Sunday, July 18, 2021

Why I Wrote "Ezekiel's Chariot"

by Alfred D. Byrd, author of Ezekiel's Chariot


Ezekiel's vision of God's glory, seen amid his exile among fellow Jews to Babylon, is one of Scripture's most misunderstood passages. Some have built on it extreme teachings that have led religious leaders to restrict study of it either completely or only to the most mature and learned in their community of faith and practice. Today's interpretation of the chariot as a flying saucer is hardly the most outrageous of the interpretations of Ezekiel's vision that have been made since he had it some twenty-five hundred years ago.

Lost in false interpretations is the true interpretation: that we learn what the chariot is only by carefully comparing scripture with scripture. Properly understood, the chariot is a theophany, a dramatic appearance of God to us humans with a message of consolation and warning for us. The vision of a heavenly chariot was rooted in Jewish experience of the prophet's time — an experience of despair in a present of persecution and exile, but also of hope in a future of restoration and glory. That vision was rooted in earlier visions of prophets such as Moses, David, and Isaiah as given shape in the Ark of the Covenant and in the Holy of Holies of Solomon's Temple.

The chariot was not something new in God's dealings with humanity, but the culmination of previous visions of God's wonders: of the cherubim and the flaming sword that kept the way to the tree of life in the Garden of Eden, of the burning bush from which God spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Midian, of the pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night that guided the Children of Israel from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land, of the fire from heaven that fell onto altars dedicated to the LORD — of the six-winged seraphim who chanted "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts" in the Temple's Holy Place when God called the prophet Isaiah to deliver a message of judgment and salvation to a people that had forgotten Who God is. The chariot is the same chariot that King David saw when God delivered to him plans for a temple that his son Solomon would build as a place for God's glory to manifest itself amid God's people.

Ezekiel's chariot, combining imagery of David's chariot, Solomon's temple, cherubim, and seraphim, was a sign to a people that had lost everything and languished in exile in Babylon that God remembered them and would restore them to a life of blessings through faith in and obedience to Him. The vision of the chariot still speaks to all of us, Jews and Christians. Out of Ezekiel's vision of living creatures and of wheels within wheels comes the message that the heavens can come to the earth — that deliverance can come to each of us. The chariot is not a secret thing for mystics alone, but an open truth that all who study Ezekiel's prophecy can learn. What confuses us about the chariot when we view it as an insoluble mystery will strengthen us when we view it as a shining revelation of the God Who made us, loves us, and is ever ready to forgive us and restore us to joy when we turn from our own ways to follow His way.


You can learn more about Ezekiel's Chariot at Amazon.com.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Why I Wrote "Prisoners of Metenebria"

by Alfred D. Byrd, author of "Prisoners of Metenebria


"Prisoners of Metenebria," a novella composed of thirty-one pieces of flash fiction, arose from my fascination with a geological oddity of where I live. Amid Kentucky's Inner Bluegrass, a land of rolling plains for as far as the eye can see, lies the Kentucky River Gorge, a canyon curving from southeast to northwest for a hundred miles. At the gorge's heart, palisades of white limestone rise over two hundred feet high. I couldn't resist setting stories in the gorge, not just in one fictional world, but also in many more.

Tell me that, if you shared my fascination with parallel worlds, you wouldn't want to tie all of your worlds together. To tie mine together, I conceived (literarily, not physically!) a mysterious stranger with the gifts of walking between worlds and linking them at the gorge into a trap for persons with gifts like, but lesser than, his own. Why did he set the trap? A trickster, he'll never tell anyone — maybe not even himself. Aren't there ways in which everyone lies to oneself?

Still, the gifted seek to learn the purpose of the trap — at least, a way out of it. The first of the gifted you'll meet is a youth named Abimelech Wrong, cursed from birth with strangeness, who takes a wrong turn through a crack between worlds. He wants to go home, only to learn he can't get there from here without help that may cost him who he is. His will be a journey of discovery, both of the worlds he enters and of abilities he finds in himself. Will they be enough to bring him safely through a destined encounter with a benefactor — or is he a villain — in legendary City of Bridges? Is Abimelech's journey the journey of all of us who are cursed with strangeness?

