Melis, Chapter 1: My Eyes Have Seen You

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He taught me how to read people’s eyes. To realize that things aren’t always what they seem.

Before the Great Disaster, I was naïve, like so many of our young people. I never doubted for a second what the adults said, never questioned them.

But now I know better.

Now I know that, whether to protect oneself or to protect others, people lie all the time.

Melis taught me that.

In those early days, when the ground had just stopped shaking and the volcanic dust had settled, when the winds were finally calm, the rains had stopped and the waters had receded, it was every man for himself. Society hadn’t yet reorganized into a structure, no government had risen from the ashes; the world hung tentatively in an isolated and exhausted peace.

I first noticed him as I crouched on the cool, grey concrete under an equally grey sky. I had my eye on a pigeon. I was thinking that they used to be considered a delicacy in Paris, back when that meant something. It didn’t really matter anymore, though. I was just hungry.

As I crouched in that new landscape – a palate of greys – a movement caught my attention. The pigeon took flight in a jarring flapping of wings.

It was gone, but he was there: Melis.

Without even thinking that I should be cautious, I offered him my hand and introduced myself, “I’m Dylan.”

“You shouldn’t just trust me like this,” he said after a while, as we scavenged for food together. But he didn’t leave my side and I didn’t ask him to.

Why did I trust him? Was it because he was young, like me? Because I was lonely and he was the first person I had seen in days? Was it his soft cheeks and his warm, brown eyes? Maybe. But mostly I think it was because I had never not trusted people.

As we roamed the cityscapes he tried to teach me how to survive.

“What did your parents tell you about the war?” he asked.

“War? You mean the battles in Europe?”

He snorted. “Battles? We were about to go to war; all of us. The War to End All Wars. Didn’t they tell you? Didn’t you read about it, hear about it?”

“My parents always said the media wasn’t to be trusted.”

“Yeah? And do you remember how they acted when they were telling you this?”

But I didn’t; back then I hadn’t had cause to doubt them, to watch their shifting eyes, their tension.

“Well, if the Earth hadn’t choked, we would have all been killed in the war. Even you and me. You’d better learn to question, to doubt.”

When I looked confused, he continued, “If you can’t do anything else, watch their eyes. The eyes are the windows to the soul, and they do funny things when a person lies.”

With so few people around, the lesson remained abstract, until one day we happened upon a woman.

She seemed hungry, lonely, weak. She smiled wanly as I broke off a piece of stale bread I had found and handed it to her. Melis hung back as she and I talked but when she moved, quick as lightening, to grab my wrist and drag me to the ground, he was there, moving faster than she did, to stop her.

“You have to stop trusting,” he repeated as we walked away. I had no reply. My body was still shaking. “Did you see the greed in her eyes? Always watch the eyes.”

“I don’t know what you mean. Her eyes looked normal to me.”

Over time I would learn.

It’s funny, though. With all he tried to teach me, it never once occurred to me to try it on him.

We roamed the grey world together, sometimes meeting no one for days. Among the few we did meet, many of them seemed genuinely happy to greet Melis. Their tired eyes brightened and twinkled when he spoke to them.

I never thought anything of it.

I still can’t figure out when he would have passed them the message.

But one morning we woke in the concrete-grey ruins of what had once been apartments, woke to find a gathering outside, chanting, “Melisizwe, Leader of the Nation, we will fight for you. Lead us to the battle.”

I looked at him then as if seeing him for the first time. Finally, I understood his lesson. In his eyes, I saw the truth.

In that instant, I joined a rebellion I hadn’t even realized existed.

 

I like to find fitting, meaningful names for my characters, partly because I find etymology and the evolution of language so fascinating. I was thrilled, then, to discover quite by accident that while Melisizwe is Xhosa (both a language and an ethnic group living in South Africa) for “Leader of the Nation,” Mael is Breton (an ancient branch of the Celtic language) for “Chief.” These lands are so far apart, I’m not sure if there is any connection but I can’t help but hope there is!

I have now written a continuation of this story. If interested, you can read it here.

