Escape Pod 862: The Pill (Part 2 of 2)

The Pill (Part 2 of 2)

By Meg Elison

(Continued from Part 1)

The Pill sold like nothing had ever sold before. The original, the generic, the knockoffs, the different versions approved in Europe and Asia that met their standards and got rammed through their testing. There was at last a cure for the obesity epidemic. Fat people really were an endangered species. And everybody was so, so glad.

One in ten kept dying. The average never improved, not in any corner of the globe. There were memorials for the famous and semi-famous folks who took the gamble and lost. A congressman here and a comedian there. But everyone was so proud of them that they had died trying to better themselves that all the obituaries and eulogies had this weird, wistful tone to them. As if it was the next best thing to being thin. At least they didn’t have to live that fat life any more.

And every time it was on the news, we sat in silence and didn’t talk about Dad.

I was just a kid when Mom made it through the original trial that unleashed the Pill on the world. It wasn’t approved for teenagers, not anywhere. Don’t get me wrong; teens and parents alike were more than ready to sign up for the one in ten odds of dying. But the scientists who had worked on the Pill said unequivocally that it should not be taken by anyone who was not absolutely done growing. Eighteen was the minimum, but they recommended twenty-one to be completely safe.

On my eighteenth birthday, my mom threw me a party. She invited all my friends (mostly the Visionaries) and decorated the backyard with yellow roses and balloons.

It was the first time since Dad died that the house seemed cheerful. Mom ordered this huge lemon cake at the good bakery, with layers of custard filling and sliced strawberries. I remember everybody moaning over how good it was, how summery-sweet. People danced, but I felt too self-conscious to get up and give it a try. My Mom ended up dancing with a neighbor who heard the music and came through the gate to check it out. He was skinny, too, and I couldn’t watch them together.

We at barbecue ribs and I got to tell people over and over again where I’d gotten into college. Northwestern. Rutgers. Cornell. And UCLA. Where was I going to go? Oh, I hadn’t decided yet, but I needed to pick soon.

Except I definitely had. I had wanted to study filmmaking my whole life. Everybody in the Visionaries club knew that; they had all applied to UCLA and USC. A few of us got in. It wasn’t just that it was my dream school in the golden city where movies were made. It was also about as far away as I could get. Mom reminded me that I could go anywhere in state for free because of her job, saying it over and over with that look in her eye, the one that said don’t leave me, but I was going to L.A. if I had to walk every mile.

When it came time for presents, I got some jewelry from my grandmother. She didn’t come and I couldn’t blame her; she was my dad’s mom. A lace parasol from my friends who all expected I’d need protection from the sun sometime soon. Books and music and a clever coffee cup. A fountain pen. The kinds of things that signal adulthood is about to begin.

My mom, beaming, gave me the Pill.

“I can’t give you the physical thing, of course,” she said, glancing around for a laugh. She got a little one. She handed me her iPad. “This has all of the paperwork, showing that you’ve been approved and my insurance will cover it. Plus, I booked your spa stay so that you’ll have time to buy all new clothes before leaving for school.” She smiled like she’d never killed my dad.

“I don’t… know what to say,” I said finally. If I said what I was actually feeling, it might mean she wouldn’t pay for school, I’d be on my own. I had to swallow it. But I’d be damned if I was gonna swallow that Pill.

The party broke up slowly, with the neighbor guy hanging around and trying to talk to Mom until she texted Andrew and made him come down and walk the guy out. I packed up all my presents. I thanked Mom as sincerely as I could. I wrapped up slices of cake for people who wanted to take them home. And I seethed.

I left for UCLA two weeks early. I told Mom I was planning to come back and take my medicine over Thanksgiving break. She said she understood my delay, that I was just worried I’d pull the short straw and that it was ok to be nervous. She put me on the plane to Los Angeles with tears in her eyes.

