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 light that could blind the sun went off around him. He stood in a winding cave of white stone. He looked down at himself, dressed in white—soft, virginal. He began to walk. The ground was a little warm. He touched the walls. They were smooth. The passage opened into a vast cavern, the insides of a yawning pearl.
Frank gawked up and down. “Holy—” he muttered before a movement caught his eye. “Hello?” he called.
The movement stopped. Frank squinted. It was a dog. A great big white labrador, as tall as Frank, and wide as a horse—hell, with a decent haircut, it might’ve passed as one.
“Hello, Frank!” it said, in a friendly, child’s voice. It stepped toward him.
“Oh, hell no!” Frank cried. Frank ran. The dog bounded after him. A moment later, Frank slammed into something wide, soft, and hairy. A man’s chest. Frank and the man crashed to the floor.
“Oh boy!” the man said.
Frank pulled himself into a sitting position. He looked around. The man lay beside him, big and bearded. He smiled. The horse-sized dog sat not far off, watching, panting.
“Who might you be?” the man asked.
Frank looked suspiciously at the dog, then back to the man.
“He’s Frank!” the dog chimed in.
The man side-eyed the dog and sighed. “I’m Charlie,” he said.
Frank couldn’t keep his eyes off the dog.
“Oh, don’t worry, he won’t hurt you,” Charlie assured him.
Frank still backed up a bit.
“What’s going on?” Frank asked.
“Oh, we’re in hell. This—” Charlie motioned around them at the white walls, “—this is hell.”
“Shut up, Charlie!” the dog snapped in its childish voice.
Frank couldn’t peg whether it was that of a girl or a boy—or both, layered, echoing off each other.
Charlie laughed.“Okay,” he admitted, “we aren’t in hell. But you will be if you pet that mutt.”
The dog moved forward. “We aren’t a mutt,” it growled. “We are the Unified Consciousness. If you pet us you will see, and if you wish, you can join us.”
Frank only stared.“What?” he managed.
Charlie laughed again. “It’s true,” he said.
“You touched it?” Frank asked.
“Oh yeah.” Charlie nodded.
“Then why are you here?” Frank asked.
Charlie shrugged. “You have a choice.”
“Everyone joins us,” the Unified Consciousness cut in.
“Not everyone, mutt.” Charlie stood up and held out a hand to Frank. Frank let Charlie pull him to his feet till he stood near eye-level with the Unified Consciousness.
“You just couldn’t accept what you saw,” the Unified Consciousness snapped.
“What does it show you?” Frank asked.
“Everything, everyone, the whole universe. It’s cute.”
The Unified Consciousness growled. “Why don’t you tell him, Charlie? Go on.”
“Tell me what? Why didn’t you join?” Frank asked.
Charlie laughed but it was different, forced – a distraction from answering Frank’s question.
“Why didn’t you join it?” Frank pressed.
“Because he’s a coward,” the Unified Consciousness barked.
Charlie gave the Unified Consciousness the finger. “I had no one and nothing in life; what use have I got for everyone and everything?”
The Unified Consciousness rolled its eyes. “Oh, woof, boo-hoo. Now is your chance to change all that, Charlie.”
Frank frowned. “What does it mean? Wait, hold on a second.” He turned to the Unified Consciousness, “Why are you a dog?”
The Unified Consciousness shrugged, as well as a dog can shrug. “Who doesn’t love a talking dog? It comforts people; plus it doesn’t hurt to be politically correct. No one gets mad that God turned out to be a talking dog. You see?”
Charlie chuckled, darkly. “You’re not God; you’re a creepy horse.”
The Unified Consciousness growled, “I—” but was cut off by a popping sound behind them.
Frank and Charlie turned. There was a snap of light. An obese man popped into existence. He looked at the three of them in turn, finally letting his eyes rest on the Unified Consciousness.
Charlie ran forward, grabbed the man around the shoulders, and cried, “Run, man! For the love of God, run! It’s going to eat you!”
Blood drained from the man’s face; his eyes went wide. He screamed, turned, and ran.
The Unified Consciousness bounded after him. As it passed it growled, “Dammit, Charlie, you’re a real piece of shit.”
Then, as it rounded the corner, it called, “I’ll be back for you later, Frank!”
Frank watched it go, knowing he had no choice when it got back. He would join. And he would find them.
In the meantime, he amused himself by watching Charlie who was keeled over, nearly pissing himself laughing.
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.