Literary critique, Stories, writing technique

Briefly Sentimental

crying-while-reading-compressed

A couple of years back, giving an author feedback on a story I had rejected for the Book a Break anthology, one of the reasons I gave was that ‘it veered into sentimentality at the end.’ I wasn’t alone in this appraisal: Sherry Morris, the competition judge, said, ‘it all goes sentimental syrupy at the end. Indigestible.’ The author, whilst accepting my other remarks, wrote back to say that she actually quite liked sentimental stories.

This got me thinking. Were we talking about the same thing? We couldn’t be, I decided, but since I didn’t pursue the exchange, I can’t be totally sure. What I did instead was a little research, and found this excellent article, which gives a thorough analysis of sentimentality, and how the meaning of the word has changed over the years. It’s a long one, so if you’re in a hurry, I’ll summarise it as: it’s a lot more complex than we think.

My own conclusion is that (as with everything else) it all depends how it’s done. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with sentimentality. Decades ago I read Love Story, which was widely panned by critics as formulaic and manipulative, pulling just the right strings to get the hankies out. William Styron called it ‘a banal book which simply doesn’t qualify as literature.’ A snootiness which did nothing, I’m sure, to dent Erich Segal’s spirits – Love Story was in the New York Times bestseller list for 41 weeks. Though I know a mass readership doesn’t equate to quality, I always feel that anyone who sells that number has to be doing something right.

So why did Sherry and I react negatively to what we perceived as sentimentality? The difference between Love Story and the story I rejected was that Segal took the time to put all the pieces in place, get us cheering for the two main characters, before demolishing our hopes with Jenny’s  death. In the face of a disapproving father, the love of a young couple ends in tragedy. Not a bad pitch, is it? Shakespeare’s log-lines haven’t survived but it’s widely thought he used it for Romeo and Juliet.

To get sentimentality right in a short story is hard. Crucial to its success is getting the reader’s emotions in the right place as early as possible. And I realise now that the keyword in my feedback to the author was not sentimentality but veered. In a story which up till then was mysterious, even scary, there was a sudden switch to two people trying to cope with the loss of a loved one. Edgar Allen Poe would have been appalled – it goes against the ‘unity of effect’ he insisted a short story must achieve: decide on what emotional response you want to elicit, stick to just one, and make sure that everything contributes to that end.

Poe’s strictures are seen these days as rigid. There are many successful short stories that don’t follow them. All the same, as a rule of thumb, the unity of effect isn’t a bad one. Where a novel can play with many different emotions, a short story is best dealing with just one. And there’s nothing at all wrong if that one is sentimental – just make sure you nail it right from the start.

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About Writers, book promotion, humor, Uncategorized, world-building, Writers Co-op, Writers Co-op Anthology, writing technique

Live in the present. Write there too.

–  by Barry K. Rosen (aka Mellow Curmudgeon)

The ancient advice is still good. Live mostly in the present, with enough dwelling on the past to serve specific purposes like learning from mistakes. Also good is the much more recent advice to write fiction in the present tense, unless there is a specific reason to use the past tense.

Zen lore includes some stories with endings of the form

At that moment, __________ attained enlightenment.

Fill in the blank with the name of somebody who studied Zen for some time and finally saw the light when his teacher said or did something outrageously weird.

While my story Satori from a Consulting Gig does not presuppose any knowledge of Zen lore, it does have a surprise ending (partly inspired by those Zen stories) with my own way to fill in the blank. Using the past tense in my story’s last sentence helps make the allusion to Zen lore clear to those who might care about it.

Did I choose to write my story in the past tense because I planned to end it that way? Not consciously. I just set out to write a short story. I’ll write some fiction. I’ll use the customary past tense. Doesn’t everybody?

Not quite. I got over 16 million hits when I googled

present tense vs past tense fiction

much later, in preparation for writing this post. Before discussing some pros and cons that are out there (and some that may be new), there is a little more to be said about my story’s tense situation.

My story was written for an anthology whose editors asked the contributors to supply blurbs. I wrote a blurb in the same tense as the story, then noticed that other contributors wrote blurbs in the present tense for stories in the past tense. Why? I found the inconsistency troubling.

Another contributor (Sue Ranscht) kindly remarked that the present tense “creates a punchier tease” in blurbs than the past tense does. Indeed. Why not make the actual story (not just the blurb) be as vivid and engrossing as it can possibly be? Unless there is a specific reason to use the past tense, why not write in the present tense?