On the flight, it was me and one other fat kid, maybe ten years old. That was it. The woman who sat next to me huffed and whined about it until the flight attendant brought her a free drink to shut her up. It was the first time I had ever been on a plane, and I sat there wondering whether it was always as uncomfortable as this. I could see the other fat kid up a few rows, hanging his elbow and one knee into the aisle. He wasn’t even full-grown and already he was too big for an airplane seat. I wished we had been sitting together. We would have recognized each other. It would have been like having family again. Everyone else had that same Pill body.

And it was always the exact same body. No more thick thighs or really round asses. No more wide tits or pointy pecs or love handles rounding out someone’s sides. Everyone’s body was flat planes and straight lines. It wasn’t just that they were thin. They were all somehow the same.

In LA the change was striking. I had heard that even thin people were taking the Pill out there to ensure that they’d never gain any weight, but I didn’t believe it until I started seeing the change on TV and in movies. One by one, distinctive shapes disappeared. It was always the Amy Blanton body, like my mom had. The guys all had the same Ethan Fairbanks body, once he did a bunch of ads with some nobody. Only faces and hair color, a little difference in height could distinguish one actor from another. Here and there, a death. Worth it, everyone whispered like a prayer. Worth it, worth it, worth it.

I made it a few months at UCLA. My classes were cool and I started to make friends right off. But little things kept piling up. I went to the student store to buy myself a UCLA hoodie and they had nothing that would fit me. It wasn’t even close. I looked at the largest size in the men’s section and even then it would have clung to me like the skin of a sausage. I decided I could live without that ubiquitous symbol of college life, but I was pissed. I even thought about buying one just to snip the logo out and sew it onto a hoodie in my size from Wal-Mart.

Then Wal-Mart stopped carrying plus sizes altogether.

There were no desks on campus that I could sit at. A few of the classrooms had long tables with detached chairs and those were alright. But the majority of my freshman year classes were in those big lecture halls, with the rows and rows of wooden chair and desk combinations. I couldn’t wedge myself into one to save my life. My first or second say I tried really hard in the back row and just got a big bruise over my lowest rib for my troubles. I sat in the aisle, on the steps, or against the back wall every day. There just wasn’t any space for me.

My dorm room was the same way. The bed was narrow and I could hear the whole frame groaning the second I laid down. The bathroom was so small that I could touch both walls with my thighs when I sat on the toilet. My roommate was so thin I knew she hadn’t taken the Pill—she still looked too original. But over the course of the first week, I realized that was because she never ate. I asked her to lunch a couple of times, but she always said no. I couldn’t save her. I was working on how to save myself.

Days ticked by and Thanksgiving break was bearing down on me. My mom kept calling, telling me how great it was going to be when I went back to the school in my ideal body.

“I don’t know that it’ll be my ideal body,” I told her. “It’ll just be different.”

“Don’t you want to go on dates like the other girls?” Her voice was so whiny I could barely stand it.

I looked across the room to the other girl I lived with. She was in her bra and every time she breathed in I could see the impressions of her individual ribs against the skin of her back. She was doing her reading and sucking on her bottom lip as if her lip gloss might offer some calories.

“I don’t know that I want anything other girls have,” I told her. But that wasn’t true. Most girls had fathers.

“You don’t know what you’re missing,” Mom said. “Come on home and let’s get you squared away.”

“Soon,” I told her, counting the days until I had to let them try to kill me for being what I am.

I had been there about a month when I knew I wasn’t going to make it. The stares had become unmanageable. I wasn’t the last fat girl in L.A., was I? People on campus avoided me like I was a radioactive werewolf who stank like a dead cat in a hot garage. I remember one time I tried to take a selfie to send home to the Visionaries and someone gasped out loud. In the picture, I could see him, mouth open like he’d glimpsed a ghost.

And in a way I guess I was. I was the ghost of fatness past, haunting the open breezeways of UCLA. I was what they used to be, what they had always feared they would become. I became obsessed with the terrible power of my fatness; I was the worst that that could possibly happen to someone. Worse than death, had to be, because somewhere my dad was rotting in a box because that was easier than living in a body like mine. I knew when I frightened people and I pushed my advantage. I took up their space. I haunted them with my warm breath and my soft elbows. I fed on their fright.

