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.”

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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.

A Vigil for Justice: Episode 18

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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 her black hood up around her face. She shouldered through the picketing crowd of people around her best friend’s house. Hot anger burned in her cheeks. She clenched her fists. The crowd had surrounded Holly’s house for the past forty-eight hours, night and day. This was her mother’s doing, all because Holly’s dad wouldn’t sign that stupid no kill petition.

If Melanie was choosing teams, Holly’s dad would be her first pick. Melanie shook her head, this was getting out of hand, but she had known that it would. A law like the Justice Law doesn’t pass and cause ripples among the sea of people, oh no it’s a freaking tsunami.

Melanie kept her head down as she approached the door. Her mother was home with Sam, but she didn’t want home to be a war zone too.  She pulled her phone from the back pocket of her jeans and sent a text to Holly.

“I’m at the door.” She waited five seconds and then knocked. The deadbolt hammered back and the doorknob clicked. The handle turned in Melanie’s hand and she went inside, opening the door just enough to pass through.

She pushed her hood back, and Holly hugged her.

“Is your dad here?” Melanie hugged Holly back.

“Of course, it’s hard to go anywhere with all of them on our ass everywhere we go.” Holly took Melanie by the hand and led her up the stairs and down the hall to Richard Stein’s office.

Holly squeezed Melanie’s hand before she went into the office. “I’ll be in my room when you’re done. We can have lunch. Mom’s making club sandwiches.” Holly raised her eyebrows. She knew Melanie loved club sandwiches.

Melanie smiled and knocked on the dark walnut door to the office.

“Come on in,” called Richard Stein.

Melanie placed her flat hand on the door and pushed it open.

A huge mahogany desk occupied half of the room. The glassy eyed heads of an elk, deer, and mountain lion stared at Melanie from above the gun cabinet that stood against the wall loaded with various long guns.

Melanie had been in the office before, but now it felt different. Mr. Stein sat behind his desk typing at the computer. His black Stetson hat sat on the corner of his desk.

“Miss Craig, you are the last person I thought to see in my office.” He turned to her with a broad smile that lifted the corners of his blue eyes. “How can I help ya?”

“I’m here to sign up for the Watch Dog militia.”

“Is that so?”

“Yes sir. I’m proficient with both a shotgun and a 9 mm. I’m trained in hand to hand combat including various take down methods with armed persons.”

“Melanie, I’m aware of your training. Does your mamma know you’re here?”  He held up his hand and looked down at his desk shaking his head. “Don’t answer that.” He looked back up at her.

Melanie stood straight with her hands clasped behind her. Her 9 mm was concealed beneath her hoodie, but the shotgun was strapped over the hoodie on her back. She held his gaze. She had thought about this for a long time, since he had first put the militia together. The dead boy below the flagpole had solidified that decision. She would not stand around doing nothing.

“Truth is, I could use you. Most of the members are not well trained. I’d make ya a leader of about five others. You think you can handle that?”

Melanie stifled the grin of pride. “Yes sir. I would appreciate the opportunity.”

“I can’t believe, I’m letting you do this.” He shook his head and opened the top drawer of his desk. “This here is the oath all Watch Dogs must take.” He held it up to her. “Read it over. If you can uphold those rules and regulations, sign your name.” He slid a blue fountain pen across the desk.

Melanie read the document. She picked up the pen and signed her name along the black line at the bottom. She handed him the paper, and he slid it into an olive green file folder on his desk.

Richard pulled a roll of paper from another drawer. “I’ll need you here tonight to meet your team. You patrol the mile surrounding the church every other night. You’ll meet your co-team commander tonight as well. If you ever need coverage you’ll call him first.”

“Who is my co-team commander?”

“Peter McGraph, he leads the church choir.”

Richard stood and walked over to a square extendable table. Extension pieces stood in the corner. He spread the paper on the table. It was a street map of the area around the church.

“You’ll have hand held radios to communicate with your team. These red lines are the boundaries of your area.”

Melanie nodded her head. “Who has this area here?” She pointed to the section to the west of the church.

“Jake Simpson.”

Melanie nodded. It would be good to have Jake close in case she needed back up. She could bounce ideas off him. She trusted Jake with her life.

“And here?” Melanie pointed to the south of her area.

“That’s mine. And to the east of you is Sheriff Tom, and to north is Mitchel.”

Melanie’s head popped up. He hadn’t told her he joined the militia.

“He joined about a week ago. He didn’t tell you because he didn’t want you to join up and he knew if he did you definitely would. That boy cares a lot about you.”

“I know.” Melanie closed her eyes. Her most trusted friends surrounded her, at least that would make her mother happy once she found out. Jennifer would find out. Melanie was not naïve enough to believe that her mother would not know, eventually. She would try to keep it from her as long as she could, but she wouldn’t lie once her mother asked.

Richard walked over to a closet and opened the door. Melanie stayed at the table studying the map. She knew the area well. She ran there frequently with the high school cross-country team and on her own. Maybe that’s why he gave it to her, she knew all the side streets.

Richard came back to the table and set a tazer in front of Melanie. “We use non-lethal force first.”

Melanie picked up the tazer and holster and slid it into the front pocket of her hoodie. “Seven tonight?”

Richard nodded. “Your mamma is going to kill me.”

Melanie smiled. “She can’t. She signed the no kill petition.”

A Vigil for Justice: Episode 17

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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 slid out of Sheriff Tom’s car and stepped up onto the curb in front of her house. She set the blanket he had wrapped around her on the blue grey vinyl passenger’s seat.

