A Vigil for Justice: Episode Fifty-Five

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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 pulled the blanket tighter around her shoulders and nudged a log in the fire. Tendrils of smoke wove among the slender trunks of the aspens. The trees looked bare, but for the stars the blotted out. Their leaves rustled. Melanie could understand why Ryan and Zachariah stayed here, It was beautiful. It was far enough from the city that they didn’t get caught up in the warzone, but close enough for Ryan to continue his work.

The Justice Law was probably a huge blow to people like Ryan who had the desire to protect and seek justice for those who couldn’t. For those who became police officers prior to the real war it must be like shot in the heart to let people go who have killed someone over something petty.

Melanie could hardly remember the time before the war. It was hidden by all the death and destruction that has come after. She was two when “The war to end all wars,” started. That’s what they wanted it to be anyway, but things don’t always turn out as we plan. It didn’t get bad in the US until a few years later after. The economy had been in shambles before the war and the war did the same to what remained as it did to the human lives involved.

The screen to the house clicked shut. Melanie and Daisy perked up as Ryan strolled toward them with his hands stuffed in his jean pockets.

“Couldn’t sleep?” she asked.

He shook his head. “Too much swirling around in here.” He tapped the side of his head with his forefinger.

Melanie stared back at the orange and blue flame.

“I brought you some marshmallows and chocolate,” Ryan said with a sideways grin.

She shook her head.

He held them out toward her. “May not get them after tomorrow.”

Melanie glanced around for a stick. It was these little gestures and small kindnesses that made this new world survivable. Her fingers gently tugged two soft marshmallows free from the plastic bag. She shoved one in her mouth and the other on the stick.

“We may not get a lot of things after tomorrow.” She held the white puff above the embers along the side of the fire pit.

She doesn’t want to ask but can’t help it. She needs to know. “Are you leaning one way or the other?”

He leans his head all the way back looking up at the dark sky. “Sometimes it’s hard to tell which star is brighter than the others. Sometimes you have to watch them for a long time waiting for one to twinkle just a little more than the other.”

The door to the cabin creaked. Ryan and Melanie turned. Daisy stood wiggling her tail back and forth and sauntered over to Mitchel. He smiled and bent to let her lick his fingers.

“You got any more of those?” Mitchel asked lifting his eyebrows.

“For you, always,” Melanie said handing him the bag.

He glanced around, not finding a long enough stick on the ground, he twisted a low hanging branch on a trees. “Hey Ryan, you got a knife?”

Mitchel crouched by the fire holding out his marshmallow.

“Couldn’t sleep either?” Melanie asked.

“I rolled over and you were gone. I waited awhile, but when you didn’t come back I decided I’d look for you.” He waivered in the crouch and then just sat cross-legged on the ground. Daisy curled her huge form around his back and sank to the ground. He patted her butt and her little nub wagged.

Melanie clamped her golden marshmallow between two pieces of chocolate. She always thought the crackers were unnecessary.

Melanie moved to sit next to Mitchel in the dirt. She slid belt and holster off her hips and lowered herself to the ground setting the gun in her lap. Mitchel wrapped the blanket around her shoulders and tugged her closer to him. He had stopped wearing his gun since they had been staying with Zachariah. He, Jennifer, and Zachariah were the only ones who walked around without one.

“Everyone all ready to roll out tomorrow morning?” Ryan asked.

“Everyone but Seth. He is dragging his feet. He thinks we should just stay here.”

“Oh, why’s that?”

“Thinks we’re just as safe here as anywhere and he likes the hunting, doesn’t think he will be able to do that in the safe zone.” Mitchel pulled the marshmallow from the end of the stick stringing melted marshmallow across his knee. “Sam will want to take the rest of those with us.” He rolled the top of the bag and set it on the chair.

The cabin door creaked again. This time it was Seth.

“Marshmallow?” Ryan asked.

“I was just going to the bathroom, but…”

After returning from the tree line, Seth pulled a marshmallow from the bag and handed it to Mitchel. Seth pulled the chair closer to the fire and stuck the marshmallow into the flames.

“You’re going to burn it like that,” Melanie said.

“I know.”

Melanie shook her head and slid down onto her side resting her head on Mitchel’s leg. The heat from the fire was making her tired.

