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Book of Days

By James L. Rubart

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Summer 1853
A stone slammed into the side of Hassun’s head, sending him to his knees. Pain exploded like lightning and streaked down his back as he slumped forward onto his hands. Careless. His moccasins must have left a trail. Foolish. How could he have let that happen?

Have to move!

His assailant’s next attack would most likely be to his ribs. Hassun spun to his left, sending up a thin curtain of dust from the ledge overlooking the cliff, and caught the man’s dark leather moccasin as it flashed toward his face. Hassun twisted his attacker’s leg and the man sprawled on the ground, his head inches from striking a rock.

Not close enough.

The man leaped to his feet, stepped back five paces, and snatched a bow and a pine shaft with a brilliant black arrowhead off the ground. By the time Hassun staggered to his feet and shook his head, the man had nocked the arrow.

“Nukpana? Why?”

“You are surprised?”

“You were my friend.”

“I am still your friend and ever will be.” Nukpana drew back slightly on the bowstring, the arrow pointed at Hassun’s chest, and laughed. “Do not worry, I am not going to kill you. I could have done that easily with a larger rock a moment ago.” He released the pressure on the bowstring and stroked the arrow’s white feathers.

“You never could hide your tracks. I only need to know where the Stories are and I will leave you.”

Hassun should have seen it. The rage two summers past when he was chosen guardian instead of Nukpana, then the false praise for having been given the honor. Being badgered almost daily ever
since in a half-joking, half-serious manner about the location.

“And if I do not tell you where they are?”

“I will see how much pain you can endure before you die. But know before you join our ancestors, you will tell me.”

“The Stories are not for your eyes.”

“But they are for yours?”

“I am not the one who made that choice.”

“And who is?” Nukpana pierced the tip of his forefinger with the point of the arrowhead and a drop of blood seeped out.

“You know.”

“But those who chose you are gone, and the understanding now only remains with you.”

Hassun nodded, his long black braids hanging over his muscled shoulders.

“What if something happens to you? Another must retain the knowledge.”

“That is not for any man alone to decide. You know this also.”

“Think, Hassun. We could use its power for so much good. Together. You and I. Blood brothers since our youth. We could wield the insights and foretelling it offers to—”

“No. That is not its purpose.”

“If you will not tell, then give me the stone.” Nukpana spread his feet wider, one in front of the other, renocked the arrow and drew it back.

“I cannot. Even if you do not yet know how to decipher the markings, it would be the same as telling you.” Hassun massaged the small stone that hung from his neck on a thin leather cord under his buckskin shirt. “You know this.”

“Enough. Give me the stone.” Nukpana drew the bowstring back further, his first two fingers turning a deep red where the string bit into them.

Hassun stared into Nukpana’s eyes as he lifted the stone from around his neck and let it hang from his upturned palm.

“Yes, throw it to me and there will be peace between us.”

“No.” Hassun wrapped the cord around the stone and closed his fist around it.

“One more chance. Tell me where the Stories are or give me the stone. Either one and you will live. Now.”

Hassun closed his eyes. “For You, I choose.” He opened his eyes and gauged the distance between Nukpana and the edge of the cliff. Three paces, maybe four. The distance might be short enough.
Nukpana would not shoot to kill, only to maim. “As I have told you already, it is not possible.”

“Is it worth your life?” Hassun drew in a deep breath and whispered, “Yes.”

“So be it.”

Nukpana drew back fully on the bow at the moment Hassun lunged forward and sprinted toward his friend, little puffs of dust rising from where his feet dug into the ledge above the cliff.

Nukpana’s fingers loosed the arrow and time slowed. As Hassun hurtled toward the arrowhead streaking toward him, he hurled the stone over the edge of the cliff. Nukpana’s head snapped to the left to follow the arc of the stone against the blue sky, shock splashed across his sun-browned skin. “No!”

The arrow entered Hassun’s chest just above his heart, making him stagger, the darkness of unconsciousness rushing into his mind. No, he wouldn’t give in.

Two paces to go. Yes. He would make it.

Nukpana turned back the moment Hassun slammed into the bigger man, driving him back, then over the edge of the cliff.

Sound vanished as Hassun wrapped his arms around his friend and the forest floor spread out below him.
“I have protected that which was entrusted to me. Now I come.”

Chapter 1
Cameron Vaux stepped into his dad’s room and tried to push the regrets into a dark corner of his mind.

