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.
“What the hell is this?”
Something fell to the ground beside him. A man, bloodied.
Frank stood at the base of a mountain, touching a sky of fire, made of knives. He turned around. A thing—made of fire and nightmares—blocked his way. It had eyes.
Frank looked at the thing, then back at the mountain of knives.
“What the hell is this?” Frank demanded.
“Climb,” the thing said, in a disturbingly light-hearted tone.
Frank frowned. The bloodied man next to him stood up.
“Better do what he says.” The man groaned, then started running up the mountain of knives, barefoot, screaming.
Frank looked down at his own naked, wet body.
Frank ran. Not a moment after he began, he found himself back in front of the creature.
“Climb,” it said, sing-song-y. Then, it grabbed Frank, lifted him, and threw him onto the mountain of knives. They were sharp. Frank’s blood was cold on his back. He rolled over. His skin, ribbons.
Frank looked up. The creature lifted him and threw him again, higher, further. When he hit, he passed out. Not long. The pain made Frank believe fire could tickle.
Again, he was lifted, again thrown. Over and over.
Frank found himself on the other side of the mountain. By then he was made more of blood and tears than flesh and bone. The creature turned and walked back over the mountain, a spring in its step. Slowly, Frank’s blood sidled back into his body. His skin made love with itself, becoming one, and soon, he was whole. He stood up. Then screamed.
“No use!” someone called over to him.
Frank looked around.
A man, bare-chested and big, smiled.
“What the hell is this?” Frank accused the man.
The man put a finger to his lips and waved him over.
“Calm down man. Yeah, that sucked, but it’s over.”
“What do you mean it’s over? What now?” Frank asked, terrified of the answer.
The man smiled. “We hang out. Know any good games that don’t involve, hm, what do you normally play games with?”
Frank looked around, waiting to be thrown again. The area was silent. Only a mountain and a wall with one gate leading through. He looked back at the man.
“Games, what do you play games with?”
“Cards?” Frank asked.
The man clapped his hands together.
“Cards!” he cried. “Yes, thank you.”
“What are you doing here?” he asked the man.
The man sat down into the dirt.
“Well, look through that gate there and you’ll understand.”
Frank walked hesitantly to the gate. Through it, a field greeted him; over every inch of it sat cauldrons. Frank watched as a creature tossed people one by one into the cauldrons, screaming, crying, begging.
Frank backed away. He turned toward the man. The man was nodding.
“Yeah, it seems those things will force you to do whatever punishment is coming. But,” the man smiled, “I found a trick! They don’t bother you if you just hang out after the punishment. Once you go through that gate, it’s bath time.”
Frank held his head and crouched down. “Shit,” he muttered to himself, over and over. Finally, he took a breath and stood up.
“Get that out of your system?” the man asked.
Frank shook his head.
“I’m Charlie,” the man said, holding out a hand.
“Frank,” Frank mumbled, hands at his sides. “How many rooms are there?” he asked.
Charlie shrugged. “No desire to find out. It’s not so bad hanging out here, I’ve learned to juggle knives!” Charlie walked to the edge of the mountain, snatched up a few knives and began to juggle. “I always wanted to know how to do this when I was alive, didn’t get out much as a kid.”
“Uh-huh,” Frank said and began walking toward the gate.
Charlie dropped the knives and dashed after him. He grabbed Frank around the arm. “Wait! What are you doing?”
Frank looked at the field of cauldrons. “If that’s what I have to do to get to, well, wherever this goes, I’ve got to. There are people I need to find.”
Charlie let go, his shoulders slumped. “I understand. Everyone does.”
Frank gritted his teeth and stepped through the gate. He turned back. “Sorry, good luck,” he told Charlie.
Charlie smiled and gave him a thumbs up.
Through the gate, Frank found a creature identical to before. It advanced on him. Frank held up a hand.
“Yeah, yeah, alright, which one of these things is free?” he asked the creature.
The creature looked at him, surprised; as surprised as a nightmare can look. Then, it pointed.
“Great,” Frank muttered. He walked toward the cauldron. Even three meters from it, he could feel the heat. The water bubbled. It was a large cauldron. The creature stood behind him. Frank turned and gave him an exasperated look.
“You going to help, or just stand there like an idiot?”
The thing shuffled up, lifted Frank, and held him over the cauldron.
Frank shut his eyes and plugged his nose.
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.