“You sure you’re all right?”

Melanie nodded, but said nothing. She turned to go.

“Hold up one second, Ms. Craig. These belong to you.” He held out her 9 mm. “I unloaded it, of course.” She took the gun. He picked up a Ziploc bag holding her magazine from the floor between his scuffed up black boots.

She took the bag in the other hand, and turned toward the house.

Her feet moved along the walkway worn into the lawn toward the maroon door of her home. She opened the bag and pulled the magazine out. She slammed it into the gun and slid it into the holster under her arm.

A dense fog floated inside her head as she pushed through the front door. Her mother was pacing back and forth on the living room rug.

Her mom inhaled as their eyes met and she wrapped Melanie in her arms. Melanie let her mom hold her for a few minutes without saying a word then she pushed her away.

“I’m fine mom, really.”

“What the hell happened?”

“There was a dead guy lying at the base of the flag pole in front of the courthouse.”

“He was murdered?”

“Murder, Justice killing call it what you want, he was dead.”

“Does the Sheriff know who did it?”

“I didn’t ask mom. Does it matter?”

“This is exactly why the petition needed to be signed by everyone.” Jennifer walks over to the closet next to the front door and pulls her out her satchel. She puts it over her head and turns to Melanie. “Are you okay staying here with Sam? I need to go out for a while.”

Melanie waves her hand at her mom. “Yeah.”  Melanie knows the petition does not stop anyone from using their Justice Killings. There’s really no way to find out who killed that man. The sheriff can’t disclose that information.

Melanie looks at the clock hanging on the wall. Both black hands point straight up. Melanie shuffles into the kitchen. She watches out the window as her mother pulls her phone from her pocket and slides into the front seat of the van. Melanie cocks her head to the right, and pulls her cell phone out of her pocket.

She dials Holly’s number.  The van’s engine comes to life.

“Holly, it’s Melanie.”

“I know,” Holly says on the other line. “What’s up?” Jennifer backed the van out of the drive way and turned it toward the city.

“My mom is up to something. I found a Justice Killing this morning—”

“You what?”

“Never mind that, I think she is going to do something drastic.”

“Your mom? Are you kidding?” Holly laughed.

“I’m serious. I don’t know what she is doing, but she left in a hurry and she is angry about this killing and was talking about her petition.”

“Melanie, it’s your mom. She’s a peace loving hippy.”

“I know.”

Jennifer came home as Melanie was pulling garlic bread from the oven.

“Mommy!” Sam cried and ran to Jennifer and clamped her arms around her waist.

“Hi sweetheart.”

“I wasn’t sure what you wanted for dinner, so I just made spaghetti.”

Jennifer smiled. “That’s fine.”

Sam finished setting white plates on the placemats and started with the silverware.

The ringing of Melanie’s phone pulled her from sleep at four in the morning.

“Holly” flashed across the screen.

Melanie rubbed her face and picked up the phone.

“Holly?”

“You were right.”

“Huh?” Melanie sat up and swung her legs off the edge of her bed.

“Your mom and about thirty other people are surrounding my house with picket signs.”

Melanie put her head in her hand. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault. My dad is trying to talk to her, but she is not listening. She just yells louder.”

Fantastic, thanks mom. Melanie thought.  She hadn’t even heard her mother leave the house.

Melanie heard a bang and Richard Stein yelling in the background. As if this whole situation was not bad enough, now her mother was trying to run her best friend out of town. She didn’t want Holly out there in the chaos and destruction outside of the Blue River Valley. If Holly left, Melanie would never forgive her mother.

A Vigil for Justice: Episode 16

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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 passed a Law allowing anyone over 16 to kill three other people during their life. Vigilante justice doesn’t seem like the right solution to Melanie, but she has no choice other than to learn how to protect herself and her family.

The sun had not wrapped its fingers around the peaks of the mountains when Melanie threw back the blankets and rolled out of the comfort of her bed. The pile of running clothes on the floor were, exchanged for her pajamas. She rubbed the sleep from her eyes and pulled bright yellow socks over her feet.

The sun’s glow had barely begun to paint the sky with honey and rose, as Melanie stared down at the shotgun and the 9 mm laid out on her lavender quilt folded at the foot of her bed. She pulled her hair up into a ponytail and pulled it through the back of her running hat.

The holster was going to chafe, but not taking one or the other on her morning run was not an option. The nine was going to be easier to carry while she ran. She may need to get something smaller just for running. Something to think about, she could go into town and look at the gun store later in the day.

She shook her head, another gun.

She ran her hands over the muscles that had developed in her arms and shoulders since she began boxing lessons with Jake.

She swung her underarm holster around her back and laced her arms through the suspenders. She ran the stick of anti-chafing cream along her ribs and stomach where the holster would rub. The chest strap clicked in her hands, she pulled it tight to limit bouncing, and slid the nine into its home. She bounced on her toes a few times to make sure it wasn’t too loose. Yep it was going to chafe.

Daisy wagged her tail as Melanie rummaged through her closet for her running shoes.

“You have to stay with mom and Sam today.” Melanie rubbed the furry head of the Rottweiler pup. Her cell phone fit perfectly into the stretchy pocket on the back of her shorts.

The house was quiet. She pushed Sam’s bedroom door open enough for Daisy to go in once she left.

Melanie shuffled into the kitchen and sat at the table to pull on her shoes. She scratched the words, “Went for a run be back at eight,” on a piece of paper and left it on the table for her mom.

