He came to me on a day like any other. My brothers were causing mischief in the sleepy town below the hill, while I spent my endless hours chanting through empty, cobwebbed corridors and doing pirouettes across the mahogany floors of the abandoned ballroom in the manor, overgrown with moss and vines.
The only people I ever saw were those that came at my Uncle’s command, and they were often too bereaved to sing and dance with me. All they wanted was a drink, and so I dutifully walked them to the flowing river that cut through our grounds and let them gorge themselves with water until their memories washed away with the currents of the smoky Lethe. Then, and only then, would my darling twin brother appear, in all of his somber glory, to walk them back through the land from which they came, back to my Uncle.
I might have mistaken him for a Drinker, except his eyes were unlike any I’d ever seen. Instead of the hollow, soulless gaze of my usual visitors, his eyes were big and bright, a lucid shimmering silver that sparkled— like what I imagined stars would look like, though I’d never seen them. His presence stopped me mid-twirl somewhere in the center of the massive foyer that stretched the full height of the manor. He looked so grand, so epic— pushing through the heavy front doors, sending them flying open with a deafening thud. I was so used to the silence, so used to the solitude, that his very appearance was a thrilling anomaly in my otherwise mundane routine.
“Are you Hypnos, the great daughter of Nyx and Erebus?” he asked, breathless.
“That is what I am often called,” I said in turn, unsure why he was not asleep like the rest of the people beneath the hill, unknowingly imprisoned in theLandofDreams. “My given name is Oneiri, for I am the bringer of sleep and the harbinger of dreams.”
“I am your humble servant,” he said, dropping to his knees before me. I fell back on my heels, stunned.
“How is it that you came to be here?” I asked. Thinking back, I was sure I had never before received a visitor such as this one, as no one but my mother and brothers could get through the dauntingly large horn and ivory gate that closed us off from the rest of the world.
No one entered uninvited, and no one but Thanatos left.
“My dearest love is a distant cousin of your mother’s. She has given me leave to see you.”
“You are from the World Above,” I said excitedly, giving him my rapt attention.
“I am.” He smiled tenderly, so warm it was almost as blindingly radiant as his eyes. “I have come to beg a favor from the child of Night.”
My smile faded. “You must leave soon,” I said suddenly, urgently pushing him toward the doors. “If you are from the World Above then you are not welcome here. My brothers will sense your living soul and they will capture you to steal your dreams.” He must have sensed my horror, for he gently took my hands.
“What I have is not a mortal’s sleep, but something altogether divine, bestowed upon me by Zeus that I may live forever.”
I stared at him in confounded irritation. “If you seek eternal life, why walk among the dead?”
He smiled sadly. “What good is eternal life if I cannot see my beloved? If I cannot admire her beauty? If I am to know only darkness, isn’t that death?”
I frowned, looking out the partially shattered windows at the evergray sky. Morpheus’ tree lay in the far distance, swirled in fog, a sad wilted elm upon which he hung his hand spun crafts—the phantoms he used to haunt the dreamscape, trapped within clear glass balls, hanging from the branches like forbidden fruit.
“Not all of sleep is darkness,” I said, surprised at my indignation. “Some of it is magic and bright. Some of it is blissfully impossible and all the more special because of it.”
“But in the end, a dream is just a dream. And how can that compare to reality?”
I thought for a long moment, my brows furrowed so deeply they hurt.
“I see you have little experience with reality,” he said carefully, when I did not respond.
“My reality is not as yours, for my world is below and yours is above.”
“But it does not change your ability to think. To feel.”
“These are all things you can do in sleep, in dreams.”
“But they are not real.”
I pulled back as though struck. They were real to me. They were the only reality I knew.
“Have you never been above?” he asked.
“I have no need. All that is required of me is here. I work and play within this realm. My mother and brothers return to me at dawn and leave again at dusk, and I am given freedom to roam and dance and sing.”
“My dear Thanatos often comes to visit.”
“But he does not stay.”
“I prefer the solitude.”
“Or the company of ghosts.”
“They are not ghosts,” I snapped, irritated. “They are just as you or I, only lost and seeking reprieve for their weary souls.”
“So you have never seen the moonlight. Never heard a love song plucked on a lyre. Never had a man touch your skin.” His callous fingers touched my shoulder, slid down my arm. My skin grew strangely warm, the hair lifting on end.
“What are you doing?” I choked out, my eyes wide. My wings fluttered behind my shoulder blades.
