A Vigil for Justice: Episode 38

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

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

They couldn’t still be asleep could they. Melanie thought. She stood in the kitchen looking out the window at the Stein’s fifth-wheel parked in the driveway.

She smelled Mitchel’s cologne before his strong hands began kneading her shoulders.

“Is it strange for them to not have come in?” She had spent so much time at the hospital with her mother since they arrived that she had hardly seen her best friend or her family over the past month.

“Only because you are here and I would have thought Holly would want to see you, and Pauline and Thomas would want to talk with Jennifer,” Mitchel said. He pulled open the fridge and set the strawberry jam on the counter.

“Apricot too, Mom likes it.”

She set the loaf of bread, she’d been holding, on the counter and slid the drawer open. Her fingers found a butter knife as her eyes held onto her best friend in the trailer outside.

They had come out and met them when they first arrived home so it wasn’t like Holly didn’t know she was there. Nor was it like Holly to stay inside such a cramped space. Her personality alone would cause the thing to burst.

“I’m going to go out there after lunch and see what they’re up to.”

Mitchel shrugged and began spreading peanut butter on half of the bread she had laid out on the counter.

Sam usually helped her make lunch, but she was sleeping. The pain medication the hospital had given her, made her sleep quite a bit, which was good since her arm hurt so much. The doctor put Sam’s arm in a splint and said that they would have to wait until the swelling went down before they could put her arm in a cast.

They were stuck here for a few more days.

Mitchel pulled BBQ and cheddar cheese chips out of the cupboard.

“I’m starving,” Seth said as he came into the kitchen rubbing and flexing his left hand covered in burn scars. He had the wrist wrapped with gauze. The scars made Melanie think of Mitchel’s father who had burned both Mitchel and Seth when they were children to teach them a lesson. He had deserved to die, but not in the way he had. Melanie shuddered.

Melanie handed him a sandwich.

“Thanks Melbelle,” he said.

Was he trying to piss her off? She took a deep breath. Melbelle was her dad’s name for her. She had asked Seth so many times not to use it, now he did it just to bother her. He wasn’t stupid enough to use it for any other reason.

Mitchel rested his hand on her lower back and bent kissing her on the cheek. He knew too. “I love you,” he whispered in her ear.

She smiled and took another deep breath. She was glad to be back home with him even if the situation wasn’t ideal. Together they could handle anything.

“What’d you do to your wrist?” Mitchel asked his brother.

“I just haven’t taken care of it, so the skin cracked again,” Seth said while chewing.

Melanie slid a sandwich into a ziplock bag and some chips into another one for Sam when she woke up. She took a plate of chips and peanut butter and jelly to her mom.

“How’s Sammy?”

“Sleeping.”

Her mom nodded. “Can you help me to the bathroom?”

“Of course mom.”

Melanie put one hand under her mom’s elbow and wrapped the other one around her waist. “I suppose it is good we are here for a few more days,” Jennifer said through gritted teeth as she pushed and Melanie pulled her up.

“That’s one way of looking at it. Hopefully, the swelling goes down quickly and we can leave soon.”

Melanie stayed close to her mom while she shuffled to the bathroom. Jennifer was getting stronger, but climbing up and down stairs and getting up were still painful.

“I’ll help you change your bandages after you eat,” Melanie said as she waited outside the bathroom door.

Jennifer called to Melanie to come help her off the toilet. “I am glad to be out of the hospital. I’ve slept so much better since leaving.”

Melanie thought that was interesting since the hospital was a safe zone and all firearms were disabled by the RFID’s when you were within one hundred feet of the building. Then again, there were always people like Dr. Alyson Binkard. Melanie shook the thoughts from her head. They needed to get to the safe zone.

Karalynn came into the room and Melanie left allowing them to visit and do needlework. Her mother had taken to it at the hospital at Karalynn’s suggestion. Jennifer and Karalynn had been best friends since college and even though they didn’t see each other often, it always seemed like they had.

She’d change her mother’s bandages later.

She bounced down the stairs and plopped into a chair across from Mitchel at the kitchen table. She dumped some of the BBQ chips out on her plate.

“How’s mom?” he asked.

“Cross stitching and girl talk.”

He smiled.

“Do you think Holly is mad at me?”

He cocked his head to one side. “Why would she be mad at you? You haven’t been here to do anything to make her mad.”

Melanie raised her eyebrows and pursed her lips.

“Oh, you think she’s mad because you haven’t been around? That’s ridiculous”

“It is Holly.” She took another bite of her PB&J. Holly had messaged her and tried to facetime with her on the ipad while she was at the hospital with her mom, but Melanie hadn’t felt much like talking to her bubbly best friend. Yeah, Holly was probably mad at her.

“Nothing a little girl talk and nail polish can’t fix,” Mitchel said. “I’ll go out there with you after we eat.”

Melanie and Mitchel pulled on their holsters and made sure their guns were loaded before opening the front door. Mitchel waved to the guards in the front yard who gave him the all clear signal. Still Mitchel kept Melanie behind him as they walked over to the Stein’s fifth-wheel trailer.

He knocked on the door.

“I haven’t seen them since Melanie and Jennifer came home,” called Erik, the lead security guard.

Mitchel knocked again.

Nothing.

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A Vigil for Justice: Episode Sixty-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.

Minutes passed while Melanie and Mitchel clung to one another. They had no idea how long. The sun was cutting through the slit between the block out curtains. They heard a light knock on the door. They didn’t move. The knock came again but loud and sharp.

Mitchel let go of Melanie. His eyes met hers. She still had his shirt clutched in her fingers. He brushed her hair back from her face and she let go. She stood with all her weight resting on her left as he walked closer to the door.

