A Vigil for Justice: Episode Forty-Five

Flag

Episode 45

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

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

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

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

“Yep, sure do,” Zachariah said.

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

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

“Melanie,” she said.

He nodded. “Melanie.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Stay,” she said to Daisy.

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

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

“Seth?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daisy barked and snapped at him.

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

“Melanie?” Mitchel called. “Melanie?”

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

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

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

“Here,” she said.

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

“What’s going on?”

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

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

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

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

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

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Forty-Four

Flag

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

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

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

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

“I’m looking mom.”

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

“Not yet pumpkin,” Jennifer said.

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

Mitchel and Seth followed them off the freeway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She shrugged. “Guess we should follow?”

Mitchel followed and she was right behind him.

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

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

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

“It’s a 2015 Mazda,” Melanie said.

“How many miles?”

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

“You have family here?” he asked.

Melanie shook her head.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Has it been leaking?”

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

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

“Thank you,” Mitchel said.

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

“We stay in the van,” Melanie said.

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

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

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

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Forty-Three

Flag

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rap. Rap. Rap.

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

Mitchel drew his gun. “Head down!”

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

“Whoa, boys. Put those down,”

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

Home Land Security.

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

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

Jennifer and Sam were waking up in the back now.

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

“Yes, sir,” said Mitchel.

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

She scooted out of the sleeping bag.

“Where are you coming from?”

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

“We are stopping everyone coming in from Colorado.”

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

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

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

“Well that’s not us,” said Seth.

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

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

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

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

“No,” Jennifer said.

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

“How long will you be here?”

“Not long.”

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

“Where are you going?”

“Ogden.”

He clenched his teeth again.

“And then?”

“The safe zone.”

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

“Yes,” said Jennifer.

“I see.”

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

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

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

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

“I’ll drive,” Jennifer said.

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

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

“Who? Colorado Home Land?”

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

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Forty-Two

Flag

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melanie smiled and shook her head. Twins.

The talking stopped and everyone watched Sam.

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

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

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

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

Melanie made pursed her lips and looked around.

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

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

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

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

“Arby’s?” she asked.

“Mmmm. A Jamocha shake and curly fries.”

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

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

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

“Come and get it,” she called.

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

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

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

“Here we go,” she said to Mitchel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Restrooms?” Jennifer asked.

“In the back on your right.”

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

“I’ll be right outside.”

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

“Is your coffee fresh?” she asked.

“Yes, ma’am.”

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

“Ready?” Jennifer asked.

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

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

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

“You all have a safe drive.”

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Forty-One

Flag

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 Thirty-nine

Flag

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 Eight

Flag

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Apricot too, Mom likes it.”

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

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

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

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

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

They were stuck here for a few more days.

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

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

Melanie handed him a sandwich.

“Thanks Melbelle,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How’s Sammy?”

“Sleeping.”

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

“Of course mom.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She’d change her mother’s bandages later.

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

“How’s mom?” he asked.

“Cross stitching and girl talk.”

He smiled.

“Do you think Holly is mad at me?”

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

Melanie raised her eyebrows and pursed her lips.

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

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

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

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

He knocked on the door.

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

Mitchel knocked again.

Nothing.

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Thirty Seven

Flag

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

Flag

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 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

Flag

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.