A Vigil for Justice: Episode 38

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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.

They couldn’t still be asleep could they. Melanie thought. She stood in the kitchen looking out the window at the Stein’s fifth-wheel parked in the driveway.

She smelled Mitchel’s cologne before his strong hands began kneading her shoulders.

“Is it strange for them to not have come in?” She had spent so much time at the hospital with her mother since they arrived that she had hardly seen her best friend or her family over the past month.

“Only because you are here and I would have thought Holly would want to see you, and Pauline and Thomas would want to talk with Jennifer,” Mitchel said. He pulled open the fridge and set the strawberry jam on the counter.

“Apricot too, Mom likes it.”

She set the loaf of bread, she’d been holding, on the counter and slid the drawer open. Her fingers found a butter knife as her eyes held onto her best friend in the trailer outside.

They had come out and met them when they first arrived home so it wasn’t like Holly didn’t know she was there. Nor was it like Holly to stay inside such a cramped space. Her personality alone would cause the thing to burst.

“I’m going to go out there after lunch and see what they’re up to.”

Mitchel shrugged and began spreading peanut butter on half of the bread she had laid out on the counter.

Sam usually helped her make lunch, but she was sleeping. The pain medication the hospital had given her, made her sleep quite a bit, which was good since her arm hurt so much. The doctor put Sam’s arm in a splint and said that they would have to wait until the swelling went down before they could put her arm in a cast.

They were stuck here for a few more days.

Mitchel pulled BBQ and cheddar cheese chips out of the cupboard.

“I’m starving,” Seth said as he came into the kitchen rubbing and flexing his left hand covered in burn scars. He had the wrist wrapped with gauze. The scars made Melanie think of Mitchel’s father who had burned both Mitchel and Seth when they were children to teach them a lesson. He had deserved to die, but not in the way he had. Melanie shuddered.

Melanie handed him a sandwich.

“Thanks Melbelle,” he said.

Was he trying to piss her off? She took a deep breath. Melbelle was her dad’s name for her. She had asked Seth so many times not to use it, now he did it just to bother her. He wasn’t stupid enough to use it for any other reason.

Mitchel rested his hand on her lower back and bent kissing her on the cheek. He knew too. “I love you,” he whispered in her ear.

She smiled and took another deep breath. She was glad to be back home with him even if the situation wasn’t ideal. Together they could handle anything.

“What’d you do to your wrist?” Mitchel asked his brother.

“I just haven’t taken care of it, so the skin cracked again,” Seth said while chewing.

Melanie slid a sandwich into a ziplock bag and some chips into another one for Sam when she woke up. She took a plate of chips and peanut butter and jelly to her mom.

“How’s Sammy?”

“Sleeping.”

Her mom nodded. “Can you help me to the bathroom?”

“Of course mom.”

Melanie put one hand under her mom’s elbow and wrapped the other one around her waist. “I suppose it is good we are here for a few more days,” Jennifer said through gritted teeth as she pushed and Melanie pulled her up.

“That’s one way of looking at it. Hopefully, the swelling goes down quickly and we can leave soon.”

Melanie stayed close to her mom while she shuffled to the bathroom. Jennifer was getting stronger, but climbing up and down stairs and getting up were still painful.

“I’ll help you change your bandages after you eat,” Melanie said as she waited outside the bathroom door.

Jennifer called to Melanie to come help her off the toilet. “I am glad to be out of the hospital. I’ve slept so much better since leaving.”

Melanie thought that was interesting since the hospital was a safe zone and all firearms were disabled by the RFID’s when you were within one hundred feet of the building. Then again, there were always people like Dr. Alyson Binkard. Melanie shook the thoughts from her head. They needed to get to the safe zone.

Karalynn came into the room and Melanie left allowing them to visit and do needlework. Her mother had taken to it at the hospital at Karalynn’s suggestion. Jennifer and Karalynn had been best friends since college and even though they didn’t see each other often, it always seemed like they had.

She’d change her mother’s bandages later.

