A Vigil for Justice: Episode Forty-One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karalynn helped Jennifer out of the room.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, thanks,” Melanie said.

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

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

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

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

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Forty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They would never get out of Denver.

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Thirty-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.

Mitchel looked back at her. She could see the question in his eyes, and the fear. There were only a few reasons Richard and Pauline wouldn’t answer the door. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. They could have left in the night. No then, Erik would have known. They could be asleep or they could be, no not with the security.

Erik laid a black gloved hand on Mitchel’s shoulder and she and Mitchel stepped back from the door. This couldn’t be happening. Everything was fine. Holly was fine. There was security. Melanie couldn’t breath. Her throat had become a little red coffee straw. The world narrowed and blurred.

Mitchel was shaking her by the shoulders. “Melanie. Melanie. Breath. It’s okay. They are okay. Breath.”

She took a ragged breath.

“Maybe you should take her in the house?” Erik said.

“She’s all right.” Mitchel said pulling her into his arms. She took a slow deep breath and nodded her head. “I’m okay. Everything is fine.” The words echoed in her head. I’m okay. Everything is fine.

Erik was talking on his radio. “Josh, Braxton, clear your area and come around to the Stein trailer.”

“Ten-Four.” Came the first response.

Everything is fine. I’m okay. Melanie breathed.

“Ten-four.” Came the second.

I’m okay. Everything is fine. Melanie took as step  back from Mitchel.

The other two security guards clad in black fatigues came around opposite corners of the house.

They held up their thumbs, all clear.

“You two will have to step back or go in the house, I’d prefer you go into the house,” Erik said.

“I’m not going anywhere until I know that Holly is safe,” Melanie said.

Erik turned toward the other security guards. “Josh you open the door. Braxton at my back.”

Both men nodded and drew their guns. One of them, Josh, stepped over to the door. He placed his black gloved hand on the doorknob and waited for the signal from Erik.

Erik gave him a nod.

Josh pulled the door open. Erik and Braxton moved silent and swift up the two steps and into the dark trailer.

Josh locked the door back against the exterior wall and stood at the door waiting for Erik’s command.

The smell hit Melanie in the face like a wrecking ball.

Sweet rotting meat.

She crumbled to the ground. Mitchel turned to catch her, but it was too late. The world swam in front of her. Mitchel was trying to get her into the house. He was talking but he sounded so far away. He grabbed her face with his hands. They were cool against her skin.

She saw the black boots of Erik and Josh as they came back out alone. Erik scooped her up and took her into the house.

Mitchel wrapped her in a blanket. He wrapped his arm around her.

I’m okay. Everything is fine.

He brushed her hair back out of her face. “Melanie.”

She was dreaming. This had to be a dream.

“I need everyone to stay in the house,” Erik called out.

“What’s going on?” Karalynn said as she bounded down the stairs.

Melanie turned her head toward Erik who was standing blocking the front door. Braxton had gone into the kitchen. Melanie could hear his muffled voice through the wall. He was on the phone. Josh stood in the doorway to the kitchen.

Erik looked at Melanie and then turned back to Karalynn. “We have a situation.” His voice was low, but Melanie heard the words anyway.

Melanie stood. Her head spun. She grabbed onto Mitchel’s shoulder, and he clasped her hip in one strong hand.

“A situation?” Melanie yelled. “My best friend and her family have been butchered in the driveway.”

“What?” Karalynn asked, “What’s happened Erik?”

“Yes Erik, What happened?” Melanie asked. “Why didn’t you guys stop that from happening?” Melanie took three stumbling steps toward him. Mitchel stood and stepped in front of her. She tried to push him aside, but he didn’t budge. She tried to step around him, but he placed his other hand on her other hip.

“Where were you when they were screaming!”

Tears ran down Melanie’s face now.

“Where were you when they were bleeding to death!”

She wiped her face.

“I’m so sorry, Melbelle,” Jennifer said in whisper from the bottom of the stairs.

Melanie looked at her mom. “Not Holly, mom. Not Holly.”

Jennifer shuffled over to her daughter and took her in her arms.

Homeland security arrived in their black SUV within twenty minutes.

There hadn’t been any screaming said the man in the grey three piece suit. Their throats had been slit starting with Richard and Pauline who were nearest the door. Holly had died last. She had choked on her own blood. The butcher then opened up Richard from Adam’s apple to groin hauling out his innards.

Melanie had thrown up more times than she could count before the man in the grey suit had finished speaking.

They don’t know who did it, but everyone in the house is a suspect along with the security guards. No one will be leaving until they are cleared by Homeland Security.

