A Vigil for Justice: Episode Thirty-Seven

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

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

Sam sat at Melanie’s feet coloring in a princess coloring book and telling Melanie the story of Beauty and the Beast.

“At first, Belle thought the beast was mean and ugly. Then she learned that he was only ugly on the outside. And he was mean because other people were mean to him. And then she loved him. And then they were happy.”

Melanie was only half listening to her sister as she worked on her ipad trying to find the best route to the safe zone in Oregon. She wanted to go through as few major cities as possible.

Sam tapped Melanie’s knee.

Melanie pulled her eyes away from the screen. “What? Sorry Sammy.”

“I was telling you the most important part.” Sam stuck out her lower lip and hung her head. Her long honey hair fell forward, and Melanie had to smile.

“And what is the most important part?”

Sam smiled shyly and tilted her blue eyes up to Melanie, her smile growing with each moment.

Melanie arched her eyebrow and waited.

“Oh all right I’ll tell you.” Sam looked around the room and climbed up on the couch next to Melanie.

Melanie slid the ipad off her lap and onto the couch.

Sam cupped her hand around her mouth and Melanie’s ear. “Sometimes beautiful things are hidden inside of something ugly and mean.”

Melanie grabbed ahold of Sam and tickled her. Sam threw herself back on the couch and tried to squirm away laughing wildly.

“It’s good to have you back and hear her laugh like that,” Seth said as he came in from the kitchen. He sat in the blue and green armchair in front of the boarded up floor to ceiling windows.

“Help me Seth!” howled Sam.

“No way,” he said taking a sip from his coffee.

Mitchel came in carrying two cups of coffee and the newspaper under one arm. He set one cup on the table by Melanie and then took the other armchair.

“Mitchel,” Sam whaled, “help!”

Mitchel laughed, “You’re on your own with that one kiddo.”

Melanie stopped tickling. “All right Sammy, there’s coffee on the table and I don’t want you burned. Why don’t you go get some cereal or make some oatmeal for you and mom? I bet she’d like to have breakfast with you.”

Sam’s eyes got wide. “I almost forgot she was here. I’m going to get flowers from outside.” She dashed toward the front door.

“No.” Melanie lunged for her sister barely catching her arm.

Melanie heard her sister’s arm pop and Sam dropped to the floor screaming.

Karalynn came running into the room eyes wide. “What happened?”

Melanie knelt next to Sam trying to scoop her up in her arms. “I’m so sorry Sammy. I didn’t mean too. You can’t go out front.”

Sam curled into Melanie’s arms sobbing. Melanie rocked her. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” Sam began to quiet to a whimper. Her injured arm tucked in between her and Melanie.

“Sam ran for the door and Melanie grabbed her arm. It’s probably broken,” Seth said sipping his coffee.

“It’s broken!” Sam screeched. “You broke my arm.”

Melanie wanted to wrap barbed wire around Seth’s mouth, but a glare would have to suffice. Mitchel hit his twin in the shoulder. Seth looked up at Mitchel. “What? I heard it pop from here.”

Three security guards garbed in black from head to toe burst into the house from the kitchen door and the front door. Karalynn held up her hand and they stopped.

Sam began to cry in earnest again.

“What’s going on?” Jennifer called from upstairs.

Melanie shot Mitchel a wide-eyed look. “Don’t let her get up. She could rip something. Tell her I’ll bring Sam in just a second.”

Mitchel trotted up the stairs.

Melanie tried to get up and then had to adjust Sam in her arms. Sam cried out as her arm was moved. Melanie pushed to her feet. She carried Sam up the stairs to her mother.

Jennifer pushed herself to a sitting position on the bed as Mitchel moved the pillows behind her. Melanie laid Sam down next to Jennifer. Sam held her arm to her chest.

Jennifer reached for the arm.

“No, no, no,” Sam said, tears sliding down her cheeks.

“Melanie didn’t mean to Sammy,” Jennifer said.

“I know she didn’t,” Sam said between breaths. Her nose was running and she rubbed it on her mother’s blankets. “I just wanted to get you flowers for breakfast.”

Jennifer smiled and brushed Sam’s hair back around her ear. “I don’t eat flowers.”

