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the sleep of reason

by Michael Swanwick

with illustrations by
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes


16. [Plate 69]
The Forge of Witches

Witches do not rule the world — men do that — but in times as disordered as these they can hardly avoid having great influence. With great influence comes great dignity. So you can imagine how the witches feel about the press.

They arrange for a Witches' Sabbath with devil-worship, orgies, and hideous carnage — and the next morning the headlines scream LADIES' NIGHT OUT! They kill and kill and kill and are rewarded with IT COULD ONLY BE CALLED… (WO)MANSLAUGHTER. They initiate a craze for huffing oven cleaner? GIRLS JUST WANT TO HAVE FUMES!


Bad artists hide behind their mediocrity. Very few second-rate books are ever burned. The hack who wrote the aforementioned headlines thought that since he wasn't much of a journalist, he was safe.

Famous last words.

The witches swooped down upon the reporter as he was leaving a sheep-shearing contest — A VISIT TO THE BAA-BAA SHOP — and carried him away to their forge.

Stripping the pathetic bastard naked, they handed him over to Lilith, oldest of their tribe, to use as a bellows.

"Fart, little man, fart!" she cried, pumping methane from his bowels. "Inquiring minds want to know!" His flames roasted to a white heat a basket filled with the bones of unbaptised infants — part of an ongoing research project the witches were engaged in — and, not coincidentally, scorched his rectum as well.

"Stop!" the reporter cried. "Wait!" He didn't know which was worse, the torment or the humiliation. "I've seen the error of my ways. I was wrong. I was superficial. Let me go and I swear you'll have good press for the rest of your lives."

"You're full of it," Lilith said with a hint of a smile. She pumped more vigorously and the flames leaped higher. "And quite frankly, so far as we can tell, that's your only virtue."


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This is the 16th 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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