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Ultraviolet Dreams

By Ursula Brunetti

Winner of the Michaelmas Term 2022 ORB short fiction prize judged by Natasha Brown.


you dream in ultraviolet. and here you are again. the animal smell of him makes your will waver, just for a moment. fear has a scent. you know it well. it is like singed hair, burnt rubber. think of some pliable substance that has been scorched. its limits tested to extremes.

he wants you to be merciful as though you have the power to destroy him but here in this empty shadowed room the air is curdled, the roles reversed. yet there is no hierarchy between you now. the sound of your blood flushes in your ears. in both your mouths the taste is bitter.

the ceiling light bathes you in lilac. distantly you think of nail varnish curing, remember UV can be used to kill bacteria, reveal the spills of crime scenes. here the walls are streaked with neon. his hands are spotted, luminous with strange designs.

you secure his ankles to the chair legs. you take his tie and wrap it round the metal. it reminds you of the way he used it to blindfold you while pushing his palms between your clothes. you hope he isn’t hard to remember.

the room is wet underfoot. the walls are cracked and pulpous. they fissure slowly revealing a web of pressure points from undetected shifts. you can almost hear the earth’s mantle song. you try to believe in morals, as a rule. but he is, of course, a man of science. when he is secure you tell him you are going to show him a film. you are curious now. you want to know if it is possible to understand each other. no. that’s not what you want. you want revenge. why else this same sickening room. why else this capsized tone of light.

you walk to the front, pull out a roll-down screen. the same one onto which he once projected science videos about the speed of light, how photons translate colour.

you remember he taught you how predators use ultraviolet markings to find their prey. how flowers bait insects with a secret bright intrigue. how birds see colours we can’t name.

There Is So Much More To Everything, he said. Man Has Such A Limited View. These Are The Facts.

he doesn’t know he’s being ironic. the film begins. you’ve seen it before. it lives inside your head.

I Don’t Know This One, he says. Why Are You Showing Me This. Is It About Girls, he cleverly observes. even though you’re over thirty, for him you’ll always be a girl.

the film unspools while his splattered hands shine, chartreuse in the dark. the on-screen action shows a memory. his hand on your leg. the rough fingers on your inner left thigh.

do you want to know how it felt, you say. you show him a corkscrew. it felt like this, the metal gleams as you turn it in the air, wrenching in my gut. you touch your stomach. or twisting in my chest, you say as you trace your ribs.

it felt like sudden freezing. like never being able to get warm.

he scowls. you throw the corkscrew on the floor. douse him with a pail of ice. you tell him it felt like this but worse. every nerve in your system ringing with alarm.

he starts to shout.

What’s Wrong With You. I Have A Family. I’m A Good Person. Everyone Is Allowed An Error Of Judgement. Have You Ever Stopped To Think I Was A Man In Crisis. We Didn’t Even Fuck. Jesus It Was Just My Hands. And You, A Legal Age. No Big Deal. It’s Not Like You Stopped Me.

a laugh track chuckles from the film. the floor clags with mud and the ultraviolet flickers.

You’re Insane. Take A Look At Yourself.

i look. i’m wearing a catsuit. i almost laugh. i hadn’t noticed it before. i am witching black. i even have a tail. i lick my paws, from which sharp talons glint. i flex their points toward him like knives.


another. you and a man walk up a hillside path. it looks like london, primrose hill. there is the scent of fresh fallen rain. the cosmos spreads its stars around you. they slip under your footprints and leak onto your skin. Those Tattoos Look Good On You, he says. he wants to see you naked. find the places they begin.

come, you say, sit here. you lead him to the quietest bench. a streetlamp casts him in blue translucence. he is made a spectre, some phantom of time. a ghoul that has always been.

from where you are the new year fireworks scatter in the sky like broken necklaces of jewels. violet. ruby. amethyst. a citrine smudge. they are the vivid colours of bruises. their flower shapes glitter out of sight leaving skeletons of smoke.

the fog of your breath hangs between you like untranslated words. he sits and you stand, very still.

as the display fades you start to dig. your nails tear the winter wet grass. clawed fingers part the soil. you use a stick to burrow deeper. you wish you had a spade. you even ask for him to help.

