A Vigil for Justice: Episode Five


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

“Pleep, pleep, pleep.” Melanie’s alarm clock went off. She swung her limp arm over and pressed the button to turn it off. Cracking her eyes open just a little, she looked at the blue glowing numbers, 5:00 a.m., May 5, 2021. She rolled out of bed. She needed to go for a run. Shaking the sleep from her mind, she pulled on running shorts, a sports bra, a shirt, and her running shoes. She stepped out the front door. The morning air was chilly and crisp with the scent of fresh rain. Goose bumps rose on her arms and legs. She knew she would warm up once she was moving. She checked the door to make sure it was locked and set off at a warm up pace.

Cross-country summer training would be starting at the end of the month, and she wanted to have a strong base of miles before then. But cross-country wasn’t the only reason Melanie was running this morning. Running was her time to think and really process the world around her. She felt free and her mind could work through any challenge with little exertion on her part. It just happened, she didn’t know how, but it did.

By the end of her five miles, Melanie was sure she would know what her next steps should be regarding the Justice Law. For the first mile, her mind spun around the nightmares that the Justice Law could bring into their small town. What if others came here seeking solace from the law or to hide from someone hunting them? What if some lunatic who had a horrible vacation in Breckenridge decided to open fire in the bar her mother worked in? What about all the secrets that small town are famous for? So many horror novels begin in small towns, it’s like they breed serial killers.

Melanie made a conscious effort to relax her tightening shoulders and released her fists. What if’s won’t help, she needed to answer the question what now? Melanie knew she had to protect her family. Especially since her mom refused to accept that things could get bad, really bad. How was she going to protect them all? Mitchel, Holly, Seth, Sam, her mom, and herself. She had to focus. She turned a corner and the familiar pounding of her feet along the ground brought her back from the paranoid fantasies. She had to get a gun. She had to learn to use it. And she had to learn to fight. Her arms swished past her waist and she picked up her pace.

She had twenty-six days to prepare, and she couldn’t waste any of them. She bounded up the bleachers at the high school. The sound of her footsteps echoed in the empty stadium. She took it slow going back down and then pushed herself on the way back up. She did it again and again until her breath was coming in heaves and she wanted to vomit.

She cooled down on the way home, and now she had a plan. The kitchen light was on and she knocked on the door. Her mom opened it.

“How was your run? You’re starting early this year.”

Melanie smiled. Sweat was streaming down her face, and she wiped her forehead with the back of her hand. “It was a good run.”

“There are eggs, bacon, and toast for you on the table.” Her mom must have the day off work. She only made breakfast when she had the day off.

“Thanks mom.”

Melanie shoveled the food into her mouth, showered, and got ready for school.

“I’ll be home late, mom,” Melanie said as she pulled the door to the house closed.

Jennifer opened the door again. “Are you working tonight?”

“Yeah,” Melanie called from the curb. Not in the coffee shop, but she would be working none the less.

“Your curfew is nine.”

After school, Melanie drove to Breck. The blue snowcapped mountains peaked over all the buildings in the small vacation town. The resorts brought in people from all over the world, year round. Locals and visitors walked along the streets going in and out of the stores that line the main street through town. Most of the buildings looked more like homes than business with peaked roofs cottage windows and doors. The light blues, greens, and browns of the buildings ambled by as Melanie slowed down to twenty miles an hour.

She pulled into the empty parking lot of a two story light brown building with ivory trim. It was one of the few that actually looked like a business rather than a house. A bell jangled as she went through the glass door.

A well-muscled man with a maroon tank top, tight jeans, and a white cowboy hat strode out from the back. He wiped his taped hands on a towel from the counter. The place smelled like sweat and leather.

His smile was kind.

“Morning, how can I help you?” he said, setting the white towel back on the counter.

Behind him was a line of black punching bags hanging from the ceiling by chains as thick as her wrist. Her eyes moved around the room. The American flag hung on the wall. Blue and grey mats laid across the floor and a weight bench sat in a corner with rows of free weights and dumb bells. Jump ropes and gloves hung from hooks next to a drinking fountain.

Three yellow and black speed bags jutted out from a wall. Tires were leaned against the wall below them. Swiss balls and medicine balls sat in another corner. A bay door stood open to the back alley and a cool breeze brought in the mountain air.

“I want to learn to fight.”

His smile widened, but he tried to hide it by tucking his chin and scratching the back of his neck. “When did you want to start?”

“Today.” She dropped her gym bag on the floor and reached out her hand. “I’m Melanie Craig.”

“Go change, let’s see what you got, Melanie Craig.” He was still smiling as he turned and walked back into the gym. He had an eagle tattooed on his left shoulder. The wings were up as it came in talons extended for a landing or the capture its prey.

