A Vigil for Justice: Episode Fifty-Two

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

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

Ryan Thunderhawk crouched next to the fire building a teepee of kindling in the hot coals remaining after they had roasted marshmallows. Marshmallow bubbled on the rocks.

Melanie sat in the camp chair watching the flame come to life with her knees pulled up to her chest. Daisy scratched at the dirt, circled a couple of times, and finally laid at Melanie’s feet.

“You’ll be leaving tomorrow?” he asked waiting for the flames to get large enough to place the log.

“You don’t think the fire will wake anyone?” she asked. “I can’t tell you what I have to say if anyone else is here.”

He smiled at her. “Have you ever woken up? It’ll be alright. No one has ever stirred.”

She didn’t like her thoughts. She didn’t want to say the words, but she knew she had to protect her family. It was what her father would have wanted her to do. It was what he would have done.

It felt like she had been hit with a sledgehammer. She fought the urge to vomit. She couldn’t believe she was going to say it, but Mitchel’s rage had shown her it was a possibility.

She stared into the growing flames as they began to consume the log. “We are either being hunted by the butcher or he is with us.”

He didn’t react to her words. His police training. She was grateful for that at least.

“The first one was in Blue River. Mitchel and Seth’s father, Evan, was found butchered in the churchyard after Evan had killed their mother in a rage. I thought it was Father Chris who had done it. I even confronted him. Evan was a sinner. He was a dangerous man and everyone in Blue River knew it.”

Ryan stirred the fire not looking at her.

“The people of Blue River, our neighbors, drove us out of town because my mom took Seth and Mitchel in. She has always had a kind heart, but naïve in her belief that all people are innately good.”

“She reminds me of my mother,” Ryan said giving her a sad smile.

Melanie struggled against the desire to change subjects. Had he meant to give her the opportunity to back out of this disclosure? He had spent the last few weeks with them, maybe he had a suspect and knew it wasn’t them. She wanted to believe it so much, but here chest squeezed her heart. She had been fighting this war within her mind since they left Denver and were stopped by Homeland Security as soon as they arrived in Utah. No, she was too far into this. She needed to finish what she started. Her mom’s and Sam’s lives could depend on it.

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, steeling her resolve. “More bodies showed up in Denver. Including my best friend, Holly, and her parents.” She had to stop and swallow the tears as the memories of that day crashed down upon her. Didn’t therapists always say it was good to talk about loss, to get it out and not carry the burden alone? What crap.

Ryan waited, ever patient.

“They were butchered in the same fashion. They were all within a few miles of where we were staying. I didn’t know where either Seth or Mitchel were during the time those people were killed. But Holly…”

She paused again. Lost in the dancing of the flames, she continued.

“They were staying in their fifth-wheel trailer in the driveway of the house we were staying in with my mom’s friends. There were three security guards patrolling the yard. They didn’t hear or see a thing. I hadn’t seen Holly since returning from the hospital, so I knocked on the door. There was no answer. Blood dripped down the walls. We were all questioned for a long time. My mom, her friends, and Sam were released first. But Mitchel, Seth, and I were there for much longer.”

He laid his hand over hers. She hadn’t even noticed that he had come over to her.  She looked at their hands. Her’s was much smaller than his, like her’s and Michel’s.

“And then when we reached Utah, we were stopped by Homeland Security. As if they had been following are movements the whole time. They denied that, but it was too much just to be a coincidence.”

She looked up into his brown eyes. The yellow and orange flames flickered in his pupils.

“Mitchel and Seth grew up in a violent home. Their father was an alcoholic. He beat their mother. He killed their older sister. And he abused them.” Her last words came out as if she were pleading for it not to be true.

“That’s a hard way to grow up,” he whispered.

There it was, laid out before him, all that she knew. It sat between them, a dark churning mass of destruction. She threw up then. Ryan pulled her hair up away from her face and laid his hand on her back.

They sat there watching the sun come up.

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A Vigil for Justice: Episode Forty-Six

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Forty-Four

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

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

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

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

“I’m looking mom.”

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

“Not yet pumpkin,” Jennifer said.

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

Mitchel and Seth followed them off the freeway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She shrugged. “Guess we should follow?”

Mitchel followed and she was right behind him.