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Thirty-Seven

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

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

Sam sat at Melanie’s feet coloring in a princess coloring book and telling Melanie the story of Beauty and the Beast.

“At first, Belle thought the beast was mean and ugly. Then she learned that he was only ugly on the outside. And he was mean because other people were mean to him. And then she loved him. And then they were happy.”

Melanie was only half listening to her sister as she worked on her ipad trying to find the best route to the safe zone in Oregon. She wanted to go through as few major cities as possible.

Sam tapped Melanie’s knee.

Melanie pulled her eyes away from the screen. “What? Sorry Sammy.”

“I was telling you the most important part.” Sam stuck out her lower lip and hung her head. Her long honey hair fell forward, and Melanie had to smile.

“And what is the most important part?”

Sam smiled shyly and tilted her blue eyes up to Melanie, her smile growing with each moment.

Melanie arched her eyebrow and waited.

“Oh all right I’ll tell you.” Sam looked around the room and climbed up on the couch next to Melanie.

Melanie slid the ipad off her lap and onto the couch.

Sam cupped her hand around her mouth and Melanie’s ear. “Sometimes beautiful things are hidden inside of something ugly and mean.”

Melanie grabbed ahold of Sam and tickled her. Sam threw herself back on the couch and tried to squirm away laughing wildly.

“It’s good to have you back and hear her laugh like that,” Seth said as he came in from the kitchen. He sat in the blue and green armchair in front of the boarded up floor to ceiling windows.

“Help me Seth!” howled Sam.

“No way,” he said taking a sip from his coffee.

Mitchel came in carrying two cups of coffee and the newspaper under one arm. He set one cup on the table by Melanie and then took the other armchair.

“Mitchel,” Sam whaled, “help!”

Mitchel laughed, “You’re on your own with that one kiddo.”

Melanie stopped tickling. “All right Sammy, there’s coffee on the table and I don’t want you burned. Why don’t you go get some cereal or make some oatmeal for you and mom? I bet she’d like to have breakfast with you.”

Sam’s eyes got wide. “I almost forgot she was here. I’m going to get flowers from outside.” She dashed toward the front door.

“No.” Melanie lunged for her sister barely catching her arm.

Melanie heard her sister’s arm pop and Sam dropped to the floor screaming.

Karalynn came running into the room eyes wide. “What happened?”

Melanie knelt next to Sam trying to scoop her up in her arms. “I’m so sorry Sammy. I didn’t mean too. You can’t go out front.”

Sam curled into Melanie’s arms sobbing. Melanie rocked her. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” Sam began to quiet to a whimper. Her injured arm tucked in between her and Melanie.

“Sam ran for the door and Melanie grabbed her arm. It’s probably broken,” Seth said sipping his coffee.

“It’s broken!” Sam screeched. “You broke my arm.”

Melanie wanted to wrap barbed wire around Seth’s mouth, but a glare would have to suffice. Mitchel hit his twin in the shoulder. Seth looked up at Mitchel. “What? I heard it pop from here.”

Three security guards garbed in black from head to toe burst into the house from the kitchen door and the front door. Karalynn held up her hand and they stopped.

Sam began to cry in earnest again.

“What’s going on?” Jennifer called from upstairs.

Melanie shot Mitchel a wide-eyed look. “Don’t let her get up. She could rip something. Tell her I’ll bring Sam in just a second.”

Mitchel trotted up the stairs.

Melanie tried to get up and then had to adjust Sam in her arms. Sam cried out as her arm was moved. Melanie pushed to her feet. She carried Sam up the stairs to her mother.

Jennifer pushed herself to a sitting position on the bed as Mitchel moved the pillows behind her. Melanie laid Sam down next to Jennifer. Sam held her arm to her chest.

Jennifer reached for the arm.

“No, no, no,” Sam said, tears sliding down her cheeks.

“Melanie didn’t mean to Sammy,” Jennifer said.

“I know she didn’t,” Sam said between breaths. Her nose was running and she rubbed it on her mother’s blankets. “I just wanted to get you flowers for breakfast.”

Jennifer smiled and brushed Sam’s hair back around her ear. “I don’t eat flowers.”

Mitchel put his arm around Melanie and lead her out of the room. Once in the hallway, he wrapped his arms around her, and she buried her face in his chest. They’d have to go back to the hospital. She sighed. God! Would they ever get out of this city?

Mitchel rubbed her back. “Come get some coffee.”

They went back down stairs. The guards had gone and Karalynn was in the kitchen making oatmeal.

Seth sat in the same spot reading the newspaper.

“Did you find a route?” he asked looking over the top of the paper.