“Who’s there?” he called through the door.

“Security.” It was a deep rumbling male voice.

Melanie relaxed a little knowing it wasn’t Seth.

“Then you should have a key,” Mitchel said. He drew his gun and Melanie did the same. It was cold as always in Melanie’s hand as she raised it aiming about head height at the door. There was a beep as the person slid the key card through the slot. The door opened slowly.

“We’re armed,” Melanie called out.

“Got it,” said the man as the door opened to reveal his face. Both his facial features and his body were a chiseled boulder. His rifle was in his hands but pointed at the ground.

He held up one hand letting the gun lower even more in his other. “I’m Captain Jackson. I understand you entered the room down the hall. Mind if I come in and talk with you about that?”

Melanie lowered her gun and shook her head. Her shoulders slumped and she thought she was going to crumble to the ground again, but Mitchel was there beside her. He helped her slide up onto the bed.

“I need to get you some ice,” Mitchel said in a whisper.

Melanie nodded.

Mitchel looked back and forth between Melanie and Captain Jackson.

“I’ll be fine,” she said patting the gun laying on the bed next to her.

Mitchel turned toward the captain. “Her ankle is swollen. I need to get her some ice.”

Jackson held up his hand and then turned pulling the door fully open. “Carter, get me a bag of ice.”

“Thanks,” Melanie said, as Mitchel walked over to her and picked up the pillows. He motioned for her to turn so he could prop her foot up.

Carter came in with the ice a few minutes later and handed it to Jackson.

“All clear?” Jackson asked the young guard.

“Yes Captain.”

Jackson nodded and Carter left the room closing the door behind him.

Jackson handed the ice to Mitchel.

Mitchel gently arranged the ice around Melanie’s ankle.

“I’ve already spoken with Jennifer and Sam. I’ve got Seth holed up in his room with guards on the door. I’ll be speaking with him next. So, I want you two to tell me what’s going on here?”

Mitchel looked to Melanie eyebrows drawn together and lips pulled down. Melanie averted her eyes finding the ice more to her liking than the unasked questions in Mitchel’s face.

Mitchel turned back to Captain Jackson. “We arrived in town yesterday evening. We went to the safe zone but Sargent McCall told us we needed to wait 24 hours so he could do the background checks. He suggested we stay here because of the security provisions you have. We came here, got rooms, and went to sleep. Melanie and I awoke to screaming and ran down the hall. You know what we found there.”

Jackson paced the length of the room three times.

“How many are traveling with you?”

Melanie answered, “My mom, Jennifer, my younger sister, Samantha, and Mitchel’s twin brother, Seth.”

Jackson stared at her. “That’s it?”

Melanie nodded slowly, why would he think there was someone else with them?

“Where are you coming from?” he asked.

“Originally? Blue River, Colorado. But most recently Ogden, Utah. We’ve had problems with my mom’s van and my mom was shot in Denver so, it’s taken us a really long time to get here. I’m not even sure how long at this point,” Melanie said. She stared at her hands resting in her lap. She didn’t want to look at him. She was afraid he would see she knew or at least suspected more than what she was saying.

Mitchel stood and paced between the end of the bed and the bathroom. “I’m not sure what you’re implying here Captain Jackson. Can you just be straight with us?”

Jackson’s brown eyes studied them. Melanie could feel his eyes on her, even though she wouldn’t look up at him. His hesitation made Melanie think he was considering his words carefully. Her mom probably said something about the trail of bodies following them all along their route and the similarities in the way they were found. Her mom wasn’t stupid, but sometimes she didn’t see what was right in front of her, especially if it was bad. And this was real bad.

Captain Jackson took a deep breath through his nose. “Alright, Mitchel, let me be straight with you. Melanie’s mom, Jennifer, showed me on a map the route you have taken from Blue River to here. I’ve got a few friends here and there. One such friend called me up a few days before you arrived and told me about a mutilated body that turned up in his area. So, before coming in here to talk with you two, I made a few more calls to Homeland Security along your route. Guess what I found?”

“More bodies,” Melanie whispered. Her head still bowed.

“That’s right. Lots more bodies in the same damn condition as what we got here.”

Melanie lifted her eyes and fought back tears. He was going to contact Sargent McCall and tell him everything. They would never get into the safe zone. They would never be safe. Melanie’s chest began to contract. Her heart was crashing against the inside of her ribcage. Her thoughts continued to consider the possibilities of not getting in, of not being safe. Never safe. She couldn’t breathe.

Captain Jackson was watching her and Mitchel turned his face to her. She was trying to calm herself. Trying to breathe.

“Mel?” Mitchel asked.

She reached for him. The sides of her throat reached for each other.

Mitchel ran to her side. “Breathe, Melanie, Breathe.”

Mitchel looked at Captain Jackson and then back to Melanie. “She needs help.”

Jackson pulled the door open. “I need a medic in here, now.”

Melanie’s world began to blur and rotate. Mitchel’s hand rested on her back. He was speaking to her, but she couldn’t make out the muffled words. Then they became clear.

“She’s pregnant.” He said it over and over.

Melanie’s world faded and burned into the back of her eyelids it said. The baby. Never safe.

A Vigil For Justice: Episode Sixty

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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 sun was setting as they pulled up to the fifteen-foot barbed wire fence surrounding the safe zone. A ten-foot cinder block wall was fifteen feet inside the fence line. Military men wearing green camouflage and carrying light machine guns or LMGs patrolled in and outside the fence line. Cinderblock towers sat along the wall every fifty feet with gatling guns peering over the edge of each huge spotlights making the area look like noon.

