What Happened When Frank Died: Episode 1 | What Frank Found Down by the Seashore

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By Benjamin Davis

When Frank died, the world tilted sideways, shook once, and crumbled into nothing as though it had been made of sand all along. 

Nearby, an angel stopped on her walk down an endless white-walled corridor of countless doors to watch through the window of her favorite young couple’s ever after. She wore a trim set of white scrubs over a starved-thin frame with one side of her neat black hair tucked behind an ear to better see the pair embrace mid-way up a night-soaked pier, their strawberry ice cream cones held to either side. Sticky-pink goodness oozed over their hands as they kissed, and kissed, and kissed.

It took Frank a moment to register that the angel was licking the glass window of a door; 

that identical doors with identical windows lined the hallway he stood in; 

that he, like the angel, now wore a set of trim white scrubs; 

that he was probably dead. 

It wasn’t much of a leap since that had been the idea behind drinking poison, nevertheless, he said, “I think I’m dead.” 

The angel turned to look at him, tongue lolled to one side, and said, “Good for you.” She peeked back in the window to see the couple had returned to their apartment to undress and make love. “Ick.” 

“I am dead, right?” Frank took a step closer. 

“Right!” the angel straightened. She was so tall, it was a wonder her head didn’t smack the ceiling. Except when Frank looked past her curved black eyes and too-smooth skin, he saw there was no ceiling, but only white walls that rose up, up, up, up until Frank felt dizzy and had to look away. Through the window beside him, he saw a teen boy enthralled in a game of chess with an elderly man. 

“Happy boy, ugly man, no ice cream, boo,” the angel said as she rested her chin on the crook of Frank’s neck from behind. Frank stepped back and rubbed his hands over the ends of his shirt to straighten it. “I’m sorry,” he said. 

“Why? Did you know that ice cream is the most common variable in all the moments?” the angel pointed at the door she’d been licking. “Isn’t that fascinating?”

Before Frank could figure out what to say, the angel looked down at a clipboard in her hand and started reading off a list of statements that seemed like questions, so Frank nodded as she went along. “Frank Morgan Nelson. Mother, Helen. Died at age sixty-three on May sixth, nineteen sixty-five. Cause of death… self-inflicted?” Her dark eyes lit up. “That makes my job so much easier!” She clapped her hand on the back of the clipboard and smiled. 

“Sorry,” asked Frank, not wanting to ruin her good mood, “but what about moments?”

“Oh, these?” she waved an impatient hand along one side of the corridor. “Happiest moment of your life lived over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and—”

“Will Alice be there? And David?”

The angel looked back at the clipboard. “Alice, David, Alice, David, aha! Son and wife, yes?”

Frank smiled, “Yes.”

“No idea,” she said, then tucked the clipboard away and walked past Frank, holding out a finger to turn him around and curling it once to show he should follow. Frank had to jog to keep up. He kept close enough to hear the angel, when passing every tenth door or so, remark under her breath, “chocolate…blackberry…vanilla swirl…pistachio…”

Frank couldn’t keep his eyes off the scenes playing out beyond the doors; a boy dealing cards in a dim-lit room; a family at a foreign-looking cafe; a few weddings, several people with babies, and a lot of shifting sheets. He wondered what his own would be. The day he and Alice married, maybe. The night David was born; his first steps, first words. It didn’t matter what it was. They’d be together again. 

The corridor split. Frank caught the briefest glimpse of a young boy holding the hand of another identical, startlingly tall, white-scrubbed woman walking down the path to his right. His breath caught. It couldn’t be. He slowed long enough for his angel to disappear down the hall to the left, muttering something about mint chocolate chip before he headed after the boy.

Frank fumbled for the photo of Alice and David he always carried with him, but his scrubs had no pockets. It didn’t matter, he knew; he knew his son. And that was his son. His heart beat faster as he walked, then ran, to catch up with the pair, ignoring the bothersome thought that he no longer had a heart to beat. He found them right as the boy was led into an open door. Frank took three quick steps forward and slipped in behind him. 

Several hundred doors away, the angel stopped and said, “Here we are!” then turned back to the empty corridor. Franklin Morgan Nelson was nowhere in sight. She sighed. This was not good.