Mitchel put his arm around Melanie and lead her out of the room. Once in the hallway, he wrapped his arms around her, and she buried her face in his chest. They’d have to go back to the hospital. She sighed. God! Would they ever get out of this city?

Mitchel rubbed her back. “Come get some coffee.”

They went back down stairs. The guards had gone and Karalynn was in the kitchen making oatmeal.

Seth sat in the same spot reading the newspaper.

“Did you find a route?” he asked looking over the top of the paper.

“I think so. It will take us through Ogden, Utah, but that’s the only big city,” Melanie said as she sank onto the couch and picked up her cold coffee.

She took a sip and scrunched up her face. Mitchel took the coffee from her. “I’ll get hot coffee.”

“Thanks, babe.” She turned back to Seth. “Anything interesting?”

“There was another murder. Homeland security think it was the same guy. How long will the trip take?”

Good question. Melanie thought. This portion of the trip wasn’t supposed to be a month, but that’s basically how long they had been in this boarded up house Denver. It was about 1800 miles to the safe zone from here. It might as well be on the other side of the world.

Thankfully, Holly’s family had waited rather than pushed on without them. It would be safer in a caravan. She was surprised they hadn’t come in when Sam was screaming now that she thought about it. Maybe they didn’t hear her, out there in the fifth-wheel. It was possible.

“It’s hard to say. My mom will need to take more breaks. We should combine cars. You could drive Mitchel’s truck and we could take mom’s van.”

“I’m not leaving my car,” Seth said.

“Why not? We don’t need it and it is wasting money to take it.”

“I need my space and it’s my money.”

Melanie clenched her teeth. Seth was frustrating sometimes.

Mitchel came back in with her coffee. He looked back and forth between them. “Everything all right?”

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Thirty Six

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Melanie pushed Jennifer down the hallway in a wheel chair. Dr. Wester had cleared her to go home. Her movement was still limited. She had bandages, which needed changing daily along with a few medications she had to take to prevent infection and for pain.

Sam bounced along the hallway in front of them singing and spinning like a ballerina. She had arrived with Mitchel and street clothes for Jennifer.

As soon as Melanie had gotten the verbal release from the doctor, she began packing the few things Jennifer had at the hospital.

“Are we in a rush?” Jennifer had asked.

“Mom there is a lot of bad stuff going on in Denver. It’s not safe to stay here any longer than we have to. I didn’t want to say anything before because there was nothing we could do until the doctor gave the okay to leave.”

Jennifer pressed her lips together and nodded.

They stopped inside the sliding glass doors.

“Let me get the van,” Mitchel said and jogged out the door.

“Can I ride with you mom?” Sam asked.

“No Sam. You can’t climb on mom,” Melanie said. The van pulled up next to the curb, and Melanie pushed her mom out into the warm summer breeze.

Mitchel gave Jennifer his arm and shoulder to lean on as she got to her feet. It took her a moment to stabilize her footing. Melanie stood protectively around her mother as she took the few steps to get into the sliding door of the van.

“Sit with me mommy,” Sam had called from the other middle seat.

“I will sweetie,” Jennifer said through gritted teeth.

Seeing how much pain her mom was in even with this little bit of movement made Melanie glad they had waited until now to leave rather than rushing things last week.

Melanie folded the wheelchair and put it into the back of the van. “Sam will you buckle mom and yourself?”

Sam giggled. “Yes.”

Melanie slid the side door shut and climbed into the passenger seat. Mitchel smiled at her, turned the key, and laid his hand on hers.

As they pulled into the driveway, two men in black stepped off the porch. Each held a semi-automatic machine gun. Once the all clear signal was given, everyone else dashed out the front door to welcome Jennifer home.

Seth and Holly held Daisy back from jumping up on Jennifer in greeting. Daisy barked and wagged her tail trying to get away from them.

“Stay down Daisy,” Melanie said.

Sam bounced over to Daisy and looked into her golden brown eyes. “Daisy mom is hurt. You can’t jump or climb on her.”

