“Birthday Cake” — A short story
This came from an r/WritingPrompt that said it was a normal Thursday, that I was going to work, and that a woman named Karen brought in cake. It ended up being a Chuck Palahniuk impression, but whatever.
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I shower, dress, and drive to work as usual. Typical Thursday traffic greets me, meaning that I make it in five minutes early. I pour myself a cup of coffee from the breakroom and I sit down at my desk.
I look at my calendar: meetings all day. Ugh, kill me now. But there in the margin is 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.
Then I remember 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 often joke 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 arrive in 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 hivemind people. Going off script is a challenge. It’s not unique to them, though, so I don’t hold it against them. It’s merely an observation.
One of the hive, Allen, sits down at his desk next to time. He asks if I have any plans for the weekend. I say that I don’t and then I reciprocate, because why else does anyone ask about someone’s plans? He says he’s going out of town with his wife and in-laws. I say, “How unfortunate,” and he laughs. Was that a joke? I’m not sure.
I see Karen walk by on her way to her desk in Accounting, carrying a chocolate cake like a trophy. Behind her is another drone carrying an identical one. Enough for the entire building, looks like. Perhaps my weekend just got better. Or, at least easier.
After some forced chit-chat with Allen, I walk over to Karen’s desk. The drones flock over, as well, no doubt because of the sugar and eggs and butter and flour. Humans can be such social creatures when food, especially when it’s unhealthy, is involved.
I see an opening and I take it. I ask what horrific concoction Karen has created this time and how long the recovery time will be. As predicted, the drones bray at my stupid one-liner. Christ, if comedy is this easy, I’ve chosen the wrong profession.
The floor’s manager, Tom, announces that cake will be served this afternoon, and the drones sullenly go back to work. Karen asks if I was that big of a dick as a child. I say that I don’t recall. She says that Bill and Sally would know. I ask why she still refers to people’s parents, even her own, by their names. “It’s weird,” I say. “And awkward.” She says she doesn’t know and that she’s done it as far back as she can remember, even as a child. I say, “You’ve always been the weird one.”
Lunchtime comes around, and with it cake. The drones line up single-file and are handed a triangle of empty happiness on a paper plate with a plastic fork. It is consumed by the group with a quickness generally left for recently-released prison inmates. I have to hide my face of disgust.
A drone, Sam, asks if I’m going to have a piece. I say no, that I’m watching what I put into my body. She asks if I’m a health nut. “Not really,” I say. “I’m just careful about what I eat.” She says that I’m, quote, “one of those”. I ask what that means. She says nevermind and walks away.
Whatever, your funeral, I think.
Karen walks over to me and asks if I want to catch a movie with her this weekend. “With you?” I ask. “Why?” She says her boyfriend is out of town and she doesn’t wanna get bored and lonely. I ask why that’s my problem and say that I have my own life. She says that I really am a dick and storms off.
I go back to my desk and burn through some reports before the final meeting of the day. It’d be good if I could coast tomorrow.
The death metal blaring into my headphones drowns out my boredom. It also drowns out the drones, so I don’t hear the coughing and vomiting and screaming across the floor. I take them off and stand back from my desk when I see someone stagger towards me with a look of I’m gonna puke.
I get out of the way just in time for the drone to cover my desk in reddish-brown fluids, and then collapse on the floor in a spasm. After a few seconds, the drone is lifeless. I look around and guess that given the bodies, the drones all probably experienced this particular episode — or something close to it.
As I scan the room, my eyes meet Karen’s. She’s smiling, admiring her work with gleeful delight. I walk over to her and I say, “Jesus Christ, Karen. How about a little warning next time? I’d rather not be covered in vomit.” She says she didn’t realize the poison would take effect this soon, and that she thought we’d be gone by then. “Besides,” she says, “I chose cake because I know you don’t eat it. I’m a good sister that way.”