Her fingers moved over the buttons of the alarm system, which had never been used before now. It beeped three times letting her know it was ready.

She stepped across the threshold and pulled the maroon door shut behind her. With her eyes closed, she pulled the heavy pine air in through her nose. She needed this run. Running was the only time she could let go of the rest of the world and just be Melanie.

She headed toward town, the familiar rhythm of one foot in front of the other taking over. The maple and oak trees that lined the streets were filled with emerald stars carefully rimmed with yellow. Melanie turned a corner. The pale aspen groves rustled in the breeze that drifted down the dark pine canyons and into the river valley. She took another deep breath filling her lungs and expanding her chest. Her pace increased as her heart rate reached a stead beat.

The streetlights winked out as she passed and the sun crested the jagged peaks to the east. She turned another corner and headed down the main street of downtown. Her mother had tried to get them to lower the flag to half-mast for the first week of the Justice Law’s enactment, but as Melanie closed in on the courthouse the red, white, and blue fluttered at the top of the silver pole.

Her eyes followed the pole back to the ground, where a black mass sat. Melanie slowed her pace. She glanced back the way she had come and then down the side streets. No one was in the streets. No cars. No stray cats. Nothing. She slowed to a walk and unclipped the strap securing her gun in the holster.

“Hello,” Melanie called.

It’s probably a bag of garbage or donations. Sometimes people would leave donations at the church in a black bag. She shook her head. Not at the courthouse. She stopped at the bottom of the steps. It was a person, a man. She could see his sneakers. He was wearing dark blue jeans and a black hoodie.

Melanie took her gun out of the holster, but kept it pointed at the ground. “Are you all right mister?”

He was on his side, his knees pulled up, and his arms around them. His face was toward the pole. As she passed, she turned so she was always facing him and was now walking backward to get a look at his face. She lifted her foot up one-step and then another.

The man’s face was tucked down against his knees. She took another step toward him.

“Are you all right?” She was five feet from him and stopped mid-step. Her foot hung in the air before she dropped it to the ground. White zip ties bound his hands and feet.

Melanie took a step back. Her heart began to smack the inside of her ribs. Her breath grabbed at her tonsils. She raised her gun and flashed her eyes all around her. She backed down the stairs. She lowered her gun, but didn’t holster it. With her left hand, she reached back and pulled out her cell phone.

She pressed a button and held the phone to her ear. She scanned the street again.

“Sheriff Tom,” said the male voice on the other end of the line.

Melanie choked. She cleared her throat. “Sheriff, this is Melanie Craig. There’s a body.”

“Where?”

“Courthouse flag pole.”

“You all right?”

Melanie nodded and then realized he couldn’t see her. “Um, yes. I’m fine.”

“I’ll be there in just a few minutes.”

Melanie nodded again. “Um, okay.”

She pushed the disconnect button and then dialed the house.

Jennifer picked up. Her voice was heavy with dreams.

“Mom, I’m going to be later than eight.”

“What, where?”

“I’m out on a run.”

“Why did you go out in the first place Melanie? It’s not safe for you to run anymore, not when there are people out there who won’t sign the petition.”

“I’m not giving up my life just because of this law mom.” Melanie paced back and forth on the step. She watched a black car round the corner. The engine roared as it straightened out.

“I gotta go mom.”

“Melanie—” Melanie hung up the phone and slid it back into her pocket. She gripped the gun with both hands and backed away from the approaching car. She kept it pointed at the ground. The car came to a stop. She held her breath.

Sheriff Tom stepped out of the driver side.

Melanie let out her breath and lowered the gun to her hip.

“Anyone with you?” he called.

“No and you’re the first person I’ve seen this morning. Alive.”

“You sure he’s dead?”

Melanie nodded.

She sank to the ground. Her grip slackened on the gun and it clattered to the ground next to her.

Sheriff Tom ran over to her. “Whoa, you’re all right. Take a deep breath.” He slid her gun into the back of his belt and kneeled beside her.

Melanie began to shake from head to toe.

Sheriff Tom scooped her up and took her to his car. He popped the door open with his boot and set her into the passenger seat. “Stay here.”

Melanie heard the trunk unlatch.

He walked to the back of the car. He came back with a blanket and wrapped it around her. “Deep slow breathes. I gotta go check on him. I’ll be right back.”

Melanie’s phone rang. She pulled it out of the pocket and stared at it.

Mom flashed in block white letters on the screen.

Melanie watched Sheriff Tom draw his gun and approach the man at the foot of the flagpole. He kicked the foot and got no response.

Melanie answered the phone.

“Are you all right?” Jennifer asked.

“There’s a body mom.”

The line was silent.

“Mom?”

“I’m here. Are you all right?”

“Yes. I’m with Sheriff Tom now.”

A Vigil for Justice: Episode 15

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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.

A crowd of people was on the City building steps, another crowd was on the courthouse steps, and another on the church steps. Melanie jerked the car over to the curb to find out what was going on. She expected the streets to be filled with dust devils and tumble weeds on J-day, with people peeping through blinds and the barrels of shotguns poking their black eye through boarded up windows.

Melanie unbuckled her seatbelt. Her mom had put up a minimal protested against her leaving the house today. She hadn’t planned on going out, but Sam fell from the table while doing a pirouette and hit her forehead on the end table. She needed butterfly bandages and there weren’t any in the house.

“It’ll only be a small scar. It’ll be fine,” Jennifer said holding a wet washcloth spotted with blood to Sam’s head.

