A/N This is not what you expected for the next chapter and I apologize for that. I wanted to continue from the last bit, but didn't have time to complete that while preparing for a trip ... and now I'm on that trip ... but I still wanted to post something. I've had this in the wings waiting for the right time to post, so I put it out there. A little worried that readers are going to kill me, but whatyagonnado?

We're in Alaska. My in-laws and husband are kinda driving me crazy. I'm a lot more tired than I thought I'd be every night after all the hiking, etc. PLBTH! ~M-OX

MadMan on the Move

Haverford, Pennsylvania Saturday Evening (Excerpt from ch 149 to jog your memory)

Why did I plant Aleesha's sacrifice so close to the observatory? He chastised himself. He knew he should have changed the date of the ground-breaking so he'd have enough time to remove all the evidence.

How would this affect his plans for the bones now being cleaned by his beautiful Dermestidae colony? They would be finished digesting all the flesh from the skeleton in about twelve hours. He glanced at his watch. The companion sacrifice was probably getting off work at the diner. He'd have to get her within the next 36 hours or the miracle would be compromised, the sacrifices wasted, and his loved one would be doomed to a life of … living hell.

The old blue pickup crept soundlessly into the alley behind Madman's second house, a little white cape cod he'd purchased under an assumed name ten years ago. He flipped off the headlights and eased toward the back driveway. Pulling onto the gravel patch, he cut the engine and sat thinking for a moment. The truck's engine emitted the occasional "tick … tick" as the engine block cooled.

He was expected at home across town in less than an hour. That didn't give him much time. Staring at the keys still dangling from the ignition, he frowned. It still grated on him that he'd lost the bone fragment that used to hang there between his house and garage keys. After kicking himself over and over for having lost his only souvenir from his first taste of blood, he banged his fists on the steering wheel then forced himself to breathe deeply for several beats. How could he have been so stupid?

He'd noticed it was missing the night after he buried Aleesha's sacrifice. For days he'd retraced his steps frantically looking for it. He finally forced himself to accept that it must have cracked and fallen off his keychain in Aleesha's sacrificial ground. He hadn't dared go back and look for it then. But now, he wondered if it was possible to get it back. Wouldn't it be on the news if something had been found along with Aleesha's remains? For the hundredth time he pondered how he could get someone to tell him what had been found on the school grounds without raising suspicion? He really wanted to get that toe back.

Snapping out of his reverie of self-flagellation, he remembered that it was more important right now that he focus on his next trip. He had to do a little reconnaissance on the third victim. He liked the girl in Arizona. The Nevada girl was promising but her schedule was irregular. Besides, he didn't want to work that hard with the messy part of this business. Arizona, it would have to be.

He decided not to get out of the truck after all. Leave the lovelies to do their work on the girl uninterrupted. He'd much rather visit after the meat had been removed. Blood, guts and gore were a necessary evil in this kind of business, but they'd never been his favorite part of the ritual. Reigniting the ignition, MadMan slowly backed the blue pickup into the alley behind the cape cod, stopped, reversed, and pulled out of the alley before flipping his lights on.

Haverford, Pennsylvania Sunday Evening

Slathering cologne on his freshly shorn face, MadMan assessed the attractiveness of his age-weary mug. The alcohol in the cologne stung as he slapped it across his cheeks, over his jaw then around the back of his neck. Over the last ten years wrinkles had begun to feather outward from the corners of his eyes and mouth and lines had appeared like rivers on a map across his forehead. These were all most likely pronounced because of the exaggerated smiling he usually forced himself to do. Didn't want anyone suspecting the nefarious nature of the man lurking just below his attractive exterior.

He needed to remain unremarkable and invisible. Never piss in your own back yard, he always said. He knew better than that, better than to be careless and ruin his chances of success. He promised himself he'd never reveal the extraordinariness of his capabilities to anyone who wouldn't, or, more accurately, simply weren't capable, of appreciating the powerfulness of that he could do—or what he was willing to sacrifice for the sake of humanity. That meant almost no one knew about this side of him. No one but those who revealed his gift to him … no one but his sacrifices and those who taught him how to perform them.

In a couple more years, the girls would find him sweet and cute rather than handsome and alluring. That would be a problem. He needed to be attractive if he was going to lull these girls into unsuspecting compliance. He needed these lambs to come willingly to the slaughter in order for the ritual to be valid. In order to save his love from sinking ever deeper into the depraved lifestyle that had caught her in its web.

