The Birthday Party

By Chris Karageorge

sfgenreLast night. Carol and Martin’s house again. Eight of us all together in the living room with the conversation that was anything but. Again.

Me, I was there.  Sitting on the couch, edge of my seat and still wearing my jacket, watching. Next to me was Paul. Paul was an awkward shuffle of a man in his late 60s. Wisps of white hair, the facade that is his face, slipping away.

“Paul is good with numbers, used to work for H&H, you know, they looked after Tom Britton before the socialists got him. Paul used to work in finance.”

That was Agatha, Paul’s wife. I suppose that’s what you’d call her. She’s at least 10 years younger than Paul and 10 days ahead of him in most things. The only thing she couldn’t be ready for was when Paul crept up behind her like a toddler and made kissing sounds as he neared himself and his candy cane lips to her left ear.

“Ooof! Paul! No!”

Off the couch and several teacup stretches over is Emma, Carol’s mother. Dressed in black for her daughter’s birthday, sipping sweet white tea and planning Carol and Martin’s Sunday for them, Emma was at the peak of her game.

“I never fed Carol eggs, the yolk is filled with bacteria” she said, placing the cup in its saucer, touching her brooch and resting her hands in her lap. Touching her brooch and resting her hands in her lap. Touching her brooch.

Tom and Mary sat on the couch opposite Paul and I. This time Mary is sitting all the way back on the couch and her feet are five phone books away from the ground, she sits differently every time.

“I always liked eggs,” said Mary, clutching her wrist, clasping, unclasping, clasping her watchband.

From where I was sitting Tom looked like he was awake.

“Dad, wake up!” Martin exclaimed, while not being entirely surprised that his father had fallen asleep. It didn’t surprise me either.

Tom rubbed the wall, took off his glasses and ran his fingertips along the paint lightly.

“What kind of paint is this Martin?” Tom asked, putting his glasses back on.

“Acrylic.”

“I really like what you did with the fireplace.”

“It is nice isn’t it?”

“Is it real render?”

“No he just got it from the hardware store.”

“Oh that’s right, he said that last time.”

It doesn’t matter who said what, they’d had the exact same conversation the last time they were together. 

Years passed in two minutes and the conversations were dragged from the weather to sports to reality television to popular music. Paul got involved every now and then by adding “Yeah, yep,” to the tail end of every conversation. He stared at a spot on the wall where Tom had run his hand over, furrowed his brow and blinked long and slow, then short and fast — he was slipping.

Martin brought out the cake. The birthday cake. The lights were dimmed, candles were lit. We all disappeared in the shroud, the eye of the candle reflected in our eyes, the dessert spoons and Emma’s brooch. An angel on the cake, standing taller than the candles.

“It’s the angel of strength and courage.”

Carol did the thing with the candles. We cheered and Emma held the knife. “I was just so fed up that Carol didn’t have a decent cake knife that I decided to leave my own one here.”

Carol went to cut the cake and Paul produced a camera. “Carol, photo.”

The knife attempted to cut through the cake. Carol struggled, Martin closed in, the cake wasn’t going to give up that easily. “It’s just so dense. Man, this is...” Martin put the knife down and smoothed his hair back. The wood in someone’s chair creaked.

“Why don’t you heat the knife up?”

Martin and Carol continued to struggle for some time, see-sawing the knife and forcing it down to cut through the dense cake. 

“Maybe I should heat the knife up.”

“What a great idea.”

Someone rolled their eyes.

I found Paul in the laundry, staring at the tilework and smiling. “I know this pattern and this room, this house too.”

“Paul…” my voice broke the silent darkness of the laundry, the orange glow from behind Paul’s face made his face look like pumpkin on Halloween. “...Déjà visité.”

The orange glow turned blue and Paul left the laundry and entered the living room, while passing through the kitchen. “Just heat the knife up” he murmured.

As I waved goodnight to Paul I glanced over to see him getting into the driver’s seat of his car alone.

My Vi-Screen lit up and Guy called from the Comms Centre.

“Ten minutes longer than usual tonight, strange,” he said, raising an eyebrow.

“One hundred and eighty-seven iterations of the same simulation. It was in the laundry this time, I had to activate Paul in there.”