“She needs stitches mom. Butterflies are the next best thing. If you’re not going to let me take her to the doctor, then I’m going for the butterflies.”

Tears ran down from Sam’s red-rimmed eyes.

 

Melanie reached for the shotgun on the passenger seat of the car and slid it into the holster on her back as she got out of the car. The 9 mm was at her hip and she had throwing blades in her boots. The people at the back of the crowd turned toward her as she approached. One after another, they stepped aside, allowing her to move to the front of the crowd. As she made her way forward, she locked eyes with those who had a bulge or oddly gathered clothing from a possible concealed gun. Something Jake had taught her.

“It’s harder to kill someone who looks you straight in the face. Eye contact humanizes the person.” The book, The Gift of Fear, had said something similar.

Tacked to the doors of the church was a list of names, all the people who had not signed the No Kill Petition. Melanie clenched her jaw. This was her mother’s doing. Richard Stein’s name was there along with several other people she knew who had decided not to sign her mother’s wretched petition.

Her hand hit the door, flat fingers splayed wide. A few of the women around her jumped and stepped back another step. Melanie closed her fist, ripping the paper down. Her nostrils flared. She took a deep breath and continued to ball the page up in her hand until it was the size of a shooter marble.

No one said a word to her as she turned around and stalked back to her car. Her tires chirped as she flipped the car around and took off in the direction she had just come from. Was her mother trying to start a slaughter? No, she just wasn’t thinking outside of her pony and rainbow land.

She pulled the car over at the curb of the courthouse. She marched up the steps and again the crowd backed away allowing her to the front. She ripped the page down, turned, and marched right back to her car. She tossed the crumpled wad onto the floor. She made a stop at the City building next, with the same results.

“Are there more?” she asked the wide-eyed people. They looked to each other and then their eyes moved from her shotgun, to her 9 mm, to her face. Each one shook their head in the negative.

“Segregation has never helped make a bad situation better. Never.” Melanie got back into her car.

She tried to calm herself down, so she could speak with her mother in a rational way when she got home with the bandages for Sam. After her father died, her therapist taught her calming techniques. They had never really worked, but she went through them anyway. She took several deep breaths with her belly, she counted to ten, and took some more. She visualized a peaceful place. It did little to dampen the fire that had roared to life.

She stopped the car on the curb in front of her family’s home. The dark green ivy wrapped itself like a blanket around the side of the house. The home her father had made their sanctuary from the chaos after WWIII.

She slid the shotgun into the holster as she climbed out of the car. She scanned the yard and didn’t see anything out of the ordinary.

She knocked on the door.

“Who is it?” Jennifer’s voice came through the steel door.

“It’s me, mom.”

The deadbolt hammered back. Melanie pulled the door open and stepped inside. She pushed past her mom and kneeled before Sam who was sitting on the couch with ice on her head.

“Let me see.” Melanie reached up and took the ice from her sister. “The bleeding has stopped so we need to let it dry so the butterfly will stick.”

Sam nodded sending her braids bouncing. Melanie gave her a crooked smile.

Melanie set the ice on the table and pulled the plastic bag with gauze, medical tape, and the bandages toward her.

“How was it out there?” Jennifer asked. She sunk onto the couch next to Sam.

Melanie glared at her. “Your little notes have caused quiet the stir.”

“People need to know who is safe to be around and who is not.”

Melanie opened the box of Band-Aids. “No mom. You created an enemy. A target.”

“They made themselves targets.”

Melanie pulled the plastic off the back of the butterfly Band-Aid. “Relax your face Sam so I can put this on right.” Melanie placed two of the butterflies on her sister’s forehead. “I’m going to put gauze and tape over that just to protect it a little more, so hold still, ok?”

Sam nodded.

Jennifer sat in silence while Melanie finished with Sam’s head.

“There you go. No more dancing on the tables.” Melanie patted Sam on the knee.

Once Sam was out of the room, Melanie turned on her mother. “A piece of paper has never stopped anyone hell bent on killing another person. Women get protective orders against their abusive husbands all the time and the next day they’ve got a piece of lead buried in their brain.”

Jennifer stood up and put her index finger in Melanie’s face. “Don’t you talk to me like that young lady.”

“This world steals what you love most and leaves you an empty husk. All you can do is protect yourself and move on. There is no gold at the end of the rainbow. There never has been. It’s a graveyard of dead dreams.” Melanie snatched up the garbage from bandaging her sister. “You’ve started a war.” She turned away from her mother, but then stopped.

“I’m going to Holly’s to cool down.”

“No you’re not. You will not go to that house. Richard Stein is a killer.”

“What are you talking about? I would put my life in his hands before I would even consider yours!” Melanie pushed past her mother. “Don’t leave the house.” Melanie slammed the front door sending the pictures on the wall rattling.

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Fourteen

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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 sunk her hands into the warm soapy water in the kitchen sink. She fished around until she found another dish. The bubbles clung to her forearms and hands as she pulled a plate out, scrubbed it, and held it under the running water. She set it in the dish drainer.

She grabbed the frying pan off the stovetop and it disappears below the surface of the water like a boat going down.

The news was on in the living room. The Justice Law goes into effect tomorrow. J-Day, they were calling it. It was a far off hope that it would be repealed at the last moment, but if it happened, she wanted to know.

“This just in, Safe Zones, on the eve of J-Day.” The male news broadcaster said. “Congress has been in special session for a week on this one piece of legislation titled, Safe Zones, which was proposed shortly after the announcement that the Justice Law had been passed by both the Senate and the House of Representatives.”