“I think so. It will take us through Ogden, Utah, but that’s the only big city,” Melanie said as she sank onto the couch and picked up her cold coffee.

She took a sip and scrunched up her face. Mitchel took the coffee from her. “I’ll get hot coffee.”

“Thanks, babe.” She turned back to Seth. “Anything interesting?”

“There was another murder. Homeland security think it was the same guy. How long will the trip take?”

Good question. Melanie thought. This portion of the trip wasn’t supposed to be a month, but that’s basically how long they had been in this boarded up house Denver. It was about 1800 miles to the safe zone from here. It might as well be on the other side of the world.

Thankfully, Holly’s family had waited rather than pushed on without them. It would be safer in a caravan. She was surprised they hadn’t come in when Sam was screaming now that she thought about it. Maybe they didn’t hear her, out there in the fifth-wheel. It was possible.

“It’s hard to say. My mom will need to take more breaks. We should combine cars. You could drive Mitchel’s truck and we could take mom’s van.”

“I’m not leaving my car,” Seth said.

“Why not? We don’t need it and it is wasting money to take it.”

“I need my space and it’s my money.”

Melanie clenched her teeth. Seth was frustrating sometimes.

Mitchel came back in with her coffee. He looked back and forth between them. “Everything all right?”

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Thirty Six

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Melanie pushed Jennifer down the hallway in a wheel chair. Dr. Wester had cleared her to go home. Her movement was still limited. She had bandages, which needed changing daily along with a few medications she had to take to prevent infection and for pain.

Sam bounced along the hallway in front of them singing and spinning like a ballerina. She had arrived with Mitchel and street clothes for Jennifer.

As soon as Melanie had gotten the verbal release from the doctor, she began packing the few things Jennifer had at the hospital.

“Are we in a rush?” Jennifer had asked.

“Mom there is a lot of bad stuff going on in Denver. It’s not safe to stay here any longer than we have to. I didn’t want to say anything before because there was nothing we could do until the doctor gave the okay to leave.”

Jennifer pressed her lips together and nodded.

They stopped inside the sliding glass doors.

“Let me get the van,” Mitchel said and jogged out the door.

“Can I ride with you mom?” Sam asked.

“No Sam. You can’t climb on mom,” Melanie said. The van pulled up next to the curb, and Melanie pushed her mom out into the warm summer breeze.

Mitchel gave Jennifer his arm and shoulder to lean on as she got to her feet. It took her a moment to stabilize her footing. Melanie stood protectively around her mother as she took the few steps to get into the sliding door of the van.

“Sit with me mommy,” Sam had called from the other middle seat.

“I will sweetie,” Jennifer said through gritted teeth.

Seeing how much pain her mom was in even with this little bit of movement made Melanie glad they had waited until now to leave rather than rushing things last week.

Melanie folded the wheelchair and put it into the back of the van. “Sam will you buckle mom and yourself?”

Sam giggled. “Yes.”

Melanie slid the side door shut and climbed into the passenger seat. Mitchel smiled at her, turned the key, and laid his hand on hers.

As they pulled into the driveway, two men in black stepped off the porch. Each held a semi-automatic machine gun. Once the all clear signal was given, everyone else dashed out the front door to welcome Jennifer home.

Seth and Holly held Daisy back from jumping up on Jennifer in greeting. Daisy barked and wagged her tail trying to get away from them.

“Stay down Daisy,” Melanie said.

Sam bounced over to Daisy and looked into her golden brown eyes. “Daisy mom is hurt. You can’t jump or climb on her.”

Richard and Mitchel made a makeshift chair with their arms linked together and carried Jennifer into the house. Karalynn had set up a bed in family room on the main floor. Karalynn turned on the light. The boards in the windows blocked all the sunlight. Melanie had asked her to keep the boards in the windows while her mom used the room. She wasn’t going to take any more chances on someone shooting her mom.

“Please not on the bed, I’m sick of beds. Can’t I sit in a chair?” Jennifer said.

They set her on the recliner next to the bed. Melanie led Daisy over to Jennifer so she would calm down. Jennifer stroked the silky black fur of Daisy’s head and rubbed her velvety ear, that done, Daisy went out back to romp in the yard with the kids.

Now that Karalynn was fussing over her mom, Melanie took Mitchel by the hand and tugged him down the hall with her.

He turned and smiled at her as she shoved him into her and Sam’s bedroom.

He took her in his arms. She breathed in the smell of him and listened to his heart beating in his chest. “I’ve missed you so much. I’m sorry you had to—,”

He took her chin in his fingers and lifted her face to meet his eyes. “Shhh.” And he kissed her. His lips were warm and soft against hers. His hands caressed her back and shoulders. She wove her fingers through his hair. He brushed his thumb across her cheek. I could stay right here forever, she thought, and let the rest of the world fall apart as long as I have him.

