A Vigil for Justice: Episode Sixty-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.

Mitchel threw their bags into the back of his old pickup truck as he walked to Melanie’s door. They landed with a hollow thud. He pulled open her door and gave her a hand to get in.

She pushed his hand away and laughed. “I’m not that big yet.”

Mitchel shrugged and went around the front of the truck. He climbed in the Driver’s side and slid the key into the hole. He turned the key.

The truck didn’t start.

Mitchel closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He turned the key again. This time the truck rumbled to life. Mitchel took the steering wheel in a white knuckled grip and turned toward his right to back the truck out of the parking spot.

Once they were out on the road, Melanie laid her hand over his and squeezed.

“I love you,” she said. “No matter what happens when we get to the safe zone, know that I love you.”

He pressed his lips into a thin line and nodded.

They drove down the city streets for ten minutes before turning onto the dirt road. The tires crunched and flung rocks pinging into the wheel well. The interior of the truck remained silent as they continued to kick up a cloud of dust behind them. Melanie watched the trees fall away, replaced by the black stumps of whatever had been around the safe zone.

Melanie’s eyes fixed on the grey stone wall before the angular lines of the fifteen foot barbed wire fence standing before it. Her heart shuttered against her chest and made her breath catch in her lungs. She coughed.

The tires of the truck ground to a halt. The crunch of two more sets of tires soon followed. Melanie took a deep breath and opened her door. She slid to the ground and was glad her ankle continued to heal and no longer shot searing pain up her leg when she put her full weight on it.

The dust cloud was settling. Seth walked toward them with Sam and Jennifer close behind. Sam had left Daisy in the car. Probably best Melanie thought. They didn’t need an eighty pound angry Rottweiler getting into the middle of things if there were any problems with their entry into the safe zone.

There was no way Seth would pass. Melanie chanted these words in her head.

Mitchel’s hand took ahold of hers. “Let’s get this over with.”

Not the encouraging words Melanie wanted to hear, so she just nodded.

The six of them walked forward together.

Sargent McCall stood relaxed with two soldiers at attention to both sides. They were all armed, but no one had their guns drawn. Melanie took that as a good sign.

She knew there wouldn’t be a problem with Sam, her mom, Mitchel or herself. Seth was the only one who could screw this up. What would happen if he did get in? She hadn’t thought of that before now. He would continue his killing spree she was sure.

Even if he did pass and they were going to let him in, could she remain silent and let him walk through those gates? She didn’t think for one second any one of them would be safe when they knew who and what Seth was.

Sargent McCall stepped forward. “All of your weapons must be relinquished before entering the safe zone. Please place them on the ground and back up ten steps.”

Seth had never used a gun to kill his victims. They could take all his weapons, it wouldn’t stop him. Sharpe objects are not hard to find.

Melanie was the last to respond to the command to disarm themselves. Her fingers moved over the leather holster feeling every worn patch of the now soft and pliant leather. She felt naked without it as she opened its buckles.

Mitchel lowered his gun and holster to the ground in front of her. Her mom set the butt of the rifle against the gravel and then bent to allow the barrel to settle onto the rocks.

Seth shrugged out of his holster and it slipped down his arms and into his hands at his back. He was only a few feet in front of her. She could have almost brushed her finger tips across his broad back.

Melanie paused. They had to know. She looked into the eyes of each of the five men staring back at them. Captain Jackson had to have told them. He knew everything. If he passed all their checks would they still let him in with all the evidence against him?

She pulled her right arm through the holster. The gun dropped to her left hip. Melanie reached around and closed her hand over the grip of her 9 mm. The rough grip was cool as she raised the barrel and took sight at the center of Seth’s back.

It took less than a tenth of a second for the soldiers to respond. Four mat black AK47 rifles stared back at Melanie.

“Melanie put the gun down. We have everything under control.”

Red sprayed from the side of Seth’s neck splattering Melanie’s face, hands, and shirt with a sticky warm blood.

Seth turned toward his twin and then his knees buckled. His body crumbled to the ground.