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39 thoughts on “Melis, Chapter 1: My Eyes Have Seen You

  1. This was awesome! post apocaliptic survival is always awesome! Really liked the characters too. One question though: If society is in ruins, what is the rebelion rebeling against?

    • Aha that’s the question! I had more but it was too many words. Something along the lines of The One who seized power when the remnants of the global governments were in shambles. But I tried to make it work with that aspect left open to interpretation, too. Thanks for reading thoughtfully and asking questions!

    • Really? Thanks! This is another one that’s a bit out of my comfort zone. I don’t think I’ve ever written anything futuristic. Thanks for the vote of confidence!

    • Thanks Janna. I was just saying I don’t think I’ve ever written a futuristic story but welcomed going out of my comfort zone a bit when the story just came to me. Glad you liked that little interlude.

  2. Great work, Silver. I engaged with the characters instantly, and did not see the twist coming. Clearly I should have done, Melis was a strong, vibrant character and everything about him spoke of his power.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I’m so glad you liked Melis and sensed his charisma. Sometimes I find I am carried by the story without thinking about where it’s going. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

      • I work that way too – I love the feeling of being swept away. Being predominately a Gardner (using the analogy of George R.R.Martin), this is how I work best. I still try to strike a balance 🙂

  3. ‘I was thinking that they used to be considered a delicacy in Paris, back when that meant something. It didn’t really matter anymore, though. I was just hungry.’ Reminds me how much we take for granted. Enjoyed reading this.

  4. Love this! From the gritty grey beginning, right to the unveiling of Melis at the end. Your characters are complex and well-developed – and your world is believable and intriguing. I would love to see more of this! 🙂

    Oh, and isn’t it cool when you find similarities in the etymology of words from vastly different languages? It reminds me of how connected we all are.

    • Thank you for leaving me such a detailed and reassuring comment – what a boost 🙂 This is yet another style I “don’t do” but the idea that you’d like to see more just might get me thinking about continuing it at some point.

      As for the mysteries of etymology, when I studied Celtic Studies we learned a bit about a proto-Indo-European language which was the root of Breton and Gaelic – and the languages spoken in India. That in itself was cool but I wonder if there’s any connection to African languages…

  5. I like the way you held on to his true identity until the end. He seems very wise for his years. Apparently, that’s why he’s leading the rebellion. I’m just glad it turns out she could trust him in the end, because the truth was in his eyes. Great story!

    • Hey, thanks! Yes, I suppose it could have gone either way; he could have been using her or tricking, too. I’m glad she has an ally in that grey world.

  6. This is so good. Such a great observation that she never thought to question his eyes. This moves so smoothly from scene to scene — a lot of story in so few words. Well done!

    • Wow, Meg, thank you so much. Coming from someone who is able to create wonderful characters to people complex worlds in a limited amount of words, I’m flattered you think so 🙂

    • Thanks for letting me know. I almost just left it unsaid but it was too interesting to me and I had to share. Linguistic archeology? That sounds like something I’d enjoy.

    • Oh wonderful; I’m so glad (and flattered) to hear that. It was kind of fun stepping out from what I know and trying something different. I recommend it, even if it’s just to reinvigorate the mind!

    • It definitely could have gone either way – and who knows what will happen when she joins the rebellion? Thank you for reading and for leaving such a nice comment.

  7. Beautifully crafted, Silverleaf. I enjoyed reading every word and especially like the ending of the story. I agree about the etymology of the names. I am sure that somewhere it is all or will someday be connected.

    • Oh, that’s a great perspective that I hadn’t thought of; in the future, the languages will all re-converge (or at least converge for the first time). With so few people left walking the earth, maybe they will fall into one amalgamated language…Thank you for your kind and thoughtful comment.

  8. Post-apocalyptic is one of my favorite genres, so, this was awesome. And I liked the phrase, “if the Earth hadn’t choked…” I’d like to know more about that. 🙂

    • Thanks, Michael. I had TONS more about the war that almost happened, the Earth that somehow choked at just the right time, the One who picked up the pieces when all the other governments were in a disarray…Thwarted again by that word count 🙂
      I can’t say it enough: I don’t do this genre at all, so I’m thrilled to hear it worked for you.

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