This story takes place in the near future.
Hundreds of miles from any known civilization, Francois looked down from his plane and saw the shifting sands. The wind was strong enough to brush away whole sand dunes. From Francois's perspective, they almost looked like tiny waves in a peach colored sea. Suddenly, a gust of wind turned his plane sideways, then sent it hurdling towards the ground. "Mayday, Mayday" he shouted into his radio, but would anyone here want to help someone like him?
"Hey." Francois opened his eyes. He was lying on the ground, staring up at the blue sky, not a single cloud in sight. He looked to his left, and then to his right. To his surprise, something interrupted his view of the pristine desert. There was a boy tugging at his sleave, wearing a scarf, a long sleaved shirt, and some pants, all of a silken fabric and all a faded deep, dark blue.
The boy started again, "Hey. What are you doing out here all alone?" Francois tried to stand up, but felt a sharp stinging in his ankle, shortly collapsing face down in the sand. He tried again, this time, only attempting to sit up. Still unsteady in his bearings, Francois looked at the boy and had only one question, "Is this heaven or hell?"
The boy laughed, "Silly man! Don't you know where you are? This is the Aral Sea." Francois looked again at the miles of sand around him. He paused for a moment, but then recalling his geography lessons during his briefing, he remembered how the residents of the Aral kum desert still sometimes call it by the great sea that once stood there. It was only then when Francois remembered his catastrophic crash in the desert.
"How far south am I in the Aral kum Desert?" He asked to the boy.
The boy's face grew stern, red with anger. He curled his fists and stomped the ground, "It's not a desert. It's a sea! All it's missing is the water!" Not wishing to intrude upon the locals anymore than he already was, Francois saw no choice but to apologize for his faux pas. The boy calmed down almost as quickly as he became enraged.
Careful not to cause further offense, he rephrased his question, "So where am I exactly in this sea?"
The boy responded, "So you really are lost, huh? Well, I live on the island a bit over there." He pointed somewhere over the horizon. "Grandma always says I have to be back by sun down, so I always look at the sun in the afternoon and go the other way to get there.
Francois asked, "What is the name of this island?". He assumed that this "island" was now only an elevated part of the desert.
Puzzled the boy said, "What do you mean the name of the island? It's the island. The one where I live."
It wouldn't have done Francois much good to know the island's name. Maps had long since stopped marking them on the map once the sea dried up, but Francois was desperate for any clues he could get to find his location. He pressed the boy for more details.
The boy continued, "Why don't I bring you to my Grandma, and she's the one who knows those kinds of things."
It took them 3 hours to reach the boys house. They walked a decent part of the journey in darkness. Neither of them had expected it to take this long, but Francois had to lean on the boy the whole way, trying to minimize the weight on his sprained ankle.
Finally, they could see the glimmer of light coming out of a lone house, a splotch of yellow warmth in the sea of silver-blue light from the moon. They opened the door into the kitchen and heard the voice of an elderly woman, "Caspi? Is that you? Where on heaven's earth have you been?"
Caspian's Grandmother appeared from behind a wall. She was wearing a red cotton dress with a floral design. Each flower had 5 white petals surrounding a yellow center. "Oh? Who's this?" She asked.
Francois, a little startled himself, started his introduction, "Good Day, Madam. My name is Francois Francoise. I am a--," He nearly gave his occupation, but stopped himself in the nick of time from getting kicked out of the house, "I am a truly honored to meet you."
"Oh, you don't have to be so formal with me. My name is Almaty, but you can call me Allie." She stook her hand out, and Francois shook it. "Thank you for bringing my grandson back to me. He must have gotten lost. Why don't you have some dinner before you leave?"
"Actually," Francois responded, "I was the one that was lost. If your grandson hadn't helped me get here, I would still be stuck there in that desert."
"It's not a desert!" Caspian shouted, "It's a--"
"Won't you be quiet!" Almaty cut Caspian off, "This man is obviously not from here. Didn't Mother and Father raise you to treat guests with respect?" She turned towards Francois, "Those Gypsy thieves. Robbing people of all their possessions then leaving them out in the middle of nowhere. I've only heard of it happening, but I never thought of them coming all the way out here to do it."