Sam was screaming to Melanie’s right. The men in black fatigues crouched and three moved in toward Seth. The other two had their guns pointed toward Melanie’s left.

She turned.

Mitchel stood there. His hands were raised. Tears ran down his face mingling with the blood, which speckled those angular features Melanie knew so well.

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A Vigil for Justice: Episode Sixty-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.

Melanie didn’t wake once during the night. She couldn’t remember the last time she had slept so well. She relished the heat from Mitchel’s body and moved in closer to him. He wrapped his arm around her middle and pulled her up against him. He kissed her ear.

“Sleep well,” he asked.

“Better than I have in a long time.”

“Me too.”

“I think we were exhausted,” she said.

A knock came at the door.

Melanie groaned as Mitchel rolled away. She pulled the blanket up around her as he crossed the room toward the door. He stopped and then walked over to the side table. He pulled the drawer open and took out his gun.

Melanie rolled to her side of the bed and took her gun out of the side table there. Mitchel stood to the side of the door.

“Who is it?”

“Seth. It’s time to go. Meet you at the cars in ten minutes.” His tone was expressionless.

Melanie laid her gun on the bed as sat up pulling the blanket around her shoulders. “Is he serious?”

“Sounded serious.”

“Do you think they will let him in the safe zone?”

He looked at the gun limp in his hand and then up at her. “I don’t know.”

Melanie lowered her eyes. She couldn’t imagine how he felt. She was ninety-five percent sure he knew Seth was the Butcher, but she wasn’t going to ask him if he knew. She thought it was cruel to make him say it out loud. Mitchel had lost so much in the last six months. He had lost everything, everything but her. And now they had the baby to think about.

She looked up at him. He was far away in his mind. His eyes saw her, but he didn’t.

She couldn’t make it better for him. Things were a mess and were not going to get any better of the next few hours.

“Are we going?” Melanie asked.

He didn’t respond. He didn’t move. His arms hung lifeless at his sides.

Melanie drew the blanket back and slipped to the floor. The air conditioner was blowing cold air into the room causing Melanie’s flesh to prickle. As she reached him, he shook his head. He jumped a little, startled. He hadn’t seen her move over here, she realized.

She brushed her hand through his hair. “Are you alright?”

He pulled her into his arms. “As much as I can be right now. Let’s get our stuff and go out to meet the others. Seth is waiting and soon Sam and your mom will be too.”

His words struck a chord in Melanie, the thought of Seth waiting with her mom and Sam warmed her body into action. She grabbed her jeans and hoodie off the floor and pulled them on.

She slung her holster over her shoulders, slid her gun inside, and then laced her leather belt through the loops. Her pants were tight around her middle. The belt was on its last notch. She would be needing new clothing soon.

Melanie pursed her lips. Mitchel stifled a laugh. She looked up and he was watching her. She smiled and heat filled her face.

She needed him to tell her things would be alright and they would be safe in the walls of the safe zone by night fall, but she knew he wouldn’t say those things because he wouldn’t tell her things he wasn’t sure about.

There was something in his eyes she didn’t see often. She had seen it maybe three or four times during their two years together. Uncertainty.

He picked up her bag and his own and hung them from his broad shoulders. His gun was tucked tightly at the small of his back. He took her hand as he made his way toward the door.

Jennifer and Sam were standing in the hallway with their bags at their feet and Daisy on her leash.

Daisy pulled to the end making Sam trip over the bag in front of her. Jennifer made a grab for Sam, but missed.

“Daisy,” Sam cried.

Daisy bounded down the hall toward Mitchel and Melanie having pulled her leash from Sam’s small hands.

Melanie bent down and took ahold of the leash and rubbed Daisy’s head.

“Are you ready?” Melanie asked.

“We’ve been ready for a few minutes, but…” Jennifer trailed off and glanced toward the elevator.

The ding of it reaching their floor had drawn all of their attention. The silver doors opened and Captain Jackson stepped out clad in black.

“Good morning, I suppose you are headed to the safe zone?”