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

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

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

“It’s a 2015 Mazda,” Melanie said.

“How many miles?”

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

“You have family here?” he asked.

Melanie shook her head.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Has it been leaking?”

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

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

“Thank you,” Mitchel said.

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

“We stay in the van,” Melanie said.

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

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

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

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Forty-three

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

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

Mitchel sipped at his steaming coffee while Melanie blew on hers through the little hole in the black plastic lid. It was fresh. The man had not lied about that.

They were parked in a parking lot next to the freeway. The sound of the few cars speeding down the freeway met Melanie’s ears. Melanie and Mitchel were on watch while everyone else slept in the back of the van.

“We should reach Ogden by lunch tomorrow,” Melanie whispered.

Mitchel nodded. “We really need to get the van fixed while we are there. It will be impossible to go on without it.”

“I know. What do you think is wrong with it?”

“Hard to say, could be as easy as the thermostat or it could be the head gasket.”

Melanie grimaced. She didn’t know what a head gasket was, but it couldn’t be good and was probably expensive.

He smiled. “Let’s pray it’s not the head gasket.”

Melanie glanced into the back. Seth slept on bench seat at the back of the van. Sam and Jennifer were curled up on their sides next to one another on the floor. They had taken out the middle seats to have sleeping space and moved all of Jennifer and Sam’s belongings to Mitchel’s truck.

Driving through the mountains required some creativity with sleeping arrangements. They all felt better about this situation than staying in a rundown motel where anything could happen.

Usually Mitchel and Melanie took different watches, so one of them could sleep while the other drove, but they were only stopping for a few hours until the sun came up. Once the sun came up, Melanie would be wide-awake anyway and they could set out on the last leg of their trip to Ogden.

Rain pattered on the windshield and lightening flashed across the sky lighting up the gold tones in Mitchel’s hazel eyes. She watched the drops stream down the glass and counted. One one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand, four one-thousand and then it came, the crackling thunder.

She sipped her coffee. Not bad for a gas station, not good like a coffee shop, but not bad.

Rap. Rap. Rap.

Melanie jumped splashing hot coffee down her chest. She screeched in pain. “Son of a—”

Mitchel drew his gun. “Head down!”

The lightening flashed again. Seth threw open the sliding door shotgun in hand.

“Whoa, boys. Put those down,”

The main with a short crew cut was draped in a long black raincoat nearly to his feet. He held up a badge.

Home Land Security.

Melanie was relieved and aggravated. Why were they here, in the middle of the night in the pouring rain?

“How can we help you?” Mitchel asked. He and Seth lowered their guns.

Jennifer and Sam were waking up in the back now.

“Just the four of you?” the officer asked.

“Yes, sir,” said Mitchel.

Jennifer yawned covering her mouth. “How can we help you officer?”

She scooted out of the sleeping bag.

“Where are you coming from?”

“Denver,” Jennifer said. “Is there a problem?”

“We are stopping everyone coming in from Colorado.”

They are looking for the Butcher Melanie realized. She looked at Mitchel. He had made the connection as well, she saw.

“Are you looking for someone in particular?” asked Seth.

“A young man in his early twenties traveling alone, without any significant connections to the area,” said the officer.

“Well that’s not us,” said Seth.

Mitchel shot him a look that told him to stop being antagonistic. Seth shrugged and got back up on the bench in the back.

“Officer, these girls are my own children. I’ve had Mitchel and Seth with me since Blue River. Their parents are dead. They were good friends of my family, and I have taken them under my care. No one here is the Butcher,” Jennifer said.

So, she made the connection too. Melanie smiled her crooked smile and arched her eyebrow. She wanted to kiss her mom for standing up to this guy. She so rarely showed any sign of authority it always surprised Melanie when she did.

The officer’s jaw bulged and he licked his lips. “Do you plan to stay in Utah?”

“No,” Jennifer said.

He threw a glance at Seth and Mitchel and licked his lips again.

“How long will you be here?”

“Not long.”

Melanie knew her mom was being intentionally difficult. She was tired and sick of dealing with Home Land Security. She was frustrated by being accused of Holly’s family’s murder. She was done playing nice.

“Where are you going?”

“Ogden.”

He clenched his teeth again.

“And then?”

“The safe zone.”