“I did pick up activity on new carbon pathways just before the cake cutting.” I could hear Guy tapping away at screens and tapping his pen. “We’ll just run it again. The Paul-Model has to be ready for mass production by Christmas...by the way, did you do something to the sim-family coding, they’ve never had...blood before.”

“New orders from Obergruppenführer came in before your shift, Operation Purge. This wasn’t a sim. We’ll send a clean up crew.”

“Better send two,” I began, looking over at the empty house, “there’s cake on the walls.”

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About the Author

Chris Karageorge

chris karageorge 200Chris Karageorge is a lover, brother, son, neighbour and a keen observer of all things in sight. 

He reads, writes and cooks in his spare time and dreams of coffee darker than a moonless night. 

He is from Melbourne, Victoria and can be found walking his pug Monty during the weekends.

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AntiSF's Production Crew

nuke conflux 2017 200Ion Newcombe is the editor and publisher of AntipodeanSF, Australia’s longest running online speculative fiction magazine, regularly issued since January 1998, and conceived back around November 2007. He has been a zealous reader and occasional writer of SF since his childhood in the 1960s, and even sold a few stories here and there back in the '90s.

“Nuke”, who it turns out loves editing more than writing, lives in the New South Wales North Coast holiday destination of Nambucca Heads, where he is self-employed in IT training, computer support, desktop publishing, editing, writing, and website implementation. He is also the resident tech-head, skeptic, and board member of community radio station 2NVR, where he produces a number of shows including The AntipodeanSF Radio Show.

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mark web 200Mark Webb's midlife crisis came in the form of attempting to write speculative fiction at a very slow pace. His wife maintains this is a good outcome considering the more expensive and cliched alternatives. Evidence of Mark's attempts to procrastinate in his writing, including general musings and reviews of books he has been reading, can be found at www.markwebb.name.

One of Mark’s very best forms of writing procrastination is to produce the eBook series for AntipodeanSF, which he has been doing since issue 175.

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In The Next Issue...

Coming In Issue 271

A Ring in the Stars
By Callan J Mulligan

Desk Chronicle
By Kaoru Sakasaki - Translated by Toshiya Kamei

Eternal Life (Almost)
By João Ventura

Famous Last Words
By Chad Bolling

Flash Ships Ltd
By Neil A. Hogan

Hope is a Dangerous Thing
By Laurie Bell

Human Suit
By Nick Petrou

In the End
By Samuel Gachon

Mercury
By Brian Biswas

Pyramid Scheme
By Louis Evans

The Fermi Solution
By Kevin J. Phyland

The First Time I Saw Douglas Adams
By Edwina Harvey

The Zip
By Harris Tobias

UFO
By Steven Fritz

What We Are
By James Patrik

AntipodeanSF March 2021

ISSUE 270

Speculative Fiction
Downside-Up
ISSN 1442-0686

Online Since Feb 1998

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AntiSF's Narration Team

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Carolyn's work spans devising, performance, theatre-in-education and a collaborative visual art practice.

She tours children's works to schools nationally with School Performance Tours, is a member of the Bathurst physical theatre ensemble Lingua Franca and one half of darkroom — a visual arts practice with videographer Sean O'Keeffe.

(Photo by Jeremy Belinfante) 

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mark english 100Mark is an astrophysicist and space scientist who worked on the Cassini/Huygens mission to Saturn. Following this he worked in computer consultancy, engineering, and high energy research (with a stint at the JET Fusion Torus).

All this science hasn't damped his love of fantasy and science fiction. It has, however, ruined his enjoyment of rainbows, colourful flames on romantic log fires, and rings around the moon. He has previously been published in Stupefying Stories Showcase, Everyday Fiction, Escape Pod, Perihelion and also on AntipodeanSF where he is part of the narration team.

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lauriebell 2 200Laurie Bell lives in Melbourne, Australia. She was that girl you found with her nose always buried in a book. She has been writing ever since she was a little girl and first picked up a pen. From books to short stories, radio plays to snippets of ideas and reading them aloud to anyone who will listen.

She is the author of The Butterfly Stone and The Tiger's Eye (YA/Fantasy) White Fire (Sci-Fi) and The Good, the Bad and the Undecided (a unique collection of short stories set during the events of White Fire/Sci-Fi). 

