by Alfred D. Byrd,
author of The Ghost of Pelfrey's Bend
William Faulkner wrote, "The past is never dead. It's not even past." In The Ghost of Pelfrey's Bend, members of Eastern Kentucky's Bradley family learn this lesson from a vengeful ghost out of the family's forgotten history. The ghost, which has killed members of the family over the years, tells its latest prospective victim, "One in each generation will die till a seed is raised up to me."
What can keep the curse from coming true again? The answer to that question lies in the nature of the ghost in question. Ghosts, according to many accounts of them, come from persons who die with unfinished business. In cases of sudden death, something someone's deeply emotionally invested in will come to naught unless they can resolve it after death. The unfinished business of the Ghost of the Bradleys dates back to the Civil War, which, according to lore I've heard from guides at many a battlefield, generated regiments of ghosts. A blast of canister, a Minié ball's impact, a slash from a saber, a bayonet's thrust — a person with dreams and dreads falls dead, earthly course run. Any fulfillment of hopes and fears must then occur out of body. Has a ghost been born?
Were all of the ghost's dreams and dreads, hopes and fears, bound in the issues of slavery and secession? Likely not. Although we moderns see the men and women involved in the war through the lens of those issues, those who lived through the war were no more ideologues than we ourselves are. Like us, they had lives beyond politics' divisive passions. Even our enemies form, not a monolith, but a spectrum. Even amid an all-encompassing conflict, fighters felt hates and loves born of family, friendship, and romance. These hates and loves can provide unfinished business enough for any ghost.
They do for Jonah Goodhaven, a Confederate Partisan from Eastern Kentucky. Caught raiding out of uniform in his home county by the Union, he's betrayed by his best friend, Thomas George Bradley, who'll do whatever it takes to wed Jonah's fiancée. From the gallows, Jonah shouts to Thomas the Curse of the Bradleys. Despite the curse, Thomas weds the woman he lied for. After he's had children with her, he becomes the first to die in a grotesque accident — or is it? Those who know of the Curse of the Bradleys attribute his death to the Ghost of Pelfrey's Bend. One in each generation follows Thomas in a bizarre death till, just after the turn of the Twenty-First Century, an otherworldly maiden learns of the curse…
Leah Bradley's quest to save a doomed relative takes her on an odyssey through an Eastern Kentucky of the imagination. Having been a regular visitor to it (both Eastern Kentucky and imagination) throughout my life, I've peopled her odyssey with versions of persons I've met and set it in places that, though fictional, readers of The Ghost of Pelfrey's Bend have recognized as their home counties. On her odyssey, Leah learns a truth all of us have learned: every family has a skeleton in its closet — or is it a ghost?
Leah's quest takes her along many winding pathways: country highways, homely farmhouses, oral history, genealogy, elderly women who know strange secrets, forbidden lore, and ancient rituals. On the quest, the computer, a hypermodern invention vaguely imagined by the Victorians of the Civil War era, plays a role. On her quest, Leah learns who she is and comes to see for herself a future once hidden from her. To her, the ghost's a gift; to her relative under a threat of death…
Although the books' characters are fictional, some of the book's settings and incidents come from my own family history. Kirk Bradley's house is the house my parents retired to; Tom Bradley's house is an aunt's I often visited in my parent's birthplace, Morgan County. The stories Leah's paternal grandmother told are stories my mother told to me. The story of Fred Bradley's brothers-in-law teaching him to fire a rifle is based on my older brother's teaching me that skill. I did better than Fred did, though barely. No one will call me "a mighty hunter before the LORD," as Kate (mockingly) calls Fred. As for the lavish meals served by Delores Bradley — meals my description of which made one reader of the book say that it made her hungry — I myself have eaten them at Delores's table.
The poems attributed to Amber, Fred's wife, in the book are original compositions of mine. Like Fred and Amber, I've read The Lord of the Rings more times than I recall. Like Tolkien, I like to include verse amid my prose. Could I be a stay-at-home version of Amber who expresses wanderlust in fiction? In any case, Amber's poetry gives her her own unique means of telling her version of stories she gets caught up in. Shouldn't we all have such a means?
The Ghost of Pelfrey's Bend is avaiable from Amazon.com and other on-line book vendors.