Guest Author Spotlight

February 2020

In the Spotlight: Jonathan Byrd

Jonathan Byrd was born at a very early age. Not long after that he started to read. It wasn’t long before he decided that creating things would be a fun way to spend a life. He has written short stories, plays, comedy sketches, music, and more. One day he decided to try his hand at writing an allegory and discovered that while writing is fun, writing literature is awesome. He is nearly done with his second novel, a science-fiction story which builds upon an idea created in a short story by Jorge Luis Borges. In it he creates a discipline of engineering that plays heavily on the epic climate change novel he hopes to get back to when finished.
His influences are many and varied. One of his all time favorite authors is Douglas Adams, and there is a lot of DNA in his thinking. He has also been guided by such authors as C.S. Lewis and Arthur C. Clarke, with a dollop of Clive Cussler surfacing from time to time. Clearly one of the gems from his past though is his love of James Michener. This love is clearly evident in his recently completed (but still being edited) historical fiction story, The Seafood Capital of the World.
In addition to celebrating 28 years of marriage to his wife (who recently turned 18) Ginger, Jonathan has 3 daughters aged 22, 20, and 9. Nothing says someone forgot to disconnect the pipes like a 12 year gap between kids, but he wouldn’t change a thing if he could. Well, except for the fact that he would like to have won the Powerball Lottery a few years back, but wouldn’t we all? In his day job he works as an engineer overseeing construction projects in Bavaria, which he’s called home for 4 years. As a fifth generation resident of Biloxi he still calls the former Seafood Capital of the World home even though he’s lived in a lot of other spots by now. His “other” home is Fairhope, Alabama home of some literary greats (Flagg, Griffin, Groom, and Bragg) he aspires to one day join the ranks of. Fairhope is a town that boasts more authors than readers and everybody reads.
You can find Jonathan on Twitter @byrdmouse, or online at byrdmouse.com, where he has not only published several of his short stories, allegorical novella If, and both The Seafood Capital of the World and The Permanence of Nothing, the aforementioned sci-fi work. There are also ramblings about his travels, thoughts, and strange connections on his blog. The blog began as The Hole on the End of the Bible Belt, transitioned to A Year Without Wearing a Tie, and then to it’s current form Outside the Comfort Zone. Soon I anticipate it will simply become known as Byrd Droppings.
The excerpt below is from The Seafood Capital of the World. The main premise is an event that actually occurred, though the details were never revealed and speculation ended years ago–until Jonathan found the story in a newspaper and began this story. It is set in the Prohibition Era on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Theodore Desporte is a crotchety old man who has control of the town but his son Ernest wants to break the city free. Ernest has enlisted the help of a team of people to include the captain of one of his father’s rumrunning ships which the gang is attempting to highjack.

Excerpt From: Jonathan Byrd. The Seafood Capital of the World, Apple Books.

Middle Ground-30 July 1922

The heat came before the light, but the light just intensified the heat. The pain in his jaw was gone, but the anger in his gut continued to grow. Martin wiggled his hands, they had been bound behind him to the post that held the wheel. He could not stand straight up, but by jumping up and turning he could shift his view.

From where he had passed out from exhaustion leaning against the console he could only see the quarter deck. Craning his neck to the right he could look down the rail opening and see the main deck. The remaining crew had long since stopped banging on the barricaded doors but a new sound reached his ears.

The sharp retort of iron hitting wood. It became a rhythmic, repetitious sound then suddenly a sharper zing and the rhythm stopped. 

The sound resumed, but was slightly more hollow followed by a distinct splintering wood sound. Barreling on deck was a husky sailor from below. Martin recognized Mack Alexander, the Cargo Master. He stumbled out into the bright South Mississippi sunshine while his eyes adjusted from the dark of belowdeck. 

“Up here!” Martin called.

Alexander stopped and looked in the direction of Martin. A split second after he focused on the quarter deck he took off in a sprint to the ladder. The big man squatted and began working on the ropes while Martin started asking questions.