It was early November and I could not adjust to the lack of seasons. It was still warm and sunny like June on the California coast. I missed home, but the idea of home repelled me. I needed comfort.

I walked myself over the cheap pancake house and ordered the never-ending stack and coffee. The all-you-can-eat pancake special was always a favorite with frat boys, and its popularity had only increased since the Pill hit the market. People who really loved to eat could finally do it without worrying that it would ruin their lives.

The hostess tried to seat me in a booth and I just rolled my eyes at her. I was not about to eat my weight in pancakes with a Formica tabletop wedged just beneath my sternum.

“A table, please.”

She stuck me in the back, next to the restrooms. I didn’t care.

My first four pancakes showed up hot and perfect and I asked for extra butter. When they were just right (dripping, not soaked and turning into paste) I shoveled up huge bites into my waiting mouth, letting it fill me as nothing else did. Who could care that they were the last of their kind when the zoo had such good food?

And yeah, people were staring. People are always staring at me. That was a constant of my existence, and I was used to it. I ignored them. I slurped up hot coffee and wiped the plate down with the last bite of cake.

“Hit me again,” I said, and the waitress took the plate away. A few minutes later, another fresh hot stack of pancakes appeared.

I didn’t know how many times I could do it, but that was the day I was going to find out.

And then a man sat at my table.

He was perfectly ordinary, with brown hair and brown eyes. He had the Pill body underneath his tan suit. I looked him over.

“Can I help you?”

He stared at my mouth for a minute and I waited. “Do you have any idea how beautiful you are,” he finally asked.

I rolled my eyes hard and started to butter my pancakes. I was going to need more butter. “Fuck off, creep.”

He put a hand against his own chest. “Please, I meant no disrespect. I’m being sincere. You’re so lovely. So rare. I haven’t seen a woman like you in almost a year.”

I waved to the waitress but she didn’t see me. I debated. I’d rather have the butter, but if the cakes got cold before it showed up, it would hardly matter at all. I scraped the dish that I had and began to cut up pancakes and ignore my visiting weirdo, hoping he would go away.

He cleared his throat and ordered a cup of coffee. “Please, allow me to entertain you while you eat and I’ll pick up your check.”

I sighed. Few things were as motivating as free food. So I let him sit.

He asked me about cinematography, about why I had come to L.A. I talked in between cups of coffee and plates of pancakes.

“I had all these ideas about the story only I could tell when I got here. The things that were unique to my experience. It’s funny now, because there was nothing unique about my experience. I guess everybody thinks they’re one of a kind.”

He glanced over his shoulder a little, then pushed the cream pitcher toward me for my coffee. “Look around. You nearly are.”

I shrugged. “I guess. But there’s no way to tell this story so that people will understand it. You ever see the way fat people on the street are shot for news stories? Headless and limbless and wide as the world, always wandering like they’ve go nowhere to be. That’s the only story people know. We were always a joke, we were always invisible. And now, we’re going to disappear. Because we were never meant to exist in the first place.”

“Are you,” he asked, cocking an eyebrow. “Going to disappear?”

“Who the hell are you,” I finally asked.

He sighed and finished his coffee. “I can’t tell you that. But I can show you something that might change your mind.”

I don’t know why I said yes. Maybe I was dreading going back to school where nothing fit. Maybe I just didn’t want to answer the question of whether or not I was going to take the Pill. Maybe it was just the way he looked at me—really looked at me. Not like I was a problem to be solved or some walking glitch in the way things are supposed to work.

I got into a strange man’s car outside of the pancake house and I let him show me.

The club was up in the hills, just off Mulholland drive. It was in this gorgeous house, built in the golden age of Hollywood for some chiseled hunk who had died of AIDS. The lawn was perfect and I could smell the chlorine in the pool the minute I stepped out of the car. The neighborhood was the kind of quiet where you know that even the gardeners muffle their equipment.

