional date other than the movies. We mostly just wandered around the mall, eating free samples in the food courts and jumping off random stuff. And occasionally someone does something illegal. Usually Jake.

Jake Edelson is the type of kid you don’t trust with your phone, wallet, or any sharp or potentially explosive objects. He’s known for doing stupid, dangerous things without thinking about the consequences.

It was originally just the three of us: Chloe, Rachel, (Chloe’s best friend, who was sort of a know-it-all), and I sitting at the food court, Rachel texting someone and Chloe and I sharing some fries. We didn’t have any idea what we were planning to do that day. Then Jake came, running over like he was being chased by the cops (which could very well be the case), holding an almost empty bag of fortune cookies in his hand.

“Hi guys!” he said, grabbing the seat in front of Rachel.

“I take it those are stolen,” said Rachel.

“Technically, yes,” he said. “But seriously, the guy was asking for it to be stolen.” When no one said anything, he further explained. “The idiot just left it on the bench near Best Buy. And I thought, ‘Well, there’s four of us at the mall, and there’s four fortune cookies left in that bag,’ so I decided to steal it.” He then shouted out “YOLO!” loud enough for everyone in the food court to hear.

“Never say yolo again,” said Chloe, once everyone looked away.

“Yolo!” He shouted again, though not as loud.

“That’s it! Five minute time out,” Rachel scolded him, taking the bag away. Treating him like a five year old had become a fairly normal thing for Rachel. It was hilarious.

“No! But I–”

“Jake!”

“Fine,” he grabbed his own fortune cookie and walked over to another table.

I reached into the bag and grabbed the first one, then handed the bag to Chloe, who handed it to Rachel. I bit into mine and took out the little piece of paper that tells you your “fortunes.” I almost threw it away because fortune cookies usually have a vague, worthless sentence that doesn’t even tell you your fortune. But then I caught a glimpse of my name on it and my heart stopped in its place.

“Jake?”

“Yeah?” He called from the other table.

“Do you know who you stole this from?” I asked, gripping the paper in my hand.

“No, I just sort of grabbed it and ran. Why?” He walked over and I showed him the piece of paper where, in tiny blue font, read, “Joshua Blitz: You’re being watched.” I might have thought it was just a joke fortune cookie that could be meant for anybody, but it said my name, for christ’s sake! I noticed writing on the other side and flipped the paper. “Don’t panic. Go to Sterling Park now if you want to live.”

“How is that even possible?” asked Rachel. I showed the back of it to everyone else.

“Are you making this up?” I asked him, but I didn’t believe he would. Although this is the type of prank Jake would pull, he didn’t have the tools or intellectual capability to pull it off. For one thing, he was a crappy liar, (which is really bad when it’s combined with a shoplifting habit), so his face would probably have given something away by then. Plus, how could he have know which fortune cookie I would pick to begin with? How could anyone know that?

That left the unsettling question of whether or not I should go to Sterling Park. Sterling Park is a quiet little playground half a mile away from my house. I used to go to camp there until I turned 12.

“I wouldn’t go,” said Rachel.

“I’d go,” said Chloe, clearly worried. “If you want to live.” She pointed at the last five words on the paper, printed in professional tiny blue font.

“Yeah,” I said, thinking it through. “Anyone who’s willing to send a message inside a fortune cookie clearly knows what they’re doing.”

“Plus, there’s the whole “not-dying” thing that’s a huge advantage,” said Jake, as if we were discussing whether or not to see a movie.

“I’m going, then,” I said, standing up abruptly. I was just halfway up when Chloe stopped me.

“But it says you’re being watched,” said Chloe. “So act natural.” She then looked around in the most unnatural way possible. “And I’m coming with you.”

When Chloe says she’s coming with you, there’s no way to stop her. We ended up casually buying a soda as Rachel called her mom to pick us up. We exited the mall, trying our hardest to not gain any suspicion. By the time we got out, Rachel’s mother was already driving up to us in the parking lot. She gave a suspicious glance to Jake and then the looked changed to a nervous, fake smile. She drove us to the park and didn’t bother to make much conversation.

