A Vigil for Justice: Episode Fifty-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.

“The parts for the van should arrive tomorrow morning. Mitchel and I can get it put back together by early evening and you can be on your way,” Zachariah said.

Seth didn’t return until after dinner. Daisy’s barking alerted them to his arrival. He came in with grocery sacks of graham crackers, marshmallows, and chocolate.

“Who wants some s’mores?”

Sam was on her feet bouncing like thumper grabbing at the sacks. “Me, me, me!”

Zachariah started the fire, while Melanie and Mitchel set up chairs around the fire pit. Seth, Jennifer and Sam were search the ground for roasting sticks.

“Is this one good?” Sam asked Seth. Holding up a wiry stick about eighteen inches long.

“It needs to be a little thicker and longer. I don’t want you to get burned.” He mussed her hair.

Zachariah told old Navajo stories while they licked melted marshmallow and chocolate from their fingers. It was full dark when they finally shuffled sleepily into the cabin.

Melanie couldn’t sleep. She was excited to get on the move again. It would only take a few days for them to arrive at the safe zone. Three at most, by her calculation, especially with all the hamsters running in the van’s engine. She smiled at the image. She’d have to tell Sam about that one.

Daisy whined. Melanie had forgotten to let her out to potty before they had turned out the light. She carefully slipped from beneath Mitchel’s arm. He rolled over. She stood still making sure he was asleep before opening the cabin door.

The new moon and lack of city lights threw extra stars into the sky. She tried to find the constellations she could remember from school. Orion,

She smelled the cigarette and turned in a slow circle seeking its orange burn.

Ryan’s voice came out of the dark. “Daisy need to pee?”

She walked toward him. “I forgot to let her out before we went in.”

He blew smoke out of his nose and looked up at the stars. “On the reservation, before we moved here, every night looked like that. I didn’t realize how much I missed it, until it reappeared after the riots and all the power outages.”

“I didn’t know you smoked.”

“I don’t.”

“Another stressful day?”

“Another body. This one was done in broad daylight. Butcher is getting bold or reckless. I’m not sure which. Never seen anything like it.”

“I have.” Melanie’s eyes fell. She kicked at the dirt and then scraped it back into a pile with the side of her foot.

He turned to her letting the smoke slowly drift out of his mouth of its own accord.

She looked back up at the stars. “In Blue River, the stars looked like that every night, before and after the Justice Law passed. But after it passed, I saw it a lot more. I was in the militia and we patrolled the streets every night. One night, I found our pastor over the body of a woman. She was dead.”

Melanie turned to face Ryan. “He said he was doing god’s work by killing sinners.” She peered into the darkness looking for Daisy. She took a few steps toward where Daisy was sniffing in the long grass.

Ryan followed her, but said nothing. He just waited for her to continue.

She ran her fingers through her long hair. “After leaving Blue River, we went to Denver and my mother was shot in the stomach. She was in the hospital for two weeks. I stayed with her day and night. One night when I was walking the halls while my mother slept, I saw a doctor speaking to a man with a terminal disease. She injected something and he died. She said she was helping them so they didn’t have to suffer as her husband had suffered during his last days.”

She took a deep breath and let it out through her nose. “How dedicated are you to serving your purpose, Detective?”

He dropped the butt of the cigarette and pressed it into the dirt with the toe of his black steel-toed boots. Daisy had wandered over to them. Wagging her nub, she scratched at his boot to get what he had dropped. He bent to pick it up. When he rose, his eyes met Melanie’s.

She cocked her head to the side.

The muscles in his jaw bulged as he pressed his teeth together.

She knew the answer. She had seen the distant gaze she had seen in the eyes of the others. The constant questioning of whether what they were doing was truly serving their ideal. Their answer was always the same, yes, because if their answer were no, their resolve would falter and their heart and soul would sink into an abyss.

He nodded and sighed. “I don’t understand what this has to do with the butcher?”

“When you find him, will you kill him?”

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Fifty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mitchel glowered at his brother.

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

Melanie watched him walk away.

