This is the final part of Meelo’s story. He’s a minor character in a story I’m working on, but I loved him so much, I had to give him a happily ever after. Get caught up with part 1, part 2, and part 3.
When Meelo next opened his eyes, it was twilight—morning twilight—and the vehicle was moving much slower over roads that Peetzland would have had indentureds rip up and replace a decade ago. He must have slept all night.
The man was now driving although Meelo could not even pull up the vaguest memory of the car stopping for the drivers to switch. They were in an uncultivated grassland and Meelo could see up ahead a break in the brush, some sort of gully or wash.
The woman turned toward him. She smiled. “Good morning. We’ll be there in just a couple minutes and get you a proper breakfast. I hope you slept well.”
Meelo shrugged non-committally, but didn’t say a thing. The woman smiled at him again and turned back around. She was younger than he had thought last night. She looked tired, but she didn’t look haggard and broken like an indentured. Her eyes were not dull. The man in grey was older than she was, but not by much. When he almost caught Meelo’s eyes in the mirror, Meelo glanced away quickly. He’d already seen the man’s coldness back in Peetzland.
The wash was more of a bluff and the road down into it was not well maintained. In fact, it didn’t look to Meelo as if it was maintained at all. Just a roughhewn path down the side of the cliff that existed only because people continued to use it. Inside the gulch, scraggly native cottonwoods struggled to survive next to a small stream. It was winter, and the trees were gnarled and bare, the stream lined with ice. Through the snow, the skeletons of bushes poked their brittle fingers toward the sky.
The car made it down the cliff and traveled in the gulch. The road was covered in packed snow, and they weaved around trees and fallen boulders. The sun peaked over the eastern horizon above the far edge of the small canyon.
Finally, around another bend and across an unreliable looking wooden bridge, at the base of the next cliff, the car came to a stop. The man and woman climbed out without a word to Meelo. He waited in the back of the car.
They were at a small camp. The snow had been cleared or packed down around two white canvas tents which were just receiving the first of the sun’s rays. Some clothing lay across the branches of a fallen tree, probably drying. A fire burned low in front of the two tents.
Meelo watched his new owners walk up to the tents. Two more people—a man and a woman–stepped out from behind the far tent and greeted them warmly. The four spoke together and they looked back at the car, but it was hard to see their expressions, as Meelo was looking directly into the sun.
The woman from the camp took a few steps toward the vehicle but the man held her back. Meelo knew he should go out there and face his new life, but he couldn’t bring himself to move.
He watched them talk for a moment longer. The woman who had driven him here disappeared into a tent and the other woman moved slowly closer to the car. There was something familiar about her. Meelo couldn’t see any of her features in the bright sun, so he wasn’t sure what it was that could be so familiar. He knew he had never seen the man in grey in his life, and he could only assume that the others were just as much strangers.
Meelo’s curiosity began to loosen his muscles. There was something about them. There was something about this whole thing. Bennett trying to dissuade the man from choosing him, but then looking happy when Meelo was pulled away. Bennett giving away Kestrel. The man in grey paying Kestrel’s debt. The food. The familiarity of the two people at the camp as if they were characters from some story come to life that he’d forgotten he ever heard.
Without even realizing he was doing it, his hand pulled the handle on the car door and it popped open. The woman immediately looked over at him and took another step closer. He pushed the door open and stepped stiffly outside. It was bitingly cold after the warmth of the car. By now, Bennett and the rest of the work crew would be climbing onto the trucks.
The woman stepped closer, but the sun still obscured his sight. He took a few more steps and she ran to him.
“Meelo,” she said.
Meelo stopped, almost tripping. It was Anna. And behind her, Raymond.
But they were dead.
Anna crashed into him, wrapping him in a hug much stronger than he expected. Raymond smiled and squeezed his shoulder. They both looked much healthier than the last time he’d seen them, but it was them. The man in grey sauntered over. He kept his hands stuffed in his pockets. The coldness in his eyes had melted.
“Looks like you’ve grown a few inches,” Raymond said. “You’re taller than me now.”
Meelo looked at them. “I thought you were dead.”
Anna shuddered and looked up at him. “I promised you I’d see you again, didn’t I?”
“Our debt was paid, and we left. We couldn’t exactly come back and say good-bye. I’m sorry Meelo,” Raymond explained.
Meelo stared at them, his brain trying to put the pieces together. “So, I’m not a slave?”
Anna laughed, tears making her eyes shine. “No Meelo. You are free. You’ll never be someone’s slave again.”