A Vigil for Justice: Episode Sixty-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.

Mitchel threw their bags into the back of his old pickup truck as he walked to Melanie’s door. They landed with a hollow thud. He pulled open her door and gave her a hand to get in.

She pushed his hand away and laughed. “I’m not that big yet.”

Mitchel shrugged and went around the front of the truck. He climbed in the Driver’s side and slid the key into the hole. He turned the key.

The truck didn’t start.

Mitchel closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He turned the key again. This time the truck rumbled to life. Mitchel took the steering wheel in a white knuckled grip and turned toward his right to back the truck out of the parking spot.

Once they were out on the road, Melanie laid her hand over his and squeezed.

“I love you,” she said. “No matter what happens when we get to the safe zone, know that I love you.”

He pressed his lips into a thin line and nodded.

They drove down the city streets for ten minutes before turning onto the dirt road. The tires crunched and flung rocks pinging into the wheel well. The interior of the truck remained silent as they continued to kick up a cloud of dust behind them. Melanie watched the trees fall away, replaced by the black stumps of whatever had been around the safe zone.

Melanie’s eyes fixed on the grey stone wall before the angular lines of the fifteen foot barbed wire fence standing before it. Her heart shuttered against her chest and made her breath catch in her lungs. She coughed.

The tires of the truck ground to a halt. The crunch of two more sets of tires soon followed. Melanie took a deep breath and opened her door. She slid to the ground and was glad her ankle continued to heal and no longer shot searing pain up her leg when she put her full weight on it.

The dust cloud was settling. Seth walked toward them with Sam and Jennifer close behind. Sam had left Daisy in the car. Probably best Melanie thought. They didn’t need an eighty pound angry Rottweiler getting into the middle of things if there were any problems with their entry into the safe zone.

There was no way Seth would pass. Melanie chanted these words in her head.

Mitchel’s hand took ahold of hers. “Let’s get this over with.”

Not the encouraging words Melanie wanted to hear, so she just nodded.

The six of them walked forward together.

Sargent McCall stood relaxed with two soldiers at attention to both sides. They were all armed, but no one had their guns drawn. Melanie took that as a good sign.

She knew there wouldn’t be a problem with Sam, her mom, Mitchel or herself. Seth was the only one who could screw this up. What would happen if he did get in? She hadn’t thought of that before now. He would continue his killing spree she was sure.

Even if he did pass and they were going to let him in, could she remain silent and let him walk through those gates? She didn’t think for one second any one of them would be safe when they knew who and what Seth was.

Sargent McCall stepped forward. “All of your weapons must be relinquished before entering the safe zone. Please place them on the ground and back up ten steps.”

Seth had never used a gun to kill his victims. They could take all his weapons, it wouldn’t stop him. Sharpe objects are not hard to find.

Melanie was the last to respond to the command to disarm themselves. Her fingers moved over the leather holster feeling every worn patch of the now soft and pliant leather. She felt naked without it as she opened its buckles.

Mitchel lowered his gun and holster to the ground in front of her. Her mom set the butt of the rifle against the gravel and then bent to allow the barrel to settle onto the rocks.

Seth shrugged out of his holster and it slipped down his arms and into his hands at his back. He was only a few feet in front of her. She could have almost brushed her finger tips across his broad back.

Melanie paused. They had to know. She looked into the eyes of each of the five men staring back at them. Captain Jackson had to have told them. He knew everything. If he passed all their checks would they still let him in with all the evidence against him?

She pulled her right arm through the holster. The gun dropped to her left hip. Melanie reached around and closed her hand over the grip of her 9 mm. The rough grip was cool as she raised the barrel and took sight at the center of Seth’s back.

It took less than a tenth of a second for the soldiers to respond. Four mat black AK47 rifles stared back at Melanie.

“Melanie put the gun down. We have everything under control.”

Red sprayed from the side of Seth’s neck splattering Melanie’s face, hands, and shirt with a sticky warm blood.

