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the sleep of reason

by Michael Swanwick

with illustrations by
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes


11. [Plate 13]
The All-Devouring

Would you eat a toad? Of course not. But what about Bufo al Provençal?

Imagine it: You start with plump legs of toad, gently sauteed and then set aside and kept warm. Into the newly-emptied saucepan add just a touch more olive oil, some freshly minced garlic, and peeled, seeded, and chopped tomatoes. When they have rendered down, add a handful of olives, and a little finely chopped celery. When the celery has turned transparent, return the toad legs to the pan and heat just until cooked through. Serve immediately.


Such is the approach of the brotherhood of gourmets known as The All-Devouring. Long, long ago, so fine are their palates, they used up all the possibilities of fresh and wholesome food. Now they have moved on to the delectation of the repugnant. Road-kill skunk, a swath of dirty carpet torn from the floor of a motel waiting room, a hearty glass of urine — such are the primary elements of their exquisite feasts. But by the time they have reached the table, these humble ingredients have been transformed into dishes fit for the gods!

The All-Devouring are Sybarites par excellence. Whenever they meet, they expand the horizons of refinement. They lick the wallpaper and chew on the chairs. They egg each other on to greater and greater feats of aestheticism.

At their last meeting, one of their members ate his own hand. It was, he declared, excellent, though it could have used a garnish of slugs.


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This is the 11th of 80 stories by Michael Swanwick written to accompany Francisco Goya's Los Caprichos. For a listing of the most recently available stories, go to The Sleep of Reason.

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