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the sleep of reason

by Michael Swanwick

with illustrations by
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes


22. [Plate 72]
Witches and Nightmares

All that most disturbs you and me, keeps us awake at night, makes us sweat with fear, and freezes our blood with dread, bothers witches not a tittle. The world is flooded with nightmares in such number as to make an honest man doubt the benevolence of Providence. But witches are neither men nor honest, and they have no use for benevolence at all. They consort with nightmares for a romp.

As for the nightmares themselves… well! Everybody knows what nightmares want: The instantaneous gratification of their every lust, the sluttish satisfaction of all their fantasies, and the immediate and slavish indulgence of their every whim. In this, they are not unlike men.

There was a young witch who went dancing with nightmares. Light as a feather she spun on the greensward at midnight in the heart of the enchanted woods. All about her swirled the nightmares, clad in their finest feathers and confident of the night's ultimate outcome. If they were none of them particularly tall, they all made up for it by being exceptionally thick.

"Take off your trousers," the young witch told her playmates, "and hang them on yonder tree. Don't worry about your wallets! Think about my body instead. Do as I say, and I'll give you a night that you'll never forget. "

The witch was as good as her word. In less time than you'd like to think it would take, she had the nightmares trussed up like Christmas turkeys, gagged, helpless, covered with maple syrup, and dusted with stinging nettles. Then off she strolled with the contents of their wallets. The nightmares were chagrined. The pain, humiliation, and loss of cash were bad enough. But it took so long for them to free themselves that by the time they reported the incident, their credit cards had long ago been maxed out!

You and I, of course, would not have been so easily gulled. We are rational beings. No witch could make such fools of us!

To prove it, I have arranged for us a date with that exact same young lady who so bamboozled the nightmares. We will go dancing tonight at midnight on the greensward at the heart of the enchanted woods. And when the young witch tosses her hair with abandon, and suggests we take off our trousers, we will not. When she fixes us with those entrancing green eyes and murmurs vague promises, we shall rest one hand lightly upon our wallets. Though the promise of sex is in the air, we shall greet it with honest skepticism. We'll think before we act. We'll keep our dignity at all times. We will not be ruled by our dicks.

There's a first time for everything.


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This is the 22nd 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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