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

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

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

And then the punches started.

“Stop it!” Melanie screamed.

Sam started crying. “Mom! Mom!”

Jennifer and Zachariah came running from the garage.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jennifer released Melanie’s arm as well.

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

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Forty-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’s stomach twisted. Ryan’s response was hesitant, delayed, too much so. She looked at Mitchel who was swirling his last bit of pancake around in the syrup. After everything that Mitchel has been through in his life you would think that he would be more suspicious of people. Maybe he was, but he hid it better.

Melanie ran her hand through her hair. Who cares if Ryan is killing people? It’s not like he would be killing innocent people, right? That has to be right. She sipped her coffee and felt him looking at her. She looked up and met Detective Ryan Thunderhawk’s eyes. She found sadness and longing in them before he turned away from her and out the window.

Dawn was clinging to the mountains in the east. The sun not wanting to witness the tragedy flourishing in the United States

The teakettle began to whistle. Ryan lifted it off the burner and poured the steaming water into the French press. Zachariah shuffled into the room rubbing the sleep from his face. Ryan poured him a cup of coffee.

“Thank you,” Zachariah said.

He took his coffee black. While he sipped at it, he looked around the room at each of them.

“I’ve got a full day,” Ryan said setting his cup in the sink and making for the door.

“You’ll be home for dinner?” Zachariah asked.

“Yes, I believe so.”

Zachariah nodded. “We’ll see you then.”

The side door squeaked as Ryan left. Melanie listened to his tires grinding on the gravel and then rose to get started on cleaning the garage, which was her mom’s project for the day.

“How much longer for the parts to come?” Melanie asked.

“Hard to know, but should be soon,” Zachariah said taking a seat at the table. “Next day or two, I expect.”

Melanie took the same path as Ryan had out of the house. She walked toward the cabin enjoying the cool early morning air and the song of the birds in the trees. She paused for a second, closed her eyes, and just listened to them. A smile spread over her face. She took a deep breath and opened her eyes.

As she neared their cabin, she could hear Seth’s voice through the open window. She peered in through the space between the drape and the window frame.

Seth was sitting on the edge of the bed next to Sam. He was reading her favorite book, “Black Beauty.”

Sam stroked Daisy’s head. “We should have named Daisy Beauty.” She sighed. Daisy laid her head on the pillow next to Sam’s and wagged her nubby tail.

Seth smiled. “Yes, you should have. Did you suggest that to Mel?”

Sam shook her head causing her sandy blond hair to shutter.

Melanie had never seen Seth interact with Sammy, but it was obvious they had been reading together for awhile. When had he found the time to read with her? He was always gone “hunting.”

Melanie felt pressure on her back and started.

“What ya looking at?” Mitchel whispered in her ear and peered into the cabin.

“Well, she can be Beauty to you and I,” Seth said.

Sam beamed and nodded. “Why do they call him Beauty instead of handsome, he’s a boy after all?”

Seth pursed his lips. “Sometimes the names people give don’t fit very well do they?”

Again the shake of the head. “He is beautiful though, isn’t he?”

Seth stroked Sam’s head. “He is.” He resumed reading.

Melanie turned to Mitchel. “Have you ever seen them read together?”

“A couple of times.” Mitchel smiled at her. “I think Sam reminds him that we had a sister once. She died when she was Sam’s age. Seth and I were only two.”

“What was her name?”

“Mary.”

“You’ve never talked to me about her. What happened? Did she get sick?”

Mitchel looked away from her. His eyes stared off at the aspen trees. “She fell down the stairs and never woke up. My father was the only one home at the time.”

“I’m sorry Mitchel.” He took them both from him, she realized. His father had killed both his mother and his sister. She laid her head on his chest and wrapped her arms around him. He rested his chin on her head and held her tight.

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Forty-Eight

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

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

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

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

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

He looked up at her.

“More coffee”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ryan stopped and raised his eyebrows and pursed his lips.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Forty-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.

The next morning brought more heat. Growing up in the mountain valley of Blue River hadn’t prepared them for working in the heat. The only person it didn’t seem to effect was Sam.

