By Benjamin Davis
Welcome to “What Happened When Frank Died.” In this column, for as long as I’m allowed, I’m going to kill Frank. Like—a lot. Worse, every two weeks, he will then be subjected to a multiverse of afterlives: absurd, funny, brutal, depressing, wild, creepy, heart-wrenching afterlives. Some will be based on existing theories, some on my own demented imaginings. In each, Frank will begin anew, searching, as always, for his lost family in the messy business of the many potential Great Beyonds. Frank (thankfully) does not remember his past-afterlives. Yet, attentive readers who pick up clues along the way will be able to solve the mystery of what happened before Frank died.
A vast field opened up before him. He looked around, left then right. He frowned. To his left was a green plain of roaming hills. To his right, a landscape of nightmares. For as far as he could see, a squirming, wriggling desert of fat worms stretched ahead. Frank moved closer to it. His vision wasn’t great. But still, it couldn’t be. As he got closer, the sound started. Skin on skin, bone knocking against bone. It was an endless field of writhing hands, all sprung up from the earth. Frank wretched and staggered backward. “Ugh – oh god!” Then, from behind him, he heard, “WEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!”
He spun on his assailant, but it whizzed past him. First one, then another; then there were a dozen or so. Poodles — a whole pack of tongue-wagging, fluffy poodles. They dove one by one into the sea of fingers and began rolling around. The fingers clawed at them — no, not clawed. Frank took a step closer. The poodles were all on their backs and sides, rolling, eyes lolling as the hands scratched and scratched: their butts, their ears, their backs. Frank couldn’t hear the gnashing of skin and bone, but instead, the field of hands was humming. It was a light tune, encouraging, and without lyrics. It was almost as if the string of notes was saying, over and over, Whooooosssaaaagggooooooddddboooyyyywhoooosssagooodddboyyyy.
“Fuck this!” Frank cried.
He turned; he ran. In the distance, dogs barked. For a long while, he ran across the green hills. When he got tired, he walked. While he walked, he tried to come to terms with what he’d seen. He decided this must be someone else’s heaven. Maybe everyone had individual afterlives and he’d just stumbled into some old dog lady’s fantasy. That had to be it. Then, straight ahead, there was a Boston terrier rolling about in the grass. Frank approached it. He clapped his hands gently.
“Hey, boy,” he said.
The Boston terrier stopped rolling. It turned to look at him.
“Hey there, buddy. Where is your owner, huh?” Frank continued getting closer. “Where the hell am I? Huh?” he said in a light tone.
The Boston terrier was frozen in place. Then, without warning, it dashed off, barking like mad.
Frank straightened up, grumbling after the dog.
“What the hell is going on?” he asked the cool breeze. It didn’t respond, so Frank walked on. It was only a few minutes later that the ground began to shake. The grass cowered against the mob of dogs that came from Frank’s left. Frank didn’t move.
When they got close enough, he saw how unfriendly they looked. He began running. But, as soon as he turned to run, he knew his escape attempt was fruitless. Dogs poured over the field on all sides. Frank raised his hands in the air. Within seconds, he was encircled by a sea of fur and teeth.
“Uh,” Frank managed, hands still up.
One of the dogs stepped forward, a great mastiff. “What are you doing here?” it said without a hint of an impediment.
“Whoa,” was all Frank could say.
The mastiff pawed the ground and growled.
“I repeat, what are you doing here?” it demanded.
“I, uh, you, hm. I died. But, what’s going on? I’m sorry. I’m as confused as you.” Frank put his hands down, but a growl from behind him made him raise them again.
“This is not your heaven,” the mastiff said.
Frank looked around. “Yeah, yeah, I gathered that. What do you want me to do about it?”
“Leave,” the mastiff growled, simply.
Frank scratched his own head. “Yeah, about that, I uh, don’t really know how I got here. I can’t, I guess.”
A Chihuahua stepped out from the circle to Frank’s right. It looked up at Frank. “We have suffered your kind for our entire lives. This is our reward. We can pee whenever, wherever we want. The food is plentiful. The finger field scratches our bellies. And here, there is no such thing as scraps!”
A few dogs in the crowd howled appreciatively.
“Stuff him in a purse!” a white Pomeranian cried from behind the mastiff.
Frank felt himself choking back a laugh.
The Chihuahua walked closer to him. “You think this is funny, human? Would you like to put a choke collar on me? Maybe we should put you in a collar. Huh? I think we should eat him and be done with it!”
Frank stopped laughing. He backed away from the Chihuahua.
The mastiff stepped forward. “We’ll put it to a vote!” he cried. “All those in favor of helping the human find his way out of this place, in peace!”
There was a shuffling of fur in the wind, yet not a sound was made. The mastiff looked sad.
“Very well,” he muttered. He turned to Frank. “I am sorry for—”
But Frank never heard what the mastiff was sorry for. The sky broke open. A small woman with tied-back brown hair and a plain face descended, white-robed, and landed next to Frank. She brushed off her robes.
“Hey!” she said, smiling and giving Frank a little wave. She had a face for shoe commercials — so plain, so nearly featureless, that it could remain in the background of any shot without causing distraction.
“Uh-huh,” Frank said.
The woman gave Frank a thumbs up and turned to face the crowd.
“My apologies, pooches!” The crowd of dogs began humming with fury. “My bad. Dropped this poor soul off in the wrong spot. No offense, I do hope. I’ll be off with him now. If you have any complaints you can make them to your representative at the head office.”
The woman grabbed Frank by the arm.
“They never make complaints,” she whispered. “No thumbs,” she added, wiggling her own and giggling.
Frank took one last look at the Chihuahua; a hatred deeper than emptiness poured from its eyes.
Frank shrugged, then, vanished.
Benjamin Davis has stories & poems in 25+ literary journals like BOOTH, Hobart, Maudlin House. His first book of poems, The King of FU (2018), was such a smashing success it shocked the indie press who printed it into an early grave. He is now working on his first six novels.