The mile surrounding the fence was scorched leaving blackened patches of what Melanie could only assume had been brush of some type. The trees had been felled and their stumps dotted the clearing. Melanie’s stomach clenched at the sight of piles of ash surrounding the burn skeletons of homes.

Their small caravan was crawling along the road. One of the soldiers held up his hand and six of them held their guns at the ready while two approached by a few feet. “I need you to all exit the vehicles,” the one nearest the truck called out.

“Wait for me to help you,” Mitchel said.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” she said glancing at all the soldiers with guns. She and Mitchel had removed their guns and knives before the entered the clearing.

They all piled out of the cars. Melanie tried to land mostly on her left, but her right still sent a dull ache through her leg when she balanced herself on it.

“I need all of you to lift your shirts and turn in a slow circle and then your pant legs,” the soldier said.

As they turned around, he asked “Are you seeking entry into the safe zone?”

“Yes,” Mitchel said.

“We’ll need to scan your safe chips and research your back ground. It takes 24 hours. You can stay in the city and return tomorrow at this time.”

Melanie flashed a glance at Mitchel. There was nothing they could do about it and they both knew it.

The soldier lowered his gun and began to approach them another soldier followed, but held his gun at the ready.

The soldier who had been speaking to them had sandy blonde hair. His high cheekbones and narrow nose were stern and no nonsense. His grey eyes locked with Melanie’s as he patted her down and then moved on to Mitchel. Melanie assumed the others were experiencing the same thing behind her.

“I’m Sargent McCall. I’ll be handling your intake. When you return, you will ask for me.”

Melanie felt the rest of her family approach from behind.

“Is there somewhere you would recommend staying?” Mitchel asked.

“On the outskirts of the city. There’s a Little America, which has guards. It’s a little expensive, but when you’re talking lives, it’s reasonable,” Sargent McCall said.

Jennifer stepped forward. “What about a doctor? Melanie rolled her ankle this morning and it’s pretty swollen.”

McCall looked Melanie up and down. “You’re better off waiting until tomorrow.”

He scanned each of their wrists. The scanner beeped each time he found their SAFE chip. She watched intently as he scanned Seth. There was no way he would pass. How could he? He had killed so many on their way here. Please don’t beep. Please don’t pass the background check.

Seth beeped and Melanie’s heart crashed into her stomach.

They all climbed back into their cars and began back down the road.

Mitchel pounded his hand on the steering wheel. “Why couldn’t it be easy?”

Melanie brushed her fingers through his dark hair. “Tomorrow’s not so far away.”

His knuckles were white as they drove closer to the city.

They found the hotel without much difficulty. Men clad in black holding the usual AK-47s patrolled the building. They stopped them and asked their purpose. Melanie explained they just needed rooms for the night because they were waiting to get into the safe zone.

Mitchel ran inside to get rooms for them. Melanie couldn’t stop moving her eyes over the dark streets despite the guards. Guards hadn’t saved Holly.

He returned in a few minutes and parked the truck. Jennifer and Seth parked as close as possible.

Mitchel came around to her side of the truck and lifted her down.

“Thanks,” she said.

“Stay here while I get some clothes for tomorrow.” He jogged over to the van where Jennifer was already digging in the back.

As they entered the hotel, they were stopped by the bellboy. “You have to pay a deposit for that dog and you cannot leave it alone in the room.”

“That’s fine,” Jennifer said, setting her and Sam’s stuff on the floor. They waited while she paid.

They loaded onto the elevator. Mitchel pressed the number six. “I thought it best to be in the middle somewhere.”

The digital voice announced each floor as they passed and stopped on six. Mitchel handed both Jennifer and Seth a key card. “I got three rooms.”

“Mom you take Daisy,” Melanie said.

Mitchel scanned the card to his and Melanie’s room and propped the door open with his foot. Melanie hobbled into the room. Mitchel set their stuff down and then checked everywhere to make sure the room was empty.

Melanie turned on the small lamp and sat on the edge of the bed. Mitchel came over to her and took off her shoes and socks. She un buttoned her pants and he pulled those off too. She took ahold of the top of his pants and pulled him toward her as he pulled his shirt over his head.

Screaming down the hall ripped them out of their sleep. They both bolted out the door guns in their hands. Melanie saw her mom peeking out her door.

“Close the door and lock it mom.”

Melanie turned and ran after Mitchel who was already down the hall gun at his side. As she passed the door next to theirs, Seth came out with gun in hand and followed behind Melanie.

A house cleaner stood screaming with her hands over her face. The door before her swung opened. Mitchel stopped with his back to the wall right before the doorway. Melanie and Seth caught up to him. Mitchel threw a quick glance around the doorframe.

The color faded from his face.

Oh God not again, Melanie thought.

“Stay here,” Mitchel said.

“No,” Melanie said.

And they went into the room guns raised.

They went through the room systematically. There was no one there. Alive.

A couple lay split open from throat to pelvis upon the bed. The metallic sweet smell of the blood didn’t hit Melanie until they had cleared the room and she had looked on the bodies.

Melanie sank to the floor. Her ankle shooting pain up her leg and her legs failing her. Mitchel picked her up and left the room. He set her on her feet when they reached their room and he had shut the door.

“Everywhere we go, disemboweled bodies follow,” Mitchel said. He took Melanie in his arms and rested his chin on her head. She wondered if he had figured it out and could accept that his twin was a killer. What he would do about it?

She squeezed him tighter.

A Vigil For Justice: Episode Fifty-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.