Earlier this morning he'd stopped by his white cape cod to pay a visit to his beautiful Dermestidae colony. Using a pair of tongs with the grippers wrapped in suede, he'd extracted all of his first victim's 206 now-pristine bones from the 150 gallon aquarium. Carefully swaddling each bone in a hank of lamb's wool, he'd carefully packed each into his custom made sheepskin-lined leather duffel. He had pulled the zipper fob across the opening, his pulse quickening at the rich zzphft of the sturdy teeth.

With his sacrifice packed in accordance with sacred prescription, MadMan had returned his attention back to his lovelies. Tossing several pounds of beef jerky into the tank to keep the little miracle workers happy, he had secured the top of the aquarium before checking the temperature control and locking the shack door as he left. Humming as he went along, MadMan had felt as if an elephant had begun to remove his foot from MadMan's ribcage. This inexorable pressure had been building steadily inside MadMan over the last couple of years until the time came for him to execute this next cycle of the ritual. For a moment, as the elephant picked up the rest of her foot, MadMan thought he might float up into the sky. That's how light he now felt.

Gently setting his duffel bag on the floor behind the driver's seat, he'd begin humming as he put the key in the ignition and slowly backed out of the gravel pathway behind the cape cod.

This never gets old, he'd thought to himself. It was as blessed as the thrill of chasing and capturing a sexual conquest … but it was so much purer and lasted a whole lot longer.

His ability to use his extraordinary gifts had almost come to an abrupt and disastrous end several years ago when he'd been convinced his little cape cod was being watched by plain-clothed cops in unmarked cars. Suspicious vehicles would park a half block down and watch his comings and goings for hours. There'd been two bodies found, a month apart from each other, on the bank of the Schuylkill River and the whole state was in a panic.

He'd had nothing to do with those disappearances but assumed the authorities suspected him for some reason he was unaware of. Why he'd thought that, he couldn't explain; it was just a feeling he had. A sick feeling. If something happened to him before he completed the ritual all would be lost and life as the world knew it would cease to exist.

Up to that point he'd been visiting his colony almost every day but had to stop just in case he really was being watched. Unable to stay completely away, a month later he'd slipped back into the cape cod garage in the middle of the night when the cops were busy busting the house parties of raucous underage New Year's Eve celebrants up and down the block. MadMan had retrieved all of his equipment, but had had to sacrifice the colony. The beetles wouldn't have survived the frigid transfer from there to his primary home on the other side of town. If he'd had the time to force them into dormancy and pack them well, he would have done that, but he didn't have the time or resources.

Besides, if he'd gotten his lovelies back to the house, Betty would find out about them and ask questions. Betty was nosey. Obnoxiously nosey. That simply would not do. The less she knew, the purer she remained and the greater likelihood of the ritual's success—as long as the goddess remained satisfied with his sacrifices that is.

The colony he'd been forced to sacrifice had been made up of descendants of his first beautiful colony. He felt an unusual attachment for that first colony. They had taught him everything he needed to know about raising, feeding, breeding, and maintaining a healthy Dermestes maculatus colony. He'd convinced himself that if his lovelies could have talked to him, they would have all agreed that their sacrifice was worth the good it would do for the world. He had wept the night he'd had to abandon them to the cold.

Once he'd learned everything he could about maintaining a thriving Dermestes colony, he'd focused on the other requirements for the ritual. It had taken him two years to perfect an error-proof timetable for each step. Timing was crucial if the goddess was to be appeased. Sometimes outsiders (everyone was an outsider) would get in the way as he attempted to complete the ritual. More than once he'd felt murderous when this happened, but taking a non-prescribed life would not please the goddess. An unhappy goddess meant no salvation for his beloved. After all these years of perfecting this process, failure was not an option.

Eighteen months after abandoning his cape cod and that first colony, his neighbors were arrested for running a meth lab in the basement of their house. After that mess was cleared up, the plainclothes cops and the unmarked cars disappeared. After another month of drive-bys to convince himself no one was watching, MadMan had reestablished himself and started a new colony in the garage shack behind the cape cod.

