SAWC 2010 Winning Entry

Line of Sight by Arthur Bacchus

Isn't it funny how, when you're looking through a telescopic sight, the tiny circular world on the other end seems so intimate, yet the subjects in it are unaware of your existence?

Look at this bear of a man, for instance, his undersized police uniform stretching tight over his belly. He shades his eyes with one hand as he brings his face right up to the frosted glass window set into my front door. That's definitely going to leave a smudge.

The crosshairs waver across his unshaven cheeks, then up to his right eye, then down to his chin. It's because of my breathing that the crosshairs can't fix on any one point for long. I try to slow it down just like John taught me back on the small-holding when we had just purchased the rifle. It's not as easy as back then. My lungs have aged forty years, after all.

I can see his mouth move. His frosty breath leaves ghostly evaporating patterns on the window. I will really have to polish that come Saturday. He must be saying something to his partner again. I cannot understand the language, never bothered to learn even the basics. That's why I never watch the news on SABC 1, not even the weather. I like to catch that young man on e-TV, the one with the smart suits and the overseas accent. I like it when young men dress smartly, not with their pants hanging down at the knees like you see at the shopping centre these days. He's extremely presentable, the weatherman, just like my dear John used to be. But he got it wrong for today. The partly cloudy and fine never happened this morning, only cloudy. I forgive him. It's late March, after all. The weather is unpredictable.

The policeman leaves the tiny world now. He moves further along the stoep. I assume he's going to spy on the ornaments in my living room now.

I don't think he's a real policeman; it's been on the news for weeks. A young couple got stuck with their car on the N2 late one evening and two officers of the law stopped to help. It turns out they were fake policemen. How could they do those things to the young lady? What a cruel race.

A high-pitched beep from a two-way radio startles me. It sounds like it's coming from a bit further than the stoep. That must be his partner's radio, the one at the front gate. A tinny female voice rattles off a message in what could be English. I hear a muffled reply. Heavy footfalls echo on the stoep, and then a blur passes in front of the circle. The front gate creaks open. A car door slams shut, then another.

The grey morning is suddenly bathed in blue light which arcs into the lens of the scope. An engine sputters into life and then I can see the blue lights in the circle as the police van screeches away. I don't believe that the van belongs to them. The fake policemen on the N2 had a van. They get it somewhere.

The flashing blue ambience fades away and the grey seeps back into the small world.

I lower the heavy rifle down onto my lap. My arms are stiff with cramp. The clock on the passage wall reads a quarter after nine. Gosh, has it been twenty minutes since the knock on the door? I missed my nine o clock medication. Dr. Erasmus said I can take it as soon as I remember. It helps for the arthritis. First however, I think a cup of Rooibos tea would be nice.

I lean the rifle against the wall. My hands instinctively find the edges of the big shiny wheels as I lower them to the side of my chair. I tighten my grip to start the inertia which will bring me closer to the kitchen at the end of the passage. I'm ready to move, but maybe the gap isn't wide enough. The boy landed awkwardly when I shot him this morning. His body is twisted in such a way that there is no space in the narrow passage for me to move past him. I'll have to get out of the chair and move him just a little bit more to the side.

When I heard the noise this morning I first thought it was Tomkins, Diane's Persian, preying on the small birds which sometimes frequent the backyard for the blueberries. Diane has a good heart, but she can be very naïve sometimes. I think, if anyone, she'll fall for the false policeman routine one of these days.

It was the stink that triggered alarm bells in my head. A feral stink not unlike you can smell when you visit the city centre to go to the bank. I don't like to go anymore. The city stinks like an animal cage lately. Like the cages in Stellenbosch that I visited with my grandson a month ago.

Then I heard the cough. I had practiced the movements many times before, but I must admit I did hesitate for a few seconds. Icy cold spikes grabbed at my heart before I reacted. I spun around and made for the closet in the main bedroom. My rubber wheels squeaked as they do on the polished floor. When I got there it was easy. Rifle out, box of cartridges out. Insert five rounds into the magazine and click it back into its slot. Safety off. I rotated the chair to face the open door and nestled the wooden stock firmly against my right shoulder. Waiting.

The smell grew stronger. I judged that the intruder must be in the kitchen by now. The distance from the closet to the passage is about four meters. I know how to adjust the telescopic sight that sits proud on top of the weapon, but I didn't bother then. You don't really need the scope at four meters.

A shapeless shadow fell obliquely onto the passage wall. The steel trigger was warm to my touch and I worried about my clammy finger slipping off it at the crucial moment.

Then I didn't have to worry anymore. He was right there in front of me. A coloured boy. Layers of dirty clothing made it difficult to tell his age but he couldn't have been more than fifteen. His yellowed eyes widened slightly in surprise to find me there. The knife in his left hand was from the kitchen, one of a set of three steak knives, a birthday gift from my sister Catherine. He took a small step towards me.

I whispered "Please God, give me strength" then I squeezed the trigger. The recoil snapped my shoulder back and the shot sounded like a thunderclap in the confined space.

He was thrown back as if some mad puppeteer had pulled his strings too hard.

The boy lifted off the ground and his body hit the passage wall, and then spun away to land somewhere near the kitchen entrance. I didn't see his body hit the floor but I heard the muffled thump. A loud persistent zing filled my ears, but through it I still managed to hear the fine china rattle in the glass cabinet as the impact shook the wooden floorboards.

