The Next Page

Paul Cheshire

A man is seen unpacking boxes in a semi-decorated room; he has just moved into a new home. We see him acclimatizing and, finally, setting out into the street, buying groceries and having a look around.

A few days pass and he is exploring the area further. He notices a small bookshop and enters.

He nods a polite greeting to the slightly camp elder gentleman he gleans to be the owner and begins casually browsing. After a little time passes he finds himself drawn to a raggedy jacketed old book; upon closer inspection he is shaken to find it purports to be a biography...of his own life;

ÔMichael Rouse: An Autobiography'.

Looking inside he reads the opening details, his birth date with all facts present and correct. Immediately he seeks the attention of the shopkeeper and asks where it's from.

__(Shopkeeper)__ 'I'm terribly sorry but IÕm afraid I don't know sir. You see we either buy books in bulk or order when asked by customers...and we have many donated. This is a very literary area, we are often greeted in the morning by a fresh pile of novels, plays, fairy tales etc left on our doorstep' (it is a posh, sleepy village/ Greenwich type place)

(Examining the book) 'That's an old book by the looks of it; it's in a terrible condition isn't it? (To colleague) 'How ever did we miss this one Gerald?'

(Gerald) 'Let's have a look' (examines it)' Well I haven't seen it before but then we have so many books coming and going it's hard to keep track. It's not as if we really have a system here after all (Pointedly) do we now Oliver?'

__(Shop keeper/Oliver)__ ' Well some of us are too busy whilst others spend far too much time browsing the markets rather than going through the stock.Õ

Gerald dramatically tuts and glares at his colleague/partner, turning away to get on with looking busy.

The customer (Michael Rouse) pays for the book, takes it home and begins to read it.

Everything is exactly as he remembers, factually correct. He is avidly reading but also shaking. He stops prior to the moment that he reads about moving to the area he is in now. He puts the book down and is clearly quite frazzled. He is afraid to read beyond this section as it dawns on him that, at some point the narrative will supersede the present.... and then what?

For days he is sleepless, uncertain whether this is a blessing or a curse; knowing what happens next in one's life could certainly be seen as an advantage upon which one could gain...well, something. But, yes, but...should one know? Surely this was in itself foreboding; tempting. Perhaps it was a test or a trap. Oh it was all far too confusing.

Equally it had not escaped his notice how little of the book there was left, which had, beneath it all been the main body of his fear and concern. Surely at only 43 years old and a relatively healthy man who did not smoke, drank responsibly and thanks to a good education and a well paid job in the media was able to afford only the freshest food. Surely he had plenty of years left in him? Perhaps he would perish in an accident of some sort ...or maybe foul play? His demise was (he felt) inevitable.

After a week or so under his duvet Michael Rouse emerges with a wild-eyed look. Scrabbling for the book he flicks back to a section detailing the time he was bitten by an Alsatian at the age of ten. Madly he tears at the page and rushing over to the oven, lights a ring on the gas stove and sets fire to the paragraph . He looks at his scarred right hand as the section turns to floating charred nothingness; the scar begins to fade and, eventually, disappear! A wide grin spreads across his face; maybe this IS a blessing.

He repeats this activity (ripping out sections already read) over the next few days, all with positive results. Eventually it dawns on him that, if he can change the effects on his body from the past, perhaps he can change effects on his body in the future; perhaps even cheat death itself.

He begins to consider ways in which he could approach this; ask a friend to read up to the point of his death and then, destroy that section perhaps. He concludes this would either leave the friend thinking he was mad and/ or risk the friend using the knowledge against him; too risky. He could read ahead up to the point of his own death, but how would he know it was coming? What if he got too far and it unexpectedly occurred? Or he stopped a little too late and was crippled for the rest of his life if not dead? Oh the irony then!

He decides that, as there are so few pages remaining (judging by the thickness of the book) that he cannot afford to waste anymore time deliberating; he must take action. He decides to tear out the last two pages of the book, as he conclude this is at least hedging his bets and gives him some chance of cheating death at best and, at worst, would not remove too much of his life, whether his attempt to cheat death fails or succeeds.

He tears out a the last 2 pages at the end of the book and, looking away until he has scrunched them he drops them into the sink, pores lighter fluid on them and throws a lit match upon them. As the flames flicker the scene ends.

The next scene sees an exact repeat of the opening scene in the bookshop where Michael Rouse discovers the autobiography. Events play out in exactly the same way, but as he leaves, having paid for the book we see the second bookseller approach his partner/the shopkeeper.

(Gerald) 'Where has that young man gone, is he in the back? '

(Oliver) 'He's just left the shop, didn't you see him?'

The second bookseller Gerald turns dramatically and hurries to and out of the door.

We see him from outside the bookshop hollering at Michael who is determinedly disappearing up the street and out of earshot.

(Gerald) 'Sir, sir! We have Volume 2 of that autobiography you were so interested.... oh, bother! He's gone.' (Returning indoors) 'Do we have another copy of that book, volume 1? We're never going to shift this book without it!'

__(Oliver)__ 'Oh you're always so dramatic, IÕm sure we'll happen across another and we can sell them as a pair'

(Gerald) 'No wander we never make any real money. Honestly, I don't know why I bother sometimes.' (Gazing out of the window indicating Michael Rouse) 'What an odd man!'