A Vigil for Justice; Episode Fifty-Seven

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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.

How long had it been, Melanie thought. She had been so preoccupied with figuring out who the butcher was that she had scarcely thought of herself. Now that she and Ryan had figured it out, it was another life filling her thoughts. Was it in Denver that she last had her period? She rolls the memories around in her head. No, it was in Blue River. It had been two and a half months.

The yellow hills nearly empty of green surrounded them as she and Mitchel sat on the tailgate of his truck. She took bite of her peanut butter and jelly sandwich. She yawned and Mitchel rubbed her back. She thought the tiredness was from staying up late around the fire with Ryan, but it had begun before that. Maybe, it was the stress they were all under. It wasn’t as if life had been easy these past few months. She took another bite of her sandwich.

How long had it been since she and Mitchel had been together? Their frolic in the river. That was just two weeks ago. It must have happened before then. She loved Mitchel. She wanted to spend the rest of her life with him. And now that she knew for certain it was not him who cut up her best friend and her family, she loved him even more.

She bumped him with her shoulder. His full lips curved into a smile. “Are you feeling better today?”

She nodded. “I slept better last night too.” That was true, since she didn’t get up to talk with Ryan. Ryan was miles and miles behind them now. Two days had quelled her anger with him. She didn’t count on him choosing his father over so many other lives. She had judged him wrong. In the past he had probably been the knight of justice slaying the evil doers of the land to protect those who couldn’t protect themselves, but the meaning of the word Justice was corrupted.

“I noticed that.” Mitchel held out the open bag of Cheetos to her. “You were there every time I woke up to roll over.”

Ryan gave them a small tent to sleep in and some warm sleeping bags. The van was too packed with their belongings for all of them to sleep in there. Melanie had seen to it that only her mom and Sam would fit forcing Seth to sleep in his car or in Mitchel’s truck. Melanie was hoping the door of the truck or car closing would let them know Seth was up.

She hadn’t decided whether or not she should tell Mitchel, at least about Seth. She knew she had to tell him about the baby. She just didn’t want to do that anywhere near anyone else. She wanted it to be their secret. She wanted to have something for only them.

She kicks her dangling feet. “You going to keep watch with me tonight?”

He kissed the top of her head. “Of course.”

She couldn’t be certain she was pregnant. There could be any number of reasons for her period to have stopped, but she thought those less likely.

A few more hours down the road, they found a grove of trees where they could pull off the road and set up for the night. Seth and Mitchel built a fire pit while Melanie and Sam gathered firewood.

“Dinner is almost ready,” Jennifer said as Melanie dumped an armload of branches to the ground.

Mitchel wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. “Seth will you chop the wood tonight?”

“No problem.” Seth climbed into the back of the truck and dug out the axe.

Melanie pulled the sliding door open on the opposite side of the van just as her mother closed up her side. Melanie couldn’t watch without images of chopped up friends. Her whole body clenched with each thwak of the blade into the wood. Some morbid part of her demanded she look at him. It wanted to know if he enjoyed the swinging of the steel. She pulled out the camp chairs and then began riffling through the duffle bags full of clothing to find sleeping bags. She shook her head, how did they manage to get buried under everything.

She jumped as Mitchel grabbed her from behind. He brushed her hair aside and kissed her on the back of her neck. She relaxed in his arms. “I miss you,” he whispered.

She turned in his arms. “I know.”

She missed being with him too, but now that she knew what Seth was, she couldn’t sneak off into the woods with him.

He kissed her. “Tonight?”

She smiled. “Maybe.” She kissed him and pulled from his arms smiling and laughing.

“Don’t tease me now, it’s just not nice.” He swiped and darted for her as she twisted out of his reach, but he caught ahold of her anyway. He knew all her tricks. She pulled just a little as he reeled her in kissing her much deeper than before.

“Mitchel,” Seth said.

Mitchel and Melanie turned. He was standing at the rear of the van, a foxes grin on his face. Melanie tensed and wondered how long he had been there. Mitchel ran his hands up and down her arms.

“What’s up?” Mitchel asked.

“Can you help me start the fire?”

Mitchel patted Melanie on both shoulders, gave her a quick kiss, and wen to help his twin.