Richard and Mitchel made a makeshift chair with their arms linked together and carried Jennifer into the house. Karalynn had set up a bed in family room on the main floor. Karalynn turned on the light. The boards in the windows blocked all the sunlight. Melanie had asked her to keep the boards in the windows while her mom used the room. She wasn’t going to take any more chances on someone shooting her mom.

“Please not on the bed, I’m sick of beds. Can’t I sit in a chair?” Jennifer said.

They set her on the recliner next to the bed. Melanie led Daisy over to Jennifer so she would calm down. Jennifer stroked the silky black fur of Daisy’s head and rubbed her velvety ear, that done, Daisy went out back to romp in the yard with the kids.

Now that Karalynn was fussing over her mom, Melanie took Mitchel by the hand and tugged him down the hall with her.

He turned and smiled at her as she shoved him into her and Sam’s bedroom.

He took her in his arms. She breathed in the smell of him and listened to his heart beating in his chest. “I’ve missed you so much. I’m sorry you had to—,”

He took her chin in his fingers and lifted her face to meet his eyes. “Shhh.” And he kissed her. His lips were warm and soft against hers. His hands caressed her back and shoulders. She wove her fingers through his hair. He brushed his thumb across her cheek. I could stay right here forever, she thought, and let the rest of the world fall apart as long as I have him.

“I’ve missed you too,” he whispered.

She laid her head against his chest and he stroked her hair.

“I’m sick of feeling like we are running away. I want it to be like it was.” She closed her eyes.

“The safe zone is not all that far. It should only take us a week to get there at the most. I’ve plotted a route. Once we’re there, it will be like it was. We won’t have to worry about all of this.” He waved his hand.

He scooped her up into his arms and carried her over to the bed and set her on the edge. He bent down and tied her shoes. “You should rest before dinner. After, we will talk to your mom about the plan.” He pulled her shoes off and rubbed her feet. She was exhausted. She had only slept a few hours at a time while her mom was in the hospital.

“Stay with me?” She scooted back on the bed and he laid down next to her wrapping his arm around her. She laid her head on his chest and found his heartbeat again.

“I don’t know what I would do if I lost you.” She propped herself up on her elbow. His eyes were more green than brown today with touches of gold woven in.

He brushed her hair back from her face. “You’re not going to lose me. I’m right here.”

She laid back down. She was so tired. She rested her hand on his chest. The rhythm of his heart and breath lulled her to sleep.

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 33

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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 spent the day pushing Sam in the swing in the back yard and watching her go down the slide splashing down in the pool. She couldn’t help but laugh when Daisy jumped into the pool with Sam, bucking like a bronco with glee. Just for a moment, Melanie was able to forget that the world was coming down around their ears.

That evening she returned to the hospital and her vigil at her mother’s bedside. Jennifer was still awake when she arrived. “How is Sam?”

Melanie smiled. “She is doing good. It amazes me how everything that is going on out in the world does not affect her.”

Jennifer smiled. “That is a blessing and a gift. It also says you are doing a good job protecting her from all of this.”

Melanie looked out the window. The sun had gone down, but a few rays still clutched at the sky. She disagreed with her mom. If she had be doing a good job protecting any of them they wouldn’t be in Denver in the first place or at least this long, they would have been to the safe zone already.

Jennifer rested her cool hand on top of Melanie’s. Melanie turned back to her mom whose face was grave.

“You’re not responsible for all this Mel.”

Melanie nodded. “I know mom, but I can’t help feel like I am, somehow, or that I should have done more.”

“You’ve always been that way, too grown up for your own good.”

It had been a while since they had talked like this, open and honest with one another. Over the last year, they had clashed as Melanie had torn away from the shelter of her mother’s arms and Jennifer had grasped with desperation at her little girl. Melanie wondered what had disarmed them now, was it that they gave up the silly struggle for something bigger, or just the clarity that the looming specter of death can leave behind when he decides it’s not quiet time for them to leave this world.

Melanie and Jennifer played a few card games, and then the nurse came in to check Jennifer’s vitals and help her take a shower.

Melanie went for a walk around the hospital. She stopped in the hospital chapel and lit a candle for her mother and another one for Dr. Brinkard. She continued down the white washed hallway glancing into rooms as she passed.

