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.”

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Thirty

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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 had never been religious, yet, she found herself drawn to the small chapel in the hospital and not in mere passing. She had sought it out, asking a nurse where she could find it. She stopped at the threshold of the dimly lit room. White pine benches straddled a narrow isle leading to an altar made of the same pine and draped with a green cloth. No one was in the room. Melanie shuffled along the navy blue runner paving the way to the front, her mind was drawn into itself.

The idea of a god never sat right with her, but every time she found herself lost and clutching at the strings of hope, she sought god out.  Maybe this was some menial proof that there was a god or maybe she was willing to do anything to comfort herself through a belief that somewhere there was a sort of unconditional love and peace, that her existence was more than this life.

Believing that there was nothing after death did not sit well with her either, but nothing in life provided her with any assurance that there was more than darkness after the last breath. Melanie clung to this world and the life that it offered her, even though, it was not as she had imagined it.

She struck the match along the small cardboard box. Breathing in the sulfur, she touched the flame to the small white candle.  She sank to her knees. The cold tile pressed into her kneecaps. She closed her eyes and bowed her head.

She wasn’t asking for much, only that they all reach the safe zone alive.  She knew that if there was a god, she had to keep her request straightforward and reasonable. Alive.  Was that too much to ask? She didn’t mind so much if they were hungry, naked, injured, or sick. Just alive. She filled her lungs with the soft scent of incense, which she had not noticed before then.  It sent a jolt through her. It had not been there when she first entered.

Her eyes popped open and she lifted her head swinging it around to see behind her. It was the older woman she had seen in the hallway, when she had sat waiting to be taken to see her mom after surgery.  The woman sat on the bench on the second row. Her violet eyeglasses peeked out of the pocket on her white coat. Her caramel skin glowed in the flickering candlelight. Her head was tilted back and her eyes were closed.

Melanie watched the rise and fall of her chest. A calm tranquil expression softened the lines of age at the corners of the woman’s eyes and mouth.  Melanie got to her feet and the woman opened her brown eyes. Flecks of gold caught the light as a smile spread across the woman’s face.

“I’m Alyson Binkard,” she said and patted the spot next to her.

Melanie sat.

“Your mom’s here right?”

Melanie nodded.

“I’m a doctor in the trauma unit, not a stocker.”

Melanie didn’t need to look at her to see the smile. She heard it along with the suppressed laugh in Alyson’s voice.

“I think god has been watching over your mamma. A bullet in the belly is generally fatal.”

Melanie turned to her this time.

“What’s your name?”

“Melanie Craig.”

Alyson mouthed her name as if tasting it, and nodded her head a few times. “Well Melanie, I expect we will be seeing a bit of one another over the next week or two, while your mamma is here healing up. Perhaps we will get coffee sometime.”

Melanie smiled. “I’d like that.”

Melanie got to her feet and turned to go.

“Melanie, next time you’re in here, will you light a candle for me too?”

Melanie paused. “Of course, Dr. Binkard.”

“Alyson, please,” she said a gazed up at Melanie a sadness pulled at her face.

Melanie walked slowly back to her mom’s room. She looked in each of the rooms she passed. There were patients in each, sometimes three or four. Even in her mother’s room, there was another woman, who had been found at the bottom of a staircase, shattered and bleeding. She would hear the flat-line tone and rushing feet multiple times throughout the day and night, and she would hold onto her mom even tighter.

Melanie has been wandering the halls for three days now. Sometimes she watched her mom sleep, and sometimes she went for a walk. If her mom was awake, she was at her side.

Karalynn sent flowers, cookies, and books for Jennifer.  She visited when she could.

Mitchel brought Sam in each morning and they had breakfast together, and then he would take her back to Karalynn’s where she could play and be a child. She knew she was lucky to have Mitchel to look after Sam and Daisy while she stayed with her mom. She didn’t even have to ask him.

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Twenty-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.

Eric drove like a madman, squealing tires at every corner and blowing through traffic lights hammering on the horn.

Melanie held firm pressure on her mother’s stomach. The blood was seeping between her fingers. “Hold on mom.”

Eric threw a glance back at her. He was hard to read, his expression stoic. She didn’t know if she should be saying goodbye to her mom or if it was going to be all right. She didn’t want to ask.

They bumped over something.

“What was that?” Melanie asked her heart racing.

“We’re almost there,” he said as he turned his face forward.

He pulled the hummer up to the ambulance entrance hitting the horn twice and then jumping out. Three men in blue and red scrubs came dashing out with a gurney as Eric pulled open the backdoor. “She’s been shot in the stomach.”

The men pulled while Melanie pushed her mom out of the back seat. Jennifer groaned and her eyes fluttered as she slid onto the white sheet on the gurney. Melanie followed them inside with Eric a few steps behind her on the phone. She only caught a few words he was saying, “Jennifer…. shot….I don’t know…. Doctors took her.” Melanie stopped listening to him and focused on her mom’s now pale features.

