Tuesday Sampler: Army of Worn Soles by Scott Bury

Army of Worn Soles - FULL RESOLUTION

In our mission to connect readers, writers, and books, Caleb and Linda Pirtle has launched a new series featuring writing samples from some of the best authors in the marketplace today. Tuesday’s Sampler is an excerpt from Army of Worn Soles by Scott Bury. If you’re looking for an award winning historical memoir of World War II, this is the novel you don’t want to miss. As one reviewer said: The story is gripping and emotional. So well written that it will make you suffer and cry with Maurice, and also laugh with him and celebrate when the story requires it.

Army of Worn Soles was a semi-finalist in the East Texas Writers Guild First Chapter Book Awards.

The Story

A Canadian is drafted into the Soviet Red Army in 1941, just in time to be thrown against Nazi Germany’s invasion in Operation Barbarossa.

Caught in the vise of the Nazi and Communist forces, Maurice Bury concentrates on keeping his men alive as they retreat across Ukraine from the German juggernaut.

Now the question is: will they escape from the hell of the POW camp before they starve to death?

The First Chapter

Scott BuryKharkiv, October 1941

Maurice put the bottle on the ground beside him and took off his uniform shirt. He spread it on the smoothest piece of ground he could find, then laid the bottle near the officer’s insignia on the collar and pushed down. He rolled the bottle over tattered, light-brown material until the lice cracked under the glass. Back and forth, twice, three times. He felt a dull satisfaction at his first pathetic victory in more than half a year.

Crunch, crunch.

The effort was exhausting. His stomach ached and his throat burned with thirst.

He slumped back until he leaned against the barracks. Men in grey uniforms stood or walked across the cobbled courtyard of the ancient castle. One came toward him, a slim man with light brown hair and hazel eyes. He stopped in front of Maurice and leaned down.

“Maurice? Is it you?”

Breathing required effort. So did looking up. Maurice had not eaten in days, but he still trusted his sight. He knew the man with the light-brown hair and hazel eyes, even in a Wehrmacht uniform.

“Maurice?” the young man said again. “What are you doing here?”

He couldn’t swallow. His mouth held no moisture. “Dying. I’m starving to death.” Maurice closed his eyes and hung his head.

Bohdan crouched beside him. “You got drafted?”

Maurice made the effort to look up at his old friend. “The Red Army made me a lieutenant. What the hell are you doing here and in a German uniform, Bohdan?”

“The Germans kicked the Russians out, something we couldn’t do. Why shouldn’t I join the winning side? And it’s ‘Daniel’ now, not Bohdan.” He looked around to make sure no one noticed him, a Wehrmacht officer, talking to a prisoner of war. “I’m glad you survived, that you were captured instead of killed. The Germans killed a lot of Red soldiers.”

“I know. I was there.”

Bohdan looked around again. “How did you get here?”

“Like you said, we were captured, the whole army, outside Kharkiv. They brought us here.”

Bohdan shook his head. “Are you all right? I’ll see if I can bring you anything, but I have to be careful.”

Maurice looked into his friend’s eyes. “Get me out of here.”

“Set a prisoner free? Are you crazy?”

“Bohdan—sorry, Daniel, you’re my best friend. Or you were. If I ever meant anything to you, get me out.”

Daniel—Bohdan, looked left and right again. “I cannot let Red soldiers go,” he whispered.

Maurice took a dry breath. His strength was almost gone. “You’re an officer in a victorious army. You have the power. You can get me out, me and my boys.

Daniel shook his head and stood. “Stalin’s going to surrender within six months, and then all the prisoners will be freed. Hitler has promised freedom for all nations. We’ll all be free. Ukraine will be free.”

Maurice looked at the ground between his splayed legs. He could no longer lift his head. “I can’t wait six months. I can’t wait two days. If you wait, you’ll find a corpse. We’ll all be dead. You have to get us out now.”

Daniel hesitated. He looked around the camp again, but no one paid attention. “So the Reds made you an officer, did they? Where are your men? All dead?”

Somewhere, Maurice found the strength to stand up again. He staggered to the barracks door, went in and called his odalenye, the unit he commanded. “Step over here, boys.”

Daniel followed Maurice inside, and Maurice wondered if Daniel wasn’t breaking some regulation by entering prisoners’ quarters unaccompanied by at least one guard.

Daniel scanned the room, taking in the defeated, injured and starving men. No one threatened him. They did not even move. Maurice realized when they saw Daniel, they saw their captor.

Daniel stepped out of the barracks and waited outside the door. “I’ll see what I can do, Maurice. But you’re on the wrong fucking side.”

Maurice picked up the bottle and returned to crushing the lice out of his uniform shirt. It was the only thing he could do to reduce his misery.

He thought about the last time he had seen Bohdan, before he became Daniel.

It was in the gymnasium, the pre-university school in Peremyshl. What used to be Poland. What a long, strange, twisted path my life has followed.

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