“How many men left below?”

Pausing his work Alexander replied, “Seven, barely enough to get her going and we won’t be heading out again. They took all the stuff.”

As his hands were untied Martin stood. Rubbing his wrists he looked around the ship. Horn Island was to the south but they were not drifting. He walked over to the side rail and looked down. Middle Ground. They had run aground on the shallow waters of Middle Ground just north of Horn Island. Looking straight north all he could see was water to the horizon but he knew the marshes of the Pascagoula River were there, but that was not where he would head. 

The other men had followed Alexander from below and were adjusting to the sun. Several had opened their shirts to take in the breeze. It was hot in the July sun but no doubt the wind felt better than the stale air that was below.

“You ever been pirated before?” Martin asked.

“Yeah, Bad thing. It was offa Freeport, we was still operating from Nassau and running new stuff the Scots had dropped off.” Alexander was checking out the equipment on the wheelhouse. “Much worse than what we have here. Those bastards cut the sails, the wheel lines, and did a real number on the engine. Took us two days of work to get her back underway. Found out later it was the Chicago group. No respect for the boat, they just wanted the booze.”

Martin glanced at the masts. The sails had been furled but not struck. From here they looked in tact but they would really only know when they hoisted them.

“Wheel’s good,” Alexander offered. “I’ll check out the engine.” He walked toward the ladder.

Martin followed him to the edge. “Looks like everyone’s out, let’s talk a second first.”

Alexander just nodded as he crawled down the ladder. The worst part was over, now to get back to it.

Deer Island-30 July 1922

The sun was dangerously high for Howell as they finished unloading the Creole. With as much product as the Sea Glen had been loaded with there was no safe way to transport it on only one ship. After the crew was subdued or recruited he had come alongside and loaded a hefty amount before heading back to Deer Island. The William Tell was still at sea with most of it but Howell and Baker had unloaded their share in the terrapin yard. The Baker boys were still shifting turtle shells over the well covered hams. Tonight they would be busy hiding the bottles in the shells to sell to the Chicago crowd that was due in later in the day. 

A customer from up north would be by with their own ships to load both the terrapin shells and a load of terrapin meat in two days. Just enough time for the boys to insert and hide the bottles. It was not the most efficient way to transport alcohol but according to the buyers, none of the shipments had been lost despite most of them being inspected. 

Howell could smell the seafood plants of the mainland. The Blessing of the Fleet that was the traditional start to shrimp season had been a week before and already the  smell of dead shrimp was pervasive. It lay as a subtle undertone to the humid air that was to be found in Biloxi in the summer. The piles of shells and removed shrimp heads were slowly beginning to grow but he wanted to leave before more ships arrived to add to the mix.

As dangerous as it was moving product in the daylight it was twice as dangerous for the William Tell sitting still waiting for Howell to return to unload more. The Sea Glen, unless Martin had moved it, was still near Dog Island to the south-southwest but Diaz would take most of the product east towards Alabama waters so he had gone just far enough to not be seen from Dog Island and waited to the south-southeast of Howell. Daylight was wasting and danger was waiting.  With one final glance north and west he waved to the crew to push off. He headed to the rendezvous. 

Mississippi Sound- 30 July 1922

A ship captain feels less like a captain when they stand on someone else’s ship and that fish out of water today was Cuevas. He had gone with Diaz before sunrise but shifted to the Creole when Howell arrived. Now they both plowed toward the rendezvous point well to the west.

Howell quietly stood beside the pilot, content to let someone else man the wheel for now. Cuevas was on the other side, both men looking for other ships. A few shrimpers went by, but for the most part it was a quiet day on the water. Perfect weather for sailing yet neither could relax yet. To the north  a fast moving ship appeared above the horizon to warrant their fears. 

“Steady,” Howell directed to the pilot. The Coast Guard colors could be seen now but there was nowhere to run, no place to hide. Acting as if nothing were out of the ordinary was the best defense.