Melanie caught Mitchel looking at her and smiling as they drove down the empty highway toward Oregon. Northern Idaho was vastly different from the desert south, which she was glad for. She missed the mountain valley she had spent most of her life in the pine and earth scents in the air, the gentle crashing of the rivers, and the sentinel pines and aspens. She closed her eyes and was there once again hand in hand with Mitchel as they hiked their favorite trail up to a bald rocky peak. They’d look down on the valley trying to find the small buildings scattered among the trees.

The truck swerved hard to the left yanking Melanie out of her daydream.

“Sorry,” Mitchel said, “Porcupine.”

She laughed. “You should keep your eyes on the road.”

He wrapped his arm around her shoulder and she snuggled into him. She didn’t usually sit in the “girlfriend” seat, preferring to rest her arm out the window to feel the rush of wind through her fingers. But ever since she had told Mitchel about the baby, he kept her closer. The baby was untimely, but it would be cherished and loved by both of them nonetheless.

They had talked about children, of course, as they had made their future plans with one another during the last year. Mitchel was going to wait for her to finish her senior year of high school and they would both go to the University of Denver. She was going to study veterinary medicine and he was going to study English and writing, so he could teach and write novels. At first she had laughed because his broad muscular shoulders and rough hands just didn’t seem to fit with such things, but it’s what he wanted so she supported him.

After school, they were going to return to Blue River and buy a home where they would raise their family among the forests and rivers of the high mountain valley.

She squeezed her teeth and eyes shut. That was all gone. Now they lived in a world of suspicion and death. And now they were going to raise a child in among that instead of the rivers and forest.

She nuzzled in closer to him and wrapped her arm around herself. “Do you think we should tell my mom?”

“I’ve been thinking about that too. What do you want to do?”

She pulled a long breath in through her nose filling her lungs. The air here was filled with wet leaves and earth. “I don’t know.”

He kissed her on her head. “What about waiting until we reach the safe zone? Then she wouldn’t be as concerned about having a doctor around or you being safe. I think I worry about that enough for everyone.”

“I like that idea.”

Sam would be excited she knew, especially when she would be able to lay her hand on Melanie’s swollen belly and feel the baby move. Melanie was excited and anxious for that day too.

She wondered how Daisy would respond to the baby. She hoped she would be as protective over the baby as she was with Sam.

The thought of Seth twisted her stomach into a tangled slinky. Would he cradle the baby in his arms and read children’s stories as he did with Sam? Would she allow him to do it? She took another deep breath. Her stomach growled audibly.

“Time for lunch?” Mitchel laughed.

“I guess so.” She sat up and turned to look out the back window at her mother’s van following. Although she couldn’t see Seth’s car behind the van, she knew it was there. Everyday she wished he would pull off on a side road and disappear from their lives, but each time they pulled off the road, he was there.

“There’s a picnic table, I’m going to pull over,” Mitchel said.

Melanie turned back around with the grinding and pinging of the tires on a dirt road. She pulled her hair up into a ponytail and twisted the hair tie from her wrist around it. Once the truck stopped and the dust from Seth cleared, she slid to the ground.

The edge of her right foot landed on a rock and rolled outward. Her hands went out to stop her crashing into the ground. “Ouch, god damn it.”

Seth caught her under her arm and was pulling her to her feet as Mitchel rounded the front of the truck at a run.

“What happened?”

Melanie looked up at Seth. “Thanks.” Seth just grinned. She tried to back away from him, but her ankle wouldn’t hold her weight and she began to crumble to the ground. This time, it was Mitchel who caught her.

“Are you all right?” Mitchel asked, pulling her up and toward him. His face was etched with concern.

“I just rolled my ankle. Do we have some ice and something to wrap it in? It will be fine.”

“You should probably get her off her feet,” Seth said.

Melanie looked over her shoulder at him. He was still smiling. Does he know that I know, she wondered. She turned away as Mitchel bent and scooped her up into his arms. He turned walking to the grey picnic table.

“Everything okay?” Jennifer called peering around the back of the van.

“I’m fine, mom. Can you bring me some ice and an ace wrap or something?” Melanie said. Mitchel set her on the hard plastic table.

Jennifer waddled toward them with one of their coolers. Seth jogged over and took it from her setting it on the table’s bench.

“Oh, Melanie, how did you do that?”

Melanie clenched her teeth. It wasn’t like I did it on purpose. “I landed on a rock when I got out of the truck.

Her mom dumped the cheese from a sandwich bag, filled it with ice, and handed it to Melanie. Jennifer hurried back to the van sending puffs of dirt into the air with each step.

“Let me see it,” Mitchel said gently pulling off her shoe.

It was starting to swell and bruise. Melanie sighed; just freaking great, now Mitchel and her mom would make her go into the nearest town.

Sam and Daisy ambled over. “Are you hurt Mel?”

Daisy licked Melanie’s toes, which hung over the edge of the table. Her mom trotted back over rolling the ace wrap back up.

She gasped at the sight of Melanie’s foot and ankle. “You’re going to see a doctor.”

Melanie snatched the flesh colored wrap from her mom and began wrapping the ice to her ankle. “The safe zone is only one day away. We can wait until we get there. I won’t be doing much walking anyway.”

“I don’t know Mel. It looks pretty bad,” Seth said.

Poison darts flew from her narrowed eyes. “It’s safer for everyone to avoid the cities.”

Mitchel and Jennifer glanced at each other. “She’s right,” Mitchel said. “We should be there before nightfall. It’s just twenty miles northeast of Portland.”

Melanie’s mom pressed her lips together turning them a pale pink. “You’re right, but let’s get there as fast as we can. Maybe she can see a doctor tonight.”

