A Vigil for Justice: Episode 22

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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 passes 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.

Melanie awoke the next morning, early. She and Mitchel had fallen asleep on the couch around 7:00 the night before. Her mother had gotten her into her bedroom around midnight when she came in with Seth. He had been harder to find than they had thought he would be.

She shuffled down the hall and peeked into the guestroom. Mitchel and Seth were both asleep. She pulled the door closed and continued down the hall toward the kitchen. A light was on in the living room. Melanie stepped down each stair trying to not make any of them squeak.

Jennifer was curled up in the corner of the couch with a white fleece blanket wrapped around her and Austen nestled in the crook of her knees. She set her book down and looked up at Melanie.

“You’re up early.”

“Well I went to bed early.” Melanie sat on the couch next to her mother.

Austin stretched his long lean grey legs out and arched his back tossing his tail in the air. After his stretch, Melanie held up her finger to him. He sniffed it and rubbed his face on it purring. Melanie smiled at him and plopped him in her lap.

“Where’d you find Seth?”

“Asleep in his truck outside of a bar in Breck. His truck is still there. We’ll have to go get it today.”

“How is he?”

“Angry.”

Melanie ran her hand over Austen’s soft fur. He tilted his head turning his pale blue eyes on her. “Did he find their dad?”

Jennifer shook her head no. “Probably a good thing too.”

Melanie nodded and looked out the front window. Slivers of yellow and pink split the sky over the mountains. Dawn was breaking, Melanie hoped it wouldn’t bring more bodies. The Justice Law went into effect six days ago, and four bodies had turned up so far. It must be a slaughter in the bigger cities and towns throughout the United States. Things had been so busy Melanie hadn’t had time to watch the news or read the paper.

“Have they found Evan?”

“Not yet,” Jennifer said. “They had deputies at the house all night, and Richard’s militia has been looking for him. Sheriff Tom says that Anna’s death is murder not a justice killing and when they find Evan he will be charged.”

Melanie yawned. “How’s the rest of the world fairing?”

Jennifer pointed to the paper on the table. “Not well. There have been shootings at hospitals. President Vick has declared hospitals and medical facilities, where research and medical procedures are conducted, safe zones.”  Jennifer shook her head and took a sip of her tea.

“You want me to warm that up for you?” Melanie asked.

“Please.”

Melanie took her mother’s cup into the kitchen and stuck it in the microwave. Melanie walked back into the living room with it and a cup of coffee for herself.

Jennifer’s cell phone vibrated on the table. She jumped up to grab it.

“Hello.” Jennifer mouthed thank you and took the tea from Melanie.

Melanie could hear that the caller was a male, but she couldn’t make out the words.

“Where?”  Jennifer set her tea on the table and covered her mouth with her hand.

“Oh my god.” She made the sign of the cross on herself.

“Thank you, Sheriff. Yes, both Seth and Mitchel are here. They are welcome as long as they want to be here.”

Jennifer set the phone on the table.

“They found him.” It wasn’t a question, Melanie asked. She knew. There was no other reason for Sheriff Tom to be calling at this hour.

Jennifer nodded.

“Dead?”

Jennifer nodded.

 

Sheriff Tom found Evan’s body in the church’s gated courtyard around two in the morning. He had been dead a few hours. He was butchered, slit open from groin to Adam’s apple. His internal organs spilt upon the slate stones.  His SAFE chip had been crushed inside his arm while he was alive.  There was no information on the National Cybersecurity Protection System about who had killed Mitchel and Seth’s father.

Evan had at least had the foresight to pay for their burials in advance.  Seth and Mitchel stood side by side at the head of the open graves watching as the caskets containing their mother and father were lowered into the ground.

They were orphans now, with no family to care for them. Their father had run all the family off a long time ago, both his own family and their mother’s.

Melanie walked through the courtyard after the funeral. Blood still stained the stones. She was waiting for Mitchel and Seth. They wanted to be alone for a while, Melanie understood all too well. She glanced up and Father Chris stood in the archway leading into the Cathedral.  She took a step back.

He ran toward her. His black cassock thwacked tight against his legs with each stride.  “Melanie, this wasn’t me. I swear it.”

She could feel the heat of his body next to hers. His hands rested on her shoulders. She drew her gun and pushed it between them and into his soft belly. He flinched and released her shoulders.

“I don’t know what to think Father.”  She pressed the barrel hard into him, and he stepped back.

He closed his eyes and his head sank until his chin was on his collarbone.

“If this is your doing Father, prayers won’t help you.”

“Why would I desecrate the house of God?”