The Coast Guard made an abrupt change of course. Intercept course.  There were no flashing lights or sirens, but Howell knew what was about to happen. The radio squawked, “Vessel ahead, this is the Coast Guard. Strike your sails, cut your engine, and prepare to be boarded.”

The pilot glanced at Howell who nodded. The well oiled machine that was the crew reacted to the non-spoken order. The pilot turned into the wind which keyed the sail master to strike the sails. While the sails were being taken down other crewmen scurried across the deck further executing the full stop on the water.

Before the two ships pulled together an Ensign jumped from one to the other. His uniform was too clean, too white, and too creased without being wrinkled. The rest of his boarding crew waited until the ships were secured together before boarding. By then the Ensign had gotten halfway to the quarterdeck and turned to see where they were. He stopped and put his hands on his hips before waving at them to follow.

Cuevas held out a hand to Howell, “Hang tight when this squid gets here. We may not be sunk yet.”

The Ensign seemed to forget he was headed for the captain and instead began directing the reluctant search team. They took off once they hit the deck but the arrogant young officer put his hands back on his hips and waited. A full minute later he realized he was still by himself and looked to the helm where the two captains stood. As he waved them down the first Coastie returned with a ham in each hand.

“Whose boat is this?” the Ensign yelled as Howell and Cuevas approached. Neither  sped up their walk even when the Ensign snatched a ham from the searcher’s hand. “Whose boat?” he repeated.

A calm Howell replied, “First off, it’s a ship not a boat and second of all, it’s mine. I own her outright.”

The Ensign reached down and cut open the ham with his pocketknife which sent the bottles sprawling over the deck. “What’s the meaning of this? The whole boat is full of alcohol!”  He shook with excitement. 

“Petty Officer!” the Ensign yelled at the nearby sailor. The Petty Officer walked over. The smiling Ensign spoke normally, “This is my first bust bu these two will fry!” He turned and pointed directing more sailors to come aboard.

“Ship, and Desporte,” Howell said calmly.

The exuberant Ensign stopped and faced the two captains again, “What did you say?”

“I said Desporte,” Howell repeated.

The Petty Officer leaned in to whisper in the Ensign’s ear.

The Ensign shifted his feet, “A-are you saying you’re working for Desporte?” He tugged at his collar as he looked between the two men. “Are you Cuevas?”

Cuevas answered, “I am. It’s his ship, but he doesn’t always sail on it.”

The Ensign had started to sweat. “Stop!” he yelled at the sailors. “Leave it be! Back on our boat, now!”

The confused Coast Guard sailors looked at the Ensign then each other before setting the hams down and slowly walking back to where they’d crossed from ship to ship.

“You should’ve said it earlier. We’re not out here to get you, it’s the others we’re here for. Haven’t you heard the whole Coast has been shut down. The Old Man is waiting for you,” the Ensign reported. 

Howell glanced at Cuevas as they all three headed back for where the inspection had started.

“Look, I don’t want any trouble. If Desporte talks to you, I wasn’t here. I don’t need a black mark to be the first mark in my folder.” The Ensign spoke faster and faster the closer he got to the gunwale. The others had already jumped back he climbed up and stood on the rails of both ships. “I just didn’t know,” he said.

The two ships started drifting apart while Howell glared and Cuevas just stood stone-faced. The Ensign almost slipped instead of jumped back on his boat. “Full=steam ahead! Get out of here!” he shouted at his own pilot.

The two captains stood there and watched as the ships separated. Without turning Cuevas said, “You turning me in now? Protection from the Coasties ain’t cheap.”

Howell looked at Cuevas, “I never said which Desporte.”

Mississippi Sound, 30 July 1922

The William Tell had not gone far before Diaz could tell they were riding too low in the water. With this much cargo on board there was no way to reach the drop-off point. As he climbed the ladder to the pilothouse he said a quick prayer of thanks for the calm, cloudless night and crossed himself.