Seth turned toward his twin and then his knees buckled. His body crumbled to the ground.

Sam was screaming to Melanie’s right. The men in black fatigues crouched and three moved in toward Seth. The other two had their guns pointed toward Melanie’s left.

She turned.

Mitchel stood there. His hands were raised. Tears ran down his face mingling with the blood, which speckled those angular features Melanie knew so well.

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Fifty-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 knotty rock pressed into Melanie’s bones as she wrapped her arms around herself trying to warm the chill from her body. Sam bounced and twirled around the fire singing, “There’s a blue bird on my shoulder.”

Mitchel laid his aviator jacket on her shoulders.

“Thanks, babe.” She sighed as she slipped her arms through the warm sleeves.

“I warmed it up for you.” He kissed the top of her head.

“Melanie, it’s not that cold out here, are you sure you’re not getting sick?” her mom asked.

“I’m just slow to adjust to the change in season’s mom. You know that.”

Her mom knitted her brows and lips.

“I’m fine mom.”

She breathed her surroundings in, tasting each one that passed her tongue.

The leaves were showing the signs of autumn, Melanie’s favorite time of year. The few trees they saw in the straw tinged hills of southern Idaho were touched with the red and gold of the season. The air held the deep earthy scent of falling leaves and the tinge of winter as it approached. Thankfully, they would be settled in the safe zone well before the snow fell. Mitchel told her snow didn’t have a scent, but she disagreed.

Her mom handed her two slices of pizza stacked on a paper towel.

Melanie held the pizza to her nose, honey chicken. When had her mom had time to make it? She smiled and shook her head. Her mouth filled with saliva. She took a bite and let it sit on her tongue. The sweetness of the honey coupled with the delicate creamy mozzarella. The cheese stretched as she pulled it away from her mouth. It had been months since she had pizza.

“How is it?” her mom asked.

“Sooo good,” Melanie said.

Her mom laughed and mussed up her hair.

Sam giggled as she scarfed down her piece with Daisy sitting hopeful at her feet.

Melanie was content with her completely stuffed belly after her third piece.

“Are you ready for more Black Beauty?” Seth asked Sam.

She boinged on the balls of her feet, eyes wide.

It was the only book Sam had brought. They had read it a million times already. Sam took Seth by the hand and bounced all the way to the van.

“Are you two on watch tonight?” Jennifer asked glancing back and forth between Melanie and Mitchel.

“Yep,” Mitchel said.

“Oh to be young again and be able to stay up all night and still function the next day.”

Jennifer set a bowl of food and another of water on the ground next to the van and whistled for Daisy. Nub wiggling, she ambled over and devoured it in a few seconds. She lapped up half the bowl of water and bounded barking over to the van.

Daisy had taken to sleeping snuggled up under blankets in the van with Sam and Jennifer, which Melanie was glad about.

Melanie and Mitchel laid in the bed of the truck looking up at the stars and the moon. They were totally spent. The night breeze was cool across Melanie’s sweaty bare skin. The shiver that ran through her wasn’t from the cold. She rolled toward Michel resting her head on his chest. He pulled her close.

She didn’t know where to begin. Should she just dump it on him or work her way up to it? She ran her finger down his sternum and watched the pounding of his chest settle to a smooth rhythm.

Mitchel looked at his watch and smiled. “It’s 12:04, happy birthday my love.” He stroked her hair. It was nearly to her butt now. “I wish I had something more to give you.”

She didn’t need any more than him by her side. It was what she wanted above all else. She nuzzled into him. She wondered if now was the right time to tell him. Their whole world would change once again, but she didn’t want to have secrets from him. They had never had secrets from one another. Even the terrible things from Mitchel’s childhood had been shared. She had cried when he told her about everything his father had done to terrorize them the beatings, burnings, and when he put a knife through Seth’s arm.

“Mitchel?” she said.