“And you’re all eligible for admission?” he looked to Mitchel and Seth again.

“Yes,” said Jennifer.

“I see.”

“Are we free to go, Officer?” Melanie asked.

“You can’t sleep here,” he said and turned to go back to his car. He got in and turned on his headlights. He didn’t move.

“He’s waiting for us to leave,” Mitchel said.

Jennifer slid the door closed. They were all wide-awake now anyway.

“I’ll drive,” Jennifer said.

Melanie, Mitchel, and Seth got out of the van and ducking their heads went to their cars and climbed in.

Once they were on the freeway, Melanie reached up and rubbed the back of Mitchel’s head. “Do you think they called us in to Utah?”

“Who? Colorado Home Land?”

He glanced at her. “No, they just saw the Colorado plates.”

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Forty

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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 laid awake staring at the white ceiling of her bedroom thinking of the piles of bodies in the mass graves Dr. Alyson Binkard had told her about. She fought sleep. Every time she closed her eyes, she could see Holly’s ashen face and empty, sunken green eyes looking up at her from the pile. The bright red line across her throat. Her flame red hair matted and crusted with dried blood. Melanie’s stomach seized, but there was nothing in it. She was trembling, she realized.

Mitchel pulled her closer to him and mumbled something in his sleep. She couldn’t be alone in her room, not tonight, maybe not ever. It had been two days since Holly’s death. Mitchel had snuck into her room after the house was quiet and dark. Sam was in with her mother and Daisy was curled up at the end of Melanie’s bed. She didn’t know if Daisy would do anything to someone breaking into the house to slit throats and disembowel Seth and Mitchel. She hadn’t even barked when Holly had been killed.

That was why Homeland Security had made them all suspects, that and the fact that the security guards hadn’t been alerted. Melanie couldn’t believe that it was one of her family or her mother’s best friend’s, which only left the security guards, Josh, Braxton, and Erik. But why would they do it. They weren’t scrubs and from the questions she got, she knew they thought whoever did this had removed the SAFE chip from their wrist.

The butcher, that’s what the media was calling him, only mutilated male victims. Homeland security believed the killer was a male. They thought Holly and her mother were just killed to prevent them from talking and that Richard had been the target. They had taken Melanie and everyone else down to the station, shoved them into separate rooms and interviewed them for hours. Her mom and Sam had been the first to be cleared and released since Jennifer had recently been in the hospital and was in no physical condition to murder people and Sam was just a child. Karalynn, Galen, and their two boys had been released next.

They had questioned Seth, Mitchel and her until midnight. She had cried and yelled at the officers. How could they think she had done that to Holly. Holly was like a sister to her. And then they had accused her of breaking her sister’s arm on purpose and said it was understandable how she could get angry at her sisters. She shuddered. It made her feel dirty. It was then that she figured out the game they were playing. They refused to give her food or coffee, but had brought her water. The whole time, her head was aching horribly from the crying and lack of caffeine. They had made her wait a long time to use the bathroom.

The three security guards were still down at the police station being questioned. The security agency had sent over half a dozen new guards. Homeland security had officers guarding the fifth-wheel trailer as well. They didn’t want it moved before they completed every test they had available on it.

Jennifer had waited up for them. Melanie had been surprised she was still awake when they were dropped off. She had dished up dinner for them, but Melanie wasn’t hungry. Once they were settled in and had the option of eating, Jennifer had said goodnight. Melanie checked on her before going to bed herself, Jennifer fell asleep quickly with her pain medication.

Melanie was empty of every emotion. She felt hollow even while she was tucked safely against Mitchel. His breathing was deep and even. If she listened to it, it would lull her to sleep she knew, but then she would jerk awake and wake him up too. She would sleep eventually, but not now. Not with Holly’s face imprinted on the inside of her eyelids.

She tried not to hate them, the men in the grey suits, Homeland Security. They were doing their best to figure out who had done this to Holly and her parents. Melanie wanted to know who the killer was too. She wanted him to suffer. He would be one of her justice kills if she could get ahold of him before the grey suits did.

She rolled over and buried her face into Mitchel’s chest trying to forget about everything. Her entire world was all falling apart.

They would never get out of Denver.

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Thirty-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.

“Planning to leave soon?”