Melanie didn’t have an answer for that, but it didn’t matter. She knew he was a killer. She knew Evan had deserved what he got, regardless of who had done it.

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A Vigil for Justice: Episode 21

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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 passes 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.

Father Chris a killer, Melanie didn’t want to believe it. He was a servant of God. The commandments said thou shalt not kill or some such thing. Melanie paced back and forth in her bedroom. She ran her fingers through her hair. She hadn’t been able to sleep when she got home from her shift with the militia. Daisy laid on Melanie’s bed and watched her stalk back and forth. Melanie put her hands in her back pockets and then took them out. Images of Father Chris standing at the pulpit flashed through her mind.  His even tone and conviction in his voice as he read the words of God to everyone gathered before him.

She ran her hands through her hair again and stopped pacing. Child abuse was definitely wrong, and if what he said was true, that woman was a danger to her children, but why not just turn her in. Father Chris could have gone to Sheriff Tom.  She let out a long breath. No, he couldn’t. There was that priest confidentiality thing. He was stuck. Oh, god, Melanie groaned. From where Father Chris stood, he really didn’t have a choice, if he wanted to save those kids.

Melanie knew how destructive child abuse was, not firsthand, her parents had never laid a hand on her or Sam. But Mitchel and Seth knew, and she had seen the wounds and scars on them. Mitchel’s hands and forearms would always bear the pink and white modeled scars from when his father had shoved his hands into scalding water when he was three. Seth bore the marks too, the sleek white line on his shoulder where his father threw a steak knife at him. And Anna, their mother, suffered more than either of boys at Evan’s hands. Bruises on her arms and face were a constant reminder to everyone in the community that Evan was a monster.

Maybe Evan was on Father Chris’s list. Should she keep that from Mitchel, would Mitchel try to stop Father Chris from killing his father, Melanie didn’t know the answers. She wasn’t going to tell Mitchel. She didn’t know what Father Chris was planning, maybe nothing. She ran her hands through her hair again, and massaged her scalp. She didn’t sign up for all this. She needed to clear her head. She walked over to her closet and pulled out her running shoes.

Mitchel was sitting on her front porch, his head in his hands, when she ran up the road finishing her six miles. She slowed to a walk as she came into the driveway.

He looked up. His eyes rimmed in red and his face flushed. He stood. “I’ve been calling you.”

She pulled her phone out. She hadn’t heard it ring. Five missed calls. All Mitchel. “What’s wrong?”

He wrapped his arms around her. His generally sturdy stable body slumped against hers.

“Mitch,” she whispered and rubbed her hands up and down his back.

He buried his face in her neck. “He killed her last night, while I was out with the militia. He beat her to death. Seth found her this morning.” Mitchel’s body shuddered and he began to cry.

Melanie held him tighter. “I’m sorry.”

“They’re looking for him. He’s probably long gone.”

Melanie heard the front door of the house close. Jennifer came and wrapped both of them in her arms. “Sheriff Tom called and wanted to make sure you were with friends.” Tears ran down Jennifer’s cheeks and she rubbed Mitchel’s back. “Come inside. I’ll make you something to eat.”

Mitch stepped back, and nodded wiping his nose down his sleeve. Melanie’s arm pulled him against her as they headed toward the house. “Where’s Seth?”

“I don’t know he took off,” Mitchel said.

“I’ll make up the guest room. I want you and Seth to stay with us,” Jennifer said as Mitchel slipped into a chair at the kitchen table. Melanie poured two cups of coffee setting one before Mitchel.

He stared into the black liquid not blinking. “Thank you.” His voice was quiet and distant.

Melanie looked at her mom.  Her ribs squeezed her heart until it felt like her chest was going to collapse. Images of her mother collapsing to the floor at the front door when Sheriff Tom came to tell them Melanie’s father had been killed in the avalanche waved through her. Her throat closed. She took a slow breath and tried to calm herself down. She had to be here for Mitchel now. He needed her.

Jennifer slid two plates with pancakes, bacon, and eggs onto the table. “Mitchel where would Seth have gone? I’m going to go look for him. He shouldn’t be out there alone.”

Mitchel lifted his head and wiped his nose again. “He’ll be looking for our dad at the bars.”

Jennifer’s eyes grew wide. She grabbed her keys off the counter and stripped her jacket from the chair. “Mel, watch Sam.”

Melanie nodded. The front door slammed and the van started up. The tires squealed as Jennifer took off down the street.

