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Crystal Lake


As a young boy, he hunted mountains like these with his father. Trudging through the snow, deep into the wilderness. A .270 caliber rifle strapped over his shoulder, some homemade deer jerky in his front right pants pocket, looking for signs of caribou and black bear in the Alaskan Mountains. That was over 30 years ago, and the setting on this morning felt eerily similar to the last time he hunted with his father: trudging through the snow, a rifle strapped over his shoulder, moving into position to wait for his prey.

Today was different, today he moved through the snow covered mountain side alone. An arctic ghillie suit camouflaged him to his surroundings. An M40 sniper rifle strapped over his right shoulder. Today he hunted not caribou or black bear, but something that carried a much heavier burden – man.

A tall, well-built figure with strong well defined cheek bones, deep dark green eyes, and a working man’s tan, Tony Zift looked every bit the retired U.S marine. A highly decorated sniper with 137 confirmed kills, and another 200 plus that, “never happened”, he made a living out of saving men on black ops missions. Twenty-three years in the service and now he’s nothing but a forgotten ghost.

The 4 mile hike from the abandoned mine shaft he stayed in near the target zone brought nothing but memories of his father and the days they spent hunting together in the mountains. I wish you were here, Dad; I wish we could walk these mountains together, he thought. Are you proud of me, Dad? Proud of me for my accomplishments and the life I’ve lived? But most importantly, Dad, do you forgive me? I never wanted anything more Dad, than for you to smile down at me and tell me how proud you are that I’m your son. He couldn’t shake it, the only thing he could think about for the entire hike was the last time he saw his father. Early morning, just like today, barely any light. Heavy fog surrounded us. Dad walked behind me for the most part so he didn’t lose sight of me. I saw the bear tracks first and showed Dad. I remember it all so well, he said, ‘Fresh tracks, he’s less than a mile away, maybe closer. From the size of his paw print I’d say he’s pretty big, might even be a Grizzly – stay close son.’

The heavy mountain fog put Tony at ease, it gave him heavy cover; he made the hike to the target zone in half the time it took him in the days prior. Once there, Tony scanned the area; everything was the same as it was when he left the night before. He crawled into a hole beneath a pile of brush, set up his rifle, and eased himself into a state of relaxation. He took a deep breath and brought his right eye to his scope. One of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen, he thought. Through his scope, 712 yards away – from his calculations anyway – was a sparkling blue lake that he started to call, Crystal Lake. 75 yards from the lake, to the right of his scopes view, was a large, two story log-cabin that his target was rumored to stay in many times throughout the year. Built in such a remote location, the only way to reach it was by helicopter. The private contractor, whom simply became known as Mr. Smith to Tony, flew him in to an area that was a two day hike from the cabin.

These days Tony didn’t care much about who hired him or why. The United States Marine Corps forced him into retirement when he lost his left eye on a political assassination mission in the Horn of Africa. He receives a nice check each month, enough money that any reasonable man could live comfortably on; but Tony was never after the money. Since watching his father be attacked and killed, a deep anger has haunted him. The Marine Corps gave him a way to escape his demons, a way to contain his anger, but that was all lost when they forced him to retire.

I have a strange feeling that today is going to be the day, he thought. Intelligence Tony received told him that his target would be arriving sometime in a two week period by helicopter, this, his eleventh day. But if he doesn’t show his face today I’m going to call this off and have Mr. Smith gather new intelligence. Tony’s experience told him that the closer a mission came to being near the cutoff time, the more likely it was that the intel was inaccurate or that the mark had changed plans.

Peering through his scope Tony studied the cabin. Looks more like a lodge than a cabin to me… Tony thought. A staircase led up to the large sweeping deck that connected to the front of the cabin. Directly in his view as he walked up the stairs were two very large glass windows, ten feet tall and ten feet across. Through the windows sat a large wooden dining room table with eight chairs stationed around it. Mounted on the walls were stuffed animal heads of all sorts: deer, moose, wolf, there was even a large stuffed black panther standing in the corner. And then a mounted bear’s head caught Tony’s eye, the sight of it made him shudder. The last time I had a bear in my sights…

‘Stay very close son…’ Thoughts of the last day with his father sifted back into his mind.

Tony stayed close like his father told him. On the outside he was cool and collected, on the inside Tony was scared, terrified even, his heart beating a million times a minute. Dad doesn’t accept weakness, so I can’t let him know I’m bothered – he wants a real man for a son and that’s what I’ll give him. I’ll make you proud Dad, you’ll see, Tony thought. I may only be 16 but today I’ll show him that I’m no longer a boy, I’m the man that he’s always wanted to be his son. But determined or not, the thought of a fierce meat eating animal that could get up to 1,500 pounds ate away at his insides.

