A Vigil for Justice: Episode Four

Flag

A Vigil for Justice is a serial thriller novel. Updates of 1000-1500 words are posted every Friday.

Recap: Melanie has returned home from school on the first day after the Justice Law was passed. She is angry and confused about the law. She is afraid of how it will change the lives of her and her friends. She gets into a fight with her mom and retreated to her bedroom.

A stabbing pain in her hip woke Melanie. She had fallen asleep on the hardwood floor at the foot of her door. Her shoulder hurt on the same side of her body and her neck. The moon shone through the window. It was nearly full and threw its glow about the room. Melanie pushed herself up off the floor and powered on her ipad. Her stomach rumbled and she realized she didn’t finish much of her dinner. She opened her bedroom door. The house was pitch black. She headed downstairs for some milk. A blue glow was coming from under her mother’s door. She stopped and leaned toward the door listening. The president’s muffled voice reached out to her. Her mom was watching the press conference from earlier in the day.

Melanie poured a glass of milk and looked in the pantry. She grabbed a package of graham crackers. Back in her room, Melanie typed “Justice Law” into google. It was a broad search term, but she wanted to be able to decide what to read. The first few hits were the language of the law and how they would be tracking justice deaths, but that’s not what she wanted to know. She scrolled down until she found it.

It wasn’t the language of the law or the technology which had Melanie confused and struggling for understanding. It was the reasons and justification behind it passing.

“Meow.”

Melanie looked up at her door. Austen’s gray paw flicked beneath the door. Smiling, Melanie let him into her room. He sprung up onto her windowsill and stretched his long lean body. She rubbed his ears and then went back to the ipad.

Lobbyists had made two vastly different proposals to the Crime Prevention Committee. The committee designed a separate bill and fiscal note for each proposal and sent them to the House of Representatives for a vote.

The first option, which was the most popular among the Democratic Party, was called INDECT. It’s an intelligent information system that uses observation, searching, and detection for security of citizens in urban environments, at least that’s how the scientists and research teams who developed INDECT described it. Basically, it would be the ultimate big brother nightmare of the conspiracy theorists come true. It included video cameras with heat sensitivity being set up on just about every street corner throughout the nation. Walls would be virtually invisible to the cameras.

INDECT would record, code, and rank everything everyone did for the possibility of violence or any criminal activity. Something similar, but less extensive, was used experimentally in New York City in the early 2000s, and there were major reductions in crime rates. The major issues with INDECT, and the reason the House ultimately voted against it, was the amount of money it would cost and the high level of invasion into the private lives of citizens.

The remaining option was the Justice Law, which was much less expensive because it was set up for the NCPS to piggyback on the SAFE system, and mass production of RFIDs would create jobs and cost pennies to produce.

A transcript from the legislative session had Representative Hartford statement about the reasons the Republican Party felt the law was necessary. There were not enough police officers in the United States to investigate, control, or prevent the massive amounts of crime occurring in all but the smallest cities across the country. Every city was in bankruptcy, due to its attempts to hire more officers to protect the citizens. There was no conceivable way for the federal government to fund police agencies. Alternatives to officers patrolling the streets had to be found.

The transcription of Representative Hartford’s statement continued, with the passing of the Justice Law the government is giving control of personal safety back to the people. The hope is that the criminally minded will stop committing criminal acts against others when their potential victims have the ability to immediately exact justice.

The next morning, Melanie said little to her mom, and her mom gave her the space she needed. Melanie and Mitchel walked into the school to find it in pandemonium. Students were crying, posturing up to one another, and a few fights had broken out. Teachers were trying to get control over the students, but it wasn’t going well.

Mitchel took ahold of a passing sophomore. “What’s going on?” The kid shrank back like a turtle and pointed toward the lockers. Black and red targets had been painted on some of the light yellow lockers.

“Holy shit,” Mitchel said. Melanie ran to her locker. Mitchel was on her heels pushing past the students who filled in the space behind her as she went. She was like a boat cutting through the waves in a lake.  No target. She then went to Mitchel’s locker. No target. Thank god at least her friends had not been targeted.

The loudspeaker blared over the din of crying and yelling teenagers. “Clear the halls immediately. All students must report to their first period classroom.” Melanie didn’t recognize the voice.

“I’ll walk you to class,” Mitchel said. Melanie looked into his eyes and saw that there was no arguing the point.