Allowing his emotions to get the better of him was the reason the first attempt to perform the ritual had failed, but that wasn't his fault. Some stupid kid had rear-ended MadMan's truck at a stop sign on the way to the airport. The freaked-out kid insisted upon calling his granddad who then called the cops to file a report. The kid was lucky MadMan hadn't torn him limb from limb when he'd found out who the kid had called. He could have pounded the foul-mouthed baby bastard (he couldn't have been more than 15)into the ground, he was so pissed off. However, MadMan assessed the risks and determined it was safer to go along with it and be on his way.

By the time they were finished with the granddad and the cops it was too late to complete the ritual within the prescribed time. Regardless, he still had to complete all the steps of the ritual — he had to respect the sacrifice made by the girls— so that any future attempts would be blessed, but it was a shameful waste! From then forward, MadMan lengthened his schedule to provide ample time for setbacks.

He had also learned that he needed to maintain two Dermestidae colonies at different stages of maturity – thereby decreasing the amount of time it took for all the bones to be cleared of tissue. He also found it sped up the process if he maintained colonies geographically close to each of his hunting grounds so he never had to transport an entire skeleton. No need to arouse the suspicion of nosy airport officials or cops.

Traveling with human bones, even just the four divining ones, was still a risky proposition, however. One false move, one crack in his façade of confidence and indignant self-importance, and he could find himself in prison for life inside a campus fringed with a triple compliment of concertina razor wire, with only 7/8th wide steel bars keeping him safe from some of the craziest fruitcakes on earth. No – getting caught before completing the final ritual was not an option. If the ritual was successful and the goddess was pleased … he could live his final days in prison, he didn't care, as long as he'd been successful. Until then his beloved needed him. So, he must seek the goddess' favor.

Since that first near miss that ended up being all about busting a meth lab, MadMan had always felt a rush of adrenaline as he got four or five blocks away from his little house with a duffel full of bones without being trailed by flashing lights and sirens. The fear of being discovered never left him, and the thrill of not getting caught aroused him.

As time went on MadMan's stopped worrying about being stopped by cops. He realized during his second cycle of the ritual that the possibility of being stopped and questioned gave him an intense rush followed by nausea. Several times on a night like tonight he'd had to pull over at the Wawa convenience store, duck into the ditch, and empty the contents of his gut. No one enjoys puking, but that rush was addictive and worth the discomfort.

When he traveled on a ritual mission, he wore a taupe suit coat with diarrhea brown corduroy elbow patches, a pair of fake wire rimmed glasses and a ridiculous bow tie to complete the look. He carried only three bags: his suitcase, a beat-up brief case held together with duct tape, and a hard-shelled case the size of a saxophone case, but wasn't a saxophone case at all. This third case was custom made by the same people who made his sheepskin-lined duffel and had been specifically designed to cushion the divining bones—two femora and two tibias—in dense dark gray flexible polyurethane foam. This case cost him four times what the duffel had, but the artisans who made it were fast and discrete; two of his favorite qualities in just about anyone.

If he were to get stopped, which he had three or four times, he passed himself off as an anthropologist or a museum curator, both professions for which he had the most authentic-looking identification cards. Lord knows he had plenty of practice playing the absent-minded professor! He also carried some official-looking documentation describing the bones he was carrying if the situation warranted an explanation. Even though the bones he carried from trip to trip varied slightly in size he kept the same set of documents in a large pocket inside the cover of the case.

Cops didn't know how to figure out the age of a human bone or how to extrapolate the height and sex of a person by looking at a femur, so he didn't worry about them suspecting they belonged a recently missing female. He filled the documents with an abundance of information in small print, which no cop yet had had the patience to read while there was a killer on the loose who really needed their attention. The only thing he left out was the date. If he got questioned about the paperwork, he had his answer already figured out:

"These papers are good for today and tomorrow, that's all I know. That's why I am in a hurry to get to catch my plane (you dim wit). Where's the date? Hell if I know – I've been doing this so damned long I don't even look at the papers anymore. If you can't find it, I'm sure I can't. If you'd like, we can call the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Anthropology and Archeology at Penn State and pull the, uh, well, you don't really want me to go into the boring details. It would take me an hour to explain all the terminology and the hoops we'd have to jump through, so, if you don't have any reason for suspecting an old geezer like myself of foul play may I just be on my way? My flight leaves at 2, sir."

This was not his favorite part of the ritual, but it was necessary if he was going to perform the duties within the specified timeframe.

