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the sleep of reason

by Michael Swanwick

with illustrations by
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes


10. [Plate 44]
The Godmothers

The three oldest witches in the world are named Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos. The thread they weave is thin, but not even the Devil can break it. Clotho spins, Lachesis measures, and Atropos snaps the thread with her sharp, sharp nails. Men call them "Godmother" to their faces, and believe them to be the Fates.

They are not the Fates.

They are, in fact, only three meddlesome old women with far too much power. Through long centuries of necromancy, they have accumulated so much forbidden lore that it is nothing for them to twist a man's life into a grotesque shape, to stretch it out too long, or to cut it off far too soon. But they are only human, after all. Malicious beyond imagining, but human. That means there is hope.

They are vulnerable, you see. In the time it would take a dozen men to rush upon them with weapons, they could kill only eleven. Yes, those eleven would die horribly. Yes, they would die wishing they had never been born. But the twelfth could kill the Godmothers, and free us all from their awful oppression.

The time has come. The time is now.

Who is with me? Juan! Take up your cudgel. Marie! Remember what they did to your sister. James! Put down that bottle and join us.

No? Well, surely you, David… Suzanne? Gregory, imagine the world as it could be! Manuel, you join in too. Hillary! Why do you turn away? Why do you all turn away? Can't you see?

Everybody! One quick rush and the deed is done. In the time we've hesitated, the Godmothers have killed hundreds, and blighted the lives of a thousand more. Yes, granted, they've saved their worst for last. Granted, eleven of us would regret beyond measure having agreed to this. But eleven lives are simply not that many. Our misery means nothing when held up against the suffering of the world. Surely the prize is worth the price?

To arms! To action. Jennifer? Romano? George? Somebody?



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This is the 10th 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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