“You still think it will be safe in Blue River?” she asked as they made their way through the sea of bodies.

He looked down at her. Nothing was certain anymore.

“We’ve still got 27 days to prepare,” he said. They stopped just outside the doorway to her classroom. Holly waved at them from inside and took a desk at the back.

“I’ll see you at lunch?”

“Of course.” She gave him a kiss and watched him melt into the sea.

Once the hallways were cleared, Mrs. Christensen closed the door to the classroom and sat quietly at her desk. Dark circles hung below her eyes and she wrung at her scarf.

The loudspeaker crackled. “All Sophomores are to report to the gym immediately.  All juniors are to report to the theater in ten minutes. All seniors are to report to the dining hall in twenty minutes. Teachers do not release your classes until the appointed time.”

Holly held Melanie’s hand as they walked toward the theater with the rest of their class. Melanie wondered if the principal had contacted the parents of students with targets on their lockers. She was relieved that there were not targets on her friend’s lockers or hers, but she felt awful that there were targets at all. She and Holly took a seat near the front, but on the edge of the row.

Mayor Brady stood on the stage.

“Good morning, class of 2022,” he said smiling down at them.

“I know that things have been a bit chaotic this morning, but I want to talk to all of you about the Justice Law.” He was reading from a card.

“I’ve been instructed,” he held up the cards, “to provide you all with a copy of the Justice Law and to briefly go over the basics. Please save your questions until the end. Some of this information many of you already know, but bear with me.”

“The Justice Law goes into effect on June 1, 2021. All citizens over the age of 16 will have the ability to purchase firearms and to issue three justice deaths. Justice deaths will be tracked by the local and federal police agencies. No other agency or individual will have access to that information. Local police officers will conduct an investigation as appropriate into each death within their jurisdiction and determine if it is a justice death, suicide, or a murder. Torture is considered murder and will be punished as such. Justice deaths must be issued by firearm. All firearms over a .22 caliber must be registered and chipped.  Schools and churches are safe zones. Firearms will be remotely disabled using the RFIDs. Metal detectors will be installed at schools and churches as another level of protection. In addition to these precautions, Blue River is instituting a curfew of 10:00 p.m. for all citizens.”

The room was silent. Mayor Brady took a drink from a water bottle at his feet and pulled a handkerchief from his back pocket to wipe his face. Sweat was seeping through his light green shirt under his arms.

“I’ll take questions now.”

Hands shot up.

“But know that I don’t understand all the technology behind this new law. So I can’t answer those questions,” he said.

Everyone’s hand sank down like a sinking ship in the ocean. He glanced around the room and shuffled through his cards. Stopping at the last one, he held it up and stared at it for a while.

“One last thing I need to mention. If you scrub, Homeland Security will hunt you down and shoot you on site.”

Whispers began and the students all looked at one another. A small girl in the front raised her hand.

“Yes, sweetheart?” asked the mayor.

“What do you mean scrub?” she asked.

“If you remove your SAFE chip from your arm.”

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Three

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

Recap: The Justice Law, which allows civilians to put to death up to three other individuals for any reason without repercussions has just passed. The law takes effect on June 1, 2021, giving Melanie, her friends, and family 28 days to prepare for however that may change their small Colorado town high in the Rocky Mountains.

Holly pulled her eyebrows together and pursed her lips as she stared at Melanie across the orange table. Melanie could practically see the wheels turning inside her head as Holly tried to figure this one out.

“Look Holl.” Melanie pointed to her left wrist. “The SAFE chip is inserted inside everyone’s arm when they are only hours old. These chips have the ability to communicate with one another and with the SAFE program. If they are then linked to the National Cybersecurity Protection System which is the most advanced big brother program out there, the government can have their virtual eyeball on everyone all the time.”

“Isn’t that an invasion of our personal bubble or something?” Holly asked cocking her head to the right.

“Majorly. The two programs were never intended to be linked to one another, but apparently those policies are being modified for some compelling reason.”

Seth popped a mexi-fry into his mouth and leaned back. “Yeah, so the police can sit on their asses eating donuts and monitoring everyone from their air conditioned rooms while regular people do their job.”

“We gotta get back to school.” Mitchel said, sliding out of the booth and shaking his head at his twin.

Melanie looked at Seth who smiled and gathered up their trays and garbage.

