Why Frank Went Searching for a Towel

By Benjamin Davis

Credit: Nikita Klimov, @ni.nikita.ta on Instagram


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.


Content warning: This story contains discussions of suicide.

Frank died.

The table was set.

His son sat across, a blue-eyed, sandy-haired boy of four. He looked up from his chicken. His wife, Sara, sat to Frank’s left. Frank smiled; she was wearing a blue dress.

“Can you pass the potatoes?” Frank asked across the table.

“Why did you let them take me?” the boy asked.

Frank pointed to the potatoes. Then stopped. He looked at the boy again. The boy’s face was slack.

“What?” Frank said, slowly.

The boy cocked his head to the side. “Why did you let them take me?”

Frank put his fork down. He stared at it, then back up at the boy, who took a bite of chicken. He chewed with his mouth open — big, slow chops. Frank didn’t scold him.

“This isn’t right,” Frank said. He looked down at his wrists. There were gashes down each. They were wet. They started to leak. Frank turned to the woman.

“Why did you blame me?” she asked, a bit of salad stuck to her tooth, second to the left.

“I—” Frank felt his body heat slipping from his wrists. He felt light-headed.

“Why did you let them take me?”

Frank ignored the boy. He got to his feet, shook his head, and walked over to the sink to splash water on his face.

“Why did you blame me?” his wife called over the running water.

Frank reached for a rag but couldn’t find one. The blood from his wrists was getting all over the floor.

The boy stood up. “Why did you let them take me?” he asked.

Frank felt cold, icy.

The woman joined in. They both stared, unsmiling.

“I’m sorry,” Frank told them.

“Why did you let them take me?” The boy asked.

“Why did you blame me?” the woman said, like an echo.

“I’m sorry!” Frank said, louder. Then, looking at his wrists he cried, “Where are the fucking towels!”

But they took no notice.

“Why—” they began, almost as one.

Frank drowned them out. “I’m sorry!”

“Why—”

“Shut up!” Frank ran to the bathroom.

They stood in the door.

“Why did you let them take me?”

“Why did you blame me?”

There was no sadness, no anger, no fear in them; their voices were flat, they only stood, and they only asked as Frank tore open cabinets searching frantically for a towel.

There was nothing. Not even a floor mat. 

“Why?” They both asked. “Why, Frank?” “Why, Daddy?”

Frank slammed the door in their faces. They began banging on the door. They began calling out, louder; then the scratching began. They were trying to claw their way through the door, moaning at first and then screaming through the cracks:

“Why did you let them take me?”

“Why did you blame me?”

“Why did you let them take me?”

“Why did you blame me?”

“Why did you let them take me?”

“Why did you blame me?”

“Why did you let them take me?”

“Why did you blame me?”

“Why did you let them take me?”

“Why did you blame me?”

It echoed off of the bathroom tiles and into the bath where Frank curled up, holding his ears. The whole room rattled. 

“I didn’t! Shut up! Shut up! It wasn’t my fault!” he screamed back at them. This went on for hours before Frank drew himself out of the tub and went to the mirror. Without bothering to protect his hand, he smashed the glass. It fell into the sink in little pieces. He reached down and sifted through them for a long sharp piece. When he found one he picked it up and placed it to his wrist. Just before he cut, he looked back up into the mirror. But there was no mirror, no hardboard backing, no wall. There was a hall — a hall with black-bricked walls. There were voices coming from either side. He stuck his head out. Along the hall, there were black doors. Screaming and crying filled the air. It was so loud that he could barely hear David and Sara on the other side of the door. He couldn’t hear them at all. 

He pulled his head back into the bathroom and turned to look at the door. It was no longer closed. David and Sara stood there; their fingernails had been ripped off and blood poured down their hands onto the floor; their twin blue eyes had been scratched out; thick, dark scribbles in the sockets where they’d been.

“Don’t leave us again, Frank,” Sara said.

David held out his bloody hands toward Frank and said, “Stay. Dad, stay.”

“You aren’t you,” Frank told them. “You can’t be.”

They looked like they might cry for a moment, and then they began screaming. 

“NO NO NO NO! NO NO! NO NO! NO NO!” They moved toward him. 

Without thinking, Frank crawled up onto the sink and pushed himself out through the mirror, into the hallway. He fell onto the floor and scrambled backward, looking back through the hole, getting ready to fight these imposters if he had to. But they didn’t move. They stood in the crooked, shattered frame and stared out at him, frozen. They could have been a photo.

“I’m sorry,” he said. He turned and began making his way down the dark hall. Along either side, there were windows of different sizes. Some were as small as the one he’d crawled out of, or smaller — some were so large you could easily walk through them. All of them looked in on different things — different people. In one, a man was being held down by three young women as they whispered into his ear. They were poking him and he was crying. Frank stopped and watched. Everywhere they poked, the skin would sizzle and go black. The man cried and screamed but the women continued to whisper and poke and giggle amongst themselves.

In most windows, people were crying or screaming. Some looked into empty spaces, but even as he passed, he could hear that somewhere inside, something evil was happening. 

The further he went, the deeper he went, the more he felt like someone was watching him. There were no turns to take, no corners to hide around, nothing to do but walk and watch through the windows, hoping for something that might give him a way out. 

There was one, the size of a door that looked into a rustic wood cabin. There was something odd about it. Frank couldn’t put his finger on it at first. He looked inside — there was an old woman sitting on the chair beside a bed. A small bed. She was humming to a little boy who was sitting up in the bed, staring at her. He was four or five and his face was blank. 

Then Frank realized what was odd: neither of them was crying or screaming. The boy was saying something and, as Frank got a bit closer, he began to make it out. He was saying: “Why’d you let me die? Why, Mommy? Why did you let me die? You killed me, Mommy?” 

The woman just kept smiling and saying, “It’s okay, I’ve got you, Charlie. Off you go, baby — shhh.”

“You killed me, Mommy.”

“That’s right, baby.”

“It was your fault.”

“It is time for sleep now Charlie, come-come. I’ve got you now, don’t I?”

Frank wasn’t certain, but the boy seemed to be annoyed at the old woman for not being upset. He kept rephrasing his words and tone.

“You couldn’t take care of me and I died.”

“Yes, baby.”

“Because of you!”

“Never again, baby — never again.”

 The woman was smiling. Her old wrinkled face was full of joy as she patted the legs of the tormented boy and stroked his cheek and looked into his blank eyes.

Frank moved on.

Benjamin Davis is the author of a novella, The King of FU (Nada Blank), and shorter works appearing in Star 82 Review, Maudlin House, 5×5, Cease, Cows, and elsewhere. More of his work can be found at benjamindaviswriter.com.


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