There is dust in the air, dry in the hot wind. The vultures were flying earlier in the morning, in the bone white sky, but now they rest in slivered trees with naked branches. There’s a faint stink of smoke in the air, and fouler things. The blood is sticky on my hands as I go to my knees. It is splashed on my chin, across my chest. I can taste it with the bitter dust on my lips. I prostrate myself before the altar, going down to my knees, bowing my head before the bronze figure bent in chains. I bow before him, Khalkeos, the dread lord at our city’s gate. There is no incense for this offering, no flowers, no pipes or drums. My life blood is snaking down my legs into the dry and thirsty earth. I sink forward, slowly, elbows, then face, and place my opened lips to the earth, the offered sacrifice that was promised. Breathing hurts. Weakly, slowly, I place one hand at the base of the altar, bloodied fingers leaving a dark smear, a mark, a testimony. There are none to place a coin beneath my tongue for the ferryman—only this, this life I’ve known, the fate I sought. The earth in my mouth tastes bitter.