My nameless escort walked up the stone path toward a wide, shaded, black front door. He looked back over his shoulder, glancing at me.

“You coming?”

I was.

It was dark inside the house at first, my eyes adjusting from the bright sunshine slowly. After a few minutes, I saw that it was merely dim. The living room was furnished beautifully, sumptuously, with a clear emphasis on texture and deep padding. The room was empty except for one woman, sitting on a chaise lounge and reading a book.

We approached her and she looked up. She was an absolute knockout; a redhead with full lips and built like an hourglass that had time to spare. Her dress clung to her, making a clear case that she enjoyed being looked at. She was not walking around in an Amy Blanton body. She was an original.

The man I came in with tapped his fingers on the top of her book and said, “In the chocolate war, I fought on the side of General Augustus.”

The redhead nodded, not saying a word. She shifted in her seat and reached for something I couldn’t see. Behind her, a bookshelf slid sideways, revealing a deep purple tunnel behind it.

I nodded to her as we passed and she smiled at me with a hunger I couldn’t put a name to. I had no idea where we were headed.

We walked through a series of rooms. The entire house was decorated in the same style as that first room; sensual, decadent, and plush. As I got to see more of it, I realized that everything was also built wide, sturdy, and I’d never think twice about sitting in any chair I saw.

In every room I passed, I saw the same thing as I peered through the door. There was a fat person surrounded by thin people staring at them. Some of the onlookers were crying, some were visibly aroused. Different races, different genders. All well-dressed. All nearly identical in those Pill bodies. A tall fat woman was lounging, shrouded by veils in a Turkish bed, nude and lolling and made of endless undulations of honey-colored flesh. She fed herself grapes while someone was making her laugh. Ten people sat around her bed, watching.

A fat man, as big as Andrew used to be, was dipping his gloved fists into paint and punching a blank, white wall. He was being videotaped and photographed, lit gorgeously while people murmured praise and encouragements.

In one room, a short black woman whose curves defied gravity ran oil-slicked hands over her nudity, smiling a perfect, satisfied smile. Two men stood near her, their mouths open, hungering endlessly, asking nothing of her.

We came to an empty room that had a round tub at its end and a set of low stone benches. The domed ceiling made our footfalls sound epic. The water had steam rising off it, even in the warmth of the house, and smelled like the sea.

“Salt water,” he said. “Much better for your skin. Would you like to take a dip? You don’t have to talk to anyone or do anything, but some people may come join you. How does that sound?”

“I don’t have a bathing suit.”

His smile was slow and he dropped his chin like he was about to share a conspiracy. “Have you looked around? Nobody will mind.”

“What are these people getting out of this? I don’t need this.”

He pulled out his phone and showed me the app that the house used to keep track of money. Each fat performer had an anonymous identifier and a live count of what they were making.

“Maybe I could persuade you to work for a couple of hours, just to see what you think? You’ll make the house minimum, plus tips.”

I watched the numbers climb up. “Just to sit here? I don’t have to touch anybody? Or even make conversation?”

He nodded. “We’d prefer that you work in the nude, but you don’t even have to do that. Just enjoy the hot soak. What do you say?”

It sounded weird as fuck, but I wanted two things immediately. First, I wanted the money. If I was going to go home and refuse the Pill, I was pretty sure I was going to need it. Second, I wanted to go back to the room where the boxing painter was being filmed. I itched to get behind a camera in this place, to tell the story of the endangered species of fat people. Not like the Visionaries had wanted it, but the way I wanted it. Like this. Dark and rich and seductive.

I got into the water in my bra and panties. I may as well have gotten naked; they were both white cotton and went see-through in the water. I tried not to think about it. I dunked my head, sat on one of the submerged steps, and soaked with my neck laid back against the rim.