The diagonal rip high in the passage wall where the .303 round settled after passing though the child's body looked strangely comforting.

The room smelled of burnt matches then. The wispy membranes of smoke in the air lingered a moment then dissipated slowly. I sat motionless in my chair for what felt like hours. I heard no sound from the passage until the urgent buzzing of the mobile phone started. I had left it perched on the front dresser. It was probably Sergio from the fish shop. I had asked him to let me know as soon as he got fresh hake. I have never seen Sergio wear a suit, but his fish is always first class.

I eased out into the passage. The intruder's body was on its stomach. Dark blood oozed out in a rivulet and ended in a small pool on the floor. It's going to be a nightmare to get it out of the wood. Oh, it will have to wait until Saturday.

I wanted to get to the phone before it stopped ringing, but there was no space for the chair to move between the boy and the wall. Sergio will have to call again. That's a pity, I hate being an inconvenience. From my position at the bedroom door I could see the boy's upturned eyes. It seemed to mock me with its vacant stare. What are your plans now, Grandma?


Until the front gate squeaked and the fake policemen arrived, I did nothing.

Then the bear had knocked on the door so hard I thought the stained glass was going to crack. But luckily it didn't. That's when I started watching the world through the scope on the rifle.

I can hear Tomkins in the yard now, playing his fatal game with the birds. I think he was also just waiting for them to leave. Cats can sniff out dishonesty. And they dislike it as much as I do.

That cup of Rooibos sounds good now. I'm sure I can move the boy to the side of the passage. The cramps in my arms are mostly gone. I slide off the chair and shuffle over to the body. The blood on the floor hasn't dried completely and my hands stick to it as I grip his shoulder. One hard push does the job and the boy flops over and rests against the wall like a rolled up carpet. Easy.

The wheels pick up some of the blood as they travel through the gap, but it is wide enough. Good job, Elaine. They leave two parallel lines all the way to the kitchen. The kettle boils almost immediately after I flip the switch. I always fill it with enough water for one person. Energy saving tip number seven.

The morning can't start without the Rooibos. It prepares me for the day. I think about the hard work ahead as I take the first few sips.

Then I hear the gate again. Maybe it's Diane with my mail. Sometimes the postman is early.

But there is that hard bang on the door. It can only be the bear. Can't he see the bell?

"Mrs. Visser, are you in there?" Bang, bang, bang. I hear him twisting at the doorknob. The audacity!

I hurry out of the kitchen and into the passage. He can probably see me moving through the frosted glass. A sharp right turn brings me to the rifle leaning against the bedroom door. That gap that I made is just perfect. I spin to face the front door. The distance down the passage to the front door is about six meters. Maybe I will need the scope this time.

I slide the steel rod above the trigger back and an empty shell jumps out and lands gently on the carpet in the bedroom. I look at it for a brief moment. Sunlight filters through the curtains. It hits the shell and creates tiny rainbow colours on the brass surface. The weather guy was right after all. I slide the rod back to insert a fresh shell.

"Ma'am, if you're in there, open up, please!"

The voice is rough, like gravel being crushed underneath a bakkie's tyres.

I bring the scope up to my right eye. The hard metal scrapes at my bifocals. It will probably leave a scratch.

"Ma'am, are you inside the house?"

He eases into focus in the circular vignette. Unaware. It's peculiar, when you look through the scope, how that is.

How unaware they are.

How you can see them. So close.

But they can't see you.

He bangs his shoulder against the door and I can hear the wood crack.

Now that really is the last straw!

The crosshairs settle on his big fat fake policeman head and I pull the trigger.


Arthur_Bacchus Bio for Arthur Bacchus

After aimlessly performing clerical duties as a civil servant, first at the Department of Education and then the Department of Health, I abruptly resigned after seventeen years and spent the next three writing and directing short films as part of an Advanced Diploma course in Film and Television production. The curriculum also required me to conceptualise Public Service Announcements and commercials and I finally felt like I belonged.

Then, a tiny ad promoting the SAWC short story contest appeared in my community rag somewhere in March of this year. It proved to be a call to adventure which rekindled a love affair with creative writing, which I hadn't explored since high school days. Film scripts tend to be merely blueprints for a team of collaborators to eventually produce a final product a few years down the line. Penning this story, however, reminded me just how much more intimate the journey is with creative writing. Ownership of the final product seems that much more complete and I am keen to embark on regular jaunts along this route.

Allow me a moment of indulgence to offer sincere thanks and appreciation to a childhood mentor, Mrs. Veronica Williams, my high school teacher, who instilled in me the love of reading and writing which would ultimately set me on this path. She also convinced me to read authors other than Stephen King! Without her support and encouragement, the already stormy Eighties would certainly have been a drearier place.

This contest is such a wonderful platform for aspiring writers to showcase their wares, and the crits and comments of industry professionals go a long way in erasing the nagging self-doubt that plagues all artists in their chosen fields. Keep up the excellent work!

Hopefully, in the not too distant future, a No. 1 bestseller or the Academy Award for best original screenplay will have my name on it! Watch this space...

arthur2 Arthur receiving his prize at Incredible Connection

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