Diaz had not dared to turn on the engines yet because the sound would carry further than could be seen and that would be a tip-off to anyone else out on the water. No other ships could be seen but that did not mean much when he had been running without lights most of the night. Both the Sea Glen they just left and Howell’s ship the Creole were out here running with lights off and on intermittently. He glanced down at the sails. The light breeze filled them nicely but he could only sail before the wind because the boat was too loaded down. When he had tried a broad reach the slight waves washed over the gunwales. It had not been enough to cause a problem but prolonged sailing at that point would change that fast enough.

Squinting he peered into the night craning for any sign of the Creole. The plan had been to sail to the south of Ship and Horn Islands but the wave action there was increased so he kept to leeward. The Coast Guard cutter had been too close before the heist so it had to still be in the area and that made radio communication risky. Down on the deck he could see some of the extra crew they had been hired for the transfer. Each of them kept alternating between watching the cargo stored on deck and the water. The way they shuffled around and shifted from one foot to the other he could tell the crew was nervous, too.

As Diaz went back to scanning the horizon he  heard a splash. He whipped his head down to the deck near where the noise had come from. Another splash, this time he saw a crewman throw a crate full of demijohns overboard. The demijohn crates were heavier than the hams and held much more. The crewmen was dragging another crate to the side. Diaz looked to the nearest deck opening, three more crew were emerging from below and headed to the panicked crewman. Joe Giminez was in front and sprinted when he heard the splash.

As a third crate hit the water, Joe reached the crates. Joe shouted something in Spanish and swung at the first man who ducked and ran behind a row of crates. There had not been time or the room to properly stow the crates which made for a mess on deck. 

Joe waved the other two crew to fan out. They circled around the crates while he cautiously moved forward. The frightened crewman yelled something else in Spanish. Joe responded likewise, calming words as he peered into the shadows between crates where the man had disappeared.

Suddenly, the scared man ran full speed at Joe. Caught off balance, Joe stumbled backwards hitting the rail but the momentum was too much. Both men plunged over into the dark water. 

“Man overboard!” Diaz yelled. One of the two men helping Joe ran for a life preserver affixed to the mast while the second rushed to the side and peered down. His job was to keep the men in sight until the ship could turn. Only this ship was too heavy to turn quick enough to help the men in the water. “Get the tender!” Diaz pointed aft where two sailors had perked up at the sounds and stood by just watching. They scrambled to get the tender free of the lines holding it on deck while Diaz sped down the ladder to the deck.

The life preserver was now free of its berth but the man who held it, Juan Perez,  stood helplessly next to the spotter at the rail. “They haven’t come up,” he said as Diaz approached. They both stared into the water searching for the men.

“What did he say, Juan?” asked Diaz.

Without looking up Juan answered, “The ship is too heavy. That’s why he started throwing things overboard. He feared we would sink and he can’t swim.”

The tender had been lowered but not released. “Hop in the tender, both of you. We can’t stop. If you find them you can catch up to us  or I’ll send word for another ship to get you. It’s too dark to see Ship Island over there,” he waved to port opposite the side the men had fallen, “But it’s there.”

Juan darted off to where the tender waited with the spotter. Diaz walked slowly back to the ladder and up to the pilothouse. Once inside he went straight to the table with charts. There had to be a closer place to unload some of this cargo.

Cat Island, 30 July 1922

It had been given a name long before Diaz sailed into it, but the William Tell was at anchor in Smuggler’s Cove on the south side of Cat Island. He had been heading west  and after the crew mishap had turned south to enter the Gulf of Mexico briefly before cutting back to Cat Island. They had underestimated the amount Cuevas had been able to haul but there was no way Diaz would risk an open water crossing with so much.

