A Vigil for Justice: Episode Twenty-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.

The next morning Melanie spent an hour trying to convince her mother to stay at Karalynn’s and let her, Mitchel, and Seth go get new shoes for Sam.

“Everything will be fine Melanie. Your sister’s toes are pressing through her shoes. She needs new ones.” Jennifer said smiling and shaking her head. “Your dad and I lived in Denver before Blue River, I know my way around. I’ll be there and back in a few hours.”

Melanie paced the length of their shared bedroom. “I’m coming with you.”

“You don’t need to, Karalynn said that one of her body guards would go with me.”

Melanie stopped and put her hands on her hips. “I’m going.”

Jennifer shrugged.

Mitchel stuck his head in the room, eyebrows raised, and lips pursed.

“Um, Seth and I are going into the city for extra ammunition for the shot guns. Do you need anything Mel?”

Melanie took a deep breath. She closed her eyes and rubbed her temples. Why did they all insist on going out on the streets? Was she being paranoid or unreasonable? She recalled the men with guns walking the streets last night, the gate that had been installed, and the boarded up windows of the house. No, she was not being overly cautious. They were being reckless.

She tried to smile at Mitchel. “Yes, a couple of boxes of shot gun ammo would be great and an extra magazine for my nine.”

“No problem, we’ll be back in a bit,” Mitchel said and ducked quickly out of the room.

Her mother looked at her with a smirk. “See they can’t go with you to get shoes.”

“Shoes, that’s all we’re getting?”

“I don’t know Melanie,” Jennifer rolled her eyes and let out an exasperated sigh.

The bodyguard, Eric, lead Melanie and Jennifer into the garage. He pulled a black bulletproof vest over his head and fastened the Velcro around his broad chest. He slid a revolver into the holster on his hip and two knives into the pockets of his cargo pants. A spare magazine went into the other pocket. The three of them climbed into the silver hummer. Eric turned the key and the hummer rumbled to life.

Melanie adjusted her holster and checked her spare magazine.

They backed out of the driveway. Melanie squinted as the sun shot through the tinted windows surrounding the back seats.

Melanie could almost convince herself that nothing had changed and the suburbs were a safe and welcoming place. She could envision children running in the street playing hiding go seek and Frisbee. She blinked and it was all gone. They had reached the outskirts of the city.

It started with broken windows and the deeper they went into the city the more rubble lined the streets. Wooden fences laid flat upon the ground or at odd angles splintered and jagged.

Buildings were crumbling as if a bomb had gone off inside. Stone and lumber was piled up in heap Scrawny, dirty children, climbed and dug through the debris occasionally shoving objects into the pockets and bags slung over their shoulders.

Melanie leaned forward between the front seats. “What are they digging for?”

Eric glanced out the window. “Anything they think has any value, metal, medication, jewelry. When people flee they don’t take much more than what they have on. Most of this had been picked through a few times. I doubt they are finding much.”

Eric pulled into a strip mall with various types of clothing stores. He parked. “Stay in the hummer.” He slipped out of the door. Melanie watched him stalk around the hummer and survey the parking lot and the people milling about. They all had hollow looks. The adults had dark circles under their eyes and flicked their eyes from place to place.

Eric pulled open the door next to Jennifer and she got out. Melanie climbed over the seat and jumped to the ground.

Eric looked directly at every person they passed most would not meet his gaze. Melanie watched him keeping a list of questions for him once they returned to the safety of the hummer.

They entered a shoe store.

“Good Morning,” said a short plump man behind the counter.

“Good morning, I’m looking for Hello Kitty sneakers,” Jennifer said smiling.

“Isle three, toward the back,” he said pointing with stubby fingers.

Jennifer walked in the direction the man had indicated.

They found the shoes. Jennifer picked up a box with Sam’s size. She opened the box, made sure there was a right and left shoe, and that the sizes matched.

“Anything else?” Eric asked.

“I’d like to get a desert for after dinner tonight,” Jennifer said.

“I know a bakery that is nearby. Mrs. Christopoulos goes there sometimes,” Eric said.

Jennifer brightened. “Perfect.” She waved her wrist over the SAFE scanner to pay for the shoes and they walked back to the hummer.

Eric pulled open their door. Melanie put her foot on the step.

Shots rang out behind them. Melanie hit the ground and scrambled under the hummer. She turned around to grab her mom.

Jennifer was on the ground. Eric hovered over her. He was scanning their surroundings. His gun was gripped in his hand moving with his eyes. His other hand was on her mother’s stomach.