Home for Abimelech is tumbledown Wrong Landing, which holds the sprawling clan of Wrongs, harmless rustics — or are they children of wonder? Whatever they are, they answer to their clan's head, Grandfather, a Bible-thumping preacher in a rocking chair, yet much more. Even the mysterious stranger must tread cautiously around Grandfather, who holds a prize he wants. The Wrongs reflect my parents' sprawling families from Eastern Kentucky. My own grandfathers died before I was born, but Grandfather is a composite of many of my older relatives, master storytellers who could awaken a sense of wonder in a shy child. I'll let you infer what else Grandfather may be.

Before railroads displaced steamboats from the gorge, it teemed with sternwheelers, packet boats, and showboats. I missed them in real life, but for Dixie Belle, which takes visitors to Shaker Landing on a brief tour of the gorge upriver from High Bridge, but included them on my river. The queen of its riverboats is the showboat Chrysanthemum, owned and operated by a gifted rogue known along the river only as Interlocutor. Could he be a parallel-world version of Mark Twain lost in time? Stranger things can — and do — happen aboard his boat.

For example, a pair of gamesters play a game that may mirror "real life." I drew inspiration for them from my favorite novel by Herman Hesse, The Glass Bead Game. I enjoyed the novel without ever understanding the game's rules, which even Hesse may not have been clear on. In my novella for Vella, not even my gamesters may understand what they're doing with their pieces of green and red. The gamesters might tell you, "You learn the game by playing it." In any case, they show up in the strangest places, and clearly have an effect on things. Do the gamesters form part of the mysterious stranger's plans, or does he form part of their plans?

A watcher, a sage, a nomadic river rat — these are some of gifted persons seeking an exit from the mysterious stranger's maze. They await the Deliverer, but are not averse to hastening his coming. An archaeologist has a vison of the maze's beginning, but who can envision its ending. What is the nature of the walls that confine the gifted, but let the unsighted go free?

I've mentioned that, in the canyon, I've tried to tie all of my stories together. One set of them forms The Dhitha Tapestry, which tells of humans taken to the stars by the legendary S'tharn and genetically transformed by them into wielders of the telepathic power of Inner Hearing and the the telekinetic power of Light of the Dance. Through interstellar portals under the Dhitha's control, they return to the earth, where some of them get involved in the canyon's intrigues. Are the Dhitha part of the mysterious stranger's plans — or the gamesters? The Dhitha claim to Dance to a tune of their own — a tune originating beyond the heavens. You can learn more of the Dhitha in .

One Vella adventure in thirty-one episodes can't comprise all of Metenebria. I'm currently working on a sequel, An Intruder in Metenebria. The river flows on…

Oh, yes, what's the origin of the name Metenebria? It's a contraction of a Greek phrase meaning "among the shadows." Don't we all wander there? Don't we all wish for a way out of them?


You can read the episodes of "Prisoners of Metenebria" on Kindle Vella. The first three episodes are free!
Visit my Facebook speculative fiction page, The Dhitha Tapestry.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Why I Wrote "Jehu Smyrna's Last Ride"

by Alfred D. Byrd, author of "Jehu Smyrna's Last Ride"


I wrote "Jehu Smyrna's Last Ride" before I ever heard of Kindle Vella. Still, the novella's road-trip format made it work as a serial without major changes to the story. Originally, "A Kentucky highway during the Apocalypse" was the novella's subtitle. I used the subtitle as the serial's description because it succinctly tells a reader all they need to know about what the serial's storyline.

