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An Original Story: The Book of Life


Almost a decade into this writing experiment, I might be ending it. I am going to post some of my WIP stories for you.

He received a call on a Monday morning from a number he did not recognize. Habit initially led him to ignore such a call as more often than not it was someone complaining about his department, some outside person who was dissatisfied with one of his people’s performance and took it upon themselves to call and demand this person be fired. In a job such as he had, as a person in charge of transportation for a school district, the public was never satisfied; never. Either the bus stop was too far away from their house, or their innocent child had been hit by or had not hit another student on the bus, or another of a hundred different scenarios played out daily would be shouted into his ear complete with various vulgarities and demands, threats and promises to “call the school board” and get both the driver and himself terminated immediately if the situation was not settled to the parent’s satisfaction. How he dreaded calls like these as without fail they were the direct result of a single parent household whose adult was anything but an adult and refused to hold their child accountable for anything. The world had changed and not for the better.

The ringing continued and as he looked closer he saw the number wasn’t local at all. In and of itself this meant little as with the advent of cell phones and their ability to be utilized any and every where a number from Alaska could be used by a person next door. Reaching a decision and drawing a deep breath he picked the phone up and answered it. The voice on the other end was not a parent, but it was an unusual voice. It reminded him of a time long ago with its distinctive burr and the conversation was filled with strange words and pronunciations. A few minutes later, he set it down on his desk and turned to look out the window.

After another ten minutes of contemplation spent looking with unseeing eyes at the parking lot in front of his office window he reached a decision. Turning back to his desk he picked the phone up once more and made a call, this time to his superintendent where he detailed the need for several days off due to a death in the family. Leave was granted effective immediately and he closed up shop, locked his door and left instructions with his secretary and assistant on how to proceed during his absence. Then he headed out the door and home to explain to his wife that he needed to go on a trip back East.

Seated in the office of the attorney on a leather chair that probably cost more than he made in a month, he tried to get comfortable but comfort was not coming easily. The call he had received two days ago had informed him of a distant relative he knew nothing about, one from a branch of his family he had been completely unaware of. He sat waiting for the reading of a will from a man he didn’t even know.

Finally, the attorney ushered him into his inner sanctuary and bade him be seated on yet another leather chair. Settling down, he looked expectantly at the attorney and waited as the details of the unusual situation were given to him. It appeared as though he was the last of the line, the final male heir to this deceased gentleman who had never married, never sired a child in his eighty odd years. It turned out that this man was the brother to a great-grandfather he had never known on his father’s side. His father was an orphan, so to find that there had been others in the family was surprise enough and to learn that one had been alive his entire lifetime another.

As the attorney droned on detailing this and that about how and where the surprisingly large amount of money left to him had come from and should be used he sat unbelieving: he could quit his job, his wife could as well and they could live, if not a life of luxury then one of comfort. The attorney coughed slightly, as if to gather his attention for something important. Leaning forward, he gave his utmost attention what the man was saying.

“And finally I come to the most important portion of this last will and testament, that of the book kept by a family member, detailing important events of the keeper’s lifetime and those gone before, to be passed down to the youngest surviving male heir at the time of the keeper’s passing.” And with this, a large leather-bound ledger-style book was brought out from below the desk and placed gently upon the blotter on the desk. Looking at it closely he saw it had once been dark green but had faded with the years. Gold lettering still remained on the front in a language he failed to recognize. The spine was cracked but not too much so; as if it had been hidden and kept from view for the majority of its life. Reaching tentatively towards it he brushed his fingers over the words imprinted in gold on the front and read the words, sounding them out in his mind.

“An Leabhar Na Beatha.”

Shaking his head he looked back at the attorney and acknowledged his final words to keep the book safe from all harm and to pass it along at the proper moment in time. Realizing the reading was now complete, he rose and made as if to reach across and pick up the book. A hand landed across his and halted his action; looking up into the eyes of the attorney he heard him say “The time will come when you need to pass this along to the next person in line. We stand ready to assist, as we have assisted for more than three hundred years. Remember us and call when the time is right. Our firm stands ready, as it was for the man you received this from.” With that, the hand removed itself from his and allowed the book to be picked up by its new owner. As he turned to leave he heard the man say “In case you were wondering what the words mean, they are Gaelic for “The Book of Life”. When you read it, you will understand. Fare well.”

As he made his way home he continued to caress the leather covering of the book, finding it comforting to the touch, as if it was familiar. How could it be, he wondered; he had only learned of his ancestor two days ago and only seen this book today. But still, something was tickling his memories…

Once back in his hotel room he sat down on the bed, kicked off his shoes and made himself comfortable. Putting his glasses on, he picked up the book and opened it to the first page. There he found a handwritten dedication, or declaration of what was to follow.

bheith Seo An Leabhar na Beatha do Clan Gilbert, in ainm MacCubbin. Gach a leanann an stair an saol an teaghlaigh Sir John Feargus MacCubbin, a rugadh 1602, a fuair bás 31 Iúil sa bhliain dár dTiarna 1686. Bealtaine anam.

Unable to make heads or tails of this strange language, he closed the book and laid it on the table beside his bed. Once home, he would begin to try and decipher it and find out what he had been given and what it meant to he and his family. In the meantime he would get a good night’s sleep for the first time in months and let tomorrow take care of itself.

He took the final day of the week off and spent the weekend going over plans with his wife. They had lived where his job took them and once the wire transfer of funds was complete decided to live, for once, where they wanted. Rather than live in the bleakest portion of the country surrounded by miles and miles of land so flat the horizon was hundreds of miles away they decided to live on the Eastern seaboard area, in or around Virginia. History had always fascinated him and his wife had been born in Maryland so this was a natural fit for them. Over the weekend they spent time looking at real estate online and making plans; plans to move and plans to leave their jobs in short order. She would remain for a few weeks then take what vacation she had saved up while he would give notice Monday morning then take his own vacation time. The years of toil and hours spent working while virtually every other district employee was enjoying time away from work left him with little to no regrets to leaving unannounced. And so, Monday morning he marched into the Superintendent’s office, laid down his two week notice and notified the school board of his intent to take two weeks’ vacation effective immediately. It was not well received. He did not care.

He began his attempt at translating this strange language called Gaelic. Using a translating program he found online, he typed in the letters and words then sat back, waiting for their meaning to appear on the screen. It didn’t take long.

“This be The Book of Life for Clan Gilbert, in the name of MacCubbin. All that follows be the life history of the family of Sir John Feargus MacCubbin, born 1602, died July 31st in the year of our Lord 1686. May he rest in peace.”

He was astounded. Here was a book detailing the life history of a branch of his family he had been completely unaware of only a few days ago. Written down as it happened throughout history, a journal of the past. Some 400 years of the past.

It took time to enter the passages of this strange language into the program, but it was work he enjoyed. As he entered, then read the translation, he came to be able to read them as they were written and not have to painstakingly enter them one letter at a time. This facilitated a more rapid reading and understanding of what was detailed, and he became truly fascinated.

A part of him wondered if a more detailed account of the past existed anywhere in the world. This was literally a journal kept by his ancestors over four centuries, telling little details about large happenings in history. Things like leaving Great Britain and sailing to the New World in the early 1600’s; the struggles and triumphs that took place among those who challenged themselves. Events such as the Salem Witch Trials took on a whole new meaning when reading from one who witnessed them. Little things were noted as well, things like the market in town, the struggles that led to leaving their homeland for a complete unknown and even how wells were dug and stabilized so the village could have water without relying on a river he found incredibly interesting. And he continually shook his head as he realized, this was his family involved in this. His ancestors.

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