“Mom, you want to see this,” Melanie called up the stairs. She stood in the doorway to living room with a dishtowel in one hand and the frying pan in the other. Soap bubbles dripped to the floor. Melanie looked down at the soapy pan.

“I’m busy Melanie what is it?” Jennifer said.

“Safe Zones. You want to see this.” She held the pan beneath the running water.

Hurried footsteps come down the stairs.

The screen switched to an image of the Whitehouse.

“Turn it up,” Jennifer said. She ducked passed Melanie and sat on the coffee table in front of the flat screen television mounted in the wall.

With the towel and pan in one hand, Melanie turned and pushed the volume button on the wall next to the couch.

President Vick stood at the chestnut podium with the American flag fluttering behind him. He adjusted the microphone attached to the lapel of his sharp black suit. “The states of Oregon and Maine will be safe zones. No guns will be allowed within their perimeter. Anyone who is seeking admission into a safe zone will go through a screening process. In order to be admitted you must not have any Justice kills, no felony convictions, and no illegal drugs in your system.” He looks out across the crowd of reporters. The camera scans over them and then returns to the president.

“The Safe zones will be secured by Homeland Security. All boarders will be patrolled. Anyone who kills within the safe zone will be put to death by lethal injection after a trial.”

Jennifer clapped her hands like a child who sees a pile of birthday presents labeled with her name in bright pink.

“All residents now occupy the safe zones who do not qualify for admission within the safe zone must vacate the safe zone. You will be provided with similar accommodations outside the safe zone, including housing and employment.”

Jennifer jumped up and grabbed Melanie by the shoulders. “Can you believe it? Someone has sense. This is just the beginning. The whole law will be abolished soon. The safe zones will spread.”

“Shhhh mom.” Melanie knitted her brows and waved her mother away.

“Visitation areas will be set up for immediate family members who are expelled from the safe zone. It will take time for the safe zones to be established and cleared of anyone who is not eligible for residency.”

Melanie rubbed the dishtowel around the rim of the pan. “I’m not sure this is a good idea.” Her mother’s mind always went the rainbow and roses route.

Jennifer didn’t say anything to her, just continued to watch the screen without blinking.

Melanie finished drying the pan and walked into the kitchen to put it away. Safe zone. I’m not sure safety is what they will find there, at least not within the first year. We can’t go to the safe zones. I’ll have to convince her of that. Melanie looks through the doorway at her mother perched on the edge of the coffee table.

It will be a blood bath at the border, everyone fighting to get inside. There is only so much space for people to live. Medical treatment, food, and other necessary items will have to be brought in. Melanie shook her head and hung the towel over the handle on the oven. Those inside will be trying to hide their ineligible loved ones. A modern day witch-hunt.

Tomorrow will be different, even if everything looks the same. It will feel different like waking up and not knowing where you are or that out of body sensation where you see the world, but you are so emotionally distant from it that you almost don’t exist within it.

She doesn’t want it to be that way, but how else do you deal with every person being a possible threat to you or someone you love. Behind each set of eyes, lies the ability to decide whether you take your next breath, or caress the one you love one last time.

Melanie took a deep breath, expanding her chest. She closed her eyes and held it until it burned. She let it out slow like breathing through a coffee straw.

The last rays of the setting sun fell over Melanie’s face. She opened her eyes. The mountains like black teeth were devouring every morsel of the remaining day. It was impossible to know whether being swallowed by this valley would be better than running in the open streets anywhere else.

A Vigil for Justice: Episode 13

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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 drove into the gas station around the corner from her high school. She pulled three five-gallon gas cans from her trunk and began to fill them. She was going to miss her friends who were leaving for colleges and Universities. The last day of the school year had never been as difficult as todays. Her chest ached. Friends always moved away or they drifted apart over the summer, but now some would be dead. She wiped the tears from her eyes before they ran down her cheeks.

A black Dodge truck rumbled into the gas station and parked up on the other side of the pump. Richard Stein dropped to the ground.

He stepped around the end of the pumps and put his thumbs in his pocket. “Hello Mel, how’s your mamma?”

“She’s doing all right.”

“She still working on that petition of hers?”

“Yep.”

“You sign it?”

She looked up at him. “Yep.”

He nodded his head and took a deep breath. “Holly too, I assume.”

Melanie nodded.

He walked over to her car and lifted the two full gas cans into her trunk. “I’ve got something for you.” He waved her over to his truck.

Melanie finished filling the gas can and hung up the pump. She lifted the last can into her trunk and closed it before following Mr. Stein over to his truck.

“You’re a smart girl, Mel. And the best friend my daughter could have.” He opened the back door of his truck and pulled a long gun off the back seat.

“This is a sawed off shotgun. You carry this and not many are going to mess with you. You fire it within five yards and you aren’t going to miss. It sprays small pellets.” He broke the barrel and showed her how to load it.

“I’ll get you a holster for it. I want it on your back every time you walk out your front door. You can tell your mamma it’s prevention.”

She nodded. “Thank you.” She wrapped her hand around the chilled metal barrel.

He turned and pulled another gun off the back seat. “This one is a .22 long rifle. Won’t kill unless it’s real close, but even Sam could shoot it without much practice. Good for hunting and scaring off people.”

“Mr. Stein—“

“Melanie, I love you like my own. You and Holly have been friends for a long time. I know your mamma isn’t going to do much to protect the three of you and that means the responsibility of all this is falling on your shoulders. Let me help.” His grey eyes and decision were set in stone.