Not today, though. There would be no stopping and puking today; and no playing the part of the harried academic. Today the excitement was high, but his focus was even higher, so he wasn't taking any chances—he was taking a taxicab to the airport. The stakes were much higher this time around and he was in complete control. This was the last time he'd be able to perform the ritual with any hope of complete success. Soon his beloved would be too old to receive the goddess' miraculous blessing and a full recovery. If this attempt failed, there would be another try, but there was no guarantee his beloved wouldn't perish anyway.

Once back in the garage of his home across town, MadMan closed the garage door before removing his duffel bag from the cab of his truck. Setting the duffel behind his two-door hybrid, MadMan opened the little trunk, set the duffel gently inside and unlocked the clasps of a smaller case. Into this case he put the four divining bones: two femurs and two tibias. The remaining 202 bones were zipped inside the duffel bag and then locked in a crawl space behind a false wall in the back of a tool cabinet in the back of the garage. The cabinet was then locked with two padlocks and protected by an alarm system that would place a call to MadMan's cell phone if it was ever triggered by an unwelcome busybody.

MadMan then took the smaller case and walked around to the front of the house to set it on the front porch white he unlocked the door. Inside the house, he kissed Betty on the top of the head and grabbed another duffel bag without saying a word. this one full of clothes, toiletries, and various expected trappings for a traveling anthropologist and museum curator. In a well-used brief case he carried a number of magazines about bones and archeological digs and finally, a magazine that he really planed to read: one about hunting wild game and ver

These were his true passions. After all, it was his interest in the lovelies that lead him to the goddess in the first place. He'd been a lonely, desperate man when he stumbled across the article about the ancient Pockitishu commune who curated and cultivated one of the most impressive colonies of Dermestidae in the United States. He went to visit them out of interest in their breeding and housing techniques and found a new hope as well. He ended up living with the Pockitishu people for three months. He learned more in three months with them than he ever could have figured out on his own.

What changed his life, however, was what the outside world didn't know about the Pochetishu … their mystical healing powers, their ability to leach evil from a body and abolish it … without even touching and harming the afflicted person. Having a fear like a cancer eating at his heart for the previous ten years as he watched the center of his world pollute herself with drugs and alcohol, MadMan found the Pochetishu success rates more than promising. For the first time in a decade, he felt he had a chance to make a difference in the world. At least for him and his beloved … his tortured beloved, his whole purpose for living.

When they finally initiated him into their inner circle, he was just as indoctrinated as their two-year novitiates. When they revealed to him the secret rituals that brought about the salvation of the damned, he was neither surprised nor repulsed. He was a smart man. He knew that great achievement would only come through great sacrifice. He was willing to make those sacrifices. As the Pochetishu teachings portend, those who gave their lives—though actuality never given the choice—would relish the opportunity to lay down their lives for another tortured soul. If they understood the import, felt the righteousness of the sacrifice; they would choose it voluntarily for themselves. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough time to give the sacrificed person that choice, so the ritual master had to make it for them.

Leaving behind his hybrid in long-term parking, MadMan ducked into the back of a Royal Crown Victoria taxicab and gave the cabbie the address for the airfield and silently sunk back into the deep leather seat to meditate. The ritual required that twenty-five rounds of incantations be made within the twenty hours prior to sacrifice for each sacrificial gift. MadMan knew his gift's schedule and had an appointment to meet with her shortly after arriving at the airport in Tucson. Petra was a delightful, energetic college student short on funds and in desperate need to get home to be with her parents before they took off for the winter to the Canary Islands.

MadMan had befriended Petra and taken two of her friends on a spin in his Cessna. Convincing her to let him take her three hours north to her folks' home in Nevada wasn't as hard as he'd thought. He'd been cultivating this little friendship for several months. And she was desperate. It wasn't his fault if she felt grateful afterward that she'd taken him back to her cheap apartment and had sex with him. Now, the prospect of getting her alone in his jump seat aroused in him such excitement that if he thought about it for too long he would forgot to breathe.

Transport to the airfield having gone without a hitch, MadMan called Jeff in the tower and received permission to take his Cessna Skyhawk into the air. Ten hours later he landed, directed the Cessna into the hangar, and collected two motorcycle helmets.

I'm traveling with my family and in-laws this week - if you drop me a note, know that I will get back to you after I return on the 12th of August. Thank you so much, Catherine