The tone of her voice made him lift his head to see her better, she dipped her head and continued to trace the muscles of his chest. He pulled her closer. “What is it?”

This was harder than she anticipated. This is not what she had imagined it would be like, but the world had taken a horrible turn and was nothing like she had imagined too. Her voice, usually strong and confident, dwindle to a whisper.

“I’m pregnant.”

He rolled onto his side facing her, wrapping both of his arms around her, and resting his chin on her head.

He was quiet. What was he thinking? I shouldn’t have told him, but he would have noticed eventually. I should have waited to tell him. She could hear her heart in her head. She clenched her eyes against tears and took a deep steady breath. And then another. What were they going to do? What if the baby came while they were still out there? She pressed her teeth together. This world was toxic to a child. No, they would make it to the safe zone. Things would be fine. Her breath left her. Her eyes sprang open. Seth. Oh god, he could never know. Cold ran threw her and she began to tremble.

Mitchel pulled the sleeping bag around her. “I love you, Melanie. And I love our baby.”

She looked up at him. He smiled, as he blinked away the tears he didn’t want to come.

“What are we going to do?” she asked.

“We are going to have a beautiful strong baby with your eyes and lips and let’s hope only my hair.”

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Fifty

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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.

She realized then how little she knew of Mitchel’s childhood. Seth talked about it more than Mitchel did. Mitchel usually walked away whenever Seth brought something up or asked Mitchel directly about it. He wanted to forget, she knew. It was why he didn’t miss Blue River. When he left Blue River, he hadn’t looked back. He was glad to never see it again. For him, it held only death, hatred, and horror.

Melanie had taken an advanced placement psychology class and she knew that being raised in a home like Seth and Mitchel had been raised did things to a child’s developing brain. It laid the foundation for them to become horrible people, but that’s not what they were. Both of them were caring and dedicated to their family.

The door to the cabin banged open behind Melanie. Sam darted out into the sun with Daisy on her tail. “Come on Beauty let’s run!”

Melanie watched her little sister run and run with Daisy chasing her. It was their favorite game.

“She’s such a great kid with a good life, Right Mitch?” Seth said leaning against the doorframe.

Mitchel looked from Seth to the laughing and skipping little girl, but said nothing.

Seth pushed himself off the doorframe. “You two need some privacy in the cabin?” He grinned and arched his eyebrows.

Melanie rolled her eyes. “You know our relationship isn’t like that,” she said emphasizing the last word and arching her own eyebrows.

“It’s a shame really, maybe Mitchel would loosen up if it were like that.” He laid a consoling hand on Mitchel’s shoulder.

Mitchel pushed his hand away. “I think you’re relaxed enough for the both of us.”

Seth laughed, not as if his twin’s words were amusing but ironic. Seth smiled. “Yeah, spending time with little Sammy adds a little brightness to the shadows that hang over my thoughts. You should give it a try if you’re not going to add in other physical activities to take the stress off.” Another smile, wider this time.

Mitchel glowered at his brother.

Seth slid his hands into his front pockets and kicked a rock across the dirt driveway.

Melanie watched him walk away.

Seth turned back to them when he was nearing his car. “You guys are boring. I’m going into town today. Do you need anything? Like a box of condoms? Oh wait—”

Seth’s eyes grew wide along with his stance and Mitchel’s shoulder slammed into him. They both went down sending up tufts of dirt as they wrestled flipping one another over.

Daisy started barking and growling protectively at Sam’s side.

And then the punches started.

“Stop it!” Melanie screamed.

Sam started crying. “Mom! Mom!”

Jennifer and Zachariah came running from the garage.

Jennifer reached them first, but not wanting to get hurt by two full-grown men fighting, she stood back. “Mitchel and Seth, you knock it off right now!”

Jennifer pulled Sam to her who buried her face into her mother.

“Do you hear me?” Jennifer yelled in her mom voice.

