“Birthday Cake” — A short story

Steve Lampiris
Jan 20, 2019 · 5 min read

It was a typical day. I showered, dressed, and drove to work as usual. I found typical Thursday traffic, meaning that it was a pleasant drive and that I arrived ten minutes early.

I walked into the office. There was no line in the breakroom for coffee so I poured myself a cup. I made my way to my desk and sat down. My calendar greeted me with a reminder that it was meetings all day. Ugh, kill me now.

But there in the margin was a note: “Karen’s birthday”. Shit. I didn’t get her anything. Should I have? What if everyone else did but I didn’t? Or worse, what if I was the only one who did? Is that, like, workplace nepotism? What’s the social policy on that? I don’t think there’s a Seinfeld episode that covers this particular banality.

Then I remembered that she’s bringing in a cake for the whole floor. A sugar high might work as a distraction, right? Sure it will. I mean, if there’s any indication from past experience, it’s best to avoid Karen’s terrible cooking. Or, in this case, terrible baking. I’ve often joked about its danger to one’s health. But still, it’ll hide my mistake, my faux pas. “A teaspoon of sugar” and all that, I guess.

My colleagues arrived soon after — drones, all of them. They are nice people, though. I don’t have any real problems with any of them. But they are largely the hivemind type. Going off script is a challenge for many. It’s not unique to them, though, so I don’t hold it against them. It’s an observation, not a criticism.

One of the hive, Allen, sat down at his desk next to mine. He’d elected, without irony, to wear a yellow tie paired with a white shirt. He greeted me with a salesman smile and asked if I had any plans for the weekend. I said I didn’t and then I reciprocated, because why else does anyone ask about someone’s plans? He explained he’s going out of town with his wife and in-laws. I replied, “How unfortunate,” and he laughed. Was that a joke? I’m not sure.

Then I saw Karen walk by on her way to her desk in Accounting, carrying a chocolate cake like a trophy. Behind her was a plaid-skirted drone carrying an identical one. Enough for the entire building, it looked like. Perhaps my weekend just got better. Or, at least easier.

After some forced chit-chat with Allen, I mosied over to Accounting and went to Karen’s desk. The drones flocked over, perhaps erroneously following my lead. No doubt they were attracted to the sugar and eggs and butter and flour. Humans can be such social creatures when food, especially that of the unhealthy variety, is involved.

After a few breathing exercises to slow my heartrate back down, I saw an opening and took it. I asked what horrific concoction Karen had created this time and how long the recovery time would be. As predicted, the drones brayed at my stupid one-liner. Christ, if comedy is this easy, I’ve chosen the wrong profession.

One of the company’s executive drones, Tom, announced that cake will be served this afternoon, and the underlings sullenly went back to work. Karen inquired if I was that big of a dick as a child. I considered this for a moment and then said that I didn’t recall. She replied that Bill and Sally would know. I inquired why she still referred to people’s parents, even her own, by their names. “It’s weird,” I stated, “and awkward.” She explained she doesn’t know and that she’s done it as far back as she can remember, even as a child. I replied, “You’ve always been the weird one.”

After attempting — Or was I pretending? — to get some work done, lunchtime came around, and with it cake. The drones lined up single-file and were handed a triangle of diabetes and empty happiness on a paper plate with a plastic fork. Using artificial utensils was a near-perfect fit. I certainly couldn’t do better. Every office drone consumed their slice with a quickness generally reserved for recently-released prison inmates. I tried to hide my disgust. I’m not sure I was successful.

A drone, Sam, walked up to me and asked if I was going to have a piece. I said no, that I’m watching what I put into my body. She then asked if I’m a health nut. “Not really,” I said, “I’m just careful about what I eat.” She said that I’m, quote, “one of those”. I asked what she meant. She said nevermind and walked away.

I shrugged at no one in particular. Whatever, your funeral, I thought.

Karen then walked over to me and asked if I wanted to catch a movie with her this weekend. “With you?” I asked. “Why?” She said her boyfriend is out of town and she doesn’t wanna get bored and lonely. I asked why that was my problem, and followed that up with the fact that I have my own life. She said, rather belligerently, that I really am a dick and stormed off. I couldn’t help but smile. The little victories are the ones that truly matter.

I returned to my desk to burn through some reports before the final meeting of the day. It’d be nice if I could coast tomorrow. Maybe I wouldn’t even bother coming in.

I put my headphones on as a signal to everyone else to fuck off. The death metal blaring into my ears drowned out my boredom. It also drowned out the drones, so I didn’t hear the coughing and vomiting and screaming through the cubicle prison. When a drone whose name escapes me staggered past my desk with a look of I’m gonna puke and collapsed, I took my headphones off and stood back from my desk, slightly horrified.

I turned and got out of the way just in time to avoid another drone covering my desk in reddish-brown fluids, and then he collapsed on the floor in a spasm. After a few seconds, the drone was lifeless. I briefly considered checking for a pulse, and then thought better of it. With a quick survey of the floor, I guessed that given the bodies and bodily fluids, the drones all probably experienced this particular episode — or something close to it.

As I further scanned the room, my eyes met Karen’s. She was smiling, admiring her work with gleeful delight. I hurried over to her and said, “Jesus Christ, Karen. How about a little warning next time? I’d rather not be covered in vomit.” She replied that she didn’t realize the poison would take effect this soon, and that she thought we’d be gone by then. “Besides,” she added, “I chose cake because I know you don’t eat it. I’m a good sister that way.”

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