They’d never go on the backpacking trip he’d planned for his dad’s fiftieth birthday. Never take the sailing trip from Seattle to Alaska. The cruise around Italy would be a grand intention never fulfilled.

The what-should-have-beens had vanished.

Just like his dad’s mind.

It had been a year since his dad knew who Cameron was. The doctors said the grains of sand still in the top of the hourglass were few, which made the call he’d received that morning from one of the nurses surprising.

“Your dad is more coherent than we’ve seen him in a long time. He keeps saying, ‘I need to see him now. Right away. I must tell him.’ But when we ask who ‘him’ is, he says he doesn’t know. We’re guessing it’s you.”

Cameron stood just inside the door, stared at the back of his dad’s graying head, and watched him study the business section of the paper as he’d done his whole life. Pouring over the stock charts to see who was up and who was crashing. Ready to steer Cameron’s economic choices down the straight and financially rewarding. His house and his healthy IRA were due to his father’s fiscal acuity and passion to share what he’d learned with Cameron.

He sighed. There would be no more lessons on navigating the investment waters.

“Hey, Dad, how are you?” Cameron eased over to the windows and pulled open the beige curtains. Early May sunshine filtered through the emerald leaves on the maple tree outside and filled the room.

His dad sat next to the window in his dark blue leather chair, feet propped up and covered with the Washington Huskies slippers Cameron bought him last Christmas.

“Well, I’m still alive. It’s so good to have you here.” His dad adjusted his glasses and squinted. “Now tell me again who you are . . . ?”

“It’s me, Cameron. Your son. You asked for me?” He couldn’t help hoping the tumblers inside his dad’s mind had magically clicked back into place, and he could have one last conversation where his dad knew him. Please?

His dad set aside the business section he’d probably read twenty times already that day and stuck out his hand. “Put ’er in the vise, pal.”

Cameron took his dad’s hand and cried out in mock pain. “Ahh, wow, you haven’t lost your strength, Dad.”

His dad smiled, a hint of water in his eyes. “You know, sometimes I look in the mirror and say, ‘Hey, you
old buzzard, what are you still doing here?’” His dad’s eyes lit up and he laughed like stones skipping on a pond.

“You’re not old.” Forty-nine was not old. Certainly not old enough to have a disease that made Swiss cheese of his dad’s memories.

“We’ll be home before dinner at this pace.” His dad nodded.

“Yep, we’re making good time.”

The familiar sadness tried to rise from Cameron’s heart and
smother his mind, but he blocked it. He didn’t need the emotion.

He didn’t need tears right now. There had been enough of those
over the past six years to fill Puget Sound.

“The nurses said you needed to see me.”

“Well, it is so very good to see you.”

“They said you needed to tell me something, Dad.”

His father lifted his glass of orange juice and toasted Cameron.

“Have I told you how proud I am of you?”

Cameron smiled, closed his eyes, and let the words sink in. His dad used to say those words ten times an hour two years back, but the frequency had dwindled to almost nothing. It was a gift to hear the phrase again.

Cameron glanced at the pictures on the walls. Of family. Of friends. Of his mom and dad playing tennis when they were first married. Cameron picked up a photo sitting on the coffee table of his mom and dad swimming across the Smith River in the redwoods and drew his finger across the surface of the glass.

“I miss her so much.”


“Mom.” He held out the frame for his dad to see.

His dad took the picture and stared at it. “That’s me! Isn’t it?

And who is that with me?”

Cameron closed his eyes and sighed. Not mom, he couldn’t let his dad forget her.

“It’s mom. You have to remember her. You loved her very much.”

“I did? And what did you say her name was?”

How could he forget the woman he’d been married to for twenty-seven years? Yes, the disease, but their passion for each other was the type that nothing should ever be allowed to steal. There had to be something he could say to trigger his dad’s memories of their love.

“Camping in the redwoods. The Big Rock. We went there every year till I was ten. You can lose all the other memories, but not of her. You have to remember Mom. You always said living without each other would be a Siberian existence.”

“Okay, and I’m living here with you right now, pal.”

Cameron slumped into a chair next to his dad and dragged his teeth over his lower lip. “Where have your memories gone, Dad?”

“Well, I don’t know, but you’re here and I’m so glad you stopped by.”

Cameron stared into his dad’s eyes until his father looked away.

“Are they lost forever? Maybe when this life is through you’ll get them back. Maybe you’ll find them in whatever comes next.”

His dad smiled, the hint of laughter playing at the corners of his mouth. “Heaven is coming, you know.”

“You looking forward to heaven, Dad?”

