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.

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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.

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Twenty-Seven

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

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

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

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

Mitchel rolled the window down.

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

Mitchel nodded. His expression serious.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The hunters?” Seth asked.

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

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

Galen shrugged. “They don’t.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Vigil for Justice: Episode Twenty-Six

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

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

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

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

“Why…” Melanie began.

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

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

A knock came at the door.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you have any milk?” asked Sam.

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

Seth grabbed a few Oreos.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?” she asked.

“Nothing.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jennifer was quiet.

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

“Mom. Don’t stop.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Twenty Five

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The bird continued to tap.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Of course,” Jennifer said.

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

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

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

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

“You heard from Holly?” Suzanne asked.

“No, why?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melanie squinted her eyes. “Why…”

“What?” Mitchel asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Vigil for Justice: Episode 24

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seth let out an exasperated snort.

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

Melanie nodded. He released her face and embraced her.

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

“Stay here where you will be safe.”

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

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

Melanie’s mouth drops open.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I think that’s it,” Mitchel said.

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

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

Mitchel nodded and turned down Holly’s street.

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

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

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

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

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

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