She came out of the bathroom in a pair of running shorts and a sports bra. He tossed her a pair of white gloves and climbed into the ring. She followed him in pulling on the gloves. He hadn’t changed and didn’t have gloves on either.

“Don’t you want gloves?” she asked.

“I’m not going to hit you.” He adjusted his hat on his head and took a fighting stance, his left side toward her.

“You want to start with your weaker side toward your opponent.”

She turned so her right side was toward him. She looked up and down at him memorizing his stance and adjusted hers to match.

“Keep your hands up,” he said, raising his own.

She raised her hands close to her face. The smell of leather and sweat strong. He couldn’t be more than five years older than her. His steel grey eyes watched her with a ferocious intensity she had never seen. They looked more through her than at her. She could see the fringes of his honey colored hair just below his hat.

“Most people are out buying guns and spending their time at the firing range, why are you here?” he asked, moving around her left side.

“Because,” she said, as she jabbed her right fist at him. He slapped it away without even looking directly at it.

She stopped. “You see what you did there?” she asked.

He raised his eyebrows, and continued to bounce around her on the balls of his feet with his hands up protecting his face. She dropped her own hands to her sides.

“I need to be able to do that. I need to be able to see what’s coming from all angles without having to look directly at it. I need to be able to assess the risk someone poses to my family and me by looking at them. I want to look a person in the eye and know if they can kill.”

He stopped and looked squarely at her. He nodded his head once. “I’m Jake Simpson, and I can teach you that.”

Face plant?


Yes, I’d love one. Hit the trails this morning for my run, literally. Spongebunny and J$ met me at 530 a.m. and we drove to East Mountain Park, which is the starting line for the Wasatch 100 mile endurance race (my dream race).

Thursdays are hill training days, and the Bonneville Shoreline Trail has lots of short steep hills. Most days I do long steady climbs for my hill training because that is what I encounter most often during my races. But it’s good to mix it up.

We reached the trailhead and it was dark. The sun had not even begun to shoot its rays high enough to reach the crest of the mountains. The trail begins as a dirt road before it climbs and narrows into single track.

We climbed through washed out rutted trail. The trees and scrub oak hemming us in. Our glutes and quads starting to burn as we reached the top of the hill. The trail winds down into a small canyon and then climbs again. It flattens out for a while and gives you an amazing look out over Davis County and Antelope island.

The trail climbs a little and the trees move in as you reach Adams Canyon and race down the narrowing trail toward the rumbling of Holmes Creek. This is my favorite part of the trail. The pine trees bend to out away from the steep slope of the mountain and stretch toward the sun. The smell of the wet trail, the stream, and the pine is invigorating. The wood of the bridge sounds hollow as we clomp over it one by one and climb back out of Adams Canyon.

Again, we get a little reprieve of semi-flat trail while we gaze out toward Ogden City in the north and the Great Salt Lake to the west before we plunge into another canyon and rock hop across Snow Creek.

As we reached Kays Creek and Fernwood park, the sun was high enough to click off the headlamps. We stop for a quick water break and then start another climb. The trail winds up through the trees and behind the huge houses stuck to the side of the mountain.

Quick single track cascades along the southern edge of Hobbs Canyon. The sound of Hobbs Creek rolling over its rocks on journey into the valley makes me smile. I love trail running. I don’t know how to describe it. It’s a dance of joy and freedom that reaches into the very center of my heart.

We turn around once we reached the bridge at Hobbs Creek. This section of the trail is phenomenal in the autumn when the leaves are changing colors. I’ll have to go and take pictures for all of you in six weeks or so.

“It’s easier going back,” I said to Spongebunny.

“Okay,” he said a little out of breath.  Okay in Spongebunny talk means Holy Shit this is hard, but I will never in my life admit that to the Dark Voodoo Princess (aka me).

J$, eats hills for breakfast, two servings, so he led on the way back. About two miles from the trailhead, I caught my toe on a root as we were descending and crashed to the ground. J$ turned around and asked, “Are you alright?”

photo 3 (3)

I was on my feet before he finished the question. “Yep.” I brushed off the dirt, decided nothing was broken, and no bone was exposed. And we started off once again.

Spongebunny was a little behind and missed my acrobatics, which is a shame because the look on the hiker’s faces who were behind us was pretty good.

“They probably think I’m a total D-bag,” J$ said, laughing.

If you run trails, you’re going to fall at some point. Just like with the rest of life, you dust yourself off, assess the damage, and keep going.

