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.
The stadium seat was cold and hard. He winced.
“Like getting a back massage from a nun.”
Frank turned to the big smiling face that had spoken. Then past him. Then around. The stadium he sat in reached further and higher than any he’d ever seen. In each seat sat someone different; all wearing the same virgin white bathrobe. At the very base of the stadium was a stage. Above it, a massive screen was showing a string of numbers.
Frank turned back to the big face. His brain felt dry. He nodded.
“What’s your name?”
Frank stared at the big man. He reached out and pressed his palm against the man’s beard.
“I haven’t been here that long,” the man said. “Yet,” he added, winking.
Frank pulled his hand away.
“Sorry, I, I thought I died. Wasn’t sure you were real.”
Frank tried to think of what he might have done wrong.
“Oh no, you’re dead, I’m also real—I think,” the man said, jovially.
“What kind of hell is this?” Frank asked, looking around. One row down an elderly woman who’d removed her robe, spit in her hand, and turned to the man next to her. Frank looked away.
“Ah, yeah, you get used to it. Not much to do around here.”
“What is here?” Frank asked.
The big man frowned. “Hard to say. Bureaucracy? Is the best way I can put it, I suppose?”
“How do you mean?”
The big man reached in his pocket and began pulling out a slip. It reminded Frank of the magician’s never-ending handkerchief. He waited.
“Got it!” The big man held the tip of the strip of paper while the rest coiled on the floor. On it was numbers.
“So, best I can tell, this is my number. And when my number matches the one on that screen down there, I get to go down there and choose my next life. Check your pockets.”
Frank did. The paper was not quite so long as the big man’s.
“Ah, a better man than me.”
“Your number is shorter than mine. Best any of us can figure is that the worse you were in life, the longer your number. So, by the time you get up there, all the corn’s been picked out of the turd. You’re left with the worst lives imaginable; guidance counselors, directors of human resources, middle school math teachers.” The big man shuddered.
Frank processed the information.
“Seems like you might have been a decent guy though, might have a good shot at something passable. What’d you do?” the big man asked.
“I was a middle school math teacher.”
The man laughed.
“No way, really?”
Frank smiled and shook his head. “No, not really.”
The man laughed louder. “My kind of man!”
“Does everyone wind up here?” Frank asked.
The big man looked around. “Seems like it, why?”
“I’m looking for my wife and son.”
“Ah, well, they might still be here. When did they die?”
“My son died many years ago,” Frank said in a monotone.
“Was he a good kid?”
“Well then, he’s probably already moved on. What about the wife, when’d she go?”
“Was she good?”
The big man put a hand on Frank’s shoulder.
“Then she’s likely moved on already too. Anyway, if she is here, you won’t find her, trust me.”
Frank looked down at his hands. “Maybe I’ll apologize in the next life,” he said. He wanted to cry, but he didn’t.
The big man let his hand fall back. Frank sat up a bit straighter.
“At least I know they’ve got a chance at something better than we had.” He sighed. “What’s your name anyway?” he asked the big man.
“Charlie.” He held out a hand. Frank took it.
A DING rang out across the stadium.
Frank saw that everyone around him had picked up their slips of paper and were reading them.
“What’s that for?”
“Means someone is up next. Seems the last guy was a bit choosy.”
Charlie didn’t move.
“Aren’t you going to check your number?” Frank asked.
Charlie laughed. “Oh, not for a while,” he said.
Frank looked down at his own number, but before he got three digits in, someone cried out. A woman, maybe fifteen rows down.
“Me! It’s me! PEACE, TURDS!” she cried, scrambling down the aisle.
The whole stadium let out a collective moan.
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.