59. [Plate 75]
Grace and Nightmares
It was only a joke.
But the jokes that are played on whores are a little rougher than the jokes that are played on the likes of you and me. Some of the lads who frequented the brothels learned that a certain puritanical minister was planning to lead a march of decent citizens upon the houses of ill-fame to publicize their existence and thus force the city fathers to shut them down. So one of their number volunteered to show the minister where the foul places were, another slapped an ether-soaked handkerchief over his face, and a third similarly anesthetized Grace.
The joke went off as simple as one-two-three.
When Grace came to, she was bound by the ankles and waist to the crusading minister, and the both of them were tied to a tree on the outskirts of town.
The minister was already awake, and he was furious. "You harlot! You slut! You cesspool of infamy!" he cried. He pulled at the ropes so hard Grace couldn't breathe. "Let me free of your wanton flesh!"
"If you'd just stop yanking so hard," Grace said plaintively, "we could work together and get these ropes untied."
But now, however, the minister was aroused. Grace could tell by the hoarseness of his voice, the redness of his face - and by other signs as well. So he'd stopped listening. One of his hands was tied to the tree, but the other was free. So he began hitting Grace and pinching her, while simultaneously he was also rubbing his buttocks against her in the most lascivious manner imaginable.
"Vile temptress!" he roared. "Chamber-pot of Satan! Cease your loathly blandishments! God will protect me from you!" And all the while he was hitting her, and hurting her, and grabbing at and twisting her flesh in places no woman likes to be roughly handled.
It was a nightmare.
Was ever a woman better designed to attract nightmares than Grace? She believed in things she had never seen the least evidence of, like love and kindness and justice, and lived a life that embodied their exact opposites. In her distress, she was a psychic lightning-rod for the creatures. She drew them down from the ether.
So it was that the first of many nightmares descended upon her. Gleefully it sank its claws deep, deep into Grace's mind.
Almost gratefully, she went mad.
The minister eventually fought himself free of Grace. He hobbled back to the rectory, stripped naked, and scourged himself until blood ran freely and the swelling in a certain member went down. That Sunday, drawing from his experience, he preached a hellfire-and-brimstone sermon that brought his congregation to their knees in fear and repentance.
So the joke ended happily after all.
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This is the 59th 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.