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.
Years passed. The end times got around to themselves.
A hand burst out of the ground. It was Frank’s hand. He groaned. He emerged from the grave, rife with dirt and maggots. He wanted to brush himself off but only walked.
He walked slowly. It gave him time to think. His first thought in many years was, “Buildings. Tall.”
And they were.
Frank found himself drawn to a group of others. They were equally dirty, equally empty-eyed; one had no eyes. Frank shuddered. They walked on, like an geriatric gang, toward the tall buildings. Frank tried to remember who he was. It hurt; the part of his brain that was Frank had been mostly replaced with a family of spiders. Someone jostled him on the left. He turned to tell the thing to watch where he was going.
“Guhhhh!” he accused the thing.
“Flehhh!” the thing apologized.
Frank accepted it. They walked on. Frank heard screaming. Something in him was pleased, almost turned on. Though he, of course, was not turned on; he’d left his genitalia back in the coffin. But the feeling persisted.
The rest of the gang seemed to share the sentiment. They all turned toward the screams. Frank, being a bit older to begin with, lagged behind. Soon, he found himself alone, wandering the streets, groaning. He felt no pain. The part of his brain that felt pain was sitting on his left shoulder, caught in his collar.
So, he meandered.
Up ahead — was it prey? It was shaped like prey — but it was slow. Frank got closer and saw that it was another thing like him. It was bigger. It was all black and burned and its ears were melted off.
“Blerrghhh!” Frank greeted the creature.
It turned. Unlike some of the others, this one limped with a bit of a saunter.
“Kherbleh,” it told him as it got close.
He decided that was this thing’s name, though he couldn’t quite decide on why he wanted to name anything. It was a decision like an aftertaste — it didn’t come from anything solid. Frank walked on and Kherbleh walked with him. They walked for many days and at some point Frank’s arm fell off. Kherbleh tried to eat it, but it was no good. Then, somewhere, something burned. Frank saw it. He tried to smell it, but his nose had left him a while ago.
This sucks, Frank thought, heading for the flames, unsure of why. He turned to Kherbleh and said:
Kherbleh came along. As they got closer, they saw that it was a fire pouring out of a metal trash can. A figure sat beside a bin, roasting something on a stick. A man. He was middle-aged. Frank felt a twang of recognition in his stomach. Something from a previous life gurgled out of him.
“Lurrrgghhhbbburr,” he said.
The man looked up, his eyes went all twitchy with panic. He began brandishing his food at Frank. Frank felt hungry. The food, which turned out to be a rat, flew from the stick. It hit Frank in the chest. Frank looked at the man.
“That was rude,” he tried to say, but instead said, “Mermuhlehhh.” He started walking slowly toward the man.
The man stopped and frowned.
“Frank?” he said.
Frank paused. Frank. He knew that word. It was a thing, a thing Frank knew he was supposed to know.
“Oh,” the man looked on the verge of tears. “Frank Morgan,” he said, again, with more confidence. “Oh, I am sorry Frank. You deserved better. I should have told you.”
The thing was making too many sounds for Frank to follow but still, he didn’t advance. Something in the back of his mind, which was actually now in the front of his mind, was trying to figure something out.
“I’m so sorry, Frank,” the man continued. He reached into his pocket and drew out a small snub-nosed revolver. He leveled it at Frank. The gun, the man, the voice… Frank felt something stir within — no, not the maggots, something else.
“Lurrrrr,” Frank tried. “Luhhhhh—” No, not that. “Loooommmmmbbuuuurrrrdddduhhh?”
The man pointing the gun froze.
“No way,” he said.
Frank tried again, “Lahhhhmbaahhhduhh.”
Kherbleh came from behind and latched onto the man’s neck. The man screamed and flailed wildly. The gun went off but the bullet missed. Frank surged forward, drawn by the insatiable hunger. Before he could stop himself, he too bit the man, right on the neck. The man, face full of shock, fell.
Oh, shit, Frank thought. Officer Lombardi, he thought. I know this man! He bent down over Officer Lombardi, holding him. Frank tried to say sorry, over and over but instead found himself taking more and more bites.
The man went still. Frank stood up.
“Oh God, oh God!” Frank tried to say. But, his mouth was full.
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.