When they were out of sight, Melanie placed both her hands on her lower belly.

“You coming to eat?”

Melanie spun around. Her mom was standing behind her. “I made your favorite, well, warmed it up anyway. Pizza is really hard to cook over a fire.”

Melanie nodded, following her mom.

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.

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.

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Fifty-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.

“The parts for the van should arrive tomorrow morning. Mitchel and I can get it put back together by early evening and you can be on your way,” Zachariah said.

Seth didn’t return until after dinner. Daisy’s barking alerted them to his arrival. He came in with grocery sacks of graham crackers, marshmallows, and chocolate.

“Who wants some s’mores?”

Sam was on her feet bouncing like thumper grabbing at the sacks. “Me, me, me!”

Zachariah started the fire, while Melanie and Mitchel set up chairs around the fire pit. Seth, Jennifer and Sam were search the ground for roasting sticks.

“Is this one good?” Sam asked Seth. Holding up a wiry stick about eighteen inches long.

“It needs to be a little thicker and longer. I don’t want you to get burned.” He mussed her hair.

Zachariah told old Navajo stories while they licked melted marshmallow and chocolate from their fingers. It was full dark when they finally shuffled sleepily into the cabin.

Melanie couldn’t sleep. She was excited to get on the move again. It would only take a few days for them to arrive at the safe zone. Three at most, by her calculation, especially with all the hamsters running in the van’s engine. She smiled at the image. She’d have to tell Sam about that one.

Daisy whined. Melanie had forgotten to let her out to potty before they had turned out the light. She carefully slipped from beneath Mitchel’s arm. He rolled over. She stood still making sure he was asleep before opening the cabin door.

The new moon and lack of city lights threw extra stars into the sky. She tried to find the constellations she could remember from school. Orion,

She smelled the cigarette and turned in a slow circle seeking its orange burn.

Ryan’s voice came out of the dark. “Daisy need to pee?”

She walked toward him. “I forgot to let her out before we went in.”

He blew smoke out of his nose and looked up at the stars. “On the reservation, before we moved here, every night looked like that. I didn’t realize how much I missed it, until it reappeared after the riots and all the power outages.”

“I didn’t know you smoked.”

“I don’t.”

“Another stressful day?”

“Another body. This one was done in broad daylight. Butcher is getting bold or reckless. I’m not sure which. Never seen anything like it.”

“I have.” Melanie’s eyes fell. She kicked at the dirt and then scraped it back into a pile with the side of her foot.

He turned to her letting the smoke slowly drift out of his mouth of its own accord.

She looked back up at the stars. “In Blue River, the stars looked like that every night, before and after the Justice Law passed. But after it passed, I saw it a lot more. I was in the militia and we patrolled the streets every night. One night, I found our pastor over the body of a woman. She was dead.”

Melanie turned to face Ryan. “He said he was doing god’s work by killing sinners.” She peered into the darkness looking for Daisy. She took a few steps toward where Daisy was sniffing in the long grass.

Ryan followed her, but said nothing. He just waited for her to continue.

She ran her fingers through her long hair. “After leaving Blue River, we went to Denver and my mother was shot in the stomach. She was in the hospital for two weeks. I stayed with her day and night. One night when I was walking the halls while my mother slept, I saw a doctor speaking to a man with a terminal disease. She injected something and he died. She said she was helping them so they didn’t have to suffer as her husband had suffered during his last days.”

She took a deep breath and let it out through her nose. “How dedicated are you to serving your purpose, Detective?”

He dropped the butt of the cigarette and pressed it into the dirt with the toe of his black steel-toed boots. Daisy had wandered over to them. Wagging her nub, she scratched at his boot to get what he had dropped. He bent to pick it up. When he rose, his eyes met Melanie’s.

She cocked her head to the side.

The muscles in his jaw bulged as he pressed his teeth together.

She knew the answer. She had seen the distant gaze she had seen in the eyes of the others. The constant questioning of whether what they were doing was truly serving their ideal. Their answer was always the same, yes, because if their answer were no, their resolve would falter and their heart and soul would sink into an abyss.

