Monday, April 4, 2016

THE GHOST OF PELFREY'S BEND: A Haiku Sequence

Alfred D. Byrd


Doubtful of purpose,
Leah receives a visit
From kin in trouble.

Mysteries give her,
Keeper of ways from the past,
A call to duty.

Family stories
Sometimes can give her insights
Leading to action.

Siblings are useless:
A verse hides light in darkness—
Someone may grasp it.

History shows her
Shadows of motives for hate
That threatens loved ones.

Family stories,
Despite how often repeated,
Bind her to kindred.

During a welcome,
Hunger is driven away,
But shadows gather.

Elderly women
Sometimes shelter memories
Needed to save us.

Dangerous roadways
Bring you to one who may know
The secrets of sleep.

Sometimes, just sleeping
Leaves us still wanting a cure
For ghosts that haunt us.

Zealously researched,
Acted with hope and vigor,
Rituals fail her.

Preaching and prayer,
Zealous although they may be,
Leave room for action.

Sudden visitor
Brings us the sense of strange words.
A marriage is needed.

Hidden documents
Tell her a tale of her love,
The heir of rebels.

Union will bring her,
Finding her purpose at last,
A future of hope.

If you want to learn the story behind this poem, you can read it in The Ghost of Pelfrey's Bend.

Monday, March 21, 2016

SHADOWS OF THE GHOST OF PELFREY'S BEND

Alfred D. Byrd

Facing a future darkened with doubt,
A maiden muses on kin and fate.
A lover is kind, but fails to close
The gap between "desire" and "fulfill."
A lore of dragons begins to pall;
The folks are away, leaving their child
To grope for answers amid a fog.

A knock is sounding, routing daydreams;
Relatives coming in search of help
Must trust a child in place of parents.
Hearing a tale of death by a ghost,
Convicted Rebel, vengeful and proud,
Who stalks a traitor from son to son,
She learns her mission, saving the last
Of those who can pass her name through time.

"Decide" is easy compared with "do."
She tries what works in the hands of one
Who lived a life beyond her knowledge.
"Easy" for one is "hard" for others.
Failure spurs her to search through stories—
Memories holding the souls of kin—
For something turning darkness to light.
A spark appears. Will it leap aflame?

A call to siblings yields her no help,
At least in terms of ghosts of vengeance.
Father, stepmother — absent from home.
Their letters waken only questions.
Answers, her lover suggests in vain.
An uncle should learn at least what's up,
Although his wisdom strikes her as dim.

A trip awakens a gift of art
To sketch what she sees along the way.
A house at once depressing and glad
Provides a welcome to two who search
For answers likely never to come.
A war that split a nation of hope
Provides, however, a gleam of truth:
A rebel betrayed by one who gave
Both her and her kin the gift of life
Has grounds for vengeance across the years.
Unless appeased, he may kill again.

As she and they are crossing the hills
To get, they hope, advice from elders,
Heading backwards from present to past
Awakens stories — ancient gossip —
Holding the secrets of who they are.
Perhaps, recalling the past will help
Subdue the ghost that haunts their present.

Welcomed by those whom she's come to help,
She welcomes her welcome, a meal of love,
But soon muse turn to words from the past.
A record of lies that shaped her world
Records betrayal, the root from which
The fruit of murder by ghost has grown.
How many would dare disturb the past
If they knew what deeds their kin had done?

The trip before her won't be easy.
Seeking relatives, often she finds
That they've moved from where she knew they'd lived.
They've changed in more than where they reside.
Ancestral customs, they've set aside
To honor the One Who lives on high.
The end of the road seems near at hand
When she hears a voice effaced by time:
An elder tells her of one now lost
Who may retain rejected knowledge
Needed to handle what's lost to her.

Revenge has winnowed a line of sons
To pass on a name through years to come.
If she fails to find what lies concealed,
She'll miss her purpose and mourn a loss.
A journey along a cliff reveals
The home of one who knows a secret
Hidden in plants of healing and sleep.
Because of insults that stay alive,
The one who might help is shy at first.
A gift of stories eases offense
And wins advice that might be helpful,
Worthy of testing on one at risk.

