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the sleep of reason

by Michael Swanwick

with illustrations by
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes


79. [Plate 80]
The Nightmares Awaken

The eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries were horror incarnate. But the evils of the twenty-first were enough to gag a nightmare. Trench warfare, the invasion and subjugation of Africa, terrorism both private and state-sponsored, plantation slavery, nuclear weaponry, charismatic maniacs by the score... They were as nothing compared to what followed. Those airplanes flying into those buildings and turning all those people to smoke? They were just the tocsin-bell announcing that the game had begun.

Who would have dreamed we'd ever grow nostalgic for an era in which world wars, genocide, and the systematic repression of human rights were commonplace? But we did, and sooner than we could have imagined.


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All because the Man of Reason (who might or might not have been, remember, Goya himself) fell asleep.

All the anguished world cries for the sleeper to awaken. Even the nightmares join in. "Wake up! Arise!" they cry. "Damn you, pull yourself up out of the darkness! Start using the brain God gave you! Are you planning on wallowing in ignorance for all of eternity?"

And the sleeper moves! The light of a dawning sun is in his eyes. He murmurs something in his sleep, and turns over on his side.

Okay, I think we all get this one. Could it be more obvious? Only if it were written down on paper, wrapped around a brick, and smashed into your gob.

Here's the thing, though: It's not up to you. You're just one person, and you don't have the power to change the world all by yourself. Rather, it's up to all of us. If we all put our shoulders to the wheel, we can make a difference. And we can bring ourselves to make the effort, if only we listen to what our nightmares are telling us:
It doesn't have to be this way.

So the world screams, and the nightmares scream, and the generations unborn scream, and the generations that may never be born scream. "Wake up!" they cry, all of them. "Open your goddamned eyes!" And then, well...

Do we?


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This is the 79th 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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