Melanie had rolled her ankle many times running. She wanted to tell her mom they couldn’t do anything but, ice and wrap it. She decided not to aggravate the situation.

They ate a quick lunch of ham sandwiches and chips and then got underway again.

A Vigil for Justice; Episode Fifty-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.

How long had it been, Melanie thought. She had been so preoccupied with figuring out who the butcher was that she had scarcely thought of herself. Now that she and Ryan had figured it out, it was another life filling her thoughts. Was it in Denver that she last had her period? She rolls the memories around in her head. No, it was in Blue River. It had been two and a half months.

The yellow hills nearly empty of green surrounded them as she and Mitchel sat on the tailgate of his truck. She took bite of her peanut butter and jelly sandwich. She yawned and Mitchel rubbed her back. She thought the tiredness was from staying up late around the fire with Ryan, but it had begun before that. Maybe, it was the stress they were all under. It wasn’t as if life had been easy these past few months. She took another bite of her sandwich.

How long had it been since she and Mitchel had been together? Their frolic in the river. That was just two weeks ago. It must have happened before then. She loved Mitchel. She wanted to spend the rest of her life with him. And now that she knew for certain it was not him who cut up her best friend and her family, she loved him even more.

She bumped him with her shoulder. His full lips curved into a smile. “Are you feeling better today?”

She nodded. “I slept better last night too.” That was true, since she didn’t get up to talk with Ryan. Ryan was miles and miles behind them now. Two days had quelled her anger with him. She didn’t count on him choosing his father over so many other lives. She had judged him wrong. In the past he had probably been the knight of justice slaying the evil doers of the land to protect those who couldn’t protect themselves, but the meaning of the word Justice was corrupted.

“I noticed that.” Mitchel held out the open bag of Cheetos to her. “You were there every time I woke up to roll over.”

Ryan gave them a small tent to sleep in and some warm sleeping bags. The van was too packed with their belongings for all of them to sleep in there. Melanie had seen to it that only her mom and Sam would fit forcing Seth to sleep in his car or in Mitchel’s truck. Melanie was hoping the door of the truck or car closing would let them know Seth was up.

She hadn’t decided whether or not she should tell Mitchel, at least about Seth. She knew she had to tell him about the baby. She just didn’t want to do that anywhere near anyone else. She wanted it to be their secret. She wanted to have something for only them.

She kicks her dangling feet. “You going to keep watch with me tonight?”

He kissed the top of her head. “Of course.”

She couldn’t be certain she was pregnant. There could be any number of reasons for her period to have stopped, but she thought those less likely.

A few more hours down the road, they found a grove of trees where they could pull off the road and set up for the night. Seth and Mitchel built a fire pit while Melanie and Sam gathered firewood.

“Dinner is almost ready,” Jennifer said as Melanie dumped an armload of branches to the ground.

Mitchel wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. “Seth will you chop the wood tonight?”

“No problem.” Seth climbed into the back of the truck and dug out the axe.

Melanie pulled the sliding door open on the opposite side of the van just as her mother closed up her side. Melanie couldn’t watch without images of chopped up friends. Her whole body clenched with each thwak of the blade into the wood. Some morbid part of her demanded she look at him. It wanted to know if he enjoyed the swinging of the steel. She pulled out the camp chairs and then began riffling through the duffle bags full of clothing to find sleeping bags. She shook her head, how did they manage to get buried under everything.

She jumped as Mitchel grabbed her from behind. He brushed her hair aside and kissed her on the back of her neck. She relaxed in his arms. “I miss you,” he whispered.

She turned in his arms. “I know.”

She missed being with him too, but now that she knew what Seth was, she couldn’t sneak off into the woods with him.

He kissed her. “Tonight?”

She smiled. “Maybe.” She kissed him and pulled from his arms smiling and laughing.

“Don’t tease me now, it’s just not nice.” He swiped and darted for her as she twisted out of his reach, but he caught ahold of her anyway. He knew all her tricks. She pulled just a little as he reeled her in kissing her much deeper than before.

“Mitchel,” Seth said.

Mitchel and Melanie turned. He was standing at the rear of the van, a foxes grin on his face. Melanie tensed and wondered how long he had been there. Mitchel ran his hands up and down her arms.

“What’s up?” Mitchel asked.

“Can you help me start the fire?”

Mitchel patted Melanie on both shoulders, gave her a quick kiss, and wen to help his twin.

When they were out of sight, Melanie placed both her hands on her lower belly.

“You coming to eat?”

Melanie spun around. Her mom was standing behind her. “I made your favorite, well, warmed it up anyway. Pizza is really hard to cook over a fire.”

Melanie nodded, following her mom.

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Fifty-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.

Melanie’s sleep was fitful to the point where neither she nor Mitchel slept much. He spent much of the night stroking her hair while she listened to the gentle da-doom of his heart.

Mitchel laced his charcoal 9 mm onto his well-worn leather belt securing it to his left hip and buried an eight-inch serrated hunting knife into the top of his right boot. As he stood, Melanie combed his coarse, near black hair with her fingers.

“You ready to get back out there?” He stroked her cheek with his thumb.

“Yes.” As the words left her lips, she knew she wasn’t. In some ways she agreed with Seth at least about planting themselves here at the wooded edge of Ogden, Utah. “No, No, I’m really not.”

His lips smiled, but his eyes said something very different. Not fear, but uncertainty. Not now Mitchel, she thought, I need you to be strong. I need you to be certain we are trundling in the right direction.

“The safe zone is the right thing to do,” he said. They slipped out of the door for their last breakfast with Zachariah and Ryan. She fluttered her eyes against the intensity of the early rising sun.