They pushed the gurney down the hallway. Hospitals all smell the same. Everyone in the hall stepped aside to let them through. A doctor in a flapping white smock jogged to catch up to them.

“O.R. four,” he said.

They pushed through heavy metal doors and the man in red scrubs turned and stopped Melanie from entering.

“You have to wait out here. Your mom?” he paused bending down to look directly into her down cast eyes.

Melanie nodded her head.

He continued, “She is in good hands. Dr. Johns is our best surgeon. We’ll come talk with you as soon as she is out of surgery.”

Melanie didn’t move. She stared at the pale grey doors. He touched her arm and she jerked, and turned to look at him.

“My name’s James. How about you come back out to the lobby with me? You can get some hot chocolate and sit down. Are you hungry? I’m sure I can find something for you to eat.”

Melanie nodded slowly. She barely registered his gentle hand on her back as he led her back down the hall and planted her in a chair. A few minutes later, he brought her some crackers and hot chocolate. She wrapped her hands around the warm Styrofoam cup.

Memories of her father’s funeral drifted through her mind, his pale grey visage lying there in the ivory casket. Her mom had told her not to go in during the viewing, but she had to see him one last time. All the warmth of his skin had been left on the frozen mountain where the rescuers had found his body.

After a while, James left her and she was alone in the small lobby outside the operating rooms floating between the past and the present. She couldn’t lose her mom. Not now, how would she take care of Sam and where would they go?

She didn’t know how long she sat there. When she came out of the fog of memories, Eric was sitting next to her reading a Men’s Health Magazine. He flipped a page.

“What’s taking so long?” she whispered.

He closed the magazine and set it on the chair next on him.

The metal doors open and Melanie sprang to her feet, dropping the Ritz crackers that were in her lap onto the linoleum floor. She looked down at them.

“I’m Dr. Johns,” a man held out his hand to her.

She looked up at him. His walnut hair was peppered with grey. He gave her a small smile and then dropped his hand to his side. He was dressed in black slacks and a dress shirt. She could smell his spicy aftershave. “Melanie Craig right?”

She nodded.

“Your mom asked for you.”

Melanie grabbed his hand. “She’s Ok?”

He nodded. “She will be, but we are going to need to keep her here for a few weeks.”

“Can I see her?”

“We are moving her into a room. Once we have her set up, I’ll send a nurse out to take you to see her.”

“Thank you.”

The doctor eyed Eric before leaving them.

Melanie sank into the chair. She laughed a little and exhaled audibly.

“Is Karalynn coming?” Melanie asked and then remembering the crackers on the floor picked them up and opened them. She shoved three into her mouth. She held the package out to Eric.

He shook his head. “She doesn’t want to bring your sister until she knows your mom’s condition. She thought it would be better to not tell Sam until we had some idea about what would happen.”

Melanie shoved more crackers into her mouth.

Eric handed her a bottle of water. She grinned at him. He smiled and got to his feet. “I’ll go call Mrs. Christopoulos and let them know the good news.”

Melanie unscrewed the cap on the water. Dried blood was caked in the creases of her knuckles.

Melanie sat picking the darkened blood from beneath her nails. She glanced up. An older woman with a slight hunch in her back and a long white doctor’s smock met her eyes. She pushed her violet glasses up on the bridge of her nose. Melanie stood, but then the woman turned down another hallway.

Melanie paced from one end of the lobby to the other.

James reappeared after Melanie had made two laps across the room.

“Your mom is waiting for you,” he said.

A hanging lantern lamp in the corner of the room provided a dim glow in the room. She approached the edge of the bed. The head of the bed was slightly elevated. The color still had not returned to her mother’s face. A light green blanket covered her mom. Melanie sat in the chair next to the bed, and Jennifer pulled her hand from beneath the covers and rested it on her daughter’s.

Her mom’s hand was cold. Melanie wrapped it in her own.

“I love you mom.”

“I love you too Mel.”

She held her mother’s hand while she drifted off to sleep.

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Twenty-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.

Karalynn and a man dressed in black cargo pants got into the van with Jennifer after a brief reunion. They drove two blocks and then stopped again. Karalynn jumped out and ran to a key pad on a massive iron gate that spanned the road. Melanie looked at Mitchel and raised her eyebrows as the gate opened. Mitchel gave her a tight-lipped smile. He drove down the long driveway behind Jennifer’s van. A large farmhouse with a wraparound porch at the end was blacked out, no lights. A white picket fence surrounded the home and property. Two horses stood silent in the pasture to the south.

When they came to a stop, three men in black cargo pants stepped out of the shadows. The man who had gotten in the van with Jennifer jumped out and approached the three. One of them came toward Mitchel’s window the other two made their way toward the two vehicles following them.

Mitchel rolled the window down.

“Welcome to the Christopoulos home. One second while we check the perimeter.”

Mitchel nodded. His expression serious.