Sure, he says. he is alpha, you are beta. his muscles proof of his philosophy. there is a natural order to things. the man of science told you that. some species are apex predators. not often fooled.

he digs the hole until it is waist deep and a dark bank of dirt mounds the side. his back is turned. it is as large as your front door. you remember how he said he’d walk you home. how you considered the safe threat contained within his contours. he way he offered you protection.

you no longer remember his name. only the press of his chest, the hard resistance of his forearms, the way it hurt to breathe.

now lie in it, you say. he does. it’s easy here. your dream, your rules. he stretches out his legs, folds his hands behind his head.

Are You Going To Join Me, he says. his penis flexes like a root. the only word he knows is yes.

a spade is standing by a tree. you pick it up with sweaty hands. you wonder why you didn’t see it there before.

close your eyes, you say.

you start to shovel. soil lands gently. at first, he thinks it is a game. that you’re ‘just’ playing. after all you’re ‘just’ a girl, searching for his boundaries. you know about that routine. earth scatters in his mouth, his eyes.

What Are You Doing.

he strains against the heaving weight. your spade refills itself - fantasia mop and bucket style - until dirt begins to cover him.

you want him to know how it felt. but this is just a simulation. revenge does not taste sweet but choking. it makes you want to gag. his legs and stomach are now concealed, already it is too much to bear.

No More, he says, Stop.

you want to show him the colour of no, the meaning of stop. but these ideas are abstract. like the secret shape of a magic eye puzzle, for some, impossible to perceive.

he scratches free of the ground, mud strewn

and filthy.

now? does he know how it feels yet? perhaps he might. he looks like you. a light is missing from his eyes.


in another you simply fly. mercury tinted moonlight licks the undersides of clouds. you are an eagle or falcon. some magnificent bird of prey. your nose is now a hard-hooked beak. your skin has been subsumed by feathers. your wingspan extends whole oceans. you hover before lifting high. like this you can see vast distances. the scintist was right.

you can see colours without names. between the cracks in buildings. how the world is lit with networks of ultraviolet marks. the stains of, how shall you put it... women’s troubles?

you swoop through streets, glide over public parks. the roads are cross-hatched with magenta scars. you survey indigo suburbs and supermarkets, night clubs and hospitals. you stalk the swaggering shapes of bodies that spend nights in stealth pursuit, note the stoic resolve of lone wolves who move as doggedly as Pacman ghosts while women hurry homeward.

when you descend and are close enough to hear the beating of blood, you seize your prey with claw-footed determination. sometimes they make a noise you think you comprehend.

afterward, you soar, to where it is possible to see the earth’s magnetic field. you notice a milky haze of mauve. it is you realise, the atmosphere. dense with ultraviolet mist. invisible to the eyes of man.

you understand there is only one sound between ultraviolet and ultraviolent. a single letter.

n, for no.


you like this one. you’re there once more. summer festival. early morning, a short night is lifting, dawn stirring black to purple, pink and gold. but inside the dance tent the air is ink and the ceiling is strung with neon. tubes of light twisted into hearts and skulls.

elsewhere, you might be stirring on your pillow, but here you fall toward the beat. fluorescent bodies glimmer tightly packed and you are back. back to back with friends you love. melodies riff across your bones. intuitively you start to dance. you live inside the sonic pull of each moment. inhabiting a base note. contained by some vibration.

your skin is daubed with butterfly tones. glowing paint adorns your arms, your face. you are neither predator nor prey. from your mouth no tongue but a long proboscis, uncurling like a party horn. you flicker it inside the ears of men with base compulsions. they let you unfurl its delicate scale inside their heads. they feel relief. euphoria. like sugar melting into gums. you are all things light and beautiful. all creatures. great and small.

warm hands fix upon your hips and hold you there. this is where you want to stay. in the keep of someone shaped like you, someone with whom you don’t have to speak to know they understand. you close your ultraviolet eyes and wait for the world to wake.

URSULA BRUNETTI is currently reading an MSt in Creative Writing at Kellogg College and is in the process of writing a novel. Her short fiction has won the V.S. Pritchett Short Story competition and has been published by Litro, Popshot, Prospect, Fairlight Books and Visual Verse. She lives on an island.

Art by Eloise Cooke


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