She bounced down the stairs and plopped into a chair across from Mitchel at the kitchen table. She dumped some of the BBQ chips out on her plate.

“How’s mom?” he asked.

“Cross stitching and girl talk.”

He smiled.

“Do you think Holly is mad at me?”

He cocked his head to one side. “Why would she be mad at you? You haven’t been here to do anything to make her mad.”

Melanie raised her eyebrows and pursed her lips.

“Oh, you think she’s mad because you haven’t been around? That’s ridiculous”

“It is Holly.” She took another bite of her PB&J. Holly had messaged her and tried to facetime with her on the ipad while she was at the hospital with her mom, but Melanie hadn’t felt much like talking to her bubbly best friend. Yeah, Holly was probably mad at her.

“Nothing a little girl talk and nail polish can’t fix,” Mitchel said. “I’ll go out there with you after we eat.”

Melanie and Mitchel pulled on their holsters and made sure their guns were loaded before opening the front door. Mitchel waved to the guards in the front yard who gave him the all clear signal. Still Mitchel kept Melanie behind him as they walked over to the Stein’s fifth-wheel trailer.

He knocked on the door.

“I haven’t seen them since Melanie and Jennifer came home,” called Erik, the lead security guard.

Mitchel knocked again.

Nothing.

A Vigil for Justice: Final Episode

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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 began to shake, it was slight at first, but it grew until she sunk to the ground on her knees. She couldn’t turn her eyes away as the Sergeant locked the handcuffs on Mitchel’s wrists. Sounds were sucked out of the world revolving around her, but one, and her breath caught with every click of the metal as the handcuffs locked tighter.

Mitchel turned his face toward her. His eyes rimmed in red, his face streaked with tears, and his soft lips mouthed the words, “I love you.”

Melanie nodded her head unable to find the breath to make a sound or the strength to form the words.

Seth’s antler handled knife had flown from Mitchel’s light grip straight to its mark. Only three people could have made it, and now two of them were dead. Melanie buried her fingers in the loose dirt around her, feeling the granules.

Sound returned to her in the form of foot falls that approached from behind, she turned and closed her hands around a couple smooth stones she had found.

Jennifer was running toward Mitchel. She didn’t slow down when the guns were raised and aimed at her.

“You know who and what he was.”  Tears streamed down her red cheeks as she pointed to Seth’s body on the ground.

Reaching Mitchel, she grabbed the Sargent’s hands, thrusted them away, and stepped between Mitchel and him. “He gets three. It’s the law. You saw it. I saw it. They saw it.” She flung her arms out toward the Sargent’s men. “No investigation is needed. It will be marked on his chip. Let him go.”

It wasn’t a question or a request. It was a command. Her mother’s voice held more authority than Melanie had ever heard. It was her lobbyist voice, Melanie realized. Her mom must have used it to fight the very legislation she was now promoting.

Melanie never thought she would hear her mother use the Justice Law to help someone, but there she was screaming at the soldiers to put down their guns and let Mitchel go.

Another sound entered. Sam was wailing to Melanie’s right. Melanie pushed herself to her feet, let the rocks slip from her fingers, and went to her sister. She pulled Sam into her arms and held her tight. Melanie turned around, so Sam couldn’t see what was happening. She stroked her sisters long golden hair.

Melanie glanced over her shoulder. Daisy was howling inside the van and clawing at the window that was open a few inches.

Melanie watched the standoff between her mom and the sergeant. Neither had said a word. Melanie shifted her weight to her left foot. There was still a dull ache deep inside from when she rolled it. The soldiers held their guns at the ready. Melanie couldn’t see Mitchel’s face. His shoulders had fallen along with his head.

The sergeant raised his hand, and the soldiers relaxed lowering the black barrels toward the ground. He took the little keys from his pocket and Jennifer stepped aside. The sergeant’s gaze never left Jennifer’s even as he unlocked the cuffs around Mitchel’s. Melanie wondered if he thought Jennifer was more of a threat at that point than even Mitchel.