Five minutes later, they all sat around the heavy oak kitchen table at Karalynn’s spare folding chairs had been brought in from the garage. The tile floor was a mosaic of lime green and lemon yellow. Sky blue curtains framed the windows, which had fitted boards in them blocking anyone from peering inside.

“Are the security guards really necessary?” Jennifer asked, cocking her head to the side and raising her eyebrows.

Karalynn pressed her thin lips tightly between her teeth and nodded her head. She was a small athletic looking woman of forty. Her husband, Galen, brushed a stray strand of her shoulder-length black hair from her face and wrapped his arm around her shoulders.

“Unfortunately, they became necessary shortly after J-day. We didn’t want to believe it either, but when an AK47 became as prevalent as a woman’s handbag, there was no way I was sending my children to school or my wife to the store without a trained entourage,” Galen said.

Galen and Karalynn met when Jennifer and Karalynn had gone to Greece for spring break in their freshman year of college. They returned every year after that and on their last trip, Galen proposed to Karalynn. They have been inseparable since then.

Karalynn leaned against Galen’s sturdy form. “The neighborhood pooled money to have the iron gate installed and all the men take turns on the night guard.”

“People are shot in the streets daily, women, children, and elderly. It doesn’t matter. I don’t think the local officers can even keep track of who is shooting who, even with the SAFE chips and Homeland Security chasing down the Scrubs,” Galen said.

“There are Scrubs here?” Seth asked. Melanie had forgotten he was here until then. He had been standing behind her and Mitchel, but stepped forward now.

Galen nodded. “They come in two types here. Most are just what remains of the hippy movement they just want to live off the grid and then there are the hunters.”

“The hunters?” Seth asked.

“The ones who are out there killing just to kill. They psychologist on the news the other night said they get some thrill out of killing in broad daylight, the shock and horror of spectators feeds their sickness,” Galen said.

“How does Homeland know the difference?” Mitchel asked.

Galen shrugged. “They don’t.”

“Why do you stay here?” Melanie asked. “If it’s so dangerous?”

“We will be moving to Greece permanently as soon as our passports are renewed. As you can imagine, they are taking longer than usual now,” Galen said.

“Oh, I’ll bet,” Richard said. “Especially when folks began to realize that vigilante justice was not all it’s cracked up to be.” He shook his head and drained the rest of his beer.

Melanie looked down at the hot chocolate in her violet mug. A couple of crunchy marshmallows remained afloat. She poked at them with her finger.

Melanie’s eyes pled with her mother. “How long are we going to be here?” she asked, not wanting to sound rude, but growing anxious with the amount of daylight violence in the bigger city. She had known it was going to be worse here. The violence has increased ever since the war and it was actually the inciting reason that the Justice Law was passed. This whole time somewhere inside her childish mind she had made herself believe that it wasn’t as bad as the television reports had made it seem. But it was.

Jennifer’s expression softened. “Not long, a few days perhaps. We need to plan our route, gather supplies, and probably less a vehicle or two?”

She looked back and forth between Mitchel and Seth, neither of who would look at her. Mitchel stared into his own hot chocolate. Seth cleaned his the grime from under his fingernails.

Melanie, Jennifer, and Sam shared the guest room with a king size bed. Melanie watched as her mother got Sam ready for bed as if nothing had changed. Jennifer put Sam in the bath and sang while she washed her hair, just like at home. Then she brushed out Sam’s long hair, read her chapter from Black Beauty, and tucked her into the bed they were all sharing. Sam was in the middle and Daisy turned in circles at their feet until she found just the right position and collapsed.

Seth and Mitchel were in the second guest room. Holly and her family decided to stay in their trailer, despite there being plenty of space for them in the house. Richard had mumbled something about liking to know where all the exits and entrances were.

Melanie stared at the white ceiling. Her eyes followed the ridges that resembled the parched earth of a desert.

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A Vigil for Justice: Episode Twenty 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.

“We’re going to Karalynn’s in Denver,” Jennifer said as they went over the final checklist before they left Blue River. Jennifer, Melanie, Mitchel and Seth stood in a circle in the front yard of Craig home.

A Red-naped Sap Sucker tapped its beak on the bark of a nearby tree.  Melanie glanced up searching for the woodpecker among the branches over her head.

“We’ll just follow you,” Mitchel said.

“Melanie, what am I forgetting,” Jennifer asked.

Melanie looked down at the list in her hand. “Power is off, water is off, mail has been forwarded to Denver. I think we are good, mom.”

The bird continued to tap.

The insurance money from her father’s death had paid off all their bills including the house.

Jennifer took the list and looked at it for a few seconds then looked at the three who stood before her. “I think we are ready. You’re taking Daisy with you and Mitchel in the truck?”

“Yes,” Melanie drew out the word. Her mom was just being overly cautious.  “I don’t think Austin will approve of Daisy poking at him while he’s in his kennel.”