Mitchel nodded.

“I’ve arranged an escort to get you to the gate house where Sargent McCall is waiting for you,” Jackson said.

“That was very kind of you, Captain,” Jennifer said. She picked up her and Sam’s bags and headed for the elevator.

Melanie handed Sam the end of the leash. “Hold tight so she doesn’t get away when there are a bunch of people around in the lobby.”

“I will.” Sam and Daisy took off down the hall at a run, catching Jennifer waiting as the light of the elevator made its way to them.

When it arrived, they got on.

“Are you two coming?” Jennifer called.

Melanie looked at Mitchel. He nodded.

Jennifer held the door with her arm and it began to beep and tell her to step away from the door in an electronic voice.

Melanie, Mitchel, and Captain Jackson squeezed in. The ride down was quiet other than the beep each time they passed another floor.

Seth was sitting in a cushioned chair near the fireplace when they managed to get off with all their stuff and look around for him.

He crossed the room with a calculating smile growing across his face. He took Jennifer and Sam’s bags. “Ready?”

Sam bounced on the balls of her feet. “I’m ready. And Daisy is ready. And mommy is ready.”

Melanie mussed her sister’s honey colored hair. “We’re all ready.”

Jennifer and Sam followed behind Seth. Mitchel followed them.

Melanie turned around. Captain Jackson was watching them go. He nodded and patted the gun on his hip.

Melanie turned following her family.

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Sixty-Two

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A Vigil for Justice, is a serial post-apocalyptic 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 piece by piece. First, she could feel herself laying in a bed and a blanket pulled over her. Something was pressed up against her leg. Second, was the smell of the hotel room, a hint of her mother’s soap and Mitchel.

The something began to move toward her head as if it were crawling.

“No Daisy, let Melanie sleep.” It was her mom’s voice that broke the fog.

Melanie took a deep breath and fluttered her eyes against dim yellow hotel light. Once they were open, it was Daisy’s brown eyes she looked into. Daisy used her head to bump Melanie’s and then licked her on the cheek.

Melanie’s hand felt foreign as she lifted it to stroke the broad black head.

“Melanie?” Her mom’s face popped into her line of sight.

Melanie nodded and smiled, as if she would be someone else. “Good Morning, mom.”

Melanie pushed herself up, moved the pillow against the headboard, grabbed the other one, and stuffed it behind her back too.

Her mom was handing her a glass of water.

“Thanks, where is Mitchel?” Melanie asked.

“He and Seth went to get dinner.”

The glass slipped from her fingers, water splashed her face, and soaked into the comforter.

“Sam, can you bring a towel from the bathroom?” Jennifer called. She brushed Melanie’s hair back from her eyes. “Are you alright? The doctor said your blood sugar was low and with the stress, you just fainted. Mitchel wanted to have food here when you woke up. He and Seth have gone to get food all day, so you would have something warm to eat.”

Melanie stared without recognition at her sister who came into the room. Her mother’s stroked her hair again. “Melanie?”

Melanie shook the thoughts of Mitchel alone with Seth the Butcher from her head. She could do nothing right now, but hope he came back.

“Hi Mel,” Sam said bouncing on the balls of her feet. “Can we go now mom? We’ve been here forever.” She stopped bouncing and lulled her head all the way back as she drew out the last word.

“How long was I asleep?” Melanie asked, turning to her mom.

“All day, it’s eight now.”

Melanie’s eyes grew wide. “The safe zone. We need to be there at sun set.” Melanie swung her legs around the side of the bed and dashed to the window. She threw open the blinds. Too late. They were too late. Never safe. Melanie laid her hand on her lower abdomen and closed her eyes.

The beep of a card sliding to unlock the door caused her to turn. Seth’s eyes met hers as he came through the door. They had changed, no longer did she see Mitchel’s eyes there. Seth’s were darker, not the color, but the thing that looked out from them.

He smiled. One look at Seth, and she knew he knew she had fit the pieces together that he had left in his wake. Did he see her as prey or as a member of his pack? She wasn’t even sure which was a better position to be in.