A dinner welcomes helpful kinsmen;
Brewing a draft foreshadows success
In treating the ill that dooms a line.
In sleep, however, one meets with dreams
From which the draft prevents awaking.
Messages spoken by lips of mist
Repeat a warning: "Appease or die!"

A quest for a book will lead her clan
Back home to where her journey commenced.
A sister, coming out of the blue,
Reveals what's needed to do a rite
That crossed an ocean to fight a ghost.
Without belief, they perform the rite
In hope that "do" is greater than "doubt."
Belief, however, is what's required.
The rite has failed; the ghost will haunt on,
Dispensing the fear of deaths to come.
Amid confusion, parents arrive.
Accountings have come, but hope as well.

Her father, storied master of words,
Takes charge of laying the ghost to rest.
Amid the giving of gifts to all—
Amid discussions of trips and food—
He calls on the One on high for light,
But darkness brings forth a guest instead.

A sister's sudden coming brings her
Answers to riddles lightless till now:
A marriage of two who share the blood
Of thief and victim can seal a breach
Through which the hand of vengeance enters,
Culling the sons of the blood of theft.
Before, however, the two can wed,
A son with no house must learn his name.
A trip through darkness begins in hope.

A letter preserved in trust for years
Contains a tale that answers questions:
The ghost's descendant hovers nearby,
Beside the daughter of trust betrayed,
His name and lineage hidden from him
Until his love could kindle healing.
Many might gossip of what the two
Have chosen to do to change the past,
But they, prepared to face the journey,
Hasten ahead to become as one.

The ghost is happy, at least for now.
Its goal of justice will be attained
Through union of two who join the lines
Disjoined by treason in times gone by.
A whirl of getting ready follows,
Ending in words that mean forever—
Often intended, often broken.
This time, the two becoming as one
Will face the future with gifts of hope
From those whose lives have shaped the present.
Mystery links them, children of dreams,
To past and future with tales of joy.


If you want to learn the story behind this poem, you can read it in The Ghost of Pelfrey's Bend.

Monday, December 14, 2015

SHADOWS OF THISTLEDOWN

Alfred D. Byrd

THISTLEDOWN sees you, lonely and sad,
Across a classroom hateful with noise
From students sharing a space with you,
But mocking what makes your life worth while.
She becomes a friend, unsought, but loved,
Who shares with you a world of secrets,
Mysteries rescued from lands long lost,
But now restored — imagined and played.
You find within each other's household —
Families differ, but stay the same —
A refuge letting customs live on
That should've died in an age gone by.
You wrestle with faith — too dark, not yours —
But choose to live a life of secrets —
Symbols hide them from all but you two —
That form a shield from the world outside.

EVENTS of darkness break in at times,
But verse that lets you express your dreams
Protects you from fears that prowl a land
Consumed with worries, heartbreak, and rage.
You find in books a glue that binds you,
Dreamers, together in tales of hope.
You seek afar the cities of light
In which the sages teach you wisdom:
Secrets, perhaps, of friends or foes
That leap from them to reshape our lives.
The ones who share our homes and our blood
May mock a path that differs from theirs.
It's true: we don't belong to this world
In which the years will change us in ways
That we don't desire, but must endure.
We choose adventures to save our lives,
But are we honest, even alone?
Do we touch a world in ways that turn
Unfriendly pathways to ones of hope?

A DEATH occurs, subverting wishes:
Thistledown falters, dealing with loss,
Which shows how fragile a dream can be.
The death begins a parting of hearts:
A dream is two dreams, maybe unlinked.
What guides us onward, seeking meaning?
A past remembered, a dream recalled,
A thing imagined — mighty in hope,
But weak, perhaps, in being fulfilled.
It isn't enough for one in pain,
And she has left you, watching — weeping.

