It started with the cereal box. A phrase in bright blue bubble letters held up by an army of cartoon frogs;

Initially believing it to be some sort of niche promotional thing, I chuckled and pondered who was making such public accusations about poor David.

I woke up fully once I’d turned the television on. Where there would normally be a list of shows, there was a schedule full of ‘David Can’t Dance’. However, not a single show was any different from the usual. Save for the fact that every last one featured the people in them uttering the same phrase. I flicked through the channels, and I had Carla telling Norm that David Can’t Dance and a weatherman telling everyone watching the very same.

The David Can’t Dance-O’s that had gone soggy in my bowl prompted me to check the box again. Every word on the thing – ingredients, nutritional information, everything, was the same three words that haunted the television but curiously, numbers were unaffected.

I ran to my room to retrieve my phone. I swiped the ‘call’ icon, desperate to get in touch with someone who wouldn’t be able to keep a straight face if they thought they were about to get one over on me. Someone I’d known for years, someone I knew couldn’t keep a joke to herself for more than a minute. Cate. Perfect.

Bollocks was the only phrase that entered my head after reading the infernal words that had replaced every name in my contacts:

David Can’t Dance

David Can’t Dance

David Can’t Dance

Fortunately, as was the case with the calories and sugar content on the cereal box, numbers remained unchanged, and I was able to recognise Cate’s almost immediately. I pressed ‘call’ and waited, speakerphone on so that I could steady myself against the worktop. It was then that I noticed the bread and bagels also seemed to have shed their sensible labels, instead displaying the same three words that I still had not quite grasped the meaning of. I shut my eyes and with every unanswered ring, I leaned further in toward the screen, willing her to answer with the power of sheer desperation.

After fourteen agonising rings, the timer started and I held my breath in anticipation of her familiar, cheery ‘Hello, Lovely!’. But I uttered an impressively long string of expletives when the voicemail woman told me that David couldn’t dance.

I stormed out of my apartment and into the corridor. Where there would usually be a big, green sign with ‘FIRE EXIT’ on it, there was instead a big, green sign with ‘DAVID CAN’T DANCE’ on it. That was when I knew beyond a doubt that this was far more than an elaborate prank. Sure, someone could pay a bunch of television channels to play along, they could easily change all the names in your phone, and although it would take quite some time to do so, they could alter your groceries to possess the same stupid sentence. But surely, no one in their right mind would tamper with fire safety?

I stood for a moment, mulling over my options. The moment did not last long, as I soon realised that I did not have many options to mull over at all really. I ran to the lift and repeatedly stabbed the ‘ground level’ button with my thumb, as though it’d get me there quicker. The large ‘G’ that had once filled the square button was long gone, worn away by the likes of me taking out their impatient rage on it.

Living on the seventh floor, an uninterrupted trip down was rare, and I found myself clenching my jaw when the damn thing came to a halt on the fifth floor. The doors opened, and the young French couple I’d shared the lift with a few times before stood in the doorway. They smiled and made to step inside, but I immediately yelled a desperate “HELLO?” at them, as though they were at the bottom of a well.

Naturally, they were surprised by my outburst.

“David Can’t Dance?” the man said, a look of panic spreading across his face as he stepped back, subtly guiding the concerned looking woman back with his arm. She spoke quietly, in French, but it didn’t take a translator to recognise that she was saying the exact same phrase as everyone else.

“You’ve got to be KIDDING ME!” I shouted, before the doors closed on the confused faces of the couple. I kicked the bevelled silver panels on the wall as the lift continued its decent.

When the doors opened again, I was greeted by the empty foyer, where the post-boxes were all owned by ‘David Can’t Dance’. The apartment rules and first aid posters all said the same thing and I stumbled away from them as if I were being actively pursued.

The street was not much different. Road signs, directions and shop fronts were all emblazoned with the horrible phrase. A man with an empty coffee cup said the same thing to me as I wandered by him as the woman in the red suit did when I crashed into her as she stepped out of a slick convertible.

I heard the people waiting at the crossing chattering, laughing and talking over one another, all saying the same thing. The woman who sold the news on the corner was yelling it, and the papers she was selling confirmed her statement.

An older man, whom I’d spoken to a few times, was going into the apartments and I gave him a scare when I ran up to stop him before he went inside.

“Please, I don’t know what’s going on but –“

“David Can’t Dance, David Can’t…” he said, apologetically, as though I was some kind of madman. “Dance David.”

He hurried inside, pushing the door shut after him. Apparently he’d forgotten I lived there too, and had I wanted to, I’d have easily caught up with him. But terrorising the elderly wasn’t on my to-do list, and I reasoned that my best course of action (would that there was one in the first place) was to find Cate. If I was to be committed, I was adamant that it would be by someone I trusted.

I endured the murmuring of hundreds of people all saying the same thing as I walked to Cate’s apartment. Music fizzed out of various windows and it all confirmed the suspicions about the anonymous David fellow.

The streets all bore the same names and I headed through the park for a chance at respite. A group of kids were playing with a skipping rope, reciting some unoriginal, three-word chant about David and his lack of co-ordination on the dance floor. At that moment, I succumbed to the gravity of the situation, and began a display of mild hyperventilation. A kind passerby tried to help me, but knowing what they would say made me feel worse and I pushed them away, and I chose instead to stagger like a drunk to a bench in the shade.

I collapsed on the bench and regarded its fine gold plaque, tracing my fingers over the words I’d heard all day. I frowned at a pair of joggers that ran by in tandem, muttering about David, before I decided to cover my ears and rest my head on my lap as though calmly bracing for a plane crash. For a minute, all was quiet, but the words were still rattling against the inside of my skull.

I started when my phone began vibrating in my pocket, heart thumping as I raced to answer it. I didn’t bother to check who was calling, knowing it was only going to tell me what everyone else had been telling me.

“Cate? Hello? Cate?”

“David?” She sounded confused, almost like she had the wrong number. “Can’t Dance?”

“No! No, please, Cate, don’t…I don’t know what’s happening, I…”

“David! Can’t Dance, David. Can’t Dance David!”

“Cate! Please! I am begging you, please stop…”

“David? Can’t…”

“DANCE!” David Can’t.

David Can’t Dance David, Can’t Dance. David Can’t Dance. David Can’t Dance David Can’t Dance David, Can’t Dance David Can’t Dance David Can’t!