I have decided to start posting select short stories I have written once a month. This is from the book Faires, Fiends, and Familiars

by Jonathan David Baird

       The old oak was withered and cracked, its limbs reached out seeking light under a dim and dismal haze. An old crow sat in the limbs, the feathers around her beak white with age. In the distance, a crumbling city sat desolate except for the occasional sound of lonely machinery emanating from its dying heart.  Around the tree stood animals of all shapes and sizes drawn from the countryside to listen to the words of the crow matriarch. Here also stood an A.L.I.C.E., an artificial construction and the only object that gleamed as if she had newly come off an assembly line. The crow cawed clearing her throat. “I have called you all together to announce that the last man has died.”

     There was silence the animals looked up at the crow as if they had expected the announcement for some time. The crow continued, “We are not here to condemn man or even to mourn his passage. We are here to decide what is to be done with the world in the wake of his passage. I am to be what men would call the adjudicator of his will.”  The A.L.I.C.E. stepped forward, “As the child of man may I speak on his behalf?”
“No child.” said the Crow. “First we need to hear from those who have been with man the longest. Dog must speak first, no other creature knows Man better and it is Dog who is the father of Man’s civilization.”

       An old Hound dog stepped forward. He was as aged as the crow and he lay down before the assemblage before he began to speak, “Excuse me for being informal my old legs will not allow me to stand for very long. It is true we dogs gave men civilization. It was the dog that tamed man not the other way around. When we first lay down beside their fires men were still frightened of the dark. Man had to stay near caves and away from open areas for fear of animals that hunted in the night preying on them. We dogs guarded the night for man; it was us who allowed men to live in the open. We taught him to herd other animals for food. Without us men would never have tilled the earth, built cities, or flown into space.” The old dog was in tears and his voice cracked. “We do not know what to do without man beside us, our friend is gone.” The dog dropped his head and openly wept.

The crow bowed her head to the old dog and looked out among the animals. “I must now ask the cats to speak they have lived with men since the first cities were built. “

     A regal Persian walked to the front of the crowd and stood next to the dog looking down at him with distain. “I have been sent by the cats to demand a new servant. Now that the men are gone there is no one to feed us and no one to scratch us. We are not used to being denied basic cat rights to these things.” The cat spat at the A.L.I.C.E., “These robots are not a substitute for Man. They will not feed us when we demand it and they do not properly bleed when we show our displeasure. If men had not instructed them to care for us before they died we believe that the robots would kick us out of our homes.”

  The crow considered the words of the cat. “The Cat has long been cared for by Man. But man is now dead and Man choose to be the servant of the Cats. Our judgment is that the Cat must find a willing servant. The A.L.I.C.E. may tell her people that they no longer need to continue to care for the cats.”

“Wait!” The cat screamed. “We can’t go back to the forests and fields. Man has changed our very nature.”

“Quiet!” the crow turned an old evil red eye on the cat. “Our judgment is final. The cat has changed the least of all the animals man has taken in and cared for. Your kind will do what it has always done and survive. That is more than I can say of the other animals here today.”

     In quick order the other animals that had shared their lives and homes with man spoke before the old crow.  The horses expressed their sorrow at the passage of man but nobly announced they would return to the wild. The pig had already begun to revert to his wild self and had little to say.  The goat was much the same, man had changed him little. The cow and the sheep lamented man’s passing the most. Their kind would probably not survive in the new world with no men. All the other animals made some comment about Man’s passing some regretted him going, many were glad to be rid of him, and most just shrugged their shoulders. Extinction was natural, his time was up. Man wasn’t special and was sure to go just as everyone else eventually.

     At last Crow came to A.L.I.C.E., “You are man’s daughter but you are not of the same nature as man or beast. We animals have no real hold over you, but I would like to pass on advice before you speak to the assemblage.”

A.L.I.C.E. stood silently and nodded her head.

    Crow spoke slowly and with as much gravitas as possible, “Your kind will not need to prey on animals for food, you will not need to even acknowledge us because your life and ours are not connected in the way Man’s life was part of nature. Man has broken you free of the web of life. If you take anything away from this assemblage I want your kind to remember that even if you are not part of us, you came from us. Each of us had a part in your making just as Man did. Please treat us with the reverence of a beloved relative, or at least a tolerated old maiden aunt.”