“Look it up,” Seth whispered to Melanie as he passed her on his way to the garbage can. He was probably at least partially right, which mad her skin itch. Mitchel held the door as they all went through. She slide her sunglasses on and ran her fingers through her long brown hair. Pulling the keys out of her jeans, she clicked the button to unlock the car doors.

She looked across the top of the car to Mitchel. “SAFE will work if they would just give it a chance. I just don’t understand why they had to do something so drastic.”

“I don’t know Mel, things outside of Blue River are bad. People are killing one another for a can of corn or a spare blanket. The gangs rule the streets. Everyone is afraid.” They slid into the front seats and pulled the doors closed.

Melanie looked left then right preparing to pull into traffic.

 

“The Justice Law gives the responsibility to protect yourself back to the people,” Mitchel said laying his hand on her leg. “Maybe it’s not such a bad thing.”

“Humans don’t have an innate sense of right and wrong. They do what they need to do to survive like any other animal,” Seth said.

Melanie glanced in her review mirror at Seth. He was watching the trees blur by out the window. Holly had her earbuds in and was dancing to whatever was playing on her phone. The radio in the car hadn’t worked for years. Holly smiled at Melanie in the mirror.

*                             *                             *

Sam bounded through the front door of the house dropping her backpack on the floor and dashing toward her bedroom in her pink leotard and ballet slippers.

“Hi Mel,” she said, as she ran passed.

“Hey Sammy, how was your field trip?” Melanie called looking around the wall at the pink streak.

“It was okay. Mom needs help getting the milk.”

“Can you stir the soup?”

Sam came into the kitchen still in her tutu. She grinned and drug a chair over to the stove. Melanie handed her the whisk.

“Just keep stirring, so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Don’t touch the pan though, it’s hot.”

“No duh.” Sam rolled her eyes.

Melanie walked out to her mom’s van and grabbed the milk and a bag of groceries.

“Thanks hon,” Jennifer said. Her keys clenched in her teeth. Her hands were full of two or three white plastic bags leaden with fruits and vegetables. “How was school?”

“It was fine.”

Melanie set the milk and groceries on the table and went to turn the grilled cheese sandwiches over. She poured the tomato soup into three bowls and set them on the table with the sandwiches. Sam chattered away about dance and the museum. Melanie stirred the specks of pepper around in the thick red soup. She picked the crust off the sandwich letting the melted cheese drape across the plate before eating it.

“You should change out of your dance clothes,” Jennifer said.

Sam had stuffed her cheeks with cheese and bread like a chipmunk does with nuts. She nodded and whirled down the hall.

“If dad were here—“

“Stop.” Melanie’s mother set her spoon on the table and reached her hand across the table laying it on her daughters. Her voice was gentle and soft. “There is no use dwelling on what he would do if he were here. He’s not, and we need to deal with the situation on own. Blue River is a quiet town. Everyone knows everyone. Things will stay the same here,” Jennifer said.

“I wish people would stop saying that. This changes everything! Can’t you see that? How can I look at anyone the same? How can I look into Mitchel’s eyes always wondering if he would kill me? Or you? Or Sam? Or anyone?” Melanie was yelling now. Tears filled her eyes. She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.

“Nothing is the same. You can’t just love this problem away, Mom. The world isn’t rainbows and butterflies anymore. Humans are animals. They’re predators. If they feel threatened, they will do what they need to do to survive.”  Melanie’s face was flushed with anger. She pushed her chair back from the table. It screeched across the tile floor.

Jennifer moved to wrap her daughter in her arms, but Melanie pushed her away.

“There’s nowhere safe left to go.” Melanie stalked down the hall, pushing past Sam who was returning to the table.

“Don’t push Melanie. Mom.”

Melanie slammed her bedroom door. She leaned back against it and sank to the floor with her hands over her face trying to control her breathing. How is she going to protect them? Her throat felt like a tiny red coffee straw. She wheezed and chocked on her own saliva. She wrapped her arms around her knees. She had to think. Get control, she told herself. Breathe.

 

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Two

Flag

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 just found out that the Justice Law was passed. The Justice Law allows all US citizens to take the life of three other people without consequence. Melanie is disgusted by the law and can’t understand how something like this could have been signed into law. She dropped her sister off at school and then headed to school herself. She met her friends in the parking lot and headed to class.

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 just found out that the Justice Law was passed. The Justice Law allows all US citizens to take the life of three other people without consequence. Melanie is disgusted by the law and can’t understand how something like this could have been signed into law. She dropped her sister off at school and then headed to school herself. She met her friends in the parking lot and headed to class.

