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.
Frank couldn’t move his arms. So, he tried to move his legs. They ignored him.
He could move his neck, though. He looked down. He was naked. He looked up. He was in a cavern, vast and dark. It was warm. He looked left.
“Hey there!” A face smiled at him. It was big, hairy. Not too old, but not young.
Frank squinted at the man.
“Yeah, I know.” The man smiled down at his own naked body. The man said something else but Frank didn’t hear it. A loud horn rang out over the cavern and the screams began. Frank felt them all around. He looked past the man and saw an endless line of black slabs with bodies of all shapes and sizes, stuck, crying out. To his right, a woman was lying, a young woman. She was crying. She screamed something, not words; something more expressive, more painful than words. Frank heard laughter and turned to see it was coming from the hairy man.
“Hey!” Frank called at him. “Hey!”
The man stopped laughing. “Yes?”
“What the hell is going on?”
“Just that, my friend, hell,” the man said, before going back to his laughter.
Then, they came. They were calm. They came to stand beside each slab-stuck body. They didn’t have faces. They had mouths. They were tall. He watched one bend over the woman to his right. It began whispering in her ear. It whispered fast and Frank could almost feel the words. Then, something sliced into him. He looked up. One of the things stood over him. It spoke in twisting, jabbing, strange words in a language Frank couldn’t understand. It had a razor blade. It began to cut.
It cut more than his wrists, it cut every inch of him. Frank didn’t know how long it lasted. He only remembered the pain, the heat, and the laughter as the man beside him was set on fire.
Frank lay, breathing, the ribbons of his body sliding into each other. Frank felt it, every bit of it. It was too much to watch. Instead, he watched the hairy man turn from charcoal black, to an ashy red to bright pink, before the hair began to grow.
The man hummed as it went. He almost seemed to be enjoying it. To his right, Frank saw that the young woman was weeping. Her ears were a dark red, blood sidling its way back in.
Then, Frank looked down. His old wrinkled body looked back up at him, his wounds gone. Then, he screamed.
“Hey!” the man beside him called.
Frank turned, in a panic, trying desperately to move. “WHAT!”
The man smiled. “It’s no use, man, you’re not going anywhere. Get used to it. You might even learn to enjoy it.” He blew a bit of ash from his shoulder. “I’m Charlie,” the man added. “I’d shake your hand but, you know, condemned to an eternity of torture and all that.”
Frank tried again to move his arms and legs, nothing. He gave up.
“Nice to meet you. So, you killed yourself then?”
Frank looked back at him. “How’d you know?”
Charlie looked up to the ceiling of the cavern. “Well, they torture you with whatever your greatest sin was and you don’t strike me as the box-cutter psycho-murdery-type.”
Frank sighed. “Yeah, yeah. I thought I’d find—something.”
“Well, you found me,” Charlie said. “Could be worse, could have only been stuck with sobbing Sally over there. She talks too much. Isn’t that right, Sally!”
Frank looked back at the young woman. She sobbed her response. The sob became a cry, then a scream, as the horn blared around the cavern again.
Charlie began to laugh.
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.