Zachariah had reached them. He didn’t hesitate before jumping in the thick of it. He caught an elbow to the stomach, but was able to pull the two apart.

He held each of them by the forearm. They were covered in dirt sticky with sweat. Blood ran from Seth’s nose and into his grinning mouth. He wiped it with the back of his hand, which smeared it across his lip and cheek. Mitchel hung his head, ashamed it had gotten so out of control. Blood ran from his lip. He spit the blood from his mouth.

Zachariah looked back and forth between the two boys. He released his hold on Seth who took a few steps back. Zachariah turned to face Mitchel.

Seth laughed. “See now don’t you feel better, Mitch?” Seth wiped his hands on the front of his jeans.

Melanie had never seen Mitchel so angry. She tried to go to him, but Jennifer caught her arm.

Mitchel turned to his twin. “You’re a dick, Seth,” he shouted over Zachariah’s shoulder.

This made Seth laugh even harder. He tried to respond, but could only get out a few syllables. “I….dick…use.”

Mitchel yanked his arm away from Zachariah and stalked toward the trail leading toward the lake.

“Seth you ought to let the wolf in your brother cool off. You going into town, you said?” Zachariah asked.

Seth nodded, and his eyes narrowed and the mirth drained from his features as he watched Mitchel scoop up a branch and beat the hell out of a tree as he passed. “I’m a mountain lion not a deer. I’m not afraid of the wolf.”

Jennifer released Melanie’s arm as well.

Melanie took off at a run toward Mitchel. She glanced back once. Seth was climbing into his car and Daisy was bounding after her. In a few more steps, she heard the car come to life and spit gravel as he accelerated down the road.

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Forty-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.

Melanie and Mitchel sat at the white pine breakfast table across from Detective Ryan Thunderhawk. Melanie watched him move his eggs around on his plate, dipping his toast into the yoke and setting it back on his plate. He pushed it away and took a deep breath. Dark circles hung below his blood shot eyes. He hadn’t slept last night she realized. She wondered if nightmares kept him awake at night too.

“Do you want more coffee, Ryan?” She asked reaching for his cup. She hesitated when he didn’t answer. She cast a sidelong look at Mitchel, who frowned and shrugged his shoulders.

“Ryan?” she said again holding his cup a few inches off the table.

He looked up at her.

“More coffee”

“Yes please.” He reached for his cup. Melanie wiggled it and smiled at him. She scooped up her breakfast plate as well. She stepped around her chair and moved to the counter. After rinsing her plate, she poured the nearly black coffee.

It was decent coffee, Melanie thought, as she lifted her cup to her nose. Not something she would get used to drinking, but it didn’t make her gag either.

“Long night?” Mitchel asked Ryan as Melanie returned to the table.

Ryan’s head was in his hands with his fingers laced through his short black hair. “Very long and I have to be back at the department in an hour,” Ryan said and rubbed his eyes with his fingers.

“Big case?” Melanie asked and slid the creamer and sugar toward him.

“Yeah, a double homicide. At least we think it was a homicide, with this new Justice Law, you don’t know until the system check comes back.”

“How does that work, the system check, I mean?” Melanie asked. Death was everywhere. She felt like it was more common now than it had been when she was younger, but that probably wasn’t true. It was just more visible, more in your face.

Ryan poured in some cream stirred his coffee and then added sugar. “Well, my understanding of it, is that when a both the heart and neurological activity stop the SAFE chip sends out a communication signal. It logs the identification of any chip within such and such a range of the body. It also logs the location, date, and time of death. The chip’s final communication signal goes to the local police department. The police then find these people who were identified by the deceased’s SAFE chip and investigate.”

“That sounds like a pain,” Mitchel said looking up from his pancakes, which were swimming in maple syrup and butter.

“It’s not usually too bad. If there is only one other person present, it is typically a Justice Kill. Then we just verify that they don’t have more than three. If they do, we take them in and charge them with murder and then sort out the details.”