§1: Perilous Present
Written in the present tense, my newer story Entanglements begins with

Squatting over the airport, a thunderstorm supercell demolishes …

Yes, the word demolishes might be misread as (a typo for) demolished. Yes, the reader might be a little disoriented at first. Worse, the reader might suspect that gimmicky writing is camouflage for weak content. Such concerns loom large in a thoughtful page that recommends using the past tense by default and the present in some special cases. We can agree on the bedrock principle that one size does not fit all, even as we disagree amicably on where to draw some lines and how strongly to weight some concerns. That’s a respite from the train wreck of contemporary politics.

Dunno how 16 million hits in my Google search compares with how often the present tense has actually been used in good stuff. As good uses accumulate, the prudential reasons for defaulting to the past tense will gradually weaken. Of course, there will always be people who believe that the earth is flat, the moon landings were faked, and

Thou shalt write fiction in the past tense.

came down from Mount Sinai with Moses.

§2: Perilous Past
Readers (and writers!) may not be native speakers of English. As with many other aspects of language, English is exuberantly irregular in how it forms the past tense. People learn the past tense of a verb later (and less thoroughly?) than they learn the present tense. Can U hear the rumble of an approaching storm?

When offline (or distrustful of Google Translate), Pierre consults his French/English dictionary. How can he say prendre in English? No problem. Just say take. But Pierre is writing in the customary past tense. Neglecting to look up take in the other half of the dictionary, he says taked where he should say took.

Consider 3 common ways that verbs ending in -it can form their past tenses: hit/hit, pit/pitted, and sit/sat. Quick now: knit/knit or knit/knitted? Shit/shit or shit/shat?

There are a few verbs with 2 ways to form the past: an irregular usual way and a regular way for a special usage:

Starting a road trip, the team flew out to Chicago.
Swinging at the first pitch, the batter flied out to left field.
The picture was hung in a prominent place.
Nathan Hale was hanged as a spy on 1776-09-22.
This last nuance is subtle enough to trip up some native speakers.

§3: Perilous Past Perfect
Pierre is back. The draft of his story has a short paragraph about some taking that happened at an earlier time. Not fond of flashbacks, he has a good reason to put this paragraph as late as it is, not earlier in the narrative.

Sadder but wiser after being corrected by a ten-year old whose first language is English, Pierre refrains from writing had took for the past perfect for the verb take. He looks up the actual past participle and writes had taken.

Pierre’s pluperfect paragraph is grammatical but clunky. What to do? Rewrite the main narrative in the present tense and the clunky paragraph in the past. That will be a chore, but such a clear and distinct idea deserves the effort. Descartes would approve.

§4: John and Jane Get Tense
John has been writing screenplays that often use flashbacks. Now he wants to write a novel and still likes flashbacks. He realizes that readers would be confused if nothing but a paragraph break separates what the characters do and experience “now” (from their viewpoint) from the start or end of a flashback. There is a lot of sensible advice out there about things like narrative transitions to and from flashbacks, but John wants to stay closer to his cinematic roots. He uses the present tense for the main content and the past tense for the flashbacks. If he also switches to a noticeably different font for the flashbacks, that might be enough in most places (after narrative transitions for the first few flashbacks).

Jane has been writing historical fiction and using the past tense to make it look like history. Now she wants to write fiction with a first-person narrator and package it as a rather one-sided conversation with an implicit listener. She plans to keep the past tense for the main content and add some present-tense remarks, often in response to what the listener has presumably just said. The present-tense remarks will be frequent and incongruous. The narrator will tell a self-serving version of a sequence of events in the past tense while accidentally revealing the darker and/or funnier truth in the present tense.

I warned Jane that readers (especially impatient thick-headed guys like me) may just take the narrator to be ditzy and bail out early. But Jane is game to try. If she does make it work, I know a good place to submit her story.

§5: Recurring Rabbit
Rabbit
The Rabbit Hole is a series of anthologies of weird stories, with a troika of editors. Volume 1 came out in 2018, Volume 2 is scheduled to come out on 2019-10-01, and the editors hope to continue annually. Maybe Jane can contribute to Volume 3.

My story Satori from a Consulting Gig in Volume 1 is just 2 pages long, so even those who dislike it may still be glad they bought the book for $2.99 as an e-book or $12.50 as an ink-on-paper book.