I could hear people coming and going. I could hear the things they whispered to me. Voices in the salty dark called me rare and magnificent and soft and enticing. I said nothing. I didn’t even hint that I could hear.

After a few hours, my nameless handler came back with a fluffy, soft towel the size of a bed sheet that smelled like lavender. He thanked me and showed me how to download the app to get paid.

I had been there for three hours, and I had more money than I had ever had at one time, in my entire life. He watched my face very closely when I saw the number.

“My name’s Dan,” he said softly.

“Do you own this place?”

“No, I’m just a recruiter. I’m going to give you my number.”

I watched him type it into my phone as “Dan Chez Corps.”

“What makes you think I’ll call you?”

I thought he was going to remind me of how much money I had just made, but he didn’t. He kinda shook his head a little, then asked, “Where else are you going to go?”

He had brought me replacements for my wet underthings, much nicer than the ones I was wearing. They were exquisite and well-made and carried no tags.

“A gift from the house,” he said, before leaving me to change. They fit like they were made for me.

I went back to the dorm and watched my roommate twitch in her sleep. Her side of the fridge held a single hard-boiled egg and a pint of skim milk. My bed groaned beneath me as I lay down, still in my fancy gift underwear.

I dreamt about my dad.

The laws changed that year, but they wouldn’t go into effect until January. They weren’t making it illegal to be fat, exactly. But it was as close as they could get. It was going to be legal to deny health insurance to anyone with a BMI over 25 if they refused the Pill. Intentional obesity would also be grounds for loss of child custody, and would be acceptable reason for dismissal from a job.

Where the law went, culture followed. Airlines were adding a customer weight limit and clothing manufacturers concentrated on developing lines to individualize the Pill body. Journalists wrote articles on the subject of renegade fats; could their citizenship be revoked? Should parents of fat children be prosecuted for abuse if they didn’t arrange for them to receive the Pill as soon as possible?

I submitted a treatment to my short film class detailing my desire to film a secret enclave where fat renegades performed for the gratification of a live Pilled audience. My professor wrote back to tell me that my idea was 1. Obscene and 2. Impossible.

The Friday before Thanksgiving break, Mom called.

“I’m so glad we’re getting this done before the change in airline policy. Can you imagine having to come to Ohio by train? Anyhow, your Aunt Jeanne is coming in for the holiday—”

“Mom. Mom, listen. I don’t want to do it.”

“Do what? See Aunt Jeanne?”

“No, Mom, listen. I’m not going to take the Pill.”

She was quiet for a minute. “Sweetie, we all took it hard when your father passed. I know you must be worried about that, but they say there’s no genetic marker—”

“It’s not just Dad. It’s not just the odds that I might die. I just don’t want to do it. I want to stay who I am.”

She sighed like I was a child who had asked for the ninetieth time why the sky was blue. “This doesn’t change who you are, Munchkin. It only changes your body.”

“I’m not coming home,” I said, flatly.

There was a lot of yelling, with both of us trying to be cruel to the other. I’d rather not remember it. What I do remember is her crying, saying something like, “I gave you your body. I made it, and it’s imperfect like mine was. Why won’t you let me fix it? Why won’t you let me correct my mistake?”

“I don’t feel like a mistake,” I told her. “And I’m not coming home. Not now, not ever.”

I remember hanging up and the terrible silence that followed. I remember thinking I should turn my phone off, but then I realized I could just leave it behind. I could leave everything behind. I took my camera and my laptop and left everything else. I didn’t even take a change of clothes.

I borrowed a phone from someone on the quad, making up a story that mine had been stolen. She waited for me as I called Dan. I told him to pick me up where I was.

The car arrived ten minutes later.

The redhead buzzed me in without asking for a password, which was great because I couldn’t remember what Dan had said. Down through the purple hallway and a woman I’d never seen before shook my hand and told me I could call her Denny.

Denny had a Pill body, hidden away beneath a wide, flowing caftan and a matching headwrap. She showed me to my room, my king-sized bed, my enormous private bath, my shared common room and library. She gave me the WiFi password and explained the house’s security.