Seth stepped farther into the room. “Glad to see you’re awake.”

The smell of Chinese food filled the room. Mitchel pushed passed Seth, set the bag of white cartons on the bed, and went to Melanie.

He looked her over and then pulled her into his arms.

She squeezed his shirt in her fists. He was safe.

His lips brushed her ear. His warm breath caressed her neck.

“I couldn’t leave him with you.” His words were barely audible.

She tilted her head back, looking into him. He knew. He and Captain Jackson must have put it together after she fainted. But why would Seth still be here if they had?

Mitchel kissed her for a long time. “How’s your ankle?” The doctor gave you some pain medication for it.”

Melanie looked down at her foot. She hadn’t even noticed it. She held it up and rotated it a few times. “It’s fine.”

Mitchel smiled. “Good.”

Sam came running into the room. “Food.” She sprang onto the bed right next to Daisy, who barked and wagged her nub.

Melanie’s stomach grumbled. Mitchel glanced over at her. He tried to squeeze his smile in to a line while stifling a laugh. Melanie shoved his shoulder and snatched a plate from her mom. She loaded it up with ham-fried rice, orange chicken, lo mien, and egg rolls.

The others hovered, waiting for her to take what she wanted before the moved in for their share.

It was silent while everyone began to eat. As Melanie swallowed one bite and another was already on its way toward her mouth. She moved systematically from one food choice to the next, one bite at a time. Her gaze flicked to the last egg roll in the carton. Seth’s white plastic fork prodded the carton toward Melanie with two lingering pokes. She didn’t move her eyes from the red sweeping lines of the pagoda etched on the side of the carton. When she didn’t reach for it, he extended his fork again moving it within a few inches of her.

“Go ahead, Melbelle.”

The muscles in her jaw ceased their chewing and mashed the remaining lo mien from between her teeth. Seth withdrew his fork. Heat flooded through Melanie’s body. She locked her eyes on Seth’s. He was threatening her.

Mitchel picked up the carton and tilted it toward Melanie. She took the egg roll. Mitchel crushed the little pagoda and tossed it into the black trashcan across the room.

Sam bounced on the bed between her mom and Melanie. “Good shot.”

 

“Seth and I stopped at the gatehouse for the safe zone on our way to get food,” Mitchel said. He took a bite of orange chicken.

Each pair of eyes moved from one to the other as they chewed.

When Mitchel had finished he continued. “Sargent McCall said for us to come back at first light. He has a few more things to check into before we could be interviewed for entry.”

Melanie covered her half-full mouth with her fingertips. “Interviewed?”

Mitchel held up a finger and continued to chew the food he had just shoveled into his mouth.

Seth nodded. “He said it was standard procedure and not to worry about it.”

Melanie’s thoughts circled. Another night. Out here. Never safe. She clenched her eyelids together. She felt a hand on her thigh and opened her eyes. Mitchel. It would be alright, she told herself, it’s just one more night. Everything will be fine.

“I’ve booked our rooms for another night and spoke with Capitan Jackson. He said there will be extra guards patrolling the hallways all night and they’re activating the door alarms on all the rooms. The alarm will sound if someone opens a door after ten. All the guests have been notified of the curfew.”

Jennifer placed her hand over her heart. “Thank god.”

Seth stood and walked his plate to the garbage. “No wonder, Sargent McCall believes this place is the safest to stay while waiting for him to do his job.” It slipped from his fingers and he stepped toward the door. Without turning around, he said, “Sleep well and I’ll see you all in the morning.” The door clicked shut behind him.

Jennifer did the same with her plate. “Finish up, Sam. We need to get back to our room, get you bathed and to bed.”

Sam continued to bounce as she took her last bite. “And a story.”

 

Melanie’s stomach was heavy and happy. Mitchel took her plate. He stretched his neck to toward each shoulder and let the plates fall into the garbage.

“Come here,” Melanie said and wiggled up onto her knees.

He sat with his back to her and she began to kneed his shoulders.