Melanie nodded. She wrapped her hand around the second gun. Its barrel was smaller. He took four boxes of ammunition off the floor of the truck and walked over to Melanie’s car.

“Probably shouldn’t put these in the trunk with the gas.” He smiled at her and set the bullets on the roof of her car. He opened the backdoor and set the ammo on the floor. He took the guns from Melanie and set them on the back seat.

“Probably shouldn’t tell your mamma about this either.”

Melanie nodded. “You think it’s going to get bad here too, don’t you? Once the law goes into effect.”

He rested his hand on her shoulder and fixed his eyes to hers. “Yep, I certainly do. Folks are as dumb as cattle with these sorts of things.”

“I think so too.”

“You’re a fighter Melanie Craig. Makes you different from most folks. Let me know if you girls need anything.”

“Thank you Mr. Stein.”

On Saturday morning, Melanie sat on the kitchen counter drinking coffee and reading the Denver Post. Jennifer stood in the doorway between the kitchen and living room squinting at the bright kitchen lights. The soft sounds of jazz drifted into the kitchen from the dimly lit living room where Jennifer had been drinking her chamomile tea.

“Can you believe that man! He’s doing this just to thwart my efforts on the No Kill Petition.” Jennifer stalked back and forth between the kitchen and living room.

Melanie rolled her eyes. “I really don’t think so mom. It’s two days before the Justice Law goes into effect. You are both doing what you think is best to protect others. His approach is just different, that’s all.”

“He is promoting vigilantism by forming a militia.”

Melanie thought the militia was the best idea yet and wanted to join, but now was definitely not the time to discuss it with her mom. She probably wouldn’t discuss it at all. Another one of those forgiveness over permission situations.

“This says the Pope and other Christian leaders are denouncing the Justice Law. It says, Thou Shalt not kill is a commandment and man cannot change God’s laws. Maybe more people will sign your petition if you take it to the churches?”

Jennifer put her hands on both sides of Melanie’s face and squished her lips with her own. “That is a wonderful idea my girl.” Jennifer turned and walked up the stairs with a bounce in her step.

Melanie pressed her lips together between her teeth. Guess she’ll be watching Sam today.

Jennifer bounded back down the stairs dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. “Can you watch Sam awhile?”

“I can this morning, but I have things I need to do this afternoon.”

“Sam can’t go?”

“I don’t think you want Sam at the gym mom.” Melanie sipped her coffee.

“I don’t want either of you there. I’ll pick her up and take her with me this afternoon if you can watch her this morning.”

“Sure, we can watch cartoons.” Then Melanie would be able to go talk with Mr. Stein about the Watch Dog militia when he got off work. “A bunch of us are going to dinner tonight in Breck, so I’ll be home around midnight.”

Her mom made a face.

“It’s the last weekend before the curfew goes into effect mom.”

 

A Vigil for Justice: Episode 12

FlagA 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 sat on the table in the courtyard of her high school eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. She watched as Holly moved in a box formation blocking, punching and kicking. Holly extended her limbs with concentrated deliberation expelling a hard breath with each imagined impact. Melanie knew Holly wouldn’t last three seconds in the boxing ring even after a month of Taekwondo classes.

“What belt are you now?” Melanie asked combing her hand through her long hair.

“High white. My teacher said I moved up faster than anyone he has taught.”

“That’s good, right?” Melanie watched a few other students drift in and out of the courtyard. She handed Holly her hoodie and picked up her backpack to go back inside.

The brightness of the sun made you believe it should be warmer outside than it actually was. The distance the heat waves had to travel was still too great to warm the earth. High wisps of white were strung through the pale blue sky.  Red and white tulips stood beneath the branches of the maple tree grove in the center of the courtyard.

The locker-lined hallways of Summit High were easy to navigate given the reduction in bodies flowing through them. A severe decline in attendance is typical during the last week of school, especially for the seniors who have been dying get out into the world for nine months.

“We are going to be the only students on campus by Friday.” Holly opened their locker and exchanged books.

“Mitchel said he would be here too.” Melanie gave Holly a wry smile. “This could be our last week of normal. I’m not going to miss it.”

“Normal? Is not being here.”

A quarter of the population of Blue River had decided to go back to Mexico. The cartel was a more appealing type of vigilante government than whatever was going to spring up in the United States. Familiarity, regardless of its awfulness, is sometimes better than the unknown.

“We don’t have to come Friday, I guess.”

Holly raised her eyebrows and laughed. “We’ll be here. Are we going to the firing range again today?”

Melanie nodded. “My mom is going to the council meeting, and I’m picking Sam up from dance. So I have to go right after school.”

 

Melanie held her 9 mm out, emptied the magazine, and reloaded in less than a minute. She was getting faster and more accurate. She didn’t flinch at the now familiar sound of the shot and impact of the recoil. The smell and weight had become comforting. The gun was an extension of her hands. The sight of his little angel with a death stick attached to her hands would have made her father sick. She pressed the button bringing the man shaped target to her. If her father were still alive maybe, none of this would have happened. He would have convinced them the Justice Law was a bad idea and to give the SAFE chip more time. Two clusters of holes pierced the heavy paper in the chest and head area. She pulled it down smiling.

It was 10:00 p.m. when Jennifer slammed the front door of their house. Melanie raised her eyebrows and pursed her lips.

“Bad night?”