THISTLEDOWN, absent, leads you to ask,
"Can I replace the one who's been lost
With one who's been found, unsought, but loved?"
You've moved away from your place of birth
And found a way to have adventures
Differing greatly from what you knew.
Can you choose a voice to speak in verse
Of things that change, but remain unchanged?
You've learned to love another lover —

THISTLEDOWN enters, crossing your life,
But soon departs, not as changed as you.
The one who wanders, it seems, is more
Resistant to change than one who stays
To face whatever hardship may shape
Beliefs and actions from day to day.
You learn the secrets of lives now yours
By ties that bind through the years to come;
You choose to love, however challenged,
For love gives meaning, laughter — sorrow.

MEANWHILE, Thistledown flutters across
The edge of vision with news of dream
While you deal with what has warped your life —
A tide of rumors, unwelcome, but true,
That bare the secrets within your home.
You find, as you keep your world intact,
That you dream of one who walks unseen
And laughs or weeps in places afar —
Beyond the sunset, across the stars —
Within the realms that teem with dragons.
Separate, you and she, once one,
Are still together, married by dreams.
The two of you, you learn, are partners
Sharing a passion, useless, but pure,
Amid a world in which devices
Alter daily the course of our lives.
You make a home, a refuge for guests
Who come to shelter with you awhile,
But you wish to hear the call of roads
And see adventures before you die.
They happen never; our life is small.
We see our children repeat our sins,
And we fail to find the land once lost.

MISFORTUNE crushes your dream of home
And leaves you empty, helpless mourner.
Meaning is absent without the love
That binds us to life with arms that hold
And ears that listen to what we are.
Can we find the grace to keep on track
When all is trackless amid our tears?

AMID THE GLOOM there's something hopeful:
Thistledown enters, bearing a light
That lets us observe what paths may branch
Across the years ahead with purpose,
Living a dream imagined — restored.
You ask a question pregnant with hope:
"When we've lost what lay between us two,
Can what we lost return on the wind?"
Can she who sought, but never could find
The land of dreams on roads without end
Now find it with you at home — at rest?
You'll take a risk and make a future:
Thistledown, planting her seed in earth
And bearing what fruit the days may bring.


If this poem has spoken to you, you may wish to read Thistledown, a novel that expands and explains it.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

THISTLEDOWN: A Haiku Sequence

Alfred D. Byrd


Schoolday's beginning
Swiftly reshapes a loner,
Finding a soulmate.

"Newfound companion,
Meeting my parents at home,
You've found a welcome."

Brothers are trouble,
Knowing what secrets we hate,
Yet make us stronger.

Dangers around us
Threaten the peace of our lives,
Which verge on nightmares.

Fantasy's visions
Of Elves and Orcs in conflict
Fascinate dreamers.

Dreaming is useless,
Paying no bills with its signs.
We need employment.

Mystical visions
Order beautiful dreamers,
"Honor Atlantis!"

Sudden misfortune
Changes the path of dreamers,
Mourning a loved one.

Sometimes, to dreamers,
Answers come clear in a flash
From childhood's lessons.

Heartbreak will claim you,
Hearing your lover call out,
"Goodbye. Be happy."

Heartbreak within you,
Somehow, your life keeps going.
College may help you.

Finding another —
Treason to one whom you loved,
Or hope reviving?

Using deception,
Winning a girlfriend your hope —
Tricksters should prosper?

Mourning an exile
Wakens a neighbor to love
For one deserted.

Letters remind you,
Lover deserted, of her
Still loved in secret.

Shaking what's settled,
Heartbreaking pilgrim returns,
Her news a challenge.

Planning is useless?
Others, with minds of their own,
May shape your future.

Changing your household
Moves you to change your lifestyle.
Mirror your setting.

Relatives test us.
Telling our stories of shame,
They keep us humble.

Choosing presumption?
Better get ready to be
Alone or sorry.

Suddenly, trouble —
The road ahead is empty.
"Leaving," she tells you.

Partings of lovers
Often arise from error,
Hearing her wrongly.

Ready for marriage?
Many may say, "It's a snap,"
But find it daunting.