Melanie’s second class was history, and her teacher had the television tuned into the president’s news conference on the Justice Law. After the assassination of President Faust last year, Vice President Ammon Vick assumed the office.  President Vick was a military man with a clean-shaven sharp angled face and long nose. He had piercing blue eyes and short obsidian hair. President was a title Vick had held at the NRA as well, but that was during the war. He held himself straight and bold, shoulders back and his expression even the American flag rippling in the wind at his back. His hands rested lightly on the podium

“—the NCPS will be synced with the SAFE system allowing the tracking of justice deaths. The security codes emitted from the RFID’s in designated safe zones will disable all firearms reducing the possibility of justice deaths in the vicinity of schools and churches. Metal detectors will be installed at the entrance of all schools and churches, which do not already have them. The safety of our citizens while at an educational facility is paramount. If we are to overcome this crisis the education of our children is essential.”

Melanie’s dad had helped develop the SAFE system. It was never meant to be connected with the National Cybersecurity Protection System.  The NCPS had the ability to monitor any cyber activity of U.S. citizens. Homeland Security has always said that they only monitor for terroristic threats and acts of violence, but Melanie knew it was more. Ever since the Homeland Security Act was passed in 2002, the government has inched its way into private homes. It had become such a ubiquitous presence that when the SAFE system was proposed, it was accepted by the people with minor opposition.

Her father had been so proud of SAFE.

“It will change everything Melbelle,” he said. The flecks of green in his hazel eyes caught the rays of the sun as he danced her around in a circle holding her small hands in his larger ones.

“Five years, that’s my prediction. It will take five years to really get going, but then it will fix everything.”

It has been four years, and she still believed in her father’s dream. Just a little more time and things would get better, she thought. SAFE revolutionized the social services system of the United States. The economy was going down before World War 3 broke out in 2016, but the war finished the job. In 2017, SAFE, Social Alliance Freedom Emission, was implemented. Her father had appeared on television with the flag waiving behind him to announce SAFE to the public.

“The Social Alliance Freedom Emission system will create thousands of jobs through manufacturing, installation, debugging, and monitoring. Every American is entitled to food, shelter, and medical care despite their income, race, religion, or sexual preferences. SAFE will replace the current social security and public welfare systems that are bleeding our depleted economy dry. Meeting the basic needs of the starving will eliminate much of the crime.” Her father’s words had convinced sixty-three percent of the American population to vote for SAFE.

“The SAFE system was supposed to fix many of the problems you are now saying will be solved by the Justice Law,” commented an off screen female reporter.

“The SAFE system has failed to do what Robert Craig promised it would,” said President Vick.

Melanie clenched her jaw. Several of the other students who were listening turned their eyes toward her at the mention of her father’s name, but just as quickly refocused on the television.

“We have seen some decline in the street violence, but it is just taking too long. Our cities are war zones and something more has to be done. The Justice Law—“

The bell rang, and the teacher clicked the television off.

“This is history in the making Mr. Johnson, why’d you turn it off?” asked a boy named Harrison.

“It will be your children’s history Harrison, not yours.” Mr. Johnson pushed his black wide framed glasses up on his nose. His brown plaid button down shirt was tucked into a pair of light blue jeans. People in Blue River held onto the past. That’s one of the reasons Melanie’s family had moved there. Her father had been a technological genius of Steve Jobs proportions, but he also held onto relics of the bygone age of the hippies. He was a contradiction in many ways.

In Blue River, you could forget that the war and resulting economic crash had happened, at least on most days. The only reminders that the US economy had fallen into the abyss were the newscasts of the violence in other cities and of course SAFE. And although these were a constant backdrop to daily life, people had a way of not noticing them.

As Melanie walked out to the parking lot to meet up with Mitchel, Holly, and Seth for lunch, she sent a tweet to a couple of her dad’s geek friends she had remained in contact with after her dad’s death. People in Blue River may be happy going with the flow of a simplistic life, but she needed information.

Seth was leaning against Mitchel’s truck clicking through messages or something on his phone.

“Hey Melbelle,” he said, glancing up at her for a flash. She hated it when he called her that. Only her father called her by that name.

“I’ve asked you not to call me that Seth.” She frowned at him.

“Sorry. Did you catch any of the president’s press conference?” He shoved his phone in his pocket.

