I can’t say enough about this short story. There are moments of beauty that slough off to moments of sheer terror. I’ve read it three times now and each time it seems to morph and become … taller.
I mean who writes like this?
‘Miller stowed his kit and dressed in his boots and suspenders and heavy jacket. The initial sullen mutters of exhausted men coalesced and solidified around him and evolved into crude, jocular banter fueled by food and coffee and the fierce comradery of doomed souls. He’d seen it in the trenches in France between thudding barrages of artillery, the intermittent assaults by German infantry who stormed in with their stick grenades and “mousers,” as Kasper said, and finally, hand to hand, belly to belly in the sanguine mud of shoulder-width tunnel walls, their bayonets and knives. He seldom made sense of those days—the mortar roars, the fumaroles from incendiary starbursts boiling across the divide, eating the world; the frantic bleats of terrorized animals, and boys in their muddy uniforms, their blackened helmets like butcher’s pots upended to keep the brains in until the red, shearing moment came to let them out.
He went into the cold and wet. Light filtered through the trees. Mist seeped from the black earth and coiled in screens of brush and branches and hung in tatters like remnant vapors of dry ice. Men drifted, their chambray coats and wool sock hats dark blobs in the gathering white. Even as he shivered off that first clammy embrace of morning fog, mauls began to smash spikes and staples into the planed logs laid alongside the edges of the camp. Axes clanged from the depths of the forest, ringing from metal-tough bark. The bull gang paid cables from the iron bulk of the donkey engine. The boys shackled the cable to the harnesses of a six-oxen team and drove them, yipping and hollering, into the mist that swallowed the skidder trail—a passage of corduroy spearing straight through the peckerwood and underbrush, steadily ascending the mountain flank where the big timber lay ripe for the slaughter.’
(“The Men from Porlock” can be found in Laird Barron’s story collection The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All)