Her Last Murder

by Jennifer Crow

A fall of shadow-eaten, pallid light spills
slantwise over buildings glazed with gold.
Canals lap at the worn and weary stones,
gondolas slip and ripple as they pass.
A girl, her head bent with the weight of fear
dangles a mask from fingers tight with grief
beneath tall windows thick with history's dust.

With evening, she puts on another's face,
another's fortune, and another's doom.
The crowd will part and swirl and swallow her
alive, and spit her at the feet of Fate.
The wise will turn aside and sip their wine--
a glimmer on the tongue that warms and warns

of secrets in the stones, and Death's reward
for services, betrayal's silver coin.
She kneels and lets the cold seep through her clothes
and grind against her bones like hungry mouths;
she waits and listens for the lord's command
to send her, like the hunting-bitch she is,
against an unknown enemy. His word

propels her, anxious for the kill,
and almost mindless, memory dispersed
like so much sand, spilled in a cyclone's maw.
She prowls the shadows, emptiness unfilled
except by blood's sweet tang, and even then
the solace fades before the hour turns.

When at long last the memory returns
of what she was, before the dagger's claim
and what she might have been without the gaol
of mornings stained by blood upon her hands,
she weeps in silence, just another whore
returning from a loveless bed--except
this bed is narrow, lined with dirt
and deep enough to bury all her dreams.

Jennifer Crow believes in ghosts, but even more in the way the past haunts the present. Autumn is her favorite time of year, when spirits drift like woodsmoke among the changing trees, and grief tinges the scents in the air. You can find links to more of her work at her blog, and some of her short fiction will soon be available in the Ruins: Extraterrestrial, Sporty Spec, and Ages of Wonder anthologies.

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