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the sleep of reason

by Michael Swanwick

with illustrations by
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes


53. [Plate 22]
Poor Little Girls

Savior or predator? Perhaps you're a little of both. Without thought of reimbursement, you go out on the streets to rescue the poor unfortunate waifs who've fetched up there, like so much flotsam on the beach of life. And if you pause to sample - let's say - one in twelve... well, that's only an eight percent commission. Surely the good Lord won't refuse you Heaven for anything under fifteen percent.

It only stands to reason.

Those poor little girls! They're hardly more than children, some of them. It makes one weep to see how badly they are treated. How fearful they are. How vulnerable. How deliciously, wonderfully vulnerable.


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Granted, your tastes aren't exactly vanilla. It's the transgressive nature of the encounter that turns you on. You being a church elder only makes it naughtier. Your having sworn to rescue these soiled lambs from exactly the sort of sin and degradation you have in mind only makes the betrayal sweeter. You want it to be nasty. You want to make them whimper.

Tonight, however, you and your best chicken-hawking buddy are in for a surprise. Those two girls shivering in the sleet? They're undercover cops. Clucking your tongue, you approach them. Jingling the change in your pocket, you prepare your come-on line.

Those poor little girls (so frail! so defenseless!) are wired for sound. There are large, heavily armed officers hidden only yards away. They don't like your kind. When they arrest you, they may well use more force than is absolutely necessary.

But that's just the beginning. You're going to prison, and your sentence won't be light. Judges don't like your kind any more than cops do. You'll be locked up with large, brutal men who will employ considerable ingenuity in making your stay there memorable. Because it's not only law-abiding folk who don't like your kind. Even for the worst of us, there are limits, and you crossed them long ago.

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear! Forgive me if I giggle.


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This is the 53rd 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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