Melanie smiled as she ran around the cabin with a stick in her hand with Daisy chasing her barking.

“Be careful running with that stick,” Melanie called and sunk the shovel into the dirt. She wiped the sweat from her forehead with the back of her hand.

Her mom had decided this morning that since Zachariah was providing them with room and board, they would dig out his garden and flowerbeds, which were overgrown with weeds like sardines in a can.

Melanie had tried to explain to her mother that it was near on autumn and harvest season not planting season. But Jennifer had insisted they do something and since Zachariah was getting on in years he shouldn’t be digging out all these weeds.

“Cleaning out his garage and house seems more sensible and useful,” Mitchell had offered.

“That’s for tomorrow,” Jennifer smiled and handed him a shovel.

Somehow, Melanie had ended up with the shovel and Mitchel had snuck off to help in the garage. Jennifer stood up from sitting in the dirt throwing weeds out of the garden and into a pile. She brushed her hands off onto her pants.

“I’m going inside for some water. Do you want some?”

Melanie dropped the shovel. “I need to get out of this heat for a few minutes, mom.” She could feel the sweat running down her back and her legs.

“Come get some water Daisy and Sam,” Melanie called and followed her mom into the house.

Melanie flopped into a chair in the kitchen and Jennifer set a glass of ice water in front of her. She drank the whole thing and got up for more.

“Where is Seth?” she asked.

“He got up early and said he was going fishing in the river. I thought it was a good idea, so we don’t eat Zachariah out of house and home.”

Melanie rolled her eyes.

“What? I thought it was a great idea. Anyways, there has been some tension between you and he.”

Melanie raised her eyebrows. “Tension?”

It was Jennifer’s turn to roll her eyes. “It’s pretty obvious Mel. You can’t look at him without disgust or hatred in your eyes. You want to talk about it?”

“No.” Melanie stood up and went back outside. That’s probably why Mitchel has been acting a little off center. Melanie took a deep breath. No more, I’ve got to let it go. Seth is Mitchel’s brother. If we are going to stay together, I need to let my suspicions go. I can’t deal with a wedge between Mitchel and me.

Melanie continued to dig. It felt good actually. It was progress right before her eyes. She could see the results of her hard work. It was empowering in a sense, that she could make a difference, even if it was only turning dirt and eradicating invasive weeds.

When the sun began to dip below the horizon, Melanie stood at the sink washing the dirt from beneath her nails. Mitchel’s hands moved around her waist and he kissed her neck. She smiled. She missed being close to him as much as they had been, before her mom was always hovering.

“Come with me on a walk to the river?”

She turned in his arms and kissed him on the lips. He brought his hands up her back and tangled his fingers in her hair.

When they broke off from one another, she took his hand and smiled her crooked grin. “Let me tell my mom where we’re going so she doesn’t freak out.”

His smile grew and he squeezed her hand. “I’ll be out front.”

After telling her mom where she and  Mitchel were going, Melanie rounded the corner of the house and found Mitchel and Seth speaking in hushed angry voices. Mitchel was gesturing with his hands. His back was to her. Seth saw her first and stopped talking. He nodded to Melanie and walked away toward the back of the house.

“What was that about?” She asked watching Seth disappear.

“Nothing, let’s forget about all this,” he waived at the house and all around it, “and think only of you and me while we frolic in the woods.” He smiled and brushed a strand of her hair out of her face.

She stole a quick kiss and ran down the trail laughing. He chased after her.

Melanie hadn’t run for a long time. The wind pulled at her hair and her body fell into its rhythm. Yes, it seemed to say, we remember this. She pushed harder pulling away from Mitchel.

He laughed. “You’re not getting away from me that easily.”

Not wanting to slip on a rock, she slowed down when she reached the river there was a rock bridge and only a few inches of water flowed over it. She risked a quick glance back before stepping into the water. He grinned at her like a wolf closing on its prey. Mitchel didn’t slow at all. He was always more reckless than she. It was one of the things she loved about him; his willingness to take risks to get what he wanted. And that’s when he caught her, and they both fell into the pool created by the rock bridge.

