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.
There was an empty room, he was in a chair—not uncomfortable, but not great. A woman with washed-out skin, thin glasses in a virgin-white robe stood in front of him.
“You’re dead!” she said, smiling.
Frank looked down at his wrists, there was no blood. He looked back up at the woman and blinked. “Okay.”
The woman in the white robe smiled wider and seemed to relax. “Whew. Sorry, we’ve found it’s best to get that right out there. Band-Aid, as you say. Not everyone takes it so well.”
Frank held up his hands. “Not much of a surprise.”
“Right, right-o, of course, okeydokey, so now we have to go through some forgiveness before we get you on your way.” Se walked behind Frank’s chair and rolled out a projector. The lights went out. A bright square opened on the wall and the woman handed Frank a remote. There was one big blue button: FORGIVE.
“It’s all pretty straightforward. Go through the slides and, when you feel ready to forgive people, hit ‘FORGIVE’. If you need anything, I’ll be right outside.”
With that, the white-robed woman left through a door.
Frank looked up at the lighted wall. A face was there, one he didn’t recognize. Below the picture, it read: “Called you stupid.”
Frank almost smiled, he hit FORGIVE. Next came a picture of a woman he vaguely recognized: “Stole your ruler,” the caption read.
This time Frank did chuckle. He hit FORGIVE.
This went on for a while. There were some that Frank hesitated on, but mostly he hit FORGIVE without anything more than a nostalgic smile. Hours passed. Some came in groups. For example, he was surprised to find that three of his high school girlfriends had been unfaithful.
Frank actually burst out laughing when he had to forgive his mother for lying to him about where babies come from.
After hundreds of slides, hours later, Frank came to the one he knew was coming—but hadn’t expected who it turned out to be. It was an elderly woman Frank didn’t recognize—so old and crooked Frank couldn’t imagine how she’d be able to restrain even a child.
“Kidnapping your son, David,” the caption read. Frank looked at the face a long while, memorizing every wrinkled inch. He grew angrier and angrier.
“I do not forgive you!” he cried at the screen. He threw the remote at her and it shattered on the wall. The door opened and the woman in the white robe peeked in. “Hey-o! Everything alright?”
Frank glared at her. “You expect me to forgive this woman?”
The white-robed woman stepped further in. She looked at the screen and sighed.
“Ah–yes, she’s given us some trouble. I’m sorry, though, everyone must be forgiven,” she said.
Frank stood up and grunted. “No,” he said. “Consider her unforgiven.”
The white-robed woman started to scowl but stopped, took a few deep breaths, and smiled. She tried to move closer, but Frank held up a hand. “I said no.”
“Look, you can’t move on until she is forgiven.”
Frank clenched and loosened his fists, over and over. He shook his head.
The woman tried again: “Please, you have to understand—”
“No!” Frank cut him off. “No, I’m not doing it. This is absurd.” He threw up his hands and walked around the room, as he had when he was alive, when he’d needed to cool off.
The woman in white waited patiently until Frank had paced his initial anger away. When he finally sat down, she came over and held out a fresh remote.
“Why?” Frank managed to ask, trying not to look at the screen.
She knelt down. “Look, I’ll be straight with you. God’s been away a long time. We convinced them that humans cannot be bad if they can’t do anything unforgivable. As long as we keep sending them this data, humanity can keep going. Otherwise, well,” the woman shrugged, “they’ll come back and start over.”
Frank took the fresh remote and broke it in his hands. “Maybe they should.”
The white-robed woman stood, nodded, and walked to the door. Before opening it, she turned and placed a fresh remote on the ground.
“Whenever you’re ready,” she said, and left.
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.