“Mom,” Melanie screeched, crawling from beneath the hummer. Rocks dug into her hands and knees.

“Mom!”

Eric grabbed Melanie’s chin. His grey eyes bore into her. “Stop the blood.”

He grabbed her hand and pressed it against Jennifer’s stomach. Eric stood, gun at the ready.

Jennifer grimaced. “Melanie?”

“I’m right here mom. You’re fine.” Melanie’s eyes filled with tears. Jennifer’s eyes closed and her head lulled to the side.

Eric scooped Jennifer up and slid her into the back seat. Melanie climbed in with her.

“Keep pressure on it.”

“How close is the hospital?” Melanie asked.

“Not far.” Eric slammed the door of the hummer and ran around to the driver’s door.

Melanie looked down at her mom. She brushed her mom’s hair back from her face. Jennifer’s eyes fluttered open. She smiled at Melanie.

“It’s okay mom. We’re taking you to the hospital. You’ll be okay. I’m here. I won’t leave.” Melanie clenched her jaw. She fought back tears. She couldn’t lose her mom too.

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Twenty-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.

Karalynn and a man dressed in black cargo pants got into the van with Jennifer after a brief reunion. They drove two blocks and then stopped again. Karalynn jumped out and ran to a key pad on a massive iron gate that spanned the road. Melanie looked at Mitchel and raised her eyebrows as the gate opened. Mitchel gave her a tight-lipped smile. He drove down the long driveway behind Jennifer’s van. A large farmhouse with a wraparound porch at the end was blacked out, no lights. A white picket fence surrounded the home and property. Two horses stood silent in the pasture to the south.

When they came to a stop, three men in black cargo pants stepped out of the shadows. The man who had gotten in the van with Jennifer jumped out and approached the three. One of them came toward Mitchel’s window the other two made their way toward the two vehicles following them.

Mitchel rolled the window down.

“Welcome to the Christopoulos home. One second while we check the perimeter.”

Mitchel nodded. His expression serious.

Five minutes later, they all sat around the heavy oak kitchen table at Karalynn’s spare folding chairs had been brought in from the garage. The tile floor was a mosaic of lime green and lemon yellow. Sky blue curtains framed the windows, which had fitted boards in them blocking anyone from peering inside.

“Are the security guards really necessary?” Jennifer asked, cocking her head to the side and raising her eyebrows.

Karalynn pressed her thin lips tightly between her teeth and nodded her head. She was a small athletic looking woman of forty. Her husband, Galen, brushed a stray strand of her shoulder-length black hair from her face and wrapped his arm around her shoulders.

“Unfortunately, they became necessary shortly after J-day. We didn’t want to believe it either, but when an AK47 became as prevalent as a woman’s handbag, there was no way I was sending my children to school or my wife to the store without a trained entourage,” Galen said.

Galen and Karalynn met when Jennifer and Karalynn had gone to Greece for spring break in their freshman year of college. They returned every year after that and on their last trip, Galen proposed to Karalynn. They have been inseparable since then.

Karalynn leaned against Galen’s sturdy form. “The neighborhood pooled money to have the iron gate installed and all the men take turns on the night guard.”

“People are shot in the streets daily, women, children, and elderly. It doesn’t matter. I don’t think the local officers can even keep track of who is shooting who, even with the SAFE chips and Homeland Security chasing down the Scrubs,” Galen said.

“There are Scrubs here?” Seth asked. Melanie had forgotten he was here until then. He had been standing behind her and Mitchel, but stepped forward now.

Galen nodded. “They come in two types here. Most are just what remains of the hippy movement they just want to live off the grid and then there are the hunters.”

“The hunters?” Seth asked.

“The ones who are out there killing just to kill. They psychologist on the news the other night said they get some thrill out of killing in broad daylight, the shock and horror of spectators feeds their sickness,” Galen said.

“How does Homeland know the difference?” Mitchel asked.

Galen shrugged. “They don’t.”

“Why do you stay here?” Melanie asked. “If it’s so dangerous?”

“We will be moving to Greece permanently as soon as our passports are renewed. As you can imagine, they are taking longer than usual now,” Galen said.

“Oh, I’ll bet,” Richard said. “Especially when folks began to realize that vigilante justice was not all it’s cracked up to be.” He shook his head and drained the rest of his beer.

Melanie looked down at the hot chocolate in her violet mug. A couple of crunchy marshmallows remained afloat. She poked at them with her finger.