“But what if there are a ton of people there?” Melanie asked. “Do you have to check into each one?”

“It’s not as complicated as it sounds. The date, time, and location tell us if it was in a hospital or something like that. We can usually skip those.”

Melanie thought back to Dr. Binkard in Denver. No wonder she would never be caught. The police just pass those deaths over since it happens in a hospital.

“…Witnesses of the death generally all tell the same story, reducing the investigation time for us. It’s the scrubs who cause problems— ”

“What if someone were killing people in the hospital?” Melanie asked.

Ryan stopped and raised his eyebrows and pursed his lips.

“Like a mercy killing or something?” Melanie said waving her hand and looking away. Mitchel was looking at her.

Ryan nodded his head. “That would be difficult to identify using the SAFE System.”

“Can’t you just investigate like you used to do?” Melanie asked.

Ryan sipped his coffee. “Not enough man power I’m afraid.”

“What about police?” Mitchel asked. “How do you track their Justice Kills?” He put air quotes around Justice Kills.

Ryan stared at his coffee. He swirled the last drops in the bottom and stood to refill his cup, but the French press was empty. He popped the silver cap on the teakettle and filled it with water from the tap.

Mitchel rubbed Melanie’s back and ran his fingers through her hair. She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek.

Ryan turned back to face them. “Police kills are also very difficult for the system to track because their job requires them to use deadly force, which at this time is not an uncommon occurrence.”

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Forty-Six

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Forty-Five

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Episode 45

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

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

Mitchel worked alongside Zachariah Thunderhawk handing him tools and removing bolts that Zachariah pointed out. Melanie sat against the wall sweat dripping down her legs and back. She glanced up from the car magazine. Black grime streaked both Mitchel and Zachariah’s hands and forearms.

“So you think it needs a new belt and radiator?” Mitchel asked.

“Yep, sure do,” Zachariah said.

Melanie sprang up. “How much will that cost?”

“It’ll cost you more in time than in money, I’m afraid.” Zachariah’s lips tugged downward at the corners. “Which I believe is more valuable to you, Ms. Craig.”

“Melanie,” she said.

He nodded. “Melanie.”

“You are right though, I’ve always valued time over money.” She turned away to go find her mom and Sam. People who have lost as much as I, know the value of time. Melanie’s lip quivered for an instant as the memory of Holly flash across her mind. She scuffed her shoe in the dirt. She could feel Mitchel watching her. She knew he was worried about her.

“You don’t always have to be the strong one with me, Mel. I can be strong for us sometimes too,” he had whispered to her in the predawn hours. She knew that was true. He could be strong. He was strong. His loss was as great, if not greater than hers, which is why she couldn’t crumble in front of him, at least not yet. She had to get them to the safe zone. Then she could let down her guard.

She pulled her head up and straightened her back. Mom and Sam were cleaning up the cabin and getting it ready for them to spend the next few days here. She walked down the dirt trail through the aspen trees surrounding the lake.

Daisy came bounding down the trail toward her, ears flopping and wagging her welcome. Daisy came to a sliding halt and sat, nubby tail brushing the dirt. Melanie reached down and rubbed Daisy’s head and ears. The huge Rottweiler thumped her foot and cocked her head to the side.

Daisy stood turning toward the lake and hunkered down growling and baring her teeth. Melanie turned her head without standing straight. Nothing. Then she heard it. Splashing in the water. Melanie didn’t move. No, it wasn’t just waves.

Melanie’s hand wrapped around the grip of her 9 mm. She unsnapped it and withdrew it from the holster pointing it toward the ground.

“Stay,” she said to Daisy.

Melanie crouched low and began moving into the trees and toward the lake. The splashing continued. Melanie flicked her eyes to the ground watching for roots and sticks. As she neared the lake, she stopped and got even lower. There was a man at the edge of the lake washing something in the water. A hunting knife was stuck through the belt at his back.