“I shouldn’t have left her alone with him. He was so angry and drunk before I went out last night. I knew he would hurt. I told Seth. I told her to stay away from him and to do whatever he asked.” Mitchel covered his face with his hands and wept. His entire body shook with it. Daisy whimpered at his feet.

Melanie pulled his hands away from his face. She held his face between her hands and looked him in the eyes. “Mitchel, this is not your fault. Your father did this not you. If you had been there, he would have killed you too. You couldn’t have stopped him.”

Not without killing him yourself, Melanie thought. She knew Mitchel thought it too, but either one of the was willing to say it aloud. Neither one of them wanted Mitchel to be a killer.

Mitchel pushed the food around on his plate. He watched the syrup drip from his fork as he held it several inches in the air. Melanie stayed by his side. She didn’t question him. She didn’t try to fill the silence. She knew how it felt when people tried to make it okay, when it wasn’t okay at all.

 

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Twenty

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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 passes 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.

Melanie’s militia team consisted of three men in their late fifties and two women in their early twenties. Richard Stein had not been joking when he said he didn’t have anyone with Melanie’s training and skill. Four of the five, couldn’t weigh more than a hundred pounds soaking wet. The fifth, he would have to be her second in command, was short and stalky. He looked like he could hold his own in a bar fight. She had met the women and one of the scrawny men last night at Richard’s.

Melanie took a deep breath. “I’m Melanie Craig. I’ll be your team leader.” She handed each one of them a radio. “Do you all have a gun in addition to the tazer?”

Five heads bobbed up and down.

“Good. Do you all know how to use them?”

Three heads bobbed up and down, all the men.

“For those of you who do not, I expect you to spend time at the gun range twice a week until you do know how to use them. I don’t want one of us to catch a stray bullet in the unlikely chance that you have to fire your weapon.”

The two women looked at each other and then at Melanie. Both of them had their brown hair pulled back into tight ponytails, and wore t-shirts and jeans.

“Will you come with us?” said the one with ripped up jeans.

“What are your names?”

“I’m Kara and she’s Amber,” said ripped up jeans.

“Kara, I’d be happy to come with you. We’re going to split up into twos and walk the streets, buddy up. I want radio checks with one another every ten minutes. If you see something, radio me and with your location. I’ll call checks to that team every few minutes until it’s clear. If I’m out, Arnold will call checks to my team.”

Everyone turned to face short stalky Arnold, who nodded once. “Gotcha.”

Melanie headed down the street with Kara. The amber glow of street lamps lit sections of the road while plunging other areas into deepening shadows that seemed to crawl alongside the two women. The few cars that had passed them earlier in the night had vanished leaving silence in their wake.

Melanie scanned the shadows as they walked the shoulder of the road. “What made you decide to join the Watch Dogs?”

Kara shrugged her shoulders. “My boyfriend is and he said that I could never do it.”

Melanie raised her eyebrows and pursed her lips. Not the answer she was looking for. “What makes him think that?”

Kara shrugged again. “What about you?”

Melanie slowed and peered down a pitch-black alley. “I couldn’t stand by and do nothing. I have the training to do more.” Her voice dwindled to a whisper, and she held up her hand for Kara to be quiet.

There was something or someone in the alley. Melanie took a few steps passed the alley. “Call out to Arnold, and stay here, I’m going to go check it out.” Melanie drew her 9 mm from its holster under her arm.  She crouched at the corner of the alley, listening.

Kara stepped a few paces away and radioed to Arnold with their location. Kara held up her hand with all her fingers spread. Arnold was five minutes away.

Melanie snapped a glance around the corner. Black shapes moved near the ground at the other end of the alley in front of the dumpster. Melanie took two deep breaths and crept around the corner, gun pointed at the ground. She hugged the wall as she made her way toward whatever was there. Each of her steps where deliberate. Her heart thumped in her ribcage. Sweat dripped down the side of her face. She wouldn’t let go of the gun to wipe it away.

As she neared the black mass, she knew it wasn’t an animal. It was a person. She couldn’t see the face, but it was a male, and he was standing over a body.

Melanie raised her gun to shoulder height. “Don’t move.”

The man turned to her, startled.

“Father Chris?” Melanie sputtered.

He took a step toward her. Both of his empty hands were in front of him palms up. “Ms. Craig. Please.” His voice shook.

Her arms vibrated. “What, what are you doing?”

He took a few more steps toward her.

“Stop Father Chris.”

“Melanie. I don’t harm the innocent.” Another few steps toward her.

Melanie cocked the gun’s hammer back.

He stopped.