Melanie’s eyes pled with her mother. “How long are we going to be here?” she asked, not wanting to sound rude, but growing anxious with the amount of daylight violence in the bigger city. She had known it was going to be worse here. The violence has increased ever since the war and it was actually the inciting reason that the Justice Law was passed. This whole time somewhere inside her childish mind she had made herself believe that it wasn’t as bad as the television reports had made it seem. But it was.

Jennifer’s expression softened. “Not long, a few days perhaps. We need to plan our route, gather supplies, and probably less a vehicle or two?”

She looked back and forth between Mitchel and Seth, neither of who would look at her. Mitchel stared into his own hot chocolate. Seth cleaned his the grime from under his fingernails.

Melanie, Jennifer, and Sam shared the guest room with a king size bed. Melanie watched as her mother got Sam ready for bed as if nothing had changed. Jennifer put Sam in the bath and sang while she washed her hair, just like at home. Then she brushed out Sam’s long hair, read her chapter from Black Beauty, and tucked her into the bed they were all sharing. Sam was in the middle and Daisy turned in circles at their feet until she found just the right position and collapsed.

Seth and Mitchel were in the second guest room. Holly and her family decided to stay in their trailer, despite there being plenty of space for them in the house. Richard had mumbled something about liking to know where all the exits and entrances were.

Melanie stared at the white ceiling. Her eyes followed the ridges that resembled the parched earth of a desert.

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A Vigil for Justice: Episode Twenty-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.

“I’m going to get your mom and Seth,” Mitchel said.

Melanie nodded her head, but didn’t turn to face him as she climbed the three steps into the fifth-wheel. Holly’s arms flew around Melanie. She returned the strangle hold. Her eyes drifted around the space, they were now calling home. Pale peach counter tops and walnut colored cupboards. Matching pillows sat in the corner of the square navy couch cushions.

“Why…” Melanie began.

“Let’s wait for everyone,” Richard said, sitting down next to his wife on the couch.

Finally, Holly released her, and Melanie nearly fell over with the sudden freedom. She took a few more steps into the room and sat in the recliner. She couldn’t believe they were leaving Blue River to come with her. They had everything they needed in Blue River. Mr. Stein had the militia all organized and patrolling the streets. What did he think was going to happen there? Who had he left in charge? Melanie realized she must look crazy staring off into space. She shook her head.

A knock came at the door.

Jennifer, Sam, Seth, and Mitchel came into the trailer.

Having eight people in the trailer was making Melanie feel just a little crowded. She combed her fingers through her hair. Jennifer slid into the horseshoe shaped booth. Sam and Seth slid in beside her.

Holly’s mom, Pauline, pulled out a package of Oreos and a bowl of fruit.

“Drinks?” she asked reaching into another cupboard for red plastic cups and small paper bowls.

“Scotch,” Melanie said and smiled as she rocked in the recliner.

“Ooo, me too,” said Holly, bouncing on the balls of her feet and grinning ear to ear.

Richard rolled his eyes and passed each of them a cup of ice water.

Sam tickled the fringe of the Oreo package and Jennifer nodded her head.

“Do you have any milk?” asked Sam.

“Yes I do,” said Pauline, opening the full size refrigerator. She poured the milk and set the cup in front of Sam.

Seth grabbed a few Oreos.

Sam pushed her milk over toward him. “We can share if you want.”

“I double dip,” he said cracking a smile and popping an entire cookie into his mouth.

Sam scrunched up her face. “Gross.” She slid her milk out of his reach and scooted closer to Jennifer.

Richard set his hat on his knee. “I’m sure you are wondering why we decided to leave.” He brushed the brim of the hat. “After the little demonstration on your front lawn, I realized that no matter what I did, I can’t talk reason into a bunch of frightened people. Living surrounded by frightened people who have guns, is not a risk I am willing to take with my family.”

Everyone was quiet for a full minute. Melanie had seen the fear on many people’s faces in Blue River. Of course they were all afraid, and it wouldn’t be different anywhere else, he had to understand that, which meant the Stein’s were going to the safe zone too.

“Jennifer—”  he began again, his eyes meeting Melanie’s mom’s.

Jennifer held up her hand. “We’re in this together Richard. Holly and Melanie have been best friends for years. I would be glad to have your family along for this trip.”

He smiled and put his hat back on his full head of dark close-cropped hair. “In that case, let’s get this pony show on the road.”

Melanie didn’t understand her mom’s quick judgment of others. Two weeks ago, her mother wouldn’t be caught dead holding a civil conversation with Richard Stein and now, he is bringing up the rear of their caravan. His willingness to let go of everything Jennifer had done to make his life a living hell over the last month didn’t surprise Melanie at all. He had always been quick to forgive Holly for her silly impulsive behavior.