“I was so worried when you passed out. They called for you mom to come into the room. The medical guys asked if you had any other medical condition other than being pregnant.”

Melanie’s hands came to a stop.

“What I’m trying to say is your mom knows.”

She began working his tense muscles again. “Did she say anything?”

“Not a word. Just told them you were allergic to penicillin. She hasn’t said anything about it at all, even after they all left.”

“Does Seth know?”

She didn’t think his muscles could get any tighter, but they contracted in her hands.

“No.”

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Sixty-One

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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.

Minutes passed while Melanie and Mitchel clung to one another. They had no idea how long. The sun was cutting through the slit between the block out curtains. They heard a light knock on the door. They didn’t move. The knock came again but loud and sharp.

Mitchel let go of Melanie. His eyes met hers. She still had his shirt clutched in her fingers. He brushed her hair back from her face and she let go. She stood with all her weight resting on her left as he walked closer to the door.

“Who’s there?” he called through the door.

“Security.” It was a deep rumbling male voice.

Melanie relaxed a little knowing it wasn’t Seth.

“Then you should have a key,” Mitchel said. He drew his gun and Melanie did the same. It was cold as always in Melanie’s hand as she raised it aiming about head height at the door. There was a beep as the person slid the key card through the slot. The door opened slowly.

“We’re armed,” Melanie called out.

“Got it,” said the man as the door opened to reveal his face. Both his facial features and his body were a chiseled boulder. His rifle was in his hands but pointed at the ground.

He held up one hand letting the gun lower even more in his other. “I’m Captain Jackson. I understand you entered the room down the hall. Mind if I come in and talk with you about that?”

Melanie lowered her gun and shook her head. Her shoulders slumped and she thought she was going to crumble to the ground again, but Mitchel was there beside her. He helped her slide up onto the bed.

“I need to get you some ice,” Mitchel said in a whisper.

Melanie nodded.

Mitchel looked back and forth between Melanie and Captain Jackson.

“I’ll be fine,” she said patting the gun laying on the bed next to her.

Mitchel turned toward the captain. “Her ankle is swollen. I need to get her some ice.”

Jackson held up his hand and then turned pulling the door fully open. “Carter, get me a bag of ice.”

“Thanks,” Melanie said, as Mitchel walked over to her and picked up the pillows. He motioned for her to turn so he could prop her foot up.

Carter came in with the ice a few minutes later and handed it to Jackson.

“All clear?” Jackson asked the young guard.

“Yes Captain.”

Jackson nodded and Carter left the room closing the door behind him.

Jackson handed the ice to Mitchel.

Mitchel gently arranged the ice around Melanie’s ankle.

“I’ve already spoken with Jennifer and Sam. I’ve got Seth holed up in his room with guards on the door. I’ll be speaking with him next. So, I want you two to tell me what’s going on here?”

Mitchel looked to Melanie eyebrows drawn together and lips pulled down. Melanie averted her eyes finding the ice more to her liking than the unasked questions in Mitchel’s face.

Mitchel turned back to Captain Jackson. “We arrived in town yesterday evening. We went to the safe zone but Sargent McCall told us we needed to wait 24 hours so he could do the background checks. He suggested we stay here because of the security provisions you have. We came here, got rooms, and went to sleep. Melanie and I awoke to screaming and ran down the hall. You know what we found there.”

Jackson paced the length of the room three times.

“How many are traveling with you?”

Melanie answered, “My mom, Jennifer, my younger sister, Samantha, and Mitchel’s twin brother, Seth.”

Jackson stared at her. “That’s it?”

Melanie nodded slowly, why would he think there was someone else with them?

“Where are you coming from?” he asked.

“Originally? Blue River, Colorado. But most recently Ogden, Utah. We’ve had problems with my mom’s van and my mom was shot in Denver so, it’s taken us a really long time to get here. I’m not even sure how long at this point,” Melanie said. She stared at her hands resting in her lap. She didn’t want to look at him. She was afraid he would see she knew or at least suspected more than what she was saying.