The highest point on the island was not more than 3 feet above sea level but it had a nice beach and plenty of tall pines. No one from the mainland could see it, and even if they could they were on the Gulf side of the island providing more cover. Diaz had chosen to hid the cargo on a peninsula which had enough vegetation and variation of terrain in those three feet to make plenty of hiding places and Diaz knew them all. 

Six men had come with him to stash the liquor on the island but they had left plenty on board the William Tell. The sun was racing them to the beach but as both arrived the men could see she was riding in the water where she should have been all along. The others made ready the launches to return while Diaz turned around for one last look. He was off script, none of the others knew where he was or what he had done. 

He stepped onto the launch and signaled the men to return. There was not much time to get back to the plan and daylight was burning.

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January 2920

In the Spotlight – Edmund Stone

Edmund Stone is a writer and poet of horror and fantasy living in a quaint river town in the Ohio Valley. He writes diligently, spinning tales of strange worlds and horrifying encounters with the unknown. He lives with his wife, a son, three dogs and a group of mischievous cats. He also has two wonderful daughters, and three granddaughters, who he likes to tell scary stories to, then send them home to their parents.

   Edmund is an active member of The Write Practice, a member only writer’s forum, where he served as a judge for their Summer contest 2018. His stories can be found in ‘Hush my Little Baby, a collection by Edmund Stone’ available on Amazon. He can also be found more recently in ‘A Discovery of Writers: An anthology of short stories from around the world’, the November 2019 issue of Terror Tract magazine, and has two upcoming drabbles to be released on the Horror Tree’s Trembling with Fear in January and February of 2020.

Contact: https://edmundstoneauthor.com, edmundstone69@gmail.com or visit him on Facebook as Edmund Stone, Instagram @edmundstone69, or Twitter @edmundstonehwr

This is an excerpt from the Edmund’s new novella, Lost Hope, to be released soon. Enjoy, and Happy New Year!

    My mother was a hero to me. She kept the ship in food and sustained us for many years. A skilled botanist by trade, she kept lush gardens and walked me through them while explaining the use of each vegetable or fruit, as well as herbs or roots to be used for medicine. We spent hours perusing and learning. Mother gave me my sense of wonder, and to a boy born into a vacuum, there is little to get excited about. But she made every experience better. Letting me run my hands through the dirt she obtained from Earth. She would tell me how only the best soil could be used for these gardens as they had to sustain us for the duration of the trip.

   “For thirty years this ship will travel through space and we need to be able to survive on the food produced from these gardens,” she would say. “Then it has to sustain the colonists until it can be grown on the new planet. Gage, it will be wonderful, a garden of Eden.” She may have been right, if she’d lived that long.

   My mother often said she was handpicked to guide the colonists, once they awakened, to the new planet. They would all require a way to survive the long and treacherous journey. Even though she would be near sixty-years-old when the mission was completed, it didn’t deter her. She knew what lay in store, but did she? I doubt her untimely death was foretold. If so, she never eluded to this. She had great hopes for the people and this mission. But some things can’t be predetermined, no matter how prophetic you are.

     She also tutored me in religious studies, especially pertaining to prophecies. The prophecy of the one was a teaching she often talked to me about. Handed down from past generations, it spoke of a son who would populate a new world somewhere in the cosmos, led there by a long-lost deity who left Earth many centuries ago. She flew into the heavens, never to be seen again. Mother felt it the reason she was here perhaps what she’d lived her entire life to see. She felt the deity resided on Holsinger 8c. Why not? It makes perfect sense. I think she knew, as do I, the reason we are headed to this new planet is for the fulfillment of the prophecy. She told me of a dream she had. One where I was an adult on Holsinger 8c, holding the hand of a girl. Her seed propagated the soil and grew trees with branches stronger than all the ones on Earth combined.