Mitchel stroked her hair. “Why don’t you go inside? It’s softer than the ground.”

“Are you coming in with me?” She asked.

“In a minute, I will.”

Melanie stood picking up her gun and started back toward the cabin.

Ryan began whistling Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.

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A Vigil for Justice: Episode Fifty-Four

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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 kicks at the dirt and chews her bottom lip as she walks back to the cabin. Seth or Mitchel. Mitchel or Seth. It was becoming an obsession. She shook her head as if it would all just fall out and she could walk away from it all. She was nauseous again. It felt like it was all the time.

She heard one footstep before he grabbed her around the waist. She sucked in a startled breath and found herself looking up into Mitchel’s smiling face. “Where were you just now? I can’t usually sneak up on you like that.”

She dropped her gaze to his chest and he wrapped her in his arms. “We’re so close and every time we make a move closer to the safe zone something happens to slow us down. It’s like we will never get there. Sometimes I feel like were being stalked by bad luck or all our bad karma is resolving itself before the end.”

He tightened his arms around her forcing her to turn her head. She watched Ryan and Seth’s backs disappear among the trees.

“We’ll make it Mel. I promise. Sammy, your mom, and you will be safe.”

She knew he had intentionally left himself out of those who would be safe, but there were so many reasons why he would have done it. She wasn’t sure if she should ask because she knew the answer would make sense even if it wasn’t true. God! How could she think like such sickening thoughts. He surely meant that he may have to take a life before they get there and he was willing to do it to make sure they were all safe and could stay together. Of course, that’s what he had meant.

He kissed the top of her head and she took a deep shuddering breath.

“You going to stop making out and come help me?” Zachariah called from inside the garage.

Melanie had to smile. He was always giving them a hard time about “making out.” Who even used that term anymore?

Mitchel kissed her on the lips. He let it linger. It had been awhile since they could be close. He kissed her neck and her mouth again.

“Soon,” he whispered.

She nodded and turned to go find her mom.

She opened the cabin door. The small room was empty. Melanie set to making the beds. When her mom still hadn’t come back, she walked over to the house.

“You seen mom?” she asked Mitchel He poked his head out from under the hood of the van.

“In the house.”

Melanie’s heart beat hard inside her chest. Ryan’s words echo in her head, “He kills his victims when they’re asleep.”

She walked faster and then began to jog. She crashed through the door. “Mom?” she called out.

She walked farther into the house. “Mom?”

She could hear Sam laughing as she turned to go down the hallway. “Mom?” her voice was even louder and taking on that desperate tone.

The bathroom door swung open.

“What’s wrong Melanie, is someone hurt?” Jennifer asked.

“No, I just, I just couldn’t find you and I was…”

“Oh, Melanie.” Her mom closed the gap between them and hugged her. “I was just bathing Sam. It’s probably the last one any of us are going to get for a long time. You should probably take one too.”

Melanie could see Sam in the bathtub, jumping a yellow rubber duck through the mountains of white bubbles. She had pile on her head as well. A princess hat, she had told Melanie once.

“I will,” she said pulling away from her mom. She’d been anxious since she voiced the words. Saying them aloud had made it real. “I’m going to pack up all the clothes other than one pair for everyone.

“All right, and Melanie, we’re going to be fine. It’s only a few more days until we reach the safe zone.”

Melanie nodded and turned to go. She had learned over the last three months that few days could mean forever.

Ryan and Seth emerged from the forest that evening hauling a buck between them, ducks over one shoulder and rabbits the other.

“You should see this kid with a knife,” Ryan said patting Seth on the back.

Seth shrugged. “It’s not so hard. My dad taught me and Mitch when we were kids. Anyway, Mitchel’s better than me.”

Mitchel and Zachariah strolled out of the garage grease smeared on the hands and above their brows. Mitchel tried to wipe it off by rubbing his hands together. He pursed his lips and pulled them to one side and then rubbed his hands on his pants.

“Mitchel that will never come out of your pants,” Jennifer said.

Mitchel slung his arm over Seth’s shoulders. “And not just with the knife.” They both laughed. You could hardly tell them apart when they stood side by side. It was mostly their personalities that separated them from each other. Mitchel was an inch tall her and broader in the chest. And their lips were different, Seth’s were thin like their father’s and Mitchel’s were fuller like their mother’s.