“Showing you the true value of reality.” His palm touched mine, bare skin to bare skin. Our fingers intertwined. He stepped forward, solid man, his presence making me shrink back. I was used to broken spirits, their shoulders hunched, and their eyes downcast. But not him. His eyes were intent on mine. His breath smelled sweet, like fresh wine, and it left small puffs of warm air against my face with each exhale.
I struggled to still my rapidly beating heart. My own breathing hitched in my chest. My eyes widened. He was so mortal. I could still smell the grass on his skin and clothes, the musty, strange animal scent below it. Cattle, maybe. Sheep? I imagined him on the rolling green hills, followed by a little lamb trailing his every step. He’d be gentle as he picked it up, brushing those large, warm fingers over its knotty wool.
He grabbed my face, pulling me starkly out of my reverie, and slowly, painfully, leaned in, letting his lips brush mine. A feather light touch.
My brothers had often explained seeing humans kiss among the land of mortals, within their dreams. But I had never understood the act, never made sense of its purpose. To me, a mouth was used for eating and drinking, for speaking and singing. Any other purpose seemed foreign. And yet here I was, with this stunningly beautiful man’s lips imprinted on mine, causing a violent fire in my belly.
I was dizzy with emotion, with sensation, a dizziness completely unlike the first stages of slumber or the quickest pirouette. He released me and I stumbled back, my eyes struggling to focus on the spinning room.
“That is reality,” he said quietly, a gentle smile spread across his full lips. “And those feelings, though easily replicated, are never quite as thrilling within dreams.”
“If you do not seek the oblivion of sleep then why have you come to me at all?”
“I am a man in love,” he said simply, shrugging his shoulders. “I ask only that I be allowed to sleep with my eyes open, upon the grassy fields ofAeolis, that I may gaze upon my beloved and her glorious beauty.”
“But if you sleep with your eyes open, you cannot dream.”
“Selene is the only dream I need.”
I angled my head, examining his earnest expression. I knew the wrath I would face from my brothers’ depriving them of the energy of his dreams, an eternity of them. But I didn’t care. I could not say no to this man, who came into my world with his bright passion lighting the way like a flame.
“What is your name?” I asked him, eager to let it touch my tongue.
“Endymion,” he said, bowing his head slightly.
I nodded. “You may gaze upon the moon during your eternal slumber, my beautiful Endymion,” I said, touching my hand to his cheek. “For you have brought with you a priceless gift in my honor. Up until now, I have thought myself ruler of this land, but I have been just as much a prisoner of its walls, just as much a dreamer in its slighted reality. Thank you, Endymion.” I smiled widely, my wings ripping open behind me. “I believe you have freed me.”
He hugged me tightly and rushed back out the doors toward his great love, leaving me once again to the darkness, the silence, the solitude. I stood in the center of the large foyer for a long time, debating what was to come.
My brothers could not feed without me and so they would not let me go. Unless…
I walked out into the wilted garden, past the rows of flowers and picked a blood red poppy, the only vibrant color in the monochromatic landscape. Suddenly, I yearned for the sight of green grass and blue sky, for the lively scents of earth and life. All that surrounded me was Death. Glum, gray Death that stretched as far as the eye could see, across the grounds, down the hill, past the river.
Maybe in Elysian Fields… but even then, wasn’t that just a semblance of the life they left behind?
I twirled the flower between my fingers as I watched the souls walk the grounds, tortured, hopeless, seeking direction. Some still mumbled under their breath, holding on to that last thread of life, as though it hadn’t already been clipped and tied, as if repeating names or places they once knew somehow kept them human.
But it was all an empty façade of humanity. It only served to cause them more pain in the long run. It was why they always came to me. Why with one drink of water I brought them relief, watching as their cloudy eyes cleared and made way for a new future. A future where this dark, grey sky was all they knew, and so they couldn’t miss the old one.
Before I knew where I had gone, I looked down at my reflection at the river’s edge and imagined the handsome stranger’s beaming eyes. He was everything I wanted, everything I could ever dream of, and he was gone- in love with someone else in the vibrant world above.
I would never escape this place. And once upon a time, that did not bother me. Now I’d tasted the World Above and I craved its intoxicating sensations, craved more than this dark, dank place could give me.
Tossing the flower into the flowing river I bent down and cupped a handful of the smoky water in my palm, bringing it to my lips.
I’d rather have the oblivion of dreams than the awful pain of reality.