      “Do you see, Gage? The girl in my dream was Brielle Holsinger! The two of you will fulfill the Prophecy of the One!” she said crazily. The excitement in her voice scared me as a child. But as an adult, I see much clearer and understand why I must wake Brielle. She’s the missing piece. This ship is destined for a rendezvous with something great and I’m the son spoken of in the prophecy. Maybe my mother was chosen for this mission, not only because of her skills, but because she was pregnant. The time of her conception coincided with the selection of the people who would go. The convent she grew up in taught her to trust in the prophecies handed down from past generations. Deanna Reyes was certain I was a part of it. It all made sense to her. There was only one problem, as much as she and I was convinced of this, Jonas wasn’t on board. He scoffed at such nonsensical thinking and often said so.

      We enjoyed fun times too. She liked to read poetry to me and dress me in robes. I would stand on a makeshift pedestal, as she recited an ancient poem called Ozymandias. She said it was where she derived my middle name from. “A king of kings you will be, Gage Ozymandias Reyes!” she would say, as we laughed together.

      I often find myself reciting the poem while I sit alone in the dark and watch the universe speed by. I think of her during these times and wonder if things would be different if Mother had lived? I’m sure they would have been. The anchor holding my father’s whims in check, was always my mother. Once she died, he was left to do anything he desired. I remember the night I lost her, and it haunts me even now. I was fifteen years old at the time and more than aware of the sense of loss created by the event. That evening she tended to her garden, as she did most days; cultivating the rich soil brought from Earth. Somehow gases had built up in a small section of the garden area. By the time she realized, it was too late. The initial explosion rocked me out of my bunk. I ran toward the commotion, noticing something strange. The ship had slowed. My father would tell me later it was to extinguish the blaze. So he could release the area into space before the fire spread to the rest of the ship. He sealed the door with my mother on the other side. It made no sense, as the fire was nearly out. I was helpless to do anything, as he pushed the release button. I watched my mother floating outside the window, frozen in the dark, as the cold encompassed her. I could see her lips mouth, I love you. Then she was gone. Her body floated next to the ship for a moment and I saw her break apart near the engine. Her pieces reminiscent of frozen chunks of red meat, as they tumbled through space and over the hull of the ship. The same type of meat I would later help my father place into the freezer for safe keeping. Jonas was meticulous in the way he arranged things, whether it be the procurement of meat or anything else. He arranged for her to die there, cold and alone, away from me. I was his now and no prophecy could save me from his cruelty. My mother and father had very different upbringings and I never understood how they came to be together. But I understood perfectly how they were separated. By the hand of a cold, calculating killer. One by the name of Jonas Reyes.

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Previous Authors in the Spotlight:

December 2019 Wylde – Chapter 1 – S.E. Laughter S.E. http://selaughter.com/

November 2019My Best Mistake – Chapter 5 — Carole Wolfe https://www.carolewolfe.com/

October 2019 — The Babysitter — Justin Boote justinboote@gmail.com

September 2019 — What the World Needs Now — David Rae Davidrae-stories.com

August 2019 — Flickerings –Evie Haskell . http://www.echaskell.com

July 2019 –The Love Birds Saga I–Margherita Crystal Lotus: https://thecrystallotus.com

June 2019–Where There’s a Will-Chapter 1–Pat Leo pat843@cox.net

May 2019 — The Unholy Warrior–Rebecka Jäger Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/rebeckajager/ Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/rebeckajagerwriter/ Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/JagerWriter

April 2019 — Love is Messy (Finding You Again – Book 1)–Callie Sutcliffe https://calliesutcliffe.com

March 2019 — The Dieppe Raid — Des Dixon ddesmond@gmail.com

February 2019 — I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead–Jodi Elderton http://jodielderton.com

January 2019 — The Raven Watched–Karin Weiss https://kweisssite.wordpress.com%20%20

December 2018 — Blessed Mother, Blue Sky–Terry Chase http://www.drterrychase.com

November, 2018 — Heidi–Izzy Richards https://izzyrichardsblog.wordpress.com

October, 2018 — Darkness in the Amazon–Stephanie Colbert https://www.stephaniecolbert.co/