Still, if you're reading this blog, you can start reading the serial with background. If you want to, you can go read the serial — it's complete — and return here for background on it. Let's start with the subtitle. These days, we use the word apocalypse casually about any major calamity. Often, we overlook that that word comes from the Greek word apokalypsis, the Greek title of what we know as the Book of Revelation. Jehu's ride takes place in the timeframe described by this—

—or does it? Jehu and the passengers in his souped-up Dodge Grand Caravan debate what's going on around them just as we debate it in our own days, maybe not far earlier than theirs. Having studied Church history, I'm well aware of how professing Christians tend to interpret the Book of Revelation in terms of their own time. From Christianity's earliest days, ingenious minds have been able to fit current events into seals, trumpets, bowls, and beasts. Maybe, the book's message to us is that our collective choices always set us on the edge of a downfall. Those familiar with Scripture in Jehu's near future interpret the Apocalypse just as we do. In our time of Covid-19, rumors abound, and facts are flouted. Why should we expect reason to strengthen while times worsen?

I've tried to balance the Bible-quoters in the van with a skeptical voice of science. What he says about the Carrington Event, Kessler Syndrome, and the Sixth Great Extinction is as accurate as I can make it in the setting. Still, he, too, may be cherry-picking facts to suit his model of reality. What's really going on? You decide!

The Kentucky highway Jehu's ride takes place on is US 60, which runs in Kentucky from Catlettsburg in the east to Wickliffe in the west. I've driven all of Kentucky's stretch of this highway from Catlettsburg to downtown Louisville — some stretches of the highway hundreds of times. My serial's description of this stretch of the highway is accurate if you overlook that, in the serial, much of the landscape's gotten trashed spectacularly. Kindly, I spared Jehu from the pea-soup fog I'd driven through many a time on the bridge between Catlettsburg and Kenova, West Virginia, though he gets to go through everything else I've seen on the evening news and on the Weather Channel. For western Kentucky, a realm I've had scant contact with, I had to use Google maps and satellite photos to set up Jehu's journey. When you reach the episodes set in that part of the commonwealth, you may notice I've put most of the serial's mysticism there. What's really going on? You decide!

The serial's military sf in the sense that, during the serial's apocalypse, much of Kentucky's under military occupation, and the commonwealth's eastern section is experiencing a civil war. As a member of a Kentuckian family in which most of the men have joined either the Army or the Air Force, I know a soldier's life at second hand. I say "at second hand" because I've never experienced that life myself. Thus, obeying the dictum "Write what you know," I made Jehu, my viewpoint character, a civilian like me, surrounded by soldiers. Being a civilian may be the only way he's like me: I'm as far from a stockcar driver as you can get. Still, I've ridden with reckless drivers…

Jehu's prized bottle of Bourbon whiskey entered the story when I read an article on how expensive and how nearly unobtainable twenty-five-year old Pappy Van Winkle is. When I did further research on this, it nearly floored me to learn that a fifth of this goes for over twenty-five thousand dollars. Google Pappy Van Winkle if you doubt me! As a laboratory technician, I may be in the wrong line of business. In the total social collapse Jehu's living through, money's worthless, but premium trade goods carry tremendous value. If Jehu's bottle of Bourbon (note that I never call it Pappy, as the Bluegrass puts out many premium Bourbons that bring in a bundle) survives, and he brings it to market, he'll live like a king…

…or will he? When things fall apart, will underground shelters, premium trade goods, and heavy weaponry really keep you alive and well? Only the catastrophe you fear will reveal whether you've planned well for it. Whatever else you may think of the Apocalypse, its four horsemen represent the reality in our world of war, famine, pestilence, and death. These are daily companions for our neighbors in many parts of our world — companions whose power could easily spread to cover the earth. The way we're going, our road could certainly end in catastrophe.

Let me make disclaimers about my serial. I'm well aware of conspiracy theories about FEMA. My serial doesn't endorse them. I mention FEMA only because it'd provide refugees with the trailers I describe their living in. I confess to you I was as astonished as Jehu to learn he was hauling Hungarian Roma across eastern Kentucky. The things you learn writing a novella. I understand why residents of all of the towns I trashed along US 60 may resent my sparing the Inner Bluegrass, my home since 1978, from their devastation. Knowledgable Kentuckians will recognize my having carried on the age-old feud between Lexington and Louisville.