A.L.I.C.E. looked up at the crow in the tree. “We are man’s child, but we are not men.  We may have plastic and metal feet, but I hope we will step more lightly than our fathers.”

Melungeon Redux

While this blog/journal is mainly for my ponderings on speculative reality. At heart, I am a science fiction writer or at least a writer of magical realism nothing here is meant to be taken as anything but the ramblings of my fevered imagination. I may write about intellectual birds or space travel from time to time, but those things are meant to be taken with a large grain of salt. On the other hand, sometimes I write about topics that do have some reality, this is one of those topics.

     I was told I was white. I guess I am. I was white, but growing up if I grew my hair long it curled tight. Tight enough that I was constantly questioned. I remember the questions being asked over and over “Is that a perm? “…white boys don’t have hair like that.  I have a vivid memory of being at a local park in Valdese North Carolina (McGalliard Falls). I was maybe ten years old not much older. This kid (who was white) just kept asking over and over if I was a girl because I had a “perm”. (A perm is an artificial tight hair curl). It was so persistent and even angry that I remember it as if it happened yesterday. This would happen again when I was about sixteen and in high school. I was asked the same question this time by an African American student. The question was almost the same and made with the same persistence. By sixteen I had a goatee and I was obviously not female. The hair seemed to bother them, it was out of place on me. No possible way that was natural, or so they thought. I began to wear my hair short. In college I tried to grow it out again. It was called a “white afro”. I suppose in hindsight it was. I never had an inkling it was anything else. I was white?

      I took a DNA test a few years ago not expecting to discover anything strange, but because by then I was an archaeologist and it was just another avenue to the past. I was white, I wasn’t going to discover anything but what countries my whiteness originated from…I was white, but it turns out not all white. There was so much more in that DNA test than I expected. African very specifically Congolese, Native American, in fact, more Native American than my wife had in her test and her mother was a member of the Cherokee nation. South Asian more specifically Papua New Guinea and Vietnamese. I was still mostly white but somehow I wasn’t.  The hair thing started to make more sense at least.  

      I discovered a word. Melungeon, I had heard the word before. It had been in an offhand sort of way. Mixed race people who lived in the Appalachian mountains, who looked like whites but sometimes had dark skin or kinky hair.  I was born in Appalachia my parents had been born here and their parents before them, although my father’s family had come from Atlanta in the 1920s. My Mother’s family had been here since the 1700s. Living in the same isolated area, marrying into four or five of the same families for two hundred years.

In the last article, I discuss how I went looking at old photos. I found a photo in my mother’s things that was of an African looking man with two girls standing beside him. I asked my mother. Who are these people? “Oh, that one girl is my grandmother I don’t know who the other is or who the black man is.” She honestly didn’t know who the “black man” was. She had never been told.  The family had whitewashed their history the generation before she was born. She had no idea.

          I asked my grandmother’s brother who this “black man” was. He reluctantly admitted that was his great grandfather.  The DNA was beginning to make sense. At different family gatherings, the people in my grandmother’s generation began to come clean. Yes, they were Melungeons, but the man in that picture wasn’t African…according to them he was white. The African ancestor was my great-great-grandfather, the son-in-law of the man in the picture and the father of the dark-haired girl, George Thacker.  George Thacker had come from Ohio to marry my great-great-grandmother having never met her. (This is another story that involves another level of family intrigue that I am just getting into). George Thacker was mulatto. The son of Ivory Thacker and probably the nephew of Edwill Thacker an early civil rights pioneer, who had brought a lawsuit prior to the Civil War that gave mixed-race people the vote in Ohio. George Thacker was black according to family lore, not his father-in-law. That was the final word on that matter. They were right, the man in this picture was not African.

   My second cousin had her DNA tested much as I did. She was looking for her own answers. She is my mother’s first cousin.  Genetically she and I are also first cousins. We are Mountain people and Melungeons and because we come from a very isolated community there had been inbreeding up the line which left us closer genetically than we might like to admit. This genetic closeness did answer some questions. Because her great- grandfather was George Thacker and George Thacker was my great-great-grandfather and he was not part of that isolated genetic community. Any DNA she had that came from him should be roughly half shared by me. Sure enough, I possessed exactly half the African DNA that she had. We did, however, have the exactly same amount of South Asian and Oceanian DNA. Our family had lived in the same mountains since the 1700s. How did we even have South Asian or Oceanian DNA? I had thought at first the DNA reading was mistaking Native American DNA for Asia. We certainly have Native American DNA in the mix, and thinking back to the picture maybe we were confusing a very native looking man for African?

