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the sleep of reason

by Michael Swanwick

with illustrations by
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes


27. [Plate 49]

Everybody loves trolls! Of course we do. Those little imps are exactly the size of children. They are as fun-loving and capricious as children. Their mobile little faces are as expressive as those of children. In fact, were it not for their murders, dismemberments, and casual cannibalism, they could easily be mistaken for children themselves. What's not to love?

Here's a funny story:

Three trolls walk into a bar. They kill the bartender, rip his head off, and pour his blood into mugs. Then they settle down to drink and to brag.

The first troll — let's call him Borborygmy — says, "I'm the bestest, wickedest troll of all! I fart when I don't have to. I break into the houses of strangers and eat crackers in their beds. I kill prostitutes and mail their livers to the police."

The second troll — Xenophagius, let's say — giggles. "Aw, that's nothing," he says with a comic swat of his hand. "You big silly. I make wee-wee when I'm swimming in the public pool. I spray-paint swastikas on the sides of synagogues. I murder hitchhikers and bury their bodies in shallow unmarked graves in the desert."

The third troll has found some old blankets and is playing at dress-up, so we'll call him Little Red Riding Hood. "Nanny-nanny-boo-boo to both of you!" says Little Red Riding Hood with great dignity. He sticks out his tongue at Borborygmy and Xenophagius. "I always vote Republican. I never brush my teeth. And when you weren't looking, I spat in both your mugs!"

Oh, and that's just one of the many, many funny stories there are about trolls and their hilarious antics. There must be thousands of them, the very least of which brightens our darkest day with a chuckle and a wry grin of recognition.

Trolls do perform a certain amount of damage, of course. They are the third leading cause of death nationwide, after traffic accidents and heart failure. In direct loss of physical property alone, they cost more than tent caterpillars, mudslides, and cyclones combined. So we really ought to do something about them — lock them away, maybe even exterminate them outright.

But we can't bring ourselves to do it. They're just so darn cute!


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This is the 27th 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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