“I’ve missed you too,” he whispered.

She laid her head against his chest and he stroked her hair.

“I’m sick of feeling like we are running away. I want it to be like it was.” She closed her eyes.

“The safe zone is not all that far. It should only take us a week to get there at the most. I’ve plotted a route. Once we’re there, it will be like it was. We won’t have to worry about all of this.” He waved his hand.

He scooped her up into his arms and carried her over to the bed and set her on the edge. He bent down and tied her shoes. “You should rest before dinner. After, we will talk to your mom about the plan.” He pulled her shoes off and rubbed her feet. She was exhausted. She had only slept a few hours at a time while her mom was in the hospital.

“Stay with me?” She scooted back on the bed and he laid down next to her wrapping his arm around her. She laid her head on his chest and found his heartbeat again.

“I don’t know what I would do if I lost you.” She propped herself up on her elbow. His eyes were more green than brown today with touches of gold woven in.

He brushed her hair back from her face. “You’re not going to lose me. I’m right here.”

She laid back down. She was so tired. She rested her hand on his chest. The rhythm of his heart and breath lulled her to sleep.

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Thirty-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.

“Planning to leave soon?”

Melanie looked up from the book she was reading. A cool breeze fluttered through the open window at her back. Blue birds twittered in the tree outside the window. She hadn’t wanted anyone to know that she was considering checking her mother out against medical advice, but she might have known that Alyson would find out.

“Dr. Wester told me you were asking if your mother could be moved yet.” Alyson strode into the small hospital room. Dark shadows clung to the flesh around her eyes.

“I know you are anxious to get away from this dreadful place, but at what cost? You’re mother needs at least another few days.”

“And why should I listen to your advice?” Melanie asked not breaking her eyes away from the old woman.

Alyson nodded. “Come walk with me for a moment. Let your mother sleep and heal.” Alyson turned her back to Melanie and stepped into the hallway.

Melanie stood and tucked the soft fleece blanket in around her mom. The oxygen tube adorned her face and an IV dripped medicine into her veins.

Melanie gently shut the door.

“She’s still on the antibiotic. She will finish it in another day or two. If she were to get an infection…”

“Dr. Wester explained this to me. As you know, I’m sure.” Melanie rested her shoulder against the doorway and folded her arms.

“Come.”

Melanie followed a few steps behind Alyson. They stopped in front of the elevator. Alyson pressed the button to go up. They road up two floors in silence. When the door opened, Alyson held the door for Melanie.

Melanie let out an irritated sigh and stepped off the elevator. She continued to follow Alyson down the hall. Alyson stopped in front of a room. Knocked lightly and then entered. Melanie followed her in.

A young woman lay in a bed with a ventilator tube taped to her mouth. Machines beeped and breathed for the woman. She had long dark hair spread around her. A romance novel sat on the table next to her. A thin white scar ran down the right side of her face from the corner of her eye to her jaw. Melanie thought she couldn’t be much older than herself.

“This is Kimber. She’s been here for a year in a coma. She knows nothing of the Justice Law. She was out partying with some friends one night. She was beaten and raped repeatedly before being left for dead.”

Melanie stared at the girl. “Does her family visit?”

“They use to, until the Justice Law was passed. Now I sit at her bedside reading to her, holding her hand, and brushing out her hair each day. I spoke to them about letting her go and taking her off the life support, but they said no. She is unlikely to wake up and if she does, she will awaken to memories of being beaten and raped, brain damage, and a totally new and deadly world.”

Alyson brushed the girl’s cheek with the back of her fingers. “Would you want to awaken to all that Ms. Craig? Would you want your mother or sister too?”

Melanie’s chest tightened. Her throat constricted and she had to focus on breathing. She shook her head unable to speak.

“I sat with the family for hours while they told stories about how Kimber loved to dance and run. She had a boyfriend who loved her dearly and they were going to marry after high school. She was a smart girl and would have graduated early. In a way, I feel like I know her.”

“Why haven’t you put an end to it?” Melanie’s voice was a whisper.

“Because they said no and she can’t decide for herself.”

Melanie looked at Alyson, but Alyson continued to watch the girl. “Sometimes I imagine her dancing at prom cradled in the arms of her beau.”

She looked up at Melanie then. “You may disagree with what I have done Melanie, but you have made the same decision after only moments of having considered the two options. You are not so different from me.”