Just then, Sam came bouncing out of the front door with the small kennel swinging at her side. Everyone turned toward her a terrified yowling came from the kennel.

Jennifer marched toward her youngest daughter. “Sam, hold that cat steady. Can’t you hear him crying?”

Melanie looked up at the house. They were leaving everything they had built. They were only taking what was necessary. Its red door, big porch, and all the memories of her father. She took a deep breath of the warm mountain air. She hoped that one day they would be able to come back. No, she would return. Someday, this would be home again. She had to believe that, the thought of leaving forever made her breath catch and her chest collapse in on her heart.

“Come on Daisy,” Melanie called out and opened the door to Mitchel’s truck.

Daisy’s huge black form came bounding around the corner of the house, tongue hanging from her smiling jowls. Her bright brown eyes excited for whatever was to come. Melanie wished she shared Daisy’s enthusiasm. Daisy jumped into the truck. Seth would follow behind them in his car. Mitchel had tried to convince him to leave the car and ride with them to save on fuel costs, but Seth insisted on having his own ride.

Their small caravan wound through the streets of the small town and out onto the highway. Both she and Mitchel were quiet as they drifted away from Blue River. Melanie picked up her phone and dialed her mom.

“Can we stop for coffee in Breck one last time?”

“Of course,” Jennifer said.

Her mother’s voice brushed the hair from Melanie’s face and lifted her chin. She hung up the phone. Mitchel patted her thigh. She laid her hand on top of his. Daisy curled into a ball between them.

They pulled into the coffee shop parking lot and Melanie ran inside with everyone’s order jostling around in her head. The familiar fresh ground coffee filled her nostrils and made them flare. The girl at the counter was new. Probably, her replacement.

Suzanne, her old boss, stepped out of the back drying her hands on her black apron. “Leaving town today?”

Melanie pursed her lips and nodded. She moved her arm over the SAFE scanner to pay for the coffee and hot chocolate. The noise from the steamer rose to a high pitch.

“You heard from Holly?” Suzanne asked.

“No, why?”

“She didn’t show for her shift this morning again.”

Holly had no showed her shift at least once a week. It was a wonder Suzanne hadn’t fired her. Holly had only started working at the coffee shop a few weeks ago, right before school let out. She wanted something to do through the summer.

“Sorry,” Melanie said picking up the drink tray. Melanie had convinced Suzanne to hire Holly and it had been Melanie who had covered the missed shifts.

Suzanne let out a long sigh and came around the counter. She stretched out her arms and Melanie set the drinks back down. She gave Suzanne a hug.

“Good luck, Melanie. You’re a hard worker. I wish you and your family the best.”

“Thanks.” Melanie tried to give her a hopeful smile. Suzanne’s smile was sad.

Melanie rushed out the door. She didn’t like goodbyes.

She took Seth his coffee. He turned down his hard rock music as she approached.

“Thanks, Mel. Great idea stopping,” he said, smiling up at her.

She stopped at the window of the van and handed her mom the two hot chocolates and then slid into the truck handing Mitchel his coffee.

“I was about to come in after you,” he smiled at her.

“Holly didn’t show up for her shift again.”

Mitchel pressed his lips between his teeth trying to hide a knowing smile. He nodded his head and they followed Jennifer’s van out of the parking lot.

She wrapped her hands around the thick cardboard cup letting the warmth sink into them. She took a sip and savored the sweet and bitterness of the mocha. She would be back, she thought.

About ten minutes out of Breckenridge, Melanie noticed a big black Dodge truck with a fifth wheel trailer parked in a rest area.

Melanie squinted her eyes. “Why…”

“What?” Mitchel asked.

“Pull over next to that trailer.” Melanie reached over and honked the horn to get her mother’s attention and Mitchell pulled into the rest area. Seth was right behind them.

The van was already past the entrance of the rest area, but pulled to the side of the road near the exit.

Melanie jumped out of the truck as soon as it stopped and ran over to the fifth wheel. She was knocking on the door when Mitchel reached her.

The door swung out forcing Melanie to step back a few paces.

Holly stood smiling in the doorway. Her fiery curls framing her face. “We’re coming with.”

Richard Stein towered behind his daughter. He tipped his black cowboy hat and smiled. “Ms. Craig. I knew you’d spot us here.”

A Vigil for Justice: Episode 24

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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.

Seth stalked back up the stairs toward the room he and Mitchel were sharing.

Mitchel’s hazel eyes drifted to Melanie. They remained there for a few seconds and then he followed his twin up the stairs.

Melanie looked down at her mother who was still seated against the door with her knees pulled to her chest. There was a bang and raised voices from Seth and Mitchel’s room.

Melanie closed her eyes and took a deep breath. As she opened them again, she exhaled. “I’m going to get Sam.”

Jennifer nodded pulling her lips in and pressing them between her teeth.

