BEST SHOT • by Shlomi Harif

Assi pulled the dusty, khaki knapsack between his legs and hunkered behind the low parking garage wall. There was just enough room between two burned out cars for him to kneel and watch the snipers in buildings across the traffic circle and on rooftops on his left and right.

He’d woken up after midnight in his previous day’s nest. With no foreign journalists braving this war, and drones making for great target practice, freelancing was one of the few honest hard currency jobs around. And cash meant an eventual ticket out of the country and its apocryphal hell.

It took Assi four hours under uncertain cover of night to get this spot. Snipers with their night scopes and IR-guided drones turned a five-minute walk down a street of his childhood into hours of crawling and cowering. And then, before he’d wormed into position, he’d had to waste precious dawn light convincing the Evangelim he was on assignment for one of their streams and not a spy of any of the factions. (Which he wasn’t, at least not this week.) They held the high ground in this neighborhood, physically at least. And they had a tour group on the roof above him to prove it, bristling with armed Americans looking to bag a heathen in god’s name. Gevalt.

He pulled an old battered film camera from his bag and aligned the two focal images in the lens aperture with the traffic circle sign leaning drunkenly to one side. Elint autonoms and anti-sniper cameras caught any electronic camera’s infrared ranging beams. So… old school.

The sniper across from Assi was on top of a crumbling British Mandate era building, from which he occasionally barked fire with a rifle so large he looked like a child. Which he probably was, at that. When he moved, Assi saw the shreds of his mottled-color uniform against the roof’s gray-white backdrop. Below him was a warped ladder of crumbling concrete balconies. One reminded him of his aunt’s house: withered traces of aloe cacti hanging listlessly from wall sconces, and window trays, punctured and leaking dust, each cradling the skeleton of a once-tended plant. Window panes were gone: wooden shutters were smashed both inwards and out. He zoomed in. Through the shadows and reflected light in the apartment he could just make out a bedroom closet, canted to one side. Once-brightly colored clothing spilled out a broken door.

Fluttering clothing flagged the gunman on the roof of the building on Assi’s left. It was once an office building with stone facings, belonging to a rich doctor long ago escaped to New York, or Toronto, or Paris. Assi remembered the stitching feeling in the flesh of his torn knee, and how his mother paid the doctor in crumpled notes to be seen without a wait. Stark white office walls were visible through blown-out French balcony doors. Every cabinet, diploma and sign of life was gone, its memory chronicled in white rectangles against the darker backdrop of the once-whitewashed walls. As he mused his fingers worked, getting a nice close up of the framed windows and memory-shadowed walls.

On the higher building on his right, through the camera’s zoom lens, Assi saw a crisply dressed soldier lying beside a scoped rifle. He stared up at it — her — as a mouse stares at a snake, mesmerized but unwilling, unable to move. She looked no older than eighteen. She was focused on the street in front of her, and the ragged shooter across the circle. Assi couldn’t see the fourth gunner, directly above him. A tourist: one of the Evangelim taking occasional pot shots with an automatic rifle at the ragtag soldier across the circle from him and Assi. Spent M-16 cartridges appeared off the roof, tumbling end over end. One bounced off the low wall and landed on Assi’s forearm. He stifled a gasp and stilled a quick movement as the brass seared his flesh. He pulled his arm to his chest and brushed the casing into his lap so it wouldn’t glint. He rubbed his arm for a moment, then, as casings started falling more regularly, pointed his lens up and caught two casings fluttering, like metal moths, coming down past him. He got three good pictures, then he curled into a tight ball as the gunman clothed in former desert camouflage across the way let loose at the Christian on pilgrimage above him. Bullets slammed across the parking garage above and around him. The burned husk to his left trembled as burst of rounds hit it. This got the attention of the well-dressed soldier, whom Assi zoomed in on. She’d make an interesting image. After a long moment she smiled, and carefully raised her rifle.

To Assi it looked as though she was putting down her gun, and relaxed — stiffening a moment later as a bullet tore through his camera bag, chest, and spine. He had time enough to gasp “Shma Yisrael” — ‘Hear oh Israel.’ He never made it to the end of the phrase: “the Lord is our God; the Lord is one.”

Satisfied her target was down she ignored the Palestinian firing his fifty cal with wild abandon, and the American adventurer above the burned-out cars, and lined up on the man opposite her with flowing locks and a ragged, fringed shirt. And took her next shot.

Shlomi Harif has published poetry, short fiction, and has published several indie short stories and novels. He’s worried that all the future reality stories are getting ground into non-fiction current events far too quickly. He does this worrying in Austin, Texas.

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