He just stood there. He stood there in the morning air, in the darkness of an alley, contrasting to the vibrancy that the sun showered the rest of the town in. The book in his wrinkled hands filled Ben with a strange sense of dread.
“Are you going to take it or not?” the man uttered through frustrated words.
Ben hesitated before speaking.
“Oh, what the hell,” He grabbed the book from the mysterious man’s tight grip. “It’s just a book.”
Ben separated the pages, when the old man slammed it shut.
“Don’t turn to page two-ninety-one.” He urged.
Ben thought of asking him a number of questions. He looked down at the book, and back up at the old man, before realizing he had just vanished. No sound of footsteps, or a car engine running; just vanished.
Ben took the man’s word, despite the confusion eating up at the logical side of his brain. He spent most of his day trying to make sense of it all. Who was the man in the alley? Where did he go? And what the hell was on page two-ninety-one?
The sun began to set on the hills of the city, and stores began to close. Ben arrived home, greeted with the smell of autumn air that engulfed his yard, and kitchen. It was a warm greeting back from that gassy, city smell he was so used to coming home from.
He waited to curl up on the sofa, and read whatever that strange book had to offer
“Honey,” Ben shouted to his wife, Jo. “I’m home!”
Jo rushed to the kitchen with their baby boy in her hands.
“What took so long?” Her words sounded distressed and overworked. “I’ve been calling. Did they make you stay late again? Traffic? Whatever. Sebastian missed you, I’ve been trying to calm him down all day, he’s just been crying and crying an crying and everyth-”
Ben took baby Sebastian into his arms, and hushed his wife with a one armed hug.
“Hey, no worries,” Ben consoled Jo, looking into her warm brown eyes. He hesitated to inform her of his strange encounter, as she already seemed worried and stressed. “Just...traffic.”
“Well,” Jo let out a sigh. “This little man and I have a trip to grandpa's to attend to, right little man?”
She gave Sebastian a smile, and seized him from Ben’s grip.
“Well then hurry before traffic gets worse!” Ben urged. “And call me when you get there safe, alright?”
“I will, I will.” Jo reassured.
Just as the door shut, Ben stormed to the couch with the book. He lied his feet on an armrest of the couch and rested his head on a pillow. He nearly separated the pages of the book, before a wave of anxiety abruptly swept over him.
He couldn’t explain why, but that same strange sense of dread overcame him upon opening the first page. The first few pages were blank, but the next page was something odd and sinister. Ben couldn’t comprehend if what he saw was real. An old, vintage image of Ben when he was first born was cropped into a small square in the center of the page. Below it, was a caption reading, “June 1st, 1982 marks the day Benjamin Bailey Moore is born.”
Ben was at a loss for words. He hesitated for a moment, debating if he even wanted to see what the next page held. He made up his mind, and decided to not give in to curiosity. Something about this book felt wrong. He theorized it may have been a scrapbook from a stalker he may have had. This turned his stomach an unsound way. He slammed the book shut, and tossed it right in the garbage. He carried on with his life, deciding to clean up a bit to take his mind off things.
An hour or so of washing dishes and mopping floors had passed, and had passed with him never taking his mind off of that god damned book. He couldn’t take it anymore. The curiosity that swept over him had eaten him up, and pushed him to the breaking point. He had to know what the hell this was.
With a disgusted look on his face, he stuck his hand in the garbage bag, and felt around for the book, until he found it, and placed it onto the counter.
He spent a considerable amount of time flipping through the pages. Each and every one of them was like the one he had previously taken the discomfort of reading. He got what he expected. He spent hours reading pages upon pages describing his life events in precise detail. They were always accompanied by low quality photographs of them when they took place. He flipped through images of his and Jo’s marriage, Sebastian's birth, Jo’s mother’s funeral. He flipped through his own traumatic memories of middle school, the bullies, and even the day he first met Jo back in freshman year of high school. It was like his own personal history book, and it made him sick.
Ben had nearly forgotten about the old man’s warning. Getting further into chapter four, he landed on page two-eighty-eight, where a photo of him reading the book was printed onto the page, with the caption reading, “on the day of October 18th, 2017, Benjiman can see me.” Ben nearly vomited, but couldn’t stop reading, until he thought he may have to, soon.
“Don't turn to page two-ninety-one” the old man’s words echoed in his head.
He was getting closer with every page, but he refused to take his chances. He wouldn’t let himself see that page. Something about him seeing his future, even his near future felt deeply wrong to him, and left a sinking feeling in his chest.
Ben’s stomach churned with each page he turned before, but one left a particularly sick feeling in his stomach: Page two-eighty-nine, chapter four. There was a slightly blurry photo, including his wife and son, with a look of horror sweeping over both of their faces.