Melanie took the stairs two at a time on her toes. She tapped her knuckles on the stark white closet door. “Sam?” She slide the closet door open. Sam was curled up in a ball, legs tucked into her nightgown, sleeping on the floor. Her head rested on her hands, palms pressed together. Melanie smiled. She left the door open and Sam sleeping.

She walked back down the hall stopping outside the guestroom door. Mitchel and Seth were talking with low voices. She knew they would leave. The question was when.  She ran her fingers through her hair and her elbow bumped the door.

Seth pulled the door open and stared at her. “What?”

Mitchel pushed his brother aside and wrapped his arms around Melanie kissing her on the forehead.

Seth let out an exasperated snort.

Mitchel put his hands on both sides of Melanie’s face. “It’s better if we leave. Staying will only cause a division within Blue River and everyone needs to stand together.”

Melanie nodded. He released her face and embraced her.

“I’m going with you,” Melanie whispered.

“Stay here where you will be safe.”

She stepped back from him, breaking his hold on her. She shook her head, eyes narrowed and eyebrows scrunched together. “I’m not safe here. Look what’s happened over the last few days.” She waved her hand through the air.

Mitchel’s eyes move to something behind Melanie. Melanie turns. Jennifer is standing in the doorway, her hands on her slender hips. “We are all going.”

Melanie’s mouth drops open.

“Shut your mouth Mel, it’s not pretty like that.” Jennifer smiles at her daughter. Melanie rushes to her mom and throws her arms around her.

“This is crazy. It’s chaos outside of Blue River. You’ve seen the news, read the paper—”

Jennifer let go of Melanie and held up her hand. “Families stick together, Mitchel. We move as one. Plus, Melanie is right, Blue River won’t be safe for long. It’s turning into a witch-hunt.”

Mitchel looked at Seth who shrugged his shoulders. “We need to go to our house and get some things.”

“I’ll help,” Melanie said. She wasn’t going to give him a chance to leave without her. “When are we leaving, mom?”

“Two days should be enough time. We will make our way toward the closest safe zone.”

Melanie nodded. Two days, there was a lot that needed to be done.

 

Mitchel’s truck bumped down the dirt driveway to his parent’s home. “Thanks for coming,” Mitchel said. “I really didn’t want to come back here by myself and Seth doesn’t want to ever come back here.”

Melanie laid her hand on his.  “What do we need to get while we’re there?”

“Life insurance documents, ammunition, guns, clothing, and all the camping gear. Seth and I thought we’d be safer staying outside the cities unless we knew we had friends on the inside.”

Melanie looked out the side window. A doe and her fawn were standing at the side of the road with wide-eyes and forward ears. She glanced in the rear view mirror and watched them bounce across the road.

“You’re right. I’ll text mom and let her know to pull all of our stuff out too.”

Mitchel pulled the truck forward onto what would be a front lawn in most houses, but was just dirt at the Bateman house. He backed the truck up to the porch. “Let’s do this.”

The front door had yellow police tape across it. Mitchel glanced at Melanie. She shrugged and they ducked under the tape.

Kitchen chairs were toppled, broken dishes littered the floor, and pictures had been ripped from the walls and replaced with fist size holes.

Mitchel’s face took on the emotionless mask he usually wore whenever she saw him within these walls. He pointed toward a hallway closet. “Sleeping bags and rifles are in there.”

Melanie nodded and left him to sift through his childhood memories and put whatever he could back together.

Melanie pulled the closet door open. It was stuffed full of outdoors gear, much of it still had the price tags still attached. It was impossible to imagine Mitchel and his dad taking a backpacking or fishing trip together.

She began pulling everything out. There was really no point in not making a mess or putting things back they didn’t need. She carried sleeping bags outside and lowered the tailgate on the truck. Mitchel came out behind her with a duffle bag of clothes for both Seth and himself.

They worked in silence until the bed of the truck was full.

“I think that’s it,” Mitchel said.

He looked over the house, its peeling paint and broken screen door.  “I hate this place. Let’s get out of here.”

Once they were on their way, Melanie asked, “Can we stop by Holly’s?”

Mitchel nodded and turned down Holly’s street.

They didn’t stay at Holly’s long. Drawing out goodbyes was never a good idea. Richard thought they were making the right choice. He agreed that Blue River was not going to be safe much longer.

“When are you leaving?” Holly asked wiping tears from her cheeks.

“Two days, on the morning of the 9th,” Melanie said squeezing Holly’s hand and giving her another hug. “We’ll write when we reach the safe zone.”

Mitchel and Richard shook hands. “Thank you, Mr. Stein.”

“It was my pleasure, Mitchel. Take care of yourself and Melanie.”

A Vigil for Justice: Episode 23

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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 smiled and brushed her hair behind her ear. Mitchel lay sleeping on the couch. He had woken her up when he couldn’t sleep haunted by nightmares about the horrors his mother had suffered in her last moments of life at the hands of the man who was meant to protect her. Melanie wished should could take the hurt out of Mitchel and bury it into her own heart. He looked calm and relaxed while he slept, but his eyes shifted beneath their lids. In less than a week, their lives had descended into chaos. Even with all the preparation she had done, it hadn’t been enough for this.