Melanie looked up from the book she was reading. A cool breeze fluttered through the open window at her back. Blue birds twittered in the tree outside the window. She hadn’t wanted anyone to know that she was considering checking her mother out against medical advice, but she might have known that Alyson would find out.

“Dr. Wester told me you were asking if your mother could be moved yet.” Alyson strode into the small hospital room. Dark shadows clung to the flesh around her eyes.

“I know you are anxious to get away from this dreadful place, but at what cost? You’re mother needs at least another few days.”

“And why should I listen to your advice?” Melanie asked not breaking her eyes away from the old woman.

Alyson nodded. “Come walk with me for a moment. Let your mother sleep and heal.” Alyson turned her back to Melanie and stepped into the hallway.

Melanie stood and tucked the soft fleece blanket in around her mom. The oxygen tube adorned her face and an IV dripped medicine into her veins.

Melanie gently shut the door.

“She’s still on the antibiotic. She will finish it in another day or two. If she were to get an infection…”

“Dr. Wester explained this to me. As you know, I’m sure.” Melanie rested her shoulder against the doorway and folded her arms.

“Come.”

Melanie followed a few steps behind Alyson. They stopped in front of the elevator. Alyson pressed the button to go up. They road up two floors in silence. When the door opened, Alyson held the door for Melanie.

Melanie let out an irritated sigh and stepped off the elevator. She continued to follow Alyson down the hall. Alyson stopped in front of a room. Knocked lightly and then entered. Melanie followed her in.

A young woman lay in a bed with a ventilator tube taped to her mouth. Machines beeped and breathed for the woman. She had long dark hair spread around her. A romance novel sat on the table next to her. A thin white scar ran down the right side of her face from the corner of her eye to her jaw. Melanie thought she couldn’t be much older than herself.

“This is Kimber. She’s been here for a year in a coma. She knows nothing of the Justice Law. She was out partying with some friends one night. She was beaten and raped repeatedly before being left for dead.”

Melanie stared at the girl. “Does her family visit?”

“They use to, until the Justice Law was passed. Now I sit at her bedside reading to her, holding her hand, and brushing out her hair each day. I spoke to them about letting her go and taking her off the life support, but they said no. She is unlikely to wake up and if she does, she will awaken to memories of being beaten and raped, brain damage, and a totally new and deadly world.”

Alyson brushed the girl’s cheek with the back of her fingers. “Would you want to awaken to all that Ms. Craig? Would you want your mother or sister too?”

Melanie’s chest tightened. Her throat constricted and she had to focus on breathing. She shook her head unable to speak.

“I sat with the family for hours while they told stories about how Kimber loved to dance and run. She had a boyfriend who loved her dearly and they were going to marry after high school. She was a smart girl and would have graduated early. In a way, I feel like I know her.”

“Why haven’t you put an end to it?” Melanie’s voice was a whisper.

“Because they said no and she can’t decide for herself.”

Melanie looked at Alyson, but Alyson continued to watch the girl. “Sometimes I imagine her dancing at prom cradled in the arms of her beau.”

She looked up at Melanie then. “You may disagree with what I have done Melanie, but you have made the same decision after only moments of having considered the two options. You are not so different from me.”

*             *             *

Melanie heard voices in her mother’s room. She didn’t remember getting on the elevator or walking down the hall, but she must have done so since she was here. She peered through the slats of blinds hanging in the hallway window to her mother’s room. Sam sat next to Jennifer coloring in a book laid out on the table. Jennifer reached up to stop the crayons from rolling over the edge. Sam’s sweet voice reached Melanie through the glass. “See mom, I’m much better about staying in the lines.”

“Yes, I see that.” Her mother brushed stray strands of light brown hair laced with the light of the sun from Sam’s face. “Your hair is getting so long.”

“Mitchel helps me brush it and braid it every day before bed. He said his mother did her’s that way and his sister. Did you know Mitchel had a sister who is an angel now?”

He was there too, Mitchel, sitting in the recliner in the corner. His head was laid back and his eyes were closed. She knew he wasn’t sleeping well with her here at the hospital all the time and all her responsibilities, caring for Sam, had fallen to him.

Melanie stepped into the room.

“Melanie!” her sister called out.

