On Monday mornings, I send out a story via email: ultra-brief tales of 1,000 words or more, usually in genres including horror, science fiction, and the supernatural. Those stories collectively are called Once Upon A Time. I’ve also published several ebooks and compendium volumes of those stories so far.
I’d love to have you as a subscriber to the weekly free story. You can subscribe via email here. Unsubscribe any time, from the link in every issue.
Dunn was having the best day of his life, and what made it the best was knowing that it was probably also the worst day of the rest of his life. Tomorrow would be better, and the next day better again. There was no end in sight.
He’d played the lottery every week for years. Stupid little pink tickets, until it went online and you could do it automatically. He hated the pink tickets. He hated the warnings about gambling sensibly, and stopping when the fun stopped. Oh, he knew that gambling was an addiction, but it wasn’t one he suffered from, so he didn’t care. A weekly lottery ticket was his sole flirtation with ignorance of probabilities.
The reason he hated the warnings was that they took the hope away for a moment, until you ignored them again. They reminded you that you were pissing your money away each time, with virtually no chance of winning anything, and certainly never of recouping your losses. He also hated that they framed it as a game, instead of a tax for the stupid and vulnerable and desperate. But that didn’t matter anymore. Because he’d won the jackpot.
A hundred and seventeen million. Crazy money. Life-changing money. Or as Dunn himself thought of it, fuck-off money — because that’s what he could say to anyone else in the world now. He’d said it to his boss yesterday just before he walked out of the crappy job forever. It felt really good. Then he’d spent a fitful night of broken sleep, feeling excited about the new day that lay ahead of him.
The first thing he’d done this morning was buy some better clothes. He saw it as a stepping stone system: you buy decent enough clothes to let you walk into the more expensive places, then bought still-better clothes, and so on. He also needed a certain level of clothing to feel comfortable going into the jeweller’s, and then later, the car dealerships.
The jeweller was somewhere he’d wanted to go for a while. He’d even practiced this morning, pretending to walk past a window casually, then notice something, and then he doubled back. He thought it looked pretty sophisticated and carefree. Now he did it for real.
Dunn didn’t feel any of the tightness he’d always felt in his chest when walking in to places like this before. The sense of pre-emptive resentment and envy at all the things he couldn’t afford, at war with how he coveted the beautiful objects. He didn’t care about the actual jewellery as in precious metals and stones; it was the watches he was most interested in. He made a beeline for the exquisitely lit displays, and he had only a minute or so to browse before he felt a presence at his side.
The saleswoman was in a skirt suit, and was perhaps twenty-eight years old. That pleased Dunn. If he was going to have whatever he wanted from now on, he felt that he deserved to also be served by young and attractive women. With his money, it’s the kind of thing he could insist on.
“Is there anything I can help you with?” she asked, and Dunn affected a distracted, contemplative sort of manner, acting as if he was only barely aware of her.
“I was passing by, and I thought I might as well buy something,” he replied, and the woman probably smiled, and probably nodded, but he wasn’t looking at her so he couldn’t tell.
Dunn pointed towards some of the more expensive pieces; the Rolexes and the Omegas and so on. He did not know that they were firmly in the category of watches which poor people thought that rich people wore, rather than watches that rich people actually wore. He did not know that the truly rich would not shop here. He was truly rich now himself, but he had recently been just making ends meet, and so he was unable to make the distinction, and would probably always be so.
“Perhaps I’ll have more than one,” he said, in the way that no truly rich person did, and then the woman probably nodded again as if this was the most normal thing in the world. Dunn pointed to the most conventional choices possible; an Oyster, a Seamaster, link bracelets. He was salivating at the knowledge that he could now truly afford to just spontaneously do things like this: to acquire objects he’d lusted after for decades, all on a whim, and that he could do it again and again and again, every single day if he wanted to. He did want to.
He tried the timepieces on with a showy disdain, but his brow was shining a little now. Dunn was impatient to actually buy something, as if all of his money would evaporate if not used within a certain time.
“I’ll take them both,” he said, and now he did look at the woman, because he was greedy for the confirmation and validation of her approval, even though he cared not one bit about her as a human being. She smiled widely, and nodded almost conspiratorially, as if he had made the most tasteful decision in the world, and as if she might invite him into her bed if they weren’t in so public a place. Dunn was pleased. He saw none of the disdain in her eyes. He wasn’t paying enough attention.
She took his card and turned to process the transaction, and Dunn reached out and placed a hand on her small, rounded shoulder, making her glance back.
“Size them for me,” he said, hoping that it sounded commanding. The woman smiled again and nodded.
He left the jewellers less than ten minutes later, with the Oyster on his wrist even though he much preferred the Seamaster, because the Oyster was more expensive and he wanted people to see it. For a moment he felt a pang of annoyance, not at the purchases, but at the likelihood that he would never allow himself to wear the less-expensive watch because he would feel he had wasted an opportunity. In the same moment he decided to buy a watch display box and fill it with a collection of costly pieces, and that would certainly help. His mood lifted once more.
None of the other shops really enticed him, but he knew that there was an Aston Martin dealership just down the road. He had come to the jewellers in his modest little Honda, and he couldn’t bear to drive it into the courtyard of the dealership; he would feel furious and embarrassed. He decided to take a taxi, even though it was only half a mile. The taxi driver gave him a strange look, but Dunn tipped him a twenty, and the driver cheered up immediately.
This time, Dunn didn’t even have a minute to himself when he walked into the glass-enclosed space, reeking of leather and with a subtle undertone of hydrocarbons and some kind of diffuse fragrance. A salesman was on him instantly, and Dunn was delighted to note that the man’s eyes fastened onto his wristwatch for a moment.
Dunn looked at the cars, and he even knew which models some of them were. There was the Vantage in one of its variants. The DB11. The DBS. They even had the usual Connery-era Bond car on a raised display. All the actual sales models were in silvers and dark blues, and a sort of forest green. It wasn’t entirely what he’d expected. It wasn’t entirely what he wanted. Too drab.
“See anything you’re interested in, sir?” the man said, and Dunn considered the question.
He was rich now. Super-rich. He could buy the place out, easily. Because he was a winner. And winners didn’t have to compromise on anything.
“Show me the real colours, for fuck’s sake,” he said.
The salesman smiled.
I hope you enjoyed this brief tale. If you have any thoughts or questions, I’d love to hear from you; I'm @mattgemmell on Twitter.
I encourage you to share this story with anyone you think would enjoy it! If you’d like to receive a tale like this via email every week, you can sign up to receive them here.
Thanks for reading.