Excerpt four from Army of Worn Soles
The Army of Worn Soles launch blog tour continues! Read to the end to see how you can enter for the chance of winning the Grand Prize of a signed paperback copy of Army of Worn Soles plus a $50 Amazon gift card. And you can read my review of this book if you pay a visit to my lovely penguins here.
Chapter 2: Gymnasium
Peremyshl, Poland, 1937
Mail was always a cause for celebration. The students’ parents would send packages with news from home, knitted sweaters and socks, cakes and cookies and other food that would survive a trip through the mail. The students would gather to share and swap their goodies and exchange news about parents and sisters and nephews.
Slawko, a heavyset teen, was the son of Father Ihor, one of the Ukrainian Catholic priests that taught at the gymnasium and the one in charge of student discipline. He never brought treats from home. At night, he would look at the boys snacking on their mamas’ goodie packages, his face long, chin in his hand. “I didn’t get nothin’,” he’d always say, and sigh until someone gave him a cookie or an apple. “How can they expect us to work all day without feeding us enough,” he would whine, dropping crumbs onto his lap. Whenever another student opened his goodie packages, Slawko would always be nearby saying, “That looks good. Give me a cookie.”
The students gladly shared cookies, cakes and fruit at first. But after a few weeks, they were sick of Slawko the Mooch. He never had his own treats or desserts. He never offered a younger student help with schoolwork, either. “Not that he’d be any help—he’s such a blockhead,” Bohdan said.
Slawko’s cot was on the first floor of the dormitory, but he seemed to prefer the food from the boys on the second storey. Or maybe the boys in his own section were more tired of feeding the mooch. Whatever the reason, by the end of the first month at the gymnasium, Slawko lingered on the second storey as late as he could every evening until bed-check.
Some of the boys worked out a system to feed Slawko without having to see his mournful face or listen to his whining. Each night, every student who had received goodies that day donated something to a basket. After lights-out, the boys lowered it on a rope out the window to the eager Slawko, standing by a first-floor window. Maurice and other students would watch him snatch blindly at the basket’s content even before he took it in the window.
This system continued for weeks, until the boys tired of giving up their treats from home. One winter night after lights-out, Maurice and the other students crowded near the second-storey window, trying hard not to make noise.
Bohdan and Yvan stood beside the window, stifling their laughter. Bohdan held Slawko’s basket. “Shh. Quiet, you idiots.” Bohdan hissed until he was satisfied he had everyone’s attention. “We’re going to give old Slawko a real treat.”
Yvan, who had developed a reputation as a practical joker, could not stop giggling as he pulled a bucket from under his bed. He lifted a metal plate off the top, filling the dorm with the rich odour of horse manure. “I took it from the stable this afternoon,” he said, laughing so hard, he had to put his hand over his mouth.
Oh no, Maurice thought, but he could not help feeling a wicked glee.
Yvan and Bohdan carefully dumped the manure into the basket for Slawko. They covered it with the metal plate again to keep the smell in, and then covered the whole thing with a little embroidered towel from someone’s mother. The conspirators lowered the basket more carefully than usual, while Maurice and the rest crowded round the window to watch, barely able to suppress the laughter. There was much shushing as giggles escaped.
When the basket reached the lower window, a hand reached out to lift the towel. It hesitated when it touched the plate. One of the boys on the second floor could not help laughing.
The mooch lifted the metal plate and his other hand reached out and plunged into the basket.
“What the hell is this?” A voice rang out across the courtyard, echoing off the far side of the gymnasium building. “Shit.”
Bohdan fell back from the window onto his knees, laughing so hard that tears ran down his cheeks. Yvan nearly toppled out the window, saved only when another student grabbed his arm. Others were literally rolling on the floor.
They could hear Slawko cursing them out the window, and then loud footsteps as one of the friars on night duty came to check on the noise. Yvan tossed the bucket out the window, where it clattered loudly on the gravel. Everyone jumped into their beds and pulled their covers over themselves before the door burst open. Two brothers came in, scowling, but all they saw were apparently sleeping students.
Meanwhile, they heard another friar enter the dorm below. “What are you doing at the window? What’s in that basket? Shit.”
At that, every boy upstairs burst into laughter.
“What’s going on here?” one of the night watchmen said. But from downstairs, they heard more voices. “You’re right, it’s shit.”
1941: Their retreat across Ukraine wore their boots out—and they kept going.
Three months after drafting him, the Soviet Red Army throws Maurice Bury, along with millions of other under-trained men, against the juggernaut of Nazi Germany’s Operation Barbarossa, the assault on the USSR.
Army of Worn Soles tells the true story of a Canadian who had to find in himself a way to keep himself alive—and the men who followed him.
Scott Bury is a journalist, editor and novelist based in Ottawa, Canada. He has written for magazines in Canada, the US, the UK and Australia.
a children’s short story, Sam, the Strawb Part (proceeds of which are donated to an autism charity), and other stories.
Scott Bury lives in Ottawa with his lovely, supportive and long-suffering wife, two mighty sons and two pesky cats.
Today’s clue: half
Why do we need a clue? Well, I will let Scott explain what is going on with the clues…
At the end of each excerpt on the tour will be a clue word. String them together then unscramble them to make a coherent message, and you’ll qualify for the Grand Prize: A signed paperback copy plus a $50 Amazon gift certificate. Copy the full answer into the Comments section of this blog. I’ll draw one winner from the correct answers.
Early bird prizes: Enter a comment on each blog on the tour on the day the excerpt goes live, and I’ll enter your name in the draw for one of five signed paperbacks.
Everyone who correctly unscrambles the sentence at the end of the tour will win a free e-copy of Army of Worn Soles, PLUS an e-copy of my first book, The Bones of the Earth.
On the trail of the clues
And if you follow the whole tour, pick up the clues and answer the skill-testing question at the end, I’ll send you a free e-copy of Army of Worn Soles, plus enter you in a draw for a free print copy and a $50 Amazon gift card.
Start checking the blog tour, and follow every day.
The tour dates
- Sunday, June 15: Dawn Torrens’ My Books & I… blog
- Monday, June 16: Gary Henry’s Honest Indie
- Tuesday, June 17: David C. Cassidy’s blog
- Wednesday, June 18: Cinta Garcia de la Rosa’s Indie Authors You Want to Read
- Thursday, June 19: Frederick Lee Brooke’s Author Unplugged
- Friday, June 20: RS Guthrie’s Rob on Writing
- Saturday, June 21: Writer CR Hiatt’s site
- Sunday, June 22: Back here on Written Words and on a special mystery page to be announced that day
- Monday, June 23: Rebekah Lynn’s Books blog
- Tuesday, June 24: Michael Lorde’s M.E. Author blog
- Wednesday, June 25: BestSelling Reads’ Win-a-Book Wednesday—two chances to win!
- Thursday, June 26: Wodke Hawkinson’s Find a Good Book to Read blog
- Friday, June 27: Seb Kirby’s New Words for New Times
- Saturday, June 28: Michelle Chiapetta’s The Chipper Muse
- Sunday, June 29: On Gae-Lynn Woods’ The Big Heat
- Monday, June 30: Back to Written Words for the wrap-up.