“Know when to hold ‘em and when to let ‘em go.” He had told her once when she was pouting about something Holly had done. She didn’t even remember what she was angry at Holly about anymore, but she remembered that.

They all piled out of the fifth-wheel and into their own cars. Richard pulled out in front to set the pace, since he was the slowest pulling the trailer full of water. Jennifer was right behind him, then Seth, and then Melanie and Mitchel.

Melanie stroked Daisy’s silky black head. “Do you think we will ever be able to look at others without wondering if they have what it takes to kill us or those we love?”

When Mitchel didn’t answer, she moved her eyes to his face. Wrinkles creased his brow, as if he were deep in thought.

“What?” she asked.

“Nothing.”

“Don’t do that, don’t shut me out. What were you thinking about?”

He threw her a glance. “I’ve spent my entire life wondering when my father would kill me, Seth, or my mom. I’ve always looked at people through those eyes.”

It was dark when they reached Denver, around ten. Men clad in black from head to foot and carrying automatic rifles across their backs and in their hands strolled along the streets. They turned their piercing gaze to the line of vehicles rolling down the street. Daisy’s chest rumbled with a deep growl. The glass of ground floor windows in many of the buildings had been shattered. The headlights of their caravan caused the pieces of glass littering the ground to twinkle like fallen stars. Round and lumpy black and white garbage bags stood watch along the streets.

Jennifer had taken the lead position since she was the only one who knew where to go. Melanie pulled her phone from her pocket and dialed her mom’s number. Mitchel glanced over at her. Yellow light washed through the truck as they drove under the street lamps that were still working. She pressed the phone to her head.

“Mom, don’t slow down in the city. You know where you are going, right?”

“It’s been awhile, but I remember.” Jennifer’s voice vibrated.

“O.K. just go straight there. If the intersections are clear, I want you to go straight through don’t stop for red lights or stop signs.”

Jennifer was quiet.

They should have loaded everything into the trailer and made Sam and Jennifer ride with Richard. Melanie ground her teeth together.  They were coming to an intersection with a traffic light. Melanie watched the brake lights flicker on and off on her mom’s van as she began to slow. The intersection was empty.

“Mom. Don’t stop.”

The van began to sped back up and Jennifer went through the red light. Mitchel, Seth, and Richard all followed in the same fashion.

They went through a few more intersections and then pulled off the main road and began winding through the neighborhoods. Melanie relaxed and hung up the phone with her mom.

“We’re almost there she said. Karalynn’s house is about ten more minutes and it’s all neighborhoods,” Melanie said. Mitchel patted her thigh and pressed his lips into a thin smile. “It’ll be better during the day.”

The red glow of brake lights caused Mitchel to turn his attention back forward.

A group of people stood in the middle of the street, mostly men with rifles. Two cars parked on opposite sides of the road had floodlights illuminating the group. A tall man held up his hand and stepped forward.

Jennifer slowed down. Melanie’s stomach clenched. There was no way her mom would plow through a whole group of people.

Melanie pulled her 9 mm out of the holster under her arm. “Roll down the window, so we can hear.”

“Where are you headed?” the man called out. He had lowered the rifle and came to a stop about ten feet from the front of the van.

Mitchel brought the truck to a stop at a slight angle to the van. He reached under his seat, pulled out his gun, and checked that the magazine was in place. He slid a spare between his legs. Daisy sat up and looked around yawning.
“We are staying with friends who live down the street, Karalynn Hanson,” Jennifer called out the window.

The man lowered his rifle. “Jennifer Craig?” a woman’s voice came from the group. They moved aside and a small woman in sweats came jogging forward.

Jennifer opened the door of the van and got out running into the arms of her longtime friend.

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Twenty 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.

“We’re going to Karalynn’s in Denver,” Jennifer said as they went over the final checklist before they left Blue River. Jennifer, Melanie, Mitchel and Seth stood in a circle in the front yard of Craig home.

A Red-naped Sap Sucker tapped its beak on the bark of a nearby tree.  Melanie glanced up searching for the woodpecker among the branches over her head.

“We’ll just follow you,” Mitchel said.

“Melanie, what am I forgetting,” Jennifer asked.

Melanie looked down at the list in her hand. “Power is off, water is off, mail has been forwarded to Denver. I think we are good, mom.”

The bird continued to tap.

The insurance money from her father’s death had paid off all their bills including the house.