He nodded and sighed. “I don’t understand what this has to do with the butcher?”

“When you find him, will you kill him?”

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Fifty

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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 realized then how little she knew of Mitchel’s childhood. Seth talked about it more than Mitchel did. Mitchel usually walked away whenever Seth brought something up or asked Mitchel directly about it. He wanted to forget, she knew. It was why he didn’t miss Blue River. When he left Blue River, he hadn’t looked back. He was glad to never see it again. For him, it held only death, hatred, and horror.

Melanie had taken an advanced placement psychology class and she knew that being raised in a home like Seth and Mitchel had been raised did things to a child’s developing brain. It laid the foundation for them to become horrible people, but that’s not what they were. Both of them were caring and dedicated to their family.

The door to the cabin banged open behind Melanie. Sam darted out into the sun with Daisy on her tail. “Come on Beauty let’s run!”

Melanie watched her little sister run and run with Daisy chasing her. It was their favorite game.

“She’s such a great kid with a good life, Right Mitch?” Seth said leaning against the doorframe.

Mitchel looked from Seth to the laughing and skipping little girl, but said nothing.

Seth pushed himself off the doorframe. “You two need some privacy in the cabin?” He grinned and arched his eyebrows.

Melanie rolled her eyes. “You know our relationship isn’t like that,” she said emphasizing the last word and arching her own eyebrows.

“It’s a shame really, maybe Mitchel would loosen up if it were like that.” He laid a consoling hand on Mitchel’s shoulder.

Mitchel pushed his hand away. “I think you’re relaxed enough for the both of us.”

Seth laughed, not as if his twin’s words were amusing but ironic. Seth smiled. “Yeah, spending time with little Sammy adds a little brightness to the shadows that hang over my thoughts. You should give it a try if you’re not going to add in other physical activities to take the stress off.” Another smile, wider this time.

Mitchel glowered at his brother.

Seth slid his hands into his front pockets and kicked a rock across the dirt driveway.

Melanie watched him walk away.

Seth turned back to them when he was nearing his car. “You guys are boring. I’m going into town today. Do you need anything? Like a box of condoms? Oh wait—”

Seth’s eyes grew wide along with his stance and Mitchel’s shoulder slammed into him. They both went down sending up tufts of dirt as they wrestled flipping one another over.

Daisy started barking and growling protectively at Sam’s side.

And then the punches started.

“Stop it!” Melanie screamed.

Sam started crying. “Mom! Mom!”

Jennifer and Zachariah came running from the garage.

Jennifer reached them first, but not wanting to get hurt by two full-grown men fighting, she stood back. “Mitchel and Seth, you knock it off right now!”

Jennifer pulled Sam to her who buried her face into her mother.

“Do you hear me?” Jennifer yelled in her mom voice.

Zachariah had reached them. He didn’t hesitate before jumping in the thick of it. He caught an elbow to the stomach, but was able to pull the two apart.

He held each of them by the forearm. They were covered in dirt sticky with sweat. Blood ran from Seth’s nose and into his grinning mouth. He wiped it with the back of his hand, which smeared it across his lip and cheek. Mitchel hung his head, ashamed it had gotten so out of control. Blood ran from his lip. He spit the blood from his mouth.

Zachariah looked back and forth between the two boys. He released his hold on Seth who took a few steps back. Zachariah turned to face Mitchel.

Seth laughed. “See now don’t you feel better, Mitch?” Seth wiped his hands on the front of his jeans.

Melanie had never seen Mitchel so angry. She tried to go to him, but Jennifer caught her arm.

Mitchel turned to his twin. “You’re a dick, Seth,” he shouted over Zachariah’s shoulder.

This made Seth laugh even harder. He tried to respond, but could only get out a few syllables. “I….dick…use.”

Mitchel yanked his arm away from Zachariah and stalked toward the trail leading toward the lake.

“Seth you ought to let the wolf in your brother cool off. You going into town, you said?” Zachariah asked.

Seth nodded, and his eyes narrowed and the mirth drained from his features as he watched Mitchel scoop up a branch and beat the hell out of a tree as he passed. “I’m a mountain lion not a deer. I’m not afraid of the wolf.”

