Towers of dust spiraled upward. The cloudless sky disappeared. Nafareah felt her chest tightening, stinging. She didn’t bring a particle mask—too hard to come by these days.

Another dust storm approached. This wasn’t an ideal time to search the dunes, but the scout team’s report was clear: water, plenty of it, is below the ground’s surface.

The team’s probes could be off, Nafareah thought. It’s possible that they didn’t calibrate them. But they have no other leads, anyway. This could be the only source of water for months.

The team would extract Nafareah from the probing location in one hour. At her current pace, she would be too late. The dust was remorseless. It scraped across her face like sandpaper.

Nafareah’s bloodshot eyes met his eyes for only a moment—a man in a white tunic. She could read his facial expression: he knows about the water.

The groundwater extraction drill was too heavy. She couldn’t outrun him. But she couldn’t leave the drill, either.

“What are you doing here? Who are you?” Nafareah’s voice bounced off the dunes.

“Same as you—surviving,” the man in white dragged his feet forward, keeping his eyes glued to hers.

Nafareah sidestepped to her right. She wrapped an olive green scarf around her nose and mouth. The dust storm intensified. Visibility declined. She could only see 10 feet in front of her.

“You didn’t answer my first question.” Nafareah pulled a knife from the leather sheath strapped to her waist, careful not to reveal her movement.


“There’s nothing here—nothing left. Why do you still take from us?” The man in white stood sentinel.

“Everyone takes from everyone now. There isn’t a choice anymore. Maybe before it all but not now.”

“No. Before, too. Our land was pillaged. Robbed. All of our resources were stolen before we even had a chance. Now, we have even less. And those that stole from us before are again to blame. We can’t breathe, we can’t drink the water, we can’t have peace.”

Nafareah listened, not revealing a word. Her heart felt heavy.

“It’s the same situation where I come from. It’s the same where many of us come from. We all know hardship—all that’s been taken from us. We know there is clean water here. We know how to collect it. Please, let me show you. We can collect it together. You have family? Let us share it with you and your family.”

Nafareah’s hands shook. Her whole body shook. Blood rushed to the muscles in her arms and legs.

The man in white inched closer. She watched him fumble around in his pocket. Whatever he pulled was shrouded in dust.

The wind picked up speed. All visibility disappeared. Nafareah no longer saw white—only dust.

“Are you th—” A hand gripped Nafareah’s shoulder. She pivoted to her left and thrust her knife forward. She felt a warmth rush down her hand. Red radiated outward from the man in white’s abdomen. He let out a gurgle that Nafareah would never forget.

A yellowed photograph drifted into the dust: the man in white and two

children with slight smiles standing before a dinner table.

Nafareah strained to read the words on the picture’s border, but she could not see them.

When the dust cleared, the words became visible. It read he and his children’s names: Yasin, Chaima and Yani.


Author: Taylor Lyon

I am a freelance science writer with an emphasis in global health and environmental news. 
I'm currently pursuing a Master's degree in global environmental health at the University of California, Berkeley. 
I am based in Berkeley, California.

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