Jennifer took the list and looked at it for a few seconds then looked at the three who stood before her. “I think we are ready. You’re taking Daisy with you and Mitchel in the truck?”

“Yes,” Melanie drew out the word. Her mom was just being overly cautious.  “I don’t think Austin will approve of Daisy poking at him while he’s in his kennel.”

Just then, Sam came bouncing out of the front door with the small kennel swinging at her side. Everyone turned toward her a terrified yowling came from the kennel.

Jennifer marched toward her youngest daughter. “Sam, hold that cat steady. Can’t you hear him crying?”

Melanie looked up at the house. They were leaving everything they had built. They were only taking what was necessary. Its red door, big porch, and all the memories of her father. She took a deep breath of the warm mountain air. She hoped that one day they would be able to come back. No, she would return. Someday, this would be home again. She had to believe that, the thought of leaving forever made her breath catch and her chest collapse in on her heart.

“Come on Daisy,” Melanie called out and opened the door to Mitchel’s truck.

Daisy’s huge black form came bounding around the corner of the house, tongue hanging from her smiling jowls. Her bright brown eyes excited for whatever was to come. Melanie wished she shared Daisy’s enthusiasm. Daisy jumped into the truck. Seth would follow behind them in his car. Mitchel had tried to convince him to leave the car and ride with them to save on fuel costs, but Seth insisted on having his own ride.

Their small caravan wound through the streets of the small town and out onto the highway. Both she and Mitchel were quiet as they drifted away from Blue River. Melanie picked up her phone and dialed her mom.

“Can we stop for coffee in Breck one last time?”

“Of course,” Jennifer said.

Her mother’s voice brushed the hair from Melanie’s face and lifted her chin. She hung up the phone. Mitchel patted her thigh. She laid her hand on top of his. Daisy curled into a ball between them.

They pulled into the coffee shop parking lot and Melanie ran inside with everyone’s order jostling around in her head. The familiar fresh ground coffee filled her nostrils and made them flare. The girl at the counter was new. Probably, her replacement.

Suzanne, her old boss, stepped out of the back drying her hands on her black apron. “Leaving town today?”

Melanie pursed her lips and nodded. She moved her arm over the SAFE scanner to pay for the coffee and hot chocolate. The noise from the steamer rose to a high pitch.

“You heard from Holly?” Suzanne asked.

“No, why?”

“She didn’t show for her shift this morning again.”

Holly had no showed her shift at least once a week. It was a wonder Suzanne hadn’t fired her. Holly had only started working at the coffee shop a few weeks ago, right before school let out. She wanted something to do through the summer.

“Sorry,” Melanie said picking up the drink tray. Melanie had convinced Suzanne to hire Holly and it had been Melanie who had covered the missed shifts.

Suzanne let out a long sigh and came around the counter. She stretched out her arms and Melanie set the drinks back down. She gave Suzanne a hug.

“Good luck, Melanie. You’re a hard worker. I wish you and your family the best.”

“Thanks.” Melanie tried to give her a hopeful smile. Suzanne’s smile was sad.

Melanie rushed out the door. She didn’t like goodbyes.

She took Seth his coffee. He turned down his hard rock music as she approached.

“Thanks, Mel. Great idea stopping,” he said, smiling up at her.

She stopped at the window of the van and handed her mom the two hot chocolates and then slid into the truck handing Mitchel his coffee.

“I was about to come in after you,” he smiled at her.

“Holly didn’t show up for her shift again.”

Mitchel pressed his lips between his teeth trying to hide a knowing smile. He nodded his head and they followed Jennifer’s van out of the parking lot.

She wrapped her hands around the thick cardboard cup letting the warmth sink into them. She took a sip and savored the sweet and bitterness of the mocha. She would be back, she thought.

About ten minutes out of Breckenridge, Melanie noticed a big black Dodge truck with a fifth wheel trailer parked in a rest area.

Melanie squinted her eyes. “Why…”

“What?” Mitchel asked.

“Pull over next to that trailer.” Melanie reached over and honked the horn to get her mother’s attention and Mitchell pulled into the rest area. Seth was right behind them.

The van was already past the entrance of the rest area, but pulled to the side of the road near the exit.

Melanie jumped out of the truck as soon as it stopped and ran over to the fifth wheel. She was knocking on the door when Mitchel reached her.

The door swung out forcing Melanie to step back a few paces.

Holly stood smiling in the doorway. Her fiery curls framing her face. “We’re coming with.”

Richard Stein towered behind his daughter. He tipped his black cowboy hat and smiled. “Ms. Craig. I knew you’d spot us here.”

