Prologue:   Wednesday, May 14

The truth is the truth: my ritual never changes.

On the days of a new and full moon, I leave my dog in the kitchen, he isn’t part of the ritual, his soul is too pure, and I enter my secret room with offerings for Diana,  goddess of the hunt, the moon, and childbirth. Her statue stands against the north wall, five feet tall, carved from pale pine the same color as the moon. It clearly shows her exquisitely chiseled features, the cascade of her hair, her hunting attire, the quiver of arrows on her back, the magnificent bow gripped in her right hand. Revered in ancient Rome, she embodies both life and death. Since I first read about her when I was fifteen, she has been my goddess, and my rituals with her are as sacred as any religious sacrament.

I set a bowl of fresh fruit on the altar in front of her, place a photo of my next target beside it, then bow in front of her. Please bless me, Diana, as I do your will. Please protect me as I do your will. Please do not let me be tempted from your righteous path.”

Just as I utter those last words, the photo flutters off the altar, blown by a current from the AC vent above the statue, and touches down on the floor in front of me. It’s upside down. I stare at it in horror, certain it means something. But what? That the young woman in the photo isn’t the right target? That I shouldn’t set any of this in motion?

Pain seizes my temples and bites down, nearly blinding me.

Suddenly, I can’t think of anything but how I will feel as I’m killing this young blond woman, how I will be pain free for days or weeks afterward, how the sweetness of her body will be my balm, my redemption. I carefully pick up her photo, turn it right side up. There. Perfect. I caress her beautiful long hair with my thumb. Laurie is mine.

I return the photo to the altar, then get up and fetch a piece of paper from the short bookcase under the map on the east wall. I’ve already cut out the letters I’ll need and they’re arranged alphabetically on the lowest shelf. I sit on the concrete floor and began pasting them onto the paper.

The numbers are the numbers, the math is the math, the truth is the truth: this is my mantra.

The pain in my head is ebbing. A good sign. It means she’s the right target. It means that when her photo fluttered upside down to the floor it was just a fluke, without any significance whatsoever.

While the letters are drying, I address an envelope. I know where she lives, what she does for a living, who her friends are, that she’s between men right now. I know her schedule, that she’s twenty-seven years old, has never been married, and is a natural blond. I know everything about her that I need to know.

I’ll take my dog with me to the post office when I mail the letter. While he runs and chases squirrels, I’ll bask like a turtle in the sun and dream about the night two weeks from now when she’ll be mine forever.

When the letters are dry, I fold the paper and slip it into the envelope and put a stamp on it. I return to the altar, pick up her photo. I pluck a red-tipped straight pin from the corkboard that holds the map of the U.S., stick it through the top of the photo, and tack it to its appropriate spot on the map, just above the orange Post-It that identifies her:

                                                Laurie Brautigan

                                                Sacred lunar kill

                                                May 28, 2014

                                                Oxford, Florida

She gazes out from a panoply of lovely faces, lovelier than all the rest because she isn’t mine yet. She will be a milestone, my twenty-fifth and the sweetest yet.

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