“Oh yes, indeed. He’s coming for me.” His dad glanced around the room until his gaze settled on Cameron. “Well, I’m glad you’vecome by, but remind me again, how are we acquainted?”

Cameron’s chest tightened and he tried to smile. “I’m just a kid who loves his dad with all his heart.”

“That’s good. Very good.”

Cameron scooted his chair closer to his dad and leaned forward.

“I’m sorry, Dad. Sorry you have to go through this. I don’t think I could handle getting this disease of yours. I’d be tempted to end things early, you know? Did you ever consider it?”

Not a chance. His dad would have obliterated the thought the instant it appeared. “At least you have your God-thing going on, so you feel like you know where you’re headed.”

“God is so good.”

“Yeah.” If only God was real. Maybe He was, maybe He wasn’t. It took a leap of faith to believe, his dad always said. But how could you know for sure before leaping? And Cameron wanted to know.

A never-ending circle.

Cameron picked up the myrtlewood cribbage board that sat on the coffee table next to his dad’s chair. “We played a few hundred on this board, didn’t we? Or was it a few thousand? I’d love to play one more game. Wouldn’t you?”

“We could play now if you like.”

“Should I set up the board?”

His dad grabbed Cameron’s hand and smiled wide. “Tell me exactly what are we doing here today.”

“Talking. Just two guys hanging out together talking.”

“And you are?”

Cameron set down the board, rubbed its smooth surface with his finger, and circled the word Finish carved into the end of the wood. “The product of an awesome father.”

Outside his dad’s room an orderly’s tennis shoe squeaked on the linoleum as she passed the door. At the sound his dad jerked his head up and his eyes cleared.

“When it starts happening to you, you must find the book with all your days in it, Cameron. It might cure you. Do you understand?”

Cameron raised his head. “What did you say?”

“When you start losing your memories, you must find the book. Everything will make sense to you then. Find it for me, will you? Promise me you’ll find it.”

“Are you with me here, Dad?” Cameron’s mind reeled. He couldn’t tell if his father was lucid, but his eyes were clearer than he’d seen them in ages, and the countenance of his face said he knew exactly what he was saying.

“Did you know you can see the future? I saw it once. It’s not a real book, of course. I even touched it, when I was a kid. Did you know that?” His dad rubbed his hands together and chuckled.

“Of course you didn’t. I never told you that. I never told anyone except one person right after it happened. People would have thought I was crazy. But that doesn’t matter now.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Do you understand? Find the book, Cameron.” His dad took Cameron’s face in his hands. “Did you hear me? The book of all days. Find it for me. Find it for you.” He released Cameron’s face and rubbed his eyes with the palms of his hand.

Cameron shook his head, as if it would cause his dad’s words to make sense. Was this real? Did Dad have any idea what he was saying? “Why do you think it will happen to me?”

“Not a question. It will happen; it will. I’ve seen it.” His father patted Cameron’s hand. “I’m so sorry.”

Cameron blinked and a trickle of fear wound through his mind. He wasn’t ready for a conversation out of Alice in Wonderland. “What is this book? Where would I find it?”

His dad grasped Cameron by both hands and nodded once.

“You know what I love about us? We both have beautiful blue eyes.”

Cameron leaned in. “Why do I need to find this book?”

“You know what I love about us?” A smile lit up his dad’s face as he squeezed Cameron’s hands. “Both of us have beautiful blue eyes.”

“Stay with me, Dad. You just told me I’m going to start losing my memories like you and about a book I have to find. Where is the book?”

“Well, I’m very proud of you, you know.”

Cameron let his head fall back and he closed his eyes. It was over. No matter how hard he tried to massage the conversation back to whatever this book was, and why his dad thought Cameron would get the disease, it wouldn’t happen. He wanted to have one last conversation with his dad about the important things in life, so why did he end up with his dad rambling about nonsensical things instead?

A few minutes later Cameron let it go and told the story about the two of them skiing from nine in the morning till ten at night up at Stevens Pass without a break.

“Do you remember the next day? We couldn’t move!”
For the next half hour Cameron didn’t stop the tears when they
pushed out and didn’t stop the laughter when his dad talked about
some random comical event from decades back.

After the light outside his dad’s room had grown black, Cameron slid his arms around his father and whispered in his ear, “I love you, Dad. Always have. Always.”

His dad held him for a moment, then patted Cameron on the back and took him by the shoulders, a wide grin on Dad’s face, moisture in his eyes.

A week later his dad was gone.

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