A Vigil for Justice: Episode 24

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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.

Seth stalked back up the stairs toward the room he and Mitchel were sharing.

Mitchel’s hazel eyes drifted to Melanie. They remained there for a few seconds and then he followed his twin up the stairs.

Melanie looked down at her mother who was still seated against the door with her knees pulled to her chest. There was a bang and raised voices from Seth and Mitchel’s room.

Melanie closed her eyes and took a deep breath. As she opened them again, she exhaled. “I’m going to get Sam.”

Jennifer nodded pulling her lips in and pressing them between her teeth.

Melanie took the stairs two at a time on her toes. She tapped her knuckles on the stark white closet door. “Sam?” She slide the closet door open. Sam was curled up in a ball, legs tucked into her nightgown, sleeping on the floor. Her head rested on her hands, palms pressed together. Melanie smiled. She left the door open and Sam sleeping.

She walked back down the hall stopping outside the guestroom door. Mitchel and Seth were talking with low voices. She knew they would leave. The question was when.  She ran her fingers through her hair and her elbow bumped the door.

Seth pulled the door open and stared at her. “What?”

Mitchel pushed his brother aside and wrapped his arms around Melanie kissing her on the forehead.

Seth let out an exasperated snort.

Mitchel put his hands on both sides of Melanie’s face. “It’s better if we leave. Staying will only cause a division within Blue River and everyone needs to stand together.”

Melanie nodded. He released her face and embraced her.

“I’m going with you,” Melanie whispered.

“Stay here where you will be safe.”

She stepped back from him, breaking his hold on her. She shook her head, eyes narrowed and eyebrows scrunched together. “I’m not safe here. Look what’s happened over the last few days.” She waved her hand through the air.

Mitchel’s eyes move to something behind Melanie. Melanie turns. Jennifer is standing in the doorway, her hands on her slender hips. “We are all going.”

Melanie’s mouth drops open.

“Shut your mouth Mel, it’s not pretty like that.” Jennifer smiles at her daughter. Melanie rushes to her mom and throws her arms around her.

“This is crazy. It’s chaos outside of Blue River. You’ve seen the news, read the paper—”

Jennifer let go of Melanie and held up her hand. “Families stick together, Mitchel. We move as one. Plus, Melanie is right, Blue River won’t be safe for long. It’s turning into a witch-hunt.”

Mitchel looked at Seth who shrugged his shoulders. “We need to go to our house and get some things.”

“I’ll help,” Melanie said. She wasn’t going to give him a chance to leave without her. “When are we leaving, mom?”

“Two days should be enough time. We will make our way toward the closest safe zone.”

Melanie nodded. Two days, there was a lot that needed to be done.

 

Mitchel’s truck bumped down the dirt driveway to his parent’s home. “Thanks for coming,” Mitchel said. “I really didn’t want to come back here by myself and Seth doesn’t want to ever come back here.”

Melanie laid her hand on his.  “What do we need to get while we’re there?”

“Life insurance documents, ammunition, guns, clothing, and all the camping gear. Seth and I thought we’d be safer staying outside the cities unless we knew we had friends on the inside.”

Melanie looked out the side window. A doe and her fawn were standing at the side of the road with wide-eyes and forward ears. She glanced in the rear view mirror and watched them bounce across the road.

“You’re right. I’ll text mom and let her know to pull all of our stuff out too.”

Mitchel pulled the truck forward onto what would be a front lawn in most houses, but was just dirt at the Bateman house. He backed the truck up to the porch. “Let’s do this.”

The front door had yellow police tape across it. Mitchel glanced at Melanie. She shrugged and they ducked under the tape.

Kitchen chairs were toppled, broken dishes littered the floor, and pictures had been ripped from the walls and replaced with fist size holes.

Mitchel’s face took on the emotionless mask he usually wore whenever she saw him within these walls. He pointed toward a hallway closet. “Sleeping bags and rifles are in there.”

Melanie nodded and left him to sift through his childhood memories and put whatever he could back together.

Melanie pulled the closet door open. It was stuffed full of outdoors gear, much of it still had the price tags still attached. It was impossible to imagine Mitchel and his dad taking a backpacking or fishing trip together.

She began pulling everything out. There was really no point in not making a mess or putting things back they didn’t need. She carried sleeping bags outside and lowered the tailgate on the truck. Mitchel came out behind her with a duffle bag of clothes for both Seth and himself.

They worked in silence until the bed of the truck was full.

“I think that’s it,” Mitchel said.