She took another look at him. "And they even got your leg too. How cruel some people can be!"
Francois didn't want to correct her, so he let this be his excuse for being out in the dessert. It also wouldn't help his case for her to know that he himself was born and raised a Gypsy. The less she knew about him, the better things were. As long as people didn't see his plane, he could let the locals spin their own stories of who he was and why he was there. Speaking of which, where was his plane? Thinking back, he didn't see any trace of it after he woke up...
"Why don't you have dinner with us, Francois?"
About half an hour later, Allie came back with 3 plates of Kazy. "This is our national dish. It is made with the meat of horses." Although Francois was informed on the local culture before being assigned to the region, he listened to the woman's explanation. "We wouldn't normally eat something like this, but it's so rare for us to have guests."
She continued, "Francois... You are french? What brings you to our great country?"
Thinking on his feet, Francois said, "You know, I have always wanted to visit. I always used to see pictures in magazines of the capital with its blue and white buildings and I just had to see it in real life."
"The Capital?" Allie asked, "You're a long way out from the capital. Those Gypsies really brought you all the way here?! What horrible people."
Not willing to put up with this abuse much longer, Francois interjected, "I am a Gypsy myself. The fact that you would say that to me is very rude. Many of the Gypsies I have met have shown me nothing but kindness. If people let them live their lives, they wouldn't have to be the way they are."
Shocked, Allie replied, "Ah, you are a Gypsy? That they would even do that to their own kind! How horrible. Well, you must be one of the good ones. At least you had enough of a job to save up money to come here. Unless you stole this vacation too!" She broke out into laughter.
"What does that even mean?" Francois thought, "How do you steal a vacation?" He saw however that that was the closest thing to a complement that Allie would give the Gypsies.
"Ohhh," she managed to compose herself, "you should have come here when I was a younger. We used to have people from all over visiting this little part of the world. My husband used to sell fresh fish from the sea, pike-perch and bream. He would also give boat rides to anyone who wanted to go fishing with him. Ahhh, the good old days..."
"But now all that water is gone. The fishing industry is dead, and almost everyone packed up and moved somewhere else. I hear that they even found Oil in the southern part of the Sea. They've been sending pilots to scout the desert for good places to start drilling. Peh, then it will be truly impossible to live here. The air filled with smog, the incessant sound of drilling. Don't they have enough Oil already? There's nothing more that I would like to do than to grab one of those pilots and bury him deep in the desert with the oil they're so eagerly looking for..."
At the sound of the word desert, Caspian started again, "But it's not a des--"
Somewhat exasperated, Allie interrupted, "How many times have I told you? The sea is never coming back. There's no way that they'll ever bring back the rivers that fed the sea. Our neighbors down south will never give up their cotton farms. Number 1 cotton production in the world. Too important to lose. It will stay that way as long as people keep buying clothes."
Seeing that Caspian was at the verge of tears hearing these words, she comforted him, "Oh Caspian, I miss the sea too. But we have no choice but to face reality. You can't keep living in your fantasy land forever."
She turned to Francois, "I don't want to bore you with the local politics. How are you enjoying the Kazy? You eat horses in France too, right?"
Despite all that Allie had said about Gypsies, Francois had to admit that she knew how to cook. "It's delicious."
"Francois, why don't you stay a few days? After the sea dried up, Caspian's parents tried to make a living here as long as they could, but they eventually had to go down south to work in the cotton fields. Since Caspian so desperately wanted to stay here, they let him stay here with me. They'll be coming back soon to visit for a short break. I'm sure they would love to hear about what you saw in the Capital. You could keep Caspian company in the meantime and help around the house. It's rare for him to have someone to have someone to talk to during the day."
Francois knew that he really should be going back to headquarters soon, but then he thought, "As far as they know, I'm dead." They would probably come looking for his body soon (or at least that $50,000 biplane), but he reckoned that he had a few weeks before they found him out here. He finally was won over by the thought of Allie's cooking every morning, afternoon, and evening. "I suppose I could stay a few days. I didn't really have anything planned."
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.