Melanie put her finger to her lips. “Shhh.” But it was too late. Mitchel was awake. He got to his feet and before he could say hello she was in his arms. Safe. Whole.

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Thirty-four

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

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

Melanie awoke with a start. She glanced around the dark room. The hospital. Her mother soft breathing made he relax. She looked around the room again. Moon light cut through the space between the blinds covering the windows. She rubbed the back of her neck and grimaced as her fingers probed a tender spot.

She slid her phone out of her pocket and touched the screen. It was one in the morning. Melanie rolled her head around stretching. Her stomach growled. She stood and stepped out of the room. She squinted in the bright light and gently closed the door.

“Who is the doctor on the floor tonight?” Melanie asked the nurse at the nursing station.

The old man looked at her above the rims of his glasses. “Dr. Wester.”

“Good,” Melanie said.

The old man arched a white eyebrow causing wrinkles to ripple across his forehead.

Her sneakers squeaked on the linoleum as she wound her way toward the cafeteria. The halls were empty. The television was on in each waiting area she passed. She caught fragments of advertisements for bodyguard services, home security systems, and grief counseling as she made her way. Her stomach growled again. When had she last eaten? She shook her head, it had been yesterday morning.

There were a few people in blue and orange scrubs sitting in the far corner. Melanie picked up a tray and set it on counter. She grabbed plastic wear, a napkin, and a carton of milk. She slid the tray along its path.

“What you want sweetie?” called a woman peering at her through the window to the kitchen. A hairnet was pulled over the woman’s black hair twisted into a bun.

“A grilled cheese sandwich with fries, please.”

“Coming right up.”

Melanie held her arm over the scanner, and tapped on the touch screen when it pulled up her SAFE chip bank account information.

The woman wobbled out of the kitchen and set the plate on Melanie’s tray.

“There you are, my dear.”

“Thanks,” Melanie said smiling. She walked over to a table and sat down. She took a double bite of the sandwich, the kind her mother scolds her for. She forgot the ketchup. While chewing, she stood back up and lifted her gaze and found Alyson Brinkard walking toward her.

Alyson set down a bottle of ketchup and two stoneware mugs. “Shouldn’t drink coffee this late, so I brought you hot chocolate.”

Melanie sank back into the chair. “Thank you.” She squeezed some ketchup onto her plate. Melanie didn’t look up from her food as she ate. She wanted Alyson to say something or go way, mostly she wanted her to go away.

“I stopped and checked on your mom.”

Melanie’s head popped up at that, and a fry caught in the back of her throat. She coughed.

Alyson slid the milk toward her. She took a sip and tried to clear her throat.

“Melanie, I know what you think I’m doing is awful and wrong.”

Melanie coughed again. Had she seen Melanie at the doorway? She must have there was no other way for her to know that Melanie knew she had killed that man.

Melanie held up her hand. “Stop. I don’t want your explanations. My family and I are leaving as soon as my mom is well enough to make the trip.”

Melanie looked down at her plate and carefully selected another fry. She dipped it into the ketchup. She didn’t want to hear it anymore, peoples reasons for hurting one another, for killing each other. Dead was dead, and it was murder if you were the cause. Melanie put the fry into her mouth and picked up another one.

“My husband was the first. I just couldn’t watch him suffer anymore. I told him I could make it all stop if he wanted. He was in so much pain that his mind had left him.” Alyson’s voice was a whisper.

Melanie flicked her eyes up for a fraction of a second. Alyson was looking down at her open hands lying in her lap.

Alyson continued. “It wasn’t supposed to be like this, he was supposed to be the only one. But something broke inside of me after he was gone. I couldn’t watch them suffer any more.”

Alyson’s voiced dropped to a lower whisper. “So many.”

Melanie looked up at her then and let the fry slip from her fingers. It plopped into the thick ketchup smeared on the plate.

Melanie pressed her teeth together. “How many? Do you even remember? Do you see each of their faces when you close your eyes? If they are in such pain, how can they answer truly and freely? They just want the pain to stop, and that’s what you do. You make the pain stop. Not theirs, but yours.”

Alyson looked up at her, her eyes full of tears.

Melanie didn’t care.

She picked up her tray. “Thank you for the hot chocolate.”