He looked over the house, its peeling paint and broken screen door.  “I hate this place. Let’s get out of here.”

Once they were on their way, Melanie asked, “Can we stop by Holly’s?”

Mitchel nodded and turned down Holly’s street.

They didn’t stay at Holly’s long. Drawing out goodbyes was never a good idea. Richard thought they were making the right choice. He agreed that Blue River was not going to be safe much longer.

“When are you leaving?” Holly asked wiping tears from her cheeks.

“Two days, on the morning of the 9th,” Melanie said squeezing Holly’s hand and giving her another hug. “We’ll write when we reach the safe zone.”

Mitchel and Richard shook hands. “Thank you, Mr. Stein.”

“It was my pleasure, Mitchel. Take care of yourself and Melanie.”

A Vigil for Justice: Episode 23

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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 smiled and brushed her hair behind her ear. Mitchel lay sleeping on the couch. He had woken her up when he couldn’t sleep haunted by nightmares about the horrors his mother had suffered in her last moments of life at the hands of the man who was meant to protect her. Melanie wished should could take the hurt out of Mitchel and bury it into her own heart. He looked calm and relaxed while he slept, but his eyes shifted beneath their lids. In less than a week, their lives had descended into chaos. Even with all the preparation she had done, it hadn’t been enough for this.

The sun was just breaking through the shadows of night. The stairs creaked. Melanie looked up. Sam drug her blanket behind her as she tottered down to the main floor. She climbed into Melanie’s lap pulling her icy toes in to her Hello Kitty nightgown.

“Good morning,” Melanie whispered tucking the blanket around Sam.

Sam snuggled into her. “Are Mitchel and Seth going to live here?”

Melanie kissed her sister’s head. “For now.”

“I’m hungry.”

Melanie chuckled. “How about waffles?”

Sam shook her head up and down and slid off Melanie’s lap.

Melanie went into the kitchen and started going through cupboards getting everything out she needed. She glanced out the front window. Richard Stein’s huge black truck was parked at the curb. She leaned over the counter peering around. There were cars and trucks lining the street.

The doorbell rang.

Sam’s bare feet patted on the floor.

Melanie’s breath caught in her throat. She dashed toward the living room. A pan clanged to the linoleum floor. “Sam, don’t open that door.”

Her hand closed around Sam’s wrist just in time to stop her from opening the door. “Go get mom.”

Sam scrunched up her face.

“Hurry.”

Mitchel sat up and rubbed his eyes. “What’s going on?”

“Not sure,” Melanie said.

A few seconds later, Jennifer was coming down the stairs in her bathrobe. She cast a glance at Mitchel who was now on his feet and alert.

“What is it Melanie?”

“I don’t know. There are a bunch of people out there.”

Jennifer pursed her lips and pulled her eyebrows together. She peered out the spyhole. “Richard Stein.” Jennifer set her shoulders and straightened her spine.

“Just give me a minute before you open that door mom.”

Jennifer nodded.

Melanie ran to her room. Mitchel was right behind her.

As she came into her room, she scooped up her holster and slung it over her shoulders. Melanie sank to her knees at the edge of her bed, and began fishing under it with both arms. She pulled out her lock box. She took the key from around her neck and opened it. She slid the compact nine into the holster.

She heard Mitchel’s footsteps cross the hall to the guest room. She grabbed an extra magazine out of the lockbox and clipped it into place on the holster strap. She got to her feet and snatched up her shotgun and .22 from the closet.

Mitchel met her in the hallway armed as well. “Seth is getting his stuff together too. He’ll be down in just a second.”

Melanie nodded and bounded down the stairs.

The doorbell rang again.

Jennifer’s eyes grew wide as she saw the two of them, armed to the teeth, trot down the stairs. Melanie turned to the footsteps behind her. Seth, shirtless and rubbing sleep from his eyes, held two shotguns as he came down the stairs. He had to two shotgun slings full of shells crisscrossed over his torso.

“Good morning,” he said with a grin as his feet hit the last step.

Melanie set the .22 against the wall behind the door.

Someone pounded on the door.

“Jennifer, we just want to talk. Open the door.” It was Richard. Melanie looked at her mother and shook her head no. Richard didn’t sound angry, but that didn’t mean the people behind him were not angry.

Jennifer put her hand on the doorknob. “Sammy, go upstairs in mommy’s closet. Stay there until I come and get you.”

Melanie slid a magazine for the .22 into her mom’s back pocket. “Keep your body behind the door as much as you can mom.”

Jennifer turned the doorknob and pulled the door open about three inches.

