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the sleep of reason

by Michael Swanwick

with illustrations by
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes


42. [Plate 67]
Paint Your Goat

Are you ready for the holidays? Have you carved your pumpkins, set out your corn shocks, crucified a cat or two, and painted the names of your tutelary demons on the walls in pig's blood? Good! But have you painted your goat?

Nothing says Walpurgisnacht like a good ripe goat, tastefully decorated in a manner reminiscent of ruined monasteries, jeweled skulls, impalement, and the sad death of kings. In Europe, of course, they have lackeys to perform such chores for them. We sturdy scions of democracy must make do for ourselves. But there's no reason we can't turn out a goat as good as any in France.

Here's how:

First, take off your clothes. Why? Because it's more amusing that way. Now shave your goat's belly in one long, continual spiral, to represent the descent into death and rebirth. You want to evoke the left-hand path, so don't make the beginner's mistake of curling the spiral wrong way around. Widdershins, remember! Countersunwise!

Along that spiral, using a goose quill pen, in elegant flowing cursive copy out your pledge to sell your soul to the Devil. If you haven't sold him your soul yet, for goodness sake be sure to do it before the solstice! If you wait, you can't declare it on this year's tax form.

Fennel is the new lavender. Gather up the remaining fur in tufts, and tie them around twigs of fennel with little bows of hand-woven ribbon. Add a light dusting of marjoram. As a rule, anything that would go well with roasted goat flesh is appropriate; this is, after all, the season in which we contemplate our mortality. Give your goat something to think about as well!

Time now to gilt the horns. Rather than simply slathering on the gold paint, why not go for a more sophisticated look? Try sponging on the gilt, or, better yet, applying it with a coarse brush and then dragging a cloth over the horns, so that the highlights are removed and what remains suggests an ancestral goat one that's been passed down in the family for dozens of generations, kept alive, perhaps, by sacrifices too gruesome to mention.

A touch of clear shellac for the hoofs, and your Walpurgis-goat is done. Enjoy! And don't forget to deck his balls!


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This is the 42nd 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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