Back to Dreams Aphotic

Submitted into Contest #42 in response to: Write a story that ends by circling back to the beginning.... view prompt



A Short Story by Mackenzie Littledale

Inspired by a poem by Shona Moss


Orland let out a primal grunt as he climaxed. He collapsed and rolled onto his back beside the foreign woman, whose name escaped him. “You can go now,” he said, losing interest in her. Orland moved to sit at the edge of the bed with his back to her so he didn’t have to see her delicate porcelain features out of sorts. Sneering, he reached behind to push her clothes in her direction.

She gasped, clutched her clothes and hurried to dress. Orland followed her to keep her moving along. While getting her bra from his dresser, she slid one of his abstract elephant figurines. Orland saw the movement out of the corner of his eye, paused, and replaced the figurine to its rightful place. 

“Careless. Don’t touch my things,” he said in a huff. “If you don’t mind,” he added, without a shred of congeniality. With his assistant’s words in his head to be more generous, he fished a five dollar bill out of his wallet, replacing the wallet exactly where it had been.

He took the foreign woman’s dropped jaw and wide-eyed expression for gratitude. “You’re welcome,” he said, but when she stopped moving toward the front door, he resumed nudging her along. “You’re trying my patience now,” he said. “That’s money for coffee. I appreciate you being a good sport, but I must insist, shake a leg.”

“Coffee at eleven PM? You’re some piece of work, you asshole,” she said, stepping outside his door and turning around with her hand held out.

Orland shrugged, closed the door in her face, and turned the locks. Her voice came through the door, “Thirty for car fare would be better.” Orland sighed and lumbered back to bed. He rather enjoyed his unorthodox taste in sexual acts, but surviving the trollops’ demands afterward was another matter. The thrill of seduction fulfilled a role as his narcotic. “What was her name again?” he mumbled to himself. She’d given him the fix he craved and he had no further need of her.


Finally alone now, he could sleep. Drifting off as his head hit the pillow, Orland’s dream legs pumped without touching the ground. This wasn't the darkest dream he'd had. He'd grown accustomed to the aphotic nature of his sleep, always ghostly distortions of his mother, Angelina. Something made him glide toward a grim and bloody battleground. A million miles behind his back, he could see an underwater poppy lit up from within. Tentacles grew out of its center and in a split second, the slimy tentacles clasped around his throat. His legs still pumping, his torso got stretched out like taffy toward the shadowy battleground. Angelina spread out in a cloud overhead, repeating his name backwards. Cloud mother rained frogs and daggers. “Dnalro, her name was Daphne, you barbarian. Cheerios time, Dnalro, come. Leave Daphne alone.” His mother’s voice echoed off the falling daggers, her tawny eyes at the center of each one.


Promptly at 5:59 AM, Orland bolted upright in bed.  His room was inexplicably ransacked. Again. He roared his fury at the chaos. Disorder caused his head to throb and shot a stabbing pain behind his eyes. 

He spent the next hour tidying his bedroom. Orland didn’t complain about sleepwalking anymore, although he was infuriated at the daily mess because the unreality of it made him psychotic. Coming to accept the total reality of his being had been a long slog, but since he had become the head of household on his fateful sixteenth birthday, he relished calling his own shots. 

Once every last article of possession was back in its place, his 7:00 AM rage surfaced, right on time. Orland brushed his teeth until his gums bled. He didn’t enjoy mint flavor until it was blended with the metallic iron taste of his blood. As he gargled, his eyes rolled back in his head, which he believed a necessity to connect with the spirit world. His angels weren’t the jolly do-gooders everyone assumed they were. Tricksters, mischievous imps, plotters and schemers. Their wings were always damp or dripping with blood. Orland adored them for whispering all manner of gratifying affirmations in his ears.

Inspecting his eyes’ reflection, he was quite fond of how they made others squirm and look away. Everyone, except Suzette, but he pushed her from his thoughts. No one else in his family had the same watery blue eyes as he had. Even when his gaze was sharp, his irises had a blurred boundary. On his sixteenth birthday, his father had abandoned the family, and Orland swore he’d end all mockery of his ‘eyes like oysters.’ His secret mission ever since had been to take people’s assumption that his will was as ambivalent as his eyes and turn it to his advantage. He had no other way to get through the day at the office. 


He smiled a quarter smile upon arrival at work, confident the five-hundred dollars he’d paid for his navy blue suit was enough to command respect. 