Sergeant McCall slid the cuffs into their fitted pocket on his belt. He turned on his heel and strode toward his men. As he reached the first, he waived the others back toward the gatehouse, but then he stopped and turned to face them.

“You have until nightfall to decide who goes in and who doesn’t. Mitchel, no longer qualifies.”

Melanie had already made up her mind. It was the first thought she had after Seth had fallen.

She held onto her sister until her mom reached them and lifted Sam into her arms.

Melanie ran to Mitchel. She clung to him like a squirrel falling from a branch. Slowly, he took her into his arms.

“I want you to go into the safe zone,” he said.

She hesitated. Of course that’s what he would want. He wanted her and the baby safe. “No. I choose you. We choose you.”

“Please, Melanie.”

“I won’t.”

“I—“

“I don’t care,” Melanie said. “It’s my choice.”

He held her tighter.

 

 

Saying goodbye to her mom and Sam was the hardest thing Melanie had ever done. She watched them until they were behind the fence. Then she watched them until they reached the wall. Please go inside she had begged her mother. Please keep Sam safe.

Mitchel’s hand slid into hers. “You can still go.”

Melanie turned and looked up into his grey eyes. He brushed his thumb across her cheek.

Daisy whined and pushed her damp nose against Melanie’s other hand. “Come on girl, it’s time to go.”

As she climbed into the truck, she said, “Back to the hotel?”

Mitchel turned the key and then engine came to life. “Where else?”

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 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 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-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.

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Forty-Six

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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, Melanie, and Seth stood there looking at the doe that Mitchel had drug from behind the rock.

Melanie lowered her gun, but she didn’t holster it. It hung at her side a reassuring weight cradled in her hand. Something inside her told her not to holster the gun just yet, maybe it was Daisy’s reaction to Seth. Why would Daisy growl at Seth with a dead deer so nearby? She didn’t know. Something wasn’t right with this situation.

Mitchel stepped in front of her putting his hands on her shoulders. His eyes met hers. “Let’s go see how the cabin is coming along.”

She nodded and slipped the gun back into the holster. She turned to go with Mitchel behind her. Daisy didn’t follow right away. After Melanie and Mitchel had gone a few paces back through the brush, Melanie felt her nose her fingers.

The cabin greeted them first. It was small and built from pine logs. Melanie could see Zachariah’s house further on through the trees. It was about three times the size of the cabin and also made from pine logs. Daisy sniffed around the door and squatted to pee. The near black eyes glanced up at Melanie.

The cabin smelled of Pine-Sol and Jennifer had made up all the beds. There were two sets of bunk beds against either wall. Jennifer and Sam had moved a suitcase for each of them into the room and slid them beneath the bed. The curtains were tied to the side and the windows were open. A hot breeze stifling blew into the room.

Daisy jumped up onto one of the lower bunks, circled twice, and laid down. She wagged her little nub of a tail and closed her eyes. Melanie turned to Mitchel and buried her face in his chest. He wrapped her in his arms. She squeezed silent tears from her eyes. She didn’t know who to trust anymore. Seth was Mitchel’s brother he wouldn’t hurt any of them. He wouldn’t have hurt Holly, would he? She wasn’t sure.

She was tired and hungry. She wanted to sleep until all this was over and wake up into her past in Blue River. Three months had gone by since the passing of the Justice Law. She and Holly should be starting their senior year of high school. Mitchel should be a freshman in college. It all seemed like a dream from so long ago.

Mitchel stroked her walnut hair that nearly reached her butt now. She looked up into his brown eyes. “I’m sorry,” she said.

He kissed her head. “Everything is a mess and we’re all tired.” He pulled her even tighter to him. They melted into one another.

That evening, they sat around Zachariah’s dining table. Seth served up the doe he had killed that afternoon and butchered himself. Zachariah had given them full access and use of his home. Melanie couldn’t understand how or why he would do this for total strangers. Even before the Justice Law passed such trust and hospitality was near gone from the world. Ever since the war, people had grown more and more suspicious of one another. And who could blame them things had gone downhill fast and as far as Melanie could tell they continued to plummet without the bottom in sight.

