[Sleep] Endymion

Rome 32 BCE


There are no memories here. There is, instead, a rose garden on a hill.


Dark vines clutch broken columns.


Blossoms swell like wounds.


To a young Greek shepherd, the hazy sprawl of Rome looks like the bright surface of a star. Endymion watches as slaves lead spotted leopards toward the amphitheater. Tents are raised, fabric painted to match the color of the sky.


We must remind ourselves: Endymion is dreaming.


His body lies naked, far from Rome, in a vast Arcadian wood.


Moonlight steals across his sleeping form. Black beetles and silvery flies crawl in the curls of his hair. The shadow of a laurel tree darkens his upturned face. And, at least once a night, the faintest of breezes causes his cock to swell. His semen is a pearl dissolved.


Is this sleep the product of some curse?


Questions lead to circular paths.


Endymion turns his thoughts instead to the dark-haired youth, Aetes. The two young shepherds kissed often beneath the cover of the nighttime sky.


Aetes’ lips…sweet like ripened dates.



Endymion runs his hand over the hairless swelling of Aetes’ chest. He moves his fingers along the young man’s ribs, counting them. “You should have been an athlete,” Endymion says.

Aetes laughs, but he does not look at Endymion. Instead, he gazes at the flock of sheep on the hill.

“I want to feel your skin against mine,” Endymion says. “I want to feel you deeper too.”

Aetes remains silent.

“What’s wrong?”

“The sheep—” Aetes says.

“The sheep are fine.”

Aetes lowers his head. Dark hair falls across his brow. “My father spoke to a family in Knossos,” he says. “They are wealthy and have an unmarried daughter.”


“Yes,” Aetes replies.


Cheers rise from the emperor’s stadium. Gladiators slaughter leopards. Endymion hears the poor creatures’ cries.


Endymion walks the perimeter of the rose garden. Roman boys have scribbled graffiti on the walls:  The perfume maker fucked well here. My cock is dearer to me than life.


A wind comes from the east. It lashes the heads of the roses.


Endymion closes his eyes. Aetes is there once more. 


 “Where have you been all these years?” Aetes asks. 

“Sleeping. I went to sleep.”

“Don’t you think I’ve looked for you?”

“I’ve been sleeping.”

“For so many years?”

“For so many years.”


Another piece of graffiti:  Do not worry about the end of the world. The world has already ended.


Endymion comes to the edge of the Roman garden. Beyond the wall are a series of tall white sepulchers. He remembers the last night he spent with Aetes. In the morning, when the young shepherd stood to leave, the two could not meet each other’s gaze. 


Roses in the garden stare at Endymion now.


They have the red faces of the gods.

Photo Credit: Sławomir Żurczak via CC0 1.0

About the author

Adam McOmber is the author of two novels, Jesus and John and The White Forest, and two collections of short stories, This New & Poisonous Air and My House Gathers Desires. His work has been included in Wilde Stories: The Year's Best Gay Speculative Fiction and Best Microfiction. His stories have appeared recently in Conjunctions, Kenyon Review, Black Warrior Review, Fairytale Review and Diagram. He lives in Los Angeles and teaches in the MFA Writing Program at Vermont College of Fine Arts.

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