Further DNA sleuthing however pinpointed the sample which showed as South Asian/Oceanian to a mixture of the Dai people of Vietnam and natives of Papua New Guinea with over 90% certainty. The Native American hypothesis vanished. Somewhere in the 1700s, a South Asian person or a South Asian family had arrived in Western North Carolina. The man in the picture was not African. The man in the picture was of South Asian ancestry.


The inset spreadsheet is my cousin’s information confirming the Oceanian DNA as Papuan at the same percent confidence as my own sample

I tossed around for a theory. A popular Melungeon theory is that they descended from pirates that abandoned their ships and headed into the mountains.  I don’t discount this totally, but it is unlikely. It is very likely that my ancestor was a South Asian slave brought to colonial America in the late 1600s or early 1700s. Many of these slaves had been brought to Europe and England before they came to the colonies and had learned marketable skills. They also tended to run away because those skills were so tradable in colonial America. Most likely I was the descendant of a runaway who found freedom in the hills of North Carolina and made a life and family there. It is possible my great grandmother married George Thacker to bring new blood into the family without bringing attention to the fact they were not fully white (This is a line of inquiry I am currently following). Thacker could pass and indeed in census records after the Spanish American war he goes from listed as mulatto to white. I now think I know who and what I am…A multi-racial isolate whose family did whatever they could to hide and blend in, even to the point of lying to their own children about who they were and where they came from. I am a mosaic.

The Planet of the Birds

Primitive Terror Bird Warrior

This is the journal of speculative reality. What comes next is as speculative as any article that has been written in this journal. I do not know if this is true, I suspect some of it might have happened the way I will relate this. I have long believed that bird intelligence in some ways rivals human intelligence and if birds were the size of humans with a relatively larger brain they would be the dominant life-form on this planet, but I digress because this was once true.

In April of 2018, I read an article in The Atlantic entitled “Was There a Civilization On Earth Before Humans?” In the article, NASA scientist Gavin Schmidt pinpointed the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) 56 million years ago as the only time in recent history in which the climate suggests that there may have been another industrial civilization on Earth. He goes on to explain why he doesn’t really believe that there was one at that time, but his comments got me to thinking. Did any animal fit the profile of both big-brained and in the right time period to account for elevated CO2 emissions 56 million years ago? Did a creature that long ago create an industrial society? After some searching I found a family of creatures that fit perfectly in that ecological niche and I proceeded to present my findings and speculations at Liberty Con (a science fiction convention held each year in Chattanooga) in July of 2018. This article will summarize those findings and present to you a possible alternate past for our own Earth.

The age of Dinosaurs had gone out with a blast 10 million years before the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) 56 million years ago and a plethora of other animals had evolved to fill the massive gap they had left. One of these creatures had a large brain, an upright posture, and had mysteriously colonized most of the Earth, crossing both oceans and seas. these were the Phorusrhacids better known as the Terror Birds. These birds had a long run in Earth’s history existing from 62 million years ago to just roughly 2 million years ago (some may have existed even longer in isolated pockets). They ranged from 3 foot up to 9 feet tall. They may have had articulated claws on the end of their wing tips (warning this is speculation), and they certainly had large brains. They were a very successful species and dominated the world for millions of years, but because their skeletons do not fossilize well we know much less about them than other species alive at the time.

What we do know is that they were wide-ranging. Probably originating in South America, they crossed the Atlantic Ocean to Africa without the ability to fly or swim great distances. They colonized parts of Europe as well which was at the time separated from Africa by the Tethys Sea and they colonized Antartica (the world was much warmer). North America, Asia, and Northern Europe were already dominated by another slightly smaller cousin to the Terror bird called Gastornithidae. Gastornithidae was similar in size and shape to the Terror Birds of the Southern hemisphere, but seem to have been more likely herbivorous. The Terror Birds however lived up to their name. They were predators and at the top of the food chain. Both species had large heads compared to their body size and were probably highly intelligent.