Mitchel stood and paced between the end of the bed and the bathroom. “I’m not sure what you’re implying here Captain Jackson. Can you just be straight with us?”

Jackson’s brown eyes studied them. Melanie could feel his eyes on her, even though she wouldn’t look up at him. His hesitation made Melanie think he was considering his words carefully. Her mom probably said something about the trail of bodies following them all along their route and the similarities in the way they were found. Her mom wasn’t stupid, but sometimes she didn’t see what was right in front of her, especially if it was bad. And this was real bad.

Captain Jackson took a deep breath through his nose. “Alright, Mitchel, let me be straight with you. Melanie’s mom, Jennifer, showed me on a map the route you have taken from Blue River to here. I’ve got a few friends here and there. One such friend called me up a few days before you arrived and told me about a mutilated body that turned up in his area. So, before coming in here to talk with you two, I made a few more calls to Homeland Security along your route. Guess what I found?”

“More bodies,” Melanie whispered. Her head still bowed.

“That’s right. Lots more bodies in the same damn condition as what we got here.”

Melanie lifted her eyes and fought back tears. He was going to contact Sargent McCall and tell him everything. They would never get into the safe zone. They would never be safe. Melanie’s chest began to contract. Her heart was crashing against the inside of her ribcage. Her thoughts continued to consider the possibilities of not getting in, of not being safe. Never safe. She couldn’t breathe.

Captain Jackson was watching her and Mitchel turned his face to her. She was trying to calm herself. Trying to breathe.

“Mel?” Mitchel asked.

She reached for him. The sides of her throat reached for each other.

Mitchel ran to her side. “Breathe, Melanie, Breathe.”

Mitchel looked at Captain Jackson and then back to Melanie. “She needs help.”

Jackson pulled the door open. “I need a medic in here, now.”

Melanie’s world began to blur and rotate. Mitchel’s hand rested on her back. He was speaking to her, but she couldn’t make out the muffled words. Then they became clear.

“She’s pregnant.” He said it over and over.

Melanie’s world faded and burned into the back of her eyelids it said. The baby. Never safe.

A Vigil For Justice: Episode Sixty

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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.

The sun was setting as they pulled up to the fifteen-foot barbed wire fence surrounding the safe zone. A ten-foot cinder block wall was fifteen feet inside the fence line. Military men wearing green camouflage and carrying light machine guns or LMGs patrolled in and outside the fence line. Cinderblock towers sat along the wall every fifty feet with gatling guns peering over the edge of each huge spotlights making the area look like noon.

The mile surrounding the fence was scorched leaving blackened patches of what Melanie could only assume had been brush of some type. The trees had been felled and their stumps dotted the clearing. Melanie’s stomach clenched at the sight of piles of ash surrounding the burn skeletons of homes.

Their small caravan was crawling along the road. One of the soldiers held up his hand and six of them held their guns at the ready while two approached by a few feet. “I need you to all exit the vehicles,” the one nearest the truck called out.

“Wait for me to help you,” Mitchel said.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” she said glancing at all the soldiers with guns. She and Mitchel had removed their guns and knives before the entered the clearing.

They all piled out of the cars. Melanie tried to land mostly on her left, but her right still sent a dull ache through her leg when she balanced herself on it.

“I need all of you to lift your shirts and turn in a slow circle and then your pant legs,” the soldier said.

As they turned around, he asked “Are you seeking entry into the safe zone?”

“Yes,” Mitchel said.

“We’ll need to scan your safe chips and research your back ground. It takes 24 hours. You can stay in the city and return tomorrow at this time.”

Melanie flashed a glance at Mitchel. There was nothing they could do about it and they both knew it.

The soldier lowered his gun and began to approach them another soldier followed, but held his gun at the ready.

The soldier who had been speaking to them had sandy blonde hair. His high cheekbones and narrow nose were stern and no nonsense. His grey eyes locked with Melanie’s as he patted her down and then moved on to Mitchel. Melanie assumed the others were experiencing the same thing behind her.

