The Dark Half

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?”

“From where?”

“Buffalo.” He looked at her like she had two heads.

“Buffalo?”

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.

“Tenth.”

“Yes of course.”

Carmen headed toward the door.

“Carmen, aren’t you forgetting the presentation…again?” Tom asked, looking up from the paper.

“Oh yeah.”

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.

“Back already?”

“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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The Flaw of Perfectionism

This weekend, I sat on the bench and watched my son compete in a gymnastics meet in Roswell, GA. He’s been in gymnastics for years, and he’s good. He’s generally a hard worker. But he missed about five months last year due to a dislocated shoulder, and he still holds himself to the standards of the boys who are in their second year as level 5s.

He did well at the meet. He messed up on the floor, and that was his first event, so I think that led him down a dark wormhole in his mind. But after rings, he started crying. He was so upset. He scored a 10.1 on rings (not bad by any means), but he felt like he should have been scored higher. And he hyper-focused on it, getting more and more upset. At one point, he even walked off the floor. I tried to calm him down, but he wanted to be by himself. By the time he made it to his last event, high bars, he’d calmed himself down and he managed to pull an 11.2, first place for the event.

 

Watching him struggle was hard for me, and I recognized myself in him. How many of us quit when it gets tough? How many of us quit when we feel like our best is not our best? I sat and watch my son beat himself up, because his rings weren’t perfect and that’s hard for a parent to see. Mainly, because he inherited this trait from me and probably from the way we parent.

I’ve done a lot of reading over the years on perfectionism, because having struggled with it I know it can be debilitating. The thing about perfectionism is that it doesn’t spur you on to bigger and better things, it actually holds you back from being all you can be. It takes all the positives of a motivated individual and turns them into negatives and all the what if’s pop up: what if I fail? what if I don’t win? what if? what if? until the what ifs make the person stop doing what they love. The “what ifs” seem to become the driving factor in making the perfectionist feel trapped by their own perceived lack of achievement.

I haven’t been writing lately, and I know this is from self-doubt and perfectionism cropping into my mind. I haven’t been putting the time in, because I still don’t know if I’m good enough. But doing what I love should be good enough for me. I tried to emphasize this to my oldest son over the weekend. “You love gymnastics, right? Then keep working hard, and don’t get so bent out of shape over one meet.” This is a hard lesson to learn, and it’s a hard lesson for me to teach. I’m sure he’s seen me give up when things get tough, or when I don’t think the writing is just right, or when life gets too overwhelming

So how do we overcome perfectionism?

We need to teach our children that good enough is good enough. Winning isn’t everything. Hard work matters, but it’s okay to fail. In fact, learning how to cope with failure leads us to success later on and gives us the tools to know how to succeed.  We need to stop being afraid to let our children fail.

Celebrate victories. When my son didn’t do as well as he wanted in the meet, he said that the first place on high bar didn’t even matter. I told him he was nuts. He had scored 1st out of 61 kids. That was something! I told him not to focus on the negative, but to look at the overall picture, to learn what he could work on for the next week, and to look at the fact that he tried hard and did well.  I pointed out that he came in 5th overall in his age group (top 20 out of the 6o kids), and that last time we’d done this meet he had come in 9th. I showed him his progress. We celebrated his victory with a trip to Starbucks, and as the day went on he became excited about winning his gold on high bar and the feelings about the rings began to dissipate.

Love and respect yourself. Perfectionist tend to be mean to themselves. Self-blame. Self-critical. They’re often meaner to themselves than anyone else in their life. This leads to depression. Love yourself and all your flaws, and learn how to let go of the need for perfection.

Don’t give up. Persistence pays off. As a writer, this is something I’ve had to learn. Giving up gets you nowhere. Learn how to roll with the punches without assigning blame to yourself or making yourself feel guilty for failures, work hard, and keep at it.

Perfectionism is something I’ll have to work on controlling for the rest of my life. I’ll fight the feelings that come with it, and it seems like my son will too. But I know with mindfulness, I can let go and learn how to be happy with my best.


 

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Not Easy As Pie

You know the saying, “Easy as pie.” Cliche and all that. But I don’t think anything in life is easy as pie. I love writing. I mean, love it with a passion. But I hate all the crap that comes with it. I hate marketing. I don’t feel like I’m good at it, or I don’t know where to start, or everyone currently wants to read a BDSM book about a kid’s step-brother’s dragon, and I don’t write books in any comparable category to what’s HOT. But even people who write what the public wants still have to throw themselves out there–into the fire. And sometimes I wonder why I do it, because writing is like a scoop of pain mixed with pleasure (like love). Then I remember I love it and without writing there’d be too much pain or too many characters talking in my head with nowhere to go.

My love of writing came from my childhood. As a kid I used to disappear to my room and play with paper dolls for hours. Some of them I cut out of the Sears catalog. I named them, created families, dialogues, and elaborate stories for my paper dolls. I created apartments out of my bookcases for my Barbie dolls. I wrote stories down, never finished them, but the stories still came to me. I loved to read and write, but I never made As in English. I always made Bs. I struggled with thoughts of my writing not being good enough (I still struggle with this). I wanted to be perfect (I still sometimes do). I still have to tell myself perfection doesn’t exist. The authors who have made it did so because they’re bulldogs like JK Rowling who worked their asses off and didn’t take no for an answer. They didn’t let rejection get them down or the 20th pushed back deadline or the fact that procrastination seems to flow through their blood (I don’t know if Rowling procrastinates, but I do–way too much).

My book is supposed to be out on the 29th. I’m hoping it will at least hit Amazon by then so I can direct you all to the link. Writing and publishing a book can be frustrating in so many ways. I’ve had to depend on other people to edit, proofread, and market my book. I’ve had to wait for layout, for the cover, but in the end I know it will be worth it. I’ve worked with some great people over at Booktrope on The Devil Within: Nikki Lutz, JC Wing, Sheri Williams, Greg Simanson, and not to mention the layout team and Jesse James. These people know what they’re doing as I stumble my way blindly in the dark trying to figure it out for the first time. Publishing a book is the equivalent to waiting for a big bowl of ice cream after you finish your food; you know it’s going to taste so good but first you have to eat your Brussels sprouts (I do love Brussels though, so maybe this isn’t the best analogy)

All of this to say, I’m still hoping The Devil Within will be out by June 29th. Stay tuned to this site to see if it is. And don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter at http://eepurl.com/bo4ILP.