Excerpt from Two Storm Wood by Philip Gray, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Two Storm Wood

A Novel

by Philip Gray

Two Storm Wood by Philip Gray X
Two Storm Wood by Philip Gray
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    Mar 2022, 384 pages


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After a single turn the road straightened out, vanishing into the distance like a strap pulled tight across the land. Scars of wire and chalky earth criss-crossed the terrain on either side. If there was anything living, man or beast, it lay hidden below the line of sight.

They walked for a way in silence, their boots heavy with mud. Mackenzie's men were still working around the burial pit. The khaki figures shrank into the distance and vanished in the mist. Soon the women were alone.

'They were bodies in those bags,' Kitty said, finally. 'Did you see them?' 'Yes.'

'It took me a while to realise. Then I saw the shape of one and it hit me: what was under the canvas.'

'It's what they do, Mackenzie and his men. It can't be easy.' 'I'd go mad. Why not leave those dead men in the ground?' 'Because they have to be identified, if possible. And moved.' 'Why?'

'The French want their land back.'

Kitty shuddered. 'They're welcome to it.'

The mist was thickening and it was starting to get dark. Soon they could not see more than a hundred yards. Amy felt the skin tighten at the back of her neck. In her mind she could hear the noise of battle: the rattle of machine-guns, the whistle and blast of shells, the pleas of dying men. They seemed to rise like vapour from the land.

'Why didn't you want the captain to help us?' Kitty said.

'This road takes us all the way to Colincamps. We don't need a guide to follow it.'

'We'd be safer.'

'There's nobody out here, Kitty.'

'Didn't you trust him? I thought he seemed decent enough.' 'I'm sure he is.'

'Then why ... ?'

'They were busy. Besides, if we accepted his help, we'd be honour bound to do as he wanted.'

'Go back to Amiens, you mean?' 'Yes, wait and hope – for a miracle.'

Amy quickened her pace. She did not want to talk. It was an effort for Kitty to keep up.

'But what else can we do? We have to accept—'

'We don't have to accept anything. Edward doesn't belong to the army, not any more.' Amy hugged herself, trying to drive out the chill she felt inside. 'I can search for him myself. I can search the graveyards. I can search the lists and the records. Isn't it obvious they're overwhelmed? Mackenzie as good as said so.'

Kitty stopped abruptly. Something had caught her attention nearby. Amy stopped beside her. 'What is it?'

Kitty was listening intently. 'Did you hear...?'

A voice, far away: bellowing, desperate, pitiful. 'It must be an animal, a dog or a—'

'I didn't see any dogs.'

It came again, a keening sound, closer now: two hundred yards at most. 'It's a wild pig or a fox. You heard what the captain said.'

The creature was moaning, pleading. But it wasn't human, Amy was almost sure of it.

Kitty took a step. 'Whatever it is, it sounds like it's in pain.' A hollow, grating sound, maybe a bark, maybe a cough.

The mule bucked, yanking the rope from Amy's hand, and bolted.


The mule cleared a shallow ditch and vanished into the fog. Before Amy could stop her, Kitty had taken off after it.

'Kitty, wait! Stay here! Kitty!'

The mule brayed. Already it sounded a hundred yards away. 'I can see it! I can see it!' It was Kitty's voice.

'Kitty, come back!' Amy scrambled up a bank of earth. Thirty yards away a line of twisted iron pickets were black against the fog. 'Where are you?' She fumbled in her pocket for the trench torch, then remembered that she had lost it.

She listened and waited, heard nothing over the noise of her own breathing. 'Kitty, for God's sake!'

She ran on. Wire hung from the pickets, most of it pressed flat into the earth. Coils sprang up where she trod, catching on the hem of her skirt. She stumbled down an incline. Rusting metal – green, grey, brown – lay scattered among a carpet of nettles. Her boot splashed into water. It stretched before her: a wide circle, still as glass. Ripples fanned out noiselessly across the surface, lapping against the mud and stones.

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Excerpted from Two Storm Wood by Philip Gray. Copyright © 2022 by Philip Gray. Excerpted by permission of W.W. Norton & Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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