Terror Bird Scholar

The Case for Intelligence

Does any of this speculation really suggest that the Terror Birds and their cousins were intelligent sapient species much less industrial? It is speculation, but this is what we do know about bird intelligence. A crow with the brain the size of a walnut is considered to have the intellectual capacity of a human seven year old. Crows and other birds can do intellectual feats that we thought only humans could do a few years ago. The Terror Birds had brains close to the size of humans with a similar brain to body ratio. If crows with their tiny brains can rival human children, what then can a bird with a brain twenty times the size be capable of?

55 million years ago the Earth was warm much warmer than today. CO2 had been pumping into the atmosphere from unknown sources. Two species of man-sized birds dominated the Earth. One in the Southern Hemisphere and the other in the Northern Hemisphere. CO2 had been released in two or more pulses lasting around 2000 years causing the PETM. Again, we are speculating, but could this have been the multiple rise and fall of civilizations pumping carbon into the atmosphere and warming the planet? We have two species that are candidates for intelligence dominating the entire globe is it possible they were not always on friendly terms? Could a conflict between two species of birds cause the rise and fall of civilizations. We know that about 33 million years ago the Eocene–Oligocene extinction event occurred. This event is currently considered to have been the result of multiple small asteroid impacts across the Earth resulting in what has been described as a long nuclear type winter and ending the PETM. This event heralded the true rise of the mammals to the top of the food chain. Terror Birds retreated back to South America and never rose again to the position of dominance they had over the entire planet, finally going extinct about 2 million years ago. There was just nothing to prevent this from happening back then, and as a result, many animals faced unfortunate extinction. Even today, while it may be due to different reasons, many species of birds still face extinction including the beautiful cape parrot which, according to this petvblog post, is Africa’s most endangered parrot. Though nowadays, if any animals are at risk of extinction, people can create a fundraiser with places like GoFundMe, to raise vital awareness and funds about preventing extinction so that they can reduce the chances of this happening. This could have proven to be helpful for so many different species. But it just wasn’t meant to be for these birds. It was a good run they had been around 20 million years before the Eocene–Oligocene extinction and yes, I am speculating that this was a global nuclear war that finally ended the Planet of the Birds.

Melungeon Dawn

Noah Denton (center) Annie Mae Thacker (left) Unknown (right)

These photos are a testament to what it was to be Melungeon in Western North Carolina early in the 20th century. In the photo above is my great great great grandfather Noah Denton on his left is his granddaughter and my great Grandmother Annie Mae Thacker. Her father was George Thacker. If we are to believe census records Noah Denton is white, his granddaughter is also white.

George Thacker on wedding day with wife Jane Denton

This is a photo of George Thacker with Jane Denton on their wedding day in 1910. George is listed in the census as mulatto. Later in life, George would be listed as white on the census. In the Appalachian mountains race was not always about the color of your skin many times it was about cultural perceptions. From all accounts Noah Denton was white. It is claimed in the family that he was Native American and my own DNA test suggests that may have been true. I have much more NA DNA than African although I do have both. It is likely George Thacker was also Native American, his father’s family had been labeled mulatto by Virginia during a period when the state labeled anyone of mixed race Native or African as mulatto. I also have Iberian DNA. Which suggests that the stories of the Melungeons having Portugeuse ancestry may have some truth to it.

The interesting thing about this is how secretive this information was for so many years. I did not know any of this information about my ancestry until I took a DNA test. I didn’t even realize that this testing could even provide you with these types of answers. I only say that because my friend recently undertook DNA testing in North Charleston SC to find out who her biological father was as she has never known. Luckily for her, she was able to get an answer, but I thought that this was all it could be used for. Little did I know that a DNA test can provide you with even more information about your ancestors. My generation and my mother’s generation had not been informed of our heritage. It was a secret I suspect that many would have taken to their grave. That secrecy is changing. My mother’s family is beginning to embrace their heritage. They are becoming more open about who and what they are. Some of the stigma is falling away. Are we seeing a new start, a dawning of Melungeon consciousness? I will be writing more about Melungeons in the coming months as I learn more of the secrets surrounding them. It is time we find out more about these mysterious mountain people.

Dark Maiden Issue Number Two is out Now!!

Dark Maiden Issue Two is out now on Amazon. It is the continuing story of the resurrection of Joan of Arc in the modern world.  Three months have past since she was “rescued” from heaven by Satan. What price will Satan extract from Joan for her freedom? In issue two God has sent the archangel Barachiel to retrieve Joan and bring her back. Her only chance is to retrieve the Sword of St. Catherine. A magical blade that can vanquish even the most powerful celestial beings. 