“This woman.” He turned back and pointed at the crumpled body on the ground. “She’s a sinner of the worst kind. She beats her children. I’ve seen the bruises on their little bodies. The black marks on their backs and across their faces.” He closes his eyes. Tears roll down his face. “I’m doing God’s work. Melanie.”

Melanie lowered the gun an inch. He took another step toward her. She shook her head, trying to clear it. The muscles of her stomach gripped her ribs, and she brought the gun level. “But Father Chris—”

“Please Melanie don’t tell anyone. Let me leave. Those babies are safe now. The abuse would never have stopped. She would have killed them. I tried to help her. I counseled her. I took the children to give her a break, but always the marks returned.”

“And the others?”

“Not me. I swear it. This is the only one. If there had been another way.” He began to sob into his hands. His shoulders convulsed.

She knew she didn’t have much time before Arnold arrived. She had to make a decision. Father Chris had never lied to her. He was a good man. He kneeled before her and began to pray.

She risked a glance back to the opening of the alley. She couldn’t see anyone. “Go.” Her voice was barely audible, but it was enough.

His eyes bore into hers as he got to his feet. “You are truly one of God’s chosen soldiers Melanie Craig. St. Michael be at your side, always.” He turned and ran disappearing into the darkness.

Bile rose in Melanie’s throat. She fought it back down.

“Melanie?” It was Arnold calling out.

She coughed before answering. “I’m here.” She knelt at the side of the woman and checked for a pulse she knew she wouldn’t find. “Call Sheriff Tom. We’ve got a body.” She stood as Arnold approached.

“Did you see who did it?” he asked.

Melanie shook her head back and forth.

“You cleared the back of the alley?”

“Of course. There is no one.”

A Vigil for Justice: Episode 19

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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 passes 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.

Four men were hauling the six-foot long black body bag up from the riverbed, when Melanie arrived with Mitchel. The men’s biceps flexed and the two in the back slid back down the steep moist slope on to their knees.

“Dead is heavy boys, careful.” Sheriff Tom stood at the lip of the slope.

Mitchel jogged over. “You need some extra help.”

Sheriff Tom turned toward them. “What are you two doing out here?”

“We come out here every Saturday, Sheriff, for a hike,” Melanie said.

Mitchel put his arm around Melanie’s shoulders. “Is it a justice killing?”

Sheriff Tom nodded. “Probably. Won’t know until I get the body back to the station and scan the SAFE chip.” Sheriff Tom put the tailgate down on his truck, and the men slid the body into the bed. They wiped their hands on their jeans.

Melanie recognized the men from the church. The tallest was Peter McGraff her co-team commander. His team had been on patrol last night. He tipped his hat. “Melanie. Mitchel.”

Peter turned toward Tom. “Sheriff, if there’s nothing else, I’m going to take my team home.”

“Thanks for your help Peter. Get some rest.”

“My mom’s going to freak out if she hears there is another body,” Melanie said.

“I’d rather she didn’t find out,” Sheriff Tom said. “No offense Melanie, but your mom, she causes a fuss.”

Melanie laughed. “No offense taken.”

“She know you’re a militia leader yet?”

Melanie shook her head.

“Well, you two enjoy the morning.” Sheriff Tom climbed into the driver’s seat and started the truck.

Mitchel took Melanie’s hand and headed down the trail.

It was early afternoon when they drove down Main Street in search of some lunch.

“What are all those cars doing at City Hall?” Mitchel asked.

“Oh no, my mom must have found out about the body and called some type of town gathering. Stop the truck.”

“What?”

“Stop the truck.”

Mitchel slowed down. Before the truck was even totally stopped, Melanie opened the door and dropped to the ground. She ran toward the door and pushed it open. She was met with a wall of people.

Sheriff Tom was standing at the front of the packed room. “Jennifer, I know you’re concerned, but we just don’t know yet.”

“People don’t just die in the woods in Blue River,” Jennifer said.

Melanie cringed at her mother’s condescending tone.

“I am aware how people in Blue River die, Mrs. Craig. And as you know I am not allowed to provide you any information about who killed anyone, if in fact it was a justice killing. My deputies and I will be conducting an investigation or I would be if I was not here with all of you.”

“We all know you have access to the National Cybersecurity Protection System Tom. And we all want to know who the killer is in our town.”

Sheriff Tom’s eyes met Melanie’s for a millisecond, and she felt someone’s hand slip into hers. She spun her head around and found Mitchel smiling at her. She gave him a limp smile. She moved her other hand off her gun. She hadn’t even noticed she’d reached for it.

“I cannot give you the information you want Jennifer. I must uphold the law.”

“The Justice Law is not worth upholding,” Jennifer said.

