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 man in the green suit eyed him lazily from the other side of the desk.
“Don’t speak,” the man said.
Frank opened his mouth to tell him to screw himself but nothing came out.
“So, you’ve been assigned to the workshop. You’ll be working on floor three-one-five-seven, row B. You’ll work there till you’re forgotten. Now, any questions?”
Frank opened his mouth again. “Huh?”
“How eloquent…” the man in the green suit muttered. “You’re dead. You’re here to work.” He tossed a little red hat across the desk onto Frank’s lap.
“What the hell is this?” Frank said.
“Your uniform. He likes it.”
Behind the green man, through a large glass window, Frank saw men and women in little red hats standing in lines along assembly belts. One woman was crying.
“Who?” Frank asked.
The man took a breath. “Santa Claus,” he said, cringing as though preparing for yet another bite of broken glass.
“Piss off,” Frank said, smiling.
The man did not smile. He sighed. “Look, it’s like this. Santa exists because people believe in him. But, it’s like if you believed in a cake but had no ingredients to make one but then a cake shows up on your table. The ingredients had to come from somewhere. So, you’re one of the ingredients.”
Frank still hadn’t stopped smiling. “Does that actually make sense to people?”
The man in the green suit shrugged. “Sometimes I say soup, which actually works better.”
“Uh-huh…” Frank frowned. “So, what now?”
“Now you go.”
“Right.” Frank stood up. He dropped the hat on the desk. “This was weird,” he said as he walked out. The world spun twice and he nearly threw up. He opened his eyes. In front of him ran a conveyor belt. Small gears sat next to little red plastic balls all along the belt, like cookies on a tray.
Heavy metal music blared through the air. Next to Frank, across from him and for as far down the line as he could see, people stood. They picked up a gear and a red ball, popped the red ball in the center of the gear, and placed it back on the belt.
“What the hell?” Frank felt the top of his head. He snatched off the little red hat, tossed it down on the belt, and walked away. The world spun twice and this time he did throw up. Everyone groaned.
Frank opened his eyes and he was back in front of the conveyor belt. He felt the top of his head. The hat sat, nestled, mocking.
“It’s no use,” said a voice. A large hairy face was smiling at him. He was picking up gears and balls and fitting them together without even looking down.
“What is going on?” Frank asked.
“Didn’t that prick in the green suit explain it to you?” the big hairy man asked.
“He said something about cake.”
The big hairy man chuckled. “It was soup for me.”
“It made no sense,” Frank said.
The big hairy man shrugged. “None of this makes any fucking sense. But then again, has it ever?”
Frank felt the helpless anger growing. He watched the big man deftly pop red ball after red ball into gear after gear.
“Stop doing that!”
The big hairy man laughed. “You’ll be doing it soon. That’s the real sick part of it all. They actually bore you into menial labor.”
“Well, they can screw themselves.” Frank crossed his arms and stood, recalcitrant.
He stood for days in brooding silence before picking up a little red ball. He rolled it between his fingers.
A few days after that he picked up a gear. He held them both for a long time. Then, he popped the ball in. It felt oddly satisfying.
The big hairy man clapped him on the back.
“That’s the spirit,” he said.
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.