The sun was just breaking through the shadows of night. The stairs creaked. Melanie looked up. Sam drug her blanket behind her as she tottered down to the main floor. She climbed into Melanie’s lap pulling her icy toes in to her Hello Kitty nightgown.

“Good morning,” Melanie whispered tucking the blanket around Sam.

Sam snuggled into her. “Are Mitchel and Seth going to live here?”

Melanie kissed her sister’s head. “For now.”

“I’m hungry.”

Melanie chuckled. “How about waffles?”

Sam shook her head up and down and slid off Melanie’s lap.

Melanie went into the kitchen and started going through cupboards getting everything out she needed. She glanced out the front window. Richard Stein’s huge black truck was parked at the curb. She leaned over the counter peering around. There were cars and trucks lining the street.

The doorbell rang.

Sam’s bare feet patted on the floor.

Melanie’s breath caught in her throat. She dashed toward the living room. A pan clanged to the linoleum floor. “Sam, don’t open that door.”

Her hand closed around Sam’s wrist just in time to stop her from opening the door. “Go get mom.”

Sam scrunched up her face.

“Hurry.”

Mitchel sat up and rubbed his eyes. “What’s going on?”

“Not sure,” Melanie said.

A few seconds later, Jennifer was coming down the stairs in her bathrobe. She cast a glance at Mitchel who was now on his feet and alert.

“What is it Melanie?”

“I don’t know. There are a bunch of people out there.”

Jennifer pursed her lips and pulled her eyebrows together. She peered out the spyhole. “Richard Stein.” Jennifer set her shoulders and straightened her spine.

“Just give me a minute before you open that door mom.”

Jennifer nodded.

Melanie ran to her room. Mitchel was right behind her.

As she came into her room, she scooped up her holster and slung it over her shoulders. Melanie sank to her knees at the edge of her bed, and began fishing under it with both arms. She pulled out her lock box. She took the key from around her neck and opened it. She slid the compact nine into the holster.

She heard Mitchel’s footsteps cross the hall to the guest room. She grabbed an extra magazine out of the lockbox and clipped it into place on the holster strap. She got to her feet and snatched up her shotgun and .22 from the closet.

Mitchel met her in the hallway armed as well. “Seth is getting his stuff together too. He’ll be down in just a second.”

Melanie nodded and bounded down the stairs.

The doorbell rang again.

Jennifer’s eyes grew wide as she saw the two of them, armed to the teeth, trot down the stairs. Melanie turned to the footsteps behind her. Seth, shirtless and rubbing sleep from his eyes, held two shotguns as he came down the stairs. He had to two shotgun slings full of shells crisscrossed over his torso.

“Good morning,” he said with a grin as his feet hit the last step.

Melanie set the .22 against the wall behind the door.

Someone pounded on the door.

“Jennifer, we just want to talk. Open the door.” It was Richard. Melanie looked at her mother and shook her head no. Richard didn’t sound angry, but that didn’t mean the people behind him were not angry.

Jennifer put her hand on the doorknob. “Sammy, go upstairs in mommy’s closet. Stay there until I come and get you.”

Melanie slid a magazine for the .22 into her mom’s back pocket. “Keep your body behind the door as much as you can mom.”

Jennifer turned the doorknob and pulled the door open about three inches.

“What can I help you with Mr. Stein?” Jennifer asked with only a slight vibration in her voice.

Melanie stood behind the wall, between the front window and the door. Her left hand wrapped around the cool barrel and her right supporting the butt. Seth was in the kitchen at the front window. Mitchel stood behind the wall at the other side of the large front window.

“We just want to talk Jennifer.”

“Well go ahead.”

Richard took a deep audible breath. “I understand the Bateman boys are staying with you?”

Jennifer said nothing.

“Look Jennifer, we don’t want any trouble, but all these people, they want the boys to leave town.”

“That’s ridiculous. They’ve nowhere to go, Richard. You know that.”

“I tried to explain to everyone they are over reacting and being irrational. I know these boys and their good boys—”

“Then why are you here?”

“To keep the peace.”

“They are giving the boys three days to be out of Blue River.”

“And if they don’t leave?”

“I don’t know how far they will go Jennifer. I can’t talk any sense into them. They think the boys will turn into their father sooner or later.”

Melanie cast a furtive glance at Mitchel.

His jaw clenched and his knuckles turned white around the black barrel of his shotgun.

“Well thanks for the information Mr. Stein,” Jennifer raised her voice, “now if you and the rest of the riffraff would be so kind as to get the hell off my property.”  Jennifer shut the door and leaned her back against it sinking to the floor.

Seth came in to the living room.

“I’m so sorry,” Jennifer said looking up at Seth and Mitchel.