She saw Dr. Brinkard in one and stopped. Melanie leaned against the wall waiting for her to come out. She was bent over a young man, maybe, thirty years old. He didn’t look well. No one else was in the room with them.

“It won’t hurt a bit. You’ll just go to sleep,” Dr. Brinkard whispered and brushed the man’s hair back as if he were a child.

“No more suffering, I can’t stand the way they look at me. Not wanting me to die, but not wanting the bills to continue to roll in. I’m dying. I can feel it.”

Melanie leaned wanting to hear better, but not wanting to be seen.

“I know. It’s okay. I understand. You’re doing the right thing.” Alyson cooed.

Melanie stomach sank. She didn’t want to believe what she was hearing. Euthanasia was illegal. It was considered murder, which was ironic given that a person could legally kill three people in cold blood.

She shuffled back away from the door, and hurried down the hall back the way she had come. After ten steps, she heard footsteps behind her.

“Melanie?”

Melanie stopped, she breathed in and out, and then she turned toward Alyson who was walking toward her.

Alyson greeted her with a smile. “How was your sister?”

The all too familiar tone of a flat line followed Dr. Alyson Brinkard down the hall.

Melanie raised her hand pointing toward the sound, but not uttering a word.

Alyson waved her hand. “Not much I can do for him now. Coffee?”

Nurses rushed into the room where Melanie had seen Alyson hovering over the man. Alyson glanced down the hall, made the sign of the cross over her body, and then wrapped her arm around Melanie’s shoulders leading her down the hall.

Melanie let her lead her around the corner. She didn’t know what to say or do. Words tumbled from her mouth as she stepped away from Alyson.

“I have to get back to my mom. She should be out of the shower now.”

“Tomorrow?”

“Sure,” Melanie said and turned to go down another hallway.

She glanced over her shoulder. Alyson was still in the hall watching as they wheeled the man’s body out of the room covered with a white sheet. Alyson bowed her head.

Melanie turned a corner. She didn’t know how to feel about what had just happened. She knew that Alyson, sweet little grandma, Alyson had just killed a man. He was dead and it was her fault, but he said he was dying anyway. So had Alyson really killed him? Aren’t we all dying was her mind’s comeback. Of course, we are, but this had to be different then killing out of cold blood. It was different then the justice law. Melanie’s heart told her it was different, but her mind continued to ask hard questions, questions she wasn’t sure she could answer.

Was the man really going to die? Was there nothing more they could do for him? Was it right to end his life earlier than when his body would have shut down on its own? Melanie didn’t know. No one knew.

Melanie did know that she wouldn’t tell anyone, she didn’t tell on Father Christopher after all, and what he was doing was worse than what Alyson had done. Was there a just reason to take a life?

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.

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Twenty-Nine

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

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

Eric drove like a madman, squealing tires at every corner and blowing through traffic lights hammering on the horn.

Melanie held firm pressure on her mother’s stomach. The blood was seeping between her fingers. “Hold on mom.”

Eric threw a glance back at her. He was hard to read, his expression stoic. She didn’t know if she should be saying goodbye to her mom or if it was going to be all right. She didn’t want to ask.

They bumped over something.

“What was that?” Melanie asked her heart racing.

“We’re almost there,” he said as he turned his face forward.

He pulled the hummer up to the ambulance entrance hitting the horn twice and then jumping out. Three men in blue and red scrubs came dashing out with a gurney as Eric pulled open the backdoor. “She’s been shot in the stomach.”

The men pulled while Melanie pushed her mom out of the back seat. Jennifer groaned and her eyes fluttered as she slid onto the white sheet on the gurney. Melanie followed them inside with Eric a few steps behind her on the phone. She only caught a few words he was saying, “Jennifer…. shot….I don’t know…. Doctors took her.” Melanie stopped listening to him and focused on her mom’s now pale features.

They pushed the gurney down the hallway. Hospitals all smell the same. Everyone in the hall stepped aside to let them through. A doctor in a flapping white smock jogged to catch up to them.

“O.R. four,” he said.

They pushed through heavy metal doors and the man in red scrubs turned and stopped Melanie from entering.