Roughly a block away from the park, the car stopped at a red light. The van behind us, however, sped up.

“Look out!” Chloe shouted.

Rachel’s mom saw what was happening a half-second before it did and stepped on the breaks–not enough to get away but enough to lessen the hit.

The glass shattered from behind me. The car was small and compact, but not that strong. I covered the back of my head with my hands and felt the glass cut into them. The van driver just kept on stepping on the pedal. Rachel’s mom screamed, and with the airbag covering most of her face, she floored it, panicked, and jerked the wheel to the left and the next thing I knew the car had flipped over.

Me being in the seat closest to the ground, I felt most of the impact. Chloe and Jake fell on me, along with all the glass that somehow survived the first crash. My hands and neck were covered in blood, the right side of my head was screaming, all I could hear was a strong buzzing in my ear that didn’t want to go away.

I somehow managed to turn my head and found that I was able to look out the back window. The van had stopped moving. I heard the sound of a van door slamming shut, and inhumanly heavy footsteps walking towards the car.

The car was lifted upright and the door on my side was flung open with the man’s bare hands. He was wearing a black leather suit, wore shades and held a shotgun in his hand. He looked at me.

“Is that Arnold Schwarzenator?” asked Jake. If I hadn’t know any better, I would not have guessed that he had just been in a potentially fatal car accident.

The weird thing was, the guy did look exactly like Arnold Schwarzenegger.  “I think it is,” I said.

“Why the hell did Arnold Freakin’ Schwarzenegger run over our car with a van?”

“I am not Arnold Schwarzenegger ” the man said. “I am a cyborg sent from the year 2020 to protect Joshua Blitz, Jake Edelson and Chloe Brooks.”

“What about me?”

“Shut up, Rachel,” said the cyborg.

“So why do you look the Terminator?” I asked.

“It was my creator’s idea of a joke,” it replied. “I am here to insure that you get to Sterling Park by 6:18 PM safely.”

“So why the hell did you crash into us?”

“Computer glitch. I never meant to hit you.”

“You’re a pretty crappy cyborg,” said Jake.

“I was built in 2020. You should be amazed that technology has gotten this far in just seven years.”

“Yet you still have computer glitches?”

“My programmer was forced to use Windows Vista.” Jake nodded understandingly.

“Is this some type of joke?” I asked. At this point, I had never done anything that would make someone want to kill me, and at the time I certainly did not believe in time travel, let alone time-traveling mercenaries.

“I am incapable of humor. Come on. They will be here in forty five seconds. Rachel, you and your mother may stay here. They aren’t after you. Josh, Jake, Chloe: come with me if you want to live.”

Before we could ask who “they” were, he started running around the corner. We followed him, running down streets and cutting through yards until we finally made it to the park. It was empty, as it always was at this time of the day and this time of the year. The cyborg stopped at the slide.

On the slide lay what looked like a giant wrist guard. On a closer look, I could see that there were hundreds of buttons all over it. You could just tell it did not belong in 2013.

“That’s a Wrist-worn Chronivator Mechanism,” the cyborg said. When it processed the confusion on our faces, it explained, “It’s a time travel device. Joshua: Put it on.”

I was about to refuse when I saw a worn-out black van crashing through the gate. I put it on as quickly as possible. It fit perfectly. “What do I do?”

“There’s a number pad on the wrist guard. I have been programmed to tell you to travel to 1969.”

“Why 1969?”

“I am programmed not to tell you. Jake and Chloe must grab onto the device as well.” They did. There was a loud gunshot and the cyborg dropped to the ground. He was bleeding and clutching his stomach like a human would.

“I thought you were a cyborg!”

“Not a very good one.” He started coughing up blood. I heard another gunshot, panicked, and pressed the enter button. Two seconds later I found myself in the woods, in 1969.