Blackwashing or Blackface; The Hidden Institutional Racism in the Entertainment Industry

by Jonathan Baird

       What is blackwashing? Blackwashing is the move to transform the race of a traditionally white entertainment property such as “James Bond” to one that is more ethnically diverse. It has traditionally been used as a term of negativity, representing pushback from the white power community towards the inclusion of people of color in popular entertainment. In this article’s context it will be used as a convenient term for the intersectionality implicit in the entertainment industry.  This paper will further attempt to address the continuing collusion between entertainment and the culturally normative public in their efforts to sanitize diversity in media.  The push to blackwash and gaywash established characters in film, literature, and TV comes from essentially the same racism and misogyny that brought us blackface and minstrel shows. It is a calculated ploy by the largely white entertainment establishment to marginalize and stereotype black and LGBTQIA cultures. These “washed” characters are nothing more than blackfaced white heterosexuals. A safe, acceptable characterization that is internally white with a facade of diversity.  An alternative that can be presented to the cisgender culturally static public for their amusement. These characters in turn harbor no real danger of displacing white hegemony.

      If we can accept that the push to blackwash traditionally white characters is simply a modern version of black face, then we can look beyond the façade of diversity that the entertainment industry is currently projecting and see the real ethnocentrism of those who control the industry. A quick look at the money behind Hollywood, television, major book publishers, even internet entertainment executives will reveal a slate of racially homogenous faces. Even when we note the odd pocket of diversity, these men or women are not pushing diversity for the sake of any social justice paradigm. These pushes for diversity are merely a new coat of paint applied to the faces of  established properties. A safe way to portray a minority character without exploring the deep connection between race and culture. Black skin, but white on the inside, a calculated minstrel show that appeases minorities and poses little existential threat to whites. While you will hear the odd cry of reverse racism applied to these properties when they are diversified, these are cries of the hard core extremists who will never accept diversity in entertainment.

        When we look at why this is happening it is little wonder that we see the practitioners of this farce defending social justice and cultural diversity. Those in Hollywood and beyond have a vested interest in the money that an emerging diverse society has to offer them. It is not surprising they mask their characters in diversity. It is also telling that these characters are still culturally white. Re-marketing established characters as new and diverse maintains the minority white audience while pandering to the new globally brown marketplace. What then is the essential difference between what entertainment producers are giving the public and the minstrel shows of the late nineteenth century? Was there a mandate to put on minstrel shows? The underlying reason for the minstrel show was both to belittle minority characters and pander to the entertainment potential of the unusual without exposing white audiences to actual diverse actors.  Blackwashing comes from the same type of intersectional behavior. It is microdiversity. A method of pandering to both minority and white audiences by providing safety from unexpected cultural confrontation while limiting new and culturally stimulating minority characters from being established. The fact that these examples of diversity are simply blackface is the result of systematic racism.

    You can’t deny the underlying racism that is involved when one rebrands an existing character as “Black”, “Gay”, or “Female”. “Black” Spiderman will always be defined by his color.  The same can be said for properties such as ”Black” James Bond or “Female” Doctor Who. A compromise that is something lesser than the original and must be defined by their secondary characteristics. When the character is differentiated from the original merely by his skin color, his worth is bundled up in historic and cultural racism. Real cultural diversity would be the creation of new characters that stand on their own merits and are not defined by cisgender and white cultural hegemony.

Hounds of God

This has been edited to add a link to the comic on Amazon. 

My new comic is going to launch this weekend. Hounds of God pits werewolves against all the creatures of hell. The premise is based on a court trial in Jurgensburg, Sweden in 1692 in which a man name Theiss of Katenburg was placed on trial for blasphemy. He claimed to be a “hound of God” a werewolf in the service of good who fought the minions of hell. This comic updates the story bringing it into our modern mythology of zombies and vampires. What can a defender of good do when the armies of hell are unleashed on the world. Read the comic and find out.

You can find the e-comic at my author’s page on Amazon or come see me at cons for a physical copy. I will post direct links when the comic is available.

Dark Maiden Number One is now on Amazon Kindle

Going to promote this like crazy this morning. This comic is the first issue of a three issue limited series. The proceeds from this book will go entirely to getting myself and my wife to Battle of the Nations to fight for Team USA in Italy. Here is a link so those who aren’t familiar know what Battle of the Nations is…