While every extended narrative in Volume 1 uses the customary past tense, Volume 2 will have at least one story told in the present tense. No, the editors’ fondness for weird stories does not extend to a fondness for weird writing. As originally submitted for Volume 2, my story Entanglements did have some weird writing at the end that seemed unavoidable to me. Editor Curtis Bausse suggested a strategy for avoiding the unwanted weirdness, and the strategy worked. There was no fuss at all about my use of the present tense. That is as it should be.

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About Writers, blogging, book promotion, inspiration, Stories, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

True Gamer Anthology – Stories by Gamers for Gamers

An untapped market of $152,000,000,000 (that’s billions of dollars) a year with over two billion active participants? Maybe. I suspect most writers are unaware of it.

Games today require an immersive story line. Howard Hughes is featured in Fallout New Vegas. Apparently, Howard survived the nuclear war as a human-robot hybrid living deep underground in a vat of biomedical brew. He controls the city, not for money, but because he wants power over others so he can create a post-apocalyptic world in his own image.

The average video game writer salary is $82,935.
https://www.quora.com/How-much-do-video-game-scriptwriters-make-in-a-big-company
(Forget Fan-fiction, except for fun. Logically enough, it is difficult to make money based on something someone else has created and copyrighted.)

Voice actor dialogue is first-rate. Linda Carter – yep, Wonder Woman – wrote and sang the songs for her own in-game character. Magnolia, the sultry lounge singer in Fallout 4 sings good jazz, too. Google her sometime:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S39BnYdGD6Q

We are beginning to plan an anthology of true gamer stories. You are invited to join us. Imagine, real stories that happened in fantasy. We think some of those two billion gamers will want to read it. Only the game gods know what we will find. Love stories, of course. And death. I once played with a drug enforcement agent who came online one day and just wanted to be with “friends.” She was quite upset. She had had to shoot someone in real life. In-game is where she went for consolation. Expect extremes. I remember a lady from the earliest days of online gaming who logged into the game from the maternity ward. She wanted everyone to meet her new baby. That was -truly 😃 – memorable role play as we sat at our keyboards around the world, grinning and being happy for the mother. Expect delight.

To produce an anthology of true gamer stories we will need agents to explore the game forums and find true stories, writers who are also gamers to write their own stories, ghostwriters for players who are not writers, editors of course, and a publisher to format the story and put it on Amazon in time for next Christmas season. You may be any one or more of these and how this effort is organized is up to the people doing the work. Those who are still here this time next year will be the agents, writers, editors and publisher of what can be a ground breaking effort.

Join us. Go to the Facebook Group, “True Game Stories.”
Or email me, GD<at>Deckard<dot>com.

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About Writers, blogging, book promotion, Stories, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

The PC Censor

Does political correctness censor your writing? I ask because I woke this morning with the realization that my WiP is purely politically incorrect. Badly so in parts. I thought about dropping the project until, fully awake, I remembered that everything I’ve written is fact, not opinion. It is not fiction based on my experiences as a medic during the Vietnam War, it is a telling of those experiences.

Every writer worth more than their sales knows that truth, however one defines it, is beholden to fact but not to the expectations of public opinion. I have to wonder though, to what extent my writing is influenced by wanting people to like it, to not offend others by a truth that I define.

The nature of the beast is the problem. War is not easily described to people with preconceived notions about how good people should behave towards other good people. Young men and women see the world differently from the way they learned to see it when they are serving in a war hospital eleven thousand miles from home. Perception overwhelms upbringing. The daily smells of blood and iodine disinfectant around open gunshot wounds in dying men cannot be processed the same way as feelings hurt by an offensive remark.

Words, as used here and now, are not meant to convey the reality of there and then. The words of war (hmm, I’ll have to make that a chapter title) are determined by the exhaustion of compassion, the need to wall off the horror, and to cling to a useful sanity in an insane world. Acceptance of reality is required to save lives. The death rate of wounded soldiers in Vietnam was 1.9% because the men and women involved coped with reality.

How they coped is my story. This WiP sat in my mind for years while I searched for words that don’t exist. When I began, I found myself writing from the point of view of the people involved, and with no regard to how that might affect today’s reader wrapped in a comfort blanket of moral smugness. Having thought it through, (thanks for reading this) I’m determined to continue. The soldiers understood that death requires forgiveness. I am not going to apologize for their stories.