Jennifer released Melanie’s arm as well.

Melanie took off at a run toward Mitchel. She glanced back once. Seth was climbing into his car and Daisy was bounding after her. In a few more steps, she heard the car come to life and spit gravel as he accelerated down the road.

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Forty-Nine

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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 stomach twisted. Ryan’s response was hesitant, delayed, too much so. She looked at Mitchel who was swirling his last bit of pancake around in the syrup. After everything that Mitchel has been through in his life you would think that he would be more suspicious of people. Maybe he was, but he hid it better.

Melanie ran her hand through her hair. Who cares if Ryan is killing people? It’s not like he would be killing innocent people, right? That has to be right. She sipped her coffee and felt him looking at her. She looked up and met Detective Ryan Thunderhawk’s eyes. She found sadness and longing in them before he turned away from her and out the window.

Dawn was clinging to the mountains in the east. The sun not wanting to witness the tragedy flourishing in the United States

The teakettle began to whistle. Ryan lifted it off the burner and poured the steaming water into the French press. Zachariah shuffled into the room rubbing the sleep from his face. Ryan poured him a cup of coffee.

“Thank you,” Zachariah said.

He took his coffee black. While he sipped at it, he looked around the room at each of them.

“I’ve got a full day,” Ryan said setting his cup in the sink and making for the door.

“You’ll be home for dinner?” Zachariah asked.

“Yes, I believe so.”

Zachariah nodded. “We’ll see you then.”

The side door squeaked as Ryan left. Melanie listened to his tires grinding on the gravel and then rose to get started on cleaning the garage, which was her mom’s project for the day.

“How much longer for the parts to come?” Melanie asked.

“Hard to know, but should be soon,” Zachariah said taking a seat at the table. “Next day or two, I expect.”

Melanie took the same path as Ryan had out of the house. She walked toward the cabin enjoying the cool early morning air and the song of the birds in the trees. She paused for a second, closed her eyes, and just listened to them. A smile spread over her face. She took a deep breath and opened her eyes.

As she neared their cabin, she could hear Seth’s voice through the open window. She peered in through the space between the drape and the window frame.

Seth was sitting on the edge of the bed next to Sam. He was reading her favorite book, “Black Beauty.”

Sam stroked Daisy’s head. “We should have named Daisy Beauty.” She sighed. Daisy laid her head on the pillow next to Sam’s and wagged her nubby tail.

Seth smiled. “Yes, you should have. Did you suggest that to Mel?”

Sam shook her head causing her sandy blond hair to shutter.

Melanie had never seen Seth interact with Sammy, but it was obvious they had been reading together for awhile. When had he found the time to read with her? He was always gone “hunting.”

Melanie felt pressure on her back and started.

“What ya looking at?” Mitchel whispered in her ear and peered into the cabin.

“Well, she can be Beauty to you and I,” Seth said.

Sam beamed and nodded. “Why do they call him Beauty instead of handsome, he’s a boy after all?”

Seth pursed his lips. “Sometimes the names people give don’t fit very well do they?”

Again the shake of the head. “He is beautiful though, isn’t he?”

Seth stroked Sam’s head. “He is.” He resumed reading.

Melanie turned to Mitchel. “Have you ever seen them read together?”

“A couple of times.” Mitchel smiled at her. “I think Sam reminds him that we had a sister once. She died when she was Sam’s age. Seth and I were only two.”

“What was her name?”

“Mary.”

“You’ve never talked to me about her. What happened? Did she get sick?”

Mitchel looked away from her. His eyes stared off at the aspen trees. “She fell down the stairs and never woke up. My father was the only one home at the time.”

“I’m sorry Mitchel.” He took them both from him, she realized. His father had killed both his mother and his sister. She laid her head on his chest and wrapped her arms around him. He rested his chin on her head and held her tight.

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Forty-Eight

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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 and Mitchel sat at the white pine breakfast table across from Detective Ryan Thunderhawk. Melanie watched him move his eggs around on his plate, dipping his toast into the yoke and setting it back on his plate. He pushed it away and took a deep breath. Dark circles hung below his blood shot eyes. He hadn’t slept last night she realized. She wondered if nightmares kept him awake at night too.