Melanie strode down the white and grey hallway. She pushed open the door to her mother’s room and set her food down on a small table in the corner. She plopped into the chair. She took a deep breath. They had to leave Denver. She would talk with her mother’s doctors in the morning. She looked at the half eaten sandwich, and picked up the hot chocolate.

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Thirty-Two

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

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

Melanie’s dreams were haunted with massive holes brimming with the bodies of nameless women and children. Their grey faces with dark circles around their eyes. Hair matted with blood and dirt. She stood at the edge of the pit, watching dirt fall like rain slowly covering the little faces.

She jerked awake startling Sam, who was curled up beside her. She stroked her sister’s honey hair. “It’s okay, go back to sleep,” she whispered.

This was the first time she had returned to Karalynn’s since her mother had be shot. Alyson had convinced her to go home and get a good night’s sleep. Alyson said she would stay the night with Jennifer, and make sure she was comfortable and had everything she needed. Jennifer had encouraged Melanie to go home too, saying, Sam and Mitchel needed her. So, she had called Mitchel to come and pick her up.

The three of them spent the night wrapped in blankets watching movies and eating popcorn just as they had done so many nights back in Blue River. For one evening, Melanie forgot the rest of the world. Now, the nightmares and collided with the memories from the night before. She felt sick and hollow. She ached with the knowledge that the children and mothers in the mass graves would never hold one another again.

There was no going back to sleep for her. She didn’t want to return to those grey faces with all the life drained out of them. Melanie wrapped the blanket around Sam and snuck out of the room. Daisy followed her, nudging a toy into her hand. Melanie rubbed the broad black head. “In a minute girl.”

She went into the kitchen and started the coffee. The newspaper from yesterday was spread out on the counter. She scanned the headlines.

“Thousands Fleeing to Safe Zones and Turned Away”

President *** reminds citizens that you must be free of any felony conviction and free from any Justice Kills to enter the Safe Zones. No weapons are allowed inside the walled cities…

Melanie skipped down the page.

“Death Toll Climbs: What was Washington Thinking”

Lobbyist, Melissa Sanchez, presented numbers of dead from the major cities across the United States to Washington asking, “What did you think would happen by sanctifying murder?” Washington has made rich men out of security guards and morticians…

Melanie’s fingers turned the page over.

“Killer Scrub Hunting in Denver”

Governor Marcus Tibbets of Colorado announced that his office will be cooperating fully with Homeland Security to locate the killer lurking in Denver. A second body in the last five days, was found mutilated and gutted in a rundown hotel in the slums of Denver.

“It reminded me of when my husband hangs a deer after the hunt and guts it in the garage,” said the hotel maid who found the body. “I am lucky I didn’t eat breakfast or I would have vomited on the floor.”

The first body was found two days before at another hotel in the same neighborhood. The condition of the corpse was similar. Both victims are middle aged males.

“Because there is no registered justice kill and nothing on the the SAFE chip of the victim, we believe that the killer is a scrub himself,” reported Lieutenant James Murphy from Homeland Security.

Governor Tibbets is asking for information from the community to be called into the local Denver Police who are putting nearly entire force on this case.

“Our streets are dangerous enough. The people need to know that despite the legalization of killing, murder is still a crime in the State of Colorado,” said Governor Tibbets.

Melanie jumped at the sound of steps behind her. She turned around with her hand on her gun, which wasn’t there. She had not worn it for a few days since she couldn’t have it on at the hospital.

She let out a breath. It was Mitchel. He handed her forgotten gun and she slipped it into the back of her jeans.

“You haven’t missed much while at the hospital,” he said. He walked over to the cupboard and poured them both a cup of coffee.

They went out onto the back porch and sat on the swing watching the sun begin to color the sky. Daisy followed them the tags on her collar clinking together.

“How much longer until your mom’s released?”

“A few more days.” Daisy rested her chin on Melanie’s knee a yellow knobby ball clutched between her teeth. Melanie took the ball and tossed it across the yard.

“Richard wants to leave today. I told him to go and we would meet up with him later if we could,” Mitchel said. “He thinks you should check your mom out of the hospital and get out of town with this killer roaming the streets.”

Melanie watched birds flutter from one tree to another.

She turned to look at him. “I will talk with Dr. Brinkard tomorrow about moving her.”

