David Yost on his story, “Patrol”

David Yost’s story, “Patrol,” appears in our Spring 2012 issue, guest edited by Nick Flynn. “Patrol” opens with these lines:

Fourteen days patrol, the Colonel had ordered, but the men had already sold most of their ammunition on the Mandalay black market and had no intention of fighting even if they hadn’t, so they headed into the hills instead.
Think of it as a camping trip, Mya Aung suggested to the others.

They crossed a waist-deep stream, and as they dried off and peeled the leeches from their thighs, Saung Oo discovered a cave in the limestone on the hillside.
It could be a Karen hideout, he suggested hopefully.
The Lieutenant nodded, slapping a mosquito from his forehead and thinking of his mistress.
Better set up here for a few days, he said.

Here, David Yost describes the inspiration for his story:

Despite being the modern world’s longest-running armed conflict—it’s been raging since World War II, with hundreds of thousands of direct and indirect casualties—the war between the Burmese military dictatorship and the guerillas of the Karen people gets surprisingly little international attention. I happened to teach refugees along the Thai-Burma border in 2004 and 2007, and their struggles have been the focus of my fiction ever since.

“Patrol,” then, comes out of bits and scraps I’d had in my notebooks for several years. The real horrors of the fighting always outpace my imagination, and the major incidents of this story are taken from the reports of human rights groups. Yet some of these killings—particularly the crucifixion—were ghastly enough that all my attempts to re-imagine them turned into simple melodrama. It wasn’t until I read a paragraph about how Burmese patrols would hide in the hills for a required number of days that I glimpsed a tone and structure that might make these events approachable, and the rest of the story came together in a matter of hours. If the dark humor of the story’s start seems to implicate the reader (and the author) in the horrors of its end, that’s wholly intentional; these killings could not continue without the world’s willingness to look away.

(Photo by the author.)