From the pen of L.K. Reppo comes the tale of Little Soot. A tale of adventure and mystery driven by the love of a young girl for her mother and the concerns of a man who believes in her.
It was 1934; the time of the Great Depression and Keith Watts was living a simple life and doing a simple job driving his train on the Southern Line. It was the uncomplicated existence he chose where he was in control and there was little possibility of being hurt again. Then he does a reckless thing by stopping his train to pick up a little, roving girl on the uphill run to Gooseneck Pass. He follows this with even more folly when he decides to accompany the girl on her quest to find a rich grandmother she has never met.
Armed with scanty resources, they set out on foot on a journey that has Watts doing things he never imagined and feeling things he tried so hard to escape.
Has the strange, shy girl with the weird way of expressing herself, touched his life and the lives of others they meet along the way? Or is a series of coincidences forcing the changes? And just how far can love transcend all barriers?
A story packed with drama, mystery, adventure, and humor.
Targeted Age Group:: 13-100
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I wanted to write a feel-good novel with a diversity of characters and an adventurous theme in which I could develop the relationships between the characters. I set the story in a variety of fictitious places and had the main characters interacting with new characters as the story progressed. The central theme was that of a young girl searching for her grandmother with the assistance of a man she met along the way.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
I needed the contrast between the main characters and eventually developed a strange, shy girl with a funny way of speaking English and a train driver who was a teacher before he left his past life because of a tragedy.
Suddenly, and without warning, there was the first glimpse of one of Gaby’s rivals in the race to the sea at Pelican’s Point. The Wicca River snaked through the trees and followed the track for miles sometimes arrogantly refusing to keep its distance as it flowed under the track and continued on its way on the opposite side. It refused to accept that it had an unfair advantage when it broke away before the steep uphill climb to Gooseneck Pass, insisting that Gaby had a shorter downhill run while it had to meander its way around the mountains and through Sandwich Gorge. Loggers once used its waters to float the logs but the aggression of the whitewater and successive waterfalls made transport by rail a far safer option—the only option when those who had drowned were added to the equation. The sadistic witch who stirred the pot at the foot of Devil’s falls never rested and her hope that some fools would add to the flavor of her brew never waned.
“River’s looking strong after the rains,” Letterman observed.
“I was thinking the same thing. I’m happy as long as she knows her place and doesn’t sweep over the bridges.”
“Have you been thinking about what I said?” Letterman asked as he arched his back and thrust the shovel into the coal.
“Molly Rhinestone . . . over at ticket sales is sweet and pretty . . . and I know she likes you.”
“Naw! She wears too much makeup . . . and she always smells like she just chewed a clove of garlic.”
“Haha! That’s because she did. What about that skinny girl in the cafeteria? What’s her name?”
“Who? . . . Connie . . . I don’t know her last name.”
“Yeah, that’s the one.”
“She’s just a girl . . . and she’s seeing Tom Langton’s son.”
“Katy . . . what’s her name.”
“Stop trying to pair me off with some girl. I’ve got Gaby . . . and she’s the only girl I need in my life right now.”
Watts didn’t like the idea of Letterman prying into his affairs. He had always had a friendly relationship with his colleagues but there was just something about Letterman he never liked. Like it wasn’t wise to turn your back on him.
Letterman wasn’t about to let up. “She’s hard as hell, your Gaby, and she can’t keep your bed warm at night, can she?” he said.
“Not good to hurt her feelings when you need her to get you home on time. You’d better be sharp and feed her a special treat.”
The avenues of trees were closing in as the forests grew thicker and higher. They stood like green sentries alongside the track as Gaby chugged past defiantly, shrouding them with her smoky tail.
They sped through another short tunnel before a sharp downhill run. Watts quickly assessed that they were moving too quickly as the weight of the freight drove Gaby forward. He eased the regulator forward and slowly applied the brakes. He could hear the cars protesting as they strained forward in an attempt to overcome the resistance. He wasn’t about to allow any of them to take control. Gaby played along and slowly offered resistance to her seventeen reckless cousins that made up the train. They would have liked nothing more than to rush downhill as fast as they could with abandoned disregard for safety.
“You should come to the Railway Ball,” Letterman said.
“What’s that you’re saying?”
“I said . . . you should come to the Railway Ball.”
“And do what?”
“There’re lots of singles who loosen up quickly after a few pints.”
“Are you still trying to find me a woman?”
“Who said I’m trying to do that.”