*             *             *

Melanie heard voices in her mother’s room. She didn’t remember getting on the elevator or walking down the hall, but she must have done so since she was here. She peered through the slats of blinds hanging in the hallway window to her mother’s room. Sam sat next to Jennifer coloring in a book laid out on the table. Jennifer reached up to stop the crayons from rolling over the edge. Sam’s sweet voice reached Melanie through the glass. “See mom, I’m much better about staying in the lines.”

“Yes, I see that.” Her mother brushed stray strands of light brown hair laced with the light of the sun from Sam’s face. “Your hair is getting so long.”

“Mitchel helps me brush it and braid it every day before bed. He said his mother did her’s that way and his sister. Did you know Mitchel had a sister who is an angel now?”

He was there too, Mitchel, sitting in the recliner in the corner. His head was laid back and his eyes were closed. She knew he wasn’t sleeping well with her here at the hospital all the time and all her responsibilities, caring for Sam, had fallen to him.

Melanie stepped into the room.

“Melanie!” her sister called out.

Melanie put her finger to her lips. “Shhh.” But it was too late. Mitchel was awake. He got to his feet and before he could say hello she was in his arms. Safe. Whole.

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Thirty-four

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

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

Melanie awoke with a start. She glanced around the dark room. The hospital. Her mother soft breathing made he relax. She looked around the room again. Moon light cut through the space between the blinds covering the windows. She rubbed the back of her neck and grimaced as her fingers probed a tender spot.

She slid her phone out of her pocket and touched the screen. It was one in the morning. Melanie rolled her head around stretching. Her stomach growled. She stood and stepped out of the room. She squinted in the bright light and gently closed the door.

“Who is the doctor on the floor tonight?” Melanie asked the nurse at the nursing station.

The old man looked at her above the rims of his glasses. “Dr. Wester.”

“Good,” Melanie said.

The old man arched a white eyebrow causing wrinkles to ripple across his forehead.

Her sneakers squeaked on the linoleum as she wound her way toward the cafeteria. The halls were empty. The television was on in each waiting area she passed. She caught fragments of advertisements for bodyguard services, home security systems, and grief counseling as she made her way. Her stomach growled again. When had she last eaten? She shook her head, it had been yesterday morning.

There were a few people in blue and orange scrubs sitting in the far corner. Melanie picked up a tray and set it on counter. She grabbed plastic wear, a napkin, and a carton of milk. She slid the tray along its path.

“What you want sweetie?” called a woman peering at her through the window to the kitchen. A hairnet was pulled over the woman’s black hair twisted into a bun.

“A grilled cheese sandwich with fries, please.”

“Coming right up.”

Melanie held her arm over the scanner, and tapped on the touch screen when it pulled up her SAFE chip bank account information.

The woman wobbled out of the kitchen and set the plate on Melanie’s tray.

“There you are, my dear.”

“Thanks,” Melanie said smiling. She walked over to a table and sat down. She took a double bite of the sandwich, the kind her mother scolds her for. She forgot the ketchup. While chewing, she stood back up and lifted her gaze and found Alyson Brinkard walking toward her.

Alyson set down a bottle of ketchup and two stoneware mugs. “Shouldn’t drink coffee this late, so I brought you hot chocolate.”

Melanie sank back into the chair. “Thank you.” She squeezed some ketchup onto her plate. Melanie didn’t look up from her food as she ate. She wanted Alyson to say something or go way, mostly she wanted her to go away.

“I stopped and checked on your mom.”

Melanie’s head popped up at that, and a fry caught in the back of her throat. She coughed.

Alyson slid the milk toward her. She took a sip and tried to clear her throat.

“Melanie, I know what you think I’m doing is awful and wrong.”

Melanie coughed again. Had she seen Melanie at the doorway? She must have there was no other way for her to know that Melanie knew she had killed that man.

Melanie held up her hand. “Stop. I don’t want your explanations. My family and I are leaving as soon as my mom is well enough to make the trip.”

Melanie looked down at her plate and carefully selected another fry. She dipped it into the ketchup. She didn’t want to hear it anymore, peoples reasons for hurting one another, for killing each other. Dead was dead, and it was murder if you were the cause. Melanie put the fry into her mouth and picked up another one.

“My husband was the first. I just couldn’t watch him suffer anymore. I told him I could make it all stop if he wanted. He was in so much pain that his mind had left him.” Alyson’s voice was a whisper.

Melanie flicked her eyes up for a fraction of a second. Alyson was looking down at her open hands lying in her lap.

Alyson continued. “It wasn’t supposed to be like this, he was supposed to be the only one. But something broke inside of me after he was gone. I couldn’t watch them suffer any more.”

Alyson’s voiced dropped to a lower whisper. “So many.”