+++“I was taking a guy to x-ray in a wheelchair. Shot-up, just off a medivac. We go by the gift shop and he says, ‘Stop! See that nurse? I want to eyeball-fuck her.’ I stopped.” He shrugged.
+++“Who was she?” Captain Kelly asked with humor in her eyes.
+++“Jenkins, from O.B.”
+++“Oh. That didn’t take him long then.” She turned serious. “I understand. You see death, you want life.” Sucking in a breath, she pushed her chair from the table and stood. “Back to it.” He took in the redhead walking away. Kelly was on the dialysis team and regularly watched young men die because their kidneys had been left on the battlefield. When she was on call at night, Captain Kelly was notified by waking the doctor on call that night.
+++– from Code Blue and Little Deaths

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Uncategorized

Children, aging and the joy of videogames

Note: I saw this post on a videogame forum last week.

– by Andreslamantis

Let me tell you a little story:

I found a couple of kids (no more than 12 years old) near my camp the other day. Even when the Hobo is my favourite character, my main is an old retired Brotherhood commando, kinda like paladin Brandis in Fallout 4. White hair, glasses, scars. Rarely one of my characters reaches a high level (this one is 77) because I start new characters all the time. I get the fun from that, and roleplaying it. This one is, certainly, a survivor.

It was late at night (in game, not the real world) and I was resting (sleeping, because my character is old and needs to sleep) and they were outside, checking the wares on my vending machines. Suddenly, one of them entered the house and asked on the mic if I could give them something for 40-50 caps. Even their characters looked super young. They were carrying a machete and a short hunting rifle, one of therm was wearing the vault suit and a ranger hat, the other was wearing pastor’s vestments. And it hit me:

It looked like Halloween.

I got up and dropped a bag of missiles, half-empty cores and mini nukes to make space, some protective undies nobody was buying plus ten US supply requisitions, and they gave me loving emotes for 5 minutes. I went back to sleep.

“Thanks, mister, we’ll remember this. Call us if you need us.”

I imagine them talking about it at school the next day.

I am 36 and I remember being 10 and rocking my Genesis. In fact, I remember being 5 and rocking my Commodore 64. I remember being 3/4 and my dad holding me up so I could play “Crossbow” at the arcades (my earliest videogame memory). I cannot help thinking that one day I will be old (I hope) and remember being 36, and playing this game, bugs and all.

<><><>  <><><>

It strikes me that there must be many true stories  in cyberspace. (Not talking fan fiction here.) A Google search turned up only scary stories about bad things happening to people on the Internet. But over two billion people play videogames.
https://newzoo.com/insights/articles/newzoo-2017-report-insights-into-the-108-9-billion-global-games-market/

Who’s writing their stories? Two billion real people are interacting with strangers in make-believe worlds! Are we missing a market, a huge, incredible, untapped market?  In what genre would you even put this -or, would it make more sense to create a new genre to appeal to videogamers? What do you think?

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blogging, humor, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

Do You Know Who I Am?

(A brief rant by Bill McCormick)

I got asked that today. By someone who was very angry with me for not having the correct response. FYI, that six word question inevitably leads to an answer that is as unenlightened as you might imagine. For the record, I’m fifty-seven years old, have had the honor and privilege of working with, and getting to know, many famous people.  Only once have I heard that question asked with a legitimate response expected. That was when a security guard stopped James Brown from entering a venue where the marquis said, in massive letters, TONIGHT ONLY: JAMES BROWN.

So that seemed warranted.

After that I’ve never seen anyone be impressed with the answer they got when they said “Nope, I have no idea who you are.”

I’ll give you some perspective.

Michael Jackson sold thirty million copies of THRILLER. That is slightly more than the population of Shanghai, which has twenty-four million people. Or, looked at another way, ninety-five percent of the planet earth, a/k/a slightly more than seven billion people, did not buy Thriller. A substantial portion of those people never heard of him at all. Many went blissfully to their graves never once hearing him go WOOT! Never once seeing him moonwalk.

They never saw Blanket Jackson, never knew of any scandals, never saw him as a music god, never knew a damn thing about him. And they lived their lives just fine, thank you very much.

I can only begin to aspire to that level of social ignorance.

Not that I can complain too much. There are billions of people who don’t know me either. But enough do that my landlord allows me to live indoors. It’s a start.

If someone doesn’t know you, or what you do, take it as an opportunity to teach them. To welcome them into your world. It’s a far more productive response.