Despite the sun dots in her vision, she found her mother fussing with the final packing of the van.

“You coming to get breakfast?” Melanie asked.

The sun singled out the silver woven into her mother’s hair. “After I get this all to fit in some reasonable way,” Jennifer called over her shoulder.

Sam was pulling a slobber soaked tennis ball out of Daisy’s jaws with two fingers.

“That’s just gross, Beauty.” Sam crumpled her whole face.

Sam had been calling her Beauty for the past few days and it always brought the image of her little sister snuggled up against Seth rippling through her head and raising chicken flesh over her arms.

Mitchel rubbed her arms and then cupped her hands in his and blew heat into them.

Melanie pulled her hoodie over her head. Her arms wandered until they found their tunnels. Mitchel took her hand as the gravel pressed into the soles of their feet. She needed new shoes again, but there was no way they were all going to play Old Maid with their lives.

Sizzling potatoes greeted them as they pushed open the solid wood door. Zachariah sat at the table turning the catchup bottle a quarter turn, around and around. His eyes fixed, but his thoughts in another land. He didn’t look up when they slumped into their chairs.

“Thought you could use some good food before you began your journey,” Ryan said. “Scrambled or poached eggs?”

“Scrambled,” Melanie and Mitchel, said in unison.

Zachariah’s walnut eyes rise. “I have something for each of you.”

He returns from a back room and holds out both of his closed hands one toward each of them. He presses a cool stone into Melanie’s hand as his right hand does the same with Mitchel.

His eyes hold hers. “For inner strength.”

She opens her hand finding a quarter sized orange-red stone carved with a bear paw resting in the center of her hand.

“Leadership,” Zachariah said to Mitchel.

Melanie leaned over. A deep blue stone with a bear sat in the center of Mitchel’s rough hand.

“Thank you,” Melanie said.

It was finally warm enough for Melanie to tug off her hoodie.

Ryan mussed Sam’s hair and stroked Daisy’s head. “You two heathens be good for your mamas.”

Sam tiger bounced over to the van.

Melanie hugged Zachariah, thanking him once again for the gift.

She sidestepped and wrapped her arms around Ryan. “Will you follow?” Her voice was barely audible.

He let out a deep breath, which brushed across her neck. “I cannot abandon my father. I am sorry.”

Her stomach capsized. How could he abandon them? She clenched the lids of her eyes together. She let go of him and nodded her head. She would have made the same decision were it her on his side of the gate.

Jennifer slid open the side door of the van. Sam and Daisy sprang in. “Bye. See you later,” Sam little hand waved side to side like the pendulum of a tolling grandfather clock.

She pulled herself into Mitchel’s pickup truck and leaned her elbow out the window. Mitchel was already waiting inside. He turned the key over and part of her wished it wouldn’t start, but it did.

Seth honked his horn from behind the van that was tucked between him and them.

Taking the truck out of park, Mitchel began guiding them down the long dirt driveway.

Ryan cupped his hands around his mouth. “Protect one another.”

Melanie watched their temporary home diminish in the rearview mirror.

“Pull over Mitchel, I’m going to be sick.”

Rocks thunked inside the wheel well as he put on the breaks and pulled to the side of the road.

She threw the door open and dropped to the ground bent double. Mitchel was at her side his hand resting on her back. She spit the remains of egg and hash browns from her mouth and wiped her mouth on the back of her hand.

Her mom was just behind Mitchel when she lifted her head.

Mitchel raised his eyebrows.

“I’m fine,” she said.

“You’ve looked so tired the last few days, Melanie. Are you sick?” asked Jennifer.

“No, mom, I’m not sick.”

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Fifty-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.

Melanie pulled the blanket tighter around her shoulders and nudged a log in the fire. Tendrils of smoke wove among the slender trunks of the aspens. The trees looked bare, but for the stars the blotted out. Their leaves rustled. Melanie could understand why Ryan and Zachariah stayed here, It was beautiful. It was far enough from the city that they didn’t get caught up in the warzone, but close enough for Ryan to continue his work.

The Justice Law was probably a huge blow to people like Ryan who had the desire to protect and seek justice for those who couldn’t. For those who became police officers prior to the real war it must be like shot in the heart to let people go who have killed someone over something petty.

Melanie could hardly remember the time before the war. It was hidden by all the death and destruction that has come after. She was two when “The war to end all wars,” started. That’s what they wanted it to be anyway, but things don’t always turn out as we plan. It didn’t get bad in the US until a few years later after. The economy had been in shambles before the war and the war did the same to what remained as it did to the human lives involved.

The screen to the house clicked shut. Melanie and Daisy perked up as Ryan strolled toward them with his hands stuffed in his jean pockets.

“Couldn’t sleep?” she asked.

He shook his head. “Too much swirling around in here.” He tapped the side of his head with his forefinger.

Melanie stared back at the orange and blue flame.

“I brought you some marshmallows and chocolate,” Ryan said with a sideways grin.

She shook her head.

He held them out toward her. “May not get them after tomorrow.”

Melanie glanced around for a stick. It was these little gestures and small kindnesses that made this new world survivable. Her fingers gently tugged two soft marshmallows free from the plastic bag. She shoved one in her mouth and the other on the stick.

“We may not get a lot of things after tomorrow.” She held the white puff above the embers along the side of the fire pit.

She doesn’t want to ask but can’t help it. She needs to know. “Are you leaning one way or the other?”

He leans his head all the way back looking up at the dark sky. “Sometimes it’s hard to tell which star is brighter than the others. Sometimes you have to watch them for a long time waiting for one to twinkle just a little more than the other.”