“Hello, boss,” said his assistant, Suzette, walking ahead of him into his office.

“Suzette,” he said, both terrified of and fascinated by her. Orland used to fantasize about bedding her. She wore stilettos with chrome heels, and he wanted to touch them in the way he’d described in his private diary. 

Suzette’s character was a wall he couldn’t breach. His eyes fixed on her heels, he wanted to run his fingers along their length, lick them. He felt her gaze boring into his forehead and forced a laugh. Her lips remained a straight line, as she rolled her eyes.

“Orland,” she said. “My shoes will never be yours.”

Flushing warm with embarrassment, Orland laughed a hollow concession. Bitch. He’d reached for her once in his office with the blinds drawn. “Hurt me,” he’d said. The way she’d looked at him seemed like such an obvious invitation. Before he’d known the time of day, she restrained his hand, without inflicting pain--which is what he’d wanted. She merely held him motionless--which unnerved him, made him feel impotent. 

Once he realized she’d sooner castrate him than wear latex catsuits and spread her legs, he wanted to transfer her to the Kalamazoo office, but she’d outmaneuvered him. He suspected she’d written the employee review on Human Resources had circulated a memo the day after that review, reiterating ‘Zero Tolerance’ policies. Bitch. She could cause him pain, but not in the ways he craved. 

Suzette now placed an orderly stack of files on his desk. “I’ve completed these. I submitted all vendors’ invoices to accounting for payment, except for PlastiTechNomics. They’re the only ones who haven’t met the specs of the--”

Orland nodded, though he was distracted with his fingernails and stopped listening. He had no idea what she’d said. Nothing bored him quite like his job. “Mm-hmm. However you see fit. You must know I trust your judgment by now, Suzette. Anything else?”

She nodded with a smirk. His stomach clenched at the sight of it. He feared she knew his boudoir proclivities and would one day use it as leverage against him. 

“Yes,” she said, “and I think it’s something you should take care of yourself. It’s a conference call with the executive officers about the upcoming shareholders’ convention.”

Orland’s jaw locked in resentment. His only duty was to get his own coffee and he’d be damned if Suzette added one iota of burden on him. Idiot assistant can’t see how important it is for me to walk about the office to keep my ear to the watercooler conversation so I can keep the executives satisfied. While Suzette fulfilled his obligations, he patted himself on the back, played X-rated crosswords, and cursed her off-limits nether region. He’d crafted that robotic routine all by himself, and he conceded a modicum of gratefulness every payday. 


“No, Suzette. This time, you should handle it. You’re perfectly ready.”

“If you expect that level of responsibility from me, we’ll need to discuss an increase in my compensation.”

Her staunch posture and self-assured expression sent a shiver down his spine. “Plan to be on that call,” he said, his voice high-pitched and unsteady, sweaty hands fumbling with his tie.

“No,” she said. “Raise first, and in writing. I’ll be at my desk.” As Suzette spun on the balls of her feet, Orland watched the black twill of her skirt swish around her buttocks and hips. 

The mischievous angels comforted him, whispering, “She doesn’t even merit the spanking you want to give her.”

He sighed and stood staring at the closed door for a moment. Downing the last of his coffee, he went on his rounds. He thought of Suzette’s demand for higher pay. How dare she? Bitch. I’ll teach her a lesson, he thought, feeling most powerful in her absence. She’d once accused him of being craven and despotic. Being a despot would have certain advantages. She’d prepare for the call or be banished to Kalamazoo.

As soon as he returned to his office, Suzette opened his door, startling him. He jumped, his spine stiffening in terror.

“I’ll be leaving for self-defense class at three,” she said. “With Marjorie. My friend in Human Resources.” 

Her near-imperceptible nod nailed her point home and caged him in frustration. Bitch.


At 4:00 PM, he left the office for tennis practice, but the pewter-colored clouds delivered on their threatening appearance and drenched him with rain. “Dammit,” he said to anyone within earshot. With his routine shot to hell, and his mind chaotic, he went home and slipped out of his wet clothes. To ease his frayed nerves, Orland inspected every room. Nothing was out of place and his thundering heartbeat calmed slightly. With his need for competitive physical activity going unmet, his restlessness led him to a drawer under his bed.


Orland fingered through a few dozen DVDs until he landed on the cowboy-themed sado-masochistic ‘little people’ of mud wrestling title. Wild anticipation coursed through every inch of his body; this was a personal favorite, reserved for unaccounted time on his calendar. Mustn’t forget my riding crop, he thought with glee.