Frank stepped into the backyard of a quaint off-yellow home on a sun-sweet day that smelled of cheap plastic balloons and burnt hot dogs. Adults mulled in a corner, drinking wine or beer as a breeze played along with the music knocking a few paper cups into the grass. A girl in a frilly purple dress cried off to one side of the house while a woman with bunned-up yellow hair navigated, patting the girl on the back without spilling her fruit-rimmed cocktail. There were balloons, stacked gifts, and a life-sized blow-up spaceman with a dark half-dome visor, leaning against a tree. It was a party. Frank scanned the yard until he saw the boy, opening gifts with reckless glee, sitting in a circle with other children. 

“David!” he called. The boy looked up. It was the same hair, the same slight build, same boyish smile. But he was pale, sickly even. And the eyes were wrong. Frank was so struck by disappointment, he didn’t notice that the music had stopped; that warmth of the sun had faded from his cheeks; that the breeze no longer blew; that everyone but the boy had turned to look at him; that their eyes were bottomless-black and frantic at the edges as though they’d been scratched out by the invisible hand of an upset child. A chill spun up Frank’s spine as they ran straight at him, hollow-eyed and shrieking.

She knew she should be angry, but the angel had never been angry, didn’t know  what anger was. Not really. She knew, in the beginning, someone had told her, “they might get angry” and she, like the rest, had nodded, because that’s all they’d known how to do at the time. But, if 200,000 years had taught her anything, it was that she should probably be angry at Franklin Morgan Nelson right now. And as she walked, she pointed to a door, and said, “Buttermilk.”

Frank didn’t have time to decide what had shocked him more, that two-dozen party-goers with black eyes were chasing him, or that when he turned back he saw that the blown-up spaceman hadn’t been blown up at all, but was a living breathing spaceman shouting his name as they too ran toward him. All the shock and running may have been enough to kill him all over again if a door hadn’t opened out of the air beside him and a long thin arm hadn’t reached in to drag him out.

“Would you like me to put you in a baby carriage?” the angel asked him. “Or how about a leash? I can, you know.” And to prove it, she reached into the air and pulled out a brown leather dog collar. 

“I…what…please, hold on.” Frank trembled as he got to his feet. He kept his hand away from the handle on the door he’d come out of, even though it now looked in on what was a perfectly ordinary children’s birthday party. All was the same as when he’d walked in, except there was no longer a spaceman in sight. Frank looked one last time at the boy opening presents and sighed. “I’m sorry. I thought it was my son.”

The angel looked in. “That one?” she asked, pointing to a woman cutting up a hot dog on a plate for a young boy who sat ripping handfuls of grass out of the yard. Frank thought she was joking, then thought to explain, then settled on saying, “No, I’m sorry. I won’t be any more trouble.”

He kept silent as they walked through the hallways. He ignored whatever might be playing out behind each door until the angel stopped and Frank looked into the nearest window.

An elderly woman, bound by thick ropes, was slumped in a chair in the corner of a dank and damp basement. Time had not been a friend to her; her once-white hair now hung limp and greasy over her body. A tattooed thick-necked monster of a man with a ponytail and beard emptied a tin jug of some murky liquid over her head till it puddled on the floor beneath their feet. She looked up at him and laughed. She laughed and laughed and laughed as the man pulled out a lighter and set the room on fire. The woman’s skin melted like ice cream on a desert rock as the man’s hair took up the flame’s dance and they were both buried in black smoke. 

Frank closed his eyes and stepped away, “No, no, no no, that’s not mine, that’s not me, I don’t know what’s going on but there has been some mistake! Please, no.”

The angel frowned down at him. “What?” She looked in the door and watched for a moment as the scene reset and the man began pouring the gasoline over the woman again.

“No ice cream in this one, either,” she noted, then pulled her clipboard out and motioned to the door beside that one and said, “And here we are, Franklin Morgan Nelson, July 11, 1907, Cornwall Beach, Maine age four, aww! Look at you!”

Frank looked up at the angel, then to the door. In the window, there is an empty beach. A boy was digging in the sand just out of reach of the waves. Frank recognized the beach. He knew that just a little up the path there was a small white cottage with a table outside for collected seashells to dry. Knit sweaters stiff with salt and fish sweat hung from a line. Inside, it was always cold because the wind was constant and the windows were a poor fit.

“What is this?”