Sheriff Tom clenched his jaw and took a step toward Jennifer. “It is the law whether you like it or not Mrs. Craig.” He shouldered through the crowd. “Clear out of this building and go home, all of you.”

Melanie remained where she was as the crowd drifted by Mitchel and her. Most of them had big round eyes that flickered from person to person around them. They are scared she realized. Scared of each other and scared of her. Only a few met her gaze without flinching and turning away, mostly men. They were the ones who were carrying guns on their hips.  She didn’t turn away from them. She wanted them to know she was not afraid like the rest.

Her mother smiled when she saw them. “Hi guys. How was your hike.”

Melanie hated the two roles she had to play, Melanie Jennifer’s daughter and Melanie the militia team leader. She felt the worst in the daughter role, it was the most false of the two.

“It was great mom.” Melanie said, as Jennifer reached for Mitchel and gave him a hug.

“Oh good.”

“Mitchel and I are going to be out late tonight mom, so don’t wait up for me.”

Jennifer nodded her head. “How’s your mom Mitchel?” She laid a hand on Mitchel’s shoulder.

“Um, she’s doing all right.”

“Let me know if she needs anything ok?”

Mitchel nodded and Jennifer left with the rest of the crowd.

All the militia team leaders met at the Sheriff’s office before sundown to go over anything that happened the night before.

Melanie stood between Mitchel and Richard. She looked around trying to find Jake, but he wasn’t there yet. She hadn’t been to the boxing gym for a few days. She needed to go and work out some of this frustration and tension.

“Peter McGraph will be leading Jake’s team tonight. He’s had a family emergency come up,” Richard said.

Sheriff Tom came out of his office. He was dressed in civilian clothes for his shift with the militia.

“Can you give us any information on the body you found this morning Tom?” Richard asked.

“I can tell you that it is not a justice killing. Not really anyway. The young man killed himself.”

Melanie looked at Mitchel who shrugged his shoulders.

“His SAFE chip recorded one kill and it is his own life.”

“As unfortunate as suicide is, I am glad that we still only have one person in town who has decided to use their kills,” Richard said.

A rumble of agreement moved around the room. As Melanie’s eyes scanned the crowd, she realized she was the only female in the room. She recognized some of the faces from those at the City Hall earlier in the day, the ones who had not turned away from her. Tonight they carried more than just the one gun on their hip. Most had a shotgun across their back, same as her, and then the militia issued tazer. Whatever else they had hidden on their person, she could only imagine.

Peter asked, “Do you know anything more about the body found under the flagpole?”

Sheriff Tom shook his head. “I’m not sure what information you are looking for. There is some information I can give you, and other information that the law does not allow me to disclose. Can you be more specific with your question?”

“Is it a local?” The question came from the back of the group. Melanie couldn’t see the man.

“I can’t answer that one.”

“Was there motive?” Melanie asked.

Everyone turned to face her. She wanted to know what type of killer they had in Blue River, a sociopath or someone who had a reason.

Unfulfilled Needs

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Without conflict, there is no story. We’ve all heard it a million times. But what fuels the conflict? The unfulfilled need of your protagonist, of course. The need of your protagonist must be deep enough to get you through your entire story. It also has to be something the reader can relate too, otherwise even if it creates tons of conflicts and you can pump out 100,000 words, your reader won’t care and will set the book down.

How do you come up with a need that is relatable? Pick something that is basic to all people. Take a look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, according to Maslow’s theory people have five levels of needs and if one level is not satisfied a person is not going to be able to move forward in their development.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs

Physiological needs: food, water, warmth, rest

Safety needs: security, safety

Belongingness and love needs: intimate relationships, friends

Esteem needs: prestige and feeling of accomplishment

Self-actualization needs: achieving one’s full potential including creative activities.

If your character doesn’t have food, water, warmth and rest, it will be difficult for him to focus on the next level, although they may have needs there as well.

Life is not as straight forward as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs would like us to believe. Most people are addressing needs from three or four of these levels at the same time and your characters should be the same.

The protagonist of your story may have physiological needs, belonging and love needs, and self-actualization needs. Having various levels of needs is going to supply you with lots of opportunities for conflict and growth in your character’s arc. Just as important, your reader will be able to identify with these needs and feel strongly about what happens to your protagonist and any other character you supply with a need (and you should your minor characters should have needs just like your major characters).

Identifying your characters needs will make creating a back-story and understanding your character easier for you as well. The more you know about your character the easier it is to keep their actions and responses to conflicts realistic and true to who they are as a person or whatever they happen to be.