Countless the weddings,
Country churches their venues,
Lasting a lifetime.

Furniture, housewares —
Starting a household requires
Both pluck and humor.

Growing tomatoes?
Newlyweds swiftly find out
The lore of aphids.

Needing assistants?
Relatives sometimes will do,
If you're not picky.

Visitors help us
Treasure the things of the past —
The seeds of futures.

"Honey, I'm pregnant"
Urges a husband to face
The things that matter.

Sometimes, you're busy,
Doing what needs to be done,
But missing meaning.

Brother returning,
Bringing new ways from afar,
Will change your lifestyle.

Everyone changes.
Meeting a friend from the past,
You face your future.

Dying, they leave us.
Relatives bearing our past
May bound our future.

Hateful abusers
Trouble our lives for spite
And make us mirrors.

Mysteries hedge us.
Persons considered our friends
May harbor secrets.

Many certainties,
Seeming forever secure,
Depart in whirlwinds.

Grieving? Not easy.
Weakness, we've learned of weeping.
Funerals help us.

Distant companions,
Living apart from our lives,
May meet disaster.

Future? Uncertain.
Danger just laughs at our plans
Of love or labor.

Mysteries lead us,
Needing a party to blame,
To try the blameless.

Rumors pursue us.
Sometimes, we wonder whose life
We may be living.

Choices define us.
Futures arise from persons
Making decisions.

Parents precede us,
Early, in matters of life —
Later, in passing.

Marriages stun us.
Sometimes, they come from the blue
In lifetime's autumn.

Children are troubled,
Finding a way to channel
Darkness within them.

Nothing is certain.
Accidents shatter our lives
And make us mourners.

Loved ones have left us.
Duties, however, go on,
Mocking what's empty.

Sometimes, revival
Reaches us, carried by friends
Who've shared our journey.

Outsets are fragile.
Renewal depends on hopes
That may elude us.

Nothing is finished.
Our lives go on together
On a quest for hope.

If you found this poem rewarding, you may enjoy Thistledown, the novel on which it's based.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

MADNESS OF THE GLYPHS: A Haiku Sequence

by Alfred D. Byrd


Peace is too fragile.
Passions constructed on lies
Lure us to combat.

Friendship allows us,
Seeking in others new light,
To learn of ourselves.

To love a songbird—
Often, we lose our desire
When it flies away.

Diplomas matter.
Seeking respect through degrees—
Will you find success?

Another message—
Symbols beyond our knowledge—
Waken a sleeper.

Ignorance kills us.
Drawing on darkness for light,
We breed delusion.

Darkness is speaking,
Telling, whispered in symbols,
Secrets to no one.

Glory is fleeting.
Sometimes, pioneers languish,
Losing to others.

Politics claim us.
Symbols are altered to serve
The needs of the state.

Who's coming to us?
A friend, a rival, a foe?
Can we read the signs?

Conjectures flourish,
Filling the heavens with chaff,
When we're short on facts.

We turn to revels,
Blessings of gods, we may say,
When we're filled with doubts.

At times, we're spinning,
Seeking to find direction.
Often, it flees us.

Deadened emotions
Burgeon, finding a love
When they've lost their hope.

Are pictures the roots
From which we grow our writings?
We grope in the dark.

The news of silence,
Telling us, "No one is home,"
May be, "We're over."

Facing disaster—
Lover, now stranger, is lost—
Compels us to wait.

To shout at a crowd
A message of fear and death
Is to speed their birth.

To give up your love
For others who need her help
Is to grow, but die.

To seize a future,
Ponder a path to success
And learn how to walk.

A stranger, a friend—
What traits distinguish the two
When you seek the truth?

Belief may bring us
Deadly rewards for our faith
If it stems from fear.

Do we know our friends?
Within a heart beside us,
Murder may fester.

Seeing a message
Seeming to show you the truth,
Consider the source.

Although no meaning
Shatters the wall of the Dark,
The quest will go on.


