4. [Plate 6]
Death and Elena
Death had taken me out of my house and was leading me down the street when I heard the music and bright
lights of a masked ball and said, "May I?"
"It's highly irregular," that great man said.
"One evening!" I cried. "What is one evening weighed against all eternity? Less than
"Very well." Death handed me a mask and said, "I'll wait out here."
I swaggered inside, ready for anything. I had a bright sword, no conscience at all, and nothing left to lose.
Eagerly, I scanned the crowd. There were many beautiful women there. But one outshone the rest as the sun does
the moon. I made straight for her and bowed.
She said her name was Elena. She said, "Oh, I know what you want," when I told her she was
beautiful. Then, when I scowled, she said, "You won't get it if you don't fetch me a drink."
I was dazzled and entranced. When I returned with Elena's drink, she was talking with a soldier. She poured
the drink down the front of my pants. She sank to her knees and tried to dry me off with a kerchief. She giggled
and said, "So big! And so hard."
The soldier grabbed my collar in one meaty hand. He was a hideous brute.
"I don't want any trouble!" I cried, alarmed.
"Don't you?" Elena said scornfully. She put her graceful hands on her magnificent hips and thrust her
wonderful breasts almost into my face. "Aren't I worth fighting for?"
And, God help me, she was.
Those were my first three minutes. An hour later, after suffering humiliations I wouldn't relate to the Devil
himself, I literally crawled back out into the street.
"That didn't take long," Death remarked. He helped me to my feet.
"I met a woman named Elena," I gasped. "And she
"Tell me about it," Death said bitterly. "I dated her once, and I haven't been the same man
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This is the fourth 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.