You can read more of her work on her blog <www.solothefirst.wordpress.com> Look for her on Facebook <www.facebook.com/WriterLaurieBell/> or Twitter: <@LaurienotLori>

Rambles, writing and amusing musings

Smile! laugh out loud! enjoy the following

<www.solothefirst.wordpress.com>

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timonthy gwyn 100Timothy Gwyn is a professional pilot in Canada, where he flies to remote communities. During a lull in his flying career, he was a radio announcer for three years, and he is also an author.

In addition to short stories at AntipodeanSF and NewMyths.com, his SF novel is available internationally in print and ebook formats. "Avians" draws on his love of alternative aviation to tell the tale of a girl who runs away from home to join a cadre of glider pilots on a world without metal or fossil fuels.

On Twitter, he is @timothygwyn, and his blogs are at <timothygwyn.com>.

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marg essex 200Margaret lives the good life on a small piece of rural New South Wales Australia, with an amazing man, a couple of pets, and several rambunctious wombats.

She feels so lucky to be a part of the AntiSF team.

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ed erringtonAlthough a writer of the baby boom persuasion, Ed has not boomed for quite a while.

He lives with his wife plus a menagerie of non-domesticated — native Australian animals intropical North Queensland.

His writing within the ‘real’ science fiction context of COVID-19 is intermingled by long night sky vigils — searching for pesky aliens intent on maintaining their social distance to the nth degree.

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sarah pratt 200Sarah Pratt is an avid fiction writer and a Marketing Consultant.

She is currently working on her first novel but loves diving into short stories to bring a little lightness, intrigue or humour to the day.

Her work has appeared in Sponge Magazine and The Commuting Book.

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garry dean narratorGarry Dean lives on the Mid Coast of New South Wales Australia, and has been a fan of SF for most of his natural life. Being vision impaired, he makes good use of voice recognition and text to speech in order to write. Many of his stories have appeared in AntipodeanSF over the years, and his love of all things audio led him to join the narration team in 2017.

You can read examples of Garry's fiction on his website <https://garrydean.wordpress.com>

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pixie willo 100Pixie is a voice actor, cabaret performer & slam poet From the Blue Mountains in NSW.

She enjoys writing short fiction, plays for radio and stage as well as her own brand of weird poetry.

She hosts the 'Off-Beet Poetry Slam' held bi-monthly in Katoomba.

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alistair lloyd 200Alistair Lloyd is a Melbourne based writer and narrator who has been consuming good quality science fiction and fantasy most of his life.

You may find him on Twitter as <@mr_al> and online at <alistairlloyd.com>.

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antipod-show-50The AntipodeanSF Radio Show delivers audio from the pages of this magazine.

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The Contributors

brian cattoBrian Catto was born in Scotland, raised in the Barossa Valley and settled in Canberra.

He is married to Lina-Marie Catto, author of the young adult novel ‘The Sindbad Legacy: Destiny Stone’ and has two beautiful daughters with her.

He has had a lifelong love of Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Horror.

This is his first short story to see the light of day. The rest is subject to change without notice (to quote his favourite fantasy author, the late, great Anne McCaffrey).

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Dr Gillian Polack is an award-winning Australian writer and editor.

She was recently awarded the A Bertram Chandler Award, for lifetime achievement.

Her most recent novels are Borderlanders (Odyssey) and Poison and Light (Shooting Star).

Her novels are mostly science fiction and contemporary fantasy, which is a bit odd, for she is an ethnohistorian.

Her hobbies include cooking, researching historical foodways and reading. She claims to have a collection of select and very attractive fans.

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Wesley Parish is an SF fan from early childhood. Born in PNG, he enjoys reading about humans in strange cultures and circumstances.

His favourite SF authors include Ursula Le Guin, Fritz Lieber, Phillip K. Dick, J.G. Ballard and Frank Herbert.

Wes lives in Christchurch, NZ, is an unemployed Java and C programmer, and has recently decided to become a mad ukuleleist, flautist and trombonist, and would love to revert to being the mad fiddler and pedal steel guitarist..  "Where oh where has my little pedal steel got to ... ?"

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binta ohtaki 200Binta Ohtaki is a Japanese fiction writer and essayist based in Kobe.

He has authored the short story collection Colonial Time (2017).

In 2018, he won the first Awa Shirasagi Literary Award, an annual short story contest organised by Tokushima Shinbun.

