Monday, September 16, 2019

New release: 'Lillie Augustine'

‘Kolej takes care of its own.’

So goes the refrain from Lillie Augustine, my latest release. I’m not going to say much about where Lillie came from. Within, there are bits and pieces of old family stories, witnessed ravings, moments that stuck, political angst, and a lot of fist-shaking about how too many good people see wrong in the world and do nothing, simply to preserve their own comfort. I suppose Lillie is intended less as a judgment and more as a mirror, like a polished granite wall bearing Niemöller’s famous quotation, where all of us can just begin — perhaps — to make out our own reflections beyond the lettering.

An excerpt:

HIS FIRST IMPRESSION of Kolej was the train.

He’d encountered plenty of trains that afternoon. Long, quarter-mile freighters. Occasional passenger trains. All thundering across the Nebraska plains, pulled by the juggernauts of diesel-electric locomotives. Once upon a time, old coal-fired locomotives may have chugged and puffed their ways across the countryside, but modern diesel-electric engines just moved along, putting down power with a steady drone. They burned ordinary diesel fuel to spin turbines, generating thousands of horsepower of electricity instead of torque, pulling chains of loaded cars filled with everything from cattle and people to hybrids and Escalades across desolate plains to their destinations.

But the train he saw now was pulling none of that. This was a grainer, a long chain of burnt-umber hopper cars, silhouetted against white-patched skies and still-green rolling hills, shaking the ground as it passed. Creaking to a slow halt beside corrugated steel grain silos, patiently receiving farmers’ bounties to carry them to market.

Al Ross sighted the grainer a while ago, moving purposefully across these eastern-Nebraska plains. This train seemed to toy with him as he sped west, away from Omaha along Nebraska 30 before hooking a right at Columbus and heading north. He couldn’t seem to shake this particular train, seemingly racing his car as he barreled past the speed limit, the train tracing a thin line of black diesel smoke across the horizon, blocking his progress when he’d encounter a level crossing.

Just outside of Kolej — a tiny village northwest of Omaha that barely qualified as a town — Al found himself impatient. He tapped the steering wheel of the rental car, having no choice but to wait behind the dropped arm at a level crossing. That train had come to a complete stop, blocking the only road into town as it took on grain from a line of silver silos. He checked his watch and sighed, as if his lateness would even matter out here in the middle of nowhere.

Through the gaps between rail cars, Al caught glimpses of the small town that was his destination. A three-by-two array of blocks aligned east-west along the railway, the silver grain silos on its west end serving as one bookend; the tall steeple of a church at the other, with barely a gap between the bookends. If his hometown of Chicago were an epic and Omaha were a novel, Kolej was a short story…

Lillie Augustine is available on Amazon in paperback, large-print paperback, and for Kindle. Proudly published by Dustie Books US.