Zachariah’s son, Ryan Thunderhawk, joined them for dinner. He sat across the table from Melanie and Mitchel. He was a Weber County police detective on the homicide unit.

Ryan hadn’t been surprised that his father had invited them to stay in the cabin apparently this was not the first time Zachariah had invited travelers the sanctuary of his land while they waited for repairs to a vehicle.

The food was good. The best they had eaten in a long while. Everyone, but the Thunderhawks, went for a second plate.

Melanie poured gravy over her potatoes, green beans, and the venison while listening to the laughter behind her as Ryan told another story about when he was a new officer. She smiled forgetting the world outside that one room at least for a time.

Seth stepped up to the counter beside her. “How do you like my kill? Pretty good, huh?”

Melanie turned to face him. She looked him straight in the face. “You’ve always been a good hunter Seth. No one’s every questioned that.”

He broke off the eye contact to slide another slice of venison onto his plate with his knife. “Yeah, but I think this is the best doe I’ve brought down.”

He scooped mashed potatoes onto his plate and started pouring gravy on everything. Melanie watched his hands move. The left one terribly scared by the same flames that had burned Mitchel’s right hand. One of their father’s gifts, the only thing he really left them after his brutal murder in Blue River.

Seth glanced up at her. “I’d never hurt you or Mitchel, Melbelle. I hope you know that. Never.”

He looked sad when he said it and she wanted to believe he wouldn’t hurt any of them, but that wasn’t what he had said.

Filling the effects of eating too much, they all said good night and thank you to the Thunderhawks and walked the short distance to the cabin. The temperature outside had only dropped a few degrees. Sleeping would not come easy with the heat.

Sam clambered onto a top bunk bed. “This is my spot!”

“You’re sleeping down here with me, silly,” Jennifer said moving to lift her off the bed. “That’s Melanie’s bed.

Seth jumped onto the other top bunk and turned his back toward them.

“It’s okay mom. I’ll sleep down here next to Mitchel.”

Jennifer pursed her lips and forced air through her nose, “Well, Daisy will need you down here too, I suppose,” and she let the issue drop.

As Melanie snuggled up to Mitchel on the bottom bunk, she couldn’t erase the image of Seth covered in blood. She couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t right with the situation. Daisy kicked her feet and growled in her sleep. Melanie draped her arm over the side and caressed the Rottweiler’s smooth head.

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Forty-Five

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Episode 45

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 worked alongside Zachariah Thunderhawk handing him tools and removing bolts that Zachariah pointed out. Melanie sat against the wall sweat dripping down her legs and back. She glanced up from the car magazine. Black grime streaked both Mitchel and Zachariah’s hands and forearms.

“So you think it needs a new belt and radiator?” Mitchel asked.

“Yep, sure do,” Zachariah said.

Melanie sprang up. “How much will that cost?”

“It’ll cost you more in time than in money, I’m afraid.” Zachariah’s lips tugged downward at the corners. “Which I believe is more valuable to you, Ms. Craig.”

“Melanie,” she said.

He nodded. “Melanie.”

“You are right though, I’ve always valued time over money.” She turned away to go find her mom and Sam. People who have lost as much as I, know the value of time. Melanie’s lip quivered for an instant as the memory of Holly flash across her mind. She scuffed her shoe in the dirt. She could feel Mitchel watching her. She knew he was worried about her.

“You don’t always have to be the strong one with me, Mel. I can be strong for us sometimes too,” he had whispered to her in the predawn hours. She knew that was true. He could be strong. He was strong. His loss was as great, if not greater than hers, which is why she couldn’t crumble in front of him, at least not yet. She had to get them to the safe zone. Then she could let down her guard.

