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 field of dead grass stretched out before him. People roamed. They were naked. Frank frowned.
He looked down at his own naked body. It wasn’t cold. It just was. He tested his limbs.
“Hm,” he told them. He walked. Aimed for the closest person; a plump middle-aged woman.
“Hey!” he called to her. She glanced over at him and sighed. She stopped. He jogged up to her.
“I don’t know,” she said as he approached.
“Don’t know what?”
“Anything. I don’t know where we are, or what this is, or why or anything at all so, if that is what you’re wondering you should press on.”
Frank frowned. “But, where are we?”
The woman scowled at him before he’d finished the question. She turned and walked away.
She didn’t. He tried the next person, and the next, and so on. Some were pleasant enough, some were mute, some only screamed obscenities. All seemed to know nothing.
Frank wandered. Every direction seemed both more and less promising than the last, so he walked straight. Dead grass and nude roamers were all that greeted him for a long time. Then, in the distance, something.
“What in the hell?” Frank said, out loud, standing next to the odd construct.
The entire thing was made of people, stacked on top of each other, snoring. A gap in the flesh big enough for Frank to pry himself through led him into a people-walled open room. In it, three people were in the midst of a performance. Frank assumed it was a performance anyway. They kept using words like “thou” and “ere.”
Across from them on a pile of bodies resembling a chair, a large hairy man sat.
“Hello?” Frank said.
“Well, hello!” said the large hairy man.
“Pause,” he told the performers. They froze. The large man stood up, elbowing the face of an old woman who was acting as the back of the man’s people-chair as he did. He approached Frank, hand outstretched.
“How long you been here, Frank?”
“Not too sure.”
“Ah, that’s alright,” Charlie said jovially. “None of us do either, kind of lose track of time here.”
“Where is here?” Frank asked.
“Not a damn clue.”
Frank frowned. “Are we dead?”
Charlie screwed up his face in mock thought. He raised an eyebrow at the three nude men frozen in place and tapped his chin with a finger. Then he shrugged. “I’d say yes, we’re probably dead.”
Frank looked around the room at the snoring flesh. Not all were asleep. Some peered out lazily, scratching a nose or buttock.
“What is all this?” Frank asked, motioning to the walls.
“Ah, I can imagine this would be a bit weird for a new arrival. This is a collective. There are many. We rotate, creating as normal an atmosphere for each other as we can. Keeps us sane. It is my day so, I wanted to be at the theater.”
Frank looked at the actors, frozen on the stage.
“Don’t judge,” Charlie said, correctly reading Frank’s face. “We can’t get turned on or hurt each other so, this is all we got.”
“Would you like to join us?”
Frank scanned the walls of pressed flesh.
“I think, no.”
Charlie laughed. “We can’t sweat or go to the bathroom either so it isn’t so gross as it looks.”
Frank pretended to consider it. He looked and the squirming people-chair. “I have some people to find,” he said.
“Whew, that’s a task, there are a lot of people out there,” Charlie said, clapping Frank on the back.
“I’ve got to try,” Frank said. “But thank you.”
“It’s no problem, best of luck to you,” Charlie said, returning to slump onto his chair of bodies.
“Play!” he called out. The actors resumed.
Frank ducked out through the gap in the flesh. Unable to decide which direction to head, he spun himself around a few times, then walked.
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.