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editing, Literary critique, Stories, Writers Co-op

We read it with interest but…

– by Curtis Bausse

I recently had to write a rejection letter to an author and friend whose stories have previously appeared in two anthologies I’ve edited. This time, her submission didn’t make it. Not that it wasn’t charming, interesting and well-written. It just didn’t make the sort of impact we would have liked.

She wasn’t upset. At least, if she was, it didn’t show in the reply she sent. In my letter I had concluded: If it’s any consolation, my own story was rejected too. She answered that she hoped that the rejection I sent myself was as nice as the one I sent her.

That my story was rejected will come as a surprise to my fellow editors, who never knew (until reading this) that I submitted one, as I remove all author names before forwarding the stories to them. But once I’d smashed all the crockery, I wasn’t upset either. And now I’ve taken up the suggestion to write myself a rejection letter.

Dear Mr. Bausse,

Thank you for your submission to The Rabbit Hole Volume 2. We read your story with interest; however we feel unable to include it because frankly, the ending sucks.

Now admit it, Bausse, you knew that, didn’t you? So why didn’t you do something about it? Thought you could get away with it, eh? Well, The Rabbit Hole is not that sort of publication – shoddiness just won’t do.

We wish you the best of luck in placing your piece elsewhere.

Yours etc.

It’s quite true. I did know the ending was feeble. I’d tinkered with it a bit, made it longer, then longer still, then cut it down to a single sentence. But thanks to my co-editors, I now know that it doesn’t matter how long or short it is, it’s not the right ending. The thing is, though, I can’t think of another one. I regularly make suggestions for other people’s endings, but my own? Zilch.

So here it is. Because there’s one good thing about being an editor here – it may have been rejected but I get to foist it upon you anyway, in the hope that you’ll be able to give me a better ending. Any ideas? (Note the sly presupposition, by the way – that the ending may be crap but the rest of it isn’t. But if you think the beginning and middle are crap too, don’t hesitate to say so. I’ve got a new pile of crockery, dirt cheap.)

  You’re Not Late

“Take this day, wear it well, enjoy it, darling, you deserve it.”

Abel’s wife stirred just enough to brush her lips against his cheeks and murmur, “You too, darling, I love you.”

He tiptoed out of the room. It was five o’ clock in the morning.

Once in the car he updated the Carmate Companion, which now came in three different voices: Cindy, Lisa and Cliff. He selected Lisa and told her to find the quickest route to his destination. She asked if he wanted music or news. He chose Mozart.

The streets were empty at that time but he drove with care because every so often a squall of rain would whip the windscreen and wash the town away. Once he almost hit a dustbin that was rolling drunkenly at a crossroads. On the outskirts of town bits of garden had broken out to foray into the unknown. “Be careful,” said Lisa over the music. “Conditions are hazardous due to gale force winds.”

“Oh, yeah?” said Abel sarcastically. He’d have to talk to Giles Roffe about that. No one wants to be told what they know already.

He joined the motorway, heading north. He hadn’t slept well, and the road being straight and smooth, he felt his concentration slipping. “Got something livelier? I need to stay awake. Springsteen?”

“I’ll put you through to Cindy. That’s more her department.” Lisa sounded hurt – You don’t like Mozart? Fuck you! – which Abel thought was something else he’d have to bring up with Roffe. Warmth, solicitude, empathy – fine, bring ’em on! But who wants a Carmate getting uppity?

Not that it surprised him. Roffe had a serious attitude problem. Something to do with his childhood, no doubt – Abel wasn’t about to analyse it – but the man just couldn’t hack authority. A loner, too, which was a shame. With a little more effort, a touch of good grace, he could have been up there with the big boys, working on Carmate Complete. He certainly had the talent – all he lacked was the commitment, the motivation.

“You remember the faces, the places, the names” – thumping the wheel now, belting it out with Bruce – “You know it’s da da da da da the rain, Adam raised a –”

“Accident ahead!” Cindy was under orders to interrupt. “Caution!”

He stopped singing. The sound of the wipers took over. “Serious?” But Cindy didn’t answer.

Whatever causes them – human error, mechanical flaw or something wrong with your luck that day – accident scenes have a logic of their own, and by the time he got to it, the compulsory components of this one were already there: flashing lights, yellow jackets and the dumb, useless tailback in which he was duly trapped.

After some minutes of drumming his fingers on the wheel he got out to assess the damage – not to the vehicles involved, but to his chances of making the appointment on time. He got as close as he could but didn’t linger: a lorry on its side, contents vomited over the tarmac, and half a dozen crumpled cars in the fast lane told him the chances weren’t good.