A Vigil for Justice: Episode 22

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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 the next morning, early. She and Mitchel had fallen asleep on the couch around 7:00 the night before. Her mother had gotten her into her bedroom around midnight when she came in with Seth. He had been harder to find than they had thought he would be.

She shuffled down the hall and peeked into the guestroom. Mitchel and Seth were both asleep. She pulled the door closed and continued down the hall toward the kitchen. A light was on in the living room. Melanie stepped down each stair trying to not make any of them squeak.

Jennifer was curled up in the corner of the couch with a white fleece blanket wrapped around her and Austen nestled in the crook of her knees. She set her book down and looked up at Melanie.

“You’re up early.”

“Well I went to bed early.” Melanie sat on the couch next to her mother.

Austin stretched his long lean grey legs out and arched his back tossing his tail in the air. After his stretch, Melanie held up her finger to him. He sniffed it and rubbed his face on it purring. Melanie smiled at him and plopped him in her lap.

“Where’d you find Seth?”

“Asleep in his truck outside of a bar in Breck. His truck is still there. We’ll have to go get it today.”

“How is he?”

“Angry.”

Melanie ran her hand over Austen’s soft fur. He tilted his head turning his pale blue eyes on her. “Did he find their dad?”

Jennifer shook her head no. “Probably a good thing too.”

Melanie nodded and looked out the front window. Slivers of yellow and pink split the sky over the mountains. Dawn was breaking, Melanie hoped it wouldn’t bring more bodies. The Justice Law went into effect six days ago, and four bodies had turned up so far. It must be a slaughter in the bigger cities and towns throughout the United States. Things had been so busy Melanie hadn’t had time to watch the news or read the paper.

“Have they found Evan?”

“Not yet,” Jennifer said. “They had deputies at the house all night, and Richard’s militia has been looking for him. Sheriff Tom says that Anna’s death is murder not a justice killing and when they find Evan he will be charged.”

Melanie yawned. “How’s the rest of the world fairing?”

Jennifer pointed to the paper on the table. “Not well. There have been shootings at hospitals. President Vick has declared hospitals and medical facilities, where research and medical procedures are conducted, safe zones.”  Jennifer shook her head and took a sip of her tea.

“You want me to warm that up for you?” Melanie asked.

“Please.”

Melanie took her mother’s cup into the kitchen and stuck it in the microwave. Melanie walked back into the living room with it and a cup of coffee for herself.

Jennifer’s cell phone vibrated on the table. She jumped up to grab it.

“Hello.” Jennifer mouthed thank you and took the tea from Melanie.

Melanie could hear that the caller was a male, but she couldn’t make out the words.

“Where?”  Jennifer set her tea on the table and covered her mouth with her hand.

“Oh my god.” She made the sign of the cross on herself.

“Thank you, Sheriff. Yes, both Seth and Mitchel are here. They are welcome as long as they want to be here.”

Jennifer set the phone on the table.

“They found him.” It wasn’t a question, Melanie asked. She knew. There was no other reason for Sheriff Tom to be calling at this hour.

Jennifer nodded.

“Dead?”

Jennifer nodded.

 

Sheriff Tom found Evan’s body in the church’s gated courtyard around two in the morning. He had been dead a few hours. He was butchered, slit open from groin to Adam’s apple. His internal organs spilt upon the slate stones.  His SAFE chip had been crushed inside his arm while he was alive.  There was no information on the National Cybersecurity Protection System about who had killed Mitchel and Seth’s father.

Evan had at least had the foresight to pay for their burials in advance.  Seth and Mitchel stood side by side at the head of the open graves watching as the caskets containing their mother and father were lowered into the ground.

They were orphans now, with no family to care for them. Their father had run all the family off a long time ago, both his own family and their mother’s.

Melanie walked through the courtyard after the funeral. Blood still stained the stones. She was waiting for Mitchel and Seth. They wanted to be alone for a while, Melanie understood all too well. She glanced up and Father Chris stood in the archway leading into the Cathedral.  She took a step back.

He ran toward her. His black cassock thwacked tight against his legs with each stride.  “Melanie, this wasn’t me. I swear it.”

She could feel the heat of his body next to hers. His hands rested on her shoulders. She drew her gun and pushed it between them and into his soft belly. He flinched and released her shoulders.

“I don’t know what to think Father.”  She pressed the barrel hard into him, and he stepped back.

He closed his eyes and his head sank until his chin was on his collarbone.

“If this is your doing Father, prayers won’t help you.”

“Why would I desecrate the house of God?”

Melanie didn’t have an answer for that, but it didn’t matter. She knew he was a killer. She knew Evan had deserved what he got, regardless of who had done it.

A Vigil for Justice: Episode 21

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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.