“You may stay here as long as you like. The house will feed you and clothe you. Your medical needs will be seen to. Your entertainments will be top-notch. You may leave anytime you wish. Your pay will be automatically deposited into your account as it comes in, without delay.

“However, you must never disclose the location or the nature of this house to anyone via any means; not by phone call or text or email. You may take photos and videos, but we have jammers to prevent geotagging of any kind. If you are found in violation of this one rule, you will walk out of here with nothing but the clothes on your back. Is that clear?”

I told her it was. She left and returned five minutes later with a new phone for me. I signed into my bank account—the one my mother wasn’t on— and set about creating a new email, a new profile, a new identity.

I eased into the work. I ate cupcakes and I danced in a leotard. I read poetry aloud while sipping a milkshake. I lounged in a velvet chaise nude while people drew me and painted me. I began to speak to my admirers and I watched my pay skyrocket.

I met the house’s head seamtress; a brilliant, nimble-fingered fat woman named Charisse. She had an incredible eye and hardly had to measure anyone. She made me corsets and skirts, silk pajamas and satin gowns, costumes and capes and all manner of underwear.

I realized when I had been wearing her work for months that some of my clothes were a little too small. My favorite bikini cut into me just so, just enough to accentuate the flesh it did not quite contain. I filmed myself in the hall of mirrors, wearing it and trying to understand what it meant.

Some of my gowns were a little too big, though I could remember the exactitude with which I was fitted. I made short clips showing the gaps in the waist and hips, the way I could work my whole hand in between the fabric and my skin.

Charisse was too skilled for it to be an accident. The implication became clear.

All around me there were heavenly bodies in gowns and togas, a stately fleet of well-rounded ships gliding alongside the pool or lying silkily in our beds. We were beautiful, but we were all aware of a subtle campaign to make us larger, ever larger, more suited to satisfy whatever it was that brought the throngs of thin whispering wantons to our door.

In twos and threes, we began to talk about what it meant. About who we could trust. About who was running this place, and why.

The lower floors of the house were a brothel. Somehow I knew that without being told. There was a look in the older fat folks’ eyes that let me know it would be waiting for me when I was ready. Nobody pressured me. Nobody even asked. One day I just headed down the stairs. Cheeks were swabbed at the door and everybody waited fifteen minutes until they were cleared. I got my negatives and went through.

I’d never had sex before. I think it happens later for fat kids. While everyone else was trying each other on, I was still trying to figure out why I never fit into anything. I don’t regret that. I can’t imagine doing this out in the world where I am the worst thing that can happen to somebody.

I didn’t know what it would be like. I hope it’s this good for everyone, with a circle of adoring worshippers vying for the right to adore you, to touch every inch of you, to murmur in wonder as you climax again and again until nap time, when you are lovingly spooned and crooned to sleep. I luxuriated in it for a long time, not thinking about what it meant to only touch thin people, to only be touched by them. I watched my bank balance climb. I didn’t ask myself what they saw when they looked at me. I existed as a collection of nerves that did not think.

I stopped thinking about going home. I stopped thinking about the Pill. I stopped thinking. I became what I had always been and nothing more: my fat, fat body.

When I came back to thinking again, I found it did not make things easier.

I have been here for three years now, and I don’t think I can ever live anywhere else. Outside, they tell me, there are no more like me. Only in places like here, where a few of us fled before the world could change us. Nobody is allowed to bring us food presents anymore; everyone is too worried they’ll try and slip us the Pill. Someone might actually be that upset that I exist. I don’t think about that either. I don’t exist for them. I accept their worship and forget their faces completely. It’s always the same face anyhow.

Sometimes I point my camera at that face and ask them what they’re doing here, what do they want, why did they come seeking the thing the thing they’ve worked so hard to avoid becoming?