You can learn more of the novel on which this haiku sequence is based at Madness of the Glyphs.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

REFLECTIONS ON "DINNER OF THE LOVING DEAD"

Alfred D. Byrd


As long as I've been reading, I've been reading Gothic horror. Much of it, I read before I learned what the term meant. Would I have enjoyed Frankenstein, The Narrative of A. Gordon Pym,, Dracula, Gormenghast, and We Have Always Lived in the Castle had I known beforehand that they were Gothic? Likely. Tales of brooding dread in a realm of darkness have an appeal to more of us than just me — an appeal going back to dreads that had affected humans long before we hired professors of literature to dissect and classify those dreads for us.

Family, if you think of it, is one of our foremost dreads. Just think of what's involved in becoming part of a family! Without our having any say in the matter, we're born amid blood and pain to a couple — perhaps, to only part of a couple — that sets us in the heart of a web of relationships that define us and make instant demands on us. Some of us never learn how to navigate that web without getting tangled in it. Can you really say that a system such as family isn't just a little bit scary?

Beyond family, another dread is finding meaning and purpose in our lives. Meaning and purpose start in what's defined for us and assigned to us by our families. Do we accept what's defined and assigned, or do we react against it and try to define and assign our own meanings and purpose to our lives? Either choice bears hopes and uncertainties. To accept is to find acceptance at the potential cost of individuality; to react is to find freedom at the potential cost of loneliness. In the real world as well as a tale of Gothic horror, life is never simple.

Dread of outsiders — yes, as if family were not enough for us to face, we must deal also with strangers. Like avalanches ever poised to sweep across our peaceful villages, they lurk beyond us; like comets bearing portents of doom from the void, they plunge amid us. Just when we've got family all figured out, strangers intrude with alien lifeways and alien demands on us. If family represents the danger of stasis, strangers represent the danger of change.

The ultimate change is the ultimate dread, death. In at least this world, death cuts through all that is woven by family, meaning, purpose, and strangers. We may claim to be confident in death's face, but how often is our confidence, shall we say, whistling past a graveyard? Did Shakespeare put our attitude towards death best when he wrote in Hamlet, "the dread of something after death,/ The undiscovered Country, from whose bourn/ No Traveller returns, Puzzles the will,/ And makes us rather bear those ills we have,/ Than fly to others that we know not of"? Certainly, he expressed an attitude of Gothic horror.

At the heart of Gothic horror lies mystery; at the foundation of mystery lie secrets. What is cloaked in silence, in misdirection, or in lies? What is really going on behind the eyes of that person — perhaps a loved one, perhaps a figure of authority, or perhaps a stranger bearing a promise of a better life — who is talking to you ? What are you hiding even from yourself? How will your world change — for the better, or for the worse? ‐ when secrets come out?

Horace Walpole crystallized all of humanity's primal dreads in the first novel of Gothic horror, The Castle of Otranto. In a haunted castle, a father's ambitions, founded on lies and murder, slowly destroy a family that, as much as he can love, he does. Although the novel's language is outdated, its theme of a family tormented and ruined by secrets is as fresh today as it was in the Eighteenth Century — as fresh as the evening news. The Castle of Otranto inspired directly and indirectly all of the works that I mentioned above, and is still inspiring captivating works today.

On a minor note, it inspired me to try to crystallize themes of Gothic horror in a tale of less than twenty-five hundred words: "Dinner of the Loving Dead." Did I succeed in conveying to you the horror of a family haunted and tormented by secrets? Why not find out for yourself? At the story's end, you'll have learned those secrets…

"Dinner of the Loving Dead" is available in Kindle format at Amazon.Com.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Why I Wrote The Seventh Proficiency

Alfred D. Byrd


Emerald irised, an eye of night
Observes a path across a desert
Pregnant with danger — pregnant with hope —
To a place in which one weds a foe
Or faces judgment, maybe of death.
Will one with wings effect a rescue?
Lurking stranger, what fate do you bring?
A time of testing for one in love
Will lead to conflict ending in what?