Vikingman 70.3


70.3 miles Total 7:04:42

1.2 mile Swim 40 minutes

T1 6 minutes

56 mile Bike 3:50 (15 miles an hour)

T2 8:30

13.1 Run 2:19 (10:30 minute per mile)

Clearly, the bike is my weakness! I didn’t expected that to change, since the only two triathlons I’ve competed in were two weeks apart. I really wanted to see where I was at so I could focus my training and compare results to next year.

Next year, I want to complete the St. George half Ironman (May 2015) and the Tahoe full Ironman (September 2015).

Vikingman was an adventure. J$ and I pulled into Heywood, Idaho during a downpour. He looked at me and said, “You’ve got to be kidding.”

I grinned. “It can’t keep this up. It will blow itself out and tomorrow will be beautiful.”

He was not optimistic. It continued to rain alternating between a sprinkle to torrential rains throughout the afternoon and night. The wind crept in every now and again along with lightning and thunder.

We woke up at 5:00 am and drove to get coffee (me) and Mountain Dew (J$). When we got back, we put our numbers on our legs and arms and took our running and bike stuff over to transition.

I can describe the transition area in one word. Swamp. The rains from the last few days had turned the entire area into a grassy muddy mess. We set up our stuff trying to keep things dry and still have quick access to it.

We took the shuttle to the swim start at 7 a.m. It was 50 degrees Fahrenheit. There was no wind which both J$ and I were grateful for. J$’s start time was 7:30 a.m. and mine was 7:35 a.m. The water temperature was 68 degrees Fahrenheit.

We stood around shivering while the officials told us absolutely no drafting on the bike and no ipods or music during the entire event.

The water was cold, but warmer than standing on shore. I didn’t have any problems during the swim portion of the race, other than getting out of the current once. Since they had the half, Olympic, and sprint distances starting between 7:30 and 8:00 a.m., when I saw a group of swimmers on the shore I started to go toward the shore thinking it was the swim out. It wasn’t. It was the sprint start. Thank goodness I realized it before I was completely ashore.

Once I was out of the water and my wetsuit was stripped off, I was freezing cold. I shoved food in my mouth with shaking hands, pulled on bike shorts, and a jacket. I tried to dry my feet and keep them mud free before putting them into socks and shoes, but it didn’t work out too well.

The bike course consisted of four loops. I don’t mind doing loops, but four is a lot. The course was flat, but southern Idaho is known for its wind. We had a tail wind going east (don’t quote me on the direction I could be wrong, but you get the idea). A cross wind going north and south, and a head wind going west.

The wind was constant at about 20 mph and the gusts were probably about 30 mph, needless to say, they slowed us down going north, south and especially west. I’m not the best cyclist, but I’ve done my share of 100 mile rides. I can typically finish in 4 hours and 30 minutes. So, when 56 miles took 3 hours and 50 minutes, I was a little frustrated and just wanted to get off the freaking bike!

Once into transition, I again tried to stay out of the swampy mess by standing on plastic bags and my towel, which was now covered in mud. I pulled off my bike shorts and changed socks and shoes.

During the swim, I had passed J$, but he caught up to me in the last two miles of the bike. We came into transition about a minute apart and headed out on the run together.

That first mile after being on a bike is tough! But once we got our running legs back, we trucked along at a steady pace. We worked in some walk breaks because we were both beat to death by the wind on the bike course. I have to say a loop course that comes within a tenth of a mile to the finish line is cruel and unusual punishment, not motivation.

On the second loop of the run course, I looked at J$ and said, “So I guess you need more than five days to taper for a half ironman. Next time, I won’t run back to back long runs (25/20 mile) the weekend before.”

“That’s probably a good idea,” he said.

What’s the plan from here? I refuse to drop my running miles or give up running ultramarathons, so I know I will not be as strong on the bike as other triathletes. But it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make. I am going to try to work in a spin class in during the fall and winter one night a week. I am also going to work on doing intervals on my trainer on my own. Finally, I am going to save up and get a tri-bike next spring/summer.

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Four


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He looked down at her. Nothing was certain anymore.

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

“I’ll see you at lunch?”

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

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

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

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

Mayor Brady stood on the stage.

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

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

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

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

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

“I’ll take questions now.”

Hands shot up.

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

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

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

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

“Yes, sweetheart?” asked the mayor.

“What do you mean scrub?” she asked.

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

When it rains, it pours


I hate when old adages settle into your life, kick their feet up on the coffee table, and never leave.  This one, “When it rains, it pours,” is only 110 years old and was given to us by the geniuses at Morton Salt. Yeah the salt people.

Its original meaning was positive, however, over the years it has become negative. Morton Salt developed this as an advertisement gimmick. Back before 1911, whenever there was humidity or a rainstorm everyone’s salt turned into a clump. It didn’t sprinkle out in beautiful white crystals over our food or when thrown over the left shoulder.