She pulled her head up and straightened her back. Mom and Sam were cleaning up the cabin and getting it ready for them to spend the next few days here. She walked down the dirt trail through the aspen trees surrounding the lake.

Daisy came bounding down the trail toward her, ears flopping and wagging her welcome. Daisy came to a sliding halt and sat, nubby tail brushing the dirt. Melanie reached down and rubbed Daisy’s head and ears. The huge Rottweiler thumped her foot and cocked her head to the side.

Daisy stood turning toward the lake and hunkered down growling and baring her teeth. Melanie turned her head without standing straight. Nothing. Then she heard it. Splashing in the water. Melanie didn’t move. No, it wasn’t just waves.

Melanie’s hand wrapped around the grip of her 9 mm. She unsnapped it and withdrew it from the holster pointing it toward the ground.

“Stay,” she said to Daisy.

Melanie crouched low and began moving into the trees and toward the lake. The splashing continued. Melanie flicked her eyes to the ground watching for roots and sticks. As she neared the lake, she stopped and got even lower. There was a man at the edge of the lake washing something in the water. A hunting knife was stuck through the belt at his back.

Melanie would recognize that body anywhere. He was almost identical to his twin. Only the way he moved and his voice was different.

“Seth?”

Time slowed as he turned his brown eyes on her. Mitchell’s eyes on the surface, but it was not Mitchell who looked back at her.

He stood quickly and rubbed his hands on his pants. Melanie looked him up and down. Blood streaked his forearms and was splattered on his shoes and lower pant legs.

She brought her gun up a few inches. “Wha” her voice trailed off. She tried again. “Why are you,” her voice failed her again.

He looked around. Melanie’s eyes followed his to the rifle that lay against a rock.

“Don’t.” She said and raised her gun another inch.

He smiled at her. “Melanie, I’ve been hunting. What did you think I had been doing?” He raised his hands and took a step toward her.

A deep growl came from behind her. Melanie felt Daisy brush up against her leg.

Seth stopped. “The doe is over there.” He pointed to the bushes behind the rifle. “I’ll show you.” He took a step toward the gun.

Daisy barked and snapped at him.

“Whoa, Whoa.” He held up his hands again. “Shit Melanie! You go look then.”

“Melanie?” Mitchel called. “Melanie?”

He was close probably on the trail. She didn’t move. She and Seth stared at one another.

“I’m over her Mitch,” she called without turning from Seth or lowering her gun.

“Where?” there was rustling in the brush and cracking sticks behind her.

“Here,” she said.

He came stumbling through. “What are you.” He stopped once he reached her side. He looked back and forth between Melanie and his twin brother. Daisy growled way down deep in her throat and bared her teeth.

“What’s going on?”

Seth frowned and flipped his right hand toward Melanie. He dropped the other to his side with a loud sigh.

“I found him here covered in blood and washing it off in the water. Mitchel he has blood everywhere.”

Seth held up his hands in surrender. “I was hunting. The doe is over there on the other side of the rifle.”

Mitchel looked at his twin for a few seconds and then went over to the rifle. He picked up the gun and emptied the two shells onto the ground. He stepped over the rock it had been leaning on and pushed aside the long grass.

A gutted doe laid among the grass. Black glossy eyes wide.

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Forty-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.

They arrived in Ogden at one in the afternoon. Melanie was riding with her mom giving her directions using her phone to the nearest car repair shop.

“Find one near the edge of town,” said Jennifer. “I don’t want to be in the middle of the city.”

“I’m looking mom.”

“Are we there?” Sam asked from the backseat.

“Not yet pumpkin,” Jennifer said.

“Get off the freeway here and take the second left.”

Mitchel and Seth followed them off the freeway.

As the van slowed down, Daisy got up off the floor and whined at the sliding door. “We’re not there yet Daisy,” said Sam.

Melanie glanced back, Sam was coloring on her iPad. Daisy wagged her little nub of a tail and licked Sam’s hand.

“Turn right here,” Melanie said turning back forward. “It’s on the right in a mile.”