Daisy pushed the wet ball into Melanie’s hand. She threw it again and Daisy romped after it, ears flapping and nubby tail wagging.

“We can wait Mel. It’s not worth risking your mom’s life.”

Melanie put the mug to her lips. There was that question again. What was a life worth? How much of a risk did this killer actually pose to her and her family?

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Thirty-One

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

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

Melanie sat across the round table in the hospital dining hall from Alyson, who had come into Jennifer’s room this morning while making her rounds. Alyson intended to make good on her offer of coffee from the day before. Jennifer was still sleeping, so Melanie agreed to join her.

Melanie wrapped her chilled hands around the mug and relished the warmth. The hospital coffee was surprisingly good. She breathed in the rich scent of fresh ground beans and freshly brewed coffee. It made her miss working at the coffee shop in Blue River. Blue River seemed like forever ago.

“I demanded that they stop serving two day old coffee, since I essentially live here at the hospital after my husband passed away,” Alyson said as she smiled a twinkle in her chestnut eyes.

“There really is no sense in leaving,” Alyson continued. “Especially since the Justice Law passed. Bodies, alive and dead, continually stream in through the ER doors.”

“You don’t ever leave?” Melanie asked.

“I’m sixty-five and have no interest in learning to be a sharp shooter and caring a gun strapped to my body. In here, I have everything I need.”

“Is that why there are three and four people to a room?” Melanie asked.

Alyson nodded. “It wasn’t like that before. We are constantly overwhelmed now. There are so many Jane and John Doe’s in here that you’d think the Doe’s were rabbits.”

“No one comes in to claim their relatives?”

“Everyone is afraid, child. Mostly it’s strangers, who bring in people they find shot or stabbed on the streets. Families would rather live in ignorance about the fate of their members than risk their own lives checking the hospitals for anyone who has gone missing for a few days.”

“They can’t just call in?” Melanie asked.

“Goodness, no! We don’t have time to sort that out. Sometimes the victims who do wake up or come in conscious, don’t want to give their names out of fear they will be found by whoever tried to kill them in the first place.”

Melanie silently contemplated her cream swilling in the dark coffee. She hadn’t really considered the impact the Justice Law would have on the health care system. The government cannot pay enough police, how were the hospitals going to be staffed and supplied? The more Melanie found out about the Justice Law the more she was convinced that those in charge were either idiots or this whole thing was some corrupt population control mechanism.

Alyson sipped from her mug. “You’re mom is doing well. She’s a fighter, much like you I expect.”

“We are very different,” Melanie said. “Don’t you have children?” She asked wanting to change the subject from her and her mom’s bumpy relationship.

Alyson shook her head. “The hospital and patients are my children. I dedicated my entire life to my career and caring for other people. Alfred, my husband, wanted children, but I thought it would hinder my ability to become a doctor and remain objective in making difficult decisions. He loved me anyway, such a good man. I’m glad he didn’t have to see the world come to this.” She waved her hand.

“How did he die?”

“Leukemia. He was a fighter too, all the way to the end.”

Melanie hung her head. “I’m sorry.”

“Sometimes, I think that the dead are the lucky ones. They don’t have to watch this horror show. No more suffering.”

“People can be so cruel. They forget that they are more similar to one another than different,” Melanie said looking out the window at the jagged mountains in the distance and the grey clouds caught upon the peaks.

“Do you want a refill?” Alyson asked.

“Yes, please. With cream.”

Alyson took Melanie’s mug and went back to the counter.

Pieces of conversations from other tables drifted to Melanie.

“The morgue is full again,” said a man to her right.

“I should have become a mortician or a grief counselor,” a woman to her left said.

Everyone’s life has become focused on death, Melanie realized. Who to kill, who could kill you, how you can prevent your loved ones from being killed; the business of death was growing. It had become an everyday conversation. In less than a month, the Justice Law and transformed the way people view life.

Compassion and kindness had been replaced by fear and placing a value on your neighbor’s life. Every person decides what to do and not do based upon if it is worth dying for, rather than is it the right choice.

Alyson returned sliding a plate of pancakes and eggs in front of Melanie and setting a full mug of coffee before her as well. “You need to stay healthy for your mom, even when she gets out of here, she will need your help with everyday things until she regains her strength.” Alyson slid into the chair again and sipped her black coffee.