“Your happiest moment. You found a sand dollar and—hold on—” the angel had the clipboard in their hand again and flipped through a few pages, “then you found an even bigger sand dollar. Would you look at that?” She turned the clipboard to show Frank a picture of a perfectly round sand dollar as big as his palm. He saw in the corner she’d been doodling squiggly black lines. In the middle, she’d drawn the outline of a spaceman. “Who is…” he began, but the weight of what she’d said hit him. “Sorry,” he said, taking a step back, “I just need a minute.” 

This couldn’t be right. Where were Alice and David? He looked away from his own door to the one opposite. A mother and her son strolled along a row of striped tents. The boy had on a white shirt, and khaki shorts, with a chocolate cone held in one hand. The woman had curly brown hair and wore a loose blue dress, an effortless style. Frank recognized the scent of dirt and hay wafting through the fairground even if he couldn’t smell it through the glass and was nearly sure it would soon rain. But he was certain of one thing: whatever happened, he belonged beyond that door.

“No,” the angel said behind him.

Frank turned to her. There was no sympathy on her face. “Why not?” he asked.

“Because that’s not how this works. This is where you belong.” She opened the door onto the beach. The young boy who was Frank dug joyfully in the sand.

“No,” Frank said, “no.” He tried to open the door to the fair, but the handle didn’t turn. He pushed on it, but it didn’t give. He pulled with both hands, screamed their names, and pounded on the window, but Alice didn’t turn; the boy didn’t stop marveling at the sights and sounds of the fair. 

“That is my room,” he shouted, turning to the angel. And even though he was barely over half her height, he stepped forward as though ready to attack her; his face twisted into a snarl. But the angel’s face didn’t change.

“Was it, Frank? Was it your happiest moment? Tell the truth.”


“Then where are you, Frank? Look.”

Frank watched Alice lead David to a stand where they were tossing rings onto bottles.

“I was…”

“Because I don’t see you. I see a boy and his mother having a lovely day at the fair. But no Daddy. No Franklin Morgan Nelson. What happened, Frank?” The edges around the angel’s black eyes shuddered. Alice’s pale and panicked face washed up in his memory. When she’d asked where he’d been. When he’d barely been able to stumble back. When police had needed to drive them home. When David had been taken.


“Go on.”

“I can change it. I will change it! Please. Let me in. I’ll do it differently this time.”

“That’s not how it works.” The angel’s eyes became a scratchy swarm of black lines. “Where were you, Frank? Where were you when they needed you?” She came closer. Frank felt as though he were being swallowed up in those frantic eyes. “That’s not how any of this works!” 

Frank grabbed the door’s handle and pulled with all of his strength. He could see the faded reflection of his face in the window. He slammed his fists against the glass to try to break it, over and over, “Let me in! Let me in! Let me in!” Alice’s head snapped toward him. Her eyes were black scratched-out holes into nothing. She smiled.

Frank stumbled back and fell onto a soft patch of sand. The angel stood on the other side of the door, face calm and bland. “Please,” Frank said, pulling himself to his knees and resting both hands on the door. He dragged himself up by the window frame but the angel had walked away, leaving only Frank’s faded despairing reflection staring back at him. Across the hall, Alice and David continued to walk along. Alice’s voice clawed at his memories.  “Where were you? It’s your fault. Where were you…” Frank held the side of his head, trying to squeeze the memories out, until a small hand reached up and touched his arm. Frank looked down at the child version of himself.


It was a sand dollar. It was medium-sized and a little chipped. The boy placed it in Frank’s hand, then took his other and lead him back to the patch beside the water. By the time they arrived, there was  only one boy, and it was Frank, four years old again, who sat in the sand and dug. 

Though it was odd for a spaceman to be walking along a beach in Maine, Frank didn’t feel afraid. The spaceman stopped beside the hole Frank had dug, hand outstretched as though reaching for something. Frank held up his latest find; a perfectly round palm-sized sand dollar. The spaceman opened his fingers to take it, and, as Frank placed it down, the spaceman closed them around Frank’s, crushing the sand dollar into shards that sliced Frank’s soft palms till blood seeped out, staining the spaceman’s white glove. Frank cried with shock and alarm, trying to jerk his hand back,  but the spaceman didn’t let go. He dragged Frank, kicking and screaming, through the sand.

To find out what happens next, tune into Talk Vomit’s July 1 edition.

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.

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