“Bits and pieces, Mr. Johnson turned it off. You?”

“Not much. June first is the big day.”

“What do you mean?”

“That’s when the Justice Law takes effect. Guess they wanted to give everyone time to prepare, so they announced it early,” Seth said.

Twenty-eight days, Melanie thought.

Mitchel and Holly strode up. Mitchel fist bumped Seth, and kissed Melanie. His eyes were soft as they met hers. They piled into Melanie’s car.

“Where to for lunch?” Holly asked, leaning forward between the two front seats.

“TacoTime,” Mitchel suggested.

Seth groaned, and Melanie started the car. None of them wanted to talk about the Justice Law, but everyone’s thoughts were consumed by it. Melanie knew they would eventually have to talk about it. Something like this couldn’t be ignored by friends. The ride to TacoTime was quiet other than the pine filled air blowing through the windows of the car at freeway speeds. TacoTime was in Frisco, which was only a few miles away. Melanie slowed down as they reach the town. Still no one spoke.

They stood staring at the menu inside the brightly colored dining room. Melanie looked at each of them. She would trust anyone of them with her life. They were her best friends. She had trusted them with her life many times already camping, hiking, rock climbing, and swimming.

None of the others were ready, so Melanie stepped forward and ordered. She waived her left wrist over the SAFE scanner. It beeped indicating it had received the signal. Her credit union information appeared on the screen below her order and the total. She tapped her finger on the touch screen to pay and then stepped out of the way to wait.

Melanie checked her phone, pushed her earbud into her ear, and listened to the video @geekedout had sent her. The others ordered and paid just as she had. They slid into a yellow and orange booth in the corner of the dining area.

“Do you think it is really possible Mel?” Holly asked.

Melanie’s mouth was full. Holly had never had much interest in technology. She relied on Melanie for all of her information on the latest innovations whether it was a device or a program. Unlike Melanie, Holly never wanted to leave Blue River. Holly had no reason to leave. Everything she could ever want was right here.

All of them waited for her to finish chewing even though both Mitchel and Seth had an idea of what Melanie was going to say. Especially Seth, sometimes he had information that not even Melanie, with all her dad’s connections, had heard about yet. She thought he was a hacker, but Mitchel didn’t think his twin was that smart.

Melanie swallowed and took a pull off her soda. She assumed Holly was asking about tracking what the president had called justice deaths. She disagreed with the terminology, but answered Holly question.

“Yes, it’s possible to track justice deaths. Most of the early technology has been in place since 2012. It just wasn’t rolled out to the public. In 2012, a guy named Ron Conway started the Smart Tech Challenge Foundation, which offered millions of dollars to innovators to come up with new idea to stop the school shootings. They developed the Radio Frequency Identification Device or RFID to track firearms and to disable them. I’m sure they have continued and with the combination of the NCPS and SAFE, anything is possible.”

She loved twitter, without it, she wouldn’t be able to answer her friends or her own questions.

, without it, she wouldn’t be able to answer her friends or her own questions.

A Vigil for Justice: Episode One

Blue River Town

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

“Who would you kill?” asked Sam, reading the front page of the Denver Post over her sister’s shoulder.

“No one Sam, and neither will you. Go get your stuff, we’re going to be late,” Melanie said. She pushed the chair back and downed the rest of her orange juice.

“This is insanity,” she whispered setting the newspaper on the breakfast table. She picked up her backpack and shoved her three ring binders inside. How could a law like this pass? Maybe we should just stay home today.  She checked the front pocket of her backpack for her favorite pencil and pen, seeing them safe inside, she tugged the zipper closed. Their smoky cat with blue eyes curled around her leg meowing.

Melanie looked at his food dish. Empty. She sighed and walked to the pantry. Reaching into the bag, she grabbed a handful of the tiny fish shaped pieces and dumped them into Austen’s bowl.

Samantha bounced down the stairs on tiptoe, sandy braids bouncing on her shoulders, and a Hello Kitty purse slung over her shoulder.

“You ready?” Melanie asked grabbing their lunches out of the fridge.

“Yep. I would put a pencil in Byron’s eye,” Sam said.

Melanie shot her a death glare. “Don’t talk like that. This isn’t a joke.”

“He pulls my hair and steals my crayons. Yesterday—”

“Enough.”

Sam twisted her finger in the end of her braid.  “I have a field trip today.”