Melanie squeezed the ketchup onto her eggs and smeared the pancakes with butter and syrup.

“What happens to the bodies without names or families?” She asked and shoveled eggs into her mouth.

Alyson looked away from her. “There is a mass grave dug, once a week, in the cemetery down the street.”

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Thirty

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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 had never been religious, yet, she found herself drawn to the small chapel in the hospital and not in mere passing. She had sought it out, asking a nurse where she could find it. She stopped at the threshold of the dimly lit room. White pine benches straddled a narrow isle leading to an altar made of the same pine and draped with a green cloth. No one was in the room. Melanie shuffled along the navy blue runner paving the way to the front, her mind was drawn into itself.

The idea of a god never sat right with her, but every time she found herself lost and clutching at the strings of hope, she sought god out.  Maybe this was some menial proof that there was a god or maybe she was willing to do anything to comfort herself through a belief that somewhere there was a sort of unconditional love and peace, that her existence was more than this life.

Believing that there was nothing after death did not sit well with her either, but nothing in life provided her with any assurance that there was more than darkness after the last breath. Melanie clung to this world and the life that it offered her, even though, it was not as she had imagined it.

She struck the match along the small cardboard box. Breathing in the sulfur, she touched the flame to the small white candle.  She sank to her knees. The cold tile pressed into her kneecaps. She closed her eyes and bowed her head.

She wasn’t asking for much, only that they all reach the safe zone alive.  She knew that if there was a god, she had to keep her request straightforward and reasonable. Alive.  Was that too much to ask? She didn’t mind so much if they were hungry, naked, injured, or sick. Just alive. She filled her lungs with the soft scent of incense, which she had not noticed before then.  It sent a jolt through her. It had not been there when she first entered.

Her eyes popped open and she lifted her head swinging it around to see behind her. It was the older woman she had seen in the hallway, when she had sat waiting to be taken to see her mom after surgery.  The woman sat on the bench on the second row. Her violet eyeglasses peeked out of the pocket on her white coat. Her caramel skin glowed in the flickering candlelight. Her head was tilted back and her eyes were closed.

Melanie watched the rise and fall of her chest. A calm tranquil expression softened the lines of age at the corners of the woman’s eyes and mouth.  Melanie got to her feet and the woman opened her brown eyes. Flecks of gold caught the light as a smile spread across the woman’s face.

“I’m Alyson Binkard,” she said and patted the spot next to her.

Melanie sat.

“Your mom’s here right?”

Melanie nodded.

“I’m a doctor in the trauma unit, not a stocker.”

Melanie didn’t need to look at her to see the smile. She heard it along with the suppressed laugh in Alyson’s voice.

“I think god has been watching over your mamma. A bullet in the belly is generally fatal.”

Melanie turned to her this time.

“What’s your name?”

“Melanie Craig.”

Alyson mouthed her name as if tasting it, and nodded her head a few times. “Well Melanie, I expect we will be seeing a bit of one another over the next week or two, while your mamma is here healing up. Perhaps we will get coffee sometime.”

Melanie smiled. “I’d like that.”

Melanie got to her feet and turned to go.

“Melanie, next time you’re in here, will you light a candle for me too?”

Melanie paused. “Of course, Dr. Binkard.”

“Alyson, please,” she said a gazed up at Melanie a sadness pulled at her face.

Melanie walked slowly back to her mom’s room. She looked in each of the rooms she passed. There were patients in each, sometimes three or four. Even in her mother’s room, there was another woman, who had been found at the bottom of a staircase, shattered and bleeding. She would hear the flat-line tone and rushing feet multiple times throughout the day and night, and she would hold onto her mom even tighter.

Melanie has been wandering the halls for three days now. Sometimes she watched her mom sleep, and sometimes she went for a walk. If her mom was awake, she was at her side.

Karalynn sent flowers, cookies, and books for Jennifer.  She visited when she could.

Mitchel brought Sam in each morning and they had breakfast together, and then he would take her back to Karalynn’s where she could play and be a child. She knew she was lucky to have Mitchel to look after Sam and Daisy while she stayed with her mom. She didn’t even have to ask him.

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