Melanie would recognize that body anywhere. He was almost identical to his twin. Only the way he moved and his voice was different.

“Seth?”

Time slowed as he turned his brown eyes on her. Mitchell’s eyes on the surface, but it was not Mitchell who looked back at her.

He stood quickly and rubbed his hands on his pants. Melanie looked him up and down. Blood streaked his forearms and was splattered on his shoes and lower pant legs.

She brought her gun up a few inches. “Wha” her voice trailed off. She tried again. “Why are you,” her voice failed her again.

He looked around. Melanie’s eyes followed his to the rifle that lay against a rock.

“Don’t.” She said and raised her gun another inch.

He smiled at her. “Melanie, I’ve been hunting. What did you think I had been doing?” He raised his hands and took a step toward her.

A deep growl came from behind her. Melanie felt Daisy brush up against her leg.

Seth stopped. “The doe is over there.” He pointed to the bushes behind the rifle. “I’ll show you.” He took a step toward the gun.

Daisy barked and snapped at him.

“Whoa, Whoa.” He held up his hands again. “Shit Melanie! You go look then.”

“Melanie?” Mitchel called. “Melanie?”

He was close probably on the trail. She didn’t move. She and Seth stared at one another.

“I’m over her Mitch,” she called without turning from Seth or lowering her gun.

“Where?” there was rustling in the brush and cracking sticks behind her.

“Here,” she said.

He came stumbling through. “What are you.” He stopped once he reached her side. He looked back and forth between Melanie and his twin brother. Daisy growled way down deep in her throat and bared her teeth.

“What’s going on?”

Seth frowned and flipped his right hand toward Melanie. He dropped the other to his side with a loud sigh.

“I found him here covered in blood and washing it off in the water. Mitchel he has blood everywhere.”

Seth held up his hands in surrender. “I was hunting. The doe is over there on the other side of the rifle.”

Mitchel looked at his twin for a few seconds and then went over to the rifle. He picked up the gun and emptied the two shells onto the ground. He stepped over the rock it had been leaning on and pushed aside the long grass.

A gutted doe laid among the grass. Black glossy eyes wide.

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Forty-three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rap. Rap. Rap.

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

Mitchel drew his gun. “Head down!”

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

“Whoa, boys. Put those down,”

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

Home Land Security.

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

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

Jennifer and Sam were waking up in the back now.

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

“Yes, sir,” said Mitchel.

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

She scooted out of the sleeping bag.

“Where are you coming from?”

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

“We are stopping everyone coming in from Colorado.”

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

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

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

“Well that’s not us,” said Seth.

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

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

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

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

“No,” Jennifer said.

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

“How long will you be here?”

“Not long.”

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

“Where are you going?”

“Ogden.”

He clenched his teeth again.

“And then?”

“The safe zone.”

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

“Yes,” said Jennifer.

“I see.”

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

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

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

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

“I’ll drive,” Jennifer said.

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

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

“Who? Colorado Home Land?”

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

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Forty-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 stood at the edge of the ten by ten foot hole watching as the granules of dirt cascaded toward the bodies twisted and laced together in the dirt. There were seven, including Holly and her parents. The image of them would be forever burned into Melanie’s memory. She stretched out her hand over the gaping hole and the red and white roses fell from her grasp. The priest said some words that Melanie did not process beyond the murmur of his deep voice.

A torch tumbled from the hands of a bent woman clad in black standing next to the priest. Melanie’s eyes followed the trail smoke and flame for a second before she wrenched her eyes away.  She couldn’t watch them burn. Seeing them in the trailer mutilated was an image she could never forget. She didn’t want another one to disfigure her memories of her beautiful Holly with her fiery hair and emerald eyes.

Melanie wove through the maze of mass graves dimly aware of her mother, Mitchel, and Seth hovering near her. There were so many dead in Denver that they had to burn the bodies or risk the spread of disease.

