A Vigil for Justice: Episode 16

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A Vigil for Justice, is a serial thriller fiction novel. Updates of 1,000-1,500 words will be posted every Friday.

Recap: Sixteen-year-old Melanie Craig and her family live in the small Colorado mountain town of Blue River. Since the end of World War Three, the economy in the United States has dropped out making funding law enforcement impossible and increasing crime rates in all, but the smallest towns. The government passed a Law allowing anyone over 16 to kill three other people during their life. Vigilante justice doesn’t seem like the right solution to Melanie, but she has no choice other than to learn how to protect herself and her family.

The sun had not wrapped its fingers around the peaks of the mountains when Melanie threw back the blankets and rolled out of the comfort of her bed. The pile of running clothes on the floor were, exchanged for her pajamas. She rubbed the sleep from her eyes and pulled bright yellow socks over her feet.

The sun’s glow had barely begun to paint the sky with honey and rose, as Melanie stared down at the shotgun and the 9 mm laid out on her lavender quilt folded at the foot of her bed. She pulled her hair up into a ponytail and pulled it through the back of her running hat.

The holster was going to chafe, but not taking one or the other on her morning run was not an option. The nine was going to be easier to carry while she ran. She may need to get something smaller just for running. Something to think about, she could go into town and look at the gun store later in the day.

She shook her head, another gun.

She ran her hands over the muscles that had developed in her arms and shoulders since she began boxing lessons with Jake.

She swung her underarm holster around her back and laced her arms through the suspenders. She ran the stick of anti-chafing cream along her ribs and stomach where the holster would rub. The chest strap clicked in her hands, she pulled it tight to limit bouncing, and slid the nine into its home. She bounced on her toes a few times to make sure it wasn’t too loose. Yep it was going to chafe.

Daisy wagged her tail as Melanie rummaged through her closet for her running shoes.

“You have to stay with mom and Sam today.” Melanie rubbed the furry head of the Rottweiler pup. Her cell phone fit perfectly into the stretchy pocket on the back of her shorts.

The house was quiet. She pushed Sam’s bedroom door open enough for Daisy to go in once she left.

Melanie shuffled into the kitchen and sat at the table to pull on her shoes. She scratched the words, “Went for a run be back at eight,” on a piece of paper and left it on the table for her mom.

Her fingers moved over the buttons of the alarm system, which had never been used before now. It beeped three times letting her know it was ready.

She stepped across the threshold and pulled the maroon door shut behind her. With her eyes closed, she pulled the heavy pine air in through her nose. She needed this run. Running was the only time she could let go of the rest of the world and just be Melanie.

She headed toward town, the familiar rhythm of one foot in front of the other taking over. The maple and oak trees that lined the streets were filled with emerald stars carefully rimmed with yellow. Melanie turned a corner. The pale aspen groves rustled in the breeze that drifted down the dark pine canyons and into the river valley. She took another deep breath filling her lungs and expanding her chest. Her pace increased as her heart rate reached a stead beat.

The streetlights winked out as she passed and the sun crested the jagged peaks to the east. She turned another corner and headed down the main street of downtown. Her mother had tried to get them to lower the flag to half-mast for the first week of the Justice Law’s enactment, but as Melanie closed in on the courthouse the red, white, and blue fluttered at the top of the silver pole.

Her eyes followed the pole back to the ground, where a black mass sat. Melanie slowed her pace. She glanced back the way she had come and then down the side streets. No one was in the streets. No cars. No stray cats. Nothing. She slowed to a walk and unclipped the strap securing her gun in the holster.

“Hello,” Melanie called.

It’s probably a bag of garbage or donations. Sometimes people would leave donations at the church in a black bag. She shook her head. Not at the courthouse. She stopped at the bottom of the steps. It was a person, a man. She could see his sneakers. He was wearing dark blue jeans and a black hoodie.

Melanie took her gun out of the holster, but kept it pointed at the ground. “Are you all right mister?”

He was on his side, his knees pulled up, and his arms around them. His face was toward the pole. As she passed, she turned so she was always facing him and was now walking backward to get a look at his face. She lifted her foot up one-step and then another.

The man’s face was tucked down against his knees. She took another step toward him.

“Are you all right?” She was five feet from him and stopped mid-step. Her foot hung in the air before she dropped it to the ground. White zip ties bound his hands and feet.

Melanie took a step back. Her heart began to smack the inside of her ribs. Her breath grabbed at her tonsils. She raised her gun and flashed her eyes all around her. She backed down the stairs. She lowered her gun, but didn’t holster it. With her left hand, she reached back and pulled out her cell phone.

She pressed a button and held the phone to her ear. She scanned the street again.

“Sheriff Tom,” said the male voice on the other end of the line.

Melanie choked. She cleared her throat. “Sheriff, this is Melanie Craig. There’s a body.”

“Where?”

“Courthouse flag pole.”

“You all right?”

Melanie nodded and then realized he couldn’t see her. “Um, yes. I’m fine.”

“I’ll be there in just a few minutes.”

Melanie nodded again. “Um, okay.”

She pushed the disconnect button and then dialed the house.

Jennifer picked up. Her voice was heavy with dreams.

“Mom, I’m going to be later than eight.”

“What, where?”

“I’m out on a run.”

“Why did you go out in the first place Melanie? It’s not safe for you to run anymore, not when there are people out there who won’t sign the petition.”

“I’m not giving up my life just because of this law mom.” Melanie paced back and forth on the step. She watched a black car round the corner. The engine roared as it straightened out.

“I gotta go mom.”

“Melanie—” Melanie hung up the phone and slid it back into her pocket. She gripped the gun with both hands and backed away from the approaching car. She kept it pointed at the ground. The car came to a stop. She held her breath.

Sheriff Tom stepped out of the driver side.

Melanie let out her breath and lowered the gun to her hip.

“Anyone with you?” he called.

“No and you’re the first person I’ve seen this morning. Alive.”

“You sure he’s dead?”

Melanie nodded.

She sank to the ground. Her grip slackened on the gun and it clattered to the ground next to her.

Sheriff Tom ran over to her. “Whoa, you’re all right. Take a deep breath.” He slid her gun into the back of his belt and kneeled beside her.

Melanie began to shake from head to toe.

Sheriff Tom scooped her up and took her to his car. He popped the door open with his boot and set her into the passenger seat. “Stay here.”

Melanie heard the trunk unlatch.

He walked to the back of the car. He came back with a blanket and wrapped it around her. “Deep slow breathes. I gotta go check on him. I’ll be right back.”

Melanie’s phone rang. She pulled it out of the pocket and stared at it.

Mom flashed in block white letters on the screen.

Melanie watched Sheriff Tom draw his gun and approach the man at the foot of the flagpole. He kicked the foot and got no response.

Melanie answered the phone.

“Are you all right?” Jennifer asked.

“There’s a body mom.”

The line was silent.

“Mom?”

“I’m here. Are you all right?”

“Yes. I’m with Sheriff Tom now.”

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