She let out a gasp as they hit the cold water. She got a mouth full of river water for her girlish sound as their heads plunged below the water. Mitchel pulled her to the surface with him. Her hair was plastered to her face and he began laughing, a full and deep laugh, that waved through his entire body.

Melanie splashed water at him. He grabbed a hold of her and pulled her to him. She hadn’t realized how much she missed this or even that it had been gone from their relationship.

She looked up into Mitchel’s eyes.

He wrapped his hands around her face cupping her chin where the base of his palms met. “I love you so much.”

Never again would she allow the retched chaos of this world steal the precious happiness she felt in his arms. It was that feeling that made all of this, each day, worth struggling through no matter how nightmarish it was.

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Forty-Six

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Forty-Five

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Episode 45

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

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

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

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

“Yep, sure do,” Zachariah said.

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

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

“Melanie,” she said.

He nodded. “Melanie.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Stay,” she said to Daisy.

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

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

“Seth?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daisy barked and snapped at him.

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

“Melanie?” Mitchel called. “Melanie?”

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

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

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

“Here,” she said.

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

“What’s going on?”

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

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

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

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

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

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Forty-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.

They arrived in Ogden at one in the afternoon. Melanie was riding with her mom giving her directions using her phone to the nearest car repair shop.

“Find one near the edge of town,” said Jennifer. “I don’t want to be in the middle of the city.”

“I’m looking mom.”

“Are we there?” Sam asked from the backseat.

“Not yet pumpkin,” Jennifer said.

“Get off the freeway here and take the second left.”

Mitchel and Seth followed them off the freeway.

As the van slowed down, Daisy got up off the floor and whined at the sliding door. “We’re not there yet Daisy,” said Sam.

Melanie glanced back, Sam was coloring on her iPad. Daisy wagged her little nub of a tail and licked Sam’s hand.

“Turn right here,” Melanie said turning back forward. “It’s on the right in a mile.”

The garage was on the edge of town surrounded by rundown buildings that look deserted. Melanie hoped they were deserted. The drove over a bridge a rumbling river ran beneath it. A small lake glistened through the bright green willows and pale olive trees.

There were two other cars in the dirt parking lot as they pulled in. The bay door of the garage was open and a third car was in the garage on blocks.

A man wearing a straw cowboy hat walked out of the garage as they rolled to a stop. Melanie glanced over the needle was creeping into the red. They had pulled over four times and had to wait a half hour for the van to cool down before continuing on their way.

His pace was slow and cautious. He came to a stop and waited for them to get out of the van. Mitchel and Seth pulled in and parked on either side of the van. The man put his thumbs through his belt loops on his light blue jeans. His dark blue t-shirt was stretched over his rounded stomach. It was a little small and he was a little big, Melanie decided. Not like the golf ball at the gas station who was just big.

Mitchel got out of his truck. Melanie quickly tucked her handgun into her holster and got out of the van. Mitchel was unarmed. What was he doing?

The man nodded his head toward Mitchel. His nut brown skin, wide cheek bones, and black hair protruding from beneath his hat marked him as Native American. Melanie tried to remember which tribe was in Utah.

Mitchel glanced back at Melanie and then back to the man.

“Good afternoon,” Mitchel said as he approached. “You know anything about overheating vans?”

The man nodded and turned to walk back inside the shop. Mitchel cast Melanie a glance, eyebrows raised in question.

She shrugged. “Guess we should follow?”

Mitchel followed and she was right behind him.

The old Indian was seated behind a metal desk with his feet kicked up on the desk. “My name’s Zachariah Thunderhawk and this is mine and my son’s garage.”

“I’m Mitchel and this is Melanie. Out in the van is Jennifer, Sam, and by brother Seth.”

He set his straw hat on his desk. “What year is the van?”

“It’s a 2015 Mazda,” Melanie said.

“How many miles?”

“About 42,000 I believe,” Melanie said.