“I just don’t understand why they won’t sign the No Kill petition.” Jennifer tossed a stack of stapled papers toward the coffee table. The pages flipped and pulled at one another.

Jennifer stalked into the kitchen and slapped some cold turkey and cheese on two slices of bread. She rips into the sandwich.

“I just don’t get it. It gives everyone more security.”

Melanie had heard why people didn’t want to sign the petition at work. People talk of everything at coffee shops. Most, didn’t think a signature on a page meant anything and it was a farce they didn’t want to promote.

“We should work on our food storage this weekend Mom.”

Jennifer stared at Melanie she looked confused by what Melanie had said. Jennifer burst into tears and covered her face with her hands.

Melanie scrambled to her feet and ran over to her mom.

“What’s wrong?”

“Everything. This is not the life I wanted for you and Sammy.” Jennifer choked on her words.

“It’s not your fault mom. We’ll be alright.” Melanie rubs her mom’s back.

Jennifer wiped her face. Her crying had stopped as suddenly as it started. She nodded her head.

“We’ll go get food storage tomorrow afternoon.”

Her mom dumped the half-eaten sandwich into the garbage. “Good night Mel. I wish things were different.”

“I know mom.” Melanie watched her mom climb the stairs. Melanie picked up her book on surviving in the wild, turned out the light, and followed her mom up the stairs.

The morning sun warmed Melanie’s back through her bedroom window as she sat on the edge of her bed. She pulled the laces tight on her running shoes and rubbed the mound that was Daisy under the blankets.

She walked to the calendar she hung on the wall. She put a big red X through May 23rd. One week and one day.

“Let’s go Daisy.”

She unstrung the leash from her doorknob as Daisy snuffled her way out and plopped onto the floor. Daisy shook off the remainder of her dreams from head to tail, and her big brown eyes settled on Melanie tail wagging.

They ran around the neighborhood. Melanie didn’t want to take Daisy too far. She had to build up Daisy’s miles the same as she would her own. They didn’t need to be able to do a marathon, ten miles would be enough.

When they got back to the house, Melanie loaded Daisy into the car and drove to the boxing gym.

Daisy bounded through the doors of the gym and clobbered Jake who had crouched to greet her.

“She’s getting huge.” Jake laughed and picked up his cowboy hat from the floor. He dusted it off before setting it back on his head.

Melanie walked up to the SAFE scanner, but Jake just waved her into the back.

“Someday Jake, I will have to pay.”

“We’ll see.” Jake handed Daisy a chew toy. She took it and darted to a pillow in the corner.

Jake had her warmup on the punching bag. Melanie and Jake ducked and jabbed at one another in the ring. She didn’t cringe each time his fist came flying at her face. If she couldn’t move, she would throw up an arm to block bracing for the impact. He got her once with an uppercut to the ribs, but she had returned the favor.

She wiped the sweat from her forehead with the back of her glove. She pulled her glove off and pulled out her mouth guard. She blinked a few times to get the burning sweat from her eyes.

“Are you staying to lift today?”

“Yes, of course. Have you seen these guns?” She pointed to her biceps.

He laughed.

“Come on then, we’re increasing weight today.”

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Eleven

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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.

Church always seemed unnecessary to Melanie, even when her dad was alive, but since his death it was more senseless. Regardless of how she felt about it, she pulled on a full knee length blue skirt and white button down shirt and prepared to go with her mother and sister.

She bent down to tie her converse, and Daisy licked her on the mouth.

“Yuck. Ya little sneak.” Melanie reached for the puppy and rolled her over on her back rubbing her belly. Daisy bounced onto her feet and danced around Melanie barking. Daisy noticed her yellow squeaky toy in the corner and darted across the room for it.

Melanie played tug-a-war for a few seconds and then tossed the toy down the hall and followed Daisy. They all climbed into the van and drove over to the church. Melanie glanced around at the vacant stares of the people seated in the wooden pews lining the room. She wondered if any of them believed in god after all the atrocities of World War Three and now the Justice Law. Her mother believed as did Sam, but Sam is just a child. Mom’s eternal optimism fuelled her beliefs.

The arched painted glass windows fill the room with a rainbow of sunlight. Sam walks up the isle to the space behind the altar where the children’s choir is seated whispering to one another. Melanie follows her mother gliding along the hardwood floors. Melanie turns in the pew and searches the rows of people. She knows all of them by sight. She knows the names of most and what they do for a living. A few smile as her eyes meets theirs.

Mitchel opened the double doors at the back of the chapel, looked around, and backed out. The doors opened again, Mitchel held the door open wide and pointed to an empty pew near the back of the room. Seth came in with their mother, Anna, leaning on him as if she didn’t have quite enough strength to get there herself. They slid into the pew, one twin on each side of Anna. Anna had dark circles around her eyes, like she hadn’t slept in days. Her face was cast down at her feet. Mitchel found Melanie. His mouth smiled, but his eyes didn’t.

Jennifer nudged Melanie with her elbow. Melanie turned forward and then flicked a quick glace back at Mitchel. Jennifer turned to see and a frown formed on her face before she turned back. She let out a long breath and patted Melanie on the hand.

Father Chris approached in his green vestments. “And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nations shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines and pestilence, and earthquakes, in diverse places. Matthew 24 verses six and seven.”

The Father’s words offered no comfort to Melanie during what she considered a national crisis. Her thoughts returned to Mitchel’s family at the rear of the chapel. She threw another glance back at them. Anna was kneeling Mitchel’s hand rested on her shoulder and his eyes didn’t move from the altar.