Melanie cringed on the inside, sending her eight-year-old sister to school on a day like today was bad, but out in public could be life shattering for both of them.

“Really, where are you going?”

“The Museum of Natural History.”

“That will be interesting.” She smiled at her sister.

Melanie pulled the maroon front door of the house shut and checked the lock. Dew clung to her sneakers as she crossed the lawn to her car parked against the curb. She glanced both ways down the street and walked a full circle around the car peering through the windows before clicking the unlock button on her key. God, she was already paranoid as it was. She preferred the term hyper-vigilant, but her friends called her paranoid, only half joking.

She drove the familiar route to Upper Blue Elementary her mind wriggling with the possibilities of the future in their small Colorado town.

“Have a great day at the museum. Mom will pick you up from Ballet at five,” Melanie called as Sam pushed the door of the car closed.

She pulled into the parking lot of Summit High School. Mitchel was sitting in his green pickup truck waiting for her like he did every morning. She put her car in park and turned the engine off. As she stepped out, Mitchel got out of his truck. He was a year old her than her, a senior. His cologne pulled her in before his arms even had a hold of her. The tension left her shoulders with his embrace. She hadn’t even noticed it before. Tension being a normal sensation was definitely something she had to work on.

He kissed her and brushed her long walnut hair back from her face. “Good morning, Mel.”

She breathed him in and rested her head against his chest. Holly clobbered them from the side, her copper curls descending on them like octopus tenticles. All three of them crashed into Mel’s car.

“Did you see the paper?” she asked.

“Totally fine here,” Melanie said smiling as she righted herself from her best friend’s impact. Holly was as intense as her fiery hair and emerald eyes.

Mitchel wrapped his arm around Melanie’s shoulder. She fit perfectly against his body.

“See what?” he asked.

“That crazy Justice Law passed, the one about the killing three people during your lifetime without repercussions.” Her eyes were wild with the implications.

“No way,” he said.

“Yeah, I saw it too,” Melanie said as Mitchel snatched the paper out of Holly’s hands bumping Melanie’s head with his bicep.

“Sorry,” he said. His brown eyes scanned the headline and moved down the page.

“Christ all mighty,” he said.

“Nothing will change here. Blue River is too small, and everyone knows everyone,” Mitchel said, taking Melanie’s hand in his.

“Maybe.” Melanie turned to face her car. The lights flashed and horn chirped.

The three of them crossed the parking lot and entered the school. The first bell rang. Mitchel kissed Melanie again.

“I’ll see you at lunch?”

Melanie nodded. He began to turn away, but then he tipped her chin up and snuck in one last kiss before she turned down the hall where her and Holly’s locker was. Wonder if mom saw the article before she left for work this morning. Melanie’s phone vibrated in her back pocket.

She pulled it out. It was a text from her mom. Passing students bumped and jostled her as she stared down at her phone. Holly looped her arm through Melanie’s and guided her down the hall as she responded to her mom.

“We’ll talk tonight. Sam remember her permission slip?”

“Not sure,” Melanie text

“Alright, have a good day.”

Melanie smiled and slipped the phone back into her pocket. She turned the lock to the locker, left, right, left, and lifted the latch.

“You have chemistry, right?” she asked Holly and handed her the textbook.

“Same as every other B day,” Holly said smiling. “I’ll catch you at lunch.” Melanie nodded and pulled out her calculus book. She pressed her hand against the cold metal locker door, and it clicked shut. Mitchel’s right nothing will change here. Blue River is quiet. There’s not much crime to talk about, and the big cities are a ways off.

“You seen Mitch?” Melanie jumped, ripped from her self-soothing thoughts.  Mitchel’s brother, Seth was staring at her, eyebrows raised, and looking from one of her eyes to the other.

“You okay?” he asked.

“What? I’m fine,” she stammered. Seth was Mitchel’s twin. They were identical, but Seth was a few inches shorter and had bleached his dark hair, turning it orange.

“He just went to class.”

“Cool, see ya.”

The second bell rang just as she walked through the door to class. She slid her backpack off her shoulders and onto the floor as she sank into a desk at the back of the room. She had to focus. She pushed the chaotic possibilities that seeped into her mind aside for now. With her binder flipped open on her desk, she dug in her backpack for her pencil.

She wrote the date on the top line of the page, May 3, 2021, and drew the number three in the corner, outlining it, blocking it, and adding various designs as Mr. Baker went over the assignment.