Melanie looked up at her then and let the fry slip from her fingers. It plopped into the thick ketchup smeared on the plate.

Melanie pressed her teeth together. “How many? Do you even remember? Do you see each of their faces when you close your eyes? If they are in such pain, how can they answer truly and freely? They just want the pain to stop, and that’s what you do. You make the pain stop. Not theirs, but yours.”

Alyson looked up at her, her eyes full of tears.

Melanie didn’t care.

She picked up her tray. “Thank you for the hot chocolate.”

Melanie strode down the white and grey hallway. She pushed open the door to her mother’s room and set her food down on a small table in the corner. She plopped into the chair. She took a deep breath. They had to leave Denver. She would talk with her mother’s doctors in the morning. She looked at the half eaten sandwich, and picked up the hot chocolate.

A Vigil for Justice: Episode 33

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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 spent the day pushing Sam in the swing in the back yard and watching her go down the slide splashing down in the pool. She couldn’t help but laugh when Daisy jumped into the pool with Sam, bucking like a bronco with glee. Just for a moment, Melanie was able to forget that the world was coming down around their ears.

That evening she returned to the hospital and her vigil at her mother’s bedside. Jennifer was still awake when she arrived. “How is Sam?”

Melanie smiled. “She is doing good. It amazes me how everything that is going on out in the world does not affect her.”

Jennifer smiled. “That is a blessing and a gift. It also says you are doing a good job protecting her from all of this.”

Melanie looked out the window. The sun had gone down, but a few rays still clutched at the sky. She disagreed with her mom. If she had be doing a good job protecting any of them they wouldn’t be in Denver in the first place or at least this long, they would have been to the safe zone already.

Jennifer rested her cool hand on top of Melanie’s. Melanie turned back to her mom whose face was grave.

“You’re not responsible for all this Mel.”

Melanie nodded. “I know mom, but I can’t help feel like I am, somehow, or that I should have done more.”

“You’ve always been that way, too grown up for your own good.”

It had been a while since they had talked like this, open and honest with one another. Over the last year, they had clashed as Melanie had torn away from the shelter of her mother’s arms and Jennifer had grasped with desperation at her little girl. Melanie wondered what had disarmed them now, was it that they gave up the silly struggle for something bigger, or just the clarity that the looming specter of death can leave behind when he decides it’s not quiet time for them to leave this world.

Melanie and Jennifer played a few card games, and then the nurse came in to check Jennifer’s vitals and help her take a shower.

Melanie went for a walk around the hospital. She stopped in the hospital chapel and lit a candle for her mother and another one for Dr. Brinkard. She continued down the white washed hallway glancing into rooms as she passed.

She saw Dr. Brinkard in one and stopped. Melanie leaned against the wall waiting for her to come out. She was bent over a young man, maybe, thirty years old. He didn’t look well. No one else was in the room with them.

“It won’t hurt a bit. You’ll just go to sleep,” Dr. Brinkard whispered and brushed the man’s hair back as if he were a child.

“No more suffering, I can’t stand the way they look at me. Not wanting me to die, but not wanting the bills to continue to roll in. I’m dying. I can feel it.”

Melanie leaned wanting to hear better, but not wanting to be seen.

“I know. It’s okay. I understand. You’re doing the right thing.” Alyson cooed.

Melanie stomach sank. She didn’t want to believe what she was hearing. Euthanasia was illegal. It was considered murder, which was ironic given that a person could legally kill three people in cold blood.

She shuffled back away from the door, and hurried down the hall back the way she had come. After ten steps, she heard footsteps behind her.

“Melanie?”

Melanie stopped, she breathed in and out, and then she turned toward Alyson who was walking toward her.

Alyson greeted her with a smile. “How was your sister?”

The all too familiar tone of a flat line followed Dr. Alyson Brinkard down the hall.

Melanie raised her hand pointing toward the sound, but not uttering a word.

Alyson waved her hand. “Not much I can do for him now. Coffee?”

Nurses rushed into the room where Melanie had seen Alyson hovering over the man. Alyson glanced down the hall, made the sign of the cross over her body, and then wrapped her arm around Melanie’s shoulders leading her down the hall.

Melanie let her lead her around the corner. She didn’t know what to say or do. Words tumbled from her mouth as she stepped away from Alyson.

“I have to get back to my mom. She should be out of the shower now.”

“Tomorrow?”

“Sure,” Melanie said and turned to go down another hallway.

She glanced over her shoulder. Alyson was still in the hall watching as they wheeled the man’s body out of the room covered with a white sheet. Alyson bowed her head.