Tony’s legs were weak, they started to wobble. The fear was breaking him down bit by bit. Tony slipped, and tried to grab onto a tree to stop him from falling but it was too late. He slammed into the ground; an icicle pierced his lower calf. Tony let out a bellowing cry. But before the echo of his scream even came to an end, a fierce roar belted out through the trees.

“Dad!” Tony cried out in fear.

“Don’t worry son,” his father said cool and collected, “everything is going to be okay.”

I slipped, I slipped Dad. God I’m sorry I slipped, Tony thought while scooping up a handful of snow and putting it in his mouth: a technique he learned years ago that helped hide his breath in the cold. It’s really going to be a long day if I can’t find a way to focus on something other than that day.

Tony struggled throughout the day to keep the thoughts of that day out of his mind. It wasn’t easy but eventually seconds became minutes, minutes became hours, and soon Tony was watching the sun drop behind the distant horizon. I’ll give this another 45 minutes and then… Tony’s thought trailed off when the faint sound of a helicopter could be heard faintly making its way over the tree tops. Ah, these are the moments I live for; these are the times that separate the men from the boys, Tony thought.

No more than five minutes later the helicopter was in Tony’s view. Tony kept the chopper in his sights as it circled its landing zone. Looks to be three Male Occupants: a pilot, a man wearing a black suit, and a man holding some sort of automatic weapon – the man wearing the suit is definitely my mark.. .Tony turned the pages in his book, a book that he used to map out distances to certain places around the target zone, to a page with three pictures of a man and a woman. That must be Mr. Smith’s wife, Tony thought. The first picture showed the man and woman just talking, the second picture the man and woman were kissing, and in the third picture it was just the man with no shirt on. Tony typically never paid attention to the ‘why’ of a job, having an emotional tie of any sort is never a good idea. But Tony couldn’t help but replay Mr. Smith screaming and calling this man every foul name in the book, how he wanted to cut off this man’s manhood and feed it to him himself. But Mr. Smith had money, lots of money, and he wasn’t the type of person to get his hands dirty. That’s what men like Tony Zift are for.

Yeah, that’s definitely him no doubt about it. One mark and two men I guess I have to mark up to collateral damage. Tony scooped up a handful of snow and shoved it in his mouth so he wouldn’t laugh at his own joke. I wonder if people would think it’s sad that I start to laugh at my own jokes when I’m out on missions like this. Even if they do I bet they wouldn’t say it to my face.

Snow blew in every which way as the helicopter lowered itself and landed by the lake; the door slid open and the first man to step out was the man with the weapon. He looked to be in his early thirties, well built, and he held the gun in a way that told you he knew how to use it. Definitely a trained body guard, he’s had some sort of military or government training, Tony thought. Close behind was the man in the suit. A short scrawny man, with long shaggy blonde hair, he didn’t look like much but Tony heard he was rich, some big CEO to some computer company. As the men made their way away from the helicopter Tony aimed his sites on the bodyguard and exhaled…

Just as his dad was telling him everything would be okay Tony caught a glimpse out of the corner of his eye of a black mass barreling towards his father. It slammed into him full force knocking him back a good ten feet. In the midst of it all he lost grip of his rifle and it slid away from him. He tried to get up and move but couldn’t. All he could manage was to pull himself along on the ground, trying to reach his rifle. The bear let out an awful scream and started to charge.

Tony quickly grabbed his rifle, put his finger on the trigger guard and lined up his sights. Don’t worry Dad, everything’s going to be okay, Tony thought. Everything wasn’t okay though, Tony’s first shot missed, then his second. The third finally hit the grizzly bear in the back of the head, dropping him instantly. It was too late though, the bear had finished off his dad before the third shot rang true.

Tony squeezed the trigger. By the time the bullet reached the man his sights were already lined up with his mark. Tony squeezed the trigger again. In a matter of six seconds two men’s lives were over. The chopper pilot tried frantically to get the engine going and the chopper off the ground, but it was too late and Tony was too good. Tony squeezed again. And through his scope he saw the windshield of the chopper crack, and the man hunch over.

His mission was over; Tony only had to wait for darkness to mask his escape.

“See, Dad, I don’t miss anymore. Do you forgive me? Are you proud?”