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Alexander Selin

THE SNIPER

Translated by Richard Cook

(Glas 31)

After he was demobilized, the sniper Shokotov, having walked some 200 metres from the garrison gates, climbed a pine tree and camouflaged himself.
The lookouts on the garrison tower, astonished at the sniper's rapid disappearance, scrutinized with their multi-magnifier binoculars the whole length of the road that led into the civilian landscape. As did the sniper from his tree-top position, with his pale blue eyes and pinpoint pupils.
Three days later the garrison security men found Shokotov, hauled him out of the tree and drove him to the train station to send him off to his native village. They revved up the car engine, produced their tobacco stash and clowned merrily. Only the escorted Shokotov kept silent, peering into the evening lights of the station through narrowed pale blue eyes.
They settled Shokotov into a reserved seat. The colonel personally sent a telegram firmly ordering that the sniper be met, then he ordered his team back to the garrison as time was getting short. The car set off for the garrison as the train raced away to the village, full of passengers glancing through the windows at the landscape flashing past. Even more attentively scrutinizing the latter from his top bunk, was the retired sniper with his pale blue eyes and pin-point pupils.
All the Shokotov family and other villagers who had assembled on the platform were shouting joyful greetings, "Shokotov! Sniper Shokotov!" At this moment the train attendant was shaking the sniper, who was lying under his blanket, glaring at the attendant with his pale blue eyes and pin-point pupils, persuading him to get out.
At home Shokotov was greeted as a hero. A feast was prepared in his honour: a roasted wild boar, chicken and all sorts of other delicacies. "Modern Talking" played cheerfully as the Farm Chairman recounted the farm's achievements to the becalmed, preoccupied, retired sniper.
In the night the demobilized sniper disappeared. He wasn't to be found in the cellar, the attic, anywhere. Three days of bewilderment. On the fourth day behind a stone at the roadside. the stableman Polikarpov stumbled on the camouflaged sniper Shokotov.
From the stableman's account to the village assembly, "He's lying behind a stone. Quiet and staring. Those eyes of his, pale blue, and the tiny pin-point pupils. Optics!"
Hardly anybody in the village slept that night. And anyone who did, dreamt of one thing: pale blue eyes, four rifle cleaning rods and a skillfully riddled target.
After three days the agronomist Sharafetdinov lost his double-barreled rifle. At exactly the same time as the loss, the retired sniper Shokotov disappeared. Shortly after this the village ploughman Tolstikov noticed that a large beam, sticking up at the edge of his field, had begun towards noon to lean more to the left! He jumped off the plough, dropped his whip, abandoned his horse to the devil and shrieking "Shokotov!" fled into his hut and stayed there.
Salt, soap and matches disappeared from the local store. Vegetables were grown in trenches. People wasted no time in their shopping. Smokers didn't hang about in the streets. The pop of a car exhaust would have the physically fit dropping instantly into a road ditch, frozen to the spot, gazing blankly at the sky. The enormous pale blue sky. With its endless pale blue eyes. With its pin-point pupils.