“Do you want more coffee, Ryan?” She asked reaching for his cup. She hesitated when he didn’t answer. She cast a sidelong look at Mitchel, who frowned and shrugged his shoulders.

“Ryan?” she said again holding his cup a few inches off the table.

He looked up at her.

“More coffee”

“Yes please.” He reached for his cup. Melanie wiggled it and smiled at him. She scooped up her breakfast plate as well. She stepped around her chair and moved to the counter. After rinsing her plate, she poured the nearly black coffee.

It was decent coffee, Melanie thought, as she lifted her cup to her nose. Not something she would get used to drinking, but it didn’t make her gag either.

“Long night?” Mitchel asked Ryan as Melanie returned to the table.

Ryan’s head was in his hands with his fingers laced through his short black hair. “Very long and I have to be back at the department in an hour,” Ryan said and rubbed his eyes with his fingers.

“Big case?” Melanie asked and slid the creamer and sugar toward him.

“Yeah, a double homicide. At least we think it was a homicide, with this new Justice Law, you don’t know until the system check comes back.”

“How does that work, the system check, I mean?” Melanie asked. Death was everywhere. She felt like it was more common now than it had been when she was younger, but that probably wasn’t true. It was just more visible, more in your face.

Ryan poured in some cream stirred his coffee and then added sugar. “Well, my understanding of it, is that when a both the heart and neurological activity stop the SAFE chip sends out a communication signal. It logs the identification of any chip within such and such a range of the body. It also logs the location, date, and time of death. The chip’s final communication signal goes to the local police department. The police then find these people who were identified by the deceased’s SAFE chip and investigate.”

“That sounds like a pain,” Mitchel said looking up from his pancakes, which were swimming in maple syrup and butter.

“It’s not usually too bad. If there is only one other person present, it is typically a Justice Kill. Then we just verify that they don’t have more than three. If they do, we take them in and charge them with murder and then sort out the details.”

“But what if there are a ton of people there?” Melanie asked. “Do you have to check into each one?”

“It’s not as complicated as it sounds. The date, time, and location tell us if it was in a hospital or something like that. We can usually skip those.”

Melanie thought back to Dr. Binkard in Denver. No wonder she would never be caught. The police just pass those deaths over since it happens in a hospital.

“…Witnesses of the death generally all tell the same story, reducing the investigation time for us. It’s the scrubs who cause problems— ”

“What if someone were killing people in the hospital?” Melanie asked.

Ryan stopped and raised his eyebrows and pursed his lips.

“Like a mercy killing or something?” Melanie said waving her hand and looking away. Mitchel was looking at her.

Ryan nodded his head. “That would be difficult to identify using the SAFE System.”

“Can’t you just investigate like you used to do?” Melanie asked.

Ryan sipped his coffee. “Not enough man power I’m afraid.”

“What about police?” Mitchel asked. “How do you track their Justice Kills?” He put air quotes around Justice Kills.

Ryan stared at his coffee. He swirled the last drops in the bottom and stood to refill his cup, but the French press was empty. He popped the silver cap on the teakettle and filled it with water from the tap.

Mitchel rubbed Melanie’s back and ran his fingers through her hair. She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek.

Ryan turned back to face them. “Police kills are also very difficult for the system to track because their job requires them to use deadly force, which at this time is not an uncommon occurrence.”

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Forty-Seven

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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 next morning brought more heat. Growing up in the mountain valley of Blue River hadn’t prepared them for working in the heat. The only person it didn’t seem to effect was Sam.

Melanie smiled as she ran around the cabin with a stick in her hand with Daisy chasing her barking.

“Be careful running with that stick,” Melanie called and sunk the shovel into the dirt. She wiped the sweat from her forehead with the back of her hand.

Her mom had decided this morning that since Zachariah was providing them with room and board, they would dig out his garden and flowerbeds, which were overgrown with weeds like sardines in a can.

Melanie had tried to explain to her mother that it was near on autumn and harvest season not planting season. But Jennifer had insisted they do something and since Zachariah was getting on in years he shouldn’t be digging out all these weeds.

“Cleaning out his garage and house seems more sensible and useful,” Mitchell had offered.

