Courtesy of Chuck Wendig once again, this week’s flash fiction challenge was a beauty: pick a random song title and that’s the title of your story, 1000 words or less. I got “Dark Horse” by Katy Perry, but I chose not to use the same subject matter. Rather I went in a different direction with the following story. Enjoy!
Joe opened his eyes. It was still dark out. He looked at the clock: 6:28 a.m. He still had two minutes before his alarm went off and so he closed his eyes again.
Dark, he thought, grimacing. He saw dark in his dreams, too. The dark horse trotting by the window of the café. Not galloping. Trotting at a pace slow enough for Joe to take a good, long look. Then he woke up. Why was a horse out on a busy street in broad daylight, just passing by a café? He had the weirdest dreams sometimes.
Opening his eyes, he rolled over, turned off the alarm and reached to grab his phone off the night table . He entered “dark horse dream meaning” into the search engine. The first result took him to a website devoted to dream interpretations. It said, “To dream of a dark horse will signify prosperous conditions, but a large amount of unhappiness. Fleeting pleasures usually follow this dream.”
“Prosperous conditions then a large amount of unhappiness,” he repeated. Interesting. Did “prosperous” refer to material prosperity? Or could it be interpreted as any sort of success?
Out of the corner of his eye, in the small amount of light afforded by the glow of the phone screen, he could see a black shape on the floor, moving toward him, then disappearing just as quickly as it had appeared.
Before he had a chance to sit up, the black shape was in the air, then landed neatly on his chest.
“Gah!” he shouted. It took a moment for him to catch his breath. Finally he said, “Good morning, Sylvester. Thanks for the heart attack.” He would have thought that after a year of living with this cat, he would be used to it pouncing on him before the first light of day, but no. Sylvester meowed at him and he meowed back. They continued their morning ritual of meowing at each other for another thirty seconds until Sylvester stared back at him instead of meowing. “I know, I know,” Joe sighed. “You want your breakfast. Come on.”
He put the cat food in the dish and watched Sylvester wolf down the food as though he hadn’t been fed in a week. Smiling to himself, he started getting ready for work.
While he showered, he thought about the dark horse in his dream again. The subject matter didn’t bother him as much as the frequency of the dream. The fifth time in three weeks had to mean something. Maybe he should take precautions.
As he shaved, he caught sight of the triangular piece that had been missing from the mirror for the last year. He kept meaning to replace it, but never got around to it. The missing piece was in the corner of the mirror, so it wasn’t as though Joe couldn’t see his reflection.
Prosperous conditions, he thought to himself. Today was payday. Maybe he should leave the money in the bank for the time being. It was the middle of the month and no bills were due, so he didn’t need any money right now.
Twenty minutes later, he was dressed and on his way out the door. He paused near Sylvester and gave him a goodbye scratch on the head. Sylvester inclined his head toward Joe, wanting it to continue, but Joe went out to his car to go to work.
He stopped at the convenience store on the way in, grabbing a cup of coffee and a bear claw, just as he did every Friday. The girl behind the counter smiled at him when it was his turn to be served, just as she did every Friday.
“You want your Powerball ticket too, right?” she said. “It’s up to forty million dollars.”
Prosperous conditions, he warned himself. Don’t take any chances. “Not today,” he smiled back at her. “Just the coffee and pastry.” He fumbled around in his wallet for the cash while the girl put the bear claw in a white, plastic bag for him.
He waited until he sat at his desk at the office before he started munching on his breakfast. He reached into the middle drawer for a packet of sugar, feeling an envelope that hadn’t been in there yesterday. He pulled it out and examined the greeting-card sized envelope while he stirred the sugar into his coffee.
He tore open the envelope and pulled out the card inside. The front of the card read, ‘Happy belated birthday.’ He opened it to read the message and money fell out. ‘Sorry I missed your birthday last week, Dan’ the message read. Dan Wideman from Human Resources. They had been playing basketball together once a week for the last two years. He looked at the twenty-dollar bill that had fallen out. He held his breath. Twenty dollars didn’t count as a ‘prosperous condition’, right? Should he put it in his wallet, or just stick it back in the card and leave it in his desk?
His life was going well right now ― he was happy at his job, he had been on a few good dates with a woman from payroll, he had a good chunk of money put away in savings― and he really didn’t need the ‘large amount of unhappiness’ the dream interpretation warned about.He was being ridiculous, he knew. He wasn’t usually the type to give any heed to superstitions or dream interpretations, but the dark horse had continued to show up in his dreams. He spent the rest of the morning locked in this debate with himself: ignore the dream and continue his life as though nothing happened or take the dream seriously and be careful.
For the time being, he decided to continue taking precautions. He still had ten dollars in his wallet, so at least he still had enough cash to pay for lunch.