“You have family here?” he asked.

Melanie shook her head.

“You on your way to the safe zone then?”

Melanie nodded. Her stomach sunk. Why did that thought make her so sad? She took a deep breath. Jennifer walked into the small office. When the door opened, a laugh from Sam mingled with the bell hanging on the door and was accented by a bark from Daisy.

“It’s like a furnace out there,” Jennifer said wiping the sweat from her brow with the back of her hand. Her shirt was clinging to her. They couldn’t run the air conditioner when the van was overheating. Sometimes they had to run the heater.

He smiled and began to laugh showing his white teeth. “Yes, it is damn hot out there. Let me pull this clunker out of the garage, and I’ll have a look at your van. It shouldn’t be too serious with only 42,000 miles on it.”

“How long do you think it’ll take?” Jennifer asked.

“Hard to know,” he said. “There’s cold water in the fridge at the back of the garage, help yourselves.”

Jennifer handed him the keys to the van and walked into the garage. Zachariah backed the car in the garage off the blocks and into the yard.

“Where did Seth go?” Mitchel asked Sam as she streaked past him with Daisy on her heels. Sam pointed toward the lake.

Melanie turned toward the trees and the water. A swim would be so nice in this heat.

Melanie followed Mitchel into the garage. Zachariah was bent over the engine.

“Has it been leaking?”

“We’ve been moving around a lot,” Mitchel said.

“I’m going to have to let it cool down and then run a few tests. You may be stuck here a few days. I’ve got some ham and cheese you’re welcome to it if you are hungry.”

“Thank you,” Mitchel said.

“Everybody’s got to eat.” Zachariah closed the hood of the van. “You got some place to stay?”

“We stay in the van,” Melanie said.

“You’re welcome to stay in my cabin out back with two sets of bunk beds. There’s no heater, but I can’t imagine that matters right now,” Zachariah said.

“That’s very kind of you—” Melanie began.

“We’d love to stay there,” said Mitchel. “We haven’t had a bed in a week.”

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Forty-three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rap. Rap. Rap.

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

Mitchel drew his gun. “Head down!”

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

“Whoa, boys. Put those down,”

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

Home Land Security.

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

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

Jennifer and Sam were waking up in the back now.

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

“Yes, sir,” said Mitchel.

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

She scooted out of the sleeping bag.

“Where are you coming from?”

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

“We are stopping everyone coming in from Colorado.”

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

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

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

“Well that’s not us,” said Seth.

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

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

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

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

“No,” Jennifer said.

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

“How long will you be here?”

“Not long.”

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

“Where are you going?”

“Ogden.”

He clenched his teeth again.

“And then?”

“The safe zone.”

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

“Yes,” said Jennifer.

“I see.”

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

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

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

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

“I’ll drive,” Jennifer said.

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

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

“Who? Colorado Home Land?”

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

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Forty-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.

The van began over heating in the afternoon the day they left Denver. They had to pull over half a hundred times and wait for an hour for it to cool down enough for them to continue toward the safe zone.

“How far is the next place where we could stop and have the van looked at?” Jennifer asked.

Melanie stood up from a park bench and walked into the shade. Rivulets of sweat ran down her back. They were sitting in a park in Price, Utah, a small town with few people on the streets and many boarded up windows. At least no one was patrolling the street with semi-automatic firearms.

They were stopping every hour now to let the car cool down.  “Four or five hours, but if we have to keep stopping like this, we won’t get to Ogden, Utah, before tomorrow night.”

Jennifer rubbed her fingers on her temples. “We have to get this fixed, but I don’t want to do it in a small town where we will have to pay double and wait for parts.”

“Agreed,” said Mitchel and Seth at the same time.

Melanie smiled and shook her head. Twins.

The talking stopped and everyone watched Sam.

She was throwing a dirty tennis ball for Daisy on the grass next to the playground. They had tried a Frisbee, but Daisy was much better with the ball. “Go Daisy, go,” called Sam as the huge Rottweiler lumbered after the ball.