His short fiction hasappeared in Hidden Authors, S-F Magazine, and Taberu no ga osoi, among others.

chris karageorge 200Chris Karageorge is a lover, brother, son, neighbour and a keen observer of all things in sight. 

He reads, writes and cooks in his spare time and dreams of coffee darker than a moonless night. 

He is from Melbourne, Victoria and can be found walking his pug Monty during the weekends.

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sue oliver 200I was born in the UK but have lived in Australia for 38 years. I live in Newport on Sydney’s Northern Beaches where I spend my time cooking, reading, gardening, walking the beach and writing.

I’ve been a fan of both SF and crime fiction since I was a child.

And I have always ‘written’ but mostly in my head. Since retiring I’m finally following my ambition to put my words on paper and have recently completed my first full length novel, with the second just begun. I love to create and populate my own worlds, deliver my own justice and solve life’s problems!

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sam f lowe 200Sam's first introduction to science fiction was Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones.

In spite of this, he has been a sci-fi enthusiast ever since, developing a particular love of imagining new worlds to set stories in. 

By day, Sam is an aerospace engineer, and hopes to one day use his training to turn his sci-fi dreams into reality.

ian breen 200Ian Breen lives and writes in Western Massachusetts, USA. 

His work has appeared in Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Five Chapters, Roanoke Review, Front Porch, and elsewhere .

james patrik 200An emerging writer, James Patrik enjoys exploring the existential themes.

A lifelong science fiction fan, he has a particular fondness for Japanese culture—especially Tokusatsu.

James is also passionate about psychology and is currently studying a Bachelor of Psychological Science.

You can read more of his work at: <www.jamespatrik.com>.

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Len BaglowDreams of worlds that might be, and the clash that brings them into existence.

In past lives he was a policy advocate in Canberra and an environmental activist in Queensland.

In awe of such great Australian SF authors as Glenda Larke, Garth Nix, Trudi Canarvan and Kate Forsythe, he dares to dabble in the arcane art.

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Ashley Noel is a writer from Sydney, Australia. She is currently employed in the Early Childhood sector.

As a keen reader, with a quirky imagination she turned her hand to writing ten years ago and is at present searching for an agent to represent her first novel.

Ashley connects with a wide audience on her social media accounts, Medium and Instagram.

She is excited about being published on AntipodeanSF and looks forward to submitting future work.

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Toshiya Kamei holds an MFA in Literary Translation from the University of Arkansas.

His translations have appeared in venues such as Clarkesworld, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and World Literature Today.

Elwood enjoys the challenge of short stories.

You can check out his other works on Amazon in The Stowaway and Funny You Should Ask

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joanna galbraith 200Joanna Galbraith was born in Australia but now spends her days socially-distancing with her two cats in Tuscany, Italy.

She has been writing short stories for over ten years now and her work has appeared in a range of publications from the Clockwork Phoenix anthologies to Stupefying Stories and, of course, Antipodean SF.

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susan cornford 200Susan Cornford is a retired public servant, living in Perth, Western Australia, with pieces published or forthcoming in 50-Word Stories, Akashic Books, Antipodean Science Fiction, CarpeArte Journal, Ghost Parachute, Medusa’s Laugh, Speculative 66, Subtle Fiction, Switchblade, The Fable Online, The Gambler, The Vignette Review and The Were-Traveler.

She considers herself an emerging flash writer.

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botond t 200Sometimes I can see what others don't.

Sometimes I listen to the silence and Iknow there is way too much of it down here in the countryside.

All the trees grass wooden gates and sleepwalkers are letting me down.

Very rarely I go out to thefront yard in the night and look at the stars. And I can feel in my guts it is allgoing to sink down the drain.

I look at the photo of my nephew whom I have not seen for 5 years.

I look into the mirror and see my white hair at 45.

Then I stare at the cross on the wall and I want to puke.

Somebody has already decided for me in a nice kind of way.

Too many pieces of the puzzle missing.

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kevinjphyland 200Old enough to just remember the first manned Moon landing, Kevin was so impressed he made science his life.

Retired now from teaching he amuses himself by reading, writing, following his love of weather and correcting people on the internet.

He’s been writing since his teens and hopes he will one day get it right.

He can be found on twitter @KevinPhyland where he goes by the handle of CaptainZero and his work is around the place if you search using google or use the antisf.com.au archive.

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