“Why,” he asked, “didn’t you tell me to get off at the last exit?”

“Why,” said Cindy coolly, “didn’t the police tell you to get off at the last exit?”

“What do you mean?”

“They didn’t have time, Mr. Abbott.”

The answer wasn’t just wrong, it was insolent. The whole point about Carmate was that it reacted quicker than the police. “No one’s asking you to close down a motorway. Just to get me to my destination on time.”

Cindy left a slight pause. “You’d already passed the exit when the accident occurred.”

Abel didn’t answer. He wondered when the Companions had acquired a capacity to lie.

“Have no fear, Mr. Abbott. You can never be late with Carmate.”

Abel jabbed a finger at the screen and switched back to Lisa and Mozart.

The thing you have to remember is that every new day is yours – take it for the gift that it is, cherish it, use it well. Every morning, that was the message Abel greeted his staff with, and now he summoned its power to use on himself. Even when you’re stuck in a traffic jam, worried you might not reach your appointment, never forget that every day is a gift. When at last, over an hour later, he was able to squeeze through a gap in the debris on the hard shoulder, he reckoned he should still get there with a good half hour to spare. “I feel great,” he shouted, “you feel great, we all feel great – Carmate!” Then he kept the music low and concentrated on driving as fast as conditions would allow.

“Take the next exit off the motorway… Right at the roundabout, third exit… Straight on at the roundabout, second exit…” Lisa was reassuringly calm, informing him every so often of his expected time of arrival: 8:21, 8:18, 8:14. Once he’d built up a cushion of fifty minutes, he eased off the pace and relaxed.

“Right at the traffic lights four hundred yards ahead.”

“What?”

“Flooding is expected further on. Turn right here to avoid it.”

He slowed to a crawl, deliberately waiting for the lights to turn red. “What do you mean ‘expected’? Is there or isn’t there?”

“The river is rising rapidly, Mr. Abbott.”

What river? This was a major trunk road, for God’s sake. It couldn’t get flooded!

“The lights are green,” said Lisa at the same time as the car behind him sounded its horn.

Abel swore as he furiously swung to the right. “You’d better know what you’re doing, Goddamit! My promotion hangs on this appointment. If I’m late…”

“You can never be late with Carmate,” Lisa informed him, before adding coldly, “If you’d rather be with Cindy…”

“No!” He sat up straight, gripping the wheel tighter. “Just get it right, that’s all.”

“The detour will add another eighteen minutes. Turn left at the next junction, three hundred yards ahead. I advise you to slow down.”

He obeyed. No point risking an accident, after all. It wouldn’t be the end of the world if he got there a little late. He’d say there’d been a problem at home, a burst pipe, a burglary, whatever. He couldn’t say a Carmate Companion had kept him stuck on the motorway for an hour.

Out in the country, the absence of illumination was unnerving: suddenly there’s nothing but the beam from the car, gulping up the dotted white lines, a vague awareness of hedges on either side, trees gyrating wildly, and lashes of rain more vicious now, more determined. Then Lisa made him take a left and it wasn’t a road but a lane, and instead of white lines there were puddles and potholes and branches.

He stopped. “You’ve made a mistake.”

“In two and a half miles, turn right. Estimated time of arrival, 8:42.”

Grudgingly, warily, he put the car in gear. “Eight-forty, my arse,” he muttered. “Be bloody midday at this rate.”

“You don’t believe me.” Lisa’s voice was sad. “I’ve done all I can, Mr. Abbott. I’ll put you through to Cliff.”

“Wait!”

“Goodbye, Mr. Abbott.”

“Hello, Mr. Abbott.”

“What the…? Giles?”

“My name’s Cliff, Mr. Abbott. Please keep driving. You don’t want to be late.”

“What are you playing at, Roffe? Get me back on the road right now!”

“How are you feeling, Mr. Abbott?”

Abel poked his thumb at the screen, trying to switch it off, but Giles Roffe’s voice kept coming. “Don’t get in a state, you feel great, you can never be late with Carmate.”

Abel brought the car to a halt and slammed his fist at the screen. “I’ll get you for this, Roffe! I swear you’re gonna pay for this, you hear?”

The face on the screen smiled. “Don’t get in a state. You’re not late. The minute, the hour, the date. Right on time, Mr. Abbott. Your appointment.”

Abel managed to open the door but not to get out. The oak tree smashed into the car.

 

 

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