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 plain-faced, middle-aged woman with pulled-back brown hair was shaking Frank’s hand. She was white-robed. Frank looked down. He, too, was white-robed.
“Welcome,” the woman said. She had a clipboard tucked under one arm.
Frank looked around. A great expanse of nothing looked back at him from all directions. Frank pulled his hand away from her. He frowned.
“Welcome to what?”
She looked down at her clipboard like a student who’d been caught off guard with a question they knew they should have the answer to.
“Hello?” Frank pressed.
The woman looked up. “Hm…Death?”
“Are you sure?” he asked.
She shrugged. “Pretty sure.”
Frank rubbed his hands together. “Uh-huh, okay.”
“Sorry, man,” she said, “I’m just here to assign you your job, so let’s go.”
She turned and began walking away. Frank walked slowly after her.
“A lot of work. So much–too much–so much work, work, work, lots to know,” the woman muttered as they walked. A split in the nothingness opened in front of them and they stepped through. Frank and the woman found themselves in a park. People milled about with clipboards, making notes with short black pencils.
“This is you,” the woman told Frank.
“Your job is, it seems,” she looked down at the clipboard, “counting the number of feathers on that family of ducks over there.” She pointed.
Frank saw the duck family. There were seven of them, all frozen in place beside the pond–one with its wings unfurled, about to take off.
“Excuse me?” Frank said.
“Those ducks over there. You need to count how many feathers they have, individually, then, as a group.”
Frank looked hard at the woman.
“Bullshit,” he decided.
“Charlie!” the woman called out, ignoring Frank’s remark. She went back to studying her clipboard. Frank turned to see a large hairy man crouched over a patch of dirt straighten up and jog over. Frank couldn’t help staring. This new man had taken his white robe and rolled it up to his belly button. He came and stood in front of the woman. He smiled at her, then stood with his hands on his hips. He was not wearing any underwear. He winked at Frank.
“What do you think of the new fashion?” Charlie asked the woman.
She glanced up from her clipboard, did a double-take, then stared.
“Oh, for the love of God, Charlie!” she scolded.
He wiggled his hips. “So what can I do for you, robot lady?”
“I’m not a damn–” she closed her eyes a moment, composed herself, and finished, “robot. Look, I don’t have time for this. This is Frank.”
She shoved the clipboard into Charlie’s hands. “Figure it out.” Then, she stepped sideways and was gone.
Charlie held the clipboard in one hand, rolling his robe back down with the other. “Duck feathers, huh? Lucky you.”
Frank crossed his arms. “What is going on?”
“Omniscience, you know, knowing everything.”
“I know what omniscience is. What does that have to do with this?”
Charlie shrugged. “Well, it seems that we collect data, for, you know, God. I guess.”
“Well, nice to meet you, but I’m leaving,” Frank said, starting to walk.
Charlie caught up with him. “Wouldn’t do that.”
“Why is that?” Frank asked.
“Well, you’ll just get reassigned. I walked away from my first job and they had me categorizing different shades of dark in musty old cellars for a year. And that’s not the worst of it. I met a guy who spent three years counting all the hemorrhoids in New York City. Now that, my friend, is hell.”
Frank slowed. “If that is hell, what is this, then?”
“Something to do? It’s not so bad. We get breaks and no one really seems to care how long a job takes. God exists outside of time and all that. Seriously, if you fight it, you’ll regret it. And sometimes you can even make requests if you’re working hard.”
Frank stopped walking. He looked around. The people carrying clipboards seemed happy enough, chatting, laughing. It was a nice day.
“What sort of requests?”
“Better jobs. Categorizing brands of strawberry ice cream, or counting nipples at a fashion show, maybe. Or, I don’t know—”
“Is everyone doing this, like, everyone who has ever died?”
“As far as I can tell. I met a guy in a cellar in Chicago counting discarded pennies who claimed to be Dante Alighieri. Doubtful, but, maybe.”
“So, if I do this job, could I request being on the same job as a family member?”
Charlie thought about it. “I don’t see why not.”
Frank snatched the clipboard from Charlie’s hands.
“Those ducks over there?”
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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