He’d already ordered all the products from the ads, so while they played, he poured himself a scotch. Back in bed, he muted the DVD and turned on Copeland’s Fanfare for the Common Man in his iTunes. Urged on by the erotic film, he muttered, “Yes, hose down that filthy cowboy. Right there, you tiny, twisted dominatrix. Whip him.” He struck his thighs with the riding crop, wondering how far he could push his pain threshold. “Yes, make it hurt.”

Orland tried every conceivable combination of pleasure and pain, but his imagination kept inserting Suzette and his mother into his muddy fantasy. “Argh!” Frustrated, he hurled the remote control and whip at the TV screen. His self-inflicted bruises had been for nothing.

The trickster angels laughed. He shook his fist in the air where their wings would be if they were real. “Why have you forsaken me, you bloody mischief-makers?” He tried taking pleasure from the pain of losing his erection, but that was one step too far.

Orland ordered in Thai food. He ate dinner muttering in between bites, and wincing every time he shifted weight on the angry reddening welts on his thighs. 


Without physical release from tennis or solitary sex, Orland had trouble falling asleep at bedtime. He counted sheep, counted forks, counted pubic hairs in a droning voice with a hypnotic lull. His eyelids grew heavy, his senses dull, but sleep eluded him.


He turned to his nightstand drawer. The foreign woman with the blemish-free porcelain skin -- Daphne, you barbarian -- couldn’t have coaxed an erection out of him even if he had the inclination to find her again. No, slipping out to seduce another stranger with his particular specifications was out of the question. He had no time to lure another. 

Orland raced his hand around the drawer and fished out a bottle, hoping for a narcotic, but pulled out a prescription sedative. He read the label: ‘Benzodiazepine’ and cursed under his breath. A wiser choice, but wise choices weren’t on his mind.

Back to dreams aphotic

Within minutes, the drugs penetrated his blood-brain barrier. His room receded from his awareness. Or was he receding from the room? He cursed his mind for sabotaging his need for sleep with philosophical nonsense questions. Slipping into the familiar realm of aphotic dreams, Angelina blended into the clouds, raining down frogs and daggers with her myriad all-seeing eyes.

May 19, 2020 21:41

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03:21 May 22, 2020

Great read. I waa completely lost in the story. Loved it. Suzette, my hero! Very dark, but cleverly written.


12:24 May 22, 2020

Phebe, thank you for reading. This character study was definitely a departure for me, so I'm tickled pink that you enjoyed. Suzette is a cool lady! Be well and have a magical day!


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Vince Salamone
15:29 May 21, 2020

This was really interesting. The atmosphere, characterization and Orland's fascination with pain/pleasure (and his rather twisted ways of achieving it) reminded me very much of Clive Barker's Hellbound Heart. I loved how we learned about the side characters through the tiny, blemished window of Orland's fantasies, while still establishing who those characters were in actuality. Very well done!


15:51 May 21, 2020

Thank you Vince! I appreciate your time to read, and for sharing your impressions. To be compared with Barker is beyond amazing! I've never written about a truly unlikable character before, so this was a perfect opportunity to try. 'Blemished Window' - that sounds like a great possible title for something new. So inspiring, so thank you again!


Vince Salamone
23:16 Sep 22, 2021

So, I'm a big doofus and never saw this notification 0__o My apologies! But yes, loved this story - hope you've got something new brewing, and that you've been well!


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Owen G. Richards
22:30 May 19, 2020

First, my disclaimer - this is not something I would normally read, so please read my comments in light of that fact. I didn't like Orland from the start and his treatment of Daphne enabled me to loathe possibly despise him. However, as the story progressed, I began to understand a little more about him and could not find it in me to to continue to despise him because of the circumstances of his life. The problem with his mother seems to be his resentment of her correcting his behaviour - something all kids feel when their parents pull...


22:34 May 19, 2020

I'm delighted that all those details stuck with you.


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Stephen Carman
23:11 Jun 04, 2020

Orland is a character that can go anywhere in continued evolution of his twisted beginnings. The singular effect upon my meeting him is "Yikes". He is at once self absorbed, reflective, angry, guilt ridden, scarred, aggressive and lost with no positive direction. I have not had enough time with him to feel sorrow or to sympathize with his condition. The feeling is that I pity his inability to feel any compassion. He seems to seek love he is unable to give even to himself. But i am not vested enough because of his immediate repugnance...


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