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the sleep of reason

by Michael Swanwick

with illustrations by
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes


44. [Plate 63]
Prick Among the Demons

Prick was president at last. Let's skip the sordid details of how — he stole the office fair and square. Was ever anything so unlikely? Was ever any outcome so inevitable? Only in America! This could never have happened in a democracy.

But how to actually run the country? Even if Prick could be bothered (he could not), he had promised during the election that he would hand authority over to advisors who would make him look good. Which was not easy. There weren't many functional human beings who didn't make Prick look pretty punk by contrast.

So he went with demons.

Prick's three chief advisors were the fiends Rainy, Chummy, and Asscloth. They gave up lucrative practices in Hell to serve him, because money isn't everything. Power counts as well. And they came out of the gate running.

"Let's wreck the economy!" said Chummy.

"No, no, no, let's curtail civil rights!" said Asscloth.

"Bugger that," said Rainy. "Let's have a war!"

Decisions, decisions, decisions. In the end Prick went with all three.

"Things are in the saddle now," Prick declared in his most successful speech ever, "and they ride mankind! Enjoy the trip."

Wham! Down went the economy, just as he'd promised. Millions of retirement accounts, like so many little ducks, upped tails and dove for the mud. Corporations went bankrupt, and their CEOs looted the pension funds on their way out. Unemployment soared.

"What have you done?" Prick cried in horror. "The electorate is screaming for blood."

"Fuck the electorate," Chummy said. "You don't owe them a thing; they didn't even vote for you. We both know who placed you in office — and you are not putting them in jail."

Meanwhile, Asscloth's people set to work dismantling two hundred years of hard-won rights. They jailed foreigners without warrants, and tried their best to do the same to American citizens. Yet for all their zeal, the courts wouldn't cooperate.

"You can't even get the job done," Prick grumbled.

"It's these fucking conservative judges," Asscloth said. "They're not right-wing enough. They don't realize that innocent people don't need rights. We're thinking of having them shot."

"But my numbers are plummeting! Nobody loves me!" A great schmaltzy tear ran down Prick's cheek. He did so dearly like being loved. It was, after wealth, his favorite entitlement. "Now I'll never be popular again."

But Rainy leaned over in the saddle and patted Prick reassuringly on the nose. "You poor ass," he said. "You've forgotten the war."


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This is the 44th 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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