When I learned that a proposed anthology's editor wanted fantasy action-adventure novellas in exotic settings, I grew hopeful, as the novella is the length of story that I like best to write. Lying between the novelette (7,500 - 17,000 words) and the novel (over 40,000 words), a novella has enough space for a wide-ranging, deep plot, but too little space for padding that burdens many a novel. Best of all, one can turn out a novella in a couple of months, whereas turning out a novel can take up most of a year, if not longer. Hey, who has a year in today's frenetic life?

Sadly, it's rare to sell a novella nowadays. Why, after all, should an editor fill up an anthology or a magazine with a twenty-five-thousand-word story that a reader may or may not like when the editor can print in the same space five five-thousand-word stories, at least one of which a reader is almost sure to like? Thus, most of the time, those of us who aspire to be novellaists, if I may use such a word, are out of luck.

When I got a chance to write a novella for pay, then, I leapt at the chance. Thinking of what would make a fantasy action-adventure novella in an exotic setting, I had at first a vision of intelligent dinosaurs in an otherwordly Amazonian jungle under a ruby moon. I may still write about them, but, as I was rereading tales from the Arabian Nights at the time, my vision of dinosaurs turned into a vision of magicians (whose powers they call "proficiencies") riding camels across the Sahara under an emerald moon. That the magicians had green eyes drawing their powers from the emerald moon has nothing to do with my having green eyes. If you believe what I've just written, can I interest you in buying swampland in Florida?

Every story needs a start, unless you're writing for an English course in some high-priced college. The start of my novella was a young mage who's received a bittersweet task: protecting a caravan taking his late master's daughter to her wedding to a rival mage's son. The task is bittersweet because the young mage, whose name turns out to be Timbalis, is in love with his master's daughter, whose name turns out to be Nennivu.

(Someday, I must write a blog on the art of making up characters' names — "Maybe," you'll snidely say to me, "after you learn that art.")

The virtue of a story about a caravan is that a caravan moves relentlessly through a landscape where anyone might show up, and anything might happen, at any time. I decided from the start that the caravan was being shadowed by a phirr, my science-fiction version of supernatural peris or afrits that hound caravans in traditional Arabian-Nights tales. (Ever since I read Roger Zelazny's incomparable Lord of Light the first time, I've been fond of genre-bending.) To make things worse, the caravan meets a party of Imperial soldiers who have a beef with the mage whose son Nennivu is supposed to marry. Perhaps tragically, Timbalis is honor bound to oppose the enemies of the very man whom he hates most…

A story in an exotic setting takes research. As a critic of mine might say to me, "If you stuck with writing only what you know, you wouldn't write much, now, would you?" Luckily, I dug out of my dusty pile of National Geographics a wealth of articles on the Sahara. Many of these featured an exotic people called the Tuareg, who'd fascinated me when I read about them as a boy and fascinated me anew when I read about them again in what some might snidely call my "second childhood." Tragically, in the real world, the Tuaregs have fallen on hard times because of wars in Libya and in Mali, but their traditional culture made a fine underpinning to the novella.

To this underpinning, I added the desert's ever-shifting and dangerous landscape, the sights, sounds, feel, and smell of a camel caravan, a visit to an oasis and then to a mysterious underworld (it's in the rules: no tale of adventure is complete without a visit to an underworld), and a deadly climax in a desert-king's court. When I was done with the novella, I felt that I'd written something worthy of the anthology.

Its editor thought so, too. He accepted my novella as one of five for his brainchild. Alas, as they say in the penny dreadfuls, this, owing to economic hard times, fell through. Thus, I'd written my publishable novella in vain—

Or had I? Kindle to the rescue! Now, there's a secure home for the novella, which I maintain is the ideal format for action-adventure fiction. Now, anyone with access to a computer (and a modicum of credit) can read at will my tale of romance, intrigue, sorcery, and swordplay beneath an emerald moon.

If you're interested in learning more about "The Seventh Proficiency," please visit its page at Amazon.com. Maybe, if enough readers like this tale of action-adventure, I'll write the one about intelligent dinosaurs.