Exclusive Look Inside: The Texas Tower Sniper

This One Is Mine

The only time that Charlie felt whole was when he had a gun in his hands. Guantanamo was far from the comforts of Florida, but the swampy heat and the tension of the trigger against his finger felt like home.
The M3 Carbine wasn’t the deer rifle that he was used to. The balance was off. The shape was off. It even smelled wrong — like it had been oiled up with some foreign plant instead of real American gun oil. It was familiar, yet alien. Just like so much of his life out here.
Cuba wasn’t what he’d expected. There’d been tales of lush forests and friendly natives back when he was signing his papers — promises that almost inevitably went unfulfilled. If there were Cuban women baying for American prime rib outside the chicken-wire fences, Charlie had never seen them, and he wasn’t certain he’d know what to do with them even if he could lay hands on them. Most nights, he’d probably just ask them to tuck him in and let him get what sleep he could.
The U.S. Marine Corps worked its men hard, but that was nothing new to Charlie. Rising with the dawn was easy for a boy who’d grown up hunting every weekend. Staying up until late running drills was a cinch, too, for the boy he’d been turning into was the one who went out drinking with his friends and saw the wrong side of as many dawns as he could. It was just doing both of them at the same time that was starting to wear at him.
He knew what this was about; he was smart enough to understand the psychology of it. They were trying to break the men down so they could build them back up again. The screaming and the insults were more of the same. They were meant to be shamed and lost when the Marine Corps reached down and lifted them up from the pit they’d made them dig for themselves.
Rock bottom. That was the goal of the training. Finding the bedrock of a boy to use as foundations for the man. Charlie knew what they did not — there was no ground floor in hell. Training for the Marines was nothing compared to the trials and tribulations he’d already run through, and there wasn’t a bully-boy drill-sergeant in the world who could spook him after the years of drilling he’d been through under Daddy’s watchful eye.
There’d been a lot of chatter in the ranks as Charlie took his place in front of the range. Most of them had heard bits and pieces about the golden boy, but for the majority of the crowd, it was their first time seeing him in action. He wasn’t even sweating, despite the late morning heat. How anyone could be human and standing in the Cuban sun without breaking a sweat was beyond comprehension. He was just better. Everything came easy to him. He was top of his class in every class. Top percentile in every test. The best of the best of the best. He had to be. The only other option was too terrible to contemplate.
Every time he took up his rifle, he could feel the steadying counterweight of his father’s hand at his elbow, guiding the butt into his shoulder and taking the strain. Every time was like the first time. Even here, surrounded by the chatter of guns, the stench of sweat, and the unfamiliar trees just beyond the compound walls, Daddy was watching him. Just waiting for him to make a mistake.
It was the closest that they’d ever come to an embrace. The closest they’d ever come to understanding each other. When he was taking aim for that very first time, his father was practically vibrating with excitement. Daddy was never happy. It wasn’t in his make-up. Yet, when he had that gun in his hands, and he was lining up on a squirrel, there was a smile on his face. That same smile was on Charlie’s face when the targets lurched into motion, and his time began.
Just like Daddy showed him, he squeezed the trigger instead of jerking it back. When the rifle kicked into his shoulder, he rolled with it, turning the recoil momentum into an asset, turning the sights towards the next target. The whole world fell away the moment that he pulled the trigger. The noise, the smell; everything vanished as he took aim and fired. There was only him, the gun, and the targets downrange. Nothing else was real. Nothing else mattered. Even the distinction between Charlie and the gun faded before long — they were one machine with a singular purpose. A well-oiled machine, rattling off shots faster than observers could parse. Fast, precise, efficient. All the traits that had been drilled into his skull by a thousand ‘minor adjustments’ through the decade since he’d first held a gun. Adjustments punctuated with the snap of a belt or a cuff around the ears. Reprogramming the machine one blow at a time until it ran perfectly.
The earth beneath their feet shook with sympathetic vibrations as a plane came in to land at Leeward Point Field, low enough that the little bit of sky beneath it shuddered, the roar of engines making the other men flinch or reach to cover their ears. It was the worst sort of luck. Completely out of anyone’s planning or control. If there were any justice, they’d reset the range and let Charlie test again. It wasn’t fair to have his future marred by the unfortunate swoop of incoming supplies. With their cowering over, the gathered bodies turned back to the targets, and the awe that had been building in them sprang back to fullness.
Charlie didn’t flinch or falter. He didn’t even notice the shadow of the plane travelling over the top of his targets. They were abstracts to him. Shapes to be reshaped with the tool in his hands. Bullet by bullet, he was setting them right. Unerring. Unstoppable. Unflinching.
