I wrote this for Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge again. The Challenge was to pick one of Stephen King’s titles and write a completely different story. I’ve never read The Dark Half by Stephen King, but the title spoke to me.
The Dark Half — 1,151 words
P-E-R-F-E-C-T. There’s no such thing. At least that’s what Carmen’s teachers always said. Nobody’s perfect. But Carmen knew better.
“Anything less than perfection is not acceptable.” Her father’s words reverberated in her head. As such, Carmen’s life was ruled by these words.
First an ivy league school, then an 80-hour-a-week job. Then the perfect husband, then 2 perfect kids, and a golden retriever, living in the perfect neighborhood in the perfect town to complete her perfect life. Who could ask for anything more? And still she didn’t feel like she had her father’s approval. It was enough to drive anyone crazy.
On December 6, she woke up in a clapboard house on a mattress shoved up against a graffiti covered wall. A tattooed man slept next to her. His chest rose and fell as she shielded her eyes from the brightness of the sun streaming through the slats covering the windows.
Carmen had no idea how she had ended up in this halfway house or whatever the hell kinda place it was. And she had no idea who the man beside her could be. She pulled the sheet down and much to her surprise realized she was naked. But worse than that, he was naked too. She gasped in horror. And apparently this gasp was louder than the drum beat going on next door or upstairs or wherever the hell it was going on, because it woke up Tattoo man.
“Hey baby,” he said, moving his naked-as-a-mole-rat body toward her.
She scooted to the far edge of the mattress and pulled the sheet all the way up to her chin, trying to cover up and retain at least a little bit of her decency.
“Who the hell are you?”
“What do you mean, who the hell am I?”
Tattoo Man sat up and scooted closer to her, pulling the sheet down as he did. Carmen tried to scoot further from him and almost fell off the mattress onto the dirty black and white tile floor.
“I have no idea how I got here.”
He scoffed. Then he stood up and walked across the room, completely naked, with everything hanging out. Carmen averted her eyes.
He grabbed a cigarette and lit it.
“You want one?”
“I don’t smoke.”
“The hell you don’t.” He looked at her out of the corner of his eye and shook his head.
“I have to go.”
Carmen stood up, trying to shield her naked body from his wandering eyes. She didn’t succeed. She threw on the dress, one of her favorites, a blue button-down Ann Taylor dress. At least her clothes hadn’t changed. She slipped on her heels. Tattoo Man watched the whole scene with a look of amusement on his face.
She headed toward the door.
“See you tonight, Love,” he said and reached toward her. She avoided his outstretched arms and skirted out the door.
How the hell did she get there? She looked down at her watch. Christ, it was 8 AM. Tom would be wondering where she was. Breakfast wouldn’t be made. The kids wouldn’t be driven to school. Tom would be late for work. She would be late for work.
Her car sat badly parallel parked in between two overflowing trashcans. She noted with alarm that she was in East Marlboro, an undesirable area, over the bridge and railroad track from Marlboro. She sped up, hitting 90 after merging onto the Interstate. She couldn’t imagine what Tom was thinking.
She pulled into her driveway. She stared at her beautifully manicured half acre yard. She took in the row of beautifully blooming pink azaleas. She looked at the windows with their perfect symmetry and the front porch, complete with a porch swing. She had worked so hard for the perfect life. She sighed a breath of relief.
She ran into the house, listening to the beep of the alarm on the backdoor as she strode into the kitchen. Tom sat at the table, reading the newspaper.
He looked up at Carmen with surprise.
“God, you scared me. Your conference is already over?”
“What? Why are you home? It’s 8:45.”
“I just dropped the kids off. I’m going into the office later. You’re supposed to be gone another two days.”
“Oh, I, um. I just forgot something.”
“So you came all the way back?”
“Buffalo.” He looked at her like she had two heads.
Why the hell would I be at a conference in Buffalo, Carmen thought. She sat down at the table next to Tom and glanced at the newspaper in his hand. December 8th. Pearl Harbor Day. She had lost two days somehow. How was that even possible? She knew with certainty it was December 6th. And Buffalo? Why would she tell Tom she was at a conference in Buffalo. Her head spun, a tension headache rising up on the back of her neck and making her feel hot. She fanned herself off and stared at Tom with her sickly sweet, perfect wife, mother, employee smile planted on her face.
“I just forgot the presentation.”
“I could have emailed that to you.”
“Yeah, but….Listen—I’m going to get it and drive back to Buffalo. I’ll see you on the—” She realized she had no idea when she was supposed to come back home.
“Yes of course.”
Carmen headed toward the door.
“Carmen, aren’t you forgetting the presentation…again?” Tom asked, looking up from the paper.
Carmen took the steps two at a time like she used to do as a kid. She walked into their perfect Master bedroom, with the perfect shade of gray on the wall, and the perfect comforter—not too warm for the summer months. She rummaged around in the drawers, pretending for Tom’s sake, to look for the presentation. She found a jump drive in the back of her underwear drawer. What the hell is this?
She drove back to the slums of East Marlboro. She took the steps two-at-a-time to apartment 208. Tattoo Man opened the door.
“You have a computer?”
“Laptop. It’s a Chromebook. We bought it together, Carmen.”
“Yeah, whatever. Where is it?”
He pointed her to the table. She squeezed her temples trying to recall the last few days of her life. Carmen plugged the jump drive into the Chromebook’s USB port and a file labeled The Dark Half popped up.
She clicked it and several newspaper articles came up with the dates: January 4, 2017, February 26, 2017, April 10, 2017, April 14, 2017, July 8, 2017, September 26, 2017, October 3, 2017. She scanned the headlines on the articles. Grand Theft Auto. Bank Robbery. Attempted Murder.
One title in particular caught her eye: Modern Day Bonnie & Clyde Continue to Elude Cops.
She felt breath on her neck. She turned her head and looked into Tattoo Man’s eyes.
“You made a file,” Tattoo Man said, nodding affirmation.
“Are you Clyde?”
“Yeah. And you’re Bonnie.”
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