The Desert of Shadows

I’m flying above a moonlit desert at night, warm wind in my face. A square of earth opens up beneath me and they emerge from the darkness below, quickly rising to my elevation before jetting off toward the horizon. I’m terrified by them but I follow as fast as I can. I can’t catch up to them. We all leave the desert and start flying over a city. Then we are over the neighborhood where I grew up. The drones quickly descend and I see some are surrounding my parents’ house. I yell but nothing comes out. I can’t descend quickly enough. Two drones fire and some are already on to the next house, leapfrogging each other, spinning, strafing, and firing on house after house. The drones are coldly efficient. I can only move slowly, like I’m wading through molasses. When I finally reach the ground, I go to the front door of my parents’ house and open it…

The alarm sounds. I swing my arm blindly at the nightstand, fumbling for the volume button on my phone, my heart racing from another super intense dream. The long nights staying up to watch for the drones are beginning to catch up to me.

I roll to my back and look sideways at the shotgun leaning in the opposite corner of my bedroom. It needs to be fully loaded, safety off, one in the chamber at all times, but I always have to check. Can’t trust my exhausted, last-night self. I climb out of bed and grab the gun. Racking the slide ejects a shell from the chamber onto the bed which I shove back under the gun into the magazine. I click the safety button, exposing the red line, click it back off, and set the Mossberg back in its corner.

As I retrieve my phone from atop the nightstand-now ammunition cabinet, I realize it wasn’t plugged in. “Fuck, you’re dead, aren’t you?” Yep. 24%. Damn you, tired, last-night Dalen. I pull up a news update on Spotify as I walk into the bathroom.

The shower drowns out the female news voice so I crank the volume, dump the last coffee out of a mug on the counter (but not before taking a cold bitter swig), and drop the phone into the mug which seems to work to amplify the phone speaker.

“…the eyes of the world are on Ohio and the US as reports of the attack repeat across news agencies in every country. One week ago today, six unmarked, black drones descended on a Cincinnati suburb and killed more than 1,000 residents across 15 square blocks in the span of 20 minutes. Several government agencies are investigating, and still no official statement has been issued as to the current threat level or the source of what is being called a terrorist attack. The National Guard has been activated in the region for additional security and to assist with the investigation.

The details of the attack are alarming. The drones were heavily armed and may be technologically superior to those used by the US military. They were mercilessly efficient, killing every human in the targeted blocks. Most of the victims were found with single shots to the head, targeted through thick exterior walls, indicating the use of infrared or heat-sensing technology. The drones did not target animals in the attack and the SPCA has rescued almost 200 dogs, cats, and other pets from the attack zone.

It is unknown why the Northeast Cincinnati neighborhood of Norwood was targeted. A local man we interviewed said residents were understandably ‘on edge,’ taking precautions against another attack such as boarding up their windows and purchasing additional guns and ammunition. Some in the neighboring blocks of Norwood have put their homes up for sale, though none have sold as of yet…”

“Yeah, no shit,” I step out of the shower and swipe off the news app. Nothing new. The news agencies still don’t know much about the drones, who had sent them, or where they might attack next.

We were having breakfast. The drones swooped in around our houses, finding windows, and aimed their weapons inside. It was the morning of the first extinguishing. AI killers. More attacks occur, in seemingly random areas. I could always fly in my dreams but I don’t know why I’m always in a desert lately, maybe my subconscious thinks all evil things spring from there.

I roll through the motions of the morning, the monotony a thin veil over the underlying chaos. The world has gone mad, every news update a grim reminder that safety is an illusion. My fingers tremble as I load the shotgun again. Can’t afford mistakes, not now, not with the drones out there.

Breakfast is a sad affair. Cold coffee, stale bread. My mind races back to the first attack, the cold efficiency of the drones as they tore through our neighborhood. It was surreal, like something out of a nightmare, only we weren’t waking up. The AI killers showed no mercy, no hesitation.

The phone buzzes with a new notification. Drones spotted near our city. Panic claws at my throat, but I force it down. I’ve got to keep it together. The neighbors are boarding up their windows, stocking up on guns and ammo. We’re all living on borrowed time.

I glance out the window. The sky is a dull gray, the sun struggling to break through the clouds. Another day in this dystopian hellscape. The desert and the city merge in my mind, one endless wasteland of fear and death. The drones are out there, somewhere, waiting to strike again.

I finish my breakfast and grab the shotgun. Every step feels heavy, like I’m trudging through molasses, just like in my dreams. The world outside is quiet, too quiet. The calm before the storm. The war isn’t over, and I’m just another pawn in this twisted game.

As I step outside, the air is thick with tension. Every shadow, every movement, a potential threat. The drones could come at any moment, bringing death from the skies. But I’m ready. Or at least, I tell myself I am.

The desert of shadows stretches out before me, endless and unforgiving. But I won’t go down without a fight. The drones may be relentless, but so am I.

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