Sam stretched out her arms and spun in a circle, faster and faster, until Daisy was barking at her. She tumbled to the ground and laughing. Daisy bounded over to her and began licking her face.

“Stop Daisy,” Sam said laughing and pushing Daisy’s square head away from her.

Jennifer smiled. “Well, it can’t be helped. Why don’t you three go find lunch and pick up some antifreeze and water?”

Melanie made pursed her lips and looked around.

“I’ll stay with you,” said Seth. “I didn’t sleep well and should take a nap while we’re waiting.” Seth kicked off his shoes next to the blanket laid out under a big maple tree.

Mitchel slipped his hand into Melanie’s and they turned to go to the truck. Melanie touched Seth’s arm and mouthed, “Thanks.” He just nodded his head.

She wouldn’t leave her mom and Sammy here by themselves, small town her not, automatic weapons or not. The world just wasn’t safe any longer.

She and Mitchel climbed into his truck and backed out of the parking lot and onto the road. There was an Arby’s on the other end of town. Melanie had seen it when they came through.

“Arby’s?” she asked.

“Mmmm. A Jamocha shake and curly fries.”

It didn’t take them long to get food, stop at the Walmart, and get back to the park.

Jennifer and Sam were throwing the Frisbee with Daisy barking and running back and forth between them.

Melanie slid out of the truck and pushed the door closed with her shoulder. Shifting both bags of food to one hand, she laid her hand on the hood of the van. It was cool. Good they could leave after they ate.

“Come and get it,” she called.

On their way out of town, they filled up both gas tanks. It was a ways before they would reach another city and being stranded in the middle of the mountains was not anyone’s idea of a good time. Melanie shuddered at the thought of having to hitchhike. Who would pick them up with shotguns strapped across their backs anyways?

They didn’t make it very far before they had to pull over again to let the van cool off. There had been a huge climb getting out of the valley were Price was.

They stopped several more times as they made their way through the mountains. It was the middle of the night when they could finally see city lights in front of them, but instead of the lights being a relief the sight of them made Melanie’s stomach twist into knots.

“Here we go,” she said to Mitchel.

“It’ll be okay, we’re not stopping in the city.”

The words had barely left his lips when the blinker on the van began to flash.

“Damn it. What is she doing? She can’t be over heating already,” Melanie said.

Mitchel flipped on his blinker and followed the van into the parking lot of a brightly lit gas station.

Melanie took a deep breath and let it out slow as she closed her eyes. She clenched her jaw and opened her eyes again.

Jennifer was at Mitchel’s window. “Sam needs to use the bathroom.”

“Wait, I’m going with you.” Melanie reached under her seat, wrapped her hand around her nine, and pulled the black handgun out. She slid it into the holster and opened her door.

Melanie wore the gun out in the open where everyone who approached them could see it. The bell over the glass door jangled as they pulled it open.

“Good evening, ladies,” said a man from behind the counter. His body engulfed the stool he was sitting on. He looked like a baseball on a golf tee in his white polo shirt stretched to capacity.

“Restrooms?” Jennifer asked.

“In the back on your right.”

Melanie quickened her pace opening the door before her mom with her gun drawn at her side. She flipped the light on. It was a one seater. She held the door for her mom and sister.

“I’ll be right outside.”

She walked down the hall making sure there wasn’t a back door. She checked the men’s restroom and then walked toward the front.

“Is your coffee fresh?” she asked.

“Yes, ma’am.”

Melanie filled two of their largest cups with coffee and cream. She stuffed a handful of sugar packets and two red straws into her jacket pocket. Leaving the coffee on the counter, she went to the refrigerated section and pulled out chocolate milk and some fancy tea. She set them next to the coffee and waited at the end of the hall until her mom and Sam came out.

“Ready?” Jennifer asked.

Sam bounced up and down trying to grab the chocolate milk from Melanie.

“Just give it to her. You can’t carry all of that.” Jennifer picked up the tea and one coffee.

Melanie walked to the register and waved her wrist in front of the scanner paying for the drinks.

“You all have a safe drive.”

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