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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · War · #2160476
A sniper hunts a supply trail.
He labored up the path, back bent under a heavy pack. From my vantage point I could see him clearly. I raised my binoculars and he sprang into view before me, seemingly in my lap. He was an old man, barefoot, wearing remnants of a tattered uniform. His arms strained against the shoulder straps as he leaned into them up the long hill. His legs, knotted and gnarled like an old pine, worked steadily up the hill. He lurched forward to catch his balance as he missed his footing. The path was steep and overgrown,

I focused on his face. Slanted eyes stared up the hill, casting sideward glances to the left and right as he stumbled upward. His bones jutted out over sunken cheeks, deep furrows lined his mouth and beads of sweat ran down his face, leaving greasy streaks on his parchment skin. His face wore the mask of age and expressionless patience.

I pondered his identity. Probably a farmer; content, with his wife and children laboring knee-deep in the stagnant water of the rice paddies, with only a few grains of rice between them and starvation. Perhaps he had grandchildren, but then the war intruded. He didn’t look as though he knew anything about the war and its political motivations.

I felt a tenderness for the old man as he toiled up the hill. “Don’t worry about the climb, old man, just worry about staying alive that’s plenty, too much maybe.” I muttered

A tiny lizard waited, motionless, a few feet away, its ugly skin thick and wrinkled. It exploded into motion as an unwary insect passed too close to its waiting jaws, then vanished into the jungle; perhaps into some other waiting jaws. The parallel raised a chill at the back of my neck as I lay, waiting.

My mind wandered back to my own grandfather. A fine old man, he had been a farmer, too. Fifty-five when he took me in. A gruff, hard old man and a homeless boy of ten, but I learned plenty from that old man. Funny, too, even after college that uneducated old man could always teach me a thing or two about life and living. But we had good times. I could still feel the early morning dampness as he and I stalked through the woods.

“There he is, boy,” he whispered hoarsely. “Here, take the gun.”
I could hardly hold the battered old Winchester to my shoulder normally, but it seemed light to me that morning.
“Aim like I told you now. Squeeze easy,”
Then the exhilaration of my first kill, dampened slightly at the sight of the crumpled doe.

Later I hunted the Louisiana swamps, always confident in the knowledge that I gained from that old man. He taught me about life, then how to kill it in order to live. And here I was, but hunting a different quarry. Now I hunted game that hunted me in turn.

Glancing again at the old man, I lowered my binoculars and slipped them into their case. Now I focused my scope on the old man’s face. He was almost to the top of the hill. It had been a hard climb, and a futile one.

Did he know he was watched? No, his actions gave no hint of such a thought. Looking at him, I thought of the time, when I was a boy, that I crushed an anthill. The ants swarmed to repair the damage again and again as I repeatedly destroyed it. They couldn’t see the futility of their predicament. The old man was like that. Laboring away, and all for nothing.

What was he carrying, anyway? Rice for his compatriots? Were they waiting eagerly for him to return with food for their aching bellies? No, it looked too heavy for that. More likely ammunition, or grenades.

I remembered the mutilated bodies of the tiny hamlet I’d passed two days before. The riddled bodies, the severed limbs, the headless corpse…all rotting in the sun. I’m sorry old man, about your wife and children or grandchildren. And I’m sorry about this lousy stinking war you didn’t start any more than I did.

As he reached the top of the hill he paused for a breath. The crosshairs rested on his nose. Spang! A small black spot appeared just above his nose as his head jerked back, eyes open staring at a cloudless sky. He slid backwards, the weight of his pack dragging him down the hill, coming to rest against a small bush.

“You won’t have to climb anymore hills old man. Just rest.”
I scanned the surrounding area, and the hill before me. Nothing moved. No unusual sound broke the noisy-quiet of the day.

I rose from my prone position. Stiff from my long vigil, I stretched. Once more I glanced around, then, cautiously stepped into the jungle. My camouflage blending with the verdure around me. I stalked carefully along, alert, scanning everywhere. They would be looking for me when the old man was found on the supply trail and I’d better be a long way off.

I’d been in the area for some time. They knew I was here. Perhaps they’d find me, but not today. My grandfather had taught me well, and I hunted the hunters, but the futility of it made me sick. Life was futile. Why didn’t you tell me that when I was young, old man?

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