“It sounds that way.”
“Well, you’re wrong. Some of the ladies asked me to find them a good man.”
“Then you’ve come to the wrong guy. I’m not one for serious relationships . . . and I can’t dance.”
“I’ll teach you. You’ll be waltzing like a pro in no time at all.”
“The only dancing I’ll ever do is when I win at the races.”
“So you do dance then.”
“No, I’ve never won anything.”
The Wicca River was becoming more brazen as it widened and flowed closer to the tracks. Soon it would break the rules again as it strayed into Gaby’s domain and forced her to cross via the long, elevated Pontiff Bridge. Watts stuck his head out into the wind and could see the start of the bridge up ahead. Gaby would not be unnerved by the blatant attempt to show dominance as she steamed forward with the sound of her whistle confirming that she was up to the challenge.
“We’ll be at Pretzel Lake soon,” Watts said, “and then we’ll start the climb up to the Parson’s Nose. We need full steam when we start to climb.”
“Boiler pressure seems a bit low,” Letterman said. “I’ll see if I can do something about it.”
The door of the firebox squealed as Letterman opened it and brutally shoveled coal into its furnace. The line of trees was suddenly broken by the mirrored surface of a vast mass of water that seemed to reflect the inverted image of everything around it. Tall mountains peered down with admiration at their own fair reflections in the still waters like narcissists in a shop front window. Some with little, white peaked caps on their cone-shaped heads.
The pristine lake showed no emotion as Gaby greeted it and sped onwards on the ridge above its western shoreline. A flock of geese traveling south seemed to follow Gaby’s smoky trail before they veered off on their predetermined course. They would have no part of winter’s frolics nor would they wait until its icy grip was firmly in place. The river snaked off to the right as anticipated leaving them at the rocky doorstep of the Vulcan Mountains and the steep ascent to Gooseneck Pass. It was a severe climb requiring speed and almost all of Gaby’s strength and power. Snow on the tracks would just be an added burden.
“It’s started snowing at Parson’s Nose. We can expect heavy snow at Gooseneck Pass,” Watts said.
Letterman appeared concerned as he looked up. “Are we going to make it?”
“We should . . . if we can maintain speed and power and get over the top,” Watts said. “It’s not like it’s our first time out in the snow.”
“Yes, but that new diesel dozer cleared the line on the last run.”
“Gaby’s just as good as any diesel locomotive.”
“Let’s hope you’re right—I need this job . . . and my children need me.”
From an engineering perspective the climb from Parson’s Nose was far too steep, but the company would not finance a tunnel through the two-mile wide mountain range and chose to go over rather than through it. They ran the track up the steep incline and cut a gorge on the top in which to lay the tracks. It was that gorge that presented the most danger when the snow came and filled it up.
Gaby’s breathing was rapid and strained—short bursts of steam and a strong column of white smoke signaled her determination—as her nose lifted and she hauled the long line of reluctant, bickering cars up the slope behind her.
Letterman stuck his head out on the left side again as the icy wind flared his nostrils and curled his upper lip. He looked at the low-lying cluster of clouds up ahead just above a large rocky outcrop that the locals had named the Parson’s Nose. “It’s definitely snowing up ahead,” he said as he pulled his head back into warmer surroundings. He rubbed his calloused hands together. The cockpit of a steam locomotive was a good place to be in the cold weather. Leaving it after a long spell made the cold just seem so much harsher especially for a man who kindled fires for a living and who preferred a beer off the shelf to one on ice.
Watts adjusted the regulator. “Keep it up, girl! Not that far to go. You’re doing great!”
“I hope those logs are secure,” Letterman said.
“Like a box of matches,” Watts said. “I made sure of that.”
“They’ll take everything with them if they slide,” Letterman added.
“What . . . was that?” Watts asked.
A pocket of cold air struck his torso and the back of his head as he leaned out and looked back along the descending track at the forests below. He clung tightly to the handhold and swung himself inwards quickly to overcome the resistance.
“What’s bothering you?”
“Didn’t you see something back there?”
“I swear I saw a person alongside the track.”
“A person? Up here? No . . . you must be imagining things. There’s nothing out here except two maniacs in a bloody train.”
“No, I swear I saw someone . . .”
There was a brief pause with just Gaby’s heavy panting in the background. She didn’t wait to respond as he hit the regulator, slowing down almost immediately.
“What the hell are you doing?” Letterman asked.
“I’m going back. There’s someone out there.”
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