“You have to wait out here. Your mom?” he paused bending down to look directly into her down cast eyes.

Melanie nodded her head.

He continued, “She is in good hands. Dr. Johns is our best surgeon. We’ll come talk with you as soon as she is out of surgery.”

Melanie didn’t move. She stared at the pale grey doors. He touched her arm and she jerked, and turned to look at him.

“My name’s James. How about you come back out to the lobby with me? You can get some hot chocolate and sit down. Are you hungry? I’m sure I can find something for you to eat.”

Melanie nodded slowly. She barely registered his gentle hand on her back as he led her back down the hall and planted her in a chair. A few minutes later, he brought her some crackers and hot chocolate. She wrapped her hands around the warm Styrofoam cup.

Memories of her father’s funeral drifted through her mind, his pale grey visage lying there in the ivory casket. Her mom had told her not to go in during the viewing, but she had to see him one last time. All the warmth of his skin had been left on the frozen mountain where the rescuers had found his body.

After a while, James left her and she was alone in the small lobby outside the operating rooms floating between the past and the present. She couldn’t lose her mom. Not now, how would she take care of Sam and where would they go?

She didn’t know how long she sat there. When she came out of the fog of memories, Eric was sitting next to her reading a Men’s Health Magazine. He flipped a page.

“What’s taking so long?” she whispered.

He closed the magazine and set it on the chair next on him.

The metal doors open and Melanie sprang to her feet, dropping the Ritz crackers that were in her lap onto the linoleum floor. She looked down at them.

“I’m Dr. Johns,” a man held out his hand to her.

She looked up at him. His walnut hair was peppered with grey. He gave her a small smile and then dropped his hand to his side. He was dressed in black slacks and a dress shirt. She could smell his spicy aftershave. “Melanie Craig right?”

She nodded.

“Your mom asked for you.”

Melanie grabbed his hand. “She’s Ok?”

He nodded. “She will be, but we are going to need to keep her here for a few weeks.”

“Can I see her?”

“We are moving her into a room. Once we have her set up, I’ll send a nurse out to take you to see her.”

“Thank you.”

The doctor eyed Eric before leaving them.

Melanie sank into the chair. She laughed a little and exhaled audibly.

“Is Karalynn coming?” Melanie asked and then remembering the crackers on the floor picked them up and opened them. She shoved three into her mouth. She held the package out to Eric.

He shook his head. “She doesn’t want to bring your sister until she knows your mom’s condition. She thought it would be better to not tell Sam until we had some idea about what would happen.”

Melanie shoved more crackers into her mouth.

Eric handed her a bottle of water. She grinned at him. He smiled and got to his feet. “I’ll go call Mrs. Christopoulos and let them know the good news.”

Melanie unscrewed the cap on the water. Dried blood was caked in the creases of her knuckles.

Melanie sat picking the darkened blood from beneath her nails. She glanced up. An older woman with a slight hunch in her back and a long white doctor’s smock met her eyes. She pushed her violet glasses up on the bridge of her nose. Melanie stood, but then the woman turned down another hallway.

Melanie paced from one end of the lobby to the other.

James reappeared after Melanie had made two laps across the room.

“Your mom is waiting for you,” he said.

A hanging lantern lamp in the corner of the room provided a dim glow in the room. She approached the edge of the bed. The head of the bed was slightly elevated. The color still had not returned to her mother’s face. A light green blanket covered her mom. Melanie sat in the chair next to the bed, and Jennifer pulled her hand from beneath the covers and rested it on her daughter’s.

Her mom’s hand was cold. Melanie wrapped it in her own.

“I love you mom.”

“I love you too Mel.”

She held her mother’s hand while she drifted off to sleep.

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Twenty-eight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jennifer shrugged.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Shoes, that’s all we’re getting?”

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

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

Melanie adjusted her holster and checked her spare magazine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They entered a shoe store.

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

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

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

Jennifer walked in the direction the man had indicated.

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

“Anything else?” Eric asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Mom!”

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

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

Jennifer grimaced. “Melanie?”

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

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

“Keep pressure on it.”

“How close is the hospital?” Melanie asked.

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

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

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

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