The Infinite Matrix

Stories Columns Archive FAQ Home

the sleep of reason

by Michael Swanwick

with illustrations by
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes


28. [Plate 47]
The Homunculus

The maternal instinct is strong beyond measure. Even witches dance when the hand of their biological clock twitches. So it was that, too old to create a child by natural means, a coven of witches of, as they put it, "a certain age," set out to create a homunculus.

They carved an infant from a mandrake root, and gave it a soul crafted from the scent of broom-flowers, the cry of a loon, and the breath of a brindle cat. Its skin was as soft and pink as a baby's butt, and its legs were wee and plump. They carved it without arms, for it was their intent that it should never have to do a single thing for itself.

When the spells were done, the object pursed its lips and moved its features uneasily, as if lost in a dream. For the homunculus was neither entirely alive nor fully inanimate. A vague sort of self-awareness it had, but nothing more.

"Oh!" the witches cried, "what a sweetums-wuvvums oo are!" They rubbed their faces against it. They kissed its teensy footsy-wootsies.

From hand to hand the faux-child was passed, and those who weren't privileged to be fussing over it at any given moment, worshiped it from afar. "Oh, best of wee-things!" they cried. "Who's a clever ittle slyboots, then?" They loved it more than God loves a repentant sinner.

Eventually, of course, they tired of the game, and went off to seek another. The homunculus was laid aside, and casually lost. Somebody knocked it to the floor. Somebody else absently kicked it across the room, where a kitten dragged it under the couch. When next it surfaced, a week later, it was so battered that it was mistaken for a stock root and tossed into a cauldron of simmering soup. With an imperceptible sigh, it relinquished that shadow-life the witches had imposed upon it.

There are some people who should never have children. You see what they do to pets, and you cringe. May they never, never, never have babies, you pray in secret. And you're ever so grateful if they don't.


[ Previous ]  [ Next ]

This is the 28th 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.

home | stories | columns | archive | faq | talk