A few of the men whom he bunked with were scattered around the range, pretending to go on with their usual business, but even the instructors had ground to a halt in the presence of this majesty. There was no pretence anymore — everyone here was just an audience. An audience that Charlie didn’t even know he had. His focus had narrowed beyond the point of no return. There was nothing now except for gun, target, body, and Daddy.
Target after target burst apart. Moving targets rocked on their rails as the bullets tore through them. Paper men punched through the head and the heart without pause or compassion. Why should there be any thought for the end goal of all these exercises? For the real people that these bullets could tear through just as easily? Why should Charlie give them a second thought when he was here in this special place, removed far from the world’s demands, embraced by the man who’d poured all of his hatred down on Charlie to make him into the solid steel man that he was today, like the blows of a blacksmith’s hammer?
There would be no running the yard today and no complaints of foul play or jostling from the men that he’d bested. It wasn’t their place to judge him. It wasn’t their right to argue with the perfection of this one skill that he’d honed beyond all others. They would be too awed to say a word to him. He’d set himself so high above them that they looked like ants down there in the dirt. So low that he could have swung his rifle wide and opened fire on them without any fear of reprisal.
The thought of turning his perfect marksmanship on living bodies jostled him out of the flow. He missed his next target and only clipped the one after. They weren’t bleeding or shrieking for a mercy killing. They were targets, and nothing more.
A curse hissed between his teeth, unbidden before he got control again. Stupid. He was so damned stupid. Even now, even here doing the one thing in the whole world that he was good at, he was screwing everything up. He had to get it right. He had to hit every target for the rest of the test. Daddy would be mad. He’d hit him if he missed. He would hit Mom when she tried to stand up for Charlie. Every mistake he made was paid for in pain. His or his Mother’s. Every time he squeezed that trigger and a paper man survived, it was another bruise, another scream in the night, another failure in a litany of them.
Perfection was the price of survival. Failure was suffering. He was weak. He was pathetic. He was nothing. But with time and training, he could become more. He could play the song without the sheet music. He could score the home run. He could win the contests. He could put the eye out of a squirrel from the far side of the forest. He’d been training for this his whole life. He could do this.
He slipped back into the mechanical flow as if he’d never left, smoothly clipping the paper hearts out of the men arrayed before him. This wasn’t the gun that he was used to handling. The scope was aligned a little too far left. The weight of it was wrong, the distribution of weight even more so. The years of hard training and the weeks of boot camp had furnished him with muscles powerful enough to hold it steady and compensate for the differences, but it made it harder for Charlie to remember how it felt to hear his father’s rough voice at his ear and feel the older man’s arms wrapped around him.
When he couldn’t conjure that memory, it meant that he was all alone out here. His father had filled him with skill and purpose — because he was an empty vessel, meant to be filled. Worthless and empty on his own. Nothing inside him belonged to Charlie. Nothing except for the burning ember of rage that he crushed down every day. He couldn’t let air reach it. He couldn’t let the flames consume him. He wouldn’t let rage guide his hand or put him into conflict with forces that he couldn’t best. He wouldn’t bite the hand that fed him and watch as all his hopes and dreams were snatched away. He wouldn’t become his father. He wouldn’t succumb to wrath, for it was a deadly sin.
Yet, still, the ember of sin sizzled away in his heart, and when he looked out across the field of paper men, he couldn’t picture them as only targets anymore. They weren’t his brothers in the Corps, or the friends back home that Father had insisted had led him astray. They weren’t his brothers or his mother or any of the girls he’d dated through the years. There was one face on every paper man. One face on each target, just begging to be opened up with the snap of rifle fire.
Just like that, Charlie slipped back into the peaceful flow of mechanical murder and squeezed off the last few shots from his magazine. His father’s eyes bulged in surprise at the new hole he’d made in his face. The lips contorted in a rictus of fury, hate, and surprise as Charlie did what he always should’ve done and snuffed him out with a single shot. He was his father’s son — full of that very same rage and hate — but where Daddy doled it out with his fists at anyone he could reach, Charlie had the skills that Daddy had honed in him.
Just as soon as he’d started firing, it felt like it was over. A crowd gathered around to clap his shoulders and bellow their cheers. He was a marksman, and there was no doubt about it. The future was looking bright.

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2 Comments

  • Seb

    Reply Reply April 28, 2020

    Can you make an audio book of this.

    • Ryan Green

      Reply Reply April 29, 2020

      An audiobook format has been uploaded and it should be released by Audible in the next 1-2 weeks.

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