“I’m Sargent McCall. I’ll be handling your intake. When you return, you will ask for me.”

Melanie felt the rest of her family approach from behind.

“Is there somewhere you would recommend staying?” Mitchel asked.

“On the outskirts of the city. There’s a Little America, which has guards. It’s a little expensive, but when you’re talking lives, it’s reasonable,” Sargent McCall said.

Jennifer stepped forward. “What about a doctor? Melanie rolled her ankle this morning and it’s pretty swollen.”

McCall looked Melanie up and down. “You’re better off waiting until tomorrow.”

He scanned each of their wrists. The scanner beeped each time he found their SAFE chip. She watched intently as he scanned Seth. There was no way he would pass. How could he? He had killed so many on their way here. Please don’t beep. Please don’t pass the background check.

Seth beeped and Melanie’s heart crashed into her stomach.

They all climbed back into their cars and began back down the road.

Mitchel pounded his hand on the steering wheel. “Why couldn’t it be easy?”

Melanie brushed her fingers through his dark hair. “Tomorrow’s not so far away.”

His knuckles were white as they drove closer to the city.

They found the hotel without much difficulty. Men clad in black holding the usual AK-47s patrolled the building. They stopped them and asked their purpose. Melanie explained they just needed rooms for the night because they were waiting to get into the safe zone.

Mitchel ran inside to get rooms for them. Melanie couldn’t stop moving her eyes over the dark streets despite the guards. Guards hadn’t saved Holly.

He returned in a few minutes and parked the truck. Jennifer and Seth parked as close as possible.

Mitchel came around to her side of the truck and lifted her down.

“Thanks,” she said.

“Stay here while I get some clothes for tomorrow.” He jogged over to the van where Jennifer was already digging in the back.

As they entered the hotel, they were stopped by the bellboy. “You have to pay a deposit for that dog and you cannot leave it alone in the room.”

“That’s fine,” Jennifer said, setting her and Sam’s stuff on the floor. They waited while she paid.

They loaded onto the elevator. Mitchel pressed the number six. “I thought it best to be in the middle somewhere.”

The digital voice announced each floor as they passed and stopped on six. Mitchel handed both Jennifer and Seth a key card. “I got three rooms.”

“Mom you take Daisy,” Melanie said.

Mitchel scanned the card to his and Melanie’s room and propped the door open with his foot. Melanie hobbled into the room. Mitchel set their stuff down and then checked everywhere to make sure the room was empty.

Melanie turned on the small lamp and sat on the edge of the bed. Mitchel came over to her and took off her shoes and socks. She un buttoned her pants and he pulled those off too. She took ahold of the top of his pants and pulled him toward her as he pulled his shirt over his head.

Screaming down the hall ripped them out of their sleep. They both bolted out the door guns in their hands. Melanie saw her mom peeking out her door.

“Close the door and lock it mom.”

Melanie turned and ran after Mitchel who was already down the hall gun at his side. As she passed the door next to theirs, Seth came out with gun in hand and followed behind Melanie.

A house cleaner stood screaming with her hands over her face. The door before her swung opened. Mitchel stopped with his back to the wall right before the doorway. Melanie and Seth caught up to him. Mitchel threw a quick glance around the doorframe.

The color faded from his face.

Oh God not again, Melanie thought.

“Stay here,” Mitchel said.

“No,” Melanie said.

And they went into the room guns raised.

They went through the room systematically. There was no one there. Alive.

A couple lay split open from throat to pelvis upon the bed. The metallic sweet smell of the blood didn’t hit Melanie until they had cleared the room and she had looked on the bodies.

Melanie sank to the floor. Her ankle shooting pain up her leg and her legs failing her. Mitchel picked her up and left the room. He set her on her feet when they reached their room and he had shut the door.

“Everywhere we go, disemboweled bodies follow,” Mitchel said. He took Melanie in his arms and rested his chin on her head. She wondered if he had figured it out and could accept that his twin was a killer. What he would do about it?

She squeezed him tighter.