AntipodeanSF Issue 308

By Brenda Anderson

Former Prison Guard Ernie’s Diary begins:                                            

At eleven a.m. on Wednesday 24th July 2040, twenty-two low security prisoners busted out of jail. The guards got fired, myself included. I’m piecing the story together. 

Brace yourself. There’s singing, scripture and chains.

Best I can figure it out, a con named Louis found a diary in our prison library, and showed it to their group leader, Bob. Together, they started doing some research on the prison itself. Every time they emerged they looked excited. I should have paid attention. Who gets excited after visiting a prison library? Later, I worked it out. Turns out …

… directly beneath the prison’s activity room, a small nonconformist chapel had once occupied land. Church activities included enthusiastic singing, particularly hymns that extolled escape from this mortal world — often, these included images of birds flying free. Charles Wesley’s And Can It Be (1738) contains the words “Long my imprisoned spirit lay, Fast bound in sin and nature’s night.” Preachers dwelt on the New Testament text of Acts 16: 25 – 30, viz: 25  “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.26  Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose.” 27 As Charles Wesley put it: “My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth and followed Thee.”

Trust me, prisoners just love the idea of chains coming off, and themselves going forth. 

At one meeting, the words “imprisoned spirit” were sung with such vigour that the windows shattered. Witnesses reported that birds emerged and flew off. Birds! They’d flown out!! 

At this point I figured they thought, why not? Give it a try.

The Bust Out.

With great care the prisoners recreated this gathering, taught themselves all the words then sang Wesley’s hymn with even more fervour. Total success! Exactly the same thing happened: birds flew off, and no humans remained!

Cops investigated but found nothing. Tracker dogs, however, located twenty two birds, in rows, the tallest on the top, the shortest at the bottom, singing not in the chirps and warbles of birds but in the tenor to bass range of the human voice.  Bird catchers were called in and reported that the birds, in order of height, marched into their new cage, singing.

In fact, these birds sang better than opera singers, their voices unmatched for strength, purity and musicality. They appeared to love singing together.

AFTERMATH One. The jail itself was forced to close down. I, along with other former staff members, were mocked, and pursued by bird calls.

          Two. In the end, to universal astonishment and acclaim, the birds formed a choir and toured the world. Wherever they performed, however, management installed guards along with extra security screen windows, often with exterior shutters. (The concerts were booked a year in advance. Each ticket cost an eye-watering sum. These jailbirds were far too profitable — and irreplaceable — an act for management to allow them to escape. Funny thing: if they’d stayed in jail, they would have served their sentences by now, and been discharged.)

Along Comes Ernie

Under a different name, I got myself a job at one of these jailbird concerts and bribed another guard to let me take the night shift. Real birds sleep at night but I knew jailbirds — even this sainted crew — would be different.

I was right.

One night, I heard them whispering. “Do you think we’ll ever change back?”

“Nah. Fine by me.”

“This is the life. They pay us to sing, don’t they?”

“Yeah. In birdseed.”

A silence.

“Listen! There’s someone breathing over there.”

“I see him. It’s Ernie, from the jail!”

They held a whispered conference. Then, 

“Here’s a plan. Let’s give him a bed-time lullaby. Pull out all the stops. But first, get him up close.”

They started sweet-talking me. I got closer, right next to the bars. They sang an incredibly soothing song and — don’t ask me how — I fell into a deep sleep til morning, when someone woke me.

The birds had flown. Escaped. Taken my keys. Changed back into humans? Who knows? Maybe the temptation got too much, they got sick of birdseed, or they just wanted a change of scenery. 

Now I’m the one behind bars. Everyone despises me. I was going to make a fortune, get the inside story. Now I’m toast.

There’s plenty of time to think, though, and I do. I hate it, but what about that bloody hymn? 

Except there’s no windows, I don’t know the words or the tune and most of all, I can’t bloody sing.

Who wants to be a bird, anyway? 

Wait  ...

rocket crux 2 75

About the Author

brenda anderson 200

Brenda Anderson's fiction has appeared in various places, including Flash Fiction Online and Daily Science Fiction.

She lives in Adelaide, and tweets very irregularly @CinnamonShops. Interests include reading, some Wagner (the Valkyrie in particular) and old movies.


Issue Contributors

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Meet the Narrators

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    barry yedvobnick 200Barry Yedvobnick is a recently retired Biology Professor. He performed molecular biology and genetic research, and taught, at Emory University in Atlanta for 34 years. He is new to fiction writing, and enjoys taking real science a step or two beyond its known boundaries in his

  • Laurie Bell

    lauriebell 2 200

    Laurie Bell lives in Melbourne, Australia and is the author of "The Stones of Power Series" via Wyvern's Peak Publishing: "The Butterfly Stone", "The Tiger's Eye" and "The Crow's Heart" (YA/Fantasy).

    She is also the author of "White Fire" (Sci-Fi) and "The Good, the Bad and the Undecided" (a

  • Alistair Lloyd

    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 <...

  • Sarah Jane Justice

    Sarah Jane Justice 200Sarah Jane Justice is an Adelaide-based fiction writer, poet, musician and spoken word artist.

    Among other achievements, she has performed in the National Finals of the Australian Poetry Slam, released two albums of her original music and seen her poetry

  • Mark English

    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

  • Ed Errington

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    His efforts at wallaby wrangling are without parallel — at least in this universe.

    He enjoys reading and writing science-fiction stories set within intriguing, yet plausible contexts, and invite readers’ “willing suspension of

  • Juliette Cavendish

    juliette cavendish 200Juliette Cavendish was born in Liverpool UK and is of Welsh and Norwegian heritage. Juliette has an interest in Artificial Intelligence and Quantum Science and writes in both Science Fiction and Contemporary Fiction genres. Juliette was fascinated with space as a

  • Marg Essex

    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.


  • Sarah Pratt

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    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

  • Geraldine Borella

    geraldine borella 200Geraldine Borella writes fiction for children, young adults and adults. Her work has been published by Deadset Press, IFWG Publishing, Wombat Books/Rhiza Edge, AHWA/Midnight Echo, Antipodean SF, Shacklebound Books, Black Ink Fiction, Paramour Ink Fiction, House of Loki and Raven & Drake

  • Tim Borella

    tim borellaTim Borella is an Australian author, mainly of short speculative fiction published in anthologies, online and in podcasts.

    He’s also a songwriter, and has been fortunate enough to have spent most of his working life doing something else he loves, flying.

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  • Michelle Walker

    michelle walker32My time at Nambucca Valley Community Radio began back in 2016 after moving into the area from Sydney.

    As a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, I recognised it was definitely God who opened up the pathways for my husband and I to settle in the Valley.


  • Emma Gill

    Emma Louise GillEmma Louise Gill (she/her) is a British-Australian spec fic writer and consumer of vast amounts of coffee. Brought up on a diet of English lit, she rebelled and now spends her time writing explosive space opera and other fantastical things in