The door to the cabin creaked. Ryan and Melanie turned. Daisy stood wiggling her tail back and forth and sauntered over to Mitchel. He smiled and bent to let her lick his fingers.

“You got any more of those?” Mitchel asked lifting his eyebrows.

“For you, always,” Melanie said handing him the bag.

He glanced around, not finding a long enough stick on the ground, he twisted a low hanging branch on a trees. “Hey Ryan, you got a knife?”

Mitchel crouched by the fire holding out his marshmallow.

“Couldn’t sleep either?” Melanie asked.

“I rolled over and you were gone. I waited awhile, but when you didn’t come back I decided I’d look for you.” He waivered in the crouch and then just sat cross-legged on the ground. Daisy curled her huge form around his back and sank to the ground. He patted her butt and her little nub wagged.

Melanie clamped her golden marshmallow between two pieces of chocolate. She always thought the crackers were unnecessary.

Melanie moved to sit next to Mitchel in the dirt. She slid belt and holster off her hips and lowered herself to the ground setting the gun in her lap. Mitchel wrapped the blanket around her shoulders and tugged her closer to him. He had stopped wearing his gun since they had been staying with Zachariah. He, Jennifer, and Zachariah were the only ones who walked around without one.

“Everyone all ready to roll out tomorrow morning?” Ryan asked.

“Everyone but Seth. He is dragging his feet. He thinks we should just stay here.”

“Oh, why’s that?”

“Thinks we’re just as safe here as anywhere and he likes the hunting, doesn’t think he will be able to do that in the safe zone.” Mitchel pulled the marshmallow from the end of the stick stringing melted marshmallow across his knee. “Sam will want to take the rest of those with us.” He rolled the top of the bag and set it on the chair.

The cabin door creaked again. This time it was Seth.

“Marshmallow?” Ryan asked.

“I was just going to the bathroom, but…”

After returning from the tree line, Seth pulled a marshmallow from the bag and handed it to Mitchel. Seth pulled the chair closer to the fire and stuck the marshmallow into the flames.

“You’re going to burn it like that,” Melanie said.

“I know.”

Melanie shook her head and slid down onto her side resting her head on Mitchel’s leg. The heat from the fire was making her tired.

Mitchel stroked her hair. “Why don’t you go inside? It’s softer than the ground.”

“Are you coming in with me?” She asked.

“In a minute, I will.”

Melanie stood picking up her gun and started back toward the cabin.

Ryan began whistling Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Fifty-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 kicks at the dirt and chews her bottom lip as she walks back to the cabin. Seth or Mitchel. Mitchel or Seth. It was becoming an obsession. She shook her head as if it would all just fall out and she could walk away from it all. She was nauseous again. It felt like it was all the time.

She heard one footstep before he grabbed her around the waist. She sucked in a startled breath and found herself looking up into Mitchel’s smiling face. “Where were you just now? I can’t usually sneak up on you like that.”

She dropped her gaze to his chest and he wrapped her in his arms. “We’re so close and every time we make a move closer to the safe zone something happens to slow us down. It’s like we will never get there. Sometimes I feel like were being stalked by bad luck or all our bad karma is resolving itself before the end.”

He tightened his arms around her forcing her to turn her head. She watched Ryan and Seth’s backs disappear among the trees.

“We’ll make it Mel. I promise. Sammy, your mom, and you will be safe.”

She knew he had intentionally left himself out of those who would be safe, but there were so many reasons why he would have done it. She wasn’t sure if she should ask because she knew the answer would make sense even if it wasn’t true. God! How could she think like such sickening thoughts. He surely meant that he may have to take a life before they get there and he was willing to do it to make sure they were all safe and could stay together. Of course, that’s what he had meant.

He kissed the top of her head and she took a deep shuddering breath.

“You going to stop making out and come help me?” Zachariah called from inside the garage.

Melanie had to smile. He was always giving them a hard time about “making out.” Who even used that term anymore?

Mitchel kissed her on the lips. He let it linger. It had been awhile since they could be close. He kissed her neck and her mouth again.

“Soon,” he whispered.

She nodded and turned to go find her mom.

She opened the cabin door. The small room was empty. Melanie set to making the beds. When her mom still hadn’t come back, she walked over to the house.

“You seen mom?” she asked Mitchel He poked his head out from under the hood of the van.

“In the house.”

Melanie’s heart beat hard inside her chest. Ryan’s words echo in her head, “He kills his victims when they’re asleep.”

She walked faster and then began to jog. She crashed through the door. “Mom?” she called out.

She walked farther into the house. “Mom?”

She could hear Sam laughing as she turned to go down the hallway. “Mom?” her voice was even louder and taking on that desperate tone.

The bathroom door swung open.

“What’s wrong Melanie, is someone hurt?” Jennifer asked.

“No, I just, I just couldn’t find you and I was…”

“Oh, Melanie.” Her mom closed the gap between them and hugged her. “I was just bathing Sam. It’s probably the last one any of us are going to get for a long time. You should probably take one too.”

Melanie could see Sam in the bathtub, jumping a yellow rubber duck through the mountains of white bubbles. She had pile on her head as well. A princess hat, she had told Melanie once.

“I will,” she said pulling away from her mom. She’d been anxious since she voiced the words. Saying them aloud had made it real. “I’m going to pack up all the clothes other than one pair for everyone.

“All right, and Melanie, we’re going to be fine. It’s only a few more days until we reach the safe zone.”

Melanie nodded and turned to go. She had learned over the last three months that few days could mean forever.

Ryan and Seth emerged from the forest that evening hauling a buck between them, ducks over one shoulder and rabbits the other.

