She dwelled in her memories, of course, as anyone
would. Once she'd lived on the banks of the black
river beneath the desert of the world, crouching beside
42 dull-eyed juror gods who blurred together
in retrospect. Anubis endlessly brought forth the dead --
trembling or penitent or proud -- and placed each of their hearts
on the left side of the scales. The hearts never bled,
not then, never pooled red on the shining gold. A feather
from Ma'at's radiant head rested on the right side
of the scales. Most often, the heart -- heavy with sins and living --
outweighed the feather, and then Ammut sauntered
forward. Oh, she was strong in those days, with the forelimbs
of a lion, the back parts of a hippopotamus, the endless grin
of a crocodile (these days, too often, she feels like something
stitched together from incompatible parts). While the dead
watched -- still trembling, still penitent, only rarely
still proud -- Ammut snapped up their hearts
and swallowed, the juice filling her mouth, the hearts
dropping into the great empty hollowness at her center.
The sinful dead wandered away to crouch in corners and chew dust,
forbidden the sublime pleasures of the afterlife.
Eventually, Anubis stopped bringing in the dead. The
42 jurors fell asleep, fell into comas, fell apart. Ma'at
shed her feathers and tucked her head beneath her wing.
Thoth closed his book of records and wept. Ammut grew
bored first, then hungry. She went out, into the decadent
ruin where expatriate gods live, and there she grew old,
her teeth loosening in her jaws, her back legs aching,
the fur of her forelimbs turning gray.
Most days she sits at a rusty table in a sidewalk café.
She has a plastic bag of shriveled hearts, which she rations
strictly, for even such poor hearts as these are hard to come by.
Each morning she drops a heart into her tea press, pours in hot
water, pushes down the plunger, and watches the water turn
faintly pink. She sips blood tea, and thinks about judgment.
Perhaps someday her own heart will be removed, placed
on a scale, weighed against something lighter than life.
She hopes so. Her tea tastes more like dust every day.
Copyright © 2003 Tim Pratt
Tim Pratt works as an assistant editor for Locus by day; edits Star*Line, the journal of the Science Fiction Poetry Association, by night; and co-edits a 'zine called Flytrap during dawn and twilight. His myriad previous publications in Strange Horizons can be found in our Archive. To contact him, email email@example.com.