“What can I help you with Mr. Stein?” Jennifer asked with only a slight vibration in her voice.

Melanie stood behind the wall, between the front window and the door. Her left hand wrapped around the cool barrel and her right supporting the butt. Seth was in the kitchen at the front window. Mitchel stood behind the wall at the other side of the large front window.

“We just want to talk Jennifer.”

“Well go ahead.”

Richard took a deep audible breath. “I understand the Bateman boys are staying with you?”

Jennifer said nothing.

“Look Jennifer, we don’t want any trouble, but all these people, they want the boys to leave town.”

“That’s ridiculous. They’ve nowhere to go, Richard. You know that.”

“I tried to explain to everyone they are over reacting and being irrational. I know these boys and their good boys—”

“Then why are you here?”

“To keep the peace.”

“They are giving the boys three days to be out of Blue River.”

“And if they don’t leave?”

“I don’t know how far they will go Jennifer. I can’t talk any sense into them. They think the boys will turn into their father sooner or later.”

Melanie cast a furtive glance at Mitchel.

His jaw clenched and his knuckles turned white around the black barrel of his shotgun.

“Well thanks for the information Mr. Stein,” Jennifer raised her voice, “now if you and the rest of the riffraff would be so kind as to get the hell off my property.”  Jennifer shut the door and leaned her back against it sinking to the floor.

Seth came in to the living room.

“I’m so sorry,” Jennifer said looking up at Seth and Mitchel.

A Vigil for Justice: Episode 22

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A Vigil for Justice, is a serial thriller fiction novel. Updates of 1,000-1,500 words will be posted every Friday.

Recap: Sixteen-year-old Melanie Craig and her family live in the small Colorado mountain town of Blue River. Since the end of World War Three, the economy in the United States has dropped out making funding law enforcement impossible and increasing crime rates in all, but the smallest towns. The government passes a Law allowing anyone over 16 to kill three other people during their life. Vigilante justice doesn’t seem like the right solution to Melanie, but she has no choice other than to learn how to protect herself and her family.

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

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

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

“You’re up early.”

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

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

“Where’d you find Seth?”

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

“How is he?”

“Angry.”

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

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

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

“Have they found Evan?”

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

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

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

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

“Please.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jennifer set the phone on the table.

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

Jennifer nodded.

“Dead?”

Jennifer nodded.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why would I desecrate the house of God?”

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

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Twenty

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A Vigil for Justice, is a serial thriller fiction novel. Updates of 1,000-1,500 words will be posted every Friday.

Recap: Sixteen-year-old Melanie Craig and her family live in the small Colorado mountain town of Blue River. Since the end of World War Three, the economy in the United States has dropped out making funding law enforcement impossible and increasing crime rates in all, but the smallest towns. The government passes a Law allowing anyone over 16 to kill three other people during their life. Vigilante justice doesn’t seem like the right solution to Melanie, but she has no choice other than to learn how to protect herself and her family.

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

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

Five heads bobbed up and down.

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

Three heads bobbed up and down, all the men.

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

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

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

“What are your names?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kara shrugged again. “What about you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

The man turned to her, startled.

“Father Chris?” Melanie sputtered.

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

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

He took a few more steps toward her.

“Stop Father Chris.”

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

Melanie cocked the gun’s hammer back.

He stopped.

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

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

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

“And the others?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Melanie?” It was Arnold calling out.

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

“Did you see who did it?” he asked.

Melanie shook her head back and forth.

“You cleared the back of the alley?”

“Of course. There is no one.”

A Vigil for Justice: Episode 19

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A Vigil for Justice, is a serial thriller fiction novel. Updates of 1,000-1,500 words will be posted every Friday.

Recap: Sixteen-year-old Melanie Craig and her family live in the small Colorado mountain town of Blue River. Since the end of World War Three, the economy in the United States has dropped out making funding law enforcement impossible and increasing crime rates in all, but the smallest towns. The government passes a Law allowing anyone over 16 to kill three other people during their life. Vigilante justice doesn’t seem like the right solution to Melanie, but she has no choice other than to learn how to protect herself and her family.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melanie laughed. “No offense taken.”

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

Melanie shook her head.

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

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

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

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

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

“What?”

“Stop the truck.”

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

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

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

Melanie cringed at her mother’s condescending tone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh good.”

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

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

“Um, she’s doing all right.”

“Let me know if she needs anything ok?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melanie looked at Mitchel who shrugged his shoulders.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I can’t answer that one.”

“Was there motive?” Melanie asked.

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

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