Morton salt decided to add a few things to salt like magnesium carbonate, which prevents it from clumping. So the slogan “When it rains, it pours,” meant that even when the humidity was high your salt would still come out in beautiful crystals wherever you wanted to toss it.

Currently, it’s used to mean that when one bad thing happens many other bad things follow right on its heels. An English Proverb, “It never rains, but it pours,” means just that and was used in the US and UK prior to Morton.

Personally, I like the Morton version better than the proverb because it gives you a little warning. You know that when it starts raining you should prepare yourself for a torrential down pour. Where in the proverb, there is no warning the sky just opens up and you should have built your ark, but if God didn’t warn you, you’re screwed.

So why the tangent on this? Whenever I think I’m getting ahead financially and have an extra paycheck (because I get paid every other week so twice a year I get three checks in one month instead of two) something comes in and sucks it dry. Every time, it never fails.

I find it rather entertaining at this point. There is a sense of excitement about it.

Extra check in August extra expenses:

  1. Registration for school 300$
  2. School clothing 600$
  3. Court clothing (low carb diet made new court clothing necessary) 200$
  4. Jazz’s car needs new breaks back and front and a few other things 650$

I consider myself lucky that these two events coincided and have in the past as well. Sure, I’m not getting ahead, but I’m not falling further behind either.

This prompted a conversation with Jazz about why he should have an emergency savings account in case the English proverb applies to his life rather than Morton Salt. He is quiet fond of reminding me that he plans to move out in a year. So I try not to waste valuable opportunities like this to teach him a life lesson.

So, what’s with the goat picture? Nothing. The goats make me smile every morning that I run past them because they are always on top of their house.

And the Battle begins

mind vs body

Body draws a double-handed broadsword from its scabbard. Mind secures itself with a wide staggered stance and raises the circular shield to shoulder height.

“You must rest, you have a half ironman in five days,” Mind calls from around the shield.

“Yeah, but we got this. Half Ironman pshhhht. Whatever.” Body hefts the six-foot silver blade.

“You want to do well don’t you?” my mind asks, crouching low in preparation.

“Well yeah, we’re going to freaking crush it!” The blade arches back and up.

Mind rolls eyes.  “Sure you are.” Mind grunts as the sword crashes into the shield. Body staggers thrown off balance because of the weight of the swinging sword.

“What? This little half iron ain’t got shit on a 100 miler or even a 50!” Body says taking a few steps toward Mind.

Mind stands straight, drops the shield down, and looks Body up and down. “How many times you think you can swing that thing before you’re exhausted at this point in your training?”

Body again hefts the blade back and up over its head and it comes banging down upon Mind who is once again cowering beneath the shield.

“And what, Ms. Smarty pants, do you want us to do with all this extra energy?” Body asks. The sword tip rests on the ground.

“Conserve it and let it loose at Vikingman,” Mind says firmly standing its ground.

Body shakes its head and looks at the ground. “We won’t be sleeping by Wednesday if we do that. And my leg is going to bounce us into next week.”

“Now listen here, you fool. You ran 25 miles Saturday and 20 miles Sunday. You need to rest.” Mind is frustrated. “You’ve run races when you haven’t properly rested. They don’t go well.”

Mind looks at the sword still in Body’s hand. Body looks down at it too.

“How about, I swim Monday, run easy Tuesday, and ride on Wednesday?” Body says.

Mind rubs its pointy chin and nods its head. “That sounds reasonable. But can you stick to that? be honest now.”

“Alright. Alright. I’ll probably run on Thursday too but easy short five miles that’s it. I promise.”

Mind narrows its cool steel grey eyes. Body drops the broadsword and extends its hand to seal the agreement.

Mind reaches out.

Body quickly retracts its hand laughing, “Na, I’m just kidding.”

Mind drops the shield and dashes forward tackling Body. They land with a harrumph and dust flying into the air around them. Mind shakes Body by the shoulders, flips him over, and wrenches Body’s arm behind its back.

“Mercy!” Body squeaks out.

“Do you agree to the terms?” Mind asks calm.

“Cough. Cough. I agree.”

Slowly, Mind allowed body to get up. Mind wondered why it always had to overcome Body whether it was because Body wanted to quit or wanted to push when it just wasn’t the right time… yet.

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melanie looked left then right preparing to pull into traffic.


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

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

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

*                             *                             *

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

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

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

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

“Can you stir the soup?”

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

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

“No duh.” Sam rolled her eyes.

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

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

“It was fine.”

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

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

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

“If dad were here—“

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

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

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

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

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

“Don’t push Melanie. Mom.”

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