She looked at Ryan. He was smiling and watching the twins. He was probably thinking the same thing as her. Melanie turned away scooping up the ducks to take them around the back and yank out all the feathers. It could be both of them. She felt the tears coming again.

“Sam can you bring the rabbits?”

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Fifty-Three

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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.

She snuck back into the cabin before anyone awoke. She wouldn’t sleep, but she wanted to be there so no one would ask where she had been. She laid on the bottom bunk next to Mitchel. She watched him sleep, the slow rise and fall of his chest. He scrunched up his face and shook his head, dreaming. She laid her hand on his chest and he rolled to his side encircled her waist with his arm and pulled her into him.

Oh god, what had she done. She didn’t want it to be him. It couldn’t be him. She loved him too much for it to be him. She took a deep breath and willed the tears not to fall. She knew him. They had been together for so long. He wouldn’t do it. She squeezed her eyes closed tight. The memory of Holly and her parents sprung into her head. Her eyes flew open as she gasped.

Mitchel leaned up on his elbow and kissed the back of her neck. “Are you alright, you’re trembling?”

She nodded not trusting her voice. He kissed her again just below her ear. It wasn’t him. No one who could be so kind and loving could do that to Holly or anyone else. It wasn’t him.

The sun began to heat the cabin to an uncomfortable temperature stirring all of them from their beds.

Jennifer stretched her arms over her head. Sam hugged her from behind. “Are we leaving today, mommy?”

“Early tomorrow morning, my sweet girl, but we’ll get all ready today.”

“But I don’t want to go. I like it here. Zachariah is so nice and he tells me stories.”

Melanie’s eyes fluttered open. She had managed to get an hour of sleep riddled with ghastly scenes from the last six months of her life. How could the legislature have thought the Justice Law was the right and best choice?

Swinging her legs over the edge, she sat up Mitchel’s arm sliding off her causing him to wake too. He rolled onto his back yawned and rubbed his face with both hands.

“We need to gather up all our things and get the van packed up as soon as Zachariah gets that part into the van,” Jennifer said.

“I can help you in here,” Melanie said not wanting to watch Ryan watch Mitchel and Seth attempting to decide which one was the butcher. He didn’t have another suspect. He had told her that much last night around the fire while she threw little twigs into the flames.

“I’ll right I’m up, and I’ll go help Zachariah with the van,” Mitchel said untangling his legs from the blanket. He pushed up on the top bunk causing it to rise then he dropped it. “Seth, what are you going to do to help get ready to go?”

Seth hung his head over the bed looking like he had been awake awhile. “I thought I’d go hunting and get some food for the trip.”

Melanie stiffened. Mitchel cast her a questioning glance with a raised eyebrow. She yawned and rubbed her eyes trying to hide her response, but she knew he wasn’t fooled. He rubbed her back, and she bowed it out enjoying every stroke of his hand. She closed her eyes and tilted her head to the side. It can’t be him. His hand moved to massaging her tense muscles at her neck and shoulders.

When they all emerge from the cabin, Ryan was talking with Zachariah just outside the garage. Was he going to have his dad help him watch them? Melanie wondered. It made sense since he couldn’t be in two places at the same time.

“Good morning sleepy heads,” Ryan said grinning. “How can I help today?”

“You taking a day off?” Mitchel asked fist bumping him.

“I thought I’d help out around here,” he said.

“You hunting and fishing today, Seth?”

Seth nodded perching his rifle on his shoulder. “Going to be my last chance for awhile.”

“Mind if I join you?”

Seth’s jaw muscles bunched, and he shrugged his shoulders running his hand through his hair. “Not in the least. I’d be great to have some company.”

Ryan nodded and went into the house. Melanie followed him in so she could use the bathroom. She quickened her pace once she was inside and touched him on the shoulder.

He turned. She glanced over her shoulder. “You sure you should go alone with him?” she whispered.

He smiled and stroked her cheek. “The butcher, kills his victims in their sleep. I’ll be fine.”

She pressed her lips together between her teeth and nodded. “I’ll make you some sandwiches.” After using the bathroom, she went into the kitchen. She packed each of them a peanut butter sandwich, an apple, and some pretzels.

