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—white, blaring, blinding. Bitter cold. Cold air on wet skin. Hands. Big ones, holding him. He was flying—not flying, being carried, up, up, up. Frank opened his eyes for the first time.
“It’s a girl!” someone cried from on high. Frank heard a high-pitched wail—an awful sound, painful, close, everywhere. “Shh,” someone said. Frank focused. The wailing stopped. He felt like he was being dragged under a wave as he was passed from enormous hands into a warm blanket then up again. He saw the faces—they were blurry but he knew them for what they were—enormous, blank, expressionless faces. This is my judgment, Frank thought. Then, the world stopped moving. Frank was warmer, still, held. A final face. A woman’s. He could just make out that it was sweat-soaked and smiling. She held him close.
“What the hell is this?” Frank tried to say, but when he did, the same wailing returned. He realized it was him, so he closed his mouth. He closed his eyes tight and tried to get his bearings.
“Aww,” a voice said from behind him.
“She’s beautiful,” another voice, a man’s voice. So loud. The room shook with joy. Except for Frank. Frank was terrified. He stayed as still as possible. This isn’t happening, he thought. He tried to open his eyes, to wake up, only to find the faces had not grown bored with him. They’d grown closer.
Frank knew what was going on, he knew it but refused to accept it. “Take me back! Take me somewhere, anywhere, please!” he called out to no one.
“Shh, hush-hush,” someone whispered through what sounded like a loudspeaker.
Frank tried to think of what to do. He tried to remember anything he’d heard about reincarnation. Then, as the word entered his mind, it slipped. He couldn’t remember what reincarnation was. He said it again, to himself. It was really a funny word. Frank opened his eyes. He felt hungry, he wanted to be warmer, to be fed. He felt his muscles loosen, like hitting number seven on an anesthesiologist’s countdown.
“Where am I?” Frank asked, vaguely aware that he wasn’t somewhere he wanted to be. It came out as a gurgle.
Frank tried to hold on to who he was. He tried to think of anywhere he might have been, he tried to hold onto the memory of his son, and someone else, someone–but he couldn’t place it.
He looked up at the closest face. The sweat was beginning to dry. The face smiled.
“Hi, beautiful baby girl, I’m your mommy.”
Mommy, Frank thought, that sounds nice.
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.