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the sleep of reason

by Michael Swanwick

with illustrations by
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes


8. [Plate 66]
Live! Nude! Witches!

What is so delightful to the male imagination as a witch? Oh, certainly, they personify female wisdom and power — but they have to take their clothes off in order to do so! They are terrifying in their malice, of course. But if one looks at the matter with an unprejudiced eye, one realizes that they are not wearing a stitch. You can see everything!

So they shrivel a crop or cause a cow to stop giving milk. So what? It's worth it.

Then there is the matter of their erotomania. There are things no decent women will ever do — and witches do them all the time! So lecherous are these creatures that even the youngest, sweetest, ripest of them all will couple in mid-air — out in the open! in plain view of everyone! — with the oldest, ugliest and most haggish member of their order. They grind their bodies together shamelessly. They employ various toys. They involve their beastly familiars. Everyone knows what they do with those brooms.

And if these witches are indeed, the male imagination reasons, so lustful, so degraded, so perfectly without discrimination, is it not possible that they would even stoop to doing it with … me?

But there the male imagination stops, one crucial word short of revelation and the truth. It leaves the question hanging, while it slips out the door, leaps over the gate, and runs down the street with its hat held firmly down over its ears. For it does not want to hear the answer. The answer which is a single word. The word which is "No."


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This is the 8th 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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