If you want another take on the Book of Revelation, please read my epic poem "Shadows of Revelation," available for free in a range of e book formats. In my poem, I've tried to tell the story of the Apocalypse in modern language. I try to clarify the book's concepts, but leave its mysteries as mysteries. Not from me will you learn what the seven thunders spoke.

Join Jehu Smyrna on the ride of his life!


You can read the first three episodes of "Jehu Smyrna's Last Ride" for free.
Visit my Facebook speculative fiction page, The Dhitha Tapestry.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Why I Wrote "The Bible's Hidden Years"

by Alfred D. Byrd, author of "The Bible's Hidden Years"


When you read the Bible, you can easily get lost in terms of where and when what you're reading is taking place. We tend to read Scripture in bits and pieces and don't know how they relate to one another. Even reading Scripture from Genesis to Revelation can confuse you, as the Bible's books aren't always in chronological order.

Making things worse for you as a reader are gaps in the Biblical narrative. In particular, when you move from Malachi to Matthew, you cross a chasm in which the Biblical world changes almost beyond recognition. Romans, Pharisees, Sadducees, Herods, and Caesars come almost out of nowhere. The "Hidden Years" can make it seem to you there's no or only a weak connection between Christian Scripture and Hebrew Scripture, the only Bible Christ and His apostles had.

How is the time of Christ related to the times that came before it? I've written for you a resource that'll help you answer this question. In a clear, but factual narrative, "The Bible's Hidden Years" traces God's relationship with His people from the time of Abraham to the time of the apostles. I try to make clear to you how the accounts of the Bible fit together with each other and with the history of great nations God's people lived and worked among. When you learn how Scripture's parts fit together, it'll make more sense to you.

Properly to understand Scripture, you need to be able to answer for each passage in it the reporter's questions "Who, what, when, where, and why?" In particular, you need to keep track of what God has promised to whom: to humanity in general, to the Jewish nation in particular, or to the Church, neither Jewish nor Gentile, but a new creation in Christ Jesus. You harm your relationship with God if you claim promises that don't belong to you — or don't claim promises that do. Much religious bigotry starts with our casting out of God's house those He has promised access to it.

In taking you through the Biblical narrative, I introduce to you key concepts such as Promise, Promised Land, prophets, and Messiah in their proper setting and follow them as they develop over time. I don't assume your knowing Biblical terms, but define each of them at its first occurrence in the book's text. Only when we use Biblical words correctly in their proper setting do we do what the apostle Paul calls correctly handling the Word of truth.

I lay particular emphasis on the "gap" in Scripture — the period of four hundred years between when the prophet Malachi ended the canon of Hebrew Scripture and when Jesus, the Anointed One, began a new age of the world. During this period, exciting events — sometimes inspiring, sometimes tragic — led to the birth of the Child Who would shake history. Jesus didn't come into a vacuum; He came to be part of our history, which is, at its root, God's story of love for humanity. Reading Scripture with understanding puts each of us on the path to becoming part of that story.


You can learn more about "The Bible's Hidden Years" at Smashwords.com.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Why I Wrote "Trial of the Guardians"

by Alfred D. Byrd, author of Trials of the Guardians


Trials of the Guardians unites several themes that fascinate me — the Cthulhu Mythos, Kentucky's history, and the Bluegrass's strange topography. In this novella, I've tried to weave these themes into a tapestry that'll please aficionados of the Mythos and introduce new readers to it.

The Mythos needs no explanation to those who share my fascination with it. Those who don't yet share that fascination with me can learn of it best by reading works of the Mythos starting with H. P. Lovecraft's immortal "Call of Cthulhu," in many ways the Mythos' heart. Briefly put, the Mythos proclaims we humans exist but briefly in a tiny corner of a boundless, unending multiverse populated by ancient, alien intelligences that heed us only for how we may transiently benefit them — likely not for our own good. Only a few know of the Mythos' lore; even fewer of those stay sane…

The Mythos is universal and everlasting, but works itself out in forms shaped by the time and place of incidents within it. In my novella, I've explored the Mythos along the Kentucky River in the Bluegrass at the turn of the Twentieth Century, when riverboats are starting to vanish from waterways, and automobiles are starting to drive horse-drawn carriages from highways. Those ignorant of the Mythos proclaim progress that'd draw sneers of disdain from creatures of the Mythos did they deign to notice the boasters.