The garage was on the edge of town surrounded by rundown buildings that look deserted. Melanie hoped they were deserted. The drove over a bridge a rumbling river ran beneath it. A small lake glistened through the bright green willows and pale olive trees.

There were two other cars in the dirt parking lot as they pulled in. The bay door of the garage was open and a third car was in the garage on blocks.

A man wearing a straw cowboy hat walked out of the garage as they rolled to a stop. Melanie glanced over the needle was creeping into the red. They had pulled over four times and had to wait a half hour for the van to cool down before continuing on their way.

His pace was slow and cautious. He came to a stop and waited for them to get out of the van. Mitchel and Seth pulled in and parked on either side of the van. The man put his thumbs through his belt loops on his light blue jeans. His dark blue t-shirt was stretched over his rounded stomach. It was a little small and he was a little big, Melanie decided. Not like the golf ball at the gas station who was just big.

Mitchel got out of his truck. Melanie quickly tucked her handgun into her holster and got out of the van. Mitchel was unarmed. What was he doing?

The man nodded his head toward Mitchel. His nut brown skin, wide cheek bones, and black hair protruding from beneath his hat marked him as Native American. Melanie tried to remember which tribe was in Utah.

Mitchel glanced back at Melanie and then back to the man.

“Good afternoon,” Mitchel said as he approached. “You know anything about overheating vans?”

The man nodded and turned to walk back inside the shop. Mitchel cast Melanie a glance, eyebrows raised in question.

She shrugged. “Guess we should follow?”

Mitchel followed and she was right behind him.

The old Indian was seated behind a metal desk with his feet kicked up on the desk. “My name’s Zachariah Thunderhawk and this is mine and my son’s garage.”

“I’m Mitchel and this is Melanie. Out in the van is Jennifer, Sam, and by brother Seth.”

He set his straw hat on his desk. “What year is the van?”

“It’s a 2015 Mazda,” Melanie said.

“How many miles?”

“About 42,000 I believe,” Melanie said.

“You have family here?” he asked.

Melanie shook her head.

“You on your way to the safe zone then?”

Melanie nodded. Her stomach sunk. Why did that thought make her so sad? She took a deep breath. Jennifer walked into the small office. When the door opened, a laugh from Sam mingled with the bell hanging on the door and was accented by a bark from Daisy.

“It’s like a furnace out there,” Jennifer said wiping the sweat from her brow with the back of her hand. Her shirt was clinging to her. They couldn’t run the air conditioner when the van was overheating. Sometimes they had to run the heater.

He smiled and began to laugh showing his white teeth. “Yes, it is damn hot out there. Let me pull this clunker out of the garage, and I’ll have a look at your van. It shouldn’t be too serious with only 42,000 miles on it.”

“How long do you think it’ll take?” Jennifer asked.

“Hard to know,” he said. “There’s cold water in the fridge at the back of the garage, help yourselves.”

Jennifer handed him the keys to the van and walked into the garage. Zachariah backed the car in the garage off the blocks and into the yard.

“Where did Seth go?” Mitchel asked Sam as she streaked past him with Daisy on her heels. Sam pointed toward the lake.

Melanie turned toward the trees and the water. A swim would be so nice in this heat.

Melanie followed Mitchel into the garage. Zachariah was bent over the engine.

“Has it been leaking?”

“We’ve been moving around a lot,” Mitchel said.

“I’m going to have to let it cool down and then run a few tests. You may be stuck here a few days. I’ve got some ham and cheese you’re welcome to it if you are hungry.”

“Thank you,” Mitchel said.

“Everybody’s got to eat.” Zachariah closed the hood of the van. “You got some place to stay?”

“We stay in the van,” Melanie said.

“You’re welcome to stay in my cabin out back with two sets of bunk beds. There’s no heater, but I can’t imagine that matters right now,” Zachariah said.

“That’s very kind of you—” Melanie began.

“We’d love to stay there,” said Mitchel. “We haven’t had a bed in a week.”

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