Melanie turned a corner. She didn’t know how to feel about what had just happened. She knew that Alyson, sweet little grandma, Alyson had just killed a man. He was dead and it was her fault, but he said he was dying anyway. So had Alyson really killed him? Aren’t we all dying was her mind’s comeback. Of course, we are, but this had to be different then killing out of cold blood. It was different then the justice law. Melanie’s heart told her it was different, but her mind continued to ask hard questions, questions she wasn’t sure she could answer.

Was the man really going to die? Was there nothing more they could do for him? Was it right to end his life earlier than when his body would have shut down on its own? Melanie didn’t know. No one knew.

Melanie did know that she wouldn’t tell anyone, she didn’t tell on Father Christopher after all, and what he was doing was worse than what Alyson had done. Was there a just reason to take a life?

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Thirty-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.

Melanie’s dreams were haunted with massive holes brimming with the bodies of nameless women and children. Their grey faces with dark circles around their eyes. Hair matted with blood and dirt. She stood at the edge of the pit, watching dirt fall like rain slowly covering the little faces.

She jerked awake startling Sam, who was curled up beside her. She stroked her sister’s honey hair. “It’s okay, go back to sleep,” she whispered.

This was the first time she had returned to Karalynn’s since her mother had be shot. Alyson had convinced her to go home and get a good night’s sleep. Alyson said she would stay the night with Jennifer, and make sure she was comfortable and had everything she needed. Jennifer had encouraged Melanie to go home too, saying, Sam and Mitchel needed her. So, she had called Mitchel to come and pick her up.

The three of them spent the night wrapped in blankets watching movies and eating popcorn just as they had done so many nights back in Blue River. For one evening, Melanie forgot the rest of the world. Now, the nightmares and collided with the memories from the night before. She felt sick and hollow. She ached with the knowledge that the children and mothers in the mass graves would never hold one another again.

There was no going back to sleep for her. She didn’t want to return to those grey faces with all the life drained out of them. Melanie wrapped the blanket around Sam and snuck out of the room. Daisy followed her, nudging a toy into her hand. Melanie rubbed the broad black head. “In a minute girl.”

She went into the kitchen and started the coffee. The newspaper from yesterday was spread out on the counter. She scanned the headlines.

“Thousands Fleeing to Safe Zones and Turned Away”

President *** reminds citizens that you must be free of any felony conviction and free from any Justice Kills to enter the Safe Zones. No weapons are allowed inside the walled cities…

Melanie skipped down the page.

“Death Toll Climbs: What was Washington Thinking”

Lobbyist, Melissa Sanchez, presented numbers of dead from the major cities across the United States to Washington asking, “What did you think would happen by sanctifying murder?” Washington has made rich men out of security guards and morticians…

Melanie’s fingers turned the page over.

“Killer Scrub Hunting in Denver”

Governor Marcus Tibbets of Colorado announced that his office will be cooperating fully with Homeland Security to locate the killer lurking in Denver. A second body in the last five days, was found mutilated and gutted in a rundown hotel in the slums of Denver.

“It reminded me of when my husband hangs a deer after the hunt and guts it in the garage,” said the hotel maid who found the body. “I am lucky I didn’t eat breakfast or I would have vomited on the floor.”

The first body was found two days before at another hotel in the same neighborhood. The condition of the corpse was similar. Both victims are middle aged males.

“Because there is no registered justice kill and nothing on the the SAFE chip of the victim, we believe that the killer is a scrub himself,” reported Lieutenant James Murphy from Homeland Security.

Governor Tibbets is asking for information from the community to be called into the local Denver Police who are putting nearly entire force on this case.

“Our streets are dangerous enough. The people need to know that despite the legalization of killing, murder is still a crime in the State of Colorado,” said Governor Tibbets.

Melanie jumped at the sound of steps behind her. She turned around with her hand on her gun, which wasn’t there. She had not worn it for a few days since she couldn’t have it on at the hospital.

She let out a breath. It was Mitchel. He handed her forgotten gun and she slipped it into the back of her jeans.

“You haven’t missed much while at the hospital,” he said. He walked over to the cupboard and poured them both a cup of coffee.

They went out onto the back porch and sat on the swing watching the sun begin to color the sky. Daisy followed them the tags on her collar clinking together.

“How much longer until your mom’s released?”

“A few more days.” Daisy rested her chin on Melanie’s knee a yellow knobby ball clutched between her teeth. Melanie took the ball and tossed it across the yard.

“Richard wants to leave today. I told him to go and we would meet up with him later if we could,” Mitchel said. “He thinks you should check your mom out of the hospital and get out of town with this killer roaming the streets.”

Melanie watched birds flutter from one tree to another.