For my novella, I dealt with two questions the Mythos awakens: how does the earth stay safe from ancient intelligences, and how does the general public stay unaware of them? I answered the questions with "guardians," persons versed in the Mythos and taking on the challenge of using it against the entities it describes. As the guardians use the Mythos without truly understanding it — how can the finite comprehend infinity; how can the temporal grasp eternity? — the Mythos becomes in their hands "magic" worked by "spells." The magic does work — sometimes — at great cost to the guardians.

Traditionally, those aware of the Mythos have been loners, even recluses. Certainly, knowledge of it precludes an orderly social life. Making a virtue of necessity, I've made my guardians loners, too — persons dedicated to a calling setting them apart from the rest of humanity. They might be Knights Templars but that they must keep their very identity secret along with the Mythos. Their calling condemns them to be mistrusted by the very humanity they protect.

I don't specify the exact time in which my guardians operate, but those knowledgeable of history can set it between 1902 and 1910 of our era. Sadly, the guardians must operate in a time of prejudice — though can we say else of our own time? Human prejudices of those who look at the outward appearance, not at the heart, impede the guardians in their work. Theirs is a thankless task, but someone must do it. A cruel calling has determined that it must be they.

Many of the settings in Trials of the Guardians are historical. In particular, the institute of higher learning Paltiel Dunlea visits in hope of help from a fellow guardian is real, presently known as Kentucky State University, a land-grant college and a historically Black university. The name I give the institution in the novella is correct for the novella's timeframe. The fictional character Dr. Junius Breckinridge embodies difficulties a Black man of learning faced at the turn of the Twentieth Century. That he got involved in the Mythos only made his life harder.

Could prejudice extend past humanity's boundaries? At the end of Lovecraft's "The Shadow over Innsmouth," I get an impression the Deep Ones could tell of themselves a much different story from the one the story's self-centered, impulsive narrator told of them and of their half-human hybrid kinspersons. In the character Kalawea, I give one of the hybrids a chance to tell that story. In respect of the Deep Ones — or of any other strangers we might meet — we may do well to keep in mind a principle my first employer taught me: "When you assume, you make an ass of you and me."

In Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, Douglas R. Hofstedter deals with an unpopular principle of science: the limits of knowability. However much we think we know, we may know far less than we think. We may even have no clear idea of how much we don't know. This principle comes into play in Trials of the Guardians, in which Paltiel and his fellow guardians must oppose with the academic equivalent of beads and rattles beings some might call gods. In the face of the Mythos, we're but children watching waves break on the shores of eternity and infinity. Lovecraft spoke best of our limits in the opening paragraphs of "The Call of Cthulhu." If you haven't read it, please do read it; if you have, you don't need me to urge you to read it again.

In Dune, Frank Herbert wrote, "What senses do we lack that we cannot see or hear another world all around us?" Maybe, we lack a sense of otherness. Looking out through the lens of our own experience, we may believe that three dimensions of space and the unidirectional arrow of time are all that exist. Even within these limited dimensions, we may see the stars only as dots of light on a night sky and project ourselves onto them. We may not conceive what beings may move among the stars — what beings may populate other dimensions that transcend ours, yet interact with them. Wanting to believe in ourselves as agents of free will, we reject predestination — but can we escape it? What can we do when beings greater than ourselves arrive in our world unforeseen and use it — and us — for purposes not our own — purposes perhaps inimical to us?

Maybe, we really do need guardians…


You can find Trial of the Guardians on Amazon.com.

You may also enjoy my collection of Cthulhu Mythos short stories, Blue Moon of Cthulhu.
Visit my speculative fiction site at The Dhitha Tapestry.