“There’s no time and no money to bury them properly,” the wrinkled old man at the mortuary had told Melanie and her mother as he pushed wire rimmed glasses up the bridge of his hooked nose.  He brushed off the sleeve of his blue pin striped suit, “at least not for that amount.” He peered at them over his glasses. Mitchel had to drag Melanie from the room after she had tried to shove the beady eyed man into an ornately carved chestnut casket.

She heard Holly’s laugh inside her head and tears welled up blurring her vision. She wiped them away with the back of her hand. Her breath caught in her throat as she fought the sobs that threatened to break forth.  She knew the sound of Holly’s laughter would fade away, just as her father’s laughter had, and losing that was as painful as losing the person.

She pulled her hood up over her head as a late summer rain began to fall. She wanted to crawl into the hoodie and disappear. She wanted to scream. She wanted to sleep until all this was over. She wanted to punch someone in the face.

Mitchel slid his damp fingers into her own and squeezed them tight. Part of her wanted to push him away before the world could take him from her. The other part wanted to hold him so tight he would probably suffocate. She wiped the mud from her shoes before she climbed into the back seat of the black hummer. Mitchel climbed in behind her.

Melanie woke up screaming in the middle of the night. Mitchel wrapped her in his arms and two seconds later Jennifer burst through the door flipped on the lights and clutched at her stomach. Daisy was on her heels and Seth was right behind her shotgun in hand.

“A nightmare,” Mitchel said. He stroked Melanie’s hair.

Galen came through the door gun in hand along with one of the security guards. Karalynn was there a moment later.

Melanie wiped her face. “I’m all right. Everything is fine.”

Galen, Seth, and the security guard left the room.

“Let me make you some tea, Mel, it always helps me sleep,” Jennifer said. She grimaced as she turned to go.

“Jen, you need to get back to bed. You’re going to hurt something,” Karalynn said.

Jennifer waived her friend away. “The doctor said I’m fine to move around.”

“I’m really okay mom. Go back to bed.”

Karalynn helped Jennifer out of the room.

“I’m sorry. I just can’t get their faces and the blood out of my head,” Melanie whispered.

Mitchel brushed her hair away from her face. “There’s nothing to be sorry about.”

“I don’t understand why it’s so hard to forget. I’ve seen…I’ve seen dead bodies before. The black bag, the river, and the woman at Father Chris’s feet…”  She closed her eyes and took a deep breath letting it out slow and controlled.

He put his hands on her shoulders and pushed her back a little to look into her eyes. “Holly was your best friend, Melanie. It’s different.”

She could see the concern on his face. She looked down at the rumpled blankets and picked at the fuzz. “I know.” She knew why it was different, but she didn’t want it to be. She wanted to forget.

Karalynn poked her head back into the room. “Do you want some Tylenol PM?”

“Yes, thanks,” Melanie said.

Karalynn stepped into the room, placed the dark blue pills in Melanie’s hand and set a glass of water on the nightstand.  She swallowed the pills with a sip of water. Karalynn turned out the light as she left. Daisy sprang up onto the bed and licked Melanie’s foot. Melanie reached for her and rubbed her head and ears.

Melanie knew Jennifer wasn’t pleased with finding Mitchel in Melanie’s bed, but she didn’t make him leave either, which Melanie was grateful for. Sleep was hard enough with him here, without him it would be impossible.

It was another ten days before Homeland Security allowed them to leave Denver. Melanie wanted desperately to get out of Denver, but a part of her ached at the thought of leaving Holly behind. She watched the city grow smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror disappearing behind the cloud of dirt and ash that had blown in from a forest fire.

She twisted a silver bracelet around and around on her wrist. Melanie had found it in her suitcase. Holly thought it had been left in Blue River. She had been so disappointed since it was a gift from her mom on her sixteenth birthday. Melanie didn’t know how it had ended up in her stuff. She didn’t care. She was just glad she had some piece of Holly.

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Forty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They would never get out of Denver.

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Thirty-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?”

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