She turned to look at him. “I will talk with Dr. Brinkard tomorrow about moving her.”

Daisy pushed the wet ball into Melanie’s hand. She threw it again and Daisy romped after it, ears flapping and nubby tail wagging.

“We can wait Mel. It’s not worth risking your mom’s life.”

Melanie put the mug to her lips. There was that question again. What was a life worth? How much of a risk did this killer actually pose to her and her family?

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Thirty-One

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

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

Melanie sat across the round table in the hospital dining hall from Alyson, who had come into Jennifer’s room this morning while making her rounds. Alyson intended to make good on her offer of coffee from the day before. Jennifer was still sleeping, so Melanie agreed to join her.

Melanie wrapped her chilled hands around the mug and relished the warmth. The hospital coffee was surprisingly good. She breathed in the rich scent of fresh ground beans and freshly brewed coffee. It made her miss working at the coffee shop in Blue River. Blue River seemed like forever ago.

“I demanded that they stop serving two day old coffee, since I essentially live here at the hospital after my husband passed away,” Alyson said as she smiled a twinkle in her chestnut eyes.

“There really is no sense in leaving,” Alyson continued. “Especially since the Justice Law passed. Bodies, alive and dead, continually stream in through the ER doors.”

“You don’t ever leave?” Melanie asked.

“I’m sixty-five and have no interest in learning to be a sharp shooter and caring a gun strapped to my body. In here, I have everything I need.”

“Is that why there are three and four people to a room?” Melanie asked.

Alyson nodded. “It wasn’t like that before. We are constantly overwhelmed now. There are so many Jane and John Doe’s in here that you’d think the Doe’s were rabbits.”

“No one comes in to claim their relatives?”

“Everyone is afraid, child. Mostly it’s strangers, who bring in people they find shot or stabbed on the streets. Families would rather live in ignorance about the fate of their members than risk their own lives checking the hospitals for anyone who has gone missing for a few days.”

“They can’t just call in?” Melanie asked.

“Goodness, no! We don’t have time to sort that out. Sometimes the victims who do wake up or come in conscious, don’t want to give their names out of fear they will be found by whoever tried to kill them in the first place.”

Melanie silently contemplated her cream swilling in the dark coffee. She hadn’t really considered the impact the Justice Law would have on the health care system. The government cannot pay enough police, how were the hospitals going to be staffed and supplied? The more Melanie found out about the Justice Law the more she was convinced that those in charge were either idiots or this whole thing was some corrupt population control mechanism.

Alyson sipped from her mug. “You’re mom is doing well. She’s a fighter, much like you I expect.”

“We are very different,” Melanie said. “Don’t you have children?” She asked wanting to change the subject from her and her mom’s bumpy relationship.

Alyson shook her head. “The hospital and patients are my children. I dedicated my entire life to my career and caring for other people. Alfred, my husband, wanted children, but I thought it would hinder my ability to become a doctor and remain objective in making difficult decisions. He loved me anyway, such a good man. I’m glad he didn’t have to see the world come to this.” She waved her hand.

“How did he die?”

“Leukemia. He was a fighter too, all the way to the end.”

Melanie hung her head. “I’m sorry.”

“Sometimes, I think that the dead are the lucky ones. They don’t have to watch this horror show. No more suffering.”

“People can be so cruel. They forget that they are more similar to one another than different,” Melanie said looking out the window at the jagged mountains in the distance and the grey clouds caught upon the peaks.

“Do you want a refill?” Alyson asked.

“Yes, please. With cream.”

Alyson took Melanie’s mug and went back to the counter.

Pieces of conversations from other tables drifted to Melanie.

“The morgue is full again,” said a man to her right.

“I should have become a mortician or a grief counselor,” a woman to her left said.

Everyone’s life has become focused on death, Melanie realized. Who to kill, who could kill you, how you can prevent your loved ones from being killed; the business of death was growing. It had become an everyday conversation. In less than a month, the Justice Law and transformed the way people view life.

Compassion and kindness had been replaced by fear and placing a value on your neighbor’s life. Every person decides what to do and not do based upon if it is worth dying for, rather than is it the right choice.

Alyson returned sliding a plate of pancakes and eggs in front of Melanie and setting a full mug of coffee before her as well. “You need to stay healthy for your mom, even when she gets out of here, she will need your help with everyday things until she regains her strength.” Alyson slid into the chair again and sipped her black coffee.

Melanie squeezed the ketchup onto her eggs and smeared the pancakes with butter and syrup.

“What happens to the bodies without names or families?” She asked and shoveled eggs into her mouth.

Alyson looked away from her. “There is a mass grave dug, once a week, in the cemetery down the street.”

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