What Happened When Frank Stopped Dancing

By Benjamin Davis

Credit: Nikita Klimov, @ni.nikita.ta on Instagram

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.


Frank died. 

Children sang. It was soft at first, a trickle of a sound that dripped into Frank’s ears as he slowly found his bearings. He felt the heavy breathing around him before he adjusted to the scene — an endless flat landscape, a heavy ashen sky. There was music and screaming and talking and breathing and somewhere, laughter. Frank found that he was in a sea of people, all standing nearly three feet apart, all naked, all moving. He sifted through the bodily sounds for the music. It became clearer. It wasn’t in his ears; it was in his head, filling it:

Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes!

Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes!

He tried to shake the song loose, but it persisted.

Eyes, and ears, and mouth, and nose!

He stepped toward the woman beside him and reached out for her arm; as he did, a pain sliced through his head, then onto his shoulders, down his legs, and into his feet. If he’d ever thought the aches of aging were something to bark about, he didn’t anymore. He screamed uncontrollably as the pain came through again.

“Help!” he screamed at the woman he’d reached for, but she didn’t look at him, she only moved, almost robotic, with intense focus. She touched her head, then her shoulders, then knees and toes, knees and toes.

“Better keep up!” a voice called from behind him. Frank turned toward it and as he did, the sudden pain in his face brought him to the cold floor where he could do nothing but writhe. He felt hands shortly after. Someone had him by the shoulders. They lifted him up. Frank’s vision cleared and focused on the face of a man, bright blue eyes behind a wild beard. 

“Keep — the fuck — up,” the man growled through clenched teeth. 

Frank could see the pain in the man’s face, but still, he took Frank’s hands and placed them on Frank’s head, then his shoulders.

“Now knees!” the man cried, letting Frank go and stepping back. 

Frank did as he was told; he touched his knees.

“Toes!” the man said. “Just follow me; do what I do. Okay, pay attention to nothing. Focus.”

Frank did. As the man moved, Frank moved and as he did, the pain dissipated from his body; he felt exhausted, but he continued to follow the man’s movements. An old woman beside the man rolled her eyes at Frank. She looked almost bored as she fell into a rhythm that Frank began to feel. He heard the words in his head, and he began to understand.

Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes!

Eyes, and ears, and mouth, and nose!

And as he understood, he kept up. He followed along until the bearded man in front of him was smiling in approval and only then did Frank cry: “Are you fucking kidding me!?”

The bearded man laughed.

“Calm down bud, calm down.”

Frank saw more of what was going on around him as he kept up with the song. Between the moving bodies beside him, there were more, and more still beyond them. They all moved. From distances near or far, Frank could hear periodic screaming, but also, closer, people were talking. Most seemed almost casual. They tapped their body to the beat. He saw a young man trying to talk to a group of middle-aged women; they laughed as he stumbled, cried out, and righted himself.

“You get used to it.”

Frank turned back to the man who had helped him stand. He was larger than Frank had first realized, and had a great swath of hair on his chest. He tapped his nose, almost knowingly, before placing a hand onto his head, shoulders, and so on. Frank didn’t know what to say at first, so he only danced.

“I’m Charlie, by the way.”

Frank nodded. He couldn’t help feeling impressed and envious at how well this man, Charlie, navigated the song.

Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes!

Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes!

“Frank.”

“Good to meet you, Frank. I’d say welcome, but that’s the sort of thing you say to people when they want to be somewhere. I can’t imagine you want to be here.” Charlie scratched his ass with one hand and patted his nose with the other. 

Frank hesitated before finally asking, “Is this hell?”

At this, Charlie laughed; it was so loud and full that Frank almost lost track of the dance. The old woman beside Charlie glared up at him. He noticed and pushed her. She nearly fell but righted herself with only the tiniest chirp of pain. He looked back at Frank.

“If this is heaven,” he said, “God’s got a more fucked up sense of humor than I thought.”

A few people around them sniggered at this and Frank felt a panic growing in him. “Don’t do that,” Charlie said.

“What?”

“Think.”

Frank didn’t say anything. His body was beginning to adjust. He didn’t feel tired or out of breath. He kept going and, despite Charlie’s advice, he began to drift into a comfortable rhythm and began to think.

Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes!

Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes!

Eyes, and ears, and mouth, and nose!

Thoughts of his wife, Sara came into his mind. And David, his son. He’d only been a boy when he died. How could he understand or keep up with this? 

“When does this end?” he asked Charlie.

At this, the old woman took her turn to laugh, but Charlie only shrugged.

“We’ve been here, what? Three years, Mother?”

The old woman stopped laughing and gave him the finger. At this, he shoved her harder and this time she fell over. She must have been made of stronger stuff than Frank because she pulled herself shakily to her feet. Her face was red and her body was tensed against the pain, but she hadn’t made a sound. She looked off to the side as if she might run but Charlie snapped at her, “Don’t you dare.”

Frank looked from one to the other. He felt he needed to ask the woman if everything was okay, but he was gripped with concern about his own loved ones.

“Are there children here?” he asked Charlie. 

The casual joviality that had sat on Charlie’s face lessened; he gave a small nod. 

Frank’s heart beat faster. “But—how?”

“The adults help. Keep them going—making silly faces sometimes.” 

Frank frowned and felt near to crying thinking of some stranger helping his young son. 

“Sorry, not much humor to be had in this situation. You’ve got to make the best of it. I am writing a joke book; want to hear?” Charlie asked.

Frank didn’t respond after that. He knew what he had to do. As he heard “Toes!” he touched them and took a long step. 

“You won’t find them!” Charlie called to him when he’d made it ten paces from the odd couple. Frank turned and touched his nose. He gave one last concerned look to the old woman, who was back in her trance-like movements.

“Thank you for everything!” And as an afterthought, he added, “And be nicer to your mother!”

At this, Charlie laughed, somehow louder and more magnificent than before, loud enough that four people around him lost track of their dance and began to scream. 

Frank focused; he felt the words.

Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes!

He felt the rhythm.

Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes!

He touched his toes and ran.

Eyes, and ears, and mouth, and nose!

Further still, peeling through the gaps in bodies, not stopping to apologize, chased by the booming laughter that echoed off of the sky, calling for his family.

Benjamin Davis is the author of a novella, The King of FU (Nada Blank), and shorter works appearing in Star 82 Review, Maudlin House, 5×5, Cease, Cows, and elsewhere. More of his work can be found at benjamindaviswriter.com.


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