The parishioners stood and kneeled and Melanie followed along as one drone among the masses. When the service was over Melanie stood and began pushing past people trying to reach Mitchel. Jennifer caught ahold of her arm. Melanie turned and glared at her mother.

Jennifer shook her head. “This probably isn’t the best time Mel. Let’s wait for Sammy. You can take soup over afterward.”

Melanie wrinkled her brow. Her mother was right. Anna probably wanted to get away from the prying eyes as quickly as possible before the questions started. Everyone knew about what went on behind those doors, and everyone had tried to help at one time or another, but Anna would never leave Evan. She had tried once when the twins were small and she almost died.

Jennifer stopped at the grocery store on their way home.

“How come we’re here mom?” Sam asked from the back seat.

“Because we need to make some things for Mitchel’s mommy who is sick.” Jennifer pulled open the sliding door to let Sam out.

“What does she have?”

“The flu.”

Sam scrunched up her face. She had the flu last year and it was not pretty. “She will need lots of chicken soup.”

“Yes and a casserole for the boys.” Jennifer smiled and grabbed a cart from the curb next to the van.

Sam’s eyes got big. “Boys eat a lot.”

Melanie rolled her eyes.

Melanie drove to Mitchel’s home. It was on the other side of town. She passed a few house on the outskirts of Blue River. A few had backhoes in their yards and mountains of dirt. Mitchel had mentioned that people were building bunkers, and she assumed that was what was happening here.

Mitchel’s was the only house down a two-mile dirt road. Nothing was around, besides fields no one farmed anymore. The lawn had died long ago and was now where Mitchel and Seth parked their cars. Mitchel’s truck was there. Seth’s car was not. Evan’s royal blue old Chevrolet with rusted out wheel wells was still hitched to the caged flatbed trailer he used to haul the lawn care equipment around for his business.

Melanie turned off her car and just sat there staring at Mitchel’s home. The moss green paint on the door was peeling, as was the pale yellow of the greying wood siding. Was it a home? Mitchel called it home, but what else did he know. She had hoped that Mitchel’s dad would not be home. There’s that word again. She prayed to a god she didn’t believe in that Evan did not answer the door.

She took a deep breath and got out of her car. She walked around to the other side and stacked the casserole on top of the large container of chicken noodle soup, and added rolls to the top. Jennifer knew that Anna wasn’t sick, but sending food for other reasons may get Anna hurt.

Melanie walked up to the door. Her hands were full. She kicked at the screen door causing it to bang against the frame.

“Get your fat ass to the door.”

Melanie winced. Evan was home and awake.

“I got it mom.”

Melanie knew that voice too.

Mitchel peered around the curtains, eyes opening with surprise and then disappearing. The deadbolt knocked back.

The door made a grating sound as he pulled it open. It was dark in the house.

“What are you doing here?” Mitchel asked glancing into the house and then at Melanie. They never hung out here. They had only stopped by to pick things up that he had forgotten. Over the year they had been dating, she had never seen inside.

“You’re mom said she was sick at church. So my mom thought we should send some dinner over.”

He arched an eyebrow.

“Who’s at the door Mitchel?” Anna’s voice was soft.

Melanie could see her small frail form below Mitchel’s arm. Anna held onto the wall. The sun’s fading light from the kitchen window surrounded her in a white glow.

“It’s Melanie mom, she’s brought over some soup for you.”

Melanie stepped past Mitchel and into the house. Mitchel lifted his hand and started to say something, but she handed him the food she was carrying.

“This is heavy. There’s a casserole for you boys too.”

Her foot ground into something and she shifted her foot. Smiling faces lay on the floor, their wooden frames broken. Shards of glass were scattered. The coffee table was turned on its side jagged broken legs protruding from its belly. The brown rocking recliner was turned on its face.

“Don’t trip Mitch.” Anna clicked on the light. “That smells delicious Melanie.”

A family picture, without the frame and curled on its ends, was thumbtacked to the wall. It was old, the twins could only be three and there was a young girl of about five, who looked just like Anna. A thinner more muscular version of Evan stood with his hand wrapped around Anna’s bicep.

Melanie smiled and tried not to look around the room any more than was necessary to cross without falling.

A metal screen door slammed at the back of the house. Anna cringed. Melanie’s shoulders and stomach gripped her bones. She wiped her hands on her jeans.

Anna was still dressed in her church clothes and shuffled into the kitchen her arms wrapped around her as if it were the dead of winter. “Bring it into the kitchen.”

A truck started outside. Melanie turned toward the noise and her shoulders let go of her spine. Evan was leaving.

Mitchel slid the glass bowl up onto the counter and turned to face Melanie. No one uttered a word. There was enough awkwardness to coat every wall with a fresh layer of it.

Melanie looked down at her hands and feet. “Well, I had better get back home before the sun goes down.”  She brushed her hands on her jeans again.

Mitchel pushed himself away from the counter. “I’ll walk you out.”

“Thank you again Melanie. Tell your mother she’s a wise friend.”

Melanie turned around to say goodbye when she reached her car door. Mitchel slid his fingers into her hair holding the back of her head while his other hand rested on her lower back and pulled her into him.

“Thank you.” He whispered. His lips brushed against her earlobe.

Her eyes filled with tears as they met his. “I’m sorry.”

He put his finger over her lips. “It’s not your fault. You and your mom have done what you can.”

Melanie nestled into him.

“Where did he go?”

“The bar.”

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