“On a trip to her father's house,” The page began, “Josephine (Jo) Emma Moore, and her son, Sebastian Bailey Moore, had passed away in a fatal car accident.”
Unsure how to feel, Ben threw the book onto the ground, leaving it’s opened pages to turn whichever way the wind blew them in. He wanted to believe this was some sick joke, that he was not laughing at. He wanted to believe this wasn't real, and for the most part, he didn’t, even though he knew he couldn’t explain this. He wondered how could there be an entire novel based around his own life. None of it made sense, but the more Ben thought about it, the thought of this being a prank made even less sense. The fact that there were photos of each of his memories could not be explained. He panicked, and grasped his cell phone. He called Jo, even if it might have just been feeding into the pranksters brilliant plan, and giving them what they want.
“Hi!” Jo’s voice said on the other line, filling Ben with relief.
“Oh thank G-” Ben sighed, just when Jo’s voice cut him off.
“You’ve reached Josephine! I’m not here right now, but call back, or leave a message, ‘kay?”
Ben’s heart sank to his stomach. He dropped the phone, and took a walk in a repetitive circle, with his hands tightly gripping his head.
Hours of this had went by, and Ben hadn’t heard a peep from his cell. He called Jo persistently, but time declined him a response more and more, leaving him at a loss of hope. He lied on the couch still filled with anxiety, and looked at the book, contemplating if it was truth or not. It had to be. Though he wanted there to be, there was absolutely no doubt in his mind it was. He couldn’t be naive anymore. Every event the book recorded was accurate, and he knew there was no reason why this one would be any different.
His emotional crisis was interrupted by a sudden knock at his door.
He could see the flashing of red and blue lights out of his windows, and he felt his heart skip a beat.
After a long period of hesitation, Ben accepted the dread that stood with him and opened the door.
“Benjamin Moore?” A tall man in a cop uniform spoke with apprehension.
“That’s me.” Ben muttered, teary eyed, already knowing what to expect.
The tall man turned his head to his partner, a man of shorter stature, as his partner spoke hesitantly.
“I’m so sorry, sir.” The other cop began. “We’re here to inform you of the tragic crash involving your wife and son. We’ve found the driver responsible. It was a truck with no license plate. He got away with before we could do anything. His truck was dented bad, so I’m sure he won’t make it too far. I’m very sorry, sir...your family couldn’t make it. You have our condolences.”
Ben was speechless. The emotions racing through his mind couldn’t grasp words caught in his throat to fit them. He shut the door, without a word to the cops, and listened as the cars drove away, and the blue and red lights began to fade.
Ben didn’t know what to feel anymore. Grief, confusion, and questionable anger ran through him like a waterfall. He was angry at the man who gave him this goddamn book, even though deep deep down, somewhere inside of him he knew this would have happened, regardless. He let out screams, and tossed plates across the kitchen. The home’s warm autumn smell no longer felt comfortable, but only served as a reminder of the febreze Jo bought to give it that smell. Feelings of guilt, and desperate needs for closure chewed up his soul when he thought of how he never thanked her for considering such detail. He never thanked her for keeping Sebastian clean and fed. He hadn’t told her how much he cared for her in so long, or how much he appreciated the clean floors, and that goddamn autumn smell. He began to think of how his chance was lost, as well as all meaning he had ever given to why he did the things he did. He went to work for that family every goddamn day, and came home for them every goddamn day. He woke up for them, and breathed for them. He lived for his family. Now, the only thing giving his life the slightest drop of meaning vanished in just a day.
Moments of Ben contemplating the easy way out passed, when a truck pulled into Ben’s driveway. It didn’t have a licence plate. The driver was a familiar man, but a mysterious one.
“This is it.” Ben muttered to himself, oblivious to the man outside his window. His hands were gripping each strand of hair with stress.
He took hold of his belt, and wrapped it around a hook on the ceiling. He stood anxiously onto the surface of the coffee table, and wrapped the belt’s free end tightly around his neck, and without second thought, leaped from the coffee table, into the air.
For a moment, vision was clear, before his eyes could only make out a blur when the last thing he could see was the book, as the wind turned the pages as it blew.
It flipped to a page toward the end. On the page, there was a photo of Ben’s suffocating body swaying from the ceiling. The caption read “October 18th, 2017 marks the day of Benjamin Moore’s passing.”
Ben could still make out a number in the corner of the page. he desperately looked closer. It read, “Page 291”.
He could also make out the familiar face of the old man standing outside his window, staring at him, leaning against his dented truck. They stared at each other, in Ben’s final breaths, as the old man gave him a smile, and mouthed five words, “Did you like the ending?”