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the sniper

There was a wide valley beneath him on his crag, a dry place of steep sides and stones. Goatherds down there, sometimes a car. Then a small sound behind him. Too late.

The muted (zoc .. } of a silenced gun.

But a boy, about eight, standing a few feet away with his toy pistol. A carved wooden replica with both trigger and spring mechanisms fitted, the trigger pull made deliberately hard for the boy’s hands. So he had to use both, and they were both steady; he stood there looking at the sniper along the lengths of his arms, and the length of his gun barrel. Clear eyed, unsmiling. Then he looked away, across the valley.

In this country boys play alone with their guns.

They sat, the boy had to be waved down onto the ground.

‘What is your name?’ the sniper asked.

‘Zackie.’

‘Do you have a nickname?’

‘No.’

He knows the meaning of the word, so we will make him a man with another name today.

‘What are your other names?’

‘Oscar Castrain.’

The boy wanted to go, the gun was new and already he had surprised this old one.

‘You will be zoc, come and show me your pistol.’

They knelt side by side behind a wall of rubble, taking turns to peer through a gap in the stones, a road down there, and a shepherd on the hill opposite them. This one with sheep.

Now the boy rested his hands on a rock and sighted along his rifle barrel – ‘Draw a line to the head of the shepherd,’ the sniper said, ‘and watch without blinking until your bullet hits its mark.’

‘He will fall.’ The boy said, now ten.

‘Yes, but first he will blossom, then he will hear the sound of your name.’

The boy understood.

‘Watch for your flower,’ said the sniper.

‘Watch his head.’

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