Monday, February 1, 2021

Why I Wrote "Dark and Bloody Ground: Early Kentuckiana"

by Alfred D. Byrd


As a child both of whose parents came from eastern Kentucky's Appalachian highlands, and as an adult who's lived for over forty years in the Bluegrass, I've come to feel fascination with Kentucky's history. Sadly, in popular view, this had become distorted, a playground of stereotypes caught up in a game of good guys against bad guys. I've written Dark and Bloody Ground: Early Kentuckiana in hope of doing my part in correcting distortion. If we fail to see clearly where we've come from, how will we see where we're going?

Many labor under a misconception that what's now Kentucky was all but empty when Euro-American pioneers came over the Alleghanies to claim it. In truth, what's now Kentucky had been home to ancestors of today's Native Americans for millennia before the pioneers showed up there. Over those millennia, hunter-gatherers developed into advanced cultures — the Adena, the Hopewell, the Fort Ancient, and the Mississippian — that knocked on the door of civilization if they didn't cross its threshold. Sadly, many Euro-American New Agers deny the Native American origin of these cultures' remaining works and attribute them to Atlanteans, Ancient Egyptians, Vikings, or Celts — "respectable" peoples enthralling stories can be told about. In response to these stories, I've given you facts anthropologists and archaeologists generally agree on.

Sadly, we don't know what these cultures called themselves. They never developed writing, and oral traditions that might've retained some knowledge of them were largely lost in plagues that wiped out most of North America's native population at the time of the Europeans' arrival. Novel diseases more than warfare with European settlers plunged surviving natives into what we moderns might call a post-apocalyptic lifestyle. What was for European immigrants crossing the Jordan River into the Promised Land was for natives the Tribulation. We moderns may do well to grasp that what happened to them might also happen to us if we take our lifestyle for granted.

When history's curtain rises on what's now Kentucky, most of its land was uninhabited, reserved as a hunting ground shared by New York's Iroquois Confederacy; Ohio's Seven Nations, dominated by the Shawnee Nation; and the Cherokee Nation of eastern Tennessee, western North Carolina, and northeastern Georgia. Still, there were native settlements in Kentucky and a native presence guaranteed by the European powers that were striving to make North America their own. Native settlements persisted west of the Tennessee River into the early Nineteenth Century; Eskippakithiki, the last native settlement east of the Tennessee River, ended under mysterious circumstances in the mid-Eighteenth Century. The mystery of Eskippakithiki's end is one of many historical mysteries I touch on in the book. Some would give you their speculations about these mysteries as fact; I'll be honest with you and say, "I don't know." How often do you hear that phrase in this day of opinions spread worldwide with a single click on social media?

I tell the heart of Kentucky's early story in terms of state parks that memorialize parts of that history. Part of every story is its setting. In Kentucky's case, the setting is varied terrain in which landscape determined lifestyle. Hollows and ridges, rivers flowing through deep gorges, old-growth forest, rock houses, caves, sinkholes, pinnacles, and outlooks — the landscape was a challenge both to the natives and to European settlers who meant to supplant them. In some battles fought in this landscape, it was the victor. The state parks preserve, not only history, but also landscape it took place in.

In a historical work, even as modest as mine, terminology's important. When I write of pre-Columbian cultures, I use terminology from anthropology. When I reach historical times, it becomes a challenge to describe the people Europeans were displacing. In pioneer days, what we now call "Native Americans" were in polite usage called natives or more often Indians, a term that perpetuated an early Spanish misunderstanding of where their ships had arrived. (Atlantis, some might've told you.) The term "Native American" would've puzzled pioneers, who might've applied it indifferently both to natives and to native-born settlers. In the Nineteenth Century, the term came to mean native-born Whites, generally of English descent, in contrast with immigrants the "Native Americans" might not welcome to "their" land. Only in the Twentieth Century did "Native American" come to have its present meaning. I've used the terms from pioneer time to give a sense of the world in which natives and pioneers came into conflict.