With all her being, she wanted it to be Seth. Did that make her a horrible person? No, she decided because it was one of them and it couldn’t be Mitchel. She would die if it was Mitchel. Has she become a killer too, conspiring with Ryan to have Seth or Mitchel shot down? Maybe she has finally found who could be one of her three. She shoved their lunch into a small cooler along with some water bottles.

All that mattered was getting mom and Sammy to safety. If she had to kill one of them herself, she would. She ran her hand through her hair and walked out the front door the screen banging against the frame behind her.

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Fifty-Two

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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.

Ryan Thunderhawk crouched next to the fire building a teepee of kindling in the hot coals remaining after they had roasted marshmallows. Marshmallow bubbled on the rocks.

Melanie sat in the camp chair watching the flame come to life with her knees pulled up to her chest. Daisy scratched at the dirt, circled a couple of times, and finally laid at Melanie’s feet.

“You’ll be leaving tomorrow?” he asked waiting for the flames to get large enough to place the log.

“You don’t think the fire will wake anyone?” she asked. “I can’t tell you what I have to say if anyone else is here.”

He smiled at her. “Have you ever woken up? It’ll be alright. No one has ever stirred.”

She didn’t like her thoughts. She didn’t want to say the words, but she knew she had to protect her family. It was what her father would have wanted her to do. It was what he would have done.

It felt like she had been hit with a sledgehammer. She fought the urge to vomit. She couldn’t believe she was going to say it, but Mitchel’s rage had shown her it was a possibility.

She stared into the growing flames as they began to consume the log. “We are either being hunted by the butcher or he is with us.”

He didn’t react to her words. His police training. She was grateful for that at least.

“The first one was in Blue River. Mitchel and Seth’s father, Evan, was found butchered in the churchyard after Evan had killed their mother in a rage. I thought it was Father Chris who had done it. I even confronted him. Evan was a sinner. He was a dangerous man and everyone in Blue River knew it.”

Ryan stirred the fire not looking at her.

“The people of Blue River, our neighbors, drove us out of town because my mom took Seth and Mitchel in. She has always had a kind heart, but naïve in her belief that all people are innately good.”

“She reminds me of my mother,” Ryan said giving her a sad smile.

Melanie struggled against the desire to change subjects. Had he meant to give her the opportunity to back out of this disclosure? He had spent the last few weeks with them, maybe he had a suspect and knew it wasn’t them. She wanted to believe it so much, but here chest squeezed her heart. She had been fighting this war within her mind since they left Denver and were stopped by Homeland Security as soon as they arrived in Utah. No, she was too far into this. She needed to finish what she started. Her mom’s and Sam’s lives could depend on it.

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, steeling her resolve. “More bodies showed up in Denver. Including my best friend, Holly, and her parents.” She had to stop and swallow the tears as the memories of that day crashed down upon her. Didn’t therapists always say it was good to talk about loss, to get it out and not carry the burden alone? What crap.

Ryan waited, ever patient.

“They were butchered in the same fashion. They were all within a few miles of where we were staying. I didn’t know where either Seth or Mitchel were during the time those people were killed. But Holly…”

She paused again. Lost in the dancing of the flames, she continued.

“They were staying in their fifth-wheel trailer in the driveway of the house we were staying in with my mom’s friends. There were three security guards patrolling the yard. They didn’t hear or see a thing. I hadn’t seen Holly since returning from the hospital, so I knocked on the door. There was no answer. Blood dripped down the walls. We were all questioned for a long time. My mom, her friends, and Sam were released first. But Mitchel, Seth, and I were there for much longer.”

He laid his hand over hers. She hadn’t even noticed that he had come over to her.  She looked at their hands. Her’s was much smaller than his, like her’s and Michel’s.

“And then when we reached Utah, we were stopped by Homeland Security. As if they had been following are movements the whole time. They denied that, but it was too much just to be a coincidence.”

She looked up into his brown eyes. The yellow and orange flames flickered in his pupils.

“Mitchel and Seth grew up in a violent home. Their father was an alcoholic. He beat their mother. He killed their older sister. And he abused them.” Her last words came out as if she were pleading for it not to be true.

“That’s a hard way to grow up,” he whispered.

There it was, laid out before him, all that she knew. It sat between them, a dark churning mass of destruction. She threw up then. Ryan pulled her hair up away from her face and laid his hand on her back.

They sat there watching the sun come up.