“I round the year in myth and fable, and limn my calendar days with joy.” Maria held in her right hand an old glass bowl that was half-filled with honey and milk.

Accompanied by her group of Russian wolfhounds, she fled to the countryside. She’d resolved to spend the rest of her days a recluse at her parents’ vacation home on Canyon Lake, deep in the Texas hill country. “Hell is other people,” the old Sartre quote resounded. She could almost hear the faculty gloating: “She’s flown off to live with her deviant kin.”

Too much backtalk and duplicity. Rumors begat with malice. Maria remained a vegetarian but had never been able to shake the habit of smoking, so she smoked outside with her students. There were rumors she was sleeping with them, male and female; or with both at once. She had a grotto or coven, they propounded. A chemistry professor of no mean erudition, she’d nonetheless obtained tenure only by means of the black arts and sex, they said. Outlandish ceremonies; lurid blood-pacts; gory sacrifices. “A bruja!” There were some rituals in which she engaged, the provost claimed — and Maria remembered these words well — “with violent extravagance.”

Those yarns were bad enough, but one especially disturbed: That she had a hidden chamber that contained thirteen mannequins, and these mannequins were kept dressed as her colleagues. Upon these figures she plied her hexes. There were male mannequins among them, too, furnished with obscenely large genitalia, and she’d couple with them–an odd detail that, she guessed, was supposed to mock her reputed hypersexuality but also explain her lack of a husband – an anachronistic and unfair prejudice for these days, she thought. “This part of Texas still has its backwardness, mija,” her grandmother once warned. “But this whole ayé can be damned backwards, too.”

Maria dispatched Belva, favorite of her Russian wolfhounds, to check the inner room at the lake home. (Belva had been named after a similar-looking borzoi owned by Theda Bara; the silent film vampire was Maria’s long-time idol.) With lowered head Belva reported that all was good; things were as they’d left them. Maria switched on the light and counted the shadows of heads on the wall, delighted to find the normal thirteen. With a final ingredient added as a catalyst to the honey and milk, Maria began stirring with purpose, pestle in left hand.

“I round the year in myth and fable, and limn my calendar days with hate.”

 

Oliver Sheppard

Oliver Sheppard was born in Nashville, Tennessee and currently writes in Texas. His Thirteen Nocturnes collection of poetry was a 2020 Elgin Award Finalist and was long-listed in the 2019 Bram Stoker Awards for Superior Achievement in a Poetry Collection. In the Winter 2021 issue of Spectral Realms, Sheppard was proclaimed “a major new voice in the genre of macabre poetry.”

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