Father Chris a killer, Melanie didn’t want to believe it. He was a servant of God. The commandments said thou shalt not kill or some such thing. Melanie paced back and forth in her bedroom. She ran her fingers through her hair. She hadn’t been able to sleep when she got home from her shift with the militia. Daisy laid on Melanie’s bed and watched her stalk back and forth. Melanie put her hands in her back pockets and then took them out. Images of Father Chris standing at the pulpit flashed through her mind.  His even tone and conviction in his voice as he read the words of God to everyone gathered before him.

She ran her hands through her hair again and stopped pacing. Child abuse was definitely wrong, and if what he said was true, that woman was a danger to her children, but why not just turn her in. Father Chris could have gone to Sheriff Tom.  She let out a long breath. No, he couldn’t. There was that priest confidentiality thing. He was stuck. Oh, god, Melanie groaned. From where Father Chris stood, he really didn’t have a choice, if he wanted to save those kids.

Melanie knew how destructive child abuse was, not firsthand, her parents had never laid a hand on her or Sam. But Mitchel and Seth knew, and she had seen the wounds and scars on them. Mitchel’s hands and forearms would always bear the pink and white modeled scars from when his father had shoved his hands into scalding water when he was three. Seth bore the marks too, the sleek white line on his shoulder where his father threw a steak knife at him. And Anna, their mother, suffered more than either of boys at Evan’s hands. Bruises on her arms and face were a constant reminder to everyone in the community that Evan was a monster.

Maybe Evan was on Father Chris’s list. Should she keep that from Mitchel, would Mitchel try to stop Father Chris from killing his father, Melanie didn’t know the answers. She wasn’t going to tell Mitchel. She didn’t know what Father Chris was planning, maybe nothing. She ran her hands through her hair again, and massaged her scalp. She didn’t sign up for all this. She needed to clear her head. She walked over to her closet and pulled out her running shoes.

Mitchel was sitting on her front porch, his head in his hands, when she ran up the road finishing her six miles. She slowed to a walk as she came into the driveway.

He looked up. His eyes rimmed in red and his face flushed. He stood. “I’ve been calling you.”

She pulled her phone out. She hadn’t heard it ring. Five missed calls. All Mitchel. “What’s wrong?”

He wrapped his arms around her. His generally sturdy stable body slumped against hers.

“Mitch,” she whispered and rubbed her hands up and down his back.

He buried his face in her neck. “He killed her last night, while I was out with the militia. He beat her to death. Seth found her this morning.” Mitchel’s body shuddered and he began to cry.

Melanie held him tighter. “I’m sorry.”

“They’re looking for him. He’s probably long gone.”

Melanie heard the front door of the house close. Jennifer came and wrapped both of them in her arms. “Sheriff Tom called and wanted to make sure you were with friends.” Tears ran down Jennifer’s cheeks and she rubbed Mitchel’s back. “Come inside. I’ll make you something to eat.”

Mitch stepped back, and nodded wiping his nose down his sleeve. Melanie’s arm pulled him against her as they headed toward the house. “Where’s Seth?”

“I don’t know he took off,” Mitchel said.

“I’ll make up the guest room. I want you and Seth to stay with us,” Jennifer said as Mitchel slipped into a chair at the kitchen table. Melanie poured two cups of coffee setting one before Mitchel.

He stared into the black liquid not blinking. “Thank you.” His voice was quiet and distant.

Melanie looked at her mom.  Her ribs squeezed her heart until it felt like her chest was going to collapse. Images of her mother collapsing to the floor at the front door when Sheriff Tom came to tell them Melanie’s father had been killed in the avalanche waved through her. Her throat closed. She took a slow breath and tried to calm herself down. She had to be here for Mitchel now. He needed her.

Jennifer slid two plates with pancakes, bacon, and eggs onto the table. “Mitchel where would Seth have gone? I’m going to go look for him. He shouldn’t be out there alone.”

Mitchel lifted his head and wiped his nose again. “He’ll be looking for our dad at the bars.”

Jennifer’s eyes grew wide. She grabbed her keys off the counter and stripped her jacket from the chair. “Mel, watch Sam.”

Melanie nodded. The front door slammed and the van started up. The tires squealed as Jennifer took off down the street.

“I shouldn’t have left her alone with him. He was so angry and drunk before I went out last night. I knew he would hurt. I told Seth. I told her to stay away from him and to do whatever he asked.” Mitchel covered his face with his hands and wept. His entire body shook with it. Daisy whimpered at his feet.

Melanie pulled his hands away from his face. She held his face between her hands and looked him in the eyes. “Mitchel, this is not your fault. Your father did this not you. If you had been there, he would have killed you too. You couldn’t have stopped him.”

Not without killing him yourself, Melanie thought. She knew Mitchel thought it too, but either one of the was willing to say it aloud. Neither one of them wanted Mitchel to be a killer.

Mitchel pushed the food around on his plate. He watched the syrup drip from his fork as he held it several inches in the air. Melanie stayed by his side. She didn’t question him. She didn’t try to fill the silence. She knew how it felt when people tried to make it okay, when it wasn’t okay at all.

 

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