“That’s for tomorrow,” Jennifer smiled and handed him a shovel.

Somehow, Melanie had ended up with the shovel and Mitchel had snuck off to help in the garage. Jennifer stood up from sitting in the dirt throwing weeds out of the garden and into a pile. She brushed her hands off onto her pants.

“I’m going inside for some water. Do you want some?”

Melanie dropped the shovel. “I need to get out of this heat for a few minutes, mom.” She could feel the sweat running down her back and her legs.

“Come get some water Daisy and Sam,” Melanie called and followed her mom into the house.

Melanie flopped into a chair in the kitchen and Jennifer set a glass of ice water in front of her. She drank the whole thing and got up for more.

“Where is Seth?” she asked.

“He got up early and said he was going fishing in the river. I thought it was a good idea, so we don’t eat Zachariah out of house and home.”

Melanie rolled her eyes.

“What? I thought it was a great idea. Anyways, there has been some tension between you and he.”

Melanie raised her eyebrows. “Tension?”

It was Jennifer’s turn to roll her eyes. “It’s pretty obvious Mel. You can’t look at him without disgust or hatred in your eyes. You want to talk about it?”

“No.” Melanie stood up and went back outside. That’s probably why Mitchel has been acting a little off center. Melanie took a deep breath. No more, I’ve got to let it go. Seth is Mitchel’s brother. If we are going to stay together, I need to let my suspicions go. I can’t deal with a wedge between Mitchel and me.

Melanie continued to dig. It felt good actually. It was progress right before her eyes. She could see the results of her hard work. It was empowering in a sense, that she could make a difference, even if it was only turning dirt and eradicating invasive weeds.

When the sun began to dip below the horizon, Melanie stood at the sink washing the dirt from beneath her nails. Mitchel’s hands moved around her waist and he kissed her neck. She smiled. She missed being close to him as much as they had been, before her mom was always hovering.

“Come with me on a walk to the river?”

She turned in his arms and kissed him on the lips. He brought his hands up her back and tangled his fingers in her hair.

When they broke off from one another, she took his hand and smiled her crooked grin. “Let me tell my mom where we’re going so she doesn’t freak out.”

His smile grew and he squeezed her hand. “I’ll be out front.”

After telling her mom where she and  Mitchel were going, Melanie rounded the corner of the house and found Mitchel and Seth speaking in hushed angry voices. Mitchel was gesturing with his hands. His back was to her. Seth saw her first and stopped talking. He nodded to Melanie and walked away toward the back of the house.

“What was that about?” She asked watching Seth disappear.

“Nothing, let’s forget about all this,” he waived at the house and all around it, “and think only of you and me while we frolic in the woods.” He smiled and brushed a strand of her hair out of her face.

She stole a quick kiss and ran down the trail laughing. He chased after her.

Melanie hadn’t run for a long time. The wind pulled at her hair and her body fell into its rhythm. Yes, it seemed to say, we remember this. She pushed harder pulling away from Mitchel.

He laughed. “You’re not getting away from me that easily.”

Not wanting to slip on a rock, she slowed down when she reached the river there was a rock bridge and only a few inches of water flowed over it. She risked a quick glance back before stepping into the water. He grinned at her like a wolf closing on its prey. Mitchel didn’t slow at all. He was always more reckless than she. It was one of the things she loved about him; his willingness to take risks to get what he wanted. And that’s when he caught her, and they both fell into the pool created by the rock bridge.

She let out a gasp as they hit the cold water. She got a mouth full of river water for her girlish sound as their heads plunged below the water. Mitchel pulled her to the surface with him. Her hair was plastered to her face and he began laughing, a full and deep laugh, that waved through his entire body.

Melanie splashed water at him. He grabbed a hold of her and pulled her to him. She hadn’t realized how much she missed this or even that it had been gone from their relationship.

She looked up into Mitchel’s eyes.

He wrapped his hands around her face cupping her chin where the base of his palms met. “I love you so much.”

Never again would she allow the retched chaos of this world steal the precious happiness she felt in his arms. It was that feeling that made all of this, each day, worth struggling through no matter how nightmarish it was.

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