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the sleep of reason

by Michael Swanwick

with illustrations by
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes


57. [Plate 51]
Grooming Your Nightmares

So you've decided to raise nightmares. Congratulations! Nightmares are hardy, fast-growing, and almost impossible to kill. They thrive on neglect, and in a pinch they'll feed on anything, even themselves. They can't be trained or house-broken, so don't bother trying.

Your nightmares are as close to self-maintaining as makes no difference. There's no need to give them a second thought — though you will. You'll obsess about them. You'll lie awake nights thinking of nothing else. You'll neglect family, friends, and business in order to spend more time with them.

As long as you're going to do all that, a word about their grooming...


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People are lamentably hostile to nightmares. So it's important to present your pets to the world in the most favorable possible light. This means cleaning them up considerably. "Jewish Zionist conspiracy" should be rephrased as "certain financial interests." You are not opposed to "integration" but to "reverse discrimination." Rather than promoting violence against gays, you are in favor of "protecting family values." After all, heterosexuals aren't legally protected from being beaten up as faggots. Why should anybody else be?

After you've trimmed their nails, brushed their wings, and whitened their fangs, you'll be anxious to take your nightmares out in public. Don't forget to dress them up first! The bigger and more brutal they are, the more they require non-threatening garb. Think pastels. Think lace. Think spin. "Neo-bigotry" sounds ever so much more acceptable than mere unadorned racism. "Compassionate social Darwinism" is a circumlocution that will get you into any club in town. And "fascism with a human face" brings you that much closer to being able to step out the door without being shot.

Sooner or later, you are going to want to let your little beauties off the leash, so they can run wild. When you do there'll be no pretending they're anything other than what they are. There'll be blood in the streets and bodies hanging from the lampposts. Governments will topple and cities will burn. It'll be the end of civilization as we know it.

But until that happy day, you have to live in polite society. So remember to keep your nightmares respectable-looking.

Wash them daily. Make sure they use a deodorant.


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This is the 57th 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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