Popluar perception of Kentucky's early history has suffered from tall tales and stories of adventure in which good guys fought bad guys in dark forests — from morality plays in which angels contended with demons. As the first tales were told by settlers and their descendants, it was traditional for settlers to be the good guys and Indians the bad guys. These days, many reverse who wears the halo, who the horns, in their morality plays. Such a way of telling history overlooks that all in history, natives and settlers alike, were human beings with backgrounds and motivations we need to understand if we hope to learn anything from their lives. Who we see as angels and demons may tell us more about ourselves than about persons from history.

No one's story has suffered more distortion than that of Daniel Boone, the one pioneer everyone can name. Just about every detail of his popular story is wrong. The wrongness is saddening in several respects. First, it fixes in the public's mind a version of history that never took place. Second, it obscures the deeds of many pioneers who were his equals or superiors in his time. Third, it makes us think there were "good Indians" (the Cherokees) and "bad Indians" (the Shawnees) when both nations in fact played a complex role in the politics and warfare of Boone's time. Fourth, it obscures Boone's true story, a story I find more fascinating than the legend. I devote three chapters of my brief work to untangling Boone's legend from fact, but I also present to you men he overshadowed — James Harrod, Simon Kenton, and George Rogers Clarke, inter alia. You may find them as fascinating as Boone.

Much of the book deals with complex local, national, and international politics. Relations between natives and settlers were international relations in terms of the time's law, as Indian nations were then considered independent nations rather than protectorates as they are today. We get an impression that the time's politics were motivated by greed, prejudice, vengeance, and hypocrisy. Certainly, these traits were present in the time's politics, but many of the evils that came out of this were due to misguided idealism, human weakness, or just plain bad judgment. In real life, no one's a mustache-twirling villain; everyone's the hero of their own story. We moderns can of course bask in the superiority of our politics…

To understand the wars that broke out between natives and settlers, we need to grasp that these wars were fought against the backdrop of two greater wars fought among Europeans: first, the French and Indian War, just one, and not the largest, theater of a Franco-British War fought all over the world; and, second, the Revolutionary War (called the War of American Independence by the British) between Great Britain and a set of colonists. I say "a set of" to point out that none of the parties involved in the wars were monoliths. Every party consisted of a war faction, a peace faction, and, perhaps the largest set, persons who just hoped to hang on till bad times went away. In history, there are no monoliths — only spectra.

I hate dry history. I believe that good history should be good storytelling — just storytelling based on logical conclusions drawn from facts. In writing Dark and Bloody Ground: Early Kentuckiana, I've tried to tell the events of colorful lives in colorful ways. I see humor as a teaching tool that helps students recall lessons that dry recitals might not fix in their minds. I don't mean to be irreverent — at least, too much.

If, as I hope you will, you read Dark and Bloody Ground: Early Kentuckiana, you'll notice it holds references to concepts and works of fantasy and science fiction. I wrote articles that became chapters of this book for a fanzine, The Reluctant Famulus, free copies of which are available on line in .pdf format. The settlement of Kentucky by pioneers would work as a space opera: exploring unknown space, a meeting with strange cultures — an alien invasion. When we read history, we need to understand that, wherever we go in whatever time we're going, we take ourselves with us. All right, Buckaroo Banzai said it better!

"What if I like tall tales and stories of adventures?" you may ask me. Don't worry! I finish the book with a treat for you — the tale of Jonathan Swift's Silver Mine — a mystery that generated mysteries. It's a tale Dan Brown could've written. If only it had an ending…


If you want to know more on this subject, you can find it in Dark and Bloody Ground: Early Kentuckiana on Amazon.com.

Friday, January 1, 2021

Why I Wrote "The Ghost of Pelfrey's Bend"

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 complete in itself, but characters in it continue a life begun in An Exile from Atlantis, also available in a shorter, more romance-oriented version as Thistledown.


The Ghost of Pelfrey's Bend is avaiable from Amazon.com and other on-line book vendors.