They mumble about mothers and goddesses, about the embrace of flesh and the fullness of desire. It sounds like my own voice inside my head. I think about my Dad, about god’s hands. Would he have been one of these? Would he have come to miss my mother’s body the way he first knew it?

I think about showing this film in LA. I think about Denny telling me I can leave here anytime. I think about how I could leave my body anytime, too, how any of us can. I think about Andrew, about how he left his and gained nothing at all. How I used to see him as the enemy when he was just me.

Deep down on the lowest floor, in perfect privacy, the fats make love to each other. There is a boy who came only a few weeks ago, an import from one of the countries that’s taken to the Pill slowly, so we have a lot of recruits from their shores. We had no common language at first, but we’ve worked on that and discovered an unmapped country between us. He’s so sweet and shy and eager to lift the heaviness of his belly so that he can slip inside me and then drop it on top of mine, warm and weighty like a curtain. He whispers to me that we don’t ever have to go back, that we can raise darling fat babies right here, that we’ll become like another species. Homo pillus can inherit the earth, while homo lipidus lives in secret.

“But we’ll live,” he whispers to me as we conspire to remake the world in the image of our thick ankles. “We’ll live,” he says, his tongue tracing the salty trenches made by the folds in my sides. Belly to belly, fat against fat.

“We’ll live.”

Host Commentary

By Tina Connolly

And we’re back! And again, that was part 2 of The Pill by Meg Elison, narrated by Sandy Parsons.

Now. Do you ever read (or listen to) a story and then go, oh man that was so good I immediately have to go google and find other people raving about it? Like, not even looking for random reviews of the story, but you’re specifically looking for other people going I just read this story and I am floored.

Anyway, that’s how I felt when I read this tremendous novelette of a story. Unsurprising it was nominated for the Hugo last year. This is dystopia firmly rooted in reality; a slight twist on an all too real story. After I read this, I went and read several of Elison’s non-fiction essays, online on Medium and in Uncanny, and loved those as well. Elison writes with that sort of forthright, clear-eyed perception that makes you listen very carefully. I want to know what truths she’s going to reveal with every unfolding sentence.

One of the many things I loved about The Pill is the complexity of the story. There is no straight-up polemic here; the narrator is complex and her choices are complex. There is one person learning and changing and trying to find a way to exist on her own terms, within the range of choices provided at every step. I also loved that the story kept going longer than I expected; I feel like a shorter story might have capped the ending somewhere around the protagonist escaping to college, or perhaps at the break with her mother. Somewhere at the point where the protagonist definitively decides not to take the pill, we’d be done. But Elison’s novelette asks, and then what? How do you live with those sets of choices in this world we’ve got? And we discover what might happen next.

It’s always a mark of a great story when you feel like the story extends beyond the pages, and this felt just like one slice of information from the protagonist’s long and interesting life. I would happily read on to find out what happens next, but in the meantime, I will go read more of Elison’s work, and find out what they decide to do next.

Escape Pod is a production of Escape Artists Inc, and is brought to you with a creative commons attribution non commercial no derivatives license. Don’t change it. Don’t sell it. Please, go forth and share it.

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And our closing quotation this week is from Kameron Hurley in The Stars Are Legion, who said “Perhaps every society is a utopia when you fail to peel up all the layers and look at what’s underneath.”

Thanks for listening! And have fun.

About the Author

Meg Elison

Meg Elison

Meg Elison is a Philip K. Dick and Locus award winning author, as well as a Hugo, Nebula, Sturgeon, and Otherwise awards finalist. A prolific short story writer and essayist, Elison has been published in Slate, McSweeney’s, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Fangoria, Uncanny, Lightspeed, Nightmare, and many other places. Elison is a high school dropout and a graduate of UC Berkeley.

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Meg Elison

About the Narrator

Sandy Parsons

Sandy’s fiction can be read in Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Escape Pod, and Reckoning, among others. In addition to writing fiction, Sandy also narrates audio fiction. When not writing, Sandy works as an anesthetist in Georgia. More information and links to stories can be found at

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