“You should see this kid with a knife,” Ryan said patting Seth on the back.

Seth shrugged. “It’s not so hard. My dad taught me and Mitch when we were kids. Anyway, Mitchel’s better than me.”

Mitchel and Zachariah strolled out of the garage grease smeared on the hands and above their brows. Mitchel tried to wipe it off by rubbing his hands together. He pursed his lips and pulled them to one side and then rubbed his hands on his pants.

“Mitchel that will never come out of your pants,” Jennifer said.

Mitchel slung his arm over Seth’s shoulders. “And not just with the knife.” They both laughed. You could hardly tell them apart when they stood side by side. It was mostly their personalities that separated them from each other. Mitchel was an inch tall her and broader in the chest. And their lips were different, Seth’s were thin like their father’s and Mitchel’s were fuller like their mother’s.

She looked at Ryan. He was smiling and watching the twins. He was probably thinking the same thing as her. Melanie turned away scooping up the ducks to take them around the back and yank out all the feathers. It could be both of them. She felt the tears coming again.

“Sam can you bring the rabbits?”

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Fifty-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.

She snuck back into the cabin before anyone awoke. She wouldn’t sleep, but she wanted to be there so no one would ask where she had been. She laid on the bottom bunk next to Mitchel. She watched him sleep, the slow rise and fall of his chest. He scrunched up his face and shook his head, dreaming. She laid her hand on his chest and he rolled to his side encircled her waist with his arm and pulled her into him.

Oh god, what had she done. She didn’t want it to be him. It couldn’t be him. She loved him too much for it to be him. She took a deep breath and willed the tears not to fall. She knew him. They had been together for so long. He wouldn’t do it. She squeezed her eyes closed tight. The memory of Holly and her parents sprung into her head. Her eyes flew open as she gasped.

Mitchel leaned up on his elbow and kissed the back of her neck. “Are you alright, you’re trembling?”

She nodded not trusting her voice. He kissed her again just below her ear. It wasn’t him. No one who could be so kind and loving could do that to Holly or anyone else. It wasn’t him.

The sun began to heat the cabin to an uncomfortable temperature stirring all of them from their beds.

Jennifer stretched her arms over her head. Sam hugged her from behind. “Are we leaving today, mommy?”

“Early tomorrow morning, my sweet girl, but we’ll get all ready today.”

“But I don’t want to go. I like it here. Zachariah is so nice and he tells me stories.”

Melanie’s eyes fluttered open. She had managed to get an hour of sleep riddled with ghastly scenes from the last six months of her life. How could the legislature have thought the Justice Law was the right and best choice?

Swinging her legs over the edge, she sat up Mitchel’s arm sliding off her causing him to wake too. He rolled onto his back yawned and rubbed his face with both hands.

“We need to gather up all our things and get the van packed up as soon as Zachariah gets that part into the van,” Jennifer said.

“I can help you in here,” Melanie said not wanting to watch Ryan watch Mitchel and Seth attempting to decide which one was the butcher. He didn’t have another suspect. He had told her that much last night around the fire while she threw little twigs into the flames.

“I’ll right I’m up, and I’ll go help Zachariah with the van,” Mitchel said untangling his legs from the blanket. He pushed up on the top bunk causing it to rise then he dropped it. “Seth, what are you going to do to help get ready to go?”

Seth hung his head over the bed looking like he had been awake awhile. “I thought I’d go hunting and get some food for the trip.”

Melanie stiffened. Mitchel cast her a questioning glance with a raised eyebrow. She yawned and rubbed her eyes trying to hide her response, but she knew he wasn’t fooled. He rubbed her back, and she bowed it out enjoying every stroke of his hand. She closed her eyes and tilted her head to the side. It can’t be him. His hand moved to massaging her tense muscles at her neck and shoulders.

When they all emerge from the cabin, Ryan was talking with Zachariah just outside the garage. Was he going to have his dad help him watch them? Melanie wondered. It made sense since he couldn’t be in two places at the same time.

“Good morning sleepy heads,” Ryan said grinning. “How can I help today?”

“You taking a day off?” Mitchel asked fist bumping him.

“I thought I’d help out around here,” he said.

“You hunting and fishing today, Seth?”

Seth nodded perching his rifle on his shoulder. “Going to be my last chance for awhile.”

“Mind if I join you?”

Seth’s jaw muscles bunched, and he shrugged his shoulders running his hand through his hair. “Not in the least. I’d be great to have some company.”

Ryan nodded and went into the house. Melanie followed him in so she could use the bathroom. She quickened her pace once she was inside and touched him on the shoulder.

He turned. She glanced over her shoulder. “You sure you should go alone with him?” she whispered.

He smiled and stroked her cheek. “The butcher, kills his victims in their sleep. I’ll be fine.”

She pressed her lips together between her teeth and nodded. “I’ll make you some sandwiches.” After using the bathroom, she went into the kitchen. She packed each of them a peanut butter sandwich, an apple, and some pretzels.

With all her being, she wanted it to be Seth. Did that make her a horrible person? No, she decided because it was one of them and it couldn’t be Mitchel. She would die if it was Mitchel. Has she become a killer too, conspiring with Ryan to have Seth or Mitchel shot down? Maybe she has finally found who could be one of her three. She shoved their lunch into a small cooler along with some water bottles.

All that mattered was getting mom and Sammy to safety. If she had to kill one of them herself, she would. She ran her hand through her hair and walked out the front door the screen banging against the frame